Inerrancy Is Indispensable

The Battle For the Bible, by Harold Lindsell (Zondervan, 1976, 288 pp., $6.95), is reviewed by Francis RueSteele, home director, North Africa Mission, Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.

What is the Bible: a record of man’s search for God or God’s revelation of himself to man? What does “inspiration” of the Bible mean: does the Bible inspire or motivate man or is it inspired of God and therefore entirely trustworthy for man? And what has inerrancy got to do with it? This is the single most important issue confronting the Church today because it is basic to all others.

And this is the subject of Harold Lindsell’s latest book. It is a timely book, since it seems that evangelicals who do not accept biblical inerrancy are not aware of the seriousness and danger of their decision, and also many evangelicals who believe in inerrant Scriptures are not sufficiently aware of the threat to biblical Christianity that denying this doctrine presents. The author’s stated purpose for writing his book is to encourage frank, open discussion, especially among evangelicals, that will, hopefully, confirm committed Christians and restore those who have doubts or questions about inerrancy and its importance.

Over the centuries grave theological issues have arisen in the Church regarding such basic doctrines as the Trinity, the natures of Christ, and the personality of the Holy Spirit. And they have always been resolved by appeal to the authority of Scripture. The issues that led to the Reformation arose not from the reliability of the Bible but from false interpretations of and additions to Scripture. Therefore, they too were solved through an appeal to the teachings of authoritative Scripture. In the last two centuries, however, the authority of Scripture itself has been called into question. For eighteen hundred years the Bible stood virtually unchallenged as the source of truth for the Church. Now, doctrinal controversy touches on the very foundation of Christian faith. It is no longer a matter of a single doctrine but of the integrity and consequent reliability of the Bible itself.

With the rise of evolutionary dogma in science and the tenets of destructive higher criticism in biblical studies, the Bible suffered a mounting attack that at its height claimed to have reduced the Bible to a mishmash of jumbled source materials gathered by various editors and redactors into a composite text of late date. As these new and radical concepts permeated the Church, they produced a polarity which in America soon became the fundamentalist-modernist confrontation. Serious though this division was, it had the advantage of clarity; the opposing camps were fairly easily recognized and identified.

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In recent years, however, the situation has become much more confusing and therefore much more dangerous. Instead of two relatively sharply defined camps, there are now orthodox, neo-orthodox, evangelical, neo-evangelical, and conservative Christians espousing every position from form criticism and a demythologized Scripture through partial inspiration and limited inerrancy to the historic position of the Word of God, inerrant in its autographs and therefore infallible in its message. Moreover, not only does the line separating those holding the historic high view of biblical inspiration from their opponents divide evangelical Christians, but its course is so vague and changing, through obscure definitions of inspiration and reliability, as to confuse the unwary layman. Nevertheless, the issue is basic and vital: if the Bible is not totally trustworthy in “all that it affirms,” no one or no group is competent to determine what parts are true, and therefore certainty in religious faith is impossible.

This is what Lindsell addresses in his book. If this issue does not appear to many Christians to be of great moment, it is not for that reason any less important. Rather, the fact that so few Christians fully appreciate the problem makes the danger, and the need for frankly facing the issue, that much greater.

Others have written on the subject before. But this book includes three aspects of the problem that needed extra emphasis. First, inerrancy has always been the conviction of the Church from the first century until the last two centuries. Inerrancy is not, therefore, a new refinement in doctrine designed to embarrass intelligent people. It has always been the foundation of a revealed religion based on inscripturated truth.

Second, there is far less material apparently damaging to the concept of an inerrant Bible now than just a few years ago. Rather, new manuscript discoveries and archaeological data increasingly confirm and illuminate the Bible, showing it to be an incredibly accurate record of history. In fact, it is hard to understand why evangelicals have any problem with the doctrine of inerrancy today.

