A Detailed Examination
Over the past two centuries, the historic and orthodox Christian faith has seen its foundations eaten at, ridiculed, and eventually discarded by the bulk of outwardly Christian denominations (such as the Methodist Church, the Episcopalian Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), the called ministers and teachers of the Church, and by "modern scholarship." I use the term "modern scholarship" here as a blanket term for the professors of religion, literary critics, and other people who investigate those matters pertaining to the Old and New Testaments. Usually, the term refers to those who filter the words of Scripture through the filters that are intellectually fashionable in today's climate: rationalism, relativism, historical-critical methods, dialecticism, etc.
This erosion, like most erosions and attacks on the true faith launched today, began with eighteenth century deism and nineteenth century rationalism, and has continued unchecked throughout our twentieth century. Today the views advanced by the rationalists and the social evolutionists, as well as the history-of-religions scholars, are the mainstream and not the radical fringe, and it is not an easy thing to find a church body that professes and practices allegiance to the Scriptures as the very Word of God, free of error in all matters discussed by Scripture, precisely because of the rationalistic thought that prevails in most of the visible church. In this twentieth century, various men and schools have sought to accommodate the rationalistic views and literary critical theories by positing "compromise" tenets or doctrinal positions. The idea was to cut off those Christian dogmas that ran contrary to the "assured results of modern science" and the ideological spirit of the day. The hope of such "neo-orthodox" scholars and teachers was to preserve the "minimal essentials" of the Christian faith while at the same time being loyal to modern thought.
It has been asserted by "neo-orthodoxy" - which is to say, those who hold to the position advanced by some or all of the theses below - as well as by many people who have caught the spirit of the age, that there are six theses which cannot be disputed. These are as follows:
(a) The Jesus of the gospels is the product of mythic evolution, and the gospels do not portray the person of Jesus accurately in their historical statements, or in the recorded words of Jesus himself. A similar statement holds true for all other historical figures and historical accounts in Scripture. Demythologizing is necessary to truly understand or grasp the message of Scripture.
(b) This demythologizing should not trouble the Christian, because these mythic gospels, when demythologized, still convey spiritual and ethical truths that can benefit humanity.
(c) Christians should focus on the spiritual and ethical truths that remain after demythologizing and filtering the texts through the "modern worldview" and abandon their claims that the gospels present the real Jesus, as well as the historical inerrancy of both testaments.
(d) Too many divisions are caused by taking the Scriptures "literally". We should ignore those Scripture passages that cause division and concentrate on those passages of Scripture (especially those of Jesus' life) that unite people.
(e) The Scriptures are God's Word, in particular the four gospels, only in the sense that they become God's Word when they become meaningful to you.
(f) The Scriptures merely containGod's Word, which is mixed in with various errors that are inevitable when human authors are involved.
The above six points do not exhaust the "compromise" advanced by neo-orthodoxy, but they capture the main gist of the issue. I have personally heard all of these views advanced by people who fancied themselves both Christian and progressive and keeping with the spirit of the age. It is my contention that the above six theses do not in any way, if followed to their natural logical conclusion, provide any support for orthodox Christianity, but, far from being a middle ground or ``compromise'' between the True Faith and modern thought, are in all actuality a concession to rationalism and a veiled threat to orthodoxy and to the eternal souls of all men.
What specific names are associated with these positions? There are many, but we can specifically name some of the most familiar:
The Bultmann School. Rudolf Bultmann was probably the best-known proponent of existential demythologizing, which still today posits that one's faith is independent of historical veracity. For example, the Bultmann school posits that the Christian's faith in Christ as the Son of God depends in no way on the historical claims of the crucifixion, resurrection, or works of our Lord. Neither do we need to worry about the historicity of the various patriarchal men and the called prophets in the Old Testament.
The Schleiermacher school. Schleiermacher, a nineteenth-century theologian, maintained that the Scriptures could not be viewed as containing objective and propositional statements, but that everything was relative, subjective, and contingent on the subject who reads the Scriptures.
The history-of-religions school. This school of thought denies the Biblical assertions that since Creation God has intervened at isolated times in human history to announce, further, or effect His ``plan''. Thus, instead of taking the Scriptural claims that God Himself instituted the Jews, the Messiah, and the salvation offered through the cross and empty tomb, this school of thought seeks to ``explain'' the historical phenomena of Christianity by rationalistic, psychological, anthropological, and sociological methodologies. Christianity (as with all other religions) is ultimately a man-made product whose origin, development, and preservation is found in naturalistic and social-evolutionary deductions.
The comparative religion school. This school of thought attempts to explain the Christian Church's origin, existence, and formation by comparing Her development to that of ``similar'' religions. The temple and cultus of the Jews in the Old Testament is not explained as divinely instituted by Yahweh through Moses, but as an evolution (social, political, and ethical) from the polytheism of Israel's neighbors to henotheism, and then to monotheism.
It is important to note that if the above six assertions are indeed true, then many things that orthodox Christians (including orthodox Lutherans like myself) take for granted and teach as truth and fact are at best "adiaphora". Adiaphora is the term we use for those items that Scripture permits individual consciences to decide either way on. The Scriptures warn Christians about being contentious or dogmatic about adiaphora. (cf. Romans 14) For example, unrepentant homosexuality (a very relevant subject of discussion today) is not adiaphora, for it is clearly condemned in Scripture as ``detestable'' (Lev. 18:22), as sexual impurity and degrading (Ro 1:24-27), and excluding one from the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11). On the other hand, what day of the week one holds Christian assembly on is adiaphora. (See Ro 14, Col 2:16-17, and Heb 4 to see that the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) was abrogated. The consumption of alcohol is also adiaphora, left to one's good conscience. We should neither make it required for people to drink wine (say) nor should we view responsible consumption of alcohol for pleasure as sinful. (At worst, these are a blatant transgression of the modern cultural standards of inclusivity and relativism.) These are indeed serious points which every orthodox Christian must encounter if he wants to defend his faith or to share the Scriptures with someone.
I have wrestled with these questions seriously in the last six months, and have read various arguments that are pro and con on the above points. I wish to present my conclusions from studying these issues. Let it be clearly said that I subscribe to the Lutheran Confessions without qualification, and that I personally consider the Hebrew and Greek original manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired and inerrant Word of God. (I assume that the reader realizes that the manuscripts that we have today have been clearly shown by the science of textual criticism to be most accurate. Even though the originals have long since been lost, we can be most sure, based on textual traditions and on the results of textual criticism, that the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts possessed today are faithful to the originals. It is also a fact that no doctrinal tenet of orthodox Christianity hinges on a passage with a dubious textual variant. Those who hold that the original autographs were inspired and inerrant can without any mental reservation what ever make the same claim about our Greek and Hebrew texts today.)
The Theses Examined
(a) The Jesus of the gospels is the product of mythic evolution, and the gospels do not portray the person of Jesus accurately in their historical statements, or in the recorded words of Jesus himself. A similar statement holds true for all other historical figures and historical accounts in Scripture. Demythologizing is necessary to truly understand or grasp the message of Scripture.
As far as (a), many people state this as a fact, the ``assured result of modern scholarship.'' It must be stated that modern scholarship assumes (before any studying is done) that the Jesus of the gospels is a myth. The ``assured results'' of modern scholarship are true only in the tautologial sense: if A, then A. If Jesus is a myth, and let us assume this true, the Jesus of the gospels is a myth. This is logical, but circular.
One might object by saying that I am grossly oversimplifying things and ``pigeonholing'' the liberal critics, yet I can in all good conscience before myself and God state that the only proof offered by liberals for their historical reconstructions of Jesus is their starting assumptions. Outside of the gospels, we have no way of figuring out who the historical Jesus is. Secular sources, such as Josephus and the later rabbinical writings, make mention of Jesus, but both Josephus and the rabbinical writings only mention Him briefly. By throwing out the gospels as a historical document concerning Jesus, we have nothing objective to base any discussion on. This seems to suit the modern critics and liberals, for it allows them to advance their agendas and theories that would otherwise be shot down by the witness of the gospels themselves. In fact, let me personally state that the circularity of modern scholarship seems blatantly obvious to me. Yet, I have personally beaten myself down wondering why modern scholars don't seem to acknowledge this ``obvious'' fact. Is it vanity or pride on their part? Is it arrogance in presuming that a man or woman sitting at a university desk two millenia removed from the scene can more accurately portray Jesus than the texts of the eyewitnesses of His day? My answer to both of these questions is an unqualified yes.
One sees this circularity in Old Testament literary criticism as well. The critical theories that destroy both Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and the orthodox claims of the integrity of the book of Isaiah (say), are based on the assumption that there is no such thing as a personal God who intervenes forcibly in human affairs.
As for the New Testament, especially the gospels, the overwhelming majority of scholars start from this very viewpoint, or some modification of this viewpoint. Either way, the idea of a personal God manifesting Himself at certain places and times in history is negated by the modern a priori. It is not at all wrong to start off with naturalistic or deistic assumptions, but by starting off with such assumptions, one is assuming the very opposite of what the texts unequivocally state. The Pentateuch states most repeatedly that Yahweh did intervene in human history through the Protevangel, the revelation of the universal flood to Noah, the confusion of tongues at Babel, the covenant with Abraham that began the Hebrew people, the Sinai covenant where Yahweh gave the laws and regulations for Israel to live by, etc. The gospels state that God became incarnate in the man Jesus of Nazareth, and that the God-man Jesus at times demonstrated full omnipotence and deity. The modern assumption, therefore, completely ignores the text of Scripture which asserts a personal and intervening God in the plainest words of human language, and sets deistic and naturalistic assumptions that the mind finds ``reasonable'' over the words of Scripture. It is only natural then that viewpoint (a) should be the result of such inquiry into the Bible. The neo-orthodox claim (a) is true, but only in the tautological sense.
