Wither Evangelicalism?

Was I the only one who was both frustrated and disappointed by the recent interview of Robert H. Gundry in Christianity Today?1 For those who missed it, the eminent Dr. Gundry has come out with a new book on the Apostle Peter in which he claims that “Matthew portrays Peter as a false disciple of Jesus, a disciple who went so far as to apostatize.” Just about everything most people would want to know about the book can be gleaned from its title: Peter—False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew.



So, apparently, for the first time in nearly 2,000 years someone has finally understood Matthew’s true opinion of Peter. (You remember Peter? That guy who walked on the water with Jesus, had his own private audience with Him after His resurrection, converted 3,000 people on the Day of Pentecost, and wrote two of the books in our New Testament?) And according to this startling new insight, it seems Matthew put Peter pretty much on the same level as Judas.

Uh, thanks for clearing that up. I’d say I’ve endured many a sleepless night wondering about this, but that would be a…

Never mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m neither frustrated with nor disappointed by anything Dr. Gundry has said or written. I am saddened by it, but not frustrated or disappointed.

After all, this is the same Robert H. Gundry who was unceremoniously bounced out of the Evangelical Theological Society 31 years ago for claiming that Matthew played fast and loose with history to the point of putting stuff in his gospel that didn’t actually happen but seemed to him to make for a nicer story. (That whole part about the Three Wise Men? Fuggedaboutit!)2

How frustrated or disappointed should I be when someone is simply being consistent with his presuppositions? I am frustrated and disappointed by several things concerning this article, but that is not one of them.

You want my list?

For starters, I am perturbed by the complete title of the CT article: “Did Matthew Think Peter Was a False Disciple? A new book from a top evangelical scholar makes the case.”

Let us concede for the moment that Dr. Gundry is a “top scholar.” But an evangelical scholar? Did you miss the part where I mentioned that he was booted from the Evangelical Theological Society 31 years ago? Any red flags there?

Apparently not for CT. Even though they devoted a 1,447-word article to Gundry’s forced resignation in 1984, the author of the current article, Kevin P. Emmert, apparently experienced no cognitive dissonance whatsoever in omitting any reference to that debacle while referring to Gundry as not only a “top evangelical scholar” but a “leading evangelical scholar”—an ominous reminder that other such “evangelical scholars” are following.

And we can be sure that younger evangelicals are, in fact, following in Gundry’s footsteps, because not only did his allegedly-evangelical employer, Westmont College, not fire him after his expulsion from ETS, but it named an academic chair after him. The current occupant of that chair is a man whom I used to believe was reliable on the doctrine of Scripture, but his recent statements give me grounds for strong doubts.3 Very strong doubts.

Yes, brace yourselves for a new generation of “evangelicals” who are “open” to such new ideas as that of Matthew dissing Peter. They’re coming.

This is not a new problem. In 1971, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave an address titled “What Is an Evangelical?” in which he bemoaned the practice—already widespread 40-plus years ago—of calling just about anyone who said nice things about Jesus an “evangelical.” It must have been a doozy to listen to, because the print version goes on for 57 pages.4 His concept of an “evangelical” was a sturdy one, built to last.

Lloyd-Jones constructed his definition of “evangelical,”in part, with a very strong doctrine of Scripture. Unfortunately, today’s architects are using cheaper materials. CT itself is still asking Lloyd-Jones’s question, but its answer is so stripped-down and dumbed-down that it’s obvious that the new building is not up to code.5 I question how it will fare when the next major doctrinal storm blows through.

Someone might say, “What’s the big deal? We live in a world in which Rachel Dolezal is an African-American, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, and Facebook lets you identify with any of 58 ‘genders.’ So why can’t Robert Gundry be an evangelical?”

To which I respond, “Do you really think that ‘world’ actually exists? I mean, like—really? If so, I invite you to go back to it, because you won’t be happy in mine.”

Problem solved.

Not Exactly Woodward and Bernstein

Speaking of unhappiness: I also find it disturbing that when interviewing Gundry’s academic peers on an issue of this magnitude, the flagship publication of evangelicalism did not even know how to ask the most basic question.

It is hardly newsworthy that a scholar is publishing whacked-out conclusions about the gospel of Matthew. That happens so regularly that scientists could use the intervals to check the accuracy of their cesium clocks. Nor is it particularly newsworthy that in this instance the name of that scholar happens to be Robert H. Gundry. What is a bit more newsworthy is the fact that CT is covering it as a story about “evangelical” scholarship. Thus CT has become part of the story: the institutional amnesia on display there is appalling.

If I had been preparing this article and had professors from other evangelical seminaries on the phone, it seems to me that the first question I’d bring up would be: “How is it possible for evangelicalism to have changed so much over the past generation that a notion like this could come from the pen of an ‘evangelical’ scholar, with other evangelicals even finding ways to praise it?”

