by Steve Spurlin
– What follows is a portion of a presentation that I made several years ago. The topic is a “life and death” issue, figuratively speaking, for the Church today. Unfortunately, some of my documentation has been lost and some quotes are not attributed to the original authors. Some may criticize for moving forward with publishing it for that reason, but I believe that what I wrote years ago is still fresh for today and needs to be reviewed by others. For those whom I quote and have lost the proper notations, please forgive me.
I have played the great game of basketball from the time I was in the fifth grade all the way through my college years. One thing that all teams, leagues, conferences and divisions had in common was a single book; the official rulebook of basketball. During any game the rules written in that book governed the competition and were binding for everyone involved whether it is the coaches, players, scorekeepers, or referees. No one involved would dare question that book for it is the final authority for all things basketball. It is also sufficient to answer any question, settle any dispute, and completely govern the game.
In each game there were at least two men, sometimes three, who were to oversee each contest to make sure the rules of the rulebook, were understood and obeyed. These were the referees. Anytime there was any question concerning error or infraction concerning the rulebook these men would have the final say in deciding the answer, because these men had the rulebook memorized (theoretically and ideally). In my recollection of the years I spent playing basketball there is not one time that I can point to when my opinion was allowed to make the final decision when there was a violation of the rulebook. That is because the rulebook had already decided the outcome, and the referees would simple make a declaration of the rules already established. Even some 20 years after I played my last college game it is still that rulebook that governs the game of basketball. Not much has changed.
For thousands of years there has been one thing that was the final authority on all things, period; “Then God said…” (Gen. 1:3). Yet, seemingly no sooner had those words been uttered that another voice was heard casting doubt on the authority of the word of God; “Indeed, has God said?”(Gen. 3:1) Or in other words, “Is what He said really accurate?” And so the battle over the authority of God’s word began.
Such a battle has raged since that first question in the Garden with various waves of victory and loss of ground for those who would hold to the authority of Scripture. Along with that battle over authority must necessarily be included the question of sufficiency, for sufficiency is inextricably linked to authority. If the word of God is THE authority, then it must also be sufficient. This has been the orthodox understanding of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments as well as in both the religion of the Jews and of the Christian Church. It is the purpose of this paper to discuss various aspects of the sufficiency of Scripture, and will do so with the presupposition that Scripture is the inspired, infallible, authoritative word spoken by God to man.
I will attempt to offer a simple definition of sufficiency, a brief description of the millennia long battle over the authority and sufficiency of the word of God, the recent developments in the battle and its effects upon the Church, and will close with an overview of what Scripture has to say concerning its status as sufficient providing the answer to the question; “Is God’s Word enough?” It is not within the scope of this article to delve into every deep crevasse that such a battle creates. However, it is my desire to discuss the issue as thoroughly as time and space allow.
Definition and Description of Sufficiency
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition) defines the word “sufficient” by the following: “1.a: enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end…b: being a sufficient condition. 2….being what is necessary or desirable.” Thus, we may picture the word “sufficient” with the following simple illustration: the two-inch round peg is sufficient to fill the two-inch round hole. To use another phrase, the round peg is just what the doctor ordered; it is exactly what is needed to meet the need at hand. Some synonyms given are, “enough, adequate, competent.”
Dr. James T. Draper has offered a simple, yet adequate definition and description of the sufficiency as it relates to Scripture. He states:
“The ability of the Word of God to address every area of human existence is called the sufficiency of the Scriptures…An inerrant Bible is an authoritative Bible. Just as the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture logically leads to belief in its authority, even so the doctrine of the authority of the Bible necessitates the confidence that the Scriptures are sufficient. Christians did not arrive at the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Bible simply by way of logical reasoning; we believe that the Bible is the road map for living because it is what the Bible claims about itself.” Added to this, another definition offered by John MacArthur; “the Bible is an adequate guide for all matters of faith and conduct. Scripture gives us every truth we need for life and godliness.”
Based on the preceding discussion I will begin this study by stating that it is my belief, as well as that of orthodox Christianity at least since the Reformation, that Scripture is sufficient, totally adequate, and competent to meet the needs of every individual Christian in every circumstance of life (see 2 Peter 1:2-3). Nothing else is needed to guide us in our everyday living. These definitions along with their corresponding descriptions will serve as our standard for the understanding and study of this most important subject.
– Recently I began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture. I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency. By way of introduction I will briefly review.
Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end. It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need. Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered. When it comes to Scripture, God’s Holy Word, it means that the Bible is totally adequate, and competent to meet the needs of every individual Christian in every circumstance of life (see 2 Peter 1:2-3). Nothing else is needed to guide us in our everyday living.
Most of us would agree that the greater portion of the Church has abandoned this long-held belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. What some of us may not know is the history of how we have arrived at this place in the life of the Church. What follows is my attempt to trace the history of biblical interpretation and misinterpretation of Scripture that enabled and emboldened the Church to conclude that God’s word alone is not a sufficient guide for an individual Christian’s life. I would add to the previous statement that I am by no means alone in my understanding of the history that follows.
Historical Perspective: The Battle for Authority and Sufficiency
Origen and Allegorical Interpretation –
As Philip Schaff has stated, “The question of the source and rule of Christian knowledge lies at the foundation of all theology.” Without a solid foundation all theology must rest on shifting “sand…and great (shall be) its fall” (Matt. 7:26-27). Not withstanding the original attack upon the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in the Garden, the shift from the authority and sufficiency within the Christian Church can be seen with the first formal theory of interpretation, that of Origen (A.D.185-254). His hermeneutic system was fashioned after that of Philo, a Jewish Platonist who adopted the allegorical method in approaching the Hebrew Scriptures. Likewise, Origin applied the allegorical method in his exegesis of Scripture. Although born out of the best of intentions the problem with Origen’s s hermeneutic method is that it abandoned a normal interpretation for a fanciful, imaginative interpretation that placed the interpreter in the place of authority instead of Scripture itself being the authority. Instead of Scripture having a static meaning (although alive and active as Hebrews 4:12 states) and simply having a basic, intended meaning that anyone could understand, “(he) considered the Bible a living organism (not as Hebrews states), consisting of three elements which answer to the body, soul, and spirit of man, after Platonic psychology.” The outcome was that Origen, like Plato, would allegorize, or spiritualize vast portions of Scripture completely undermining, or destroying the plain, historical sense in which it was intended. In so doing the authority of the word of God was made to be subservient to the interpreter, thereby making it insufficient in itself to direct men into proper living.
Augustine and Dualism –
Following Origen’s lead, Augustine (A.D. 354-430), once again desiring to do good, duplicated the allegorical method, but with a twist. His system is known as dualism, and the modification that he introduced was seen in his practice of limiting allegorical interpretations to prophetic passages, while taking other passages in their normal, literal sense. This dualistic method of allegorical interpretation once again pushed the subtle shift from the sufficiency of Scripture as it tore at the foundation of the authority of Scripture. Paul Tan described the overwhelming acceptance of Augustine’s practice; “Unfortunately for the church, Augustinian dualism was accepted without much debate into the Roman Catholic church, and later also by the Protestant reformers.” It is that last fact concerning the Protestant reformers that has led to many of the problems in the modern Church.
Arguably, one of the negative outcomes of Augustine’s dualism is the birth of Amillennialism. This view of the millennium was absorbed whole by the Roman Catholic Church and their theology. This had a devastating impact upon the Roman Catholic hermeneutic method, and, therefore, to the authority and, in turn, the sufficiency of Scripture.
Catholic Allegorism –
Directly effected by Augustine’s form of allegorical interpretation is the Catholic system of hermeneutics. The Catholic system is very closely related to Augustine’s dualism, and completely swallowed up the Amillennialist idea of prophetic Scriptures.
Bernard Ramm asserts that “[i]t would be over-simplification to assert that the only method of exegesis during the Middle Ages was the allegorical method. It would not be, however, be an exaggeration to assert that the preponderance of exegetical work was allegorical.” The Romanists divided Scripture into two categories; 1.) Literal and 2.) Spiritual, or mystical. Yet, as damaging as this aspect of their system was, it was merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The real greater damage is found in another of Ramm’s observations;
The Catholic interpreter obediently accepts whatever the Catholic Church has specifically said about matters of Biblical Introduction, and authorship of the books of the Bible…The Catholic interpreter accepts all verse which the Church has officially interpreted in the sense in which they have been interpreted.”
Here we have the logical outcome of the destruction of the authority, and therefore the sufficiency of Scripture by the introduction of the allegorical method of interpretation. When the normal sense of Scripture is not the true or deepest meaning of Scripture, then interpretation must be left up to those who have been granted the divine right of interpretation, i.e., the Church. In turn, that transition of the divine right of interpretation from the individual Christian to the Church placed the individual Christian under the authority of the Church, and since the method of interpretation placed the interpreting body in control of what Scripture means the Church became the authority, Scripture lost both its authority and sufficiency, and direction for all areas of life fell under the authority of the church; the Roman Catholic Church held the sufficiency. The Bible was taken out of the hands of the average man on the street and given only to the church to dictate to the individual what was held within its pages.
The Catholic Church’s denial of sola Scriptura was solidified at the Council of Trent in 1545. Although affirming the Bible as inspired revelation from God, as has already been established, the Church became the only competent interpreter of Scripture.
Two major errors occurred. Upon the church’s establishment of itself as the only sound interpreter of Scripture, membership in the Catholic Church became necessary for salvation. Therefore, the church and not Scripture, is sufficient for salvation.
Secondly, they established that the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church is absolutely necessary for correct understanding of the Bible. Popes and bishops are the only competent interpreters of the Scriptures; therefore, the individual cannot grow, serve or obey without the guidance of the Catholic Church. Scripture alone is not sufficient for salvation or daily living.
With the Bible taken from those who were not in authority in the church the natural progression was to drift into deep superstition and mysticism. Although mysticism came along with the allegorical interpretation, its filtering into public life in the form of superstitions and pagan practices was caused by the individual’s inability to read, let alone understand the words of Scripture, as well as by example of their “spiritual” leaders. The results were horrific in the life of the Church in general, and devastating to individuals overall. None had assurance of salvation. Many lived in fear of evil spirits, or even in fear of their own religious leaders. The Roman Church became oppressive and overbearing, and millions suffered greatly.
Praise God that the history of the Church and biblical interpretation did not end there.
– I recently began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture. I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency. By way of introduction and reminder, the following is our definition: Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end. It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need. Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered.
Our last discussion ended with the historical development of the Roman Catholic standard form of hermeneutic, an allegorical method of interpreting Scripture. A major concern with this approach is that Scripture becomes putty in the hands of the interpreter who is free to mold its “meaning” into anything that suits his/her fancy. Added to this method is the practice of the Pope making proclamations ex cathedra regardless of whether the proclamation is in harmony with previous proclamations or not, or whether it harmonizes with the real teachings of Scripture or not. At least one of the results prior to the Reformation was rampant superstition, which is a glaring display of the abandonment of the sufficiency of Scripture.
Reformation Hermeneutics –
By the time the Reformation came about the damage was so ingrained that even the Reformers never quite returned completely to sound biblical interpretation. Granted the hermeneutical principles established by the two most influential Reformers, Luther (1483-1546) and Calvin (1509-1564), were sound and good; in practice they did not always follow their own rules.
Luther rejected the allegorical method completely. As he said, “When I was a monk, I was an expert in allegories. I allegorized everything. But after lecturing on the Epistles of the Romans I came to have knowledge of Christ. For therein I saw that Christ is no allegory and I learned to know what Christ is.” Because of his turn from allegorical method Luther developed a form of literal, grammatical hermeneutics. Briefly, his principles were as follows:
- The psychological principle. Luther believed that the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit was of absolute necessity.
- The authority principle. Scripture is the final and supreme authority above all church authority.
- The literal principle. Literal (normal) interpretation is key.
