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FIRST-PERSON: Trust the Bible & preach it, W.A. Criswell helped us grasp

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–British man of letters, Isaiah Berlin, drew a distinction between the fox and the hedgehog. The fox knew many things. The hedgehog knew one big thing. So too with thinkers. Some are known for their fascination with multiplicity. Others are known for their fixation on one unifying truth.

While all Christians are properly hedgehogs in the sense that the glory of God in Christ is central to all they do, within Christendom, the fox/hedgehog distinction can be useful in summing up the life and work of individuals. I’m inclined to count C.S. Lewis a fox and Billy Graham a hedgehog. The former was a novelist, a literary critic and an apologist. He was amphibian, equally welcome in the learned halls of Oxford and Cambridge, the studio of popular radio and the bedtime reading of boys and girls. Graham, on the other hand, is essentially the evangelist. All his paths lead to and from the Roman Road.

Following this distinction, I see W.A. Criswell as a hedgehog. His one great working truth was this: “The Bible, God’s Word, is utterly true and powerful.”

In this connection, he taught us to preach through books of the Bible, verse by verse. You don’t need to knock yourself out constructing strategic topical series, whether on finances, family, positive thinking or time management. Just work through the Word, and God will bring up what needs to be brought up.

It’s a wonderful antidote to the very human tendency to duck the tough passages. It counters the impulse to select a “canon within the canon.” It’s all God’s Word, and you should treat it so.

He taught us that we can trust every word. No need to cower when the tenured professor, either the “liberated” fellow at a Baptist institution or the lapsed “believer” at a state school, explains away the miracle of loaves and fishes. The prof may want you to believe that the boy’s act of sharing his meal simply inspired others to share theirs, and so it was actually just a testimony to infectious generosity. No, Jesus really did divide and multiply the food in his hands, contrary to the laws of nature which he himself had put into place. The professor, not the student, had the problem.

He taught us that institutions question the Word of God at their own peril. Who can forget his strong message at the 1985 Pastors’ Conference in Dallas, his rhetorical walk through the spiritual bone yard of such schools as the once-Baptist University of Chicago.

He taught us that we can mine the riches of the Word and never fear that we will run out of precious sermon material or ministerial vitality. The power keeps on coming, all the way to the grave.

Visit Gettysburg and retrace the steps of Pickett’s Charge. They formed up on Seminary Ridge and expired on Cemetery Ridge, having pressed without hesitation all the way. So too, W.A. Criswell. Steeped in Bible learning, he launched out on a tireless quest to advance God’s Word, and did so until he was felled by the guns of human mortality.

Some say that the Bible doesn’t need defending. True enough. It is the anvil which wears out many hammers. What needs defending is the heart of the disciple susceptible to the confused and confusing words of the skeptic. And Dr. Criswell stepped forward to that defense. You see, his passion was not for cold print on paper, but for the provision and sustenance of abundant and eternal life that reverence for those pages brought. He knew this one big thing.

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger