The Scholarly and Fundamentalist Approaches to the Bible, Part 1: Introduction

I was led to write about this topic because Adrian Warnock linked to an article by Al Mohler explaining how he came to became a complementarian (i.e. someone who believes that God has given men and women different but complementary roles in the church and in the family) and an opponent of women pastors. While Mohler, a leading Southern Baptist, is not well known here in England (I had not heard of him until about a month ago), he has been described as the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.” – and put this description in his own personal profile! He also serves on the council of The Council on (so-called) Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the leading group promoting the complementarian position.

Mohler notes that at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, when he was a student there in the 1980s (he is now its President),

the only position given public prominence in this question was avidly pro-women as pastors. Furthermore, I encountered no scholarly argument for the restriction of the teaching office to men in any seminary forum or format. That argument was simply absent.

He then writes that he changed his mind on this issue as a result of

a comment made to me in personal conversation with Dr. Carl F. H. Henry in the mid-1980s. Walking across the campus, Dr. Henry simply stopped me in my tracks and asked me how, as one who affirms the inerrancy of the Bible, I could possibly deny the clear teaching of Scripture on this question.

I have a serious problem with the implications of Henry’s question. To anyone who has studied this kind of issue in any depth, it is clear that the teaching of the Bible on this is not at all clear. I suspect that Henry had in mind a small number of proof texts which could be called upon, often out of context, to prove for example that women could not be pastors. That is the typical approach of biblical fundamentalists to answering this kind of question. The trouble is, this is not how the Bible should be used.

To give credit to Mohler, he did not simply accept Henry’s position on the basis of a few proof texts. I’m sure he had been taught better than that by the scholars at his seminary. He writes:

I launched myself on a massive research project, reading everything I could get on both sides.

Nevertheless, I can’t help suspecting that the reason why at the seminary he “encountered no scholarly argument for the restriction of the teaching office to men” is that there are no such scholarly arguments, that is to say, no arguments which don’t quickly fall when subjected to proper scholarly scrutiny. Of course Mohler wouldn’t agree, for he writes:

there just wasn’t much written in defense of the complementarian position. Egalitarianism reigned in the literature. … Thankfully, with the rise of groups like CBMW and the influence of scholarly books by Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Mary Kassian, and so many others, this is no longer the case. The complementarian position is now very well served by a body of scholarly literature, for which we should be thankful.

But I have examined some of this “body of scholarly literature”, what has been written on this subject by Grudem and his collaborators, and I cannot accept that it is truly scholarly. Books like The Gender Neutral Bible Controversy, by Vern Poythress and Wayne Grudem, are full of elementary misunderstandings of Greek and linguistics, and show every sign of being an attempt to put a scholarly dress on to an argument which is in fact based on fundamenalist proof texting. Instead such issues need to be examined with a proper scholarly approach.

So, what is the difference between the scholarly and fundamentalist approaches to the Bible? Having whetted your appetites, I hope, I will leave that for part 2 of this series: The Fundamentalist Approach (see also part 3: Principles of Scholarly Exegesis; part 4: Exegesis of Titus 1:6; part 5: Scholarly Application; part 6: Conclusions).

Not going to Israel

It has been a quiet week on Speaker of Truth, not because I am taking a deliberate summer break, but because my mind has been on other things.

I had been expecting that this coming Sunday I would be flying to Israel with a team from my church, to spend a week in Nazareth working with an Arab church there, and then a week based in Jerusalem. Nazareth is the home town of my vicar (pastor) as well as of my Saviour.

By last weekend the trip was already in doubt because of the conflict with Lebanon. But we expected that the Arab town of Nazareth would be out of the firing line. However, on Wednesday night we heard that two Arab children had been killed by a rocket which landed there just 150 metres from my vicar’s family home – and 135 people were sent to hospital. With this kind of attack Hezbollah show themselves not to be freedom fighters targeting an enemy, but terrorists who kill indiscriminately – but then perhaps they fired these missiles in haste as the Israeli army closed in on their launchpad. Anyway, in response to this the Nazareth city council closed down public meetings, so making the church children’s club which we planned to run impossible.

So, even if we had been fearless enough to go, we would not have been able to do what we had intended. On that basis we decided yesterday to cancel the trip, or at least postpone it until next year. Of course all of this has been on my mind for most of the week. And it has stopped me concentrating on blogging – although it prompted another team member to start a blog about the trip. But it does mean that this blog won’t be closing down for the next two weeks as I had intended, although I may take a shorter break.

