There is a great danger in believing the Bible is merely a rulebook for living, an agglomeration of ancient poems and stories, or a sort of self-help handbook. There is equally a danger in thinking of God’s word as a “medicine book.”
So it’s fascinating to me that Cornelius Van Til, the eminent Reformed theologian and philosopher, describes the scriptures in just this way in a letter to Francis Schaeffer.
To be sure, Van Til would acknowledge that the Bible is much more than a book for diagnosing spiritual symptoms and proscribing divine salves. It is also living and active, useful for guiding and correcting, equipping in the knowledge and love of God, and sufficient for the life and practice of a Christian. And yet, to a degree, a “medicine book” it remains.
It’s from his medicine book that Van Til can gauge a soul’s well-being and the appropriate prescription even before getting the full story. It’s because all those without Christ, whether “sophisticated” or “simple,” rich or poor, scholar or student, stands in need of the same balm.
When I talk of my sophisticated unbelieving friend I do not merely “soon discover” but rather “know in advance” that his “disease” is the same as that of my simple unbelieving friend. It is the disease of the “natural man.” The symptoms are different but basically the disease is the same. The medication for both is the same. Both need to be told that they are in the way of death, that the wrath of God rests upon them and will abide upon them forever unless they repent and believe the gospel. Both of them must be told that they cannot do what yet they needs must do except the Holy Spirit enables them to do it. They do not understand themselves and their world for what they are because they do not see themselves and the world in the light of the triune God who everywhere confronts them with his claims. They are like men who might wander about on the campus of Westminster Seminary, appropriating to themselves what they pleased. When approached by Mr. Gregg and asked why they were taking things that did not belong to them they would look at him “innocently,” as though surprised that this campus did belong to somebody. In reality they are trying to face the reality of the God who is.