- The sufficiency principle. Luther held to the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture and therefore believed that any devout Christian is capable of understanding them apart from the church’s authority.
- The Christological principle. Luther believed that the function of all of interpretation is to find Christ.
- The Law-Gospel principle. Luther believed that there must be a careful distinction held between Law and Gospel.
John Calvin also established sound hermeneutical practices. “Calvin stressed the Christological nature of Scripture, the grammatical, historical method, exegesis rather than eisegesis…the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit, and a balanced approach to typology.” (Quote attribution lost)
The problem that existed with both of these great scholars, and men of God, was that they each continued to hold to allegorical/spiritual interpretation when it concerned the Church, Israel, and end times prophecy propagating the Catholic Church’s teaching of amillennialism and that the Church is the Kingdom of God. Therefore, despite the great success and blessing from God that the Reformation was, its success was incomplete leaving the door open for building good doctrine on top of bad.
Regardless of the progress towards sound hermeneutic principles of the Reformers the issue remained; through all the years prior to and following the Reformation the sufficiency of Scripture was (and is) challenged. This challenge has often been by interpreters seeking to help make Scripture plain, or by the Roman Catholic Church seeking to centralize the power of Christendom. It may be safe to say that the situation has worsened with the addition of numerous sects and cults, and the failure of conservative churches to teach the sufficiency of Scripture. The result can be seen in the current drift back to superstition, which includes the current tide of continually seeking new direct revelation from God for everyday guidance instead of simply living in obedience to His revealed word.
– To all who have read these recent posts I will remind that the documentation of quotes has been lost. Therefore, many of the quotes are not properly attributed to those who made them.
I recently began a series of articles dealing with the sufficiency of Scripture. I began by giving a definition and description of sufficiency. By way of introduction and reminder, the following is our definition: Sufficiency means that something is enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end. It refers to something being what is necessary or desirable for a specified need. Simply put, if something is sufficient it is just what the doctor ordered.
In the last post we examined the move toward a proper hermeneutic that was directly attributable to the great Reformers including Luther and Calvin. We also briefly discussed the fact that even they did not consistently utilize the proper procedures in their interpretation and exegesis.
As a result of the Renaissance and the Reformation, both Churchmen and philosophers discovered a renewed interest in the world around them and how to interpret man’s existence in light of their surroundings. That is not to say that such things were not being pondered before these two events, but in the wake of them their was a noticeable expansion of such explorations. The consequences were not always positive.
From Revelation to Reason –
Shortly after the Reformation, there was a move toward what is termed Rationalism. In other words the authority and sufficiency of the human mind, reason, and the religion of humanism replaced the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.
Although not the first to push the idea of rationalism, Rene’ Descartes (1596-1650) is seen by some to have begun the era of rationalism and many see him as the father of modern philosophy. In his system of philosophy, “human wisdom replaced divine revelation in trying to understand God…his philosophic thinking impressed many others to do the same.”
Following Descartes was Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) respected French scientist, and Christian apologist. Despite his belief in fulfilled prophecy, miracles, the witness of Christianity throughout history, and Scripture’s testimony concerning itself, “he opened the door to move away from the Bible by his belief that the evidence in the heart is the strongest proof about God.” Once again, Scripture is place in a subservient position to the interpreter instead of Scripture being in authority over the interpreter. The interpreter’s reason is sufficient to guide him, not Scripture.
From Rationalism to Idealism –
As influential as these two men were Francis Schaeffer believed that there were four other men who were more crucial in directing the mindset of philosophical thinking, which in turn filtered over into the overall view of the sufficiency of Scripture. They were Jean-Jaques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, George Wilhelm Hegel, and SÆ ren Kierkegaard. For the purpose of this study the focus will be upon Kant, Hegel and Kierkegaard, with the edition of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of liberalism.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). By the time Kant came on the seen in the 18th century the train of philosophical thought was undergoing a shift in attitude. As Schaeffer explains:
“the older philosophic views were optimistic, for they assumed that people would be able through reason alone to establish a unified and true knowledge of what reality is and that when this happened they would have satisfying explanations for everything encountered in the universe and for all that people are and think.”