Is there not a story-behind-the-story here—one that goes beyond the superficial facts of this one author and his book and straight to the heart of evangelical identity?

Indeed there is.

And it is deeply disconcerting to me when I know that every one of those professors could have explained it, but apparently the pertinent questions were never even asked.

There are actually several ways to answer the question. There are several brushes one can use to paint the portrait of how we came to be where we are. I’m going to pick one, and I’m going to brush with broad strokes. I will try to keep the paint on the canvas.

A Tale of Two Methodologies

Academically speaking, Robert H. Gundry is first and foremost a biblical theologian. And if there was ever a Trojan Horse in the history of Christian theology, it arrived when biblical theology was introduced as an academic discipline.

I know a lot of people will find what I just wrote confusing. After all, what sounds more pure, spiritual, and godly than the phrase “biblical theology?” How can it possibly be a bad thing? Allow me to explain.

When those in academia refer to “biblical theology,” they are not simply referring to the theology that you get from reading the Bible. Rather they are referring to a particular method of doing theology that was born during the Enlightenment, the philosophical movement that enthroned human reason in place of divine revelation.6 And from the moment it became an academic discipline it consciously distanced itself from the historic goals of Christian theology.

Prior to this, whenever orthodox Christians wrote theological works, they started with one basic assumption. They assumed that while the Bible was written by many human authors, it ultimately speaks with one voice: God’s. Thus, when reading the Bible, the goal is to find out what God has said concerning the major topics presented in the whole Bible. This, in turn, led to methods that we associate today with “systematic theology” (sometimes also known as “dogmatic theology” or “dogmatics”).

What does the whole Bible teach about God? Okay: there’s your doctrine of God (theology proper). What does the whole Bible teach about salvation? There’s your doctrine of salvation (soteriology). And so on.

When you’re finished doing this for all the major doctrines of the Bible, you have produced a systematic theology. Just like a school pupil whose teacher asks her to put the lesson into her own words in order to show she understands it, you have taken the lessons from the Bible and put them into your own words for the same purpose. And hopefully this both honors God and helps His church.

Furthermore, since it all comes ultimately from God, and since God does not promote confusion (1 Cor. 14:33), what you find in one part of the Bible does not contradict what you find in another. All of Scripture is in perfect harmony with itself.

The notion of biblical theology as a separate academic discipline from systematic theology changed all that. Born at the height of the Enlightenment, it began with a speech delivered by Johann Philipp Gabler (1753-1826) on March 30, 1787 titled, “On the Proper Distinction between Biblical and Dogmatic Theology and the Specific Objectives of Each.”7 To be fair, Gabler did make some good and reasonable points.

For example, one thing that systematic theology has not been very good at is providing an idea of how revelation progressed over time. God did not reveal everything all at once, but gradually. And yet systematic theology tends to present what God has revealed as a kind of finished portrait rather than as something that He unfolded step-by-step.

One of the strengths of biblical theology, on the other hand, is that it was originally designed to answer questions like, “What did people in biblical times know, and when did they know it?” For example, did Abraham know as much as the apostles knew about God’s plan of salvation? Questions like these help us better appreciate the original contexts of many biblical statements that might otherwise be confusing.

But the original, vintage version of “biblical theology,” à la J.P. Gabler, also asked other questions that traditional systematic theologians had long considered settled issues of orthodoxy. Questions like: does the Bible contain any merely human teachings and how do we distinguish them from the ones that really come from God? 8 And: did the biblical writers disagree among themselves, and if so, how?9 In keeping with the Enlightenment view that reason is the arbiter of all truth, Gabler & Co. saw no problem with the idea that human intellect alone could determine these things.

So from its outset, vintage, academic biblical theology, along with its Enlightenment sibling, historical criticism, was so open to the notion of discrepancies and even contradictions in the Bible that it spent much of its time claiming to find them. And because of that, for the first 100 years or so of biblical theology’s existence as an academic discipline, orthodox seminaries generally kept it at arm’s length. The then-conservative Princeton Theological Seminary, for example did not have a professor of biblical theology until 1892, when it installed Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949) in that position. Vos was well aware of the origins of biblical theology,10 but if there was ever a theologian who could help rehabilitate the discipline and rescue it for orthodoxy, it was Vos. His Biblical Theology text11 is still in print and is required reading in some seminaries.

The Latest Story Never (or Rarely) Told

Even though Vos made his reputation as a biblical theologian, he considered systematic theology the “crown” of Christian theology. Theological liberals of the 19th and 20th centuries were actually hostile to systematic theology and sought to replace it with biblical theology, sometimes even accusing systematic theology of being unbiblical.12 Vos would have none of this. As far as he was concerned, “Dogmatics [systematic theology] is the crown which grows out of all the work that Biblical Theology can accomplish.”13

So the brand of biblical theology that Vos pursued was of a newer vintage, one capable of opening the minds of many evangelicals to the fruitful possibilities of the newer discipline. It would serve to support the goals of systematic theology, not undermine it, much less eliminate it.

