Book Review: The Doctrine of the Bible, by David S. Dockery

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INTRODUCTION:

Dr. David Dockery is one of the most highly-respected leaders in the SBC, and his observations should be considered with appropriate regard. In the Preface to the book, Dockery states his purpose: “I have attempted to provide a careful overview of the important themes related to a doctrine of Scripture.” He performs his task well, giving a brief, but surprisingly comprehensive summary of the doctrine of the Bible. (Though currently out-of-print, second-hand copies of the book are available on amazon.com, and may be found in many college and seminary libraries as well.)

Dockery quotes Basil Manley, a Baptist patriarch: “Originality on a subject like this, which has been under discussion for centuries, would surely be in error.” This is a key regarding Dockery’s approach to the book. It is NOT very “original” or “exciting” reading, but it is solid, scholarly, conservative, and is a reliable guide to understanding a pillar doctrine of our faith. Everything else we believe hinges on what we find in the word of God. Many Christians of the last generation have sold out to “creativity” — often at the expense of truth. While The Doctrine of the Bible is not “exciting” reading, Baptists across the board would profit greatly from a familiarity with its contents.

CHAPTER SUMMARIES:

CHAPTER 1 “Revelation and the Bible”
Teaches how God must reveal Himself to us. Differentiates between General Revelation (through nature, history, etc., Rom. 1:19-20) and Special Revelation (scripture).

CHAPTER 2 “Jesus Christ & the Bible”
Relates how Jesus’ view of the Old Testament was “Christological”: the persons, institutions, experiences and disasters of the OT scriptures are foreshadowings of the Messiah. “Jesus is the key to understanding the Old Testament because everything points to Himself.” (p. 31) Page 28 says: “The New Testament is our primary source of information about Jesus” and Dockery shares a brief overview of basic Christology in that section.

CHAPTER 3 “The Self-Witness of the Bible”
A statement on page 44 sums up this chapter: “The Bible’s witness to its own inspiration and authority is found throughout the Scriptures.” Example: “In Joel 1:1 and Zephaniah 1:1 the expression (“The word of The Lord”) serves as a covering phrase or a title for collections of written communication.” (p. 45)

CHAPTER 4 “The Divine-Human Authorship of the Bible”
“One of the key issues in developing a doctrine of Scripture is the need to maintain with equal force both the divinity and humanity of the Bible.” (p. 55) Dockery asserts: “the incarnation provides the only analogy” of this. On p. 56 the analogy spelled out:
— Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit; Scripture is product of Spirit’s inspiration
— Jesus took human form through a human mother; Bible came in human language/authors
— Jesus is the living Word; Bible is the written Word
“Scripture is completely the Word of God and the very words of humans” (p. 56) — just as Jesus Christ is not 50% Man, 50% God, but both fully human and fully Divine.

CHAPTER 5 “The Inspiration of the Bible”
The first part of the chapter describes plenary or “full” inspiration, which is followed by a brief overview of some alternate views of inspiration. On page 69 we find a key assertion: “God’s Spirit was involved … in guiding the authors of the historical sections in their research (see Luke 1:1-4). It is not outside the view of inspiration, then, to include the literary processes that take place on the human level behind Scripture.”
All Christians should be very familiar with the “plenary” view Dockery describes, that “ALL” (plenary or “full”) portions of scripture are inspired, “even beyond the direction of thoughts to the selection of words.” (p. 75)

CHAPTER 6 “The Truthfulness and Dependability of the Bible”
Discusses the doctrine of inerrancy, sketching a brief history of Baptist confessions of faith regarding the Bible, and shares 6 views of inerrancy.
Dockery’s definition of inerrancy on p. 89 is worth parsing and study:
— “when all the facts are known” — we don’t know everything now. (Hittites example.)
— “in its autographs” — we don’t claim it for every copy or translation
— “properly interpreted” — we may not be interpreting it correctly; we are very fallible!
— “in light of the culture and the means of communication that had developed by the time of its composition” — don’t read our culture/standards back onto scripture.
— “is completely true in all that it affirms, in all matters relating to God and His creation” that means in EVERYTHING!
A good statement on p. 89: “Individual salvation does not depend on one’s confession of inerrancy, but consistent theological method and instruction need the base of inerrancy to maintain an orthodox view of Christian truth.” He asserts that inerrancy is “the foundation on which other theological building blocks are laid.”
CHAPTER 7 “The Text and Canonicity of the Bible”
Relates what is known about the process by which scripture came to us in its present form, including the transmission of manuscripts, tests of canonicity, and God’s providential preservation of His word.
Good definition and background on the word “canon” on p. 103: “a standard by which something is measured”, derived from a carpenter’s rule. An important statement on that page: “the church did not create the canon but received the canon that God created for His people.”
(The list of translations at the end of the chapter is now dated, with notable additions of the the ESV and Holman translations.)