Of course, we Christians can rightfully be labelled as circular too. We make the starting assumption that there is a personal God who does manifest Himself in human history. We cannot prove this to the skeptic's satisfaction, nor can we disprove this, and even if it were to be proved that up to the present that God did not make His presence clearly felt in human history, that demonstration would not prove that a personal God doesn't exist, for He might manifest himself in some future time. Ultimately, we Christians start off with an objective metaphysical assumption of existence and attributes whose truth value cannot be ascertained by creatures limited to a space-time framework. We must confess that we are circular. Yet, the modern mindset starts off with an objective metaphysical assumption involving lack of existence and/or lack of attributes. The truth value of their assumption cannot be discovered either by creatures limited to a space-time framework. Ultimately, both the Christians and the moderns are circular. It is no more ``scientific'' or ``objective'' to assume that there is a personal God than to assume that the universe is a closed and ordered system with a finite or infinite set of delineable ``laws'' that are always followed or that are followed with some probabilistic structure.
Thus, the believer should not at all be intimidated by those modern scholars who make brazen claims, such as the Jesus Seminar's declaring that most of what the gospels state is inauthentic. Nor should we be intimidated by scholars who deny Pauline authorship to various epistles on stylistic or ``historical'' grounds. Finally, we should not act defensive or subservient to those modern Biblical scholars who state that their methods are objective and ``free from the biases and taints of religious dogmatism".
In my own studies, I have discovered that there is a great deal of solid, conservative scholarship out there that at the very least, demonstrates that the historical facts and phenomena associated with the Church Catholic can in no way be construed as being at odds with the historical portions of the Bible. The monumental and seminal conservative book New Testament Introduction by Dr. Donald Guthrie demonstrates most irenically that the literary critical theories that destroy originality, authenticity, integrity, and consistency of the NT gospels and epistles are nothing more than subjective opinions of literary critics and modernists who ignore the internal witness of the texts, the copious external witness to the texts by the Sub-Apostolic Fathers, and the fact that history has never been shown to be neatly explainable with a simple Hegelian dialectical approach.
Similarly, Dr. Gleason Archer's Survey of Old Testament Introduction upholds the literary unity and authenticity of the Old Testament. In the same spirit, Prof. Robert Dick Wilson's Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament does a detailed philological study to reach the same conclusion. There are many more books that could be listed.
Indeed, there are many conservative scholars out there who hold to an orthodox position, who can at the very least show that there is nothing contradictory about the orthodox position in relation to history, psychology, and sociology. Unfortunately, unlike the liberal scholars, these people do not get their names in the papers as often, nor do they appear on television much. (My explanation of this is psychological: these scholars uphold orthodoxy. There is nothing exciting about something that has been around for at least two thousand years. Nor is there anything titillating. On the other hand, a liberal theory, even though it is very selective with the evidence, is ``new'', a breath of fresh air, so speaking, and, in the media's continual quest to keep our attention with ``new'' and ``relevant'' ideas, is quickly appropriated to aid the media.) The impression is thus created that anyone who is scholarly considers the orthodox position of genuine historicity unworthy of serious thought or even adoption in analyzing the Biblical texts.
This student of modern thought notes from his studies that an interesting thing in all of this is that each new generation of biblical scholars in our enlightened age produces a completely different and arguably contradictory new set of ``assured facts.'' In the nineteenth century, the radical critics of the Tubingen School headed by F.C. Baur made the idea that most of the Pauline writings were forged the ``orthodox'' opinion. The fact that today many still agree is not due to new evidence or breakthroughs, but simply due to the fact that everyone was taught that theory as fact for a century. The Wellhausen Documentary Hypothesis of OT composition stipulates that the Pentateuch is not a unified document composed primarily by a single author such as Moses during the Exodus, which took place around the fifteenth century B.C., (despite the Pentateuch's internal testimony and the words of Jesus Christ which state that Moses wrote the Law [St. John 5:45-47], but is the product of at least four different compositions that were pieced together from 500 to 1000 years later: J, the Jahwist; E the Elohist; P, the Priestly; and D, the Deuteronomist, and a whole score of other nameless and faceless redactors. This hypothesis, besides destroying the faith of many young minds, had its run in the nineteenth and early twentieth century as well. Yet, though it was so boldly proclaimed as fact or working theory by so many Old Testament scholars, when investigated thoroughly, is nothing more than a set of deductions based on artificial and circular principles. The hypothesis has been ably refuted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, most notably by Gleason Archer, Robert Dick Wilson, and William Green. Even the liberals have greatly questioned or abandoned the essentials of this hypothesis, which was once hailed as ``unassailable'' by the modern school. The historical critical method of this century, once hailed as the only ``objective'' tool for Biblical research and exegesis, is being replaced by what is called ``post-modern'' criticism. Doubtless that will be replaced in a century by something ``new''. Yet these theories are still prevalent and are the core of many future ministers' theological training. (C.S. Lewis makes the wonderful quote that before people had to be ashamed and sheepish over the fact that they did not believe as strongly as their ministers. Now, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, people have to be ashamed and sheepish that they believe more strongly the tenets of Christianity than do their ministers. This is the product of modernism in seminaries.)
These theories were once presented as unassailable fact, yet now many consign them to the ash heap of antiquity. The ``assured results'' of modern scholarship are assured for a generation or two at most. I have concluded that the words ``assured results'' are nothing more than meaning the newest intellectual fad advanced by scholars. This is strong language, and I realize that I am setting myself up for charges of ``obscurantism'' and ``refusing to realize that this is the twentieth century''. My conscience and belief in my critical abilities in studying these issues, however, will not permit me to use weaker language. I consider the modern historical reconstructions and the modern theories of literary criticism as lacking any consistent and objective methodology, and I consider the practitioners of these ``sciences'', despite their zeal for knowledge and undeniable sincerity, as dealing in the same currency of circularities and subjectivities that we orthodox Christian students are so often accused of dealing with.
For non-Biblical examples, one need but consider the mythical fire-inducing element phlogiston, hailed as fact for centuries; the luminiferous aether, a staple of physics for centuries; the Newtonian universe model; the spontaneous generation of life from non-animate matter. All of these examples have in common the fact that they were at one point undeniable truths and were taught as such. Now they are consigned as historical anecdotes to our darker days. It is foolish to state that in our late twentieth century we are beyond making such errors or over-reaching assumptions in our sciences, for many of the people behind these old theories thought of themselves as incapable of making huge errors as well. Theology is different than science, however: God has given us his Scriptures, which cover metaphysical truths not provable nor disprovable by empirical science. God has stated truth for us in simple language that can be understood. The reader should ponder the fact that orthodox Christian theology on the ``major points'' such as Christ's Person, the Trinity, Faith, etc., has been mostly static for two millenia, outlasting every scientific theory coming its way.
Another point raised in discussing the historical Jesus is this: the theories and conclusions of the scholars are presented to the unwitting public as ``science''. Higher criticism claims this very title in its results. Yet, science is based on repeated observations of similar phenomena. It should be clear to any fair-minded person that the events of the man Jesus, if the Scriptures are true, represent a singularity point in human history, as well as for the entire cosmos. If the Scriptures are correct, then we have no similar phenomena to compare the work and life of our Lord to. Thus, if the Scriptures are true, we can't observe anything remotely similar to the life and work of our Lord, and the term ``science'' cannot be said to apply in this case. We just don't have have any incarnate God-men running around today doing miracles and signs and rising from the dead to compare with the Scriptural presentaion of Jesus. On the other hand, if the Scriptures are not true, then we have truth mixed with fabrication and error in reporting Jesus' life and work. Again, in this situation, the term ``science'' as used in describing repeatedly observable phenomena cannot rightfully apply either (in my opinion) for there are no world religions today being built upon a man who falsely claims the title God for himself, works the miraculous, and continually relates his existence and works to a body of long-established prophetic statements. If the Scriptures are false, the Christian Church is still singular in this dubious respect: no other human institution which has lasted so long and had a worldwide and arguably civilizing influence has been built on the claims of a liar or lunatic.
Another idea of ``science'' is the objective nature in which those studying various questions with an open mind will eventually reach a consensus. Chemistry, mathematics, physics, while still having fascinating open questions, can rightfully be called sciences because there is a very broad set of objective propositions that everyone agrees with. It is arguable whether comparative literature and the social sciences really lay claim to the title ``science'' when the attribute of consensus is brought to the forefront. The orthodox Christian need only look at all of the radically conflicting theories of what Jesus ``was really like'' to see that consensus on this issue will be impossible. The feminist suggests a feminist Jesus who was a radical egalitarian. (Surprise!) The university professor suggests a Marxist Jesus who manifested socialistic tendencies. (Surprise!) The social liberal presents a sexually liberated Jesus who slept with his disciples or with other women. (Surprise!) It is my contention that modern scholarship has built its many various historical Jesus figures not on verifiable and objective propositions, but on its liberated and enlightened twentieth century ideals. It is a safe bet that no consensus will ever be reached on the historical Jesus when the gospels are thrown out as unreliable witnesses.
The typical thinking that I have seen with liberal Bible scholars is this: gospel passage A supports my critical theory, and therefore it is authentic. On the other hand, gospel passage B shoots my theory down, so it must not be authentic, but a ``later interpolation'' by some redactor trying to integrate his propaganda in the primitive gospel text. Of course this is all circular, but I have as of yet to see non-circular reasoning. As a working example, the now-infamous Jesus Seminar had a requirement for membership: one could not think that the man Jesus thought of himself as the Messiah. This requirement flies in the face of the numerous gospel passages where Jesus declares himself to be the promised Prophet from Deuteronomy, and where Jesus states his divine and eternal nature (St. John 8:58), and where Jesus states that He and the Father are one. (That is, of the same essence. St. John 10:30.) It is thus no surprise that the Jesus Seminar declared these passages as completely inauthentic and as the product of later propaganda-related interpolations in the text, for these very passages invalidate their theory.
