Is "what the Bible says" still the top criteria in Conservative Evangelical/Fundamental Christianity in the West?

I am going to say this twice, once at the beginning and once at the end, because the nature of this question is begging to be misunderstood.

Here goes:  The issues are not the value of academic study or the value of scholarship.  The issue is final authority and, secondarily, the priesthood of all believers.

I have seen arguments trying to persuade Christians to join their camp because they have the big name scholars.  What has been lost, IMO, is the argument to embrace a certain position/doctrine on the basis of clear Scriptural argument.

It is my observation that more Christians are following what their "Top Saint" is saying (St. Piper, St. Keller, St. Witherington, St. Grudem, etc.--thanks Tyler R for letting me steal your nomenclature!). This is in contrast to the Berean attitude, where the  the issue is what the Bible says -- not simply accepting a premise because of the academic credentials of the one arguing from the Bible. 

Of course this problem is nothing new -- if it exists, that is. We know that this is how the early church turned into Roman Catholicism -- trust the clergy to do the interpreting. These Christians embracing the attitude of "they know more than we do because they are the scholars, so let's trust their interpretations."

I may just be a grouch (well, maybe I shouldn't say "may"), but it seems to me like the original fundamental idea -- the Bible is our authority no matter what people with massive credentials say -- has been lost. The Neo-evangelical approach of accumulating leaders with amazing credentials to accommodate "dialog" seems to be the approach now embraced by fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, too.  We once valued Bible, now academic prestige seems to be the draw. A

Psalm 119:99 [ESV] exemplified the older approach: "I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation."

A knowledge of Bible content trumped academia, if I might take a liberty to paraphrase, amplify, and apply.

At one time, the purpose of academic study in the realms of theology or related fields was to help us better understand the Bible, but the authority was in the Bible. And, at the end of the day, it didn't matter who said otherwise -- a clear passage was the Law, not footnoted treatises.  The standard has seemed to morph into, "Who is the greatest scholar. What he says is right or most likely right."  The issue once was, "What does the Bible teach?"  Understood was the acceptance of the perspicuity of Scripture.

I think this has changed (and I do not agree with the change).  Do you?

The issues are not the value of academic study or the value of scholarship. The issue is final authority and, secondarily, the priesthood of all believers.

 

Yes, what the Bible says is still the main criteria. Maybe you're in a bad mood.
0% (0 votes)
It has changed, but not as much as you suggest. Get over it.
0% (0 votes)
No, "what the Bible says" is no longer the main criteria, and I approve the change. So there.
0% (0 votes)
"What the Bible says" has never been the main criteria, only the supposed criteria.
14% (2 votes)
On paper, the Bible is still the main criteria. In practice, it has changed. I am unhappy about that.
50% (7 votes)
It has changed in conservative evangelicalism, but not fundamentalism.
14% (2 votes)
Undecided or weighing it at the present. And keep your moods to yourself!
0% (0 votes)
Other
21% (3 votes)
Total votes: 14
Forum Tags: 
4329 reads

There are 29 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

....is "other", because whether the Bible really is functionally the sole rule of faith and practice depends on where you are.  All too often, churches and leaders have enshrined their own cultural habits (generally Victorian/Edwardian mores, really) as if they were Scripture, and it takes a brutal toll on young people who read the Word for what it is and don't have that Victorian background.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Bert Perry wrote:

....is "other", because whether the Bible really is functionally the sole rule of faith and practice depends on where you are.  All too often, churches and leaders have enshrined their own cultural habits (generally Victorian/Edwardian mores, really) as if they were Scripture, and it takes a brutal toll on young people who read the Word for what it is and don't have that Victorian background.  

 

Here's a prominent example from a few years ago of a fundamentalist institution admitting/conceding their culpability in doing precisely what Bert mentions above:  

"For almost two centuries American Christianity, including [ name of institution redacted ] in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than providing a clear Christian counterpoint to it."