But not every evangelical who jumped on the biblical theology bandwagon did so with pure motives. As the 20th century progressed, many were actually joining a movement to restore evangelicalism’s intellectual reputation in the academy. As the title of one recent book puts it, they wanted “a place at the table.”14 At times it was less about faith seeking understanding than it was about scholars seeking respect.

Meanwhile, liberals were unimpressed. As they continued to happily hoe the garden of the older version of biblical theology, they made sure that it had all the soil, water, and sunshine necessary to produce such exotic new crops as source criticism, form criticism, and redaction criticism. Of course, these new strains and hybrids of higher criticism that the liberals were cultivating were rooted in assumptions that ran totally contrary to the orthodox doctrine of Scripture, but that did not diminish the allure they held for young scholars eager to establish an academic reputation.

So evangelicals entering the field of biblical theology had a choice to make. They could grab a hoe and work alongside the liberals, or move over to the field that Vos was cultivating near the turn of the 20th century and raise crops that would actually edify the church.

Many did not make the right choice. Gundry, for example, chose to cultivate redaction criticism. Back then, when he brought the fruits of his labor to the evangelical market, the Evangelical Theological Society properly gave him the bum’s rush. Christianity Today wrote him up for “his position on the historical trustworthiness of Matthew’s Gospel.” He became an official outcast of evangelicalism.

Nowadays, it sometimes seems that evangelicalism’s ostensible leaders are more likely to give him a “book of the year” award.

Rotting from the Head Down

They say that fish rot from the head down. This is a way of saying that when groups, movements, organizations, or nations fail, it begins with a failure of leadership.

On the same page where CT publishes its mission and vision statements, it takes up the cause of “beautiful orthodoxy” and vows to “shape the evangelical conversation,” and “bring important issues to the forefront.15

Is giving heresy the velvet-glove treatment helping to make orthodoxy more beautiful? Should not the question of the propriety of calling Gundry “evangelical” be part of the evangelical conversation? Is it not important enough to be brought to the forefront instead of completely ignored?

Not only are few in evangelicalism’s current leadership expressing concern over how we came to this point, but few are even taking note of it. Hardly anyone even seems curious about it. We are rotting from the head down.

Or perhaps withering is a better term. No, I did not misspell the title of this article. The same evangelicalism that craved academic respectability in lieu of spiritual integrity is now withering for lack of both.

Ron Henzel is Senior Researcher for MCOI and has an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Wheaton College (2002). By the way, if anyone is wondering: his Biblical Studies degree focused on biblical theology as opposed to systematic theology. Just sayin’.