Third, abandoning inerrancy does not solve embarrassing problems regarding the Bible for evangelical believers. It raises an unanswerable question regarding the determination of accuracy in the Bible and also effectively undermines its reliability. Lindsell cites several instances of eventual departure from the faith by both individuals and institutions after they had abandoned inerrancy.

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The issue is vital if not fully appreciated. The book is right on target—clear, cogent, and convincing. It is to be hoped that a wide reading of The Battle For the Bible will inform and alert Christians to the seriousness of the situation so that remedial action can be taken.

Who Are The Evangelicals?

The Evangelical Renaissance, by Donald Bloesch (Eerdmans, 1973, 165 pp., $2.95 pb), The Evangelical Heritage, by Bernard Ramm (Word, 1973, 180 pp., $5.95), The Young Evangelicals, by Richard Quebedeaux (Harper & Row, 1974, 157 pp., $2.50 pb), and The Evangelicals, edited by David Wells and John Woodbridge (Abingdon, 1975, 304 pp., $8.95), are reviewed by Ralph Winter, professor of the historical development of the Christian movement, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

Like a poor family that gets rich and suddenly wants to know more about its ancestry, evangelicals, having come into new prominence, are eager to trace their family heritage. At least, this is what we might judge by the appearance of the first two of these books. But whatever the appetite of the market, Ramm and Bloesch are serious theologian-historians and are not appealing to snobbery. Their goals are partly to explain who the evangelicals are, and partly to exhort evangelicals to live up to their rich heritage by responding faithfully to the new weight of responsibility thrust upon them by their very growth and success.

Ramm’s book, according to the flyleaf, is his thirteenth. Looking down the list of his previous books, all of them impressive, one wonders if any other evangelical theologian alive today has as successfully combined an abundant output with consistently thorough foundational scholarship. Perhaps Bloesch runs a close second. Ramm’s book is more comprehensive than Bloesch’s. His nine chapters move systematically from the split between the Eastern and Western churches through the Reformation, the division of Protestantism, Scholastic Orthodoxy, the triple impacts of the Enlightenment, liberalism, and neo-orthodoxy, to contemporary evangelical theology and its future. His treatment is sprightly and concise: you have the feeling that paragraph after paragraph he is giving you the distilled essence of a great amount of additional knowledge over which he has confident command. In all this, Ramm is a sturdy, balanced guide.

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Yet neither Bloesch nor Ramm stirs an inch out of his basic role as a theologian. Ramm makes no attempt to describe either Christianity or evangelicalism as a human cultural movement. Bloesch has only one chapter that describes present-day evangelical movements. These men are concerned more with what evangelicals have written than what they have done or are; that is, they focus on the formal, philosophically structured thinking of evangelicals—as theologians should. For example, Ramm makes no reference at all to Billy Graham, not even his theology, nor the major evangelism congresses he has sponsored, which have produced quite a literary fallout. Why? Probably because they have not in his estimation broken new ground theologically. Less understandable: neither author attempts to trace the extensive involvement of evangelical leaders in much of the ecumenical movement that led up to the formation of the World Council of Churches.

Strangest of all is the almost total absence of reference to the Protestant missionary movement, which has girdled the globe, and not only has been 90 per cent an evangelical enterprise, taken historically, but has put a deep evangelical stamp on the majority of the so-called younger churches in the now world-wide phenomenon of Christianity. Ramm, in fact, refers to missions in only a single paragraph that I can find, and there mentions only fundamentalist mission attempts to bypass liberal denominations. Bloesch’s single paragraph on missions occurs in an otherwise most welcome sixty-five-page chapter on “The Legacy of Pietism,” which constitutes one-third of his book.

This omission is especially surprising in the case of Ramm, who, while he predicts great contributions to evangelical theology from linguistics, anthropology, philosophy of language, and communications theory, betrays no awareness of at least a hundred evangelical Ph.D.’s who have long been working and writing in such fields as part of the strong evangelical participation in missions scholarship. For nineteen years, for example, Practical Anthropology, now called Missiology, has been a forum of scholarly application of these secular fields to the most profound problems of theology. It is hard to believe that some of Eugene Nida’s more technical books on language and communication, for example, would not have deserved notice as examples of what Ramm hopes to see more of.