And then I have also been enjoying the record summer heat, but not wanting to sit too long in front of my computer. We were expecting a hot time in Israel, but it looks like it may be just as hot here.

Wind or Nuclear Power for Bradwell

I hope this blog doesn’t seem to be scraping the barrel by commenting on articles in the free newspapers which appear through my door every week. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Casper’s reprieve, an article in the Chelmsford Weekly News. My inspiration today is taken from a rival publication, the Chelmsford and Maldon Yellow Advertiser, Thursday 13th July 2006. As the web page I have linked to gives only a few facts about the newspaper, and is not an online edition, I need to retype part of the article which caught my attention.

In fact I am writing this largely for my blogging friend Tim Chesterton, who was brought up in the area of this church, and recently wrote about it in the ongoing novel on his blog. But this might be of interest to others as well.

NO TURBINES AT CHURCH

THE COUNTRY’S oldest church will remain undisturbed in its isolated coastal position after plans for a wind farm nearby were turned down.

Maldon District Council threw out the application for 10 turbines to be installed at Hockley Farm, Bradwell, last Thursday, because it would “significantly detract from the setting of the church.”

Historic St Peter’s-on-the-Wall dates back to the 7th Century and attracts visitors from all over the world.

Members decided npower’s scheme for 10 turbines – each 121 metres high with three-bladed rotors – plus ancillary equipment and a sub station would be too intrusive for the rural Dengie Peninsula site and ancient chapel. …

The site for the rejected wind farm seems to be about a mile from the historic chapel. At about the same distance from the chapel stands Bradwell Nuclear Power Station, now closed and being decommissioned, but still standing as a large and ugly cube of concrete, in some ways far more visually intrusive than graceful wind turbines.

In response I am sending the following letter to the Yellow Advertiser, for possible publication:

The rejoicing in Bradwell at the rejection of a wind farm may be short lived. For the more people find reasons to reject energy from renewable sources like wind, the more pressure there will be to build more nuclear power stations. Bradwell will of course be a prime site for a replacement nuclear plant, and after the government’s latest U-turn Maldon District Council may well not be allowed to reject it. I’m not sure whether a wind farm a mile or so from St Peter’s Chapel would be more or less visually intrusive than a power station at a similar distance, but only one of them would also bring the threat of a Chernobyl style meltdown which could make the whole district, indeed much of Essex, uninhabitable. If we don’t want to take that risk, we need to make full use of the power we can get from the wind.

In researching this I also found the websites of the company proposing the wind farm, a campaign against the it (I note that their doctored picture is carefully angled to avoid the power station) and a campaign in favour of it, also a blog which is mostly opposing the campaign against.

I also found an article by my own MP, John Whittingdale, in which he suggests that the proposed wind farm would generate half of the power output of the nuclear power station. But he seems to reject this as “relatively little energy”. Yes, it would need more than ten wind turbines to replace the nuclear plant. But I would rather see hundreds of wind turbines dotted around the Essex coast than face the risk of it becoming an irradiated wasteland.

I am glad to say that Whittingdale’s opposition to wind turbines is not shared by his party leader, David Cameron, who is installing a wind turbine on his own home. It remains to be seen whether Cameron’s green leanings will be strong enough to defeat the instinctive NIMBYism (“Not in my back yard”) of so many of his party’s supporters. But an alliance between him, the Liberal Democrats and the many anti-nuclear Labour MPs must be this country’s best hope to avoid a potentially disastrous return to nuclear power.

Is 1 Timothy 2:8-15 ignored?

Adrian Warnock has posted an overview of 1 Timothy in which he writes:

Gender issues are addressed in 1 Tim 2:8-15. I realise that good people differ on the interpretation of this passage – what exactly is “teach or exercise authority”? But, the key question is – do we in any sense feel these words apply to us today? It is those who want to totally ignore them that do irreparable damage to their view of the Bible.

I am not sure if Adrian intends to suggest that egalitarians, those who allow women to take any role in the church, want to totally ignore 1 Timothy 2:8-15 (this link should give the TNIV reading). I agree with him that this would not be right.

However, there is plenty in this passage which I as an egalitarian would not want to ignore. Let’s look first at verse 8 (TNIV):

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

This is clearly addressed to men, males. But I am sure that no one would teach that it is OK for women to pray with “anger or disputing”. Paul addresses this verse to men, and not to women, presumably because this was a problem among men, in general or in the specific context of Timothy’s church. And indeed in churches today men tend to be more angry and disputatious than women, for all kinds of biological and cultural reasons.

