by Steve Spurlin
Modern Day Attacks Against the Sufficiency of Scripture
Fast forward a few years and we find we are fighting the same battle. Let us once again set the stage in preparation to examine the current state of affairs in the battle over the sufficiency of God’s word. Dr. James T. Draper has set the boundary from one direction when he states:
“The destructive critics have shifted from revelation to reason. The naturalistic, uniformitarian scientists have shifted from revelation to reason. The philosophers have shifted from revelation to reason. The students of comparative religions likewise. Ultimately, all of these attacks have come because of the shift in the base of authority from revelation to reason.”
Eventually, this worldview failed to offer an acceptable framework by which to explain all of life. The result of this failure is visible in today’s society in the postmodern mindset, philosophy, and theology. It also has taken the need for an authority out of the picture because there is no absolute truth anyway. Nietzsche’s conclusion that whatever reality is, the noumena of Kant’s philosophy, is unknowable. Therefore, man must choose between nihilistic optimism and create his own reality resulting in irrationalism, or nihilistic pessimism and die by his own hand. The late Mal Couch agrees:
“When critical rationalism failed, it gave way to irrationalism. Both of these views are hostile to biblical revelation, yet in opposite ways. While liberals do not believe the Scriptures are true, postmoderns simply throw out the categories of truth altogether. This philosophy is opening the church up to New Age religions, religious syncretism, and even possibly moral chaos.”
Tommy Ice discusses the logical outgrowth of modernism’s rationalism found in “the current postmodern mysticism, which desires to add human wisdom to God’s Word.” He describes the three-step attack on God’s Word that can be seen throughout history; “(1) rationalism exalts human reason above revelation, (2) skepticism questions everything, (3) mysticism substitutes almost anything for belief. In the late twentieth century, even evangelicals had drifted toward the most serious of violations of Scripture.”
Dr.’s Draper, Couch, and Ice have effectively outlined the two fronts upon which the current battle is now raging. Sadly, these two extremes have had profound impact upon the Church of Jesus Christ. On the liberal side we see the “new” form criticism. This is nothing more than warmed over Wellhausen form criticism redirected at the New Testament and the demythologizing of the Jesus of Scripture. This movement, begun by Rudolf Bultmann (1893-1976), desires to find the so-called “truth” concerning the historical Jesus. In other words, the testimony of Scripture is not sufficient to know the historical Jesus, therefore it is untrustworthy at best, misleading at the least. Thus the creation of the Jesus Seminar organization seeking to decide which portions of the New Testament accounts of Jesus are true and which are not.
On the other side of the issue is the postmodern form of “Christianity”. Postmodernists do not believe in objective truth. Therefore, they are not concerned with the battle over the authority of Scripture. Scripture simply means whatever the postmodern man wants it to mean. “If there are no absolutes, the mind and the thinking processes give way to the will. People want to hear positive words from Scripture about the love of God rather than the realities of sin, death, and hell.” And since there is no absolute truth based upon the sufficient revelation of God in Scripture, then any message that offers what these postmodernists want to hear is accepted into their system, or church. Therefore, in their rejection of objective truth as found in Scripture the Bible’s sufficiency is rejected, but only because it is irrelevant to them. Their feelings and personal likes and dislikes are the overriding principles determining what is right and wrong at least for them as individuals. As a result, Couch makes the following observation: “Postmodernists who reject objective biblical truth have no problem with tolerating Hinduism or Buddhism, which say that the external world is just an imaginary illusion of the mind. And from Eastern religious minds, other popular kinds of religions and belief systems have come about.”
Both of these opposing systems converge in today’s modern, or postmodern, Church. Since the foundation of Christianity, and the direction for Christian life has been removed – the prevailing belief is that Scripture is insufficient for both – there has been a vacuum created that is being filled by many different practices. The shear number of aberrant practices makes it impossible for an in-depth or all-inclusive study. Such a study would take hundreds of pages and years of research. For this paper only a few of these practices will be mentioned
New/Private Revelations –
As Ice observes, the Bible is no longer sufficient. Human wisdom, in all its forms, must be added in order for mankind to find meaning, purpose, and direction in life. In the Church this attitude takes many forms. One of those practices is the receiving of private revelations. This is due to the destruction of the belief in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture is viewed as out of date and no longer able to speak to life in these modern times.
