Saturday, April 10, 2010

American and Global Evangelicalism

I've just read the latest issue of the Briefing published by Matthias Media which has a fantastic article by John Woodhouse (principal of Moore Theological College) on "Where Have All the Miracles Gone? Cessationism, Continuationism, and the Bible". But one of the paragraphs in his introduction is very illuminating on the differences between American and global Evangelicalism:

"Evangelical Christianity in the US has often been marked by sharply polarized debates peculiar to the American context. For example, in the UK, the doctrine of Scripture was fought out against liberalism, and it was Jim Packer's writings - especially Fundamentalism and the Word of God - that set the terms of evangelical thinking about Scripture in much of the English-speaking world for a generation. In the US, however, there was a fierce fight within so-called evangelical circles over 'inerrancy' verses 'infallibility'. Harold Lindsell's Battle for the Bible, represented one side of this sharply polarized conflict. I do not believe that Lindsell's book would have been written in England (or Sydney for that matter). An American Christian of the time may well have viewed English evangelicals as lukewarm about the Bible because they were not fighting the same battle, whereas an English evangelical was likely to view the American battle as strange - as drawing distinctions foreign to the Bible itself".


gullchasedship said...

Thanks for this short series of posts comparing evangelicalism in North America and the rest of the world. It's helpful for us in North America to gain an understanding of what's going on elsewhere.

Dennis A Bratcher said...

Well, Lindsell was certainly one of the more highly polemical authors. But what about John Woodbridge, Geoffrey Bromiley, Kenneth Kantzer? Packer also signed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Seems like JRW Stott did too(?).

Jason Sexton said...


Focus on the Northern landmass dividing the Atlantic & Pacific Ocean's is an important part of this ongoing discussion. But, I've not found anyone yet to reckon with Packer's statement in "Truth & Power":

"In the ongoing North American debate between evangelical and liberal Protestants, in which a large number of the former took the name "fundamentalists,"6 biblical inerrancy was from the first made the touchstone more directly and explicitly than was ever the case in the parallel debates in Britain.7 This I now think (I did not always think so) argues for clearer-sightedness in the New World, for without inerrancy the structure of biblical authority as evangelicals conceive it collapses."

He argues the case further, of course. But this point is illuminating.

gullchasedship said...

But, Jason and Dennis, what's interesting is that those who signed the Chicago statement specifically said that belief in inerrancy did not necessarily include belief in a young earth and creation in six 24 hour days, much to the chagrin of Henry Morris and company.

Dennis A Bratcher said...

True, the tares were planted.
But my own immediate reason to post was that Bird was making things too schematic, more like Beza's Table of Election and Reprobation than the Bavinckian Election/Reprobation criss-cross.(!?!)

"Infallible/Infallibility" is the confessional terminology, "Inerranct/Inerrancy" is, I've been told, introduced by BB Warfied (and a heretical introduction according to the late Dr. Ted Letis; a fellow student at WTS when I was there in the 1980's). I don't think infallibility is deficient without inerrancy but is needed/warranted by the developments in text-critical studies, etc., since the time of Warfield. Whether young earth 144-hour creationism is a mutation or over-ripe develpment of that organic theological development, is a matter of intra-mural/inter-necine dispute.

Anonymous said...

That description might be true in degrees, but the either-or paradigm is probably incorrect.

Take for instance Machen's Christianity and Liberalism, that was an evangelical book directed against liberal understandings of the faith. It is true that, in America, we have written more with reference to Inerrancy, but it is by no means exclusively American.

I also disagree that, if a certain belief is prevalent in America, that therefore that belief is wrong. One can't simply overlook the American scholars like Kline and Beale simply because they are from America. It is a social faux pas today to have your belief branded as American. But even as we Americans can become swept away in our Americanism, others can also become swept away in anti-Americanism. The real question is exegesis. Has anyone refuted Kline's Structure of Biblical Authority?

I would also say that those denominations which have rejected inerrancy, have most often permitted heresy within their ranks. This is almost a ubiquitous phenomenon. What explanation explains the effects? It seems plausible that when one says that the authors were mistaken in their original intent, then there is a greater propensity to fall into heresy.

howardpetts said...

Mike - I'd like your take on why having a debate about the innerancy and infallibility of the Bible is a bad thing? It would seem to me a debate worth revisiting. That the debate did not happen in Australia and England could be a reflection on the weakness of our Christianity, not our strength. Also, not having read it, I'm curious to know what you thought made Woodhouse's article 'fantastic' and what makes it worth reading...

John Thomson said...

It seems that the debate on inerrancy is being revisited. Perhaps, as Howard says, no bad thing if it clarifies what we mean by the veracity of Scripture.

I am with Dennis and Jason. In many ways I cut my teeth on inerrancy by reading Packer. Stott too defended inerrancy.

The need for an 'inerrancy' affirmation seemed to arise in a context where what was previously assumed in 'infallibility' was becoming fuzzy, namely, that Scripture was not merely reliable and accurate on what it claimed for faith and prectice but also for any affirmations of history, geography, science etc. This was carefully nuanced; authorial intent and conventions of the time were not dismissed.

I cannot see how we can avoid inerrancy. If I cannot take as reliable the biblical data that Jesus died (science) outside Jerusalem (geography) at passover (history) then how can I possibly be sure that he died there for my sins (faith)? If the verifiable is false how can I believe the non-verifiable?

The Chicago Statement affirms:

Article XII

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

It is noteworthy as Dennis points out that no particular view of creation was affirmed.

howardpetts said...

John - you state at the end that the Chicago Statement doesn't affirm any particular view of creation, but it does deny any scientific view which could be used to overturn the teaching of scripture. I've wondered how this works out in relation to theistic evolution in particular, as wouldn't that view deny the plain reading of the Genesis text? Or is this where it becomes an issue of interpretation? In which case, isn't inerrancy neatly sidestepped by theistic evolutionists (ie. no one denies the inerrancy of the Bible, we just vary on its interpretation), which poses a whole new set of problems about interpretation?

I've wondered about this because its been a relevant issue in our church. Someone mentioned JI Packer, who signed the Chicago Statement, was also a Theistic Evolutionist - which seems (in my reading) to contradict Article XII on inerrancy...

John Thomson said...


On M Bird's previous post I suggested that while the apparently more obvious/natural reading of Gen 1-3 is 'Young Earth' and literal there is at least room within the literary structure for something more parabolic. Wenham makes clear lots of the literary, virtually poetic, devices at work. However, my questions arise from the assumptions voiced outside of Genesis: Moses, six days God made earth...(Ex 20); Jesus, from beginning it was not so...(Matt 19); Paul, by one man Adam...(Roms 5; 1 Cor 15).

These point strongly in the direction of a literal interpretation.

Should theistic evolution be 'outlawed'? I am not so sure. The theory of a Gap between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2 however improbable allows for theistic evolution without affecting the historicity of the rest (though its difficult to square with 'in the beginning' Matt 19).

I do feel when we get into the territory of denying historicity to Adam we are in much more dangerous territory materialy affecting our understanding of sin, the gospel etc.

Unfortunately,we do seem to be affected by where the mood of our Christian context has defined orthodoxy on this matter. Here in the UK even fairly strict independent churches allow for the possibility of theistic evolution (though they would be opposed to a non-literal Adam and garden).

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