Similar examples within fundamentalism come to mind.  My point?: Before anyone gets too gung ho about what's wrong within conservative evangelicalism or even evangelicalism in general, let's first & foremost ensure that fundamentalism is adhering to "what the Bible says" in its beliefs and practices.

"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:3-5 ESV)

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I really despise the conference mania which has plagued conservative Christianity. I get angry about it. I usually try to conceal it because it just makes me seem like a grouch. But, to be honest, we each have our own "authority figures" to whom we flock like sycophantic leeches to a particularly tasty host. 

I saw the lineup for the T4G conference. The usual suspects are headlining the event. The same usual suspects always headline the event. Get a life and invite somebody else, would you? 

There are a few undergrad-level classes I have to take to finish my MDiv. I have to take them because my undergrad is in Emergency & Disaster Management, and there are a few required courses I never got. I'm in the midst of one such class now, and am in class with a bevy of bright-eyed 19-22 year olds. Many times, I've wanted to reach through the computer and "instruct more perfectly" a well-meaning young man who seems infatuated with "Pastor XYZ."

  • Sometimes, Pastor XYZ is cool. Pastor XYZ is a conservative who preaches with a Britney Spears microphone and wears unnecessarily tight polo-shirts and skinny jeans. Pastor XYZ is successful. Therefore, Pastor XYZ is obviously right. About everything. 
  • Other times, Pastor XYZ is a more dignified elder-statesman. He has a large and theologically deep ministry. Therefore, Pastor XYZ must be right. About everything. Of course he's right - he's Pastor XYZ!

Young men need to wake up, get a life, and stop obsessing over Christian celebrity preachers - whether the celebrity is a dignified elder statesman or a pathetically "hip" young conservative who wears little boy polo-shirts while he preaches. 

So, yes - I voted that the Bible is allegedly our sole, infallible authority on paper, but in real life, we tend to look to celebrities. Shame on us all. Praise the Lord that I have no such idols . . . . . wait, the Dividing Line is starting soon, I'll finish this later . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ed Vasicek's picture

You really have a way with words.

Sometimes, Pastor XYZ is cool. Pastor XYZ is a conservative who preaches with a Britney Spears microphone and wears unnecessarily tight polo-shirts and skinny jeans. Pastor XYZ is successful. Therefore, Pastor XYZ is obviously right. About everything. 

I posted that as a quotation on my Facebook Page -- loved it!

"The Midrash Detective"

Mark_Smith's picture

You seem to imply that so-called Victorian/Edwardian mores are cultural but not biblical. I agree it is not my job per se to point out other people's sins. To me that is not the issue. What is the issue is how I SHOULD LIVE and how I should teach my kids and the youth around me.

So, in light of that, can you give me a "more" you are speaking of that isn't biblical? Do you mean alcohol use? Marijuana use? Rocking to the newest Brittney Spears wanna be (shout out to TylerR :-) )? What?

I ask because I see all of those as undesirable for a Christ-like person. So, I am trying to figure out if I am a 43 year old curmudgeon.

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Mark_Smith wrote:

You seem to imply that so-called Victorian/Edwardian mores are cultural but not biblical. I agree it is not my job per se to point out other people's sins. To me that is not the issue. What is the issue is how I SHOULD LIVE and how I should teach my kids and the youth around me.

So, in light of that, can you give me a "more" you are speaking of that isn't biblical? Do you mean alcohol use? Marijuana use? Rocking to the newest Brittney Spears wanna be (shout out to TylerR :-) )? What?

I ask because I see all of those as undesirable for a Christ-like person. So, I am trying to figure out if I am a 43 year old curmudgeon.

 

You'll notice I didn't bold the "Victorian/Edwardian" portion of Bert's quote.  I did provide a direct quote from a fundamentalist institution---without naming such institution---that nevertheless will be recognizable to most people on SI.  The quote unequivocally states that the institution in question based a long-term policy on the prevailing culture of their time/place/locale, instead of on any biblical basis (and they are apologetic about it).  Do I need to be more specific, or do you really not know to what I am referring?

