This magazine is indirectly famous for one of its editors—Harold Lindsell—starting a short-lived but notorious "Battle for the Bible" when the editor penned a book with that title in 1976.
At the time, I was a student at Fuller Theological Seminary, one key institution criticized by Lindsell (where he taught briefly) because it didn't hold to inerrancy. I still recall the momentous convocation in which our president, David Hubbard, defended the school's position: that the Bible is "the only infallible rule of faith and practice." Hubbard questioned Lindsell's "unbiblical" understanding of inerrancy, disputed his take on the contemporary theological scene, and vowed that Fuller would "sail into the winds of controversy" confident of the "seaworthiness of our ship and the correctness of our course." It was heady stuff.
At the time, Donald Dayton, a professor at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in suburban Chicago, reviewed the book and the broader controversy for The Christian Century. Toward the end of the review, he noted,
The crunch will most likely be felt at Christianity Today. Does the editor's book inevitably pull the magazine into his corner and make of it a party journal no longer representative of the whole? Or will the magazine find a way to bridge the ever-broadening evangelical world and by implication repudiate Lindsell's position—which depends at its very heart on its exclusiveness?
That question was answered in short order after Kenneth Kantzer became CT's editor in 1978. One of his first acts was to write a letter to Hubbard—which Hubbard posted outside his office door—extending an olive branch.
Though one editor's book suggested otherwise, as a magazine, we have always been committed to the word inerrant to describe the Bible's trustworthiness, and to fellowshipping with those who describe the Bible's authority using other language. The magazine as such never engaged in that battle for the Bible.
We are now interested in another battle, one that's not about the Bible's authority but rather its use. Evangelicals are tempted—even when we have the highest view of Scripture—to read it in sub-biblical ways. The sacred text is often used as a self-help manual, or for erecting a doctrinal fence, or for justifying our latest missional venture.
Instead, argues J. Todd Billings, associate professor of Reformed theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, recent evangelical scholarship concludes that the Bible is not primarily about us or doctrine or even mission (see "How to Read the Bible"). It's about that yet so much more: the means by which we come to know God as revealed in Christ, and are transformed into his image.
So, in this new "battle," I'd like to see us (charitably!) wrestle over what that looks like as we preach and teach the Word of God in our churches.
Next month: Andy Crouch and Katelyn Beaty debut our This Is Our City project, and Sarah Pulliam Bailey interviews Christine Gardner on the abstinence movement.
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See our cover story on "How to Read the Bible" and check back for more articles from the October issue.
Other Christianity Today articles on the Bible and its use in ministry include:
Battle for the Bible Translation | Our denomination is wide enough to include a variety of methods. (September 2, 2011)
A World Without the King James Version| Where we would be without the most popular English Bible ever. (May 6, 2011)
A Double-Edged Sword | Pastors split over Bible reading in schools as fix for violence. (November 4, 2010)
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