01/08/2007: During my days at The Southern Baptist Theological
Cemetary Seminary (SBTS), I received one jolly-doodle of an exposure to liberalism among the Baptist ranks. I was quite familiar with it among the United Methodists, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopalians, and the Presbyterian Church USA, but had not seen it among Baptists. Until that point, my experiences with the Southern Baptists were all very positive.
So imagine my surprise when–on my first Sunday in Louisville–the Sunday School teacher at a nearby Baptist Church, a soon-to-be MDiv graduate of SBTS, suggested, in a study of 1 Corinthians 12, that homosexuality is a spiritual gift.
So imagine my surprise in that class, that I was the only one in the room who took exception to his teaching!
So imagine my surprise the following Sunday–at a different Southern Baptist church, pastored at the time by a professor in the preaching department of SBTS–in which a Sunday School teacher, the recently-retired pastor of that very church, suggested that much of the Old Testament is not really God-inspired.
That was my Baptism by napalm into the world of Southern Baptist liberalism.
That was the mess that President Albert Mohler inherited.
During my time there, I got to know many of the liberals. To be fair, they were largely a pleasant group of folks. My OT professor was of similar bent, and–while he was quite boring–he was a nice person and a fair instructor. And I don’t say that simply because I got As in his classes.
One of them, Kevin, who would experience a remarkable change of heart–I’ll describe that here–explained in exquisite detail his theological journey at SBTS…
He began his tour at SBTS as a very strong inerrantist, who accepted the Scriptures literally.
As he took Greek and Hebrew exegesis classes, and encountered theology teachers such as Molly Marshall and Frank Tupper, his hermeneutical framework changed substantially. He began to move to the left ever so gradually.
It began when he decided that the Bible was no longer God’s revelation to humanity, but rather a human witness to God’s revelation.
For the better part of three years, he veered very far to the left, making the case (quite eloquently) against Biblical inerrancy, dismissal of the literal rendering of Biblical miracle accounts in the OT, promoting Darwinian evolution, and a espousing level of theological tolerance second only to the Unitarian Universalists.
He and I had many exchanges from 1993-1994; at first they were quite unpleasant, but later on we were quite disagreeable but cordial. At the time, he was serving as a pastor of a small Kentucky church.
Then, in late 1994, a few things happened that shook him considerably…
(1) His church dismissed him due in large part to his liberal leanings on Scripture.
(2) After having a lengthy conversation with me about evolutioon, he began reading Philliip Johnson’s book Darwin on Trial.
At that point, he began to veer back to the right. Slowly but surely, he began to understand that–while skeptics can raise some very fair issues in Scripture–there is no compelling case for abandoning a high view of Biblical authority.
In fact, Kevin came to understand that–in spite of their critical rhetoric–the skeptics failed to present a more viable framework that did not lead to dangers even more insidious than the historical high view of Biblical authority.
In his wild journey, Kevin would leave SBTS with MDiv in hand, older and wiser, accepting the Scriptures are God’s revelation to humanity (not the witness of humanity to God’s revelation), and to deny such is to put the Church on the slippery slope to irrelevance.
While my journey differs from his somewhat, I have also come to that same understanding.
My father is from Iran, and was raised–and still is–a Muslim. (He is a non-practicing Muslim, but a Muslim nonetheless.) Much of the basis for Islam is rooted in the premise that Jews and Christians have corrupted God’s word–i.e., the Bible is full of errors–and therefore it was God (Allah) who sent Gabriel to Muhammed and gave him the real word and the charge to present that to the world.
In other words, the premise for Islam is the same as that of today’s Biblical liberals. The difference: I give the Muslims more credit because, while I agree on very little with the Muslim, at least they accept the proposition that, in time and space, God provided revelation to humanity.
I believe the whole discussion of Biblical authority comes down to two fundamental questions: (1) Can we know the truth? (2) If so, then how can we know the truth?
If the answer to (1) is no, then we are all wasting our time, and any further discussion on the matter would be little more than dictational masturbation. I answer in the affirmative to the first question.