So then with the instructions for women in verses 9-12. We don’t have to assume that these instructions applied only to women and not at all to men, but rather that they were perceived as especially relevant to women, at least in the particular setting for this letter, the church in Ephesus. It seems likely that in this cosmopolitan and liberal city some Christian women were dressing immodestly and expensively, whereas others (or perhaps the same ones) were showing themselves to be unteachable and trying to put themselves forward as teachers. Therefore Paul writes verses 9-11 to correct these specific wrong attitudes.

It is of course the duty of all Christians, men and women, to “learn in quietness and full submission” (v.11, TNIV) to those who are the appointed teachers in the church, and not to “assume authority” (v.12, TNIV) or “teach… in a domineering way” (v.12, TNIV margin). Paul addresses these points to women not because they don’t apply to men, but because there was a particular problem with certain women on these issues. There may be similar problems with unteachable and self-promoting women, or men, today, and this passage can be applied to them.

As for verses 13-15, I accept that it is rather difficult to find an application of these in the church today. Part of the problem is that no one really understands what is really meant by what TNIV renders as “be saved through childbearing” (v.15). But I think we need to understand these verses as a message to the particular women who were causing the problem addressed in verses 11-12. If so, this is one of many passages in the Bible which all evangelical Christians accept as applicable today without being able to see exactly how they are applicable.

Now I accept that there are real issues about the interpretation of verse 12, and whether the egalitarian understandings of this verse can be defended. See for example this recent discussion, in which I took part, and my previous posting on this. The main problem concerns the meaning of the very rare Greek verb αὐθεντεῖν authentein, translated “have authority” or “assume authority”, or perhaps “domineer”. Egalitarians tend to interpret αὐθεντεῖν authentein as a very negative word, as it certainly could sometimes be in Greek. But it is quite wrong to suggest that egalitarians are simply ignoring this passage.

Further Comments on Revival Evangelicalism

Thank you to Sam and Tim for your comments on my posting Am I a Revival Evangelical? I started to respond in a further comment, but decided that this would work best as a new posting.

Sam, the post for which you gave me a link certainly helps me to understand where you are coming from. My own experience has been somewhat different, coming through what you would call fundamentalism, e.g. the Christian Union at the other university ;-). I have not rejected this while seeing it transformed by an understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit which includes some of the kind of mysticism which you have experienced. And then following that I studied theology, worked for ten years on the mission field, and came home spiritually dry. Especially in the last year I have come back towards that close relationship with God which is at the heart of mysticism, although I know that I still have a long way to go. At some time I hope to post more about this here.

I too am deeply suspicious of too much emphasis on decisions. While on the mission field I did some work with a church whose idea of evangelism was to speak to people on the streets about Christ – so far so good – and then to encourage them to make an immediate decision to become a Christian. In that situation, quite a lot of people were prepared to do that, for example to say the prayer they were presented with. They were also invited to the church and attempts were made to follow them up, but these were often fruitless. But it was the teaching of this church that these people were saved eternally because they had once prayed that prayer. I don’t entirely reject that teaching. But I do have serious doubts about this as a proper evangelistic strategy. And for similar reasons I would not support “revival meeting” style evangelism, detached from a local church, without proper follow-up arrangements. But then at least here in Britain that is not common. When I was a counsellor for a Billy Graham mission some years ago we were all taught how important it was to get proper follow up details for anyone who came forward. I am sure that most responsible evangelists continue to do this.

So, Sam, I would agree with the following from your posting on evangelism, even though I would not completely accept the parts of this paragraph which I omit.

I believe that it means allowing God space to work his grace in our lives and in the lives of those whom we care for. There is a particular neurosis attached to Revival evangelicalism whereby the gospel becomes a burden not a liberation – which is odd, for Christ set us free for freedom. … Our calling is to be faithful, to dwell in grace, and to give thanks.

I would also agree with Tim and I think Sam that Sunday worship ought to be for Christians and not turned into an evangelistic event. So I would not endorse the strategies of certain American mega-churches which do just that. However, surely if for one reason or another a significant number of non-Christians turn up to a Sunday worship service, it is surely proper to present them with the basics of the Gospel. And, where much of the congregation is made up of people who consider themselves Christians but do not seem to be making progress in the Christian faith, surely it is a good thing to challenge such people in the context of the service and encourage them to do what they should do as Christians.