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Every serious evangelical needs at least these two books. They do not seriously overlap each other, and the others assume their existence. They are both superb sketches of the bare minimum that evangelicals ought to know about the Protestant (and Roman Catholic) theological traditions that stand immediately behind the origins of today’s burgeoning evangelical movement. Both authors rightly insist that evangelicals must not ignore this inheritance, and both are earnest, effective apologists for this larger knowledge. Bloesch’s huge section rescuing Pietism from long-standing prejudice in theological circles is the most unusual and valuable element in the two books. He makes it clear that there are extensive theological writings in the Pietist tradition to which evangelical theologians have paid little attention. Such writings, incidentally, show the great divide between Pietism and enthusiasm, words that Ramm uses synonymously. Ramm does at least take the trouble to excuse himself from treating the Pietist theologians.

The most crucial problem, however, is shared by all these books. In pleading for a knowledge of the past, neither Ramm nor Bloesch takes at all seriously the Evangelical Awakening, which stands midway between the Reformation and the present time. Bloesch explicitly acknowledges that fact when he explains that “theological meaning will be normative” in his treatment of the meaning of “evangelical.” Ramm does the same thing implicitly.

I am convinced that while this procedure is clear (and is typical of evangelical theologians as distinguished from historians), to look at evangelicalism merely through theological glasses is desperately misleading. The tremendous spiritual vitality, organizational flexibility, and missionary passion of today’s evangelicalism are as much the product of the eighteenth-century Evangelical Awakening as Protestantism is the product of the Reformation, and the new element—“the evangelical experience”—is not a new theological system. Present-day evangelicalism may have been conceived in the Reformation, but it was born two centuries later in the Evangelical Awakening.

Now the other books fall into place. Quebedeaux’s, the subject of a full-length article in CHRISTIANITY TODAY, by Carl Henry (April 26, 1974, issue), in some ways describes his own intellectual pilgrimage, but it is more a backward look at the movement within which he grew up but where he no longer feels entirely at home. His meticulous taxonomy of the different cultural-theological traditions within the evangelical stream is his greatest contribution; his foot slips only rarely. His treatment is slightly dated, and the categories he describes were probably less confused seven or eight years ago than they tend to be at present. But it is very difficult, with book publishing cycles being what they are, for any book to represent the latest in a movement changing as rapidly as evangelicalism is today. Quebedeaux, more than any other, by naming places, dates and people, introduces evangelicals to themselves, and provides an excellent guidebook for those outside the evangelical movement.

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We come now to the most recent book (also the subject of a full-length article in CHRISTIANITY TODAY, December 5, 1975). That a symposium edited by Two Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professors, Wells and Woodbridge, would be published by Abingdon signifies the increasing interest mainline denominations have in the contemporary resurgency of evangelicalism. This symposium in its thirteen chapters displays the continuing lack of consensus as to what evangelicalism is. Yet it does not just present competing views. It intends conscientiously to examine the phenomenon from all sides and is positively a gold mine of information.

There is not space to comment on each of the many chapters. Donald Tinder’s valuable closing commentary on other books about evangelicals must be mentioned. But the book does not, with all its helpful information, surmount the divergence (noted above) between the theologians’ evaluation of the evangelical phenomenon and that of the historians. Gerstner’s Reformed bias is so strong that although he is a historian, he starts from a theological and Reformation stance and simply classifies all deviation therefrom as departures from evangelicalism. Thus Finney’s Arminian emphasis (branded Pelagian) makes Finney “the greatest of nineteenth-century foes of evangelicalism.” Gerstner not only ignores the large Arminian-Holiness element in the evangelical movement but also betrays his lack of familiarity with the evangelical mainstream by making five errors in the attempt to spell out the full names of the EFMA and the IFMA. But we must at least give him credit for noticing the prominent mission dimension in evangelicalism (despite the absence of missions in Reformation theology).