 

Mark_Smith's picture

I don't really care what some institution says or said. I am working in 2016 to people who don't even know what BJU is. So, I was hoping you had something relevant to say about 2016. 

Bert Perry's picture

Mark; racism, segregation, bans of alcohol, dancing, music with a beat, theater, and the like come to mind.  The trouble with these is that when you insist on a behavioral standard that is not in line with the Scriptures, you are training people to ignore the Bible.  

Now I'll be fair; racism and segregationism predate the Victorian era, and bans on alcohol are pretty close, so it's not always explicitly Victorian and Edwardian--it's simply that a lot of our "rules", even those of today, really are this at their root.  And I applaud repentance from these cultural rules, because it to an extent frees people to read the Scriptures as they were written--whether they ever end up in an integrated church, drink, dance, listen to danceable music, or go to a theater.  

And so we have our challenge; to the extend that we've repented of some historic fundamental rules that aren't grounded in Scripture, can we find our current blind spots?  It's my view that Tyler nails one of them; coming from a tradition of "bigger than life" personalities, we are likely to elevate those personalities....above our own duty to examine the Scriptures for ourselves like the Bereans.  And I would argue--coming full circle--that this is sometimes how our extra-Biblical rules get going, too.

(either that, or I--and maybe Tyler--am [we are?] just jealous of how Pastor XYZ fills out that polo and skinny jeans!)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

Well, if I am beholden to the policies of a school I never went to, and of policies I never implemented, then don't call me a fundamentalist. I never knew Hyles. I read one book of his (Church Manual) for a class and knew this guy was wacko, to tell you plainly.

I am not a racist and never will be, so I don't associate them no matter what. Maybe you did.

I don't dance to secular music. Maybe you do. In my younger days I saw so many people who were Christian go to clubs and wind up the next day in a woman's bed. Not interested in that.

I don't drink alcohol. Maybe you do. If you want to go ahead, but don't tell me how great and free it is. I won't ban it but I won't condone it either. A wise man avoids it. There is simply no reason to drink alcohol in 2016.

Music.I regular shop at a Christian bookstore, Lifeway, that is always playing Christian music. All I can say is I wish Christians today were interested in being DISTINGUISHABLE from the world. It is truly sad. And no, I am not saying that the only thing you can sing was written 100 years ago.

I will not apologize and lament associating with people I never associated with, and I am tired of being told to. That is the bottom line.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Mark Smith Wrote:

 I never knew Hyles. I read one book of his (Church Manual) for a class and knew this guy was wacko, to tell you plainly.

I am not a racist and never will be, so I don't associate them no matter what. 

Matt, I am in the same boat.  The big segment of fundamentalism that grew out of the Hyles/John R. Rice camps (many but certainly not all Independent Baptists) and the BJU camp tends to view "fundamentalism" their exclusive domain, so much so that I shunned the word "fundamentalist" for decades because I did not consider my perspective (mode of thinking) the same as theirs.

My background is more like IFCA, Grace Brethren, or GARB. Then the legalism, paranoia, and secondary separation bothered me. So, for decades I had one foot in that camp, another in the EFCA, Baptist General Conference, etc.. The first group was too legalistic/separatistic for me, the second a little too broad/non-separatist.  Both segments moved a bit  towards the left (although, when they made changes, they never admitted they were changes or were at one time wrong), so now I am clearly with the former (only I try to remember how I have changed and am comfortable admitting it).  But, outside a few years when I subscribed to the Sword of the Lord, I never associated with the Hyles/Rice kind of fundamentalism.

When I first participated in SI, almost everyone -- or so it seemed -- was a BJU grad.  But either my perceptions changed or the following of SI changed (or both).  I know I am not alone in this, neither are you.  BTW, the Hyles book you read I read (I was taking courses online toward an M.Div via San Diego Bible College/Seminary, and that was required reading).  Had some good ideas, but I, too saw a mentality with which I disagreed.

