The nature and authority of Scripture is approached differently in reference to the three theological movements known as Liberal, Neo-Orthodox and Evangelical thought. Because of their varying differences in thought, Scripture takes on different meaning for each of the separate theological movements. Thought should never imply power and authority over Scripture; however, incorrect approach in regards to thought concerning Scripture may possibly act as a self-inflicted handicap on the power and authority that Scripture has over us. It is of great importance that the individual understand each in order to arrive at a correct placement for their theological thought in accordance with Scripture.
Rather than approach the Holy Scriptures as a revelation of God, or as a record of God’s acts in history, Liberal thought treats the Scriptures as a record of religious experience. This approach takes theocentricism and leans it overwhelmingly in the direction of anthropocentrism. Liberal theology, in reference to Scripture, is more applicable to the human affections than it is to the knowledge and wisdom that God provides to humans through Scripture. This is found in Friedrich Schleirmacher’s perspective that Christian doctrines are accounts of the Christian religious affections set forth in speech. When we read statements pertaining to God’s attributes, they are not about God himself but about the way in which human feeling of absolute dependence is to be related to God. The Liberal overemphasis on human experience ultimately separates theology from the Scriptures, thus making it a study of religion and how it pertains to our religious experience rather than an inquiry of God.
Neo-Orthodox thought responded to Protestant Liberal ideology by rejoining theology and religion. The Scriptures, according to Neo-Orthodox theology, is God speaking to us in Jesus Christ; it is God’s personal revelation of himself to us. The Old Testament points forward to Jesus Christ in expectation while the New Testament looks back to him in recollection. Simply put, God is speaking to us through redemptive history. It is important to know that Neo-Orthodox thought approaches the written word of Scripture as fallible human words and not the infallible word of God. However, Scripture becomes the infallible word when God chooses to speak through them. From this approach, the Scripture has the proclivity to act between God and the hearts of man; that is when God speaks, man moves.
Out of the three theological movements, Evangelical thought approaches the Scripture in the most reverent way. Evangelicals view the Holy Scriptures, both Old Testament and New Testament, as the perfect word of God. In contrast to Neo-Orthodoxy, it doesn’t become the infallible word rather it already is. Clause two in the Lausanne Covenant states, clear and concise, how Evangelicals are to approach the Scriptures, “(Scripture is)…without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” Evangelical thought does not make the claim that man cannot err in the interpretation of Scripture, but what it does is position man’s Evangelical approach within the realm of fundamentalism.
There are some rather significant pitfalls that exist within the three theological movements, with Liberal thought raising the most opposition towards traditional Christian orthodoxy. In the Liberals’ quest to seek out a place for Scripture in the modern world, they are quick to surrender doctrine that they deem indefensible. Overemphasis on human experience leaves logic and reason underexposed, thus the surrender of sound doctrine over to modern secular-society seems to be their fashionable remedy. Where Scripture is not handed over, attempts at redefining the indefensible portions, such as the supernatural miracles of Jesus Christ, are employed. Rudolf Bultmann exemplifies this point in his programme of demythologizing, where he attempts to modernize the Christian message for those who from their naturalistic standpoint feel that it is inapt to accept the supernatural claims of the Gospels on Jesus’ behalf.
An inadequate view of human sinfulness is another pitfall within Liberal theology. For example: Schleiermacher’s explanation for Christ incarnate was to be our teacher and not to atone for sin. Albrecht Ritschl denied the doctrine of original sin and insisted that leading a life without sin is possible.
Some liberalists have also invited religious pluralism into their theology. John Hick proposed his Copernican Revolution, which suggested that Christian faith was merely one way of salvation for one culture. Hick’s theology sidesteps and attempts to redefine what Jesus Christ says in John 14:6 [ESV], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Because Liberalism stands so far outside the boundaries of traditional Christian orthodoxy it is easy to separate it from Evangelical and Neo-Orthodox theology. Both remaining theological movements have pitfalls, but in my opinion they are far more acceptable than Liberal ideology. I believe a more acceptable term for the Liberal mind is ideology and not theology; for no other reasons than the examples presented in this essay.
The pitfall within Neo-Orthodox thought resides in its inadequate view of the Word, or rather its interpretation of Logos. If Scripture is not the perfect Word of God and contains a certain degree of human error then which parts of Scripture are deemed correct or incorrect? Is it up to man, who is separated by the extremes of sin from God, to discern what is to be regarded to become Holy in the Scriptures? If God chooses to speak through another book besides the Bible, does that book suddenly become a supplement to the Bible? In its quest to ensure a practical answer, Neo-Orthodox theology has left open too much opportunity for human selectivity in regards to the Scripture. If one can’t trust Scripture in its entirety, then which parts does one trust?
The inability to understand something within Scripture is permissible; however, to demote the Bible from divine inspiration to the fallible word of man on the grounds of not being able to fully understand why something in it appears contradictory or incorrect is unacceptable. To approach the Holy Scriptures as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, is an act of faith. This is where I believe the Evangelical approach is superior over the Liberal and Neo-Orthodox approach towards Scripture. Admittedly, Evangelical thought does have a shallow pitfall within the realm of fundamentalism, but ironically fundamentalism has also proven to be one of its strong points, which is exemplified in the uprising of New Evangelicalism from the mid 20th century onward.
Analysis and Application
Part of my spiritual formation is dependent upon my ability to approach the Scriptures with complete faith knowing that it is indeed the inerrant word of God. Knowing that all Scripture (New Testament included), is breathed out by its author, who is no other than God, is part of the engine that moves me forward in Christian Faith. Therefore, Biblical inerrancy is as much a portion of my faith as it is a part of my testimony. For example: I cannot, in good faith, direct someone to something I don’t fully believe; especially