Marsden and Moberg, one a historian and the other a sociologist, more effectively treat evangelicals in dimensions other than theological. But it is Martin Marty, writing frankly as an outsider, who is the most willing to recognize that one does not understand evangelicals best by viewing them simply through theological glasses. He in fact musters Bloesch and Carl F. H. Henry in his defense for noting that evangelicalism is “a mood and not a theological system” (Bloesch) and “a temperament as fully as a theology” (Henry). He points out that attitudes toward cooperation, for example, more effectively define differences between evangelicals than do specific doctrines about the millennium.

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One reason for this confusion of perspectives is that theologians (who produce most of these books) are being paid to follow the innovations in formal theological statement, not to trace as behavioral scientists the outlines of social movements. Yet my thesis is that evangelicalism is a precious, vital movement today, and like it or not is far more than a theological inheritance. I readily grant that the Evangelical Awakening did not produce any new Calvin’s Institutes. However, the Evangelical Awakening not only broke away from Protestant Scholasticism and returned to the Bible and the Reformers, but was a major, historic showdown, in which the entire Western Christian intellectual heritage was taken to the streets, the towns, the mines, the prisons, the courts, the schools, and the highest legislative bodies of the land, and now more recently has been the mainspring of impetus in the development of Christianity in the entire non-Western world. The world we live in today would otherwise have been radically different. Through evangelicalism the Reformation and Bible truth were brought to society on a scale never before seen in history. This eighteenth-and nineteenth-century phenomenon did not distort Reformation truth but illuminated it through extensive practical—even political—and socio-cultural implementation.

We have yet to see a major treatment of the evangelical movement that uses other than, or more than, theological tools of description, one that will recognize evangelicalism as a movement, not just a theological system. Evangelicals are not so distinctive in what they believe (compared to certain Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and confessional Protestants) as in how they believe what they believe, and one can no more describe their movement purely theologically than one can eat soup with a fork.


Bread For the World, by Arthur Simon (Paulist and Erdmans, 177 pp., $1.50 pb), What Do You Say to a Hungry World?, by W. Stanley Mooneyham (Word, 272 pp., $6.95), New Hope For the Hungry?, by Larry Minear (Friendship, 140 pp., $1.95 pb), Toward Stewardship, by William S. Byron (Paulist, 89 pp., $1.65 pb, Running Out, by W. Dayton Roberts (Regal, 139 pp., $1.95 pb), and The Church and the Rural Poor, edited by James O. Cogswell (John Knox, 107 pp., $1.95 pb). Simon, a Lutheran minister and leader of Bread For the World (an interdenominational citizens’ movement to influence government policies affecting the hungry) gives a well-organized, calm, factual, very readable examination of the problem of hunger. He is particularly helpful in laying out economic and political aspects. Mooneyham’s book is a fine, personal survey of hunger, written out of his experience with the hungry around the world (he’s the head of the evangelical relief organization World Vision International). It’s a gentle, conversational, very effective presentation imbued with love of Christ and of suffering human beings. Minear, a hunger consultant to two church relief bodies, surveys the worldwide hunger problem and some attempts to alleviate it. He says a lot about the 1974 World Food Conference. In a thoughtful, non-abrasive, biblically based examination of stewardship, (“wealth possessed is held in trust for others”), Byron derives principles for Christian response to poverty and pollution, quoting effectively from Scripture, the Church Fathers, papal documents, and other literature. He calls for structural reform within the economic and social system. Roberts, an evangelical mission leader, offers “a modest Primer of Christian Ecology,” giving a brief overview of starvation, overpopulation, and diminishing and polluted resources and suggesting “Christian life-style.” The Presbyterian U. S. and United Methodist churches have been cooperating to help rural poor in the South to help themselves; the book edited by Cogswell tells what they are learning and doing.

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Religion and Public Education, by Lawrence Byrnes (Harper & Row, 161 pp., $3.95 pb). Brief overview of the legal background and the permissible role of instruction on religion, together with available resources to help teachers.