"The Midrash Detective"

Mark_Smith's picture

I have no personal beef with BJU. I never have attended there, or even been there. I have known many graduates from there. They are all fine, wonderful believers without a racist bone in their bodies. I don't blame them in any way for the policies of people in yesteryear.

Ron Bean's picture

"For almost two centuries American Christianity, including [ name of institution redacted ] in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than providing a clear Christian counterpoint to it."

I am a graduate of this institution that, thankfully, is changing for the better. The problem with the above explanation for their (again thankfully) past behavior is that, when the institutional policies were active, they defended their practice to students and the public as based on "the clear teaching of Scripture". "Conforming to (Southern) culture" was NEVER mentioned.

Others have claimed Biblical support for their stands on everything from fashion to music.

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

I should first of all note that I find myself in something of a similar position to Ron Bean and Mark; I've got no big connections to BJU, except friends and pastors who have gone there, and I've got no big personal racism or anything there.  But Mark's comment illustrates something that all of us can learn from; the history of fundamentalists being kicked out of their academic institutions by supposed academic "betters" has led to two effects that we all can watch out for--one proceeding from the other.

1.  The eviction from academic institutions has led to a general suspicion of academic tools like logic and an inability to use sound thinking in many quarters.  

2.  Since we haven't learned the tools of sound thinking, we are going to tend to use a lot of genetic fallacies and enshrine our own cultural habits as if they were Scripture.

Now that second part is why I*mention Victorian and Edwardian mores, since the fundamental movement came out of that time period.  Hence a lot of the mores I listed did come out of that time period--notably a period of Prohibition and such.  I'm going to take some of Mark's comments and illustrate this--now don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to pick on Mark specifically, and his statements are not among the more egregious examples I've heard.  But the fact of the matter is this kind of thinking is regrettably endemic among fundamentalists.

Well, if I am beholden to the policies of a school I never went to, and of policies I never implemented, then don't call me a fundamentalist. I never knew Hyles. I read one book of his (Church Manual) for a class and knew this guy was wacko, to tell you plainly.

Fallacies; red herring ( never made this claim) and implied guilt by association--that the assumption is made that I'm assuming we all are connected at the hip to BJU or Hyles, and we simply need to refute this association.  Also "wacko" is something of an ad hominem fallacy--the personal attack.  

 In my younger days I saw so many people who were Christian go to clubs and wind up the next day in a woman's bed. Not interested in that.

Again, guilt by association and red herring.  Not all dancing is like going to a nightclub--I got to know my wife at a dance, and we only started sharing a bed after 2 years and our wedding.

A wise man avoids it. There is simply no reason to drink alcohol in 2016.

This is your historic culture speaking.  Enjoyment is a reason to partake in a pleasure the Bible allows, no?  Really, if enjoyment is not a reason to partake in something allowed (often even endorsed) by the Scriptures, we can say good bye to coffee, chocolate, grilled meats, motorcycling, downhill skiing...... the list goes on and on.  Plus, medical science is finding benefits to moderate consumption of alcohol, especially for the heart.  Risk of alcoholism?  Yes, especially if one drinks to get drunk, just as chocolate has a big risk of heart disease and motorcycling and skiing have a risk of broken bones and worse.   But the Bible consistently endorses the moderate enjoyment of pleasures that can be deadly in excess.

See what I'm getting at here?  We do not need to be associated with Hyles, BJU, Pensacola, or any of the host of other fundamental men and institutions pilloried (often legitimately) by "Stuff Fundies Like" and the like to find that we have some of the same weaknesses that have plagued these men and institutions.   

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

Brother, I appreciate you, but put away the logic police hat, please. I committed no fallacies. 

