Continuing discussion of the doctrine of Scripture, today focuses on infallibility and inerrancy. What do these terms mean? What’s the difference? Bottom line: God’s Word is true.
On today’s Tuesday Tea-ology: It’s Earl Grey Supreme vs. Earl Grey Imperial in a no-holds-barred battle of the teas! Then we get serious, and to thinking about the wonderful truth that God has spoken so that we can know Him.
Back in August, RNS ran an article entitled, “John MacArthur believes the Bible trumps COVID-19 public health orders. Legal scholars say no.” Here, in a case study of church-state relations, we see the basic failure of a secular worldview.
RNS is, after all, a basically secular organization. “Wait a minute. RNS stands for Religion News Service. How can that be a secular organization?” Because it uses “religion” in the generic sense, various religions, without any conviction as to which religion is true; it is a secular platform for liberal religious views from various traditions, and thus represents a secular society’s approach to religion.
In a secular society’s approach to religion, there is an implicit relativism on spiritual truth, and an elevation of the authority of the state above the church. The separation of church and state becomes one-sided; it is invoked when there is an attempt to bring the church into the state, but ignored when the time comes to bring the state into the church.
A secular approach to religion is not the same thing as religious freedom. Religious freedom is a Christian idea, and happily coexists with the public acknowledgment of Christian truth–as was the case in America for most of its history. A secular society, we are beginning to see, actually impinges upon religious freedom, as atheistic ideologies become public orthodoxy.
We see this in the hypocrisy of certain government officials as they select which gatherings are essential and which are not during the pandemic. Thus we come back around to RNS and their assumption of secular authority: ‘Does the Bible trump COVID-19 public health orders? Let’s ask the experts on government orders.’ That is begging the question.
Of course, the opinions of legal scholars may vary. There is a legal tradition, evidenced in the founding of our nation, that rooted human rights in the authority of God. Then there’s the opinion of one scholar quoted in the RNS article:
“We have rights from the Constitution, not the Bible,” said Eric J. Segall, a law professor at Georgia State. “Biblical duties don’t trump our laws. Period. Full stop.”
When confronted with that kind of attitude, what can a Christian say but “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, ESV)? God, not government, is the highest authority. Jesus Christ is Lord.
Legal experts cannot tell us whether the Bible has authority over legal pronouncements–though, if a legal expert is a Christian, he might know the answer. The most legal experts are equipped to tell us is whether or not the law acknowledges the authority of Scripture. If it does not–as is often the case–that tells us nothing about the authority of Scripture vis-à-vis human government. All that tells us is that human government claims to be the ultimate authority.
That is the case in a secular or secularizing society. But that doesn’t make it right.
In this pandemic, Christians have had to wrestle with how the church should respond to public health orders; in particular, we have had to wrestle with how the Bible’s command to submit to governing authorities does or does not apply in these situations. That is a valid and sometimes complex question to work through. But that is not the question RNS is asking; RNS is asking whether God or the government has ultimate authority in these matters–and that is an exceptionally easy question to answer.
The Bible is the Word of God. Of course God’s Word has authority over the word of the state. The state’s opinion on this matter makes no difference, except that it is a potent reminder that what our nation needs most is to return to an acknowledgment of the ultimate authority of God–an acknowledgment expressed at our nation’s beginning: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”
I was first exposed to Sojourners at college, and my impression of them has always been negative. It was the obvious disingenuousness of the whole thing that irked me; why should such an overtly leftist publication pretend to be bipartisan? Were they fooling anyone? What had such messaging to do with the Christian faith, and why should it be promoted at a Christian college? Maybe the fact that I was studying rhetoric made me especially attuned to the duplicity of ‘GOD IS NOT A REPUBLICAN…or a Democrat.’
Sojourners is still around, and nothing on their website suggests a Christian centrism. They seem quite sold to the left; maybe they don’t pretend otherwise anymore. As such, they present a compelling picture of how putting politics in the center makes us vulnerable to buying into the culture’s lies.
Case in point, an article that caught my eye a little while back: “#DEFUNDTHEPOLICE BECAUSE THEY WON’T REFORM THEMSELVES“, by Chanequa Walker-Barnes. It addresses issues of police brutality and reform, with the headlined perspective of supporting the defunding (possibly even abolition) of police. A careful analysis might draw attention to the one-sided argumentation about a complex issue, and a theological analysis might address the basic naivete of thinking that fallen humans can do without law enforcement (as an aside, the writer is a professor at McAffee School of theology, for whatever that may indicate about that institution).