  1. Kevin P. Emmert, “Did Matthew Think Peter Was a False Disciple? A new book from a top evangelical scholar makes the case.” Christianity Today, October 30, 2015 <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/october-web-only/did-matthew-think-peter-was-false-disciple.html?paging=off> Accessed November 2, 2015.
  2. Leslie R. Keylock, “Evangelical Scholars Remove Robert Gundry for His Views on Matthew—Did Matthew embellish his work with nonhistorical additions?” Christianity Today, February 3, 1984. Uploaded November 1, 2003. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2003/novemberweb-only/11-17-42.0.html> Accessed November 3, 2015. What the whole fiasco boiled down to was this: just as CT apparently now thinks that you can believe whatever you want and still call yourself an evangelical, so Gundry has been arguing that you can say whatever you want about Scripture and still call yourself an inerrantist—and earlier, in 1982, he was even able to fool the ETS executive committee with that “logic!”
  3. Justin Taylor, “Tremper Longman on the Historicity of Adam,” The Gospel Coalition, September 21, 2009, <http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2009/09/21/tremper-longman-on-the-historicity-of-adam/>. Accessed November 3, 2015.
  4. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “What Is an Evangelical?” in Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions 1942-1977, (Edinburgh, UK and Carlisle, PA, USA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 299-355.
  5. Rob James, “What does it mean to be evangelical anyway?” April 17, 2014. <http://www.christiantoday.com/article/what.does.it.mean.to.be.evangelical.anyway/36874.htm> Accessed November 3, 2015.
  6. “With the rise of critical thought associated with Descartes (1596-1650) and Kant (1724-1804), the teaching of the church (as well as the Bible) was seen in a new light. Critical rationality could separate the temporal husk of the biblical writings from their enduring kernel. Thus one dogma, that of the church, was replaced by another—that of Enlightenment rationalism and its progeny. It was at this time that biblical theology as a distinct discipline made its appearance.” Robert W. Yarborough, “Biblical Theology,” in Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI, USA and Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Baker Book House Company and Paternoster Press, 1996), 65. Italics added.
  7. Cf. John Sandys-Wunsch and Laurence Eldredge, “J.P. Gabler and the Distinction between Biblical and Dogmatic Theology: Translation, Commentary, and Discussion of His Originality,” Scottish Journal of Theology 33 (1980): 133-44. This is not to say that Gabler invented the concept of “biblical theology,” or that he was even the first to use the term. But he is considered the founder of the modern academic program that goes by that name.
  8. E.g., Gabler wrote, “…it is of great interest whether the Apostle proposes some opinion as a part of Christian doctrine or some opinion that is shaped to the needs of the time…” Ibid., 141.
  9. E.g., Gabler wrote that his goal was to identify those areas “wherein the separate authors” of Scripture “agree in a friendly fashion, or differ among themselves.” When that task was complete, he wrote that “then finally there will be the happy appearance of biblical theology, pure and unmixed with foreign things.” Ibid., 142.
  10. Vos wrote, “From the end of the preceding century, when our science first appears as distinct from Dogmatic Theology, until now, she has stood under the spell of un-Biblical principles. Her very birth took place under an evil star. It was the spirit of Rationalism which first led to distinguishing in the contents of the Scriptures between what was purely human, individual, local, temporal—in a word, conditioned by the subjectivity of the writers—and what was eternally valid, divine truth. The latter, of course, was identified with the teachings of the shallow Rationalism of that period. Thus, Biblical Theology, which can only rest on the basis of revelation, began with a denial of this basis; and a science, whose task it is to set forth the historic principles of revelation, was trained up in a school notorious for its lack of historic sense. For to this type of Rationalism history, as such, is the realm of the contingent, the relative, the arbitrary, whilst only the deliverances of pure reason possess the predicate of absoluteness and universal validity. In this Biblical Theology of Rationalism, therefore, the historical principle merely served to eliminate or neutralize the revelation-principle.” Geerhardus Vos, “The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline,” in Richard B. Gaffin, ed., Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, (Phillipsburg, NJ, USA: P&R Publishing, 1980; 2001), 15.
  11. Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, (Edinburgh, UK, and Carlisle, PA, USA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1948; 2004).
  12. Regarding biblical theology, Vos wrote, “It were useless to deny that it has been often cultivated in a spirit more or less hostile to the work in which Systematic Theology is engaged. The very name Biblical Theology is frequently vaunted so as to imply a protest against the alleged un-Biblical character of Dogmatics. I desire to state most emphatically here, that there is nothing in the nature and aims of Biblical Theology to justify such an implication. For anything pretending to supplant Dogmatics there is no place in the circle of Christian Theology. All attempts to show that the doctrines developed and formulated by the Church have no real foundation in the Bible, stand themselves without the pale of Theology, inasmuch as they imply that Christianity is a purely natural phenomenon, and that the Church has now for nineteen centuries been chasing her own shadow. Dogmatic Theology is, when rightly cultivated, as truly a Biblical and as truly an inductive science as its younger sister.” Vos, “The Idea of Biblical Theology,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 23.
  13. Ibid., 24.
  14. John A. D’Elia, A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America, (Oxford, UK and New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press, 2008). It was fairly well known before this book appeared Ladd’s failure to receive the respect of his liberal academic peers drove him to depression. As D’Elia reveals, it also drove him to drink.
  15.  http://www.christianitytoday.org/ministry/mission/. Accessed November 4, 2015.


Wither Evangelicalism? — 10 Comments

  1. Thank you for the background of Biblical Theology. This was new to me, and helpful to understand.

    Does anyone who takes Christianity seriously read Christianity Today anymore? That rag has been far from any Biblical definition of evangelical or Christian for years now…

  2. “Biblical” Theology = Divide and Conquer. I’ve saying this for years, but nobody believes me. Thank you for being a voice in the wilderness!

  3. Speaking as one who accepts the Christian Scriptures as the true and inspired written revelation of God, and who recognizes many of the same problems with CT’s characterization of Dr. Gundry, as Mr. Henzel does, I would just like to make some observations in response to where Mr. Henzel writes:

    “When those in academia refer to ‘biblical theology,’ they are not simply referring to the theology that you get from reading the Bible. Rather they are referring to a particular method of doing theology that was born during the Enlightenment, the philosophical movement that enthroned human reason in place of divine revelation.6 And from the moment it became an academic discipline it consciously distanced itself from the historic goals of Christian theology.”

    A. Hodge, Charles Hodge, Archibald Alexander and B. B. Warfield, professors at Princeton Theological Seminary in the early 1800s, developed a “scientific” theory of the interpretation of Scripture, and upon their theories of the interpretation of Scripture came the notion that the Bible is verbally inspired and inerrant in its every reference, quotation and statistic, upon which Protestant Fundamentalism was built.