First Bert, I am addressing more people than you. People on this board for years lament Bob Hyles, and BJU policies of old... I am saying that I will not apologize for something I didn't do. That is it. I am encouraging people to move on from regret of Hyles and the racial policies of BJU, etc.

As for the ad hominem attack. Have you read and Hyles books? Listen to any sermons? I'll leave it at that. Do you think everyone who says Hyles is a wacko is committing a logical fallacy?

Alcohol- I will not start an argument about this here.

So, Bert, I was having a conversation. Do you go around doing this to everyone?

 

Bert Perry's picture

Mark, yes, you did indulge a lot of fallacies exactly as I presented.  To call someone a wacko is a personal attack, period.  To say "I knew people who did X and they ended up doing Y" is guilt by association, period.

This world needs more logic police, not less.  If we could simply throw the yellow flag when personal attacks alone were indulged, our dialogue could clean up so much it's not even funny.  How much bad theology could we avoid if we got rid of guilt by association?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

You are as blind as a bat and missed the entire point of my posts on this topic.

Bert Perry's picture

Mark, I'm sorry, but if you're going to argue that calling someone a "wacko" is not a personal attack and the like, it's not me that needs a trip to the eye doctor.  Sorry, but if I were writing a book on informal logic, I could use the the examples I named to explain the concepts of ad hominem and guilt by association fallacies.  They are that obvious, and it doesn't help because you're applying it to Hyles.  Jude 9 notes that even the archangel Gabriel did not dare bring a slanderous accusation against Satan himself, but rather said "The Lord Rebuke You."

We should take a hint from Scripture and note that if it would have been wrong for Gabriel to so abuse the Devil, it most certainly is wrong for us to so abuse Jack Hyles.  There are plenty of ways we can describe Hyles' errors--man-centered ecclesiology, adultery, etc..--without just throwing things around like "wacko".

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

for anything else. You interpreted it that way. I said dancing can lead to.... Drinking alcohol can lead to... Thus, it should be avoided.

 

Mark_Smith's picture

Did I sin in calling Hyles a "wacko"?

Bert says yes. What do you say?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Just so everybody knows I'm consistent, I think Hyles was an idiot, too. From what I've read, I suspect he was unregenerate. Is that too incendiary? I could be Biblical and call him a fool, a child of Satan, an infidel, a heathen, a man of corrupt mind, a blasphemer, unholy, a traitor, a lover of pleasure, reprobate, a man of corrupt mind, a seducer, an evil man, a filthy dreamer, a brute beast, a dog who laps up vomit, or a pig who rolls in his own filth, but I thought I'd be nice. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Moving beyond the celebrity culture, I think that, often, people (including me) can become so wedded to their theological systems that they're unwilling to explore beyond those systems - even if Scripture seems to do just that! Thus, you have the ecclesiastical sport of hermeneutical gymnastics. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Sorry, Mark, "I knew people did X and they also did Y" is textbook guilt by association.  You did it, own it, and hey--it's endemic in our circles.  Maybe it's time to get rid of such nonsense arguments.  I think it would do wonders for our credibility as a movement if we did.

Now there are two strong arguments why I object to "wacko".  First of all, even if everything Tyler notes about Hyles is true--and I tend to concur for what it's worth--there isn't evidence that he was mentally ill, and that's the meaning of "wacko".   So that's going into slander.

Second, the biggest harm of Hyles isn't that he was likely an unbelieving adulterer and such.  Had Hyles merely been one of thousands of unbelieving adulterers in pulpits (OK, arguably he was, sigh), all of them together would not have done as much harm as Hyles did alone by persuading many thousands of believing, chaste men in pulpits that their path to ministry success was the pastor as dictator, handing down rules in lieu of Gospel and grace, and ignoring evidence of clear sin by church leadership.

So strangely enough, saying that Hyles was "wacko" or mentally ill is not just slander, but it also mitigates the real harm of what the man did, as well as....our guilt in allowing charlatans like him to continue in supposed "ministry".

