Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How to Safeguard the Future of Evangelicalism

Several of my posts over the last few days have been devoted to the historic evangelical view of the Bible as the infallible and inerrant Word of God. Some people, who still refer to themselves as Evangelicals (see here), have rejected this older view of Scripture. They argue that although the Bible is God's inspired Word, it may be mistaken on matters of fact and Theology.
In 1969, D. M. Lloyd-Jones gave an address on How to Safeguard the Future at the fiftieth Annual Conference of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship (now UCCF). He began by describing the origins of the IVF as an evangelical student movement. The older Student Christian Movement (SCM) started out as an evangelical grouping. But by the turn of the 20th Century SCM had drifted from its old position. According to Lloyd-Jones,
SCM had become more social than Christian and it had departed in a very serious manner from the fundamentals of the Christian faith - from the authority, the inspiration, and the inerrancy of Scripture, and from the whole doctrine of salvation.
Evangelical students were not happy with this situation so they separated from the SCM and founded the IVF as a distinctly evangelical student body. The question to which Lloyd-Jones addressed himself was, how could IVF safeguard its evangelical position rather than go the way of SCM? "The Doctor" argued that it was essential for the IVF to hold the the inspiration and authority of the whole of the Bible,
The whole of the Scriptures are of God and we must accept them all. We must accept the history as well as the didactic teaching. We must take the whole of the revelation which God has been pleased to give us.
In other words, it is wrong to say that you go to the Bible only for 'religious' truth or truth concerning salvation. This has often been taught. It was taught very prominently in the last century by an German theologian called Ritschl; he drew this distinction. He argued that you must not go to your Bible for anything apart from the 'religious' truth or truth concerning salvation. That is not true. The Bible speaks concerning creation, the origin of the world, and the message of the Bible on salvation is not merely a personal one; it deals with cosmic salvation. It is interested in the whole of life and the whole universe, because God the Saviour is first God the Creator. So we have to accept the history and the record of its beginning. In teaching this central doctrine of salvation in this very chapter, Paul refers to Adam, the historical Adam, the first man (1 Cor 15:45). Salvation involves history; it involves the doctrine of creation; it involves the whole doctrine of man. Therefore is is vitally important that we take the whole of Scripture, and no not pick and choose and say, because of our new knowledge, certain passages not longer apply. That is to deny the Scripture, the very basis and foundation of our faith, and we know from history that churches, movements and individuals which have gone astray and become heretical have generally done so because they have ceased to believe, and to accept, the whole of Scripture. (From chapter 15 of Knowing the Times Banner of Truth Trust, 1989)
The lesson of the demise of the SCM as an evangelical body is that once evangelicals begin to attribute errors to the Bible, further doctrinal decay is almost inevitable. The denial of inerrancy is the first step towards theological entropy. This principle can be observed in this history of Methodism. See my post below for John Wesley's view of the Bible. But by the early 20th Century, Methodism had come under the influence of Liberal, critical scholarship. Donald Soper suggested that the Scriptures 'represents an incubus' and proposed that Bible reading should be banned for 1965. Leslie Weatherhead taught that 'William Temple was just as inspired as Paul'. He commented on the text, "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission [of sin]" (Hebrews 9:22), 'In our modern view this simply is not true.' (See Wesley and Men Who Followed by Iain H. Murray, Banner of Truth Trust, 2003, p. 257 & 258).
The vitality of the Methodist movement was based on the proclamation of the word of God in the power of the Spirit. The Bible alone was the ground of their faith. Once faith in the Bible was undermined, Methodism lost its Christ-glorifying evangelistic power. If we are to safeguard the future of evangelicalism, we must hold fast to the authority, sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture.


Chris Tilling said...

Hi Guy, despite our difference of opinion on this, I honestly appreciate your input as I blog my way through this.

In other words, it is wrong to say that you go to the Bible only for 'religious' truth or truth concerning salvation

I think this would be an error if, by salvation, one meant only how individuals get to heaven (as you later wrote: salvation is not merely a personal one). But the message of salvation encompasses all of life.

To not believe in six days creation, in the flood etc. doesn't take away from this life changing world view and encounter with Jesus Christ that the Scriptures offer.

The denial of inerrancy is the first step towards theological entropy

I have to admit, this can be the case for some - but I suspect only those who feel they abandon God if they abandon inerrancy. And speaking personally, my own theological life and thinking has been energised and refreshed since dropping inerrancy. I felt I couldn't look myself in the 'intellectual honesty' mirror while I believed it (at least towards the end of that time), and it is a pity to equate such a thing with obedience to God.