    Ernest R. Sandeen writing in The Origins of Fundamentalism says of this “scientific” method that its authors “never wavered from the basic tenet that if the Bible was proven to be God’s inspired word, the demonstration must be made on the basis of reason through the use of external marks of authenticity–not inner convictions.” (My emphasis.)

    Warfield maintained that reason put both the believer and the non-believer on equal footing in their respective abilities to interpret the Scriptures, and wrote:

    “Reason is as necessary to faith . . . as light is to photography. It is the distinction of Christianity that it has come into the world clothed with the mission to reason its way to dominion. . . . And it is solely by reasoning that it will put all its enemies under its feet.”

    Charles Hodge said, “The Bible is a plain book. It is intelligible by the people. And they have the right and are bound to read and interpret it for themselves; so their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures, and not that of the Church.” (My emphasis.)

    But in the Scriptures themselves, we read:

    1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 9-16

    And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. . . .

    9 But as it is written:

    “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
    Nor have entered into the heart of man
    The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

    10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

    13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (My emphases.)

    And also in Acts 8:30-31 in the account of the Apostle Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch:

    30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

    31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.

    Jews in Jesus’ time apparently did not subscribe to the “plain common sense discerned by means of unaided human reason” philosophy of the Reformers and of modern Evangelical and Fundamentalist theories of how their Scriptures were to be understood. And for that matter, neither did the Apostle Peter apparently, because he wrote in 2 Peter 3:15-16:

    “15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

    It is also difficult to explain how the Apostles would have discerned as such those passages they quote from the OT in the NT as prophecies of events in the Gospels if they had been relying on what would have been to their unaided human reason a “plain common sense” reading of those passages using the “historical critical” method of modern Evangelicals. (Obviously, they were not so reliant, and Luke 24:25-27 & 44-45 offer one explanation of why).

    All this is to say that it seems to me modern Protestant Fundamentalism and conservative Evangelicalism are as beholden as modern Protestant Liberalism to the false philosophy of the Enlightenment that unaided human reason is the key to the discovery of truth (for Fundamentalists truth as the true sense of the Scriptures). The only difference between them is that Fundamentalists accept the premise that the Scriptures are truth from God (on what basis, one wonders?–to say “because the NT writers claim so” is a completely circular argument) and that they are true in the sense of plenary inerrancy, and Liberals do not. The Fundamentalist still has a problem to explain how fallen human reason can arrive at the correct sense of the Scriptures, and why one should accept one Fundamentalist’s interpretation of the Scripture over that of another where they differ (or one Christian group’s claim of a Spirit-guided interpretation over another’s, where they differ, for that matter).

    These are some modern problems of hermeneutics and the nature of the Scriptures’ authority that are not addressed in this post and perhaps indicate a blind spot in noticing how Enlightenment rationalism insidiously governs even many conservative Evangelicals’ approach to Scripture, apologetics and the Christian life. Could it be the seeds of a progression away from modern Fundamentlism and conservative Evangelicalism and toward more theologically diverse and liberal opinions are inherent in some fundamental assumptions of Fundamentalism itself?

    • Karen,

      A typical ploy of the opponents of inerrancy is to attempt to tar that orthodox view of Scripture with the same brush of Enlightenment rationalism that liberals so merrily employ as part of their standard toolkit. This fool’s errand was exposed for the scholastic dishonesty that it is a generation ago in the works of John D. Woodbridge, Norman Geisler, and a host of others.

      But since liberals do not repay the respect shown to them by conservatives who actually read their works and interact with them intelligently, it’s absolutely no surprise when they trot out the same tired old quotes from the usual 20th-century liberals quoting 19th-century conservatives out-of-context, as some continue to do with Ernest R. Sandeen’s obsolete work, the deficiencies of which even Jack Rogers and Donald McKim were somewhat honest about.

      Woodbridge long ago demolished Sandeen’s thesis that Charles Hodge and his colleagues (contemporary or otherwise) at Princeton enthroned reason as the arbiter of truth. But that was not at all difficult to do; all one had to do was read Hodge in context. And since even now Hodge is still in print and widely read, as he was then, it was impossible for any knowledgeable person to take Sandeen’s thesis seriously.

      But it was equally simple to expose Rogers’ and McKim’s contentions that inerrancy was a post-Reformation invention (something you appear to have missed by limiting your reading of liberals to earlier writers like Sandeen, whose name has since been relegated to the footnotes of historical theology). In less than half the space that Rogers and McKim spent distorting the record in their The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible (another work you seldom see quoted by informed people today), Woodbridge stripped their arguments of their pseudo-historical pretentions in Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal. Thus the so-called “Rogers/McKim Proposal” came in which a bang and went out with hardly a whimper.

      Alas! In typical fashion, liberals ignored the evidence Woodbridge so efficiently and elegantly provided, and it now comes as no surprise that Jack Rogers has recently endorsed gay marriage. (Make no mistake: when non-inerrantists fulminate that there is no connection between the denial of inerrancy and the endorsement of gay marriage, they’re being deliberately dense.)