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Folks, do you realize NO ONE believes the Bible is the main criteria for most of evangelicalism today, and only 1 person believes it is the main criteria for most of fundamentalism today?

I would guess that most of us participate in congregations that are an exception to this.  But it seems we agree that we need a new Reformation. As the old radio program is called, let's get "Back to the Bible."

"The Midrash Detective"

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Ed Vasicek wrote:

Folks, do you realize NO ONE believes the Bible is the main criteria for most of evangelicalism today, and only 1 person believes it is the main criteria for most of fundamentalism today?

I would guess that most of us participate in congregations that are an exception to this.  But it seems we agree that we need a new Reformation. As the old radio program is called, let's get "Back to the Bible."

Like most polls of this type I've ever seen, it's just about impossible to agree with any answer 100%, but I picked "never been the criteria" for a couple reasons.  Even among fundamental churches I have seen, the question as to whether or not you are a fundamentalist is almost never based directly on the Bible.  In fact, the three most likely questions you will be asked (in no particular order and not all are important at every church) are usually 1. Do you use the KJV?, 2. Are you pre-trib?, and 3. What kind of music do you use?  These are not even fundamentals, let alone clear scriptural divisions between believers and unbelievers.  It's obvious that even though much lip-service is given to the Bible being the sole source of faith and practice, in reality it's nearly always a system or applications that are considered the sine qua non points.  Most would deny putting the importance on these, but in practice, these are more important than many doctrines.

Dave Barnhart

Ed Vasicek's picture

Dear Dave,

 

I hear you, but you must remember that there have always been a smaller number of fundamentalists (who would not be considered fundamentalist by the above mentioned kind of churches) who used the NASB in the 1970's and, while resisting very contemporary forms of music did not rant about people who listened to more contemporary music at home?  

I have preached form the NASB since I began pastoring in 1979 and was a private Larry Norman fan and was able to sneak in some moderate Kurt Kaiser kinds of songs into the service. There were some of us, here up north, who had no use for BJU.  It is only since I became part of SI that I was able to see the good side of BJU.

"The Midrash Detective"

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Ed,

That's why I'm just one data point in the poll -- anecdotal experiences cannot be generalized, but that doesn't make them invalid either.  More data is necessary.  I believe that a few of the men that I knew when they led those churches were godly men who wanted to do what was right by scripture.  I'm not sure if "systems" develop as a "necessary shorthand," but they do develop, and even with the best of intentions can come to be what is considered important -- not really all that different from the tradition of the Pharisees.  The first men who thought through things to come up with what eventually became part of that tradition were probably not at all like the men that Jesus rebuked.

Fundamentalists (or evangelicals) wouldn't actually claim to use a magisterium, but in many cases, they do in practice. 

What's more interesting (and concerning)  to me is not the reason I answered the poll the way I did, but what you noticed -- you didn't get any answers that thought that the Bible is truly considered the main criteria in general.

Dave Barnhart

Ed Vasicek's picture

Dave, you are absolutely right in your observations.  I agree with the poll (I voted, too).  The poll is about overall evangelicalism and overall fundamentalism.  There has always been a quite divide between the Biblicist perspective, the revivalist perspective, the evangelistc perspective, or a particular movement's perspective.  Even those who were purer in their attempts to make the Bible their authority (like Plymouth Brethren or some in the Bible conference movement) still incorporated much of the evangelical "party line" (like Jesus turning water into grape juice, a prohibition against games that involved dice, playing cards, all dancing, movie theater attendance, etc.).  The independent Baptists, however, tended to be more intense and restrictive.  

Something to keep in mind, though, is that America was itself moving away from restrictions developed during the Victorian era.  These restrictions were not Biblicial, but when the society moved away from them, the church hung onto them.  In the south, racial prejudice was one of them.  This was a problem in the north, too,  but a less intense one.

"The Midrash Detective"