The shift that was taking place that Kant helped to perpetuate was a move from that former optimistic view to a pessimistic view of life. In their minds, and in truth, the humanistic ideal had failed. Philosophers gave up hope of a unifying answer to all of life’s questions. Therefore life itself was divided into two “stories”. The upper story, which was above and beyond mere human reason, and the lower story, the realm of human thought, understanding, and the physical world. As others before him, Kant could not find the key to unifying these two stories – In truth, a feat only possible in the pages of Scripture for only it is sufficient to answer life’s question and provide that unifying principle – and the philosophers were coming to the horrifying truth; “There was no way beginning from man alone to bring the (two stories) together.”
Yet Kant refused to return to the Christian view of reality. He reacted against both “mystical and pietistic Christianity, thinking it was too superstitious and spiritual…(and) the scholasticism that dominated Lutheranism…(arguing that) such rational proofs of God violated the limits of reason and had little to do with faith.”
Kant’s conclusions served to move the Christian Church farther from the sufficiency of Scripture and towards mysticism and liberalism.
George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel was one of Kant’s followers and went a step further in chipping away at the sufficiency of Scripture. In Hegel is found the foundation for all relativistic thought and the perfect example of Paul’s statement, “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22), for in Hegel’s system opposing propositions can both be true and must be synthesized into one new truth. This was his dialectical system. The result of Hegel’ s conclusions was a move further away from the traditional understanding that the propositional truth claims of Scripture were sufficient to answer all of life’s fundamental questions and guide mankind in every area of life, and a move further into the realm of mystical, even occult thought. For Hegel man was the consciousness of the universe, and all is ever evolving in this dialectical system.
Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834). As previously mentioned, Schleiermacher is often seen as the father of liberalism. In Schleiermacher it seems that many of the elements of liberalism merge into one; German rationalism, higher criticism, enlightenment thought, etc., all merge at Schleiermacher. He rejected most of the orthodox Christian beliefs and did not trust any form of authority. Yet, he seemed to understand the damage that his beliefs would cause mankind, therefore, “he did not want to reject Christianity, recognizing that mankind needs religion.” To Schleiermacher, Christianity was a necessary evil. He rejected Scripture’s inspiration, therefore also rejecting its inerrancy and authority, which necessarily meant that Scripture is not sufficient to answer life’s question. Yet, he somehow believed that keeping the shell of Christianity in public life would be necessary – this is nonsense since the very root of Christian life resides in the sufficient, authoritative pages of Scripture.
Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). In this author’s estimation, Kierkegaard was the bridge between the damaging shift in philosophical thought and the shift away from the sufficiency of Scripture in the realm of theology. Kierkegaard was both a philosopher and theologian. Kierkegaard’s view of the two stories of reality can be seen in the following:
NONREASON = FAITH/OPTIMISM
REASON = PESSIMISM
Thus in Kierkegaard’s system the Bible is not only insufficient in governing faith and life because it is not trustworthy. Human reason must be relied upon to answer all questions in the realm of everyday life, and spirituality is brought to the point of a mere leap of faith into something that can never be known.
In this one man we can see both sides of today’s low view of the sufficiency of Scripture. On the one hand the Scripture is insufficient and human reason must be the answer. On the other hand Scripture is insufficient and some existential or ecstatic experience must be the basis for men’s faith.
Around the same time that Kierkegaard was building a bridge between the fields of pessimistic philosophy and theology, Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) began the direct assault on Scripture. Wellhausen rejected the inspiration of Scripture – in itself a repudiation of the sufficiency of Scripture – and began the application of the Hegelian dialectical principles to the study of the Bible. This led to the damaging practice of Biblical “higher criticism”.
