Theology Thursday - Is Evangelical Theology Changing? (Part 3)

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(Read Part 1 and Part 2).

A Re-opening of the Subject of Biblical Inspiration

Now just a pebble in the pond of conservative theology, this could expand to the bombshell of mid-century evangelicalism.

Evangelicals, like fundamentalists, believe that the Bible is the infallible, inspired Word of God. But evangelicals are making bold to ask, “What does ‘infallible, inspired’ mean?”

Few evangelical theologians believe today the view that it was “dictated” by God much as a business man does when he says, “Take a letter, Miss Brown.” Neither do they deny that errors have crept in as the Bible has passed down to us through translations.

What they do say is that God spoke through writers who were fully kept from error by the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Is this enough of an explanation? Perhaps it once was. But now liberal trends—notably pro-orthodoxy—are using the old standby terms of orthodoxy. So orthodoxy is forced to redefine its terms.

Says Wilbur Smith: “I believe that most conservative theologians today agree that the whole subject of biblical inspiration needs reinvestigation. What the majority of conservatives of our time mean by ‘the inspiration of the Scriptures’ is certainly not, for example, what Luther meant by the phrase.”

Carl F.H. Henry echoes this view and adds: “The impact of neo-orthodox theology has been felt especially in the areas of Biblical authority. I notice a weakening even in some conservative circles of confidence in the high doctrine of Scripture.”

Warren C. Young says: “Evangelicals must cope with this problem (biblical inspiration) in the light of neo-supernaturalism. Any type of verbal inspiration which fails to recognize the conceptual side will not carry much weight today.”

A Growing Willingness of Evangelical Theologians to Converse With Liberal Theologians

When conservatives first lost the battle on the denominational front, theologians pulled their heads in their shells. Now they’re poking them out again.

Vernon Grounds believes: “An evangelical can be organizationally separated from all Christ-denying fellowship an yet profitably engage in an exchange of ideas with men who are not evangelicals. Why not? How else can we bring them into an experience with the Christ Who is Truth Incarnate?”

Says Lloyd Kalland of Gordon Divinity School (Mass.): “Evangelical scholars today are more willing to be drawn into this open conflict with the liberals than at any other time in recent history.”  

This sums up some ripples on the waters of evangelical thinking. Will they grow to ground swells?

Kenneth Kantzer of Wheaton College (Ill.) points out that: “Evangelical thought is very much a grassroots affair, humanly speaking.” Nevertheless the men who are teaching the future preachers, Cristian educators and lay leaders of tomorrow are bound to have a tremendous effect on the whole evangelical movement.

What about the future? Do the theologians view with alarm or point with pride?

Vernon Grounds: “The future, I sanguinely predict, is bright for the evangelical cause if somehow it can counteract its fissparous tendencies. Never before has there been such an opportunity to demonstrate the inadequacy, vitality and necessity of the Gospel.”

Paul Wooley: “Conservative Christianity is faced with a decision. It can stick to a lot of unnecessary traditional baggage in the forms of customs, practices and lingo beloved through the generations but now obstacles to preaching the Gospel to the unsaved. Or it can recognize that it has the opportunity to state the truths of the Christian faith in new terms and by new methods.”

Paul Erb, editor of the Mennonite Gospel Herald: “Evangelical Christianity is likely to dominate the future if it can face openly and creatively the certainties, not the doubts, of modern scholarship—for instance, in the field of textual criticism.”

No doubt about it. With a man like Billy Graham in the world spotlight, the Gospel that evangelicalism preaches is being put before men and women as never before. Atomic war threatens. The world is tense and troubled. People want the genuine Gospel.

Evangelical Christianity has what they are hungering for. That’s why its future is bright.   

Heh

The article read this:

Neither do they deny that errors have crept in as the Bible has passed down to us through translations.

What they do say is that God spoke through writers who were fully kept from error by the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Warren C. Young says: “Evangelicals must cope with this problem (biblical inspiration) in the light of neo-supernaturalism. Any type of verbal inspiration which fails to recognize the conceptual side will not carry much weight today.”

Here are a few observations:

  • Notice the distinction the author makes. The Bible was originally inerrant in the autographs, but now errors have crept in over the years. Is this a reference to textual criticism, or to something else?
  • What on earth is the "conceptual side" of biblical inspiration? Not sure what Young was driving at.
  • The idea of that an argument needs to "carry weight today" is very dangerous. If he is saying that we make sure our arguments are based on sound Biblical reasoning, not blind, bull-headed assertions, then I'm with him. But, if he is suggesting we must subtly (or unsubtly!) craft our theology to accommodate the worldview of an increasingly pagan world, then he is surely wrong.

One thing is clear - a polite and irenic tone was important to these men. It is still important. They'd prefer to sip lattes and be friends. Today, you rarely see a conservative evangelical willing to be blunt against apostasy and heresy when it is called for. By contrast, Proclaim & Defend ran an older article by Mark Minnick today where he wrote, "N. T. Wright is a wolf." How refreshing! To be fair, though, it is always easier to criticize folks from outside your own orbit. Just ask Kevin Bauder and Don Johnson how fun it is to issue critiques of your own movement . . .  

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Doctrines of preservation

I am generally adamantly against KJVO theology, but one thing many of them do have right is that doctrines of inspiration mean little if we don't have a doctrine of preservation.  

Along those lines, I would submit that we'd have to defend that preservation from a non-TR perspective simply by noting that due to the quantity, geographic dispersion, time dispersion, and variety of languages in the ancient manuscripts we have, we can infer with reasonable certainty what the originals said and intended to mean.  It also helps that the languages used also have verb conjugations and noun declensions, so even if one thing is wrong, or even if a word is missing, we can figure out the meaning.  So the very languages God chose to deliver His Word to His people tend to preserve it.  

Tyler thanks for the Minnick

Tyler thanks for the Minnick article. That was good. I always appreciate his tone. Careful to recognize nuance but also to identify heresy for what it is. 

Open Conflict or Tea-Time?

The article had this about “dialogue” with liberals:

When conservatives first lost the battle on the denominational front, theologians pulled their heads in their shells. Now they’re poking them out again.

Vernon Grounds believes: “An evangelical can be organizationally separated from all Christ-denying fellowship an yet profitably engage in an exchange of ideas with men who are not evangelicals. Why not? How else can we bring them into an experience with the Christ Who is Truth Incarnate?”

Says Lloyd Kalland of Gordon Divinity School (Mass.): “Evangelical scholars today are more willing to be drawn into this open conflict with the liberals than at any other time in recent history.”

A few observations:

  • You cannot have a discussion with liberals in a spirit of ecumenical Jell-O. They must know where you stand. This is not the way many evangelicals do things. They like to be polite. They like to play nice to folks in the academy.
  • Just look at Minnick’s recent article (it’s actually old, but never mind that), where he explained how nice Carson and others are to Wright’s heresy. This is Jell-O. Mush. To be blunt, it’s lying. This intra-academy, ecumenical love-fest solves nothing and accomplishes nothing. Wright believes something fundamentally different about justification. This is “kind of a big deal.” This is just one example.
  • I hear Schreiner didn’t do well in a recent radio discussion with Wright on the subject. I heard Schreiner was polite and kind. I don’t know if this is true, and it really doesn’t matter – the point is that you know this is the way things work.

This isn’t “open conflict.” It’s tea-time at Aunt Dorthy’s, complete with delicate china and polite smiles. It's difficult to contend for the faith with a dainty cup of Earl Grey in your hand.

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.


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