The Christmas miracle happened a long time ago in another part of the world. Contrary to the yuk-yuk fun of my younger cohort I wasn't there. So, I didn't actually witness any of the events related to the birth of Jesus. My only contact with the data about Mary and Joseph, the village of Bethlehem, the surroundings of his birth, shepherds, wise men, angels, and all the other details about God becoming man is from the Biblical accounts. On Christmas Eve our dad, The Chester, read the two Gospel records of those times from his old King James Version Bible, the only one most people owned in those days. But, as traditional evangelicals we accepted the truth of Matthew and Luke's records as infallible and inerrant, birth narratives we treasured with confidence. These many years later seven trips to the Holy Land have given us a visual depiction of the places identified as sacred to those Scriptural events. Still, we weren't there when they happened. We trust the biblical accounts to guide us.
After nine years in the banking and business world Harriet, the children and I, entered Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to begin preparation for ministry. Those three years were the most formative and instructive years of our lives. For the first time I studied the Bible, church history, theology, biblical languages, all of the survey courses, and the many peripheral studies of the Master of Divinity with Languages degree. Every single day our brilliant faculty challenged us with the mysteries of history, the ancient texts, and the deep things of God. Every single night of those years I understood the Apostle Paul's admonition to the Philippians---
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence
but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for
it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13, ESV
Many evenings Harriet and I would study, review the lessons of the day, and pray together. We had to decide what we were going to believe and how those convictions would translate to pastoral ministry. That's when we decided that faith for us would always be an exclamation point and not a question mark. We decided that our ministry would be an affirmation of our confidence in the Bible rather than a constant expression of any doubts that our study may have raised. These many years later we are both Bible learners. God teaches us something new every day. Even more, daily life challenges our biblical literacy as well. There is so much we don't know. But, still, especially in public venues, our take on Scripture is a confident, positive, affirmation of what Scripture teaches. Exclamation points. Not, question marks.
Today I am burdened by an evangelical community frolicking in the shallows of doubt.
Sure, the nature of Scripture and our religious past should raise questions for us and challenge our most fervent study of the Bible, religious history, theological supposition, and the other matters inquiring minds want to know. We have study carrels, libraries, manuscripts, offices, and a new on-line world in which to explore the rich veins of theological debate. Who hasn't wondered about the many miracles recorded in the pages of the Old and New Testament? Who among us hasn't marked places in our Bibles that have stirred our interest or raised questions for further study. Even so, the commission entrusted to us demands faithful proclamation of a life-changing Gospel rather than a timid, doubtful list of maybes. This is especially true of the Christmas miracle. What a blessed time to punctuate our lives with the exclamation points of certainty rather than the question marks of doubt.
Every week I get to stand in front of college students who by and large have had little exposure to Scripture, the Gospel, or the things of God. My goal is to share the Gospel with them every week and to instill in them a love for the Word of God. When we're discussing confusing topics like authorship and some of the incredible claims of Scripture I tend to take the traditional evangelical view. It's a high view of Scripture! Exclamation points!!! Not question marks?
My personal standard for communicating the truth of God's Word today involves three personal commitment carry-overs adjusted from thirty-five years ago:
1. In social media, be affirmative and not negative about the Bible, the people of
faith, the church, and those leaders we're supposed to cover in prayer.
2. Speak the truth in love about theological error.
3. Don't air your doubts in public but work them out with fear and trembling.
The Christmas miracle is life changing. Let's speak about it with power and conviction. And, with great confidence. How it happened is really beyond me, or you, for that matter. That it happened is the Good News. We should punctuate this miracle with our most powerful and confident words.
Exclamation points, in the New Year. Not question marks.