      The errors of ignorance are compounded by those of shoddy citation, as exampled by your alleged quotation from Warfield:

      Reason is as necessary to faith . . . as light is to photography. It is the distinction of Christianity that it has come into the world clothed with the mission to reason its way to dominion. . . . And it is solely by reasoning that it will put all its enemies under its feet.

      Such a careless handling of sources frequently betrays an equally slipshod attitude toward the truth. Although you put quotation marks around this entire excerpt, Warfield did not write all of it. Rather the first sentence (“Reason is as necessary to faith . . . as light is to photography”) is George Marsden’s exceedingly terse and tendentious paraphrase of Warfield’s extended discussion (cf. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, [New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press, 2006], 115). So it seems obvious that you read Warfield through Marsden rather than directly. When it comes to understanding Warfield here, that turns out to be a big mistake. True, the latter portion of your citation comes from Warfield, but you cut it even shorter than even Marsden did. And Marsden’s conclusion that Warfield was advocating “the power of unaided reason” is exposed as a distortion when one reads Warfield in context.

      Warfield was not arguing for any power of unaided reason, but rather he was arguing against a faith that is disconnected from reason—i.e., an irrational faith. His context is that of apologetics and the place of reason in defending the faith, not in establishing the faith, much less in causing faith within people. His context also makes it clear that when he uses “reason” as a verb he is not referring to the mental faculty whereby we arrive at sound conclusions, but rather to the act of persuading others to accept the Gospel through the use of evidences. For Warfield, such reasoning is far from unaided, but rather empowered by the Holy Spirit. To supply key points that your citation is missing, Warfield wrote:

      Faith is the gift of God; but it does not in the least follow that the faith that God gives is an irrational faith, that is, a faith without grounds in right reason. It is beyond all question only the prepared heart can fitly respond to the “reasons”; but how can even a prepared heart respond, when there are no “reasons” to draw out its action? One might as well say that photography is independent of light, because no light can make an impression unless the plate is prepared to receive it. The Holy Spirit does not work a blind, ungrounded faith in the heart. What is supplied by his creative energy in working faith is not a ready-made faith, rooted in nothing and clinging without reason to its object.…We believe in Christ because it is rational to believe in him, not though it be irrational. …

      We are not absurdly arguing that Apologetics has in itself the power to make a man a Christian or to conquer the world to Christ. Only the Spirit of Life can communicate life to a dead soul, or can convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. But we are arguing that faith is, in all its exercises alike, a form of conviction, and is, therefore, necessarily grounded in evidence. And we are arguing that evidence accordingly has its part to play in the conversion of the soul; and that the systematically organized evidence which we call Apologetics similarly has its part to play in the Christianizing of the world. And we are arguing that this part is not a small part; nor is it merely subsidiary part; nor yet a merely defensive part—as if one end of Apologetics were to protect an isolated body of Christians from annoyance from the surrounding world, or to aid the distracted Christian to bring his head into harmony with his heart. The part that Apologetics has to play in Christianizing the world is rather a primary part, and it is a conquering part. It is the distinction of Christianity that it has come into the world clothed with the mission to reason its way to its dominion. Other religions may appeal to the sword, or seek some other way to propagate themselves. Christianity makes its appeal to right reason, and stands out among all religions, therefore, as distinctively “the Apologetic religion.

      [Warfield, “Introduction to Francis R. Beattie’s Apologetics,” in William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphint, Christian Apologetics: A Primary Source Reader, (Wheaton, IL, USA: Crossway, 2011), 2:399.]

      It is easy to see how you have distorted Warfield’s intent by excising his words from their context and thus twisting his meaning into some kind of enthronement of the powers of human reason. He was saying nothing of the sort. Neither was Hodge promoting such notions when he wrote:

      The Bible is a plain book. It is intelligible by the people. And they have the right and are bound to read and interpret it for themselves; so their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures, and not that of the Church.

      [Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted 1982), 183. By the way: it is not only lazy but discourteous to refuse to supply at least minimal bibliographic information when quoting a source. I can only conclude that you want to make it difficult to check the contexts, since they prove you wrong.]

      Here Hodge is simply reiterating the classic Protestant doctrine of the clarity of Scripture—a doctrine which you libelously and refer to as “unaided human reason.” In the very next paragraph Hodge goes on to say:

      It is not denied that…all men need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to right knowledge and true faith.

      [Ibid., 183-184.]

      For Hodge, Warfield, all the other theologians of 19th-century Princeton, reason was only useful as a servant of revelation. For orthodox Protestants, philosophy has always been the handmaid of theology. Among many other things, Luther is famous for calling reason “the Devil’s whore,” and the children of the Reformation have always been wary of its propensity for spiritual unfaithfulness.