Thus, it is errant to call these manifold historical Jesus constructions as ``science''. ``Speculation'' is the proper word. Also, this author has come to the conclusion that the label ``scholar'', which is so often used to silence inquiring laypeople, orthodoxy, or well-read students who disagree, is applied ever so generously to those who have nothing but opinions. Conceivably, I could have the opinion that Jesus was a homosexual Marxist, and I could be a ``scholar''. Feminist theologians apply the words ``scholarly'' to themselves. Marxist theologians do the same. When people can talk about ``God'' outside of the Biblical Trinitarian context, by creating God to conform to modern human relativisitic standards, they are called scholarly and open-minded. In short, I have seen just about every heresy and flat-out speculative idea called ``scholarly'' by others. I have come to the conclusion that Christians have no need to fear any theory which has the ``scholar'' label attached to it. Clearly, people need to stop applauding the emperor and to inform him that he is not really wearing anything. There is no need for any Christian who takes the Scriptures as factual and historically accurate to worry when scholars propound the opposite viewpoint. Ultimately, if one digs their starting assumptions out, one will find that the liberal's ``proof-positive'' of their anti-orthodox claim is the same in meaning as their starting assumptions! If people who ignore the text of Scripture and propose hypothetical structures built on questionable assumptions can arrogate the title ``scholar'' to themselves, then every orthodox Christian can certainly call himself as such.
To rigorously defend orthodoxy against the ``scholarly'' claims of moderns would require a lifetime of writing. Suffice it to say that to my critical mind, their theories have fallen down completely due to an utter lack of facts. (Most notably, the various theories that deny Pauline authorship to certain New Testament epistles on the basis of stylistic and theological grounds are the theories that stand out as the most subjective.) There are those who would disagree, but the various critical theories advanced have never been able to stand close scrutinization by any person who refuses to let the critical methodologies dictate what the text ``should'' say. Ultimately, in my studies of how moderns approach the Biblical texts, my conclusion is that the modern claims are built on nothing but subjectivity and emotion, the spirit and ideology of the age. Such theories cannot stand for long, at least when the spirit of the age changes into something new. (There is a lovely quote from someone I can't remember: ``He who marries the spirit of the age soon finds himself a widower.'')
On the other hand, it must also be stressed that it is impossible to "prove'' completely that Christianity is true according to empirical and historical evidence. Nor can we prove the historicity of the gospels to the satisfaction of any secular historian's requirements. Certainly, there is plenty of historical evidence to suggest the veracity of our faith, but one cannot rightfully state that this is proof positive. Ultimately, I believe that the true goal of conservative Christian scholarship is to demonstrate that the data presented by history is consistent with the claims of orthodox Christianity. Certainly, the same data may be used to prove vastly differing viewpoints.
For example, the four gospels, to the critics, with their manifold ``differences'' and ``contradictions'', prove that the merely mortal Jesus was deified by later generations seeking an escape from the travails of the day. However, the same ``differences'' among the gospels, to this writer, support all the more strongly the case for the historical Jesus being the Jesus of the gospels, as there are at least two independent traditions (the synoptists and St. John) that also contain much overlap. It should also be stated here that the author has spent many hours attempting to find these so-called ``contradictions'' in the gospels, and in all honesty has found but two questions that require patient research. The first is how St. John reckons time. The second is the chronological relation of the Passover meal to Jesus' arrest. A superficial reading would have St. John contradict the synoptists by placing the passover after Jesus' arrest, but there are three very probable and simple solutions to this problem. It is wrong and begging the question to spot a superficial difference and label it a ``contradiction''.
If the reader can spare me an intellectual temper tantrum, I would like to wholeheartedly state that after bombarding myself with literature that claims the existence of blatant contradictions in Scripture and talking with some people (even in the Church!) who make the same claim, I have found that the great majority of ``contradictions'' can be rectified on linguistic principles and grammar. A small number of ``contradictions'' in the gospels are trumpeted as proof-positive for errancy, yet these claims too have very simple and natural solutions. Many people find ``contradictions'' theologically, but again, a careful word-study and context-study of the disputed passages always provides a natural harmonization. I have come to the conclusion that people who go around preaching the existence of contradictions in Scripture to others are notoriously poor in verifying their claims, and most of them have never gone beyond a superficial reading of the text. I have also come to the conclusion that all of them lack an appreciation for linguistic idiom in Greek and Hebrew. Those who spout the rallying cry of ``Contradiction!'' betray themselves as ignorant students of the Biblical text, history, and linguistics. I will answer any challenge to a contradiction in Scripture head-on, and Christians should not be afraid to do so either.
All that the Christian reasonably has a right to expect is that our Lord would leave us enough evidence so as not to leave us on a house of speculatory cards. After bombarding myself with much of the critical works and the ``freethinker/atheist'' literature, as well as papers of higher literary criticism, I can rightfully say that, (for myself at least), that on the basis of facts and history, the orthodox Christian faith has every right to stand side by side with any critical theory. This is not to say that one believes because Christianity is the individual's choice of a philosophy/religion out of a whole group of viable alternatives. Christians believe what the Scriptures say because they consider them ontologically true. I personally consider anything outside of Christianity as false and illusory. This is not done on the basis of rationalistic deduction but on the witness of the Holy Spirit. Faith always comes first for the believer, and facts and historically supporting testimony come second. Facts never constitute faith or its origin, they only support and buttress it against attacks.
I contend that any reasonable Christian person will agree with this assessment. Of course, many won't. Whether or not they are ``reasonable'' is left up to each reader's point of view.
There is a massive objection to what I have said that bears mentioning and refutation. The refutation is this: While both the modern and orthodox mindsets are admittedly circular, and while one must assume something to start with, there are clearly better starting assumptions than others. The modern assumptions are more objective and better (in this loosely defined sense) than are the orthodox assumptions. The first sentence of the objection is valid. The alleged superiority behind the assertion of superiority of the modernist assumptions is based again on unverifiable existence statements of a metaphysical nature. Is it more ``natural'' to assume a personal God? Is it perhaps more natural to assume a God without interest in human affairs? Is it natural to deny any form of God? Those who consider the assumption of a personal God to be ``too much'' cannot answer on metaphysical grounds why the Christian's vantage point is ``too much''. We don't even know if the laws of human logic confine God's being or attributes This is a key point in refuting the claim that the existence of a God is more likely than the existence of a personal God. It is asserted that if there is a personal God, then there is a God; but it does not follow that if there is a God, then God is a personal God. Thus, so the assertion goes, it is more natural or ``probable'' to assume a non-personal God. Yet, do the laws of logic apply to God? It has always seemed ``improbable'' (subjective statement) to me that God is confined to the narrow corridors of human thought. While the advanced claim is logical by our standards, it is a leap of faith to the nth degree to posit our laws of logic to God. Is it even ``natural'' to assume that our metaphysical questions and assertions are truly meaningful with respect to ``reality''? Thus, I would contend that those who feel that the assumption of God's existence (without being personal) is more ``minimal'' than the assumption of the existence of a personal God achieve this minimality by assuming something equally large: that the logic given above (which states that it is possible for God not to be personal) actually applies to God. To argue that is is ``natural'' to impute deductive or inductive logical truth to metaphysical propositions concerning God's attributes and existence is a merely subjective statement. For example, some agnostic thinkers consider it more proper to not assume the existence of God. On the other hand, the Bible says the contrary: it is the height of mental depravity to assume that there isn't a God. Which view is correct? Which view is more ``neutral''? It appears that the decision of which starting point is more objective or neutral is ultimately subjective. Hence, the Christian need not be goaded or intimidated into giving up his starting reference point and all of the metaphysical propositions that follow from the starting point for the sake of ``objectivity'' and ``scientific inquiry''. It seems that we could do the same to the critics.
On the personal side, the author, having once been an avowed atheist and then a follower of the ``God-is-who-I-want Him-to-be'' attitude that has permeated Western culture for most of his undergraduate years, and having imbibed the starting viewpoint of the modern scholars out there, would like to state that he feels qualified to say what has been said in the above paragraph, due to his long excursus on the other side. During his atheistic excursus, the author was ``absolutely sure'' that the naturalistic starting viewpoint to Scripture and science was the only reasonable approach. Now, he looks back at those days and shakes his head. His gradual conversion from atheism to monotheism to theological liberalism to orthodoxy should be properly viewed as a testimony of the grace and continued efforts of the Spirit of God, who desires all men to be saved. (First Epistle to Timothy 2:4).
To summarize the discussion of (a): this claim is the starting assumption and proof of itself. There is no empirical way to verify or to disprove it. It is not ``science'' nor can it be truthfully stated that ``objective'' thinking proves (a). One can successfully deconstruct any claims to objectivity, and one can deconstruct the modern claims that their starting vantage point for approaching the Scriptures is ``more objective'' than that of orthodox Christians. In the application to the study of Jesus, Christians can truthfully say (and they should!) that they are no less ``reasonable'' than the literary critics and the professors of religion who advance naturalistic viewpoints as unassailable fact. Accordingly, thesis (a) cannot be accepted.
(b) This demythologizing should not trouble the Christian, because these mythic gospels, when demythologized, still convey spiritual and ethical truths that can benefit humanity.