The destruction brought by the higher critics resulted in an equally damaging response by those who are now labeled as Neo-Orthodox. The first influential theologian of this school of thought was Karl Barth (1886-1968). This movement is also known as “crisis theology” (due to its focus on God’s judgment), or “Barthianism” (after Barth himself). Barth sought to rescue the Bible from the liberal theologians, yet Kierkegaard’s influence can be seen in Barth’s theological product. Enns explains: “Karl Barth followed Kierkegaard in acknowledging a transcendent God and emphasizing a religion of experience. Barth taught that God could not be known objectively because He is transcendent; He must be known subjectively through experience.” In Barth’s conclusion we once again see the effects of Hegel’s dialectical system, in that Barth “denied the possibility of stating propositional truths.” Since God could not be known objectively through the propositional truth claims of the Bible then the words of Scripture must become the word of God in some subjective way. Once again, the sufficiency of Scripture was rejected and replaced by personal experiences throwing wide open the door to the mystical, occult experiences that have entered the Church today.
Whether meant as attacks or sincere attempts at interpreting and teaching Scripture, the cumulative effect of all of these movements can be seen in the resulting destruction of the view that Scripture alone is sufficient for every aspect of faith and conduct. On one side stands dinosaur-like view of the humanist that man’s reason is all that there ever was, is now, or ever will be needed to answer all of life’s questions and guide man through life, yet ultimately leads to despair. On the other side stands the new kid on the block; those who hold that reason must be set aside and the mystical subjective experience must be embraced, this view also leading to despair.
Modern Day Attacks Against the Sufficiency of Scripture
Fast forward a few years and we find we are fighting the same battle. Let us once again set the stage in preparation to examine the current state of affairs in the battle over the sufficiency of God’s word. Dr. James T. Draper has set the boundary from one direction when he states:
“The destructive critics have shifted from revelation to reason. The naturalistic, uniformitarian scientists have shifted from revelation to reason. The philosophers have shifted from revelation to reason. The students of comparative religions likewise. Ultimately, all of these attacks have come because of the shift in the base of authority from revelation to reason.”
Eventually, this worldview failed to offer an acceptable framework by which to explain all of life. The result of this failure is visible in today’s society in the postmodern mindset, philosophy, and theology. It also has taken the need for an authority out of the picture because there is no absolute truth anyway. Nietzsche’s conclusion that whatever reality is, the noumena of Kant’s philosophy, is unknowable. Therefore, man must choose between nihilistic optimism and create his own reality resulting in irrationalism, or nihilistic pessimism and die by his own hand. The late Mal Couch agrees:
“When critical rationalism failed, it gave way to irrationalism. Both of these views are hostile to biblical revelation, yet in opposite ways. While liberals do not believe the Scriptures are true, postmoderns simply throw out the categories of truth altogether. This philosophy is opening the church up to New Age religions, religious syncretism, and even possibly moral chaos.”
Tommy Ice discusses the logical outgrowth of modernism’s rationalism found in “the current postmodern mysticism, which desires to add human wisdom to God’s Word.” He describes the three-step attack on God’s Word that can be seen throughout history; “(1) rationalism exalts human reason above revelation, (2) skepticism questions everything, (3) mysticism substitutes almost anything for belief. In the late twentieth century, even evangelicals had drifted toward the most serious of violations of Scripture.”
Dr.’s Draper, Couch, and Ice have effectively outlined the two fronts upon which the current battle is now raging. Sadly, these two extremes have had profound impact upon the Church of Jesus Christ. On the liberal side we see the “new” form criticism. This is nothing more than warmed over Wellhausen form criticism redirected at the New Testament and the demythologizing of the Jesus of Scripture. This movement, begun by Rudolf Bultmann (1893-1976), desires to find the so-called “truth” concerning the historical Jesus. In other words, the testimony of Scripture is not sufficient to know the historical Jesus, therefore it is untrustworthy at best, misleading at the least. Thus the creation of the Jesus Seminar organization seeking to decide which portions of the New Testament accounts of Jesus are true and which are not.