      Meanwhile, the Enlightenment is traditionally held to be an 18th century phenomenon. Even if those who would trace it back to the middle of the 17th century are correct, that still means that it did not even begin until after all the Reformed confessions of faith had been written, which was about a century after both the first and second generations of Reformers had died. Thus to impute the concept of “plain common sense discerned by means of unaided human reason” to the “philosophy of the Reformers,” as you do, is an absurd anachronism.

      I find it difficult to believe that someone who has taken the time to read as much as you seem to have in order to submit your comment did not also read far enough to know that Warfield and Hodge, and in fact the whole of conservative Protestantism, has never believed that “unaided human reason” serves as any kind of either foundation for truth or foundation for discerning it. This fact is such common knowledge that one would think that any informed person would have to be very deliberate about misrepresenting it. And yet, if I am to be charitable, the only choice left to me is that you have been grossly negligent in citing your sources due to an indolent disinterest in what they actually have to say. I’ll go with the latter.

      • Thanks, Ron, for supplying more of the context for my inquiry. I was working from and trying to summarize what was already very briefly summarized information I found in a book by Mr. Jordan Bajis called Common Ground: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian in order to provide a context for my question at the end. I’m sorry and a bit perplexed to see the author was not more careful with the sources he was using (and perhaps he didn’t adequately research those sources either). I’m a working mom, so I don’t have a lot of extra time to read all the primary sources for myself (and that book is well footnoted, so at least a reader can check out where Bajis got his information if he or she has the time). To give Bajis the benefit of the doubt, he covers a lot more than the influence of Enlightenment rationalism on Western Christian thought in his book, and the tone of the book is informative, not polemical. In broad brush terms, this information also rang true to aspects of my experience of how many of those most committed to a more Fundamentalist view of the Scriptures often attempt to analyze and access the Scriptures to arrive at (or give an apology for) what they deem to be correct doctrine.

        You are quite right that it is an anachronism to attribute the philosophical assumption the Scriptures can be read through the use of “plain common sense to unaided human reason” to the Reformers as well as those influenced by the Enlightenment who came after them, and that was just an erroneous unintentional conflation on my part as I was trying to summarize an observation about a current attitude among some modern even conservative Protestants vs. that of the Ethiopian Eunuch in the passage I mentioned, not a calculated attempt to deceive your readers! For example, I have many friends who are members of Bible Study Fellowship, which methodology explicitly forbids members from referring to commentaries or other Bible reference materials to see what other learned Christians have said about the books of Scripture being studied or their historic and cultural context. Students in that group are required to come to the naked text alone in its own immediate context to derive meaning from it (presumably unaided by another). The underlying assumption seems to be that this the best way for the modern believer to arrive at the proper meaning of Scripture.

        The subject of how one arrives at and maintains a fidelity to the real meaning of the Scriptures is deeply personal to me in that I actually have family members influenced by a self-appointed Bible Study teacher from a strongly Fundamentalist background (whose training was in a scientific field and who was also strongly influenced by Bill Gothard), who withdrew from any local churches because they believed they had all either been tainted by “pagan” infiltration (i.e., remnants of Roman Catholic liturgy, belief, and practice) and/or were capitulating to modern culture (use of contemporary music with a beat, etc., in the worship). They and this leader were engaged in an attempt to arrive at a “correct” English translation of the Scriptures simply by analyzing the words of Scriptures as they appear throughout the various books of the Bible in the original languages–a distinctively “scientific” rationalist approach. With this “correct” translation in hand, they hoped to convince many others to return to what they deemed to be genuine Christian faith and practice.

        The thing is I believe they would have readily agreed (at least in the abstract) that they also needed the Holy Spirit’s illumination in this, but I’m not sure they could have provided any concrete means for discerning whether this illumination had, in fact, occurred. I read a small portion of a draft of their translation of one of the NT epistles, and my impression, as a long-time reader and student of the Scriptures in several different English translations, was their work had done a lot to obscure the meaning of the Scriptures and that the Holy Spirit clearly had, had very little part in this endeavor! All I saw were family members under a misguided influence isolating themselves in a sort of cult-like paranoid spiritual bubble where they became impervious to any influence or correction from other believers outside their little group (which I think you would also rightly recognize as spiritually dangerous and deluded). (This contrasted, by the way, with my Evangelical pastor’s wise counsel to me that to avoid error, we should be careful to understand the Bible the way believers throughout history had always understood it.) But I did not see a way out of the delusion I saw them in apart from connecting the correct interpretation of Scripture to a whole way of life and worship I saw lacking in their little sectarian-spirited group, and I wouldn’t have known how to avoid the accusation of subjectivity (or even hypocrisy) had I attempted to do so, since none of us perfectly lives up to the way of life to which Christ in the Scriptures call us, and there sometimes is such a diversity of opinion about what that should look like in particular situations among different Christian traditions—even within Evangelical Protestantism.