Now for thesis (b). It is my contention that Christians should not view the Scriptures and the gospel presentation of Jesus as ``good'' in the sense of conveying certain general spiritual truths, but that we must view the Scriptures as presenting historically and chronologically true details of Jesus' life. Those who advance claim (b) have yet to answer my question: What spiritual truths do the Scriptures offer that set Christianity apart when everything historical about Jesus is ``myth''? If we strip away the historical Jesus as presented in the gospels, what do we make of his teachings? What do we make of the passages that anger non-Christians? What do we do with those passages that conflict with our modern sensibilities? I would say that the Scriptures, when stripped of the historical Jesus, lose all grounding, and become but a group of (still understandable) words but without any authority. For example, when Jesus states that He is the only way to the Father (St. John 14:6-7, a passage which is the stumbling block for any unitarian and universalistic theology which offends anybody who, while denying the tenets of our Christian faith, still wishes to procure for himself the blessings offered by Scripture), what does this mean if Jesus was not Himself the Incarnate Word, if he was not what the gospels portray Him to be? Any interpretation of such a phrase becomes nothing but an unauthoritative collection of (still clear) words when divested of the historical Jesus. If these words were not spoken by the Incarnate Word, what meaning have they? Certainly, one can make up anything that suits his fancy and call it a ``meaning'' or ``interpretation'', but what about the words and the context? What does one do with the objective propositions concerning the nature of God that Jesus utters? How can one base his religion on words (authentic or inauthentic) of a non-existent or heavily mythologized person?
It will not do to say that while such metaphysical propositions attributed to Jesus were not really uttered by Jesus, that they still are true or contain truth. This is due to the fact that no one can honestly and objectively answer the question How do you know that these metaphysical propositions are true? Yet, those who strip away the historical Jesus still tell us to follow the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus. How do we know that these were His teachings then? If the Scriptures are not true, who is truly qualified to discern the truth and error mixed in the Bible?
There are three positions, two of them intellectually respectable: (1) The Scriptures are inerrant, and we base our religion on them. This is honest and must be respected. (2) The Scriptures are errant, and they do not constitute any norm or rule of faith. Again, this is honest and must be respected. We must all respect any person (yet we will still disagree) who comes out and says that the Scriptures are full of errors and therefore he will not let them constitute his norm. This is completely ethical and honest. What is entirely dishonest is (3) The Scriptures have errors, but we can pull out the ``good'' things and let them influence us to a large or small degree. This is the position of neo-orthodoxy. It is my contention that if the Scriptures are in error, there is not a man alive, nor will there ever be such a man, who can distinguish what is true from what is false. We just weren't there to see what happened. And despite 2500 years of philosophy and countless treatises on metaphysics written by the supposed finest minds of academia, we still know very little if at all about that thing called ``reality''. How then can any man deduce the truthfulness or falsity of statements that predicate attributes to God?
For the Christian, the solution is notoriously simple. Since Jesus Himself was fully man and fully God as the Scriptures teach, those metaphysical statements about the Father, being spoken by God, are true. Since the Holy Spirit is Himself God, what He states concerning reality and other things is also objectively true.
Some might object to the above paragraphs, saying that the ethical teachings of Jesus, such as loving one's neighbor, virtue, charity, forgiveness, etc., are the core of the faith, and these items remain regardless of the historicity of the gospel presentation of Jesus. My first response to this objection is that the core of Christianity is not the idea of being a good person. Such a religious view is ultimately synergistic, and, more dangerously, it makes a person think that he is saved by his actions. The core of the historic Christian faith is this: A man is saved by his faith in God's Son and His redemptive work in man's plane of existence. This is not opinion -- it is the clear teaching of Scripture (Those who disagree on this should skip this discussion and go on to the discussion of thesis (c).) Those who would replace this fundamental teaching with an ethic or with a general disposition of goodness towards fellow men place themselves outside of the Church. The goodness towards fellow men comes only after one comes to faith. One cannot put the carriage before the horse, so speaking. Thus, to summarize my first response, those who make the core of our faith anything other than faith in Christ and in the historical crucifixion and bodily resurrection from the dead are in grave error. I contend that a superficial reading of the Pauline and catholic epistles will force one to admit that this is what the NT teaches, whether one believes or not.
My second response is this: if we merely look at the ethical teachings of how we should treat our neighbors, what is there that is different in Jesus' teaching than in the pagan philosophers? How are Jesus' ethics different than those of Cicero? How is Jesus' love any different from Plato's ideal? In short, a Christian faith that is devoid of the historical Jesus is nothing but a feel-good ethical system that had long since been articulated by the great minds of the world. If we want a person to worship, we might as well worship Plato or any other philosopher. There is really no point in being a follower of Christ if we only accept those ethical teachings that correspond to modern sensibilities, for (in a utilitarian sense) a Ciceronian (say) believes the same thing. Likewise, a Platonian (say). And so on the list goes. The label ``Christian'', when applied in this case, means nothing substantially different than ``Ciceronian'' or ``Platonian''. Hence, the label ``Christian'' is a just meaningless synonym for the more descriptive ``Person who has a high ethical view of things.'' There is no need to have a ``Christian Church'' in this situation.
It is a mystery to me why the apostate denominations such as the American Methodists, the American Episcopals, and the liberal Lutheran ELCA deny or attack those fundamental doctrines of Scripture and the historicity of Jesus and the biblical characters, denying any and all forms of Scriptural inerrancy and authority, replacing the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord with ethics and pleas for ``tolerance and diversity'', and yet call themselves ``Christian'' with the attitude that they are somehow different than Islam or the Mormon cult (say). Even though these two cults teach doctrines that fly in the face of clear Biblical texts, they still have nearly the same ethical standards as the Christless ``Christianity'' of these apostate denominations. I am not saying that they shouldn't be allowed to exist -- but I do wonder why these churches call themselves by a label that is emptied of all meaning as explained in the paragraph above. If they throw out the objective assertions of Scripture under the claim that everything involving morality and metaphysics is subject to the vagaries and blandishments of human reason and relativism, then why do these church bodies still try to exist as a unique and meaningful institution, as their very uniqueness is doomed under their own pluralistic decree? Why do they use the names ``Methodist'', ``ELCA'', etc. as anything other than superficial labels that might as well be replaced with nonsense words? Why does a minister in these bodies who teaches that we can't really know what the Scriptures say due to ``linguistic gaps'' or the notion that ``the Biblical propositions are a product merely of the culture of the day'' still prepare a sermon for people to hear as if he is somehow more qualified than others to speak and as if his message contains any objective truth? Why do these organizations still publish literature with objective propositions condemning orthodoxy, and why do they have seminaries (who are to teach objective truth) and professional theologians (who are supposed to elucidate the objective truth found in Scripture) if there really is no truth out there or if the truth is lost in the span of time and cultures? Why do these organizations still relate outwardly to the Bible when they profess that inerrancy is outmoded and cultural-sociological relativism is the proper mindset? Why should anyone join these groups if any religious view is ``equally good'' (or ``equally bad'')? And so on the list of questions goes!
To summarize the second response to the objection, I would state that our faith, the faith that saves a man from hell and places him into a right and blessed communion with the Triune God, is based on the historical Jesus of the gospels. Any other such faith is a sham faith. The Christian faith makes Jesus Christ the object of our worship. We have a definite and tangible object that we have faith in, and that definite and tangible object is the Person of God's Incarnate Son. If He is not real, we are all wasting our time, and our faith is placed on a shadowy illusion that is nothing more than a figment of our deluded minds. It is the Church's lot in life that She stands or falls solely on whether Jesus was and is exactly what the gospels portray Him to be. If not, the Bible is absolutely meaningless and can be categorized with the meaningless pagan writings of history. Thus, for the Christian to make any progress, we must necessarily have historicity. This does not prove historicity at all, but my only goal is to argue for the necessity of the Christian viewing the Scriptures as historical. It is completely arbitrary and artificial to deny the deity of Jesus, cling to his ethical teachings, and then to center your religion on the things associated with his ``person'', such as his teachings and ethics.
A third point for (b) is this: language and words mean things. The fact that words have a sequence of meanings and fixed semantical ranges cannot be disputed without reducing all of language to meaninglessness. To sound perhaps like a broken record, I would ask any ``Christian'' who says that the Scriptures cannot be truly understood because the cultural, linguistic, and historical gap is ``too wide'' the following questions: Why do you call yourself a Christian if you thus cannot understand the Scriptures due to their ``lack of clarity and relevance'' in today's world? What is it about the label ``Christian'' that makes you cling to it when the label ``Christian'' could be replaced by ``Ciceronian'' or ``Platonian'' without any real difference in meaning? Outside of utilitarian concerns, (such as trying to please people, or trying to fit in with other people possessing the same descriptive label), why do you believe that your ``Christianity'' is true, as the Scriptures are not clear enough for you to discover what objective propositions are being advanced, let alone for you to attempt to validate them?
The same thing can be said about grammar and logical structure. The reader understands this essay precisely because he is following the rules of context, words, and grammar. Communication takes place because people have the same mental images suggested by words, grammar, and context. Words have their meanings supplied mainly by physical context: the word has a meaning when spoken at a certain time by a real and existing individual occupying a certain space at that particular time.
My favorite self-made example is this: ``Blacks and whites should be separated.'' Spoken by a man in a white robe at night, in a field with a burning cross, this is quite the antithesis to the Christianity the Klan lays claim to. Yet, a man with a basket of clothes standing at a washing machine is expressing profound wisdom, as we all know what happens if black clothes mix with white clothes! The same simple sentence has two contrary meanings, and the proper meaning is suggested by context, time, person, and place alone. Most statements of Scripture as simple as this. They do not require our guessing if the passages are ``literal'' or ``allegorical''. Very few passages in Scripture are debated because of the honest inquiry into their literalness or allegorical nature. My personal conclusion is that most arguments, especially today, are based on the fact that people know the clear meaning of Scripture and don't like what it says.