For the charismatic churches these extra-biblical revelations come in the form of what Draper called “logos plus rhema”, that is, the Word written in Scripture, and the word spoken in new, private, personal revelations. As he observes, “Historically, this error was found only in Pentecostal and charismatic churches, but today it can also be heard coming from an alarming number of Southern Baptist pulpits.” More than just Southern Baptists, almost every denomination, if not all, including the Roman Catholic Church has seen this same phenomenon creep into the practice of their congregations, and the clerical leaders. The shift from the sufficiency of Scripture has been filled with Kierkegaardian experienced-based religious practices. These new mystics “are basing their theology on experiences rather than on the foundation of Jesus Christ as found in His Word. The end result is that such people are ‘defrauded.’ They are missing out on true biblical living because of their beliefs.”
Purpose Driven, Pragmatic, Psychological Christianity –
In many churches the Bible has been replaced by Psychology and therapy sessions called sermons – group therapy for the church. One Christian Smith has labeled the situation, “Moralistic, therapeutic deism.””This is especially true in Southern Baptist churches through the instruments of The Purpose-Driven Church and The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. The problem has become so ingrained that, in his book Biblical Authority, Draper buys in to the acceptability of Psychology for treating Southern Baptist Church members. He says, “There are many good and godly Christian counselors who are doing a wonderful work for the kingdom of God. Many pastors find it helpful to be able to refer those with certain problems to a competent Christian professional (emphasis mine).” What Dr. Draper has just done in these two sentences is destroy his whole argument for the sufficiency of Scripture, and demean the position of the pastor, the shepherd, to tend to all the sheep and the particular problems of each. The Purpose-Driven model has also bought into the Psychology mind-set in that Warren has centered his approach on what are known as “felt needs”. These are perceived needs that the “unchurched” have developed, all of which are not needs but self-centered desires. Therefore, the pragmatic side of the Purpose-Driven model finds whatever works, and changes whatever offends the unchurched in order to meet those “needs” to attract people to the church. The most heinous of all of these changes is the watering down of the Gospel message – because Scripture is insufficient to draw those who need to be saved. Then, when the church grows because of all of the entertainment-oriented changes that were made to attract the lost, well, it must be God blessing the church. If it works it must be okay. Yet, Scripture is left out of the Church the Holy Spirit used it to build.
The Rise of Paganism –
On the heels of postmodernism paganism has snuck in “through the side door” as J. Vernon McGee used to say. In his book, Pagans in the Pews, Dr. Peter Jones discusses this rise of paganism within the Church:
“While orthodox theologians fought Kant, von Harnack and Bultmann on the cold German front of skeptical rationalism, the opposition cross-dressed into warm, spiritual, irrational mysticism. The future belongs to marginals such as Nietzsche, Mircea Eliade, Rudolf Otto, C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell. The brush fire has jumped the interstate, and orthodoxy faces the threat of mystical pagan polytheism on the spiritual side of the theistic/atheistic divide.”
In one fell swoop Jones covers every area of academia, Nietzsche in philosophy, Otto in theology, Eliade as historian, Jung in psychology/mysticism/occultism, and Campbell in literature and mythology. Their influence is felt within the walls of the Church today.
One of the forms that paganism takes is seen in the Emergent church phenomenon. This movement is actually a combination of paganism, Christianity, post-modernism all coming together to rebel against the Purpose-Driven church model. Pastor Gary Gilley observes;
“…the seeker-sensitive church has given birth to a new movement being called the emergent church. The emergent church is taking to logical conclusion what the seeker-sensitive church began. All dressed up in post-modern religious garb the emergent church is rapidly rejecting and undermining almost all biblical theology. In other words the emergent church is the new liberalism. Evangelicalism is reaping what it has sown.”
