One says he is, but he shouldn’t be. Another says he is, but isn’t enough. Another says he’s always been, but wants to be more so. And, another says bluntly “Evangelicals are over-committed to the Bible.”
And all this within the last three weeks.
Mitt Romney says he’s committed to the Bible. In his most recent debate he said, “I believe the Bible is the Word of God, absolutely.” But this is somewhat disingenuous if not deceptive, because three other books are more authoritative than the Bible in Mormon theology (i.e., “The Book of Mormon,” “Doctrine and Covenants” and “The Pearl of Great Price”). So, if he’s informed and telling the truth, he is something less than an orthodox Mormon.
Pastor Bill Hybels just came out with a new book titled “Reveal,” which is research showing that the 12,000 churches that make up the “seeker friendly” Willow Creek Association have not been as effective at creating mature disciples of Jesus Christ as they had hoped, largely due to their under-commitment to the Bible. Hybels says they’ll be changing that. This is great news.
And Pastor John MacArthur is, has always been, and will always be, totally committed to the Bible. It’s this commitment that has made him something of the international standard-bearer for Biblical exposition. In his latest book, “The Truth War,” MacArthur argues for the absolute certainty of God’s truth found in His Word. In a recent interview on my radio program, he said, “The word of God is all we’ve got. God spoke in one book, that’s it. You tamper with that book and everything is lost.” Those two sentences reflect the life passion of John MacArthur. He just doesn’t believe it’s possible for one to be over-committed to the Bible.
So, at the same time as the most readily identified Mormon in the world is saying that he is committed to the Bible, and one of the most influential pastors in America is saying that he wants to be, and another is saying that commitment to the Bible is all we’ve got, you’ve got a big-name professor from Biola University, J. P. Moreland, saying, “Evangelicals are overcommitted to the Bible.”
Ironic. Strange. What’s going on?
At the recent meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Diego, Moreland gave a much-anticipated paper titled “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It.” His main point is rather non-controversial: The Bible is not the sole source but the ultimate source of knowledge, meaning that there are realms of knowledge outside the Bible. No one denies this.
What is controversial, in addition to the title of his paper, is what he says at the beginning of the second paragraph:
Today, I am more convinced of inerrancy than at any time in my Christian life, but the charge of bibliolatry, or at least a near, if not kissing cousin, is one I fear is hard to rebut. To be more specific, in the actual practices of the Evangelical community in North America, there is an over-commitment to Scripture in a way that is false, irrational, and harmful to the cause of Christ. And it has produced a mean-spiritedness among the over-committed that is a grotesque and often, ignorant distortion of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus.
How can one be “over-committed” to the Word of God? It seems like a really poor choice of words, until you remember this is a wordsmith who crafts language carefully. Professionals don’t make sloppy errors—repeatedly.
He’s saying exactly what he means to say.
When he says “Evangelicals are over-committed to the Bible” he is intentionally not qualifying this with “some.” He means all. He’s not saying “some Evangelicals,” “Reformed theologians,” or “cessationists” (those who deny most spiritual gifts are for today). He means all Evangelicals.
When he says “over-committed,” he’s choosing not to say “under-committed,” “wrongly committed,” or “improperly balanced.” No. He’s a pro. He means exactly what he says, and says exactly what he means.
Why this attack on Evangelicals? What’s his real agenda? I don’t know, but I’ll bet it has something to do with his recent interest in signs, wonders, prophecies, words of knowledge, demonic activity, exorcisms, divine healings, miracles and people rising from the dead.
I’m open to the gifts, so I’m not opposed to these things.
But, I do wonder if he would now include Pentecostals and Charismatics in the set of “Evangelicals that are over-committed to the Bible.” Perhaps not. This must be very uncomfortable for the Biola community as they begin to celebrate their centennial next year. After 100 years of solid commitment to the Bible and resisting the encroachment of liberal theology, they now have perhaps their most visible professor giving a paper at ETS on Evangelical over-commitment to the Bible.
Sad. But, it’s not Biola that has changed.
On November 2, the new Biola President Barry Corey stated in his inauguration speech (here):
As we look at the cornerstone of this university with words that have weathered time, our commitment to the authority of God’s Word has held us firm, and this conviction must remain at the core of Biola’s vision to be an exemplary Christian university.
The documents read from 1913, “It should … be understood that these buildings are not to be a monument to any man nor to any set of men, but are to forever stand solely for the promulgation of the eternal truths of God’s Holy Word.”
If we get wobbly on the doctrine of Scripture, core underpinnings get knocked loose, and loosened convictions on biblical truth will be the early steps toward institutional drift.
Every kind of heterodoxy starts with unfaithfulness on the subject of Scripture and in a mischievous hermeneutic of the Bible.
I applaud the role of the Talbot School of Theology in its careful work of taking biblical fidelity seriously in our doctrinal statements and in the our faculty searches.
What do you do with a professor who directly challenges the bedrock convictions of the institution within which he serves?
Pray for Biola.
I think a lot of this has to do with the Word-Spirit tension all Christians since the book of Acts have struggled to keep in balance. Both the head and the heart should be fully integrated in a mature disciple of Jesus—but, one can err either way. Imagine Jesus showing up in the midst of a small group. If the group is too far in their “heads,” they might say, “Jesus, don’t bother us right now, we’re studying the Greek word for ‘worship.’” And they’d go right on worshipping the word rather than its Author. If the group was too far in their “hearts,” they might say, “Jesus, don’t bother us right now, we’re waiting for the Holy Spirit to anoint us.” And they’d go right on worshipping the gifts rather than the Giver of the gifts.
Christians have always struggled to properly balance Word and Spirit. But a sine qua non for Protestants is their commitment to Sola Scriptura—nothing should be elevated to the authority of Scripture—not tradition (contra Catholics), not reason (contra Unitarians) and certainly not religious experience (contra Mormons and many others). All things need to be tested against the standard of Scripture.
We’ll be hearing more from Moreland on all this, no doubt. But for now, I see the same big red flags that other Christian bloggers, including Ted Olsen have expressed—in spite of Moreland’s rebuttal here.
I just can’t imagine the Holy Spirit guiding a believer to be less committed to the Bible.