Timothy G. Enloe
This is a piece written by my friend Tim. In a short amount of space he helps us to understand a very important issue concerning scripture. What we believe about the Bible itself is foundational to all else we may say we believe. Please read and consider.
I certainly don't fancy myself some sort of expert on theological debates, but it seems to me that even someone with a modicum of understanding about certain key concepts ought to be able to see that some ideas are just plain nonsensical, despite their lofty-sounding appeal to "higher principles". So it has been with great interest and not a little consternation that I have begun to engage a trend in modern "evangelical" thinking which appears to be growing by leaps and bounds. Whether in theological journals, popular magazines, internet chat rooms, or old-fashioned face-to-face conversations, it seems that the notion that some of the statements in the Bible can be creatively re-thought due to the fact that they were originally penned in a less "enlightened" culture than ours is taking the evangelical mind by storm. What is more amazing yet is that those who would engage in this "revisioning" of evangelical theology do not seem to understand how their efforts undermine the faith once for all delivered unto the saints (Jude 3).
Though not often stated as bluntly as I just put it, the central premise brought to the table by upstart "reformers" of the traditional consensus on some hotly disputed issue is this: "Oh, that was Paul." Versions of this principle include, "Well, Jesus didn't say that, Peter did.", or "Yeah, but that was how they thought back then. It was a patriarchal culture, after all." On a more technical level, the charge is "That idea comes from the Greek philosophy of the day, not from Scripture." Implicit in all these formulas is the assumption that just because something is old, it is necessarily suspect in the face of a more modern understanding. C.S. Lewis called this way of thinking "chronological snobbery", and I am inclined to agree with that assessment.
Proponents of the view, however, seem to think it represents the height of informed biblical thought, sometimes going so far as to describe it as "objective" and faithful to the "spirit of the text". The corollary is, of course, that the traditional view is "biased" and "dependent on the dead letter of the law". Lost in the shuffle of such emotion-wringing phraseology are the actual arguments for each position and the ramifications they have for one's overall theological system.
There are a number of key issues currently being subjected to this methodology, ranging from the very nature of God Himself to the nature of Hell and from the role of women in the church to the acceptability of homosexuality as a legitimate option for a Christian. What I want to focus on here, however, is not any one of these specific issues per se, but on how they affect the broader idea of the inspiration of the Scriptures themselves.
Evangelicals have always held to a firm concept of the character of God's revelation in the Bible, at least, in principle. In an age when seemingly all criteria of truth and morality are up for grabs in secular society, it has been they who firmly and unapologetically stand for biblical absolutes. As a continuation of the long-standing Protestant cry of Sola Scriptura, this defense of inspiration and inerrancy has been laudable.
But what happens when someone tries to hold these ideas alongside the type of historical prejudice described above? What happens when a person wants to say the Bible is "the Word of God" at the same time as they declare some particular part of it "the word of Paul" so that they can pursue some agenda that a straightforward reading of the text would disallow? This incoherence leads to a practical denial of the very thing being affirmed in principle--the inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture.
Setting up a tension between Jesus and Paul is just one of the ways this destructive interpretation occurs. For example, I have seen it argued by the "gay for God" party that Jesus never spoke about homosexuality, which He surely would have if it really was a violation of God's law. Paul, on the other hand, was apparently too doctrinal about the issue--he should have paid more attention to the "love" and "tolerance" manifested by Christ! (When Christians begin using the same terminology as the world in the same way as the world, I get nervous.)
The same sort of conflict forms the basis for much of the extreme rhetoric about gender inclusivity going around these days. It is one thing to think that the text actually supports a position when in fact it does not; it is quite another to think the text is simply wrong on a position while still maintaining that one is trying to be faithful to that text. When such words as "sexist" and "patriarchal" are equated with each other in a discussion, it is almost certain that one part of the Bible is being pitted against another part in the name of a distinctly modern and democratic understanding of gender relations.
Whether intentional or not, the result of such dichotomistic thinking is an attack upon the veracity of the very words of Scripture. It is to say that the text is wrong in what it says, which is to deny that the text is the inspired and inerrant word of God at that point. That there are currently a number of Christians who utilize this approach in dealing with "controversial" issues says more about the the church's acceptance of corrosive secular philosophies than it does about how far we've "progressed" in our understanding of the gospel's social implications.
What it all boils down to, then, is this: do we as evangelical Christians really believe that "ALL Scripture is God-breathed" (1 Tim. 3:16), or do we think that some of it is the Word of God while some of it is the word of men? If the former, then it is time to stop apologizing for what the text says. If it offends the modern ear, so be it. We must defend it against all comers and at all costs. It is, after all, the Word of GOD. If the latter, then we no longer have any right to call ourselves either "evangelical" or "Christian", for we are simply pagans in disguise. We cannot afford to embrace the "That was then, this is now" paradigm. The very foundation of our faith and practice is destroyed by it.
Copyright 1998, By Tim Enloe