Have you ever watched one of those attempts on the world record for knocking over dominoes? Millions of them are set up with supreme care, forming patterns, spelling out words, performing tricks: everything to entertain the watchers. At the appointed moment the first domino is knocked over, and then the fun starts. Dominoes fall in all directions: faster and faster they tumble. Sometimes it seems that one will not fall and the whole enterprise will be ruined, but no – over it goes, and the race goes on. Finally the last domino falls – not one is standing – the record is broken. The whole thing is weirdly fascinating. If the dominoes are set up correctly, once the first one falls, we know the rest will go in due time. It’s the fall of the first one that is essential.
The Bible is a domino: if it falls, by God’s people losing confidence in its identity as the book from God, then sooner or later all the other dominoes of Christian doctrine will fall, until nothing is left. The Trinity, the fallenness of man, the deity of Christ, his atoning sacrifice on the cross, his glorious resurrection, justification by faith alone, transformation into the likeness of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit, eternal life and eternal death, the personal return of Christ to judge the world: not one will stand if the Bible falls. If unaided human reason becomes the arbiter of what is true and acceptable, nothing will be left.
That is exactly what has happened in the culture around us. As confidence in human reason grew in the course of the eighteenth century so doubts about the status of the Bible as God’s Word written began to grow. Whatever was not in harmony with current thinking was questioned. Distinctions were drawn between parts of the Bible that were ‘inspired’ – the parts relating to ‘spiritual’ matters – and parts that were not – statements about science, or history, or geography, indeed about anything not purely ‘spiritual’. Such distinctions are actually impossible to make. ‘Christ died for our sins’ states a theological truth, but it is also a claim regarding what actually happened at a certain point in history. If it is not true as history, it is nonsense as theology. The fact is that as the Bible’s claims regarding historical, scientific and other matters were increasingly called into question, doubts about its reliability in spiritual matters grew. As a result, in our own day the Bible is discredited in the minds of many as a source of truth in any sphere, whilst the idea that it is a book from God is considered laughably naïve.
As the domino of the Christian doctrine of Scripture (based on the Bible’s own God-given testimony to its identity) fell, the other dominoes of doctrine began to wobble and, one by one, fell with increasing frequency. When submitted to the test of unaided human reason (twisted as it is by sin) no core doctrine of a consistently biblical theology will survive, and in many parts of the professing church they did not. From many pulpits people are offered a merely human Jesus who provided helpful advice and a useful example to those who are not-as-good-as-they-should-be, but certainly not-as-bad-as-they-might-be. When theological teachers have knocked down all the dominoes, there isn’t much else to offer.
We should humbly thank God that for us, and for many brothers and sisters in other churches, the first domino still stands. By God’s grace we have been able to hold on to a high view of Scripture. We believe that in the Bible we have ‘God-breathed’ Scripture, to use Paul’s magnificent expression in 2 Timothy 3:16. Whatever Scripture teaches on any subject is to be received and believed willingly. In the pages of the Bible God himself addresses us, and so we have a book from God which is absolutely authoritative, the standard by which all other truth-claims are to be judged, the perfect guide for life in all its aspects. We must guard out doctrine of Scripture carefully. The consequences of letting it fall would be disastrous. All the doctrines of our faith are interwoven: if the first domino falls, the rest will eventually follow.