But then, if Sunday worship is not to be evangelistic, and the church is to do the work of evangelism, and this is to be a corporate rather than an individual activity, then surely evangelism must take place in some kind of meeting rather like those which Finney pioneered, as described in the article which Sam quoted:

the “evangelistic meeting” that takes place apart from the normal preaching and sacramental ministry of the local church.

So, Sam, if you don’t like evangelism being done in Sunday worship, and you apparently don’t like special evangelistic meetings, how do you think the church ought to reach those who need to hear the Christian message?

I don’t mean here to suggest a normative evangelistic strategy, only to get away from any ideas that certain strategies are invalid. For surely it is for each church to decide its own strategy, within the rather broad limits of what is considered orthodox Christianity as presented in the Bible.

Meanwhile I am glad that Sam is distancing himself from the doctrine of double predestination, which I consider immoral as well as unbiblical. I clearly didn’t understand Sam’s meaning at this point. I agree that human will and decision should not be exalted as a work of righteousness. There is a fine line to be drawn here, but we are not at all far apart.

I would also like to define “revival” in a very different way, not as human evangelistic enterprise but as a move of the Holy Spirit. But that is a subject for another posting, and another time. So I will leave this one for now.

Am I a "Revival Evangelical"?

I am glad to have found in Rev Sam another Anglican blogger from Essex, and from my own diocese of Chelmsford. I found him because his Free Essex campaign was commented on in Canada.

Geographically, Sam is from Mersea Island, which is about 20 miles away from my home in Chelmsford. In terms of churchmanship, he as an Anglo-Catholic priest and I might seem to be at opposite ends of the Church of England – although in many ways I feel closer to Anglo-Catholics than I do to middle-of-the-road liberals.

Sam has written some interesting thoughts about evangelism, which set me thinking. Am I in fact an exponent of what he calls revival evangelicalism, for which he shows little sympathy?

Let me first say that I accept the principle of sola gratia, “only by grace”. After all, that is what the Bible clearly teaches:

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (TNIV©)

But I do not accept the Augustinian formulation of that principle (also accepted by Calvinists) in terms of God’s grace being irresistible; rather, God gives us free will to accept or reject his calling, for he wants us to make a free decision to follow his ways:

9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.

Psalm 32:9 (TNIV©)

Perhaps in Sam’s eyes saying this is enough to put me into the revival evangelical camp. If so, so be it. But my view is characteristic by no means only of American evangelicalism, but also of the great majority of British Christianity probably right back to the time of Pelagius, Augustine’s British (or Irish) opponent in the 4th-5th centuries (who was probably “semi-Pelagian”, Sam’s Option 2, rather than “Pelagian”, Option 1). My view also seems to have been that of the early church, as argued for example by Roger Forster and Paul Marston in the appendix to God’s Strategy in Human History.

Meanwhile I am puzzled by Sam’s criticism of what he calls decisional regeneration, the teaching that

the decision of the believer is the key step in salvation,

for he also writes

it is the confession that Jesus is Lord which makes someone a Christian.

The only real difference between Sam’s position and the one he rejects seems to be whether it is necessary to express one’s decision with a verbal confession. In fact the Bible clearly teaches that both a decision in the heart and a confession with the mouth are required:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9 (TNIV©)

In fact Sam’s problem with decisional regeneration seems to be with whether it is right to take any steps which might encourage other people to believe and make a confession of faith. Now I can understand why Sam does not like some of the methods used by modern evangelists to persuade people to make decisions; some of them certainly go beyond Christian propriety. On the other hand, some churches, including Anglo-Catholic ones, must be erring in the opposite direction, in that their activities seem to have the effect of discouraging outsiders from coming to the point where they confess Jesus as Lord. So perhaps the real issue here is what kind of steps are acceptable to encourage people to believe.

At this point Sam makes four criticisms of revival evangelicalism, concerning worship, evangelism, church and world.

On worship, I agree with the “Reformed” position, as expounded by Sam, that preaching and the sacraments should be central to Christian worship, and that pressure for decisions should be not be – which does not imply that it is wrong to invite people to make a decision to believe and a confession of faith.

I also agree with the “Reformed” position that Scripture and the gospel should be central to evangelism, but in addition I would point out Paul the apostle’s example to us of being careful to use means which are effective with our target audiences:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (TNIV©, my emphasis)

I also agree with the “Reformed” position that salvation is not just an individual matter, but the church is a necessary part of the Christian life.