In what this writer believes to be the first book on the emerging church, The Emerging Church (1970) the writer’s express the view that sola Scriptura is insufficient for the Church’s continued existence. What follows are some quotes noting this fact. When speaking of John’s Apocalypse the writer observes, “Many other early Christians, whose writings are not included in Scripture, also contributed to a body of apocalyptic literature describing their dreams and visions.” While not denying Scripture the authors, whether meaning to or not, commend extra-biblical “visions” and “dreams” from writers who one can only guess to be the Gnostics or mystics. Thus, a logical conclusion to such commendations is that Scripture alone is insufficient.
They glowingly refer to the occult psychologist Carl Jung; “In our own day we have a man like the famed psychiatric pioneer, Carl Gustav Jung, talking about Jesus Christ making possible a new rung on the ladder of evolution.” Relying on the Quakers the writers make the following mystical statements when discussing, of all things, church business meetings and policy:
“In (the Quakers’) tradition there is a ‘waiting for the sense of the meeting,’ accepting as fact that Christ is truly present among His people, moving them in the direction He has in mind for their community…there should be the ‘awaiting’ on an awareness of Christ’s presence and will…A time of silence is as important to a business meeting as is a period of discussion…It is our firm conviction based on years of experience…that Christ will always make Himself and His will known to His people through one another.”
From this one must assume that the clear teachings in God’s word are not enough to give direction, therefore, we must wait on a mystical expression of God’s will to us.
When discussing proper goals for the emerging church the writers make the following disturbing statement; “Great preaching, in a historic sense, is no longer a proper goal for either people or the pastor. At one time, perhaps, but no longer (emphasis added).”
Finally, after basing the following conclusion on several Scripture passages the writers conclude with the following statement concerning primary sources for the Church; “With examples like these…to guide us, we come to the conclusion that the obvious primary resource for the Church is Christ alive in His people (emphasis mine).” Not the Bible upon which they just based this conclusion? This seems somewhat contradictory.
Some thirty-seven years later the outcome of this religion of dialogue and community remains void of a firm foundation. Because of this all the emergent church, along with churches of other flavors, has allowed pagan practices to enter their services. As one of their leaders explains, he was saved while practicing what is called “centering prayer” (also known as contemplative prayer), which is nothing more than Eastern mysticism with a Christian tag. This comes complete with mantra (repeating a word or phrase over and over) and trance-like state. Following on the heels of this practice is the practice of “Christian yoga”. Once again this is paganism with the name of Christ attached to it. Since yoga is the center of the Hindu religion it cannot be divorced from Hinduism any more than Christ can be truly taken out of His Church.
Finally, the Emergents also desire a return to Roman Catholic practices. With no biblical/doctrinal foundation upon which to stand, Emergents have no problem compromising with those who hold less than sound doctrine. One of those practices would take one back to the middle Ages as “worshipers” are led through a “prayer labyrinth” complete with icons at which they should stop and pray.
Appreciate your article and there is much to ponder. It is not possible to protect ourselves from all the “isms” in the world while in the world yet your encouragement to be mindful of such things is helpful.
Of note, the church of the 1st century was charismatic and relied on the Spirit, not the Bible. I wonder if sufficiency of scripture is more reliance on reasoned, and often rationalized, interpretations of scripture from a persons particular theological perspective rather than trusting in God and His Spirit to guide us in life. The Bible is nothing but words on paper without the power of the Spirit within those who believe. Sufficiency of scripture? How about sufficiency of the Spirit?
I am always bothered by comments on personal experiences in the life of believers. While I appreciate the point that experience that is not consistent or questionably consistent with scripture needs to be discerned in the context of church , it has been my “personal experience” that theology/scripture without life experience to bring it to life is just cognitive stuff without any basis in reality. The same could be said about experience without scripture and discernment within the church is dangerous. The Spirit, scripture and experience are important.
Gordon Fee’s book; Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God is worth reading and pondering on this subject.
Keep writing, great stuff for thought and growth. Appreciate the encouragement.