On the other side of the issue is the postmodern form of “Christianity”. Postmodernists do not believe in objective truth. Therefore, they are not concerned with the battle over the authority of Scripture. Scripture simply means whatever the postmodern man wants it to mean. “If there are no absolutes, the mind and the thinking processes give way to the will. People want to hear positive words from Scripture about the love of God rather than the realities of sin, death, and hell.” And since there is no absolute truth based upon the sufficient revelation of God in Scripture, then any message that offers what these postmodernists want to hear is accepted into their system, or church. Therefore, in their rejection of objective truth as found in Scripture the Bible’s sufficiency is rejected, but only because it is irrelevant to them. Their feelings and personal likes and dislikes are the overriding principles determining what is right and wrong at least for them as individuals. As a result, Couch makes the following observation: “Postmodernists who reject objective biblical truth have no problem with tolerating Hinduism or Buddhism, which say that the external world is just an imaginary illusion of the mind. And from Eastern religious minds, other popular kinds of religions and belief systems have come about.”
Both of these opposing systems converge in today’s modern, or postmodern, Church. Since the foundation of Christianity, and the direction for Christian life has been removed – the prevailing belief is that Scripture is insufficient for both – there has been a vacuum created that is being filled by many different practices. The shear number of aberrant practices makes it impossible for an in-depth or all-inclusive study. Such a study would take hundreds of pages and years of research. For this paper only a few of these practices will be mentioned
New/Private Revelations –
As Ice observes, the Bible is no longer sufficient. Human wisdom, in all its forms, must be added in order for mankind to find meaning, purpose, and direction in life. In the Church this attitude takes many forms. One of those practices is the receiving of private revelations. This is due to the destruction of the belief in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture is viewed as out of date and no longer able to speak to life in these modern times.
For the charismatic churches these extra-biblical revelations come in the form of what Draper called “logos plus rhema”, that is, the Word written in Scripture, and the word spoken in new, private, personal revelations. As he observes, “Historically, this error was found only in Pentecostal and charismatic churches, but today it can also be heard coming from an alarming number of Southern Baptist pulpits.” More than just Southern Baptists, almost every denomination, if not all, including the Roman Catholic Church has seen this same phenomenon creep into the practice of their congregations, and the clerical leaders. The shift from the sufficiency of Scripture has been filled with Kierkegaardian experienced-based religious practices. These new mystics “are basing their theology on experiences rather than on the foundation of Jesus Christ as found in His Word. The end result is that such people are ‘defrauded.’ They are missing out on true biblical living because of their beliefs.”
Purpose Driven, Pragmatic, Psychological Christianity –
In many churches the Bible has been replaced by Psychology and therapy sessions called sermons – group therapy for the church. One Christian Smith has labeled the situation, “Moralistic, therapeutic deism.””This is especially true in Southern Baptist churches through the instruments of The Purpose-Driven Church and The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. The problem has become so ingrained that, in his book Biblical Authority, Draper buys in to the acceptability of Psychology for treating Southern Baptist Church members. He says, “There are many good and godly Christian counselors who are doing a wonderful work for the kingdom of God. Many pastors find it helpful to be able to refer those with certain problems to a competent Christian professional (emphasis mine).” What Dr. Draper has just done in these two sentences is destroy his whole argument for the sufficiency of Scripture, and demean the position of the pastor, the shepherd, to tend to all the sheep and the particular problems of each. The Purpose-Driven model has also bought into the Psychology mind-set in that Warren has centered his approach on what are known as “felt needs”. These are perceived needs that the “unchurched” have developed, all of which are not needs but self-centered desires. Therefore, the pragmatic side of the Purpose-Driven model finds whatever works, and changes whatever offends the unchurched in order to meet those “needs” to attract people to the church. The most heinous of all of these changes is the watering down of the Gospel message – because Scripture is insufficient to draw those who need to be saved. Then, when the church grows because of all of the entertainment-oriented changes that were made to attract the lost, well, it must be God blessing the church. If it works it must be okay. Yet, Scripture is left out of the Church the Holy Spirit used it to build.