If we strip out everything historical in the presentation of Jesus and of the other people whom the Triune God has spoken through, all context is lost. The result of a demythologized Scripture and a demythologized Jesus is that we have a set of words that have no such grounding in context, space, or time. This creates a theological jumble that anyone with an agenda can present as ``proof'' of their theology. For example, by discarding the historical claims of Jesus and by demanding that attention focus on the ``ethics'' of this ``great teacher in history'', liberation theology has succeeded in making political action a prime focus of the Christian Church. Thus, instead of preaching the crucified and risen Christ, a ``social gospel'', (which postulates that heaven can be found on earth by the application of social and governmental principles that in this author's opinion are neither supported nor condemned in Scripture), is preached in the stead.
When demythologizing is taken as an objective tool, it is then the case that many people hide behind the phrase ``It is all a matter of interpretation.'' Yet, apart from constitutional debate, this author never hears this phrase being stated for other things. Surely we understand our respective languages! Our own court systems would not allow us to state that we didn't think that we were breaking the law because ``It is a matter of interpretation''. After demythologizing, people suddenly start letting words in Scripture mean whatever they want them to mean when these ``meanings'' have no grammatical and contextual support. Does opening a Bible mysteriously cause our language comprehension skills to drop? We are careful not to quote things out of context when dealing with matters non-Biblical -- why do we like quoting Jesus out of context? When people tell this author, for example, that Jesus said ``Judge not, lest ye be judged,'' why do they fail to note the context and the fact that right judging is allowed and even established by our Lord? When the First Lady used the account of Jesus' love for the children as support for a national health care system (which an orthodox Christian can support or deny with good conscience), why is the context, that Jesus is talking about the fact that young children can possess faith and says nothing remotely pro or con on the health care issue, shuffled aside? Why is it that the sexual liberation groups say that Jesus never said that various sexual practices like homosexuality or extra-marital sex were sinful when at the same time they ignore the fact that Jesus validated the truth of the entire Old Testament with its clear codes for sexual conduct? The list could go on and on.
These and other such questions have been asked to various liberals and to people who don't hold orthodox views. I have yet to hear one sensible answer as to why the rules of grammar, common sense, and context all of a sudden vanish when the Holy Book is opened. Yet, this author has seen very clear passages twisted into the very opposite thing by professing Christians attempting to find support for their heresy. The fact that some of these professed Christians who teach these false and heretical doctrines that ultimately destroy the vicarious atonement of the cross are ministers and teachers of impressionable minds is even more repugnant.
The phrase ``It is all interpretation'' comes about in its hideous glory when people stop attaching historical, contextual, and chronological significance to the words of Jesus and the other NT writers. Yet, such relativistic views of language come to the forefront when the Scriptures are divested of their historicity. To strip the gospels of the historical Jesus is to render them null and void. For the Christian, then, to understand the Triune God's revelation to sinful and fallen man, he must reject assertion (b).
I have noticed a distressing pattern with non-orthodox people. They first advance an unorthodox claim with an attitude of objective fact. When refuted with clear and contextual Scripture, they suddenly lapse into any and all of historical relativism, linguistic relativism, or epistemological relativism, and then they all of a sudden claim that one can't really know what the text is saying, and hence the refutation of their claim does not hold. For but one example out of many, in one conversation with a liberal ELCA Lutheran a few years back, she emphatically denied the concepts of sin (which logically leads to a rejection of the vicarious atonement), objective morality, and hell. These are objective assertions. She had no Scripture to support her (and indeed there is no support in Scripture for her positions). When I responded to her claims with absolutely clear Scripture passages that demonstrate the error of her positions, I received the all-too-common ``That's your interpretation of the words. I see it differently.'' Yet, such a relativistic claim towards language was advanced (such a claim would be laughed out of a court of law, for example) only when the Scriptural witness to her error was mounting. If she wanted to be truly consistent with her relativism, she should not have advanced her claims as fact in the first place. That would have been more honest. Yet, this is the liberal mindset that I consistently find. For but one example, in passages that feminists find ``offensive'' because of a functional hierarchy between men and women in the Church, the cries of ``This passage is culturally and historically conditioned and applies only to that time period!'' are heard loud and long. But, the eternal grace and salvation offered by the Triune God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which are mentioned in the same context, are somehow still applicable to our twentieth century! Thus, passages that are not well-received are dismissed under relativism, yet well-received passages mysteriously maintain their timeless truth-value for today. This is not at all to say that one should not worry about cultural and historical frameworks -- these are important. But, a consistent methodology of separating normative statements from time-conditioned statements is not advanced by liberals. The liberal methodology seems to be to cry ``relativism!'' against every Biblical passage that conflicts with their ideology.
Of course, it must stated again that I haven't proven anything about historicity concerning the Scriptures and their presentation of Jesus, but I have shown somewhat that demythologizing Scripture, when followed to its natural logical conclusion, drains the Christian faith of any and all distinguishing marks. If one follows the demythologizing claims of Neo-orthodoxy to their conclusion, the label ``Christian Church'' becomes nothing more than a synonym with the phrase ``A group of people having a high view of ethics'', with which any other world religion would claim for itself as well. If one wants to accept (b), it is only by one's inconsistency that one is still using the word ``Christian'' with any real meaning, and it is by one's inconsistency that one still views attendance and membership at a ``Christian Church'' as something more than one of many equally valid ways to use one's time. For the orthodox Christian to avoid this slipperly slope of relativism that leads to meaninglessness, (b) must be emphatically rejected as spurious and errant.
(c) Christians should focus on the spiritual and ethical truths that remain after demythologizing and filtering the texts through the ``modern worldview'' and abandon their claims that the gospels present the real Jesus, as well as the historical inerrancy of both testaments.
I contend that assertion (c) must be rejected. Let us throw out the gospel presentation of Jesus and concentrate on the so-called ``ethical'' teachings. What one is left with is the typical exhortations: ``Love your neighbor'', ``Husband and wife are one flesh'', ``Forgive others their sins'', etc. These exhortations are most certainly worthy of being called true. Yet, these exhortations have been voiced by many pagan philosophers long before they found their way into the literature of the NT. If one wants to discard the gospel-Jesus and concentrate on the ethical sayings, one has, in essence, nothing but pagan philosophy and moralism -- not that these are at all wrong -- but Christianity is not a collection of moral precepts. Christianity is the faith in the Person and Redemptive work in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, Consubstantial with the Father, etc., who was the sin offering for all men for all time, and that through such faith in the Person and work of Christ, one is reconciled to God. The ethical precepts follow conversion. They, Scripturally speaking, never occur before, at least in God's view. (To clarify this, it is Scriptural that one cannot please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). The greatest act of charity done by an unbeliever is still marred with sin and counts nothing towards justification. (See Romans 3:9-18). Yet the smallest act of charity of a believer, though still wrought with sin, is evidence of justification, and a fruit of sanctification. People who disagree with this ultimately disagree with Scripture.) Good works and the moral actions appear, in God's view, only after one has the true Christian saving faith. Thus, the assertion to concentrate on the ethical and moral teachings of Scripture is really an assertion to abandon the heart of our faith.
Another issue that must be brought up regarding (c) is that such a ``minimalist'' view of Scripture ultimately leads to Pelagian heresy of synergism -- the idea that our works merit our salvation and communion with God. (This is one of the Roman doctrines as well.) For if one strips away the historicity of the gospel-Jesus and allows only morals and ethics to remain, then the only qualification for salvation is this, that we do those works and be ``good'' people. What would St. Paul say ?! Is this what Romans and Galatians state? (In Romans, St. Paul utterly decimates any claims to intrinsic good in any man for any time. He concludes that all are sinful and that all men are condemned under God's wrath. He presents Jesus Christ as the only way for a man to escape God's wrath. But what ``Jesus'' can a minimalist hold to? In Galatians, the apostle declares those who preach ``other gospels'' to be anathema, and he declares that those who rely on works of the Law to still be under the curse.) Are we saved by being ``good'' people? Many people might state that I am ignoring the epistle of St. James with its ``view on works over faith''. Yet, as all Christians (should) know, James is not using the word ``faith'' in the sense of Paul's usage of the word. For Paul, ``faith'' is the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer which testifies that Jesus is Lord and produces works and actions pleasing to God. For James, ``faith'' is the mere intellectual assent to certain doctrinal points. Notice that James states that even the demons have this ``faith'' (2:19). It should be very clear from context that Paul and James are using different shadings of the word ``faith''. (Those who don't allow for different shadings of words in rectifying superficial theological disagreements are inconsistent with their own speech and writing, for nobody maintains in speech and writing that each word has but one precise shading.) When this is taken into account, the ``contradiction'' between Paul and James disappears, and one sees that both Paul and James are necessary for establishing justification: It is by faith alone that we are saved (Paul), but this saving faith, wrought by God the Holy Spirit (Paul) is not alone, and is accompanied by the appropriate behaviour (James), and lack of such behaviour on a regular basis is the signal of a dead and possibly former faith (James). Paul does not exclude being a ``good'' person, nor does James deny that Paul's version of faith alone saves. On the contrary, Paul elsewhere discusses the fruit of the Spirit and the idea of Christian ethics, and James' catholic epistle attacks the sham ``faith'' that is presented in his epistle.) To state that the answer is in the affirmative is to deny the clear meaning of the other NT literature. Thus, declaring (c) in an attempt to ``salvage'' Christianity must necessarily lead to an all-out rejection of the rest of the New Testament. Point (c) is advanced with the idea of defining a ``minimal'' core of Christianity, yet the very definition destroys the majority of the NT testimony. Also, point (c) necessarily leads to the heresy of salvation by works. (It is of interest to note that the Roman Church, which condemned Sola Fida at Trent, has declared the critical approach to Scriptures to be valid. What ramifications this has for the Roman Catholics is yet to be determined.) Point (c), accordingly, cannot be accepted by Christians who are sincere about Scripture.