However, if the answer to (1) is yes–and most (not all) to my left would disagree with that premise–then the answer to (2) is of utmost importance.
Now in this discussion, I am assuming that the reader identifies as a Christian, as this is not a comprehensive engagement with respect to philosophy or apologetics.
If one identifies as a Christian, it is fair to ask what basis on which he or she so identifies? I.e., how do you know the truth?
Certainly every Christian would agree that the conviction of the Holy Spirit is paramount, and is crucial to one’s receiving Christ.
But on what basis is such a claim made? Why would one be wrong to suggest that a person came come to know Christ, or “make a decision for Christ” on one’s own volition with no prodding by the Holy Spirit? Why does one even need to accept the premise of a “Holy Spirit”? How does one even know what or who the “Holy Spirit” is?
No reasonable discussion of what makes a Christian a Christian is possible apart from Scripture.
If the Scriptures are myth designed to illuminate, then why should a non-believer even give the Christian any serious consideration? Greek myths, after all, were designed to convey certain truths. The same could also be said for a myriad of nursery rhymes. Demythologizing–as Bultmann would call it–would only reveal some innovating teachings, but nothing for which one should be inclined to give one’s life.
If miracle accounts in Scripture, especially those performed by Jesus, are nothing more than tribal legend, then the Disciples are a flock of liars who deceived themselves–and all future generations–in following lies to the death. In such a case, Richard Dawkins and militant Atheists would be right to declare Christianity a mental disease.
Irrespective of one’s worldview, the premise that we can know the truth must have a rational starting point. In that respect, the presuppositional apologists are right: every worldview is, at some point, circular.
That said, to define what is Christian requires an understanding of Scripture. One will not, for example, find the case for Christ presented in the Koran (which denies both the premise of original sin and the divinity of Christ). Nor will one find the case for Christ in the Bhagavad Gita.
No. What is Christian is knowable only via the Scriptures, and a salvific faith is only possible via the Holy Spirit, the fundamental attributes of Whom are to be found in the Scriptures.
If the Scriptures are just men describing their religious experience, then the Bible would carry no more authority than that of, say, Mein Kampf or Das Kapital or an Oliver Stone movie.
That is the problem with the premise that the Bible is a mere testimony to God’s revelation: it opens the door to a variety of heresies, in that it allows people to elevate their own ruminations to the same level as that of the Apostle Paul or Peter, or Kings David and Solomon.
In effect, they arrogate their own wisdom above that of David and Solomon. I say this because they often claim that the Israelites of the OT didn’t really get “the word” from God; i.e., God didn’t really tell the Israelites to utterly destroy Jericho and Ai, or kill all the Amalekites, because “that would be contrary to the character of God revealed in Jesus Christ.”
In fact, Jesus took a much higher view of OT authority than do the liberals. He appealed to Creation in discussing marriage and divorce; He referred to “the sign of Jonah”–referring to the account in literal terms–when the Pharisees asked Him for a sign; He referred to the flood account of Noah when discussing the end times to His disciples; He appealed to the actions of King David when the Pharisees confronted the disciples’ “work” on the Sabbath in Matthew 12.
To Jesus, the OT was no myth or fable; in fact, that served as the propositional basis for His teachings and also His resistance to Satan in the Wilderness.
Similarly, the Disciples and Apostles took a much higher view of Biblical authority. Note Paul’s charge to Timothy (II Timothy 3:16-17).
The Bultmannian view of Scripture–that it is a testament to God’s revelation rather than God’s revelation–leads to a spiritual morass in which one cannot really know the truth. In fact, when pressed, almost every liberal retreats to “an inner witness”. This relegates the truth to an exclusively existential dimension.
While literalists have their share of kooks and wackos (the Branch Davidians and KJV-only nuts come to mind), the literal–I prefer the term “face-value”–approach to Scripture provides an objective basis for discernment. The skeptic has no viable alternative.
Ergo, I acceptthat the Bible is God’s revelation to man, while conceding that there are issues the resolution of which may evade us in our lifetimes.
If there is a more reliable framework, I’ve yet to see it.