        It occurred to me, though, my family members’ approach was one rather logical extension and progression (not necessarily the only one) from a certain understanding of the nature of the Scriptures and how they may be understood and applied that seems common to Evangelicals (or at least less scholarly-oriented ones). They literally took the “Inductive Bible Study” method as it was taught at Wheaton College in the 1970s and, with the addition of a couple points extending it for their own purposes, this was the basis of their whole approach to the Scriptures and their understanding of the Bible vs. that of other believers—with the aforementioned dubious results.

        So how would you approach the situation I describe? Do you believe a form of rationalism may have had something to do with this group’s errors, even though they would certainly ascribe to the plenary inerrancy view of the Scriptures? I can see a lot of the assumptions of scientific empiricism, for example, at play in their method for mining for the meaning of the Scriptures, but I don’t believe this is the Scripture’s own prescription for how to discern the truth of God’s word. Do you? What would be some good tests for determining whether our reason is being used in the service of illuminating revelation or to unwittingly obscure it?

        I have never believed that modern conservative Protestants intentionally or explicitly teach that unaided human reason serves as the foundation for the discernment of truth, but I found when, as an Evangelical, I was attempting to discern between opposing interpretations of Scripture among sincere devout conservative Protestants who revered the authority and inerrancy of Scripture (e.g., believer vs. infant baptism, charismatic gifts for today vs. cessationists, Eucharist as “Real Presence” vs. only a “sign”, faith apart from “works” vs. faith as synonymous with obedience = “saving” faith, etc.), there was an implicit assumption that a “faith”-undergirded reason could discern the truth of the Scripture’s meaning that was undermined by the reality of these controversies persisting throughout Evangelical Protestantism and dividing it (as they do to this day).

  4. Great observations, except that the Reformers didn’t believe that human reason alone was sufficient for the saving understanding of the Scriptures. E.g., Westminster Conf. 1:6 – “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word…” which also quotes 2 Cor 2:14, as you did.
    Warfield certainly subscribed to the Westminster Confession, and just because he wrote that reason is necessary to faith doesn’t mean that he asserted that reason is SUFFICIENT. The Confession teaches that saving faith itself is a gift of God given to the elect only.

    • Victor,

      How can you characterize anything in Karen’s comment as a “great observation” when you have essentially contradicted her entire thesis and thereby undermining every single point she made?

      • Hi Ron, I tried to be kind 🙂 In hindsight, “interesting” would have been more appropriate. Happy (belated) Thanksgiving, all!

    • I read Ron’s article, Karen’s lengthy comment, and Ron’s rebuttal. If I were to leave a response, it would be along the lines of what Victor Lee shared.

      Karen wrote this: “All this is to say that it seems to me modern Protestant Fundamentalism and conservative Evangelicalism are as beholden as modern Protestant Liberalism to the false philosophy of the Enlightenment that unaided human reason is the key to the discovery of truth (for Fundamentalists truth as the true sense of the Scriptures). The only difference between them is that Fundamentalists accept the premise that the Scriptures are truth from God (on what basis, one wonders?–to say “because the NT writers claim so” is a completely circular argument)”

      Victor’s comment addressed the first point in this quote. As to the second point on how the canon was recognized as such, it was never “because the NT writers claim so,” (although there are references which place Paul’s writings on par with other Scriptures, and of course the NT writers quoted extensively from the OT). What went down was the early Church in diverse places recognized the authority of the NT writings. The councils of Hippo and Carthage – their translated statements recognize what was already recognized. The earliest Fathers quoted from these books to make their arguments, and their writings precede these councils. The recognition seems to have been fairly extensive across the whole Church of the day, and was not waiting a top down executive decision on the matter.

      Paul passed down what was of first importance. Christ died for our sins, according to the OT (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, among other references). He was buried and rose again the third day according to the OT sacred text.

      We trust Scripture because God spoke long ago in many times and in many ways, and it all pointed to Christ. Paul, in that day, said if you don’t believe Christ was raised, ask the witnesses who were still alive, and that he himself was also a witness. Then, there is the empty tomb. And the attesting miracles of that day. Point being the truth of Scripture is intimately tied with history. Before that history came to be it was foretold in many, many ways that all converged on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. From how He would be born, where He would be born, the time in history he would be born in, to generally how He would die, why He would die, and that He would be raised. The previous items are what Paul would have talked about as he reasoned with Jew and Gentile alike wherever he went. There is a sense in which the Bible authenticates its message as being divine and inspired, which Fundamentalists and Evangelicals believe, but not the way in which Karen suggested they argue.

      I am very clearly not as well read as Karen and Ron, but I have been taught the basics enough to know how Evangelical thinkers understand plenary inspiration, and why they do. From early on, the Church knew what was in, and what was out, to state it very simply (which I recognize is simplistic in some details of history).

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