(d) Too many divisions are caused by taking the Scriptures ``literally''. We should ignore those Scripture passages that cause division and concentrate on those passages of Scripture (especially those of Jesus' life) that unite people.
We now turn to point (d). Point (d) is advanced by people with ecumenical tendencies. On the surface, it is noble and it caters to our twentieth century worship of relativism and plurality. Yet, it is my contention that it must be rejected by orthodox Christians.
I am starting with the idea that there is objective truth out there, and this objective truth exists independently of the human mind. Now, for the argument. First of all, truth by its very nature causes divisions. When truth is present, the negation of truth, falsehood, is also present. Given an objective proposition, one either agrees or disagrees. One is right or wrong in such a matter. It should be clear to any fair-minded individual that one's opinions on a true statement do not make the statement false. What follows are some examples that pertain to Jesus.
There are many shades of Jesus that people find objectionable. The first and foremost claim that people object to is the assertion that He is truly God (as well as fully man). This claim has divided the Christians from the heretics throughout the centuries. First, Arius and his followers denied the Christ's deity. Arius taught that the Son of God was only a ``god'' -- note the little ``g'' -- and that, while being divine, the Son of God was of a ``lesser substance'' or ``lesser being'' than the Father. Arius taught that the Son's divine acts derived exclusively from the Father, and not from the Son's deity. Arius also taught that the Son of God was created, not begotten by the Father, and that the Son of God was not eternally pre-existing with the Father. Arius therefore taught a form of subordinationalism and opened the door to polytheism with Gods and gods. The Jehovah's Witnesses today are nothing more than the modern followers of this fourth-century heretic who was condemned at Nicea in 325. To Arius' ``credit'', he almost single-handedly destroyed orthodoxy.
The Arian controversy caused the Nicene Creed to come into existence and helped crystallize the NT canon. Over one millenium later, Socinus resurrected the Arian heresy in the seventeenth century, and the Unitarians formed from this resurrected false doctrine. Today, the battle is still being fought for the full deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Many people find the idea that Christ was fully man and God, one Person with two natures, repellant to their intellectual biases and modern reason. (The rallying cry of this rationalism: ``The finite cannot contain the infinite!'') They thus differ from the true orthodox teaching.
Other people find the gospel-Jesus offensive because he portrayed Himself as the sole way to the Father. This, as mentioned earlier, offends those living in a pluralistic age that posits that all good is relative and every way, if it makes one feel ``good'', is equally pleasing before God. People who are ministers and are in positions to influence impressionable minds often ignore or twist our Lord's clear words here in order to make Christianity all things to all people. Thus, Jesus as the sole way to the Father is offensive to many. (Let this author note that this ``exclusivity'' on Jesus' part was found especially offensive to himself at one time as well.)
Today, many people try to link Jesus with the ``religious greats'' of history: Mohammed, Buddha, Gandhi, etc. The claim is advanced that the ``spirit'' or ``entity'' behind Jesus was the same spirit behind these other ``greats''. Thus, the words of Jesus which make Him the only way to the Father are softened in their exclusivity. However, the teachings of the Bible are hardly in accord with the teachings of the other major religions of the world: the Bible teaches us what God has done for us and our salvation in order to bring us to faith; every other world religion posits works and actions on the part of men to appease God or the cosmic forces that control reality. If Jesus was really just one of many manifestations of some higher entity, and if Christianity is wrong (in ascribing to Sola Fida) and the world religions are right (``salvation'' by works), then the great entity behind Jesus appears to be grossly inconsistent in his dealings with the Jewish authorities (who taught works) of the first century. Those who teach as such must posit that the spiritual entity behind Jesus teaches contradictory ``gospels'' (works vs. faith) to various peoples at various times.
Other people find the gospel-Jesus offensive because he doesn't conform to their preconceived ideologies and biases. Feminist theologians object to Jesus as a patriarchal symbol. They object to the First Person of the Godhead being the ``Father''. To them, God should fit their biases, which themselves are the product of a modern decadent egalitarianism run amok. The gospel-Jesus must necessarily offend those who make women functionally equal with men.. (Men and women, like the Persons of the Godhead, are ontologically equal in the sense that they are both born sinful, are sinful, and are saved by faith in the Person of Jesus Christ. There is no ``higher'' salvation for men than for women, nor is Christianity any ``harder'' for men than for women. Both men and women receive God's grace without any distinction due to gender. However, functionally, in how we operate, God has ordained headship to men and a helper nature to women. While some decry this hierarchical and functional subordination, it in no way affects the ontological reality of men and women's equality in the senses given earlier. To confuse ontological reality with functional relations and vice-versa is to commit a serious error. To state that ontological equality implies functional equality is also an error. In the Trinity, for example, there is a certain economy: the Father begets the Son, the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, et cetera, yet this functional dependence in no ways yields the conclusion that the Spirit is ontologically less than the Son, who is in turn ontologically less than the Father. The Scriptures call the Father ``God'', the Son ``God'', and the Holy Spirit ``God'', without making any ontological distinctions whatsoever.)
Others still merely find the idea of a Jesus who is God Incarnate dying for our sins on a cross in a slow, painful, and torturous death repugnant, and they state ``Why did God do it this way?'' and ``The crucifixion is such a primitive and barbaric thing to believe''. In other words, modern sensibilities demands a Jesus and a Christianity that is divorced from the idea of blood and atonement that so prominently makes up the Old and New Testaments.
I have listed four major areas of disagreement regarding the Person and Work of Jesus. Recall that thesis (d) maintains that we should ignore those Biblical things about Jesus that cause disunity and disagreement. Is it possible for an orthodox Christian to fellowship or to find doctrinal agreement with any one (or more) of these four groups? Ultimately, each of the four groups above does at least one of the following:
The Unitarians can only deny Christ's deity by ignoring the Scriptures that explicitly call him God. (John 1:1, 8:58, 20:28, Ro 9:5, Titus 2:13, and II Peter 1:1 are grammatically and textually unassailable in ascribing the title theos, God, to Jesus Christ. It is most valuable to study how Unitarians have attempted to refute these clear testimonies to our Lord's true deity over the centuries.) Jews and other universalists deny Christ as the only way to the Father on their a priori principles. The Scripture passage of St. John 14:6-7, where Jesus presents himself emphatically as the sole way to the Father, is ignored. Feminist theologians force their desired interpretations on a few less clear passages pulled from their context and then use these few passages with the forced interpretations to re-interpret the majority of crystal clear passages. The most prevalent example in this case are Paul's words: ``There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.'' (Galatians 3:28). Here, Paul is speaking about inclusion into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ -- something that pertains to the ontological equality of men and women, slave and free, Jew and Greek. This one passage has its context and ontological statements brushed aside, and it is then used to override 1 Cor 11:2-16, Eph 5:22-33, 1 Tim 2:11-15, which deal with the functional relationships of men and women that modern liberation ideology finds repellant. A passage that has nothing to do with economy and function is somehow deemed authoritative over the body of sizable passages that deal exclusively with economy and function. Ultimately, the three aforementioned passages are thrown out in favor of the one passage. Thus, the feminist theologian proclaims herself superior in judgement to Scripture. The true theologian must take all passages into account, not just the ones that he finds appealing.
In other words, all historical, grammatical, and linguistic rules are broken to rid Christianity of the ``oppressive patriarchal structure''. The modernists who find the cross a thing of primitive superstition, disgust, and shame, must ignore the clear wording of the text, or replace the simple meaning of historical passages with allegory.
The usual response today to a not-well-received passage is that we have to look at the text ``symbolically'', or ``allegorically''. For a text to suggest allegory, the obvious allegory suggested should make at least as good sense and should connect with the linguistic and contextual features of the text as does the simple historical matter-of-fact meaning. I have yet to meet an allegorical suggestion that, when applied to a clear non-allegorical Scripture passage, produces a better and simpler meaning than the literal meaning of the passage. The word ``literal'' is not the same as the word ``literalistic''. ``Literal'' means letting the natural genre of the passage stand out. In our ordinary speech and writing, we easily detect sarcasm, hyperbole, word-play, double entendre, and other devices that make human speech fun and interesting. We usually have no trouble whatsoever determining when someone is speaking in a matter-of-fact mode or if they are employing some sort of rhetorical and literary device. The same is true of Scripture. Scripture is written in human language, and it follows the norms of human speech and writing. It presents matter-of-fact historical accounts in a matter-of-fact tone. Hyperbole is evident. The mood of text passages is evident. Those who accuse orthodox Christians of being chained to a ``literal'' meaning of the text thus betray their ignorance on how to read a document. We should let the text speak for itself. That is being literal. Forcing a poetical passage to be matter-of fact is not literal. Calling a factually presented account a myth is not literal. Scripture follows the same rules of context, semantics, and grammar as does any other writing. The fact that people rarely get confused about non-Biblical writings but somehow become confused over clear Biblical writings is the clearest evidence that people are trying to force their meanings on the text instead of seeing what the text says.
When our Lord clearly states that He is the only way to the Father, what allegory could do better justice to these inspired words than the simple fact that they state? When Paul decries the utter ontological sinfulness of all men for all times, what allegory does more justice to his words than the simple fact that he conveys? When people declare certain accounts concerning Jesus to be myth and allegorial, they do so by completely ignoring the matter-of-fact sober tone of the text which presents the account as historical. Therefore, it is my contention that the cries of ``allegory!'' that spring from so many moderns' and even ministers' mouths are grounded not in honest inquiry into the Word of God but from an attempt to evade the clear meaning of the text or to placate the ideology that prevails in the world and in much of the visible church today.