And I am puzzled by Sam’s comments about the world, but agree with the “Reformed” position that

growth in faith is tied in with growth in good works, which are seen as the fruit.

Does this make me a Reformed evangelical, or at least an evangelical who is acceptable to Sam? I hope at least that he can accept that my position does not “fall off the edge of traditional Anglican teaching“; indeed it is probably right at the centre of the traditional teaching at least of what is now the largest group within the Church of England, the evangelicals.

But I do have serious problems with Sam’s teaching that “God is in charge of whether a particular person is saved or not“. This appears to be a summary of the doctrine of double predestination, that some are predestined to be saved and everyone else is predestined to be damned. He can hardly make acceptance of this teaching into a touchstone for Anglican orthodoxy, for it is a position which surely has never been taken by more than a small minority of Anglicans. Indeed, it seems to me that predestination to damnation is explicitly rejected in Article XVII “Of Predestination and Election” of the Thirty Nine Articles:

for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

It is also of course explicitly rejected in Scripture:

3 This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 (TNIV©)

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (TNIV©)

Indeed, Sam,

there is a duty placed upon all Christians to seek common ground and affirm those things which bind us together rather than focussing on things which drive us apart.

And I am sure that there is a lot of common ground between you and me, which fits well within the “very broad boundaries” of the Church of England. So let us not get sidetracked into disagreements about predestination, nor about methods of evangelism as long as these do not compromise basic Christian principles. Let us instead focus on fighting our real enemies, which are not within the church but are matters of the world, the flesh and the devil.

"We should not let our disappointment be the father of our theology"

The words of this entry’s title are from a talk by Rob Rufus at a New Frontiers conference, as reported by Adrian Warnock. Indeed,

We should ask God to lift our lack of experience to the level of the Bible rather than bend the Bible to our experience.

Do read the rest of this short report, and let your faith be encouraged!

This reminds me that the disagreements I have with some New Frontiers teachings are very small compared with the great things which we share, such as our salvation and fellowship with Christ, the gospel message, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the assurance of living with God for ever. So in this blog when I discuss other Christian traditions I will try to focus on the positive things I find in them.

I will finish for now with some more of Adrian’s words about Rob’s talk:

We must have a heart for the lost. God loves the lost. We have to ask ourselves as Rob said God asked him – “Why do you want My power to be manifested?” Bring the hopeless cases to church and expect God to act!


The Anabaptist Spiritual Path

Tim Chesterton has just posted on the Anabaptist spiritual path. This path is not so well known here in England, where we have few Anabaptists. Our Baptists can in fact partly trace their heritage to the Anabaptists, but whereas they have retained believers’ baptism and separation from the state, they do not teach other Anabaptist distinctives, especially non-violence. But I have really appreciated the few Anabaptists I have met, and have been struck especially by their Christlike gentleness. So it is good to be reminded of their distinctive tradition, with its emphasis on worship and practical discipleship. I am sure that there is a lot here for other Christians to learn from.

I am not a steel mogul!

In case anyone else is searching for my name using Google Blog Search, which I have just added to my sidebar, I would like to point out that I am not the “steel mogul” Peter Kirk, founder of Kirkland, Washington, who is referred to in a Seattle Times article linked to on several blogs. So please don’t send me begging letters. My modest tithe is already allocated.

In fact Peter Kirk the steel mogul (that’s probably a bit of an overstatement!) lived in the 19th century. He was my great grandfather’s brother, one of three brothers who worked together in the steel industry in northern England. Peter tried his luck in Washington State, where he “hoped to make his town a rival to Pittsburgh”, and himself a real mogul in the process no doubt, but he never made it big.

I have in fact met several people from Kirkland in the last few years, mostly through a church in a neighbouring suburb which has been involved in the same Bible translation work as I have. One of them also works for a real mogul based in another nearby suburb – Bill Gates! And his company actually welcomes the right kind of begging letters, that is, applications for funding for community programmes. But they did turn down a request from a friend of mine recently. So for Christian work it is better to rely on giving from within the church.

Adrian's principles for God bloggers

I am glad to see that Adrian Warnock is sufficiently recovered to post again, including giving a helpful reminder of an older posting on principles for God bloggers. I certainly aim to follow these principles in my own blogging, here and in comments elsewhere. If anyone thinks I am not following them or saying wrong things in other ways, please correct me gently, preferably by e-mail, peter AT qaya DOT org, or if you feel the need to in a comment here. Jesus said:

15 “If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. …”

Matthew 18:15-17 (TNIV©)