CHAPTER 8 “The Use And Interpretation of the Bible”
Outlines the history of Biblical interpretation, including:
— Origen’s allegorical principles
— Cassian’s “fourfold sense of scripture”: literal, allegorical, tropological (moral) and anagogical (future hope)
— the Reformation’s grammatical-historical method
Dockery then suggests “we can adopt strengths from each of these models” (p. 121) and consequently shares a contemporary model for interpretation, comprising 10 very good principles, including:
7. “View Scripture as a commentary on Scripture.” It is the BEST commentary!
8. “Expect illumination from the Holy Spirit …” Don’t take that for granted!
9. “Expect the Bible to speak to the reader’s contemporary concerns.” APPLICATION!
10. “Interpret the Bible in light of the centrality of Jesus Christ.” OFTEN NEGLECTED!

CHAPTER 9 “The Authority of the Bible”
The fact that the Bible is God’s revelation speaks to its authority. On p.127 Dockery sketches a chain of authority from God the Father to Jesus; to Jesus’ apostles; to the apostles’ writings, which are consequently authoritative for us. He spends the last part of chapter wrestling with problems of applying Biblical authority transculturally.
He concludes the book appropriately: “… we need a renewed commitment to biblical authority … resulting in not only right doctrine but also right practice before a watching, unbelieving world.” (p. 133)

CONCLUSION:
The length and form of The Doctrine of the Bible appear to be designed for a popular audience, but Dockery writes in the calculated and careful language of academia, which is not a particularly “riveting” style, and might not always communicate well with the average reader. There were a few awkward-seeming transitions where the thought didn’t seem to flow. However, the book does provide an informative and sweeping introduction to the subject. Dockery does a very good job of summarizing a lot of information in a brief space. Importantly, he is able to be scholarly in his approach, while maintaining a conservative perspective, which is a difficult but vital balance.

SOME APPLICATION ISSUES FROM THE BOOK:

— p. 28 “The New Testament is our primary source of information about Jesus.” This emphasizes the importance of scripture. How do we know what we know about the Lord? It is through His word.

— p. 31 “Jesus is the key to understanding the Old Testament because everything points to Himself.” This dramatically affects our interpretation and application of the OT.
We need to be careful that we don’t treat the Bible as a collection of “random sayings” or moral stories, and lose its Christ-centeredness. Many Christians need to better understand how scripture all fits together.

— p. 45 “The (prophetic) message could not be challenged; it could only be obeyed.”
But what is to keep one from asserting that the same thing is true TODAY? (EX: The 100% accuracy test in Deut. 18:20-22. Benny Hinn and other contemporary “prophets” fail this test).

— In Chapter 5, Dockery asserts that the dynamic view takes the human element seriously, but does not account for what the Bible says about the nature of the WORDS themselves. (II Tim. 3:16 “all scripture” refers to the words written.) This commitment to the words of scripture should also be taken seriously regarding the translation of the Bible one uses: choose a more literal, word-for-word version (NAS, ESV, Holman) vs. one that translates the “thoughts” into “more readable” verse (NIV, et al).

— p. 92 WHY is the doctrine of inerrancy important? “Theology that is not built on a reliable view of Scripture operates with the circle of human concepts and experiences and has no reference point.” I.e., if you don’t hold to the “anchor” of God’s word, you will inevitably drift from orthodox faith & practice.

— P. 107 Good question: “How do we know that new books should not be added” and a good, brief answer on 107-108, including that those in the early centuries were in a better position than we are to judge, and that God has providentially provided for us through the centuries. This question is worth addressing more fully and deserves thoughtful and knowledgeable answers for those with genuine questions.

–P. 112 contains a good definition and outline of the Kerygma. We should each evaluate our ministries in light of this: are we consistently omitting anything from our preaching and teaching that the apostles included in the Kerygma?

— p. 115 In the section “The Bible and Worship”: “Following the pattern established in the Jewish synagogue, the exposition of the Word was of utmost importance in the church’s worship … In I Timothy 4:13 young Timothy was exhorted to devote attention to the public reading of Scripture.”
— Churches need to spend more time just reading the word publicly.
— “The New Testament letters were read in the public meeting of the churches.(Colossians 4:16)”. This tells us something about the TIME spent on reading the word in services — it was more than just a minute or two!!
— Many pastors do not expound the word. Scripture needs to be our focus in preaching and teaching.

p. 116 “This preaching was to demonstrate the Spirit’s power so that faith would demonstrate God’s power.” This has dramatic implications for the way we preach and teach. Our sermons and lessons are not to demonstrate how clever and creative we are, but how powerfully God’s Spirit uses His unadulterated word!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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