In trying to understand a document, one does not ignore paragraphs or sections that one does not like, at least if one want a full and honest understanding of the document. Yet, every false doctrine is based on ignoring certain parts of Scripture. Christ's deity and the doctrine of the Trinity (something that causes disunity in the modern world) is denied by moderns who refuse to consider the relevant passages. The idea that ``good'' people don't go to Hell (another stumbling block for a ``unified church'') if they don't have saving faith is rejected by casting away relevant passages.
These are but two examples. Feminists ignore those clear and indisputable passages that set up a functional hierarchy between men and women. (I Corinthians 14:33-35, Ephesians 5:22-33, I Timothy 2:11-15. and I Peter 3:1-7.) Two noted feminist scholars, E. Schussler-Fiorenza and L.M. Maloney, want to exclude I Timothy from the canon because in their minds literature that ``degrades and denigrates'' women as I Timothy cannot be from God. One cannot have Scripture if Scripture is cut into various pieces, some of which may be safely ignored and/or discarded.
The view that those controversial passages of Scripture must be avoided in the order of unity and ecumenism, while sounding nice to modern sensibilities, also denigrates and does away with the idea of Inspiration and Inerrancy. Orthodoxy views the Scriptures as the Word of God. The Scriptures themselves do not give us the option of treating them as a buffet table of facts and doctrines from which we can pick and choose those that please us. To treat the Scriptures as such is to elevate human reason above the revelation presented to us by our Triune God. If the Scriptures are Inspired and Inerrant, then I can't see any reasonable person thinking that it is acceptable for himself to be arbiter of God's revelation. (The Early Church wrestled with certain books, which were called antilegomena. These books (II Peter, II and III John, Hebrews, Jude, James, and the Apocalypse) were disputed by some as not being Spirit-breathed, or non-apostolic. The Church included these works in the fourth century as canonical. Admittedly, there is a certain article of faith in the belief that the Spirit guided the canon. However, the canon, for the most part, selected itself. See Bruce Metzger's The Canon of the New Testament for the historical development of the NT canon, a most fascinating subject. Our good Dr. Luther erred in judgement when he called James an ``epistle of straw'' and when he called the other antilegomena as not being as edifying as the homolegomena. Here, the great Reformer fell victim to his own biases and prejudices towards what Scripture should say. Yet, he still put these books in his German translation of the Bible. He later realized his error and retracted all of his poorly thought out comments on such epistles.) It is only when the Scriptures are not viewed as inerrant that the modern mind may shape them to its liking. Such a view ultimately treats the Scriptures as merely the products of men in a particular age, instead of as documents the Spirit produced through the people that He inspired. Thus, we Christians must necessarily reject (d) as leading to a non-Inspired view of Scripture.
It appears that all we can do is to proclaim God's Word in its purity and administer the means of grace. That is all we are expected to do. Nowhere in the Scriptures are we commanded to discard doctrine to please people. Paul in the Pastorals (1 Tim 4, 2 Tim 1:13-14, 3:10-4:5), Peter (2 Pe 2), and John (1 John 2:18-27, 3:7, 4:1-6) would not look too kindly on the liberties taken by modern Christians in these matters! Thus, it appears that we Christians must stay on the sidelines during the ecumenical craze. As wonderful as a united church sounds, unity is not worth compromise. (It is of interest to note that some evangelical Christians are trying to forge unity with the Roman Church. As long has Rome denies the doctrine of salvation by faith alone and teaches in the stead a salvation by faith and works, there is no chance whatsoever of real reconciliation. The unity will exist only in the minds of those who seek compromise. These discussions, so far as I know, do not begin to deal with the Roman Papacy either. The anathema pronounced by the Tridentine Fathers on Luther and those who would deny the Roman Church final authority in all matters is still pronounced on Lutherans. Reconciliation?)
Thus, ecumenism requires a watered-down Word of God and a placing of human sensibilities over the clear and undeniable testimony of Scripture. Accordingly, point (d) must necessarily be rejected.
(e) The Scriptures are God's Word, in particular the four gospels, only in the sense that they become God's Word when they become meaningful to you.
Now we turn to point (e), that the Scriptures are God's Word when they become meaningful to us. Again, the statement might be agreeable to some after a superficial reading, but a second reading reveals many inadequacies. First, there is the inadequacy that we move from the language of the text, which follows the objective rules of grammar, syntax, and context, and we move to the emotional and subjective ``rules'' of human experience.
I wish to offer some examples from my personal experiences with people. One friend from days past denied the clear Scriptural doctrines of Hell and the sinfulness of mankind based on feelings obtained from reflecting on the Scriptures and on ``God.'' In the neo-orthodox context of (e), these ideas have become God's Word to this person. Yet, any fair reading of the text must acknowledge that the awful propositions concerning Hell and the sinfulness of mankind are clearly presented. We are faced with the dilemma of believing someone's emotional experience or the propositions placed on the printed page of Scripture.
There is really no dilemma for the orthodox Christian: the Scriptures necessarily override any experience. If we had but a dollar for every visionary's new experience and revelation that contradicted Scripture, we could all retire for a long, long time! People seem to receive contradictory ``visions'', ``feelings'', and ``experiences'' as well. In the nineteenth century, Ellen G. White, one of the early leaders of the the fringe sect Seventh Day Adventists, had a series of visions, one of which led her to state that the Christian Church was in error by not keeping the old Saturday Jewish Sabbath. Yet her vision runs contrary to St. Paul's inspired text in Romans 14 and Colossians 2:16,17. (It is highly instructive to see the theological contortions done by the Seventh Day followers to evade the clear meaning of these texts. A perusal of the second century sub-apostolic writings will show that the Seventh Day theology was rejected by the infant Church. Seventh Day Adventists ignore (or twist) Scripture and completely ignore Church history in order to promulgate their heretical legalism.) So - do we believe an apostle of Jesus Christ or a self-proclaimed visionary?
Various Roman Catholic mystics talk about their dialogues with Mary, and a former Protestant made a tape where he describes his emotional experience during his rosary prayer to the Mother of God. Yet, when such visions or experiences of Mary lead one to make statements affirming the existence of purgatory, they cannot be given any credence: I have challenged any Romanist to find a clear passage pertaining to purgatory -- if they are right I owe it to myself to believe the truth, as blind allegiance counts for nothing in matters of the soul -- and yet, no one has of yet given me anything clear. One can find a passage in the apocryphal book 2 Maccabees that can be twisted to mean purgatory, but heavy twisting is required. The doctrine of purgatory is simply not articulated at all in Scripture. Nor do the Scriptures leave us in doubt about where a soul goes: either with our God or to Hell. Despite the sincerity of those who share such experiences to the public (I firmly believe that they believe that what has happened to them is from God and that they must share it with the world), one still has to face the harsh reality that the Word of God goes against their vision. Which do we trust? Given the objective and unchanging nature of God's Word and the vagaries and blandishments of human experience and emotions, there is but one reasonable choice to make: Scripture.
As a final example, witches and other pantheistic people in the pagan religious sphere say that they experience God in everything. The modern New Age movement goes so far as to say that God is within us, and that He is even us, and that we can through our own powers become better, yea, even like Gods. Yet, the Scriptures teach that there is one God, distinct from His creation, and that man, being a creation of God, is distinct, even cut off, from God by the very sinful nature of man. How can the believer harmonize the statements of witches, pantheists, and New Agers with Scripture? The (blessed) fact of the matter is that the Scriptures are so clear with the objective presentations of metaphysical reality that Christians can at once see that these contrary religions run counter to God's revelation. The Scriptures are clear in stating that these doctrines are teachings of Satan. If we follow Scripture, then, there is no need, nor should there be any attempt to ``harmonize'' these pagan thoughts with the clear Scriptures. Yet many of the pagans who promulgate these doctrines will actually claim some sort of allegiance to Scripture, albeit a small one, to give their assertions some credibility.
These examples show that various types of experiences that must be tolerated if thesis (e) is to be accepted by orthodox Christians. One can see that any and all objectivity is lost when feelings, visions, dreams, and new experiences are allowed to be made equal, or even superior to Scripture.
It should also be noted that many of the points mentioned for (c) and (d) apply here for (e) as well, especially those points that have to do with the importance of grammar, syntax, and context. Subjective experience usually thrives where people do not worry about what the text says or where people simply do not care enough about what the text says to investigate carefully. It is a common misconception, and one that I once shared in, that states that Scripture is ``simple'' and that an omnipotent God couldn't make the Scriptures complicated as to require great thought. This statement is in error because it attributes human desires and characteristics as belonging to God -- He must be ``simply-minded'' as we are. This view also forces our definition of ``simple'' on God. The simple fact is that the Scriptures require patient and careful study. This is not to say that one must spend every waking minute at Scripture trying to get a kernel of truth. (A young child can read St. John's gospel and get the basic message. But that same child can't be expected to read Romans!) Yet, without qualified instruction and diligence, one misses a lot of the flows of thought and truth in Scripture. One cannot read St. Paul through even a few times and feel that one has caught the essence of His argument, but yet Paul is not speaking mystically but matter-of-factly. One must come to the conclusion that God is revealing the most profound truths of reality to us. We have no right to expect that the ``inner workings'' of these truths are completely or even partially accessible to our minds, nor do we have any right to dismiss diligent Scripture study because we don't feel that the ``real'' Word of God would require mental effort on our part. One should remember that those closest to our Lord could not even understand the points of the simplest parables until Jesus explained them to them! Yet, since the Scriptures are presenting these blessed truths to us in human language, we are responsible for understanding what the human language says and means.