The Encyclopedia of Missions, edited by Henry Dwight, H. Allen Tupper, Jr., and Edwin Bliss (Gale Research Co., 865 pp., $37). Reprint of the 1904 second edition (the first was 1891). A very important reference book for schools with history-of-missions courses.

A Bibliography of Festschriften in Religion Published Sine 1960, Third Edition, compiled by Betty Alice O’Brien and Elmer John O’Brien (United Theological Seminary Library [1910 Harvard Blvd., Dayton, Ohio 45406], 111 pp., $5 pb). Lists nearly 1,600 books containing scholarly essays in honor of someone. Valuable tool for all theological and university libraries.

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No Longer Alone, by Joan Winmill Brown (Revell, 157 pp., $5.95). A former British actress whose husband is the president of World Wide Pictures, the film arm of the Billy Graham Association, tells the story of her conversion at a Graham crusade and what preceded and followed.

Dream a New Dream: How to Rebuild a Broken Life, by Dale Galloway (Tyndale, 128 pp., $.95). A prominent young evangelical pastor is suddenly deserted by his wife. This is the story of how God dealt with him subsequently, together with principles that are applicable to a variety of tragedies.

Between Time and Eternity: The Essentials of Judaism, by Jacob Neusner (Dickinson, 196 pp., n.p.), Christ-Killers, Past and Present, by Jacob Gartenhaus (Hebrew Christian Press, 122 pp., n.p.), Thy Brother’s Blood: The Roots of Christian Anti-Semitism, by Malcolm Hay (Hart, 1975, 365 pp., $8.95), Christianity Is Jewish, by Edith Schaeffer (Tyndale, 244 pp., $5.95), and Judiasm in German Christian Theology Since 1945: Christianity and Israel Considered in Terms of Mission, by Eva Fleischner (Scarecrow, 205 pp., $7.50). Differing perspectives on Jewish-Gentile-Christian relations. Neusner, a leading scholar of Judaism, presents a college-level introduction to his religion in its past and present forms for those who know nothing about it. Gartenhaus is a Jewish Christian who, regretting the epithet “Christ-killers” hurled against his people over the centuries, focuses on such questions as, Were the Jews uniquely responsible for the death of Christ? (no), and Do Hebrew Christians cease to be Jews? (again, no). Hay’s book was first published in 1950 as The Foot of Pride. It seeks to show that professing Christians have in fact historically hated Jews as deliberate policy rather than an aberration. Schaeffer leads us on an informal tour of the Scriptures to demonstrate the thesis of her title. But if Christianity is Jewish, where does that leave Judaism? Fleischner’s doctoral dissertation demonstrates the shift in one nation among many non-evangelical theologians away from seeking to lead Jews to Messiah Jesus to an endorsement of Judaism for Jews.

The Church Resource Library, by Maryann Dotts (Abingdon, 47 pp., $2.95 pb). Useful for any congregational library, both starting and expanding. Good section on non-print materials. Pages are large.

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Religion and Revolution, by Guenter Lewy (Oxford, 694 pp., $17.50), Religion and Political Modernization, edited by Donald Eugene Smith (Yale, 340 pp., $15), and Religion and World History, by Christopher Dawson (Doubleday, 351 pp., $2.45 pb). Various religions, large and small, have had considerable social impact both in promoting and in resisting change. These books are almost essential for serious students of the interaction between religion and other aspects of society globally. Lewy ranges from the Maccabees to the Spanish Civil War and Gandhi’s India. Smith brings together fifteen papers from a 1971 conference treating Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Selections from published and unpublished writings of Dawson provide a good introduction to one of the best-known historians of religion, a convert to Catholicism.

Uppsala to Nairobi, edited by David Enderton Johnson (Friendship, 256 pp., $6 pb). Official report of the activities of the World Council of Churches between its fourth general assembly, in 1968, and its fifth, last year.

