Does God allow doctrinal problems in the church so that Christians will study God’s Word carefully and defend it more accurately against unbiblical ideas? Maybe so. There does seem to be some evidence of this in church history. But whether this is true or not, it does seem that several serious doctrinal deviations have arisen in our generation—one after another—even within what has been considered generally conservative Christianity. From the fifties on, evangelicals debated among themselves the doctrine of the inerrancy of the original writings of Scripture. In response to those evangelicals who were arguing that Scripture was not inerrant in the scientific and historical sections of Scripture, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy was formed in 1977. These biblical scholars planned a ten-year strategy of education, study, and publication. Over the course of ten years, they and others published several important and helpful books, along with the notable Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The battle is not over, but much has been accomplished through careful biblical responses to those compromising the doctrine of Scripture.
Then around the turn of the century, a new approach to the doctrine of God was submitted by those known as Open Theists. Open Theists argue that God does not have detailed control of the universe and that He does not know for sure the future acts of free moral agents. In the words of Al Mohler writing in the end of the twentieth century: “My argument is that the integrity of evangelicalism as a theological movement, indeed the very coherence of evangelical theology is threatened by the rise of the various new ‘theisms’ of the evangelical revisionists.”1 The ideas of Open Theism have been answered by those in support of the classic doctrine of God,2 and the debate has seemingly quieted just in time for another major doctrinal deviation to be proposed.
Now we are hearing that the penal substitutionary view of the atonement should be replaced by some other theory. Seemingly the left side of the Emerging Church has been in the forefront of this grave development, though there is no unified agreement in what the correct theory is. In fact, some, in typically postmodern style, seem to be arguing that there really is no one model of the atonement that gets to the essence of Christ’s death on the cross. The value of the atonement might depend on each individual’s understanding.3