For example, the Scriptures express the fact that God is one, yet He exists as three co-equal and co-eternal Persons, each fully being God, while simultaneously not exhausting the Godhead. While we humans cannot understand how such an existence could be possible -- the Trinity is a contradiction in our plane of existence! -- we can still, through diligent study, understand that, whether we agree with it or not, the language of Scripture presents God as Triune. We can't understand the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures in the Christ. But yet through diligent study, we can understand that the language of Scripture is communicating this proposition to us, like it or not.
Ultimately, we can understand very little of the how and why that undergird the propositions that compose Christian doctrine. Yet, through careful and thoughtful study, we can understand the propositional statements themselves. I don't know exactly why faith saves and not works -- it seems to me that God could have done it differently -- yet I understand completely that it is faith alone that saves -- this is what the text says!. Due to the fact that subjective experiences usually contradict each other in clear doctrines, it seems necessary for the loyal Christian to reject (e) as dangerous to one's faith. Thesis (e) must necessarily be rejected by orthodox Christians.
This essay is sufficiently long and, so I hope, complete enough to where I can say in good conscience that everything advanced as reasons for rejecting points (a)-(e) can also be applied to rejecting (f) as well. One point, though arguably redundant, bears mentioning. If a Christian entertains (f) seriously, then Scripture is again a mixture of error and truth. Who determines truth? Our emotions? Professional modern scholars? Our parish minister?
Modern liberal scholarship has answered the question of who determines truth by proclaiming ``Us!'' Laypeople, and even ministers, are to defer to the whims and passing fads of the modern school in determining what is true. When the German literary critics of the 1800's decided that Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was not an option and that the Documentary Hypothesis ``better explained'' the OT literature and the religious evolution of Israel, the schools of the day, caught up in rapturous embrace with evolutionary principles and dialectical Hegelianism, pronounced such scholarship as ``assured.'' The Germans set themselves up as the arbiters of truth, and, in doing so, destroyed the faith of countless Christians and those ministers trained in their schools. In the NT field, various scholars compete with each other to give their Jesus image to the public. The members of the Jesus Seminar frequented day-time talk shows to promulgate their assured ``science'' to a public who buys anything with the ``scholar'' label attached to it. Here, at my own university (U. of California/Davis), various liberal ministers teach students their spin on the relativistic approach to Scripture. Even from pulpits in the Missouri Synod, which purports itself a conservative Lutheran body (Missouri is very close to being orthodox again, after a near-fatal encounter with liberals in the middle and later parts of this century), relativism and a historically critical approach to the Bible are still being taught. Liberation theologians are presenting their research as necessary to truly understanding the scriptures. The sciences tell us that we need historical criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, response criticism, and every other type of criticism to truly understand the Scriptures. We conservatives should not cast these approaches to the texts aside, for we use them without labelling them as such. Yet, we do not want to fall into the trap of having these criticisms lead us to conclusions that run contrary to what the text actually says. This is precisely the error of modern Bible scholars -- they let their biases and methodologies dominate the Biblical texts to the point where the text is pushed and pulled to fit their methodological biases instead of being allowed to speak for itself.
For example, very few non-conservative scholars today hold that St. John wrote the gospel that bears his name. This is done only by elevating subjective and arbitrary literary criteria (what St. John's style ``should be like'', what words he ``should use'', what theological points he ``should include'', etc.) over the internal witness of the gospel and the external and near-unanimous testimony of the sub-apostolic Fathers. And the list goes on, a truly bedazzling array of choices for a confused Christian honestly seeking the truth.
From the above paragraph as physical evidence, it is clear that (f) must be rejected by sincere Christians. To not do so is to invite several competing and contradictory claims in while kicking out the clear and objective propositions of Scripture. Psychologically, the end result of entertaining such a mishmash of contradictory (yet sincere) results can lead only to conclusion, a lack of certainty, and penultimately despair and/or a state of agnosticism.
Truth takes but one form, while falsehood can assume countless forms. The confessional Christian must continue to acknowledge that the one form of truth is given to us in the Scriptures, and that the entire body of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts constitute inerrant and pure truth. Without such an acknowledgement, one is left in a state of hopeless confusion as regards the historical Christian faith.
Many people of modern persuasions mock and ridicule those Christians who hold to complete inspiration and inerrancy because they will not let the results of modern scholarship dictate their thinking. Yet, these results of modern scholarship, when studied, are nothing more than authoritatively advanced assertions of the moderns. They are not objective, but highly subjective statements influenced by the ideology and agenda of the person making the statement. Therefore, they are just as circular as they claim that we are. We should have no fear or uneasiness when any modern scholar claims to have disproven some historical, textual, or theological claim of the Christian Church, for patient research on the part of the conservative will (and always as up to the present time) discover that either the data can fit the claims of orthodoxy and historicity, or that the ``evidence'' against orthodoxy has been culled very selectively, ignoring the opposing evidence. The Church Catholic has weathered these claims for two millenia, and as our Lord Jesus Christ told St. Peter, the Rock, ``The Gates of Hell shall not overcome Her'' (St. Matthew 16:19-20).
Christians are under a great pressure today to conform their thoughts to the modern enlightened view which stipulates that God is defined by those attributes that our seemingly rational minds posit to Him. For example, most people posit that the concept of a ``loving God'' makes the idea of Hell impossible, and thus there is no Hell. Other people feel that man is basically ``good'' by nature and that his bad points are aberrations, for, in their minds, a loving God would not let us be so evil. Other people find the idea of the Levitical blood sacrifices in the Old Testament to be cruel to animals, and hence God could not have really commanded them. Others think that God approves of anything that makes one feels good and doesn't harm one's neighbor because they equate their pursuit of pleasure with God's ``love''. Others think that ``salvation'' can be found outside of Biblical Christianity because, in their minds, God wouldn't be so restrictive. Other people think that God's moral laws change as human consensus and intellectual climate changes, because God made humans to think. And so on the list goes. However appealing and rational these assertions sound (and the author has held them all at one point or another!), they fly in the face of clear Scripture which asserts otherwise.
And yet, these seemingly rational views of our minds contradict the clear testimony of Scripture. One can not have modern rationalism and the Christian God at the same time. Thus, while the Jesus Seminar mocked and spoke condescendingly about the Missouri Synod (and hence Wisconsin Synod) Lutherans and other Bible-believing Christians, we whom they mock must hold firm to the steering wheel and not be intimidated by these pseudo-scholars. We must, as one theologian put it, be glad to remain four hundred years behind the times, basking in Scripture as the sole ruling norm of our faith as did Luther and the other Fathers of the Reformation, who by the grace of God alone illuminated those dark ages with the light of Scripture. One cannot place one's rationality as judge over Scripture and remain in the true faith, for virtually every doctrine that is Christian is most unreasonable by human standards.
There are, of course, excellent questions about Scripture that reflect a rational mind. Yet, the Scriptures don't answer these questions to our satisfaction. For example, the Scriptures state that the Father is God, the Son is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God, and yet the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, etc. The language is clear, but the Scriptures don't say how the Trinity is ``true''. As another example, the Scriptures also tell the Christian to expect persecution, trouble, and hard times in one's life. This is a fact. Yet the Scriptures don't really say exactly why to anyone's satisfaction, other than that persecution strengthens the believer's faith and that somehow it is a sign of God's love for His children! Ultimately, in the face of all this ``unreasonableness'' that exists when the unbeliever stares in disbelief at Christianity, we have the Apostle Paul's Spirit-inspired words:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength....
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgement: For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. (St. Paul's First Epistle to Corinth, 1:18-25, 2:12-16)
The theses (a)-(f) are a direct attack on the full inspiration and inerrancy of the Word of God. If the Church is to remain as the body of the Pure Word, She must proclaim boldly and forcefully the errors of the neo-orthodox claims, and She must purge from Her pulpits, seminaries, and schools those who would claim to be orthodox Christians who teach the views of the neo-orthodoxy. She must teach that the Scriptures do not allow one to have pluralistic views. Without the Scriptures, man cannot know that God has graciously forgiven him his sins through the vicarious atonement of our great high priest Jesus Christ. Without full inerrancy, man cannot trust the objective propositions that tell him of this satisfactio vicaria, and he can't be sure that they are true. Without full inspiration, man cannot determine if our Christian faith is a pious delusion or an objective reality. The theories and rationalizations of men do not dim one's conscience and cognizance of an almighty God who has set up a natural and intrinsic moral law that one knows is not, has not, and has never been kept properly. The ``assured results of modern scholarship'' do not convey the forgiveness of sins and the visible grace of God. The claims and authoritative assertions of liberal professors of religion and rationalistic Bible scholars do not point mens' hearts and minds to the two greatest and pivotal acts in human history: the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. Although such critics may win praise, money, acclaim, tenure, and other transient pleasures for themselves in this life, their assured and authoritative tone will quickly cease when they are confronted with the Savior Himself whom they spent their careers theorizing about and demythologizing. Although one can argue against ontological reality with persuasive arguments, one can never change reality.
By summarily rejecting theses (a)-(f), we Christians do not have the modern "enlightened'' frame of view on our side. Nor should we expect the world in general to recognize the soundness of our position, for our position is that of the Scriptures which condemns worldly thinking in such matters. Yet, we should know that despite what most moderns and even some wolves in minister's garb teach from the pulpits, the historical and theological case for Christianity is no more unreasonable than the underlying assumptions of modern neo-orthodoxy. Our faith is founded on empirically unprovable metaphysical statements no more than the modern critics, who a priori place their worldview as judge over the text of Scripture. Yet, ultimately, even though we can support our position logically and can offer sound and historically grounded apologetics, we must cast all appeals to human logic and pride aside and state that it is not the evidence, but the gracious testimony of God the Holy Spirit which calls us to faith and lets us believe. The secular scholars have the ``rational mind'', but the believers have both the ``rational mind'' and the testimony of God the Holy Spirit in addition. Noting this undeserved advantage on our part, this essay ends.