I think, and this has been the point of my posts, that a biblical view of Scripture will lead to a denial of inerrancy (understood Chicago/Grudem style). And while I've been majoring on a negative, a 'no', I still hold a very high view of Scripture - I read it daily, meditate on it, memorise it, and know from deep experience that God speaks through it, mediateding his presence to me, cvhanging my world. I have a big 'yes' to say to Scripture, even if a 'no' to inerrancy.

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Chris,

I appreciate your comments. But history shows us that the abandonment of Biblical inerrancy is often the first step toward further theological error. That is what happened with the so-called "Liberal Evangelicals",SCM and Methodism. I admit that this is not always the case. But we would be foolish to ignore the lessons of history.

The once vibrant Welsh evangelical nonconformist churches were decimated when ministers began to accept higher critical views of the Bible. Huge, cavernous chapels that were packed to the topmost gallery with lively Christians now lie empty or have been converted into Bingo Halls. The decline can be directly attributed to the rejection of the full authority and reliability of Scripture.

As you know from our discussion, I accept Biblical inerrancy first and foremost because that is what I believe the Bible teaches. For me it is a matter of faith, prompted by the witness of the Spirit that the Scriptures as, originally given, properly interpreted are without error.

Evangelicalism at its best and most vigorous has held to the inerrancy of Scripture. Departure from this doctrine, as I have argued, often has disastrous consequences for evangelical witness to the saving power of the gospel of Christ.



Ben Myers said...

Nice post, Guy. In your comment to Chris, you say: "The decline [of Welsh church-attendance] can be directly attributed to the rejection of the full authority and reliability of Scripture." Of course, it's possible that you're right -- but another possibility might be that these churches arrived at a historical-critical view of the Bible too late.

I have often thought that the perceived irrelevance of the church has a lot to do with the failure to bring a historical-critical view of the Bible from the academy to the pew. Many churches today still carry on talking about the Bible as though the scientific and historical worldview had never happened -- so that the world inevitably perceives the church as a quaint but fundamentally meaningless relic from the past.

Perhaps what we need then is not less historical criticism, but more -- so that the Bible itself, in all its radical historicity, is taken seriously among us as the human and historical Word of God.

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Ben,

Interesting comment. But I'm not sure that church history is on your side. Let's take the 18th Century as an example. Enlightenment rationalism was beginning to influence the thinking of many Churchmen. Leading clergymen embraced Deist God of the Enlightenment. Deism taught that God is an aloof, distant First Cause. The Bible was dismissed as a hotch potch of myths and legends rather than revelation from God. The Bible-based experimental religion of the Puritan era was often dismissed as old fashioned and dated.

But what reinvigorated Christianity in the UK and America was not the Church's acceptance of these new "up-to-date" views on the Bible. It was the Evangelical Revival associated with Whitefield, the Wesleys and Jonathan Edwards. These men held to the older "out of date" Puritan view of Scripture. As a result of the 18th Century revivals, many 1000's were added to the Churches and society was changed for the better. All this was accomplished by preaching the Biblical gospel in the power of the Spirit of God. Deism, meanwhile, was consigned to the Theological dustbin.

The Evangelical Revival led to the great missionary movements of the 19th Century and the social reforms associated with Wilberforce and Shaftesbury. Evangelicals founded the first trade unions and established schools to educate the poor. These advances were not made by accommodating Scripture to the spirit of the age. But by an outpouring of the Spirit upon the preaching of the gospel.

That, I submit is our great need today. We must be faithful to Scripture and preach its message with boldness and confidence. Christians need to practice the message of the Bible by godly, Christlike living . Without these things, the future of evangelicalism is uncertain.
But above all else, we need a great outpouring of the Spirit of God. When he comes, he convicts the world of sin and glorifies Christ.

May the Spirit who gave us the Bible enpower us to make its message known to the people of our day.



revdrron said...

What is the real issue behind the evangelical’s insistence upon inerrancy? Could it be that the evangelical is more concerned with the veracity of his Lord’s witness than a mere promotion of outdated forms of unenlightened arguments.

It seems to me that the only reason a follower of Christ would hold tenaciously to the inerrancy of Scripture is because the Scripture itself and the Christ of Scripture teaches it. As John Murray wrote, “The rejection of the inerrancy of Scripture means the rejection of Christ’s own witness to Scripture. Finally and most profoundly, then, the very integrity of our Lord’s witness is the crucial issue in this battle of the faith.” Hence, in support of the Preacher's argument, once the witness of Jesus Himself is set aside, there is no way to stop the slide into bleak skepticism.

In short, inspiration demands inerrancy!

Worship & enjoy, ron

Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Ron,

Thanks for that. I agree with you (and John Murray) 100% .