The Rise of Paganism –
On the heels of postmodernism paganism has snuck in “through the side door” as J. Vernon McGee used to say. In his book, Pagans in the Pews, Dr. Peter Jones discusses this rise of paganism within the Church:
“While orthodox theologians fought Kant, von Harnack and Bultmann on the cold German front of skeptical rationalism, the opposition cross-dressed into warm, spiritual, irrational mysticism. The future belongs to marginals such as Nietzsche, Mircea Eliade, Rudolf Otto, C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell. The brush fire has jumped the interstate, and orthodoxy faces the threat of mystical pagan polytheism on the spiritual side of the theistic/atheistic divide.”
In one fell swoop Jones covers every area of academia, Nietzsche in philosophy, Otto in theology, Eliade as historian, Jung in psychology/mysticism/occultism, and Campbell in literature and mythology. Their influence is felt within the walls of the Church today.
One of the forms that paganism takes is seen in the Emergent church phenomenon. This movement is actually a combination of paganism, Christianity, post-modernism all coming together to rebel against the Purpose-Driven church model. Pastor Gary Gilley observes;
“…the seeker-sensitive church has given birth to a new movement being called the emergent church. The emergent church is taking to logical conclusion what the seeker-sensitive church began. All dressed up in post-modern religious garb the emergent church is rapidly rejecting and undermining almost all biblical theology. In other words the emergent church is the new liberalism. Evangelicalism is reaping what it has sown.”
In what this writer believes to be the first book on the emerging church, The Emerging Church (1970) the writer’s express the view that sola Scriptura is insufficient for the Church’s continued existence. What follows are some quotes noting this fact. When speaking of John’s Apocalypse the writer observes, “Many other early Christians, whose writings are not included in Scripture, also contributed to a body of apocalyptic literature describing their dreams and visions.” While not denying Scripture the authors, whether meaning to or not, commend extra-biblical “visions” and “dreams” from writers who one can only guess to be the Gnostics or mystics. Thus, a logical conclusion to such commendations is that Scripture alone is insufficient.
They glowingly refer to the occult psychologist Carl Jung; “In our own day we have a man like the famed psychiatric pioneer, Carl Gustav Jung, talking about Jesus Christ making possible a new rung on the ladder of evolution.” Relying on the Quakers the writers make the following mystical statements when discussing, of all things, church business meetings and policy:
“In (the Quakers’) tradition there is a ‘waiting for the sense of the meeting,’ accepting as fact that Christ is truly present among His people, moving them in the direction He has in mind for their community…there should be the ‘awaiting’ on an awareness of Christ’s presence and will…A time of silence is as important to a business meeting as is a period of discussion…It is our firm conviction based on years of experience…that Christ will always make Himself and His will known to His people through one another.”
From this one must assume that the clear teachings in God’s word are not enough to give direction, therefore, we must wait on a mystical expression of God’s will to us.
When discussing proper goals for the emerging church the writers make the following disturbing statement; “Great preaching, in a historic sense, is no longer a proper goal for either people or the pastor. At one time, perhaps, but no longer (emphasis added).”
Finally, after basing the following conclusion on several Scripture passages the writers conclude with the following statement concerning primary sources for the Church; “With examples like these…to guide us, we come to the conclusion that the obvious primary resource for the Church is Christ alive in His people (emphasis mine).” Not the Bible upon which they just based this conclusion? This seems somewhat contradictory.
Some thirty-seven years later the outcome of this religion of dialogue and community remains void of a firm foundation. Because of this all the emergent church, along with churches of other flavors, has allowed pagan practices to enter their services. As one of their leaders explains, he was saved while practicing what is called “centering prayer” (also known as contemplative prayer), which is nothing more than Eastern mysticism with a Christian tag. This comes complete with mantra (repeating a word or phrase over and over) and trance-like state. Following on the heels of this practice is the practice of “Christian yoga”. Once again this is paganism with the name of Christ attached to it. Since yoga is the center of the Hindu religion it cannot be divorced from Hinduism any more than Christ can be truly taken out of His Church.
Finally, the Emergents also desire a return to Roman Catholic practices. With no biblical/doctrinal foundation upon which to stand, Emergents have no problem compromising with those who hold less than sound doctrine. One of those practices would take one back to the middle Ages as “worshipers” are led through a “prayer labyrinth” complete with icons at which they should stop and pray.