But I will highlight a single statement, and the point that can be drawn from it: “We live in a militarized police state wherein law enforcement officers view themselves as our overlords and conquerors rather than as servants and protectors of the public.” Unless Walker-Barnes is utterly ignorant of the diverse reality of American police, that statement is slander. Even if Walker-Barnes is ignorant of the American police forces, it is difficult to believe that the editorial team at Sojourners is so ignorant; and, barring this vast ignorance of reality, they have willingly published a slanderous accusation against the police force. But perhaps the editors can defend themselves with a ‘the views in this commentary do not necessarily represent the views of Sojourners‘ disclaimer? No. They highlighted this very statement of Walker-Barnes’ article on the sidebar so that readers could tweet it.
What place has slander in a Christian publication? None. But that is what happens when worldly ideologies infiltrate and influence your thinking.
An instructive warning for Christian institutions, and even churches, in America today.
Religion News Service, a hub of journalistic advocacy for the religious left, has had several rather telling articles lately. First on the docket is this piece from Ryan Burge, who urges Christians to abandon unpopular teachings of Scripture in pursuit of numerical growth.
The headline reads, “On LGBT and women’s equality, stark statistical reality is coming for white evangelicals.” The title alone has several notable features. First is the framing of the issues in terms of equality, which itself suggests that white evangelicals are bigoted in their views on these matters. Next, the liberal triumphalism: the future belongs to them, “stark statistical reality” looms before evangelicalism. Third, of course, is the focus on “white evangelicals”, a favored target for the left in recent times. Are evangelicals of other ethnicities significantly more open to sexual immorality or women preachers? I suspect not; in any case, Burge makes no effort to demonstrate that they are.
Through the course of the article, Burge notes some facts about the American social and religious landscape that are, indeed, important–but not news to most. The rise of the “nones”, and shifting opinions related to LGBTQ issues and women preachers are discussed.
Then he takes the data, and applies it towards the usual ridiculous but unsurprising liberal conclusions. Visualizing churches as businesses, he says that evangelical churches aren’t selling what the younger generations are going to want to buy. Our beliefs are outdated, like a Blackberry in the iPhone age. Our options are 1) to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy regardless of numerical decline, or 2) “evangelicalism could begin to slowly shift its stance on issues like women pastors and same-sex relations.”
To his credit, Burge grants some validity to option 1, stating “There is integrity in this path.” What’s ridiculous is his implication that option 2 would lead to numerical growth. He’s basically suggesting that evangelical take the path of the liberal mainline denominations: change doctrines and practices to keep in step with the times. But his own research shows the correlation between the rise of the “nones” and the decline of liberal mainline Christianity, and he describes his own projection saying that “The results indicate that the ‘nones’ will unequivocally be the largest group in America by 2029, and that’s largely a result of more mainline decline.”
Even in purely pragmatic terms, liberalizing evangelical doctrine and practice so as to be more like the mainline denominations is a terrible idea, and not likely to bring numerical growth. Burge says our ‘product’ is unappealing to young American ‘consumers’; but what his own statistics express much more pronouncedly is that the ‘product’ being sold by liberal churches–a watered-down accommodation of Christianity to secular culture–is precisely what American ‘consumers’ are rejecting.
It is true that secularism is on the rise in America. But what the religious left cannot seem to grasp is that the quickest way to kill your denomination is to liberalize it to meet (post)modern mores.
But the more fundamental issue is that this whole way of looking at things is flawed, one might even say idolatrous. The metaphor of the church as a business selling a product to consumers is natural to Americans, but it is offensive to the church and to the church’s Lord. And this sort of thinking has been a poison within the evangelical world for quite some time.
We are concerned about lost people finding salvation. But they are not consumers, Christianity is not a product, and the church is not a business. We are the body of Christ, the people of God in the midst of a world of darkness. The church has no right to cast aside God’s commandments in pursuit of popularity. It’s an understatement to say, as Burge does, that “there is integrity in this path.” It is the only path with integrity.
It is also the path with the most hope for Christianity in America. As the mainline denominations are strangled by their own compromise, evangelicalism may see another great awakening, if God so chooses. Burge says, “I’m sympathetic to the view that God can change hearts. But I see no evidence of divine intervention in the data.” That’s a remarkably short-sighted view of things. The history of the last two millennia has provides ample demonstration of God’s ability to change hearts. This is not guaranteed in any given time and place; it is possible anywhere, in any circumstances.
God can and does change hearts. The responsibility of the church is to be faithful to her Lord, to advance the kingdom of God in the dominion of darkness, and to pray Maranatha–our Lord, come. The “stark statistical reality” of shifting American opinions is not the reckoning people should be most concerned about.