For the Sunday marking his 25th anniversary at Tenth Church (he would serve seven more years before his death), James Boice selected 2 Timothy 3:14–15 for his text.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
After reading the Scripture text, he said:
I want to talk about the most important thing that Tenth Presbyterian Church has stood for over the one hundred and sixty-four years of its distinguished history, and that is the priority of the Bible as the Word of God. That priority has been both doctrinal and practical. It is doctrinal because we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and it is practical because we believe the Bible must be the treasure most valued and attended to in the church’s life.
Boice went on to recount his work with the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy that was instrumental in restoring confidence for the evangelical church in the inerrancy of Scripture. His final decade would be addressing the issue of the sufficiency of Scripture. He was concerned that, though evangelical ministers acknowledged that Scripture was the inerrant Word of God, they increasingly, in practice, were treating it as insufficient for Christian ministry. Church leaders were looking to psychology, sociology, and business for vision and guidance in their efforts to be relevant and successful.
Of particular concern to Boice was movement toward entertainment for evangelism, discipleship, and even worship. He had read other evangelical authors writing about the same concerns, but the author that perhaps most helped him to discern what was happening was cultural critic Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. What Postman was critiquing in culture, Boice was addressing in the church: the tendency to “dumb down” the gospel and all the aspects of the Christian life through reliance on entertainment models. His concern was that, in the efforts of the church to be relevant to the culture in which we witness and live, we have unwittingly taken on traits of the culture that water down our faith and commitment. The problem was not so much that evangelicals were losing faith but that their faith was becoming shallow, lacking depth. This was following the trend of the culture in which people in general were losing their ability and desire to think about anything in depth. The cultural mantra of follow the heart, follow one’s feelings was becoming that of the evangelical church.
Boice was preaching through Romans at the time he preached his sermon on the sufficiency of Scripture. (He was in year seven of eight years.) Of interest to him was Romans 12:1–2 and, in particular, the phrase “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Thinking—thinking clearly, rationally, and, above all, biblically—is what Christians need for their own spiritual growth and to interact with our culture and to counteract culture’s debilitating effect on the Christian faith. Thus, preaching needs to appeal to the mind, and through the mind touch the heart. It needs to expound Scripture in depth. It needs to introduce and apply foundational doctrines. Hymns (or however one wishes to label songs sung in worship) need to articulate sound doctrine, not just string along vague ideas. Prayers of confession and the pastoral prayer need to be restored. In other words, the minister, when it comes to worship, needs to operate not from the mindset of what people can no longer handle to what God demands of his people, which is to worship and serve him with their whole minds, not just with the stirring of feelings.
This emphasis on mind renewal would serve Boice well when the time came for him to face death. Weakened by cancer, he attended worship for the last time to say what would be his final words to his congregation. Here is the end of his comments he gave as a prelude to reading Scripture for the call to worship.
It’s possible, isn’t it, to conceive of God as sovereign and yet indifferent? God’s in charge but he doesn’t care. But it’s not that. God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything he does is good. And what Romans 12:1–2 says is that we have the opportunity by the renewal of our minds—that is, how we think about these things—actually to prove what God’s will is. And then it says, “His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
Is that will good, pleasing, and perfect to God? Yes, of course, but the point of it is that it’s good, pleasing, and perfect to us. If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good. So that’s the way we want to accept it and move forward.
Boice then read the call to worship: “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise!” (1 Chron. 16:25). How fitting this was because the primary motivation and teaching of James Boice was the glory of God. His hammering in the importance of studying, teaching, and following the Word of God was to direct the focus of the church and Christians on their purpose to glorify God. He was concerned in his last decade with the trend to appeal to felt-needs. Sermons were being aimed at felt-needs; music was selected according to personal taste; worship was being refigured to satisfy personal convenience. What was being lost was the mindset that we are to minister and to live for the glory of God.
In his last year, Boice began writing hymns. They, of course, were based on Scripture, and his first hymn was “Give Praise to God,” based on Romans 11:33–36, the passage that is inscribed on his commemorative plaque in Tenth Church’s sanctuary.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.