The New Believers: Young Religion in America, by Daniel Cohen (Evans, 192 pp., $5.95), The Spiritual Supermarket: An Account of Gurus Gone Public in America, by Robert Greenfield (Saturday Review, 277 pp., $11.50), Sacred Tradition and Present Need, edited by Jacob Needleman and Dennis Lewis (Viking, 146 pp., $10), A Sense of the Cosmos: The Encounter of Modern Science and Ancient Truth, by Jacob Needleman (Doubleday, 178 pp., $6.95), The Game of Wizards: Psyche, Science and Symbol in the Occult, by Charles Ponce (Penguin, 240 pp., $2.50 pb), Unfinished Animal: The Aquarian Frontier and the Evolution of Consciousness, by Theodore Roszak (Harper & Row, 1975, 271 pp., $10), and On the Margin of the Visible: Sociology, the Esoteric, and the Occult, edited by Edward A. Tiryakian (Wiley, 364 pp., $9.95). More or less neutral or sympathetic accounts, each treating a wide variety of the new or newly imported sects in America, almost all of which reflect an Asiatic or occultic religious world-view. Only Tiryakian is aimed at scholars. Recommended not for the idly curious but only for mature Christians ministering to those who are ensnared in one of these groups.

Options In Current Theology

Thinking About God, by John Macquarrie (Harper & Row, 1975, 238 pp., $8.95), is reviewed by Donald Bloesch, professor of theology, Dubuque Theological Seminary Dubuque, Iowa.

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This book is a collection of essays on the doctrine of God and related subjects. Several chapters focus on specific theologians or philosophers including Schleiermacher, Bultmann, Daniel Williams, and Heidegger.

Macquarrie terms his position an “organic theism” as over against monarchial theism in which God is conceived of as essentially independent of the world. In his view, God and the world are “distinguishable but not separable within an organic whole which embraces both of them.” While recognizing the ontological priority of God, he maintains that this is not incompatible with the eternality of the world. The principle of plenitude (Arthur Lovejoy) is very apparent in his thinking: the very nature of a God of love entails an overflow of his love, thereby accounting for the existence of the world. Although Macquarrie seeks to affirm the freedom of God, it seems that in effect he denies this freedom by making the world a logical or necessary predicate of the nature of God. He acknowledges the affinity of his position with the panentheism of Whitehead, Daniel Williams, Hartshorne, and Teilhard de Chardin.

Despite his desire to maintain a biblical perspective, Macquarrie takes for his point of departure the exploration of the mystery of man. He argues for the existence of God on the basis of analogies drawn from human experience. The only transcendence that can be attained in our time, he says, is through the mystery that belongs to our humanity. He looks with favor upon a renewal of natural theology and insists that man is the primary datum in such a theology.

Macquarrie identifies himself with the mainstream of liberal theology rather than radical theology; while the former seeks a rapprochement between Christ and culture, the latter signifies a decisive break with secular culture. He sees the early Barth as a radical theologian and Schleiermacher as the epitome of liberal theology. Whereas radical theology is directed toward the future, liberal theology is oriented toward the present. Macquarrie tries to forge a synthesis of Greek and Hebraic ways of thinking, philosophy and theology, Idea and Word, Christ and culture. Although the biblical basis is always evident in his speculation, he compromises certain biblical distinctives in the interest of a more inclusive or global theology. In his theological schema he seeks to incorporate insights from William’s process theology, Buri’s theological humanism, and Sam Keen’s Dionysian mysticism. He quotes with seeming approval Buri’s definition of God as “the mythological expression for the unconditionedness of personal responsibility.” Yet he does not accept philosophical constructions without qualification: he questions whether an all-inclusive naturalism, as seen in Daniel Williams, is consistent with the Christian theistic tradition.

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This book can be helpful in acquainting the student with the contemporary discussion of the doctrine of God. It deftly confronts one with the two principal theological options today: a philosophical theology beginning with human experience or a kerygmatic theology based on the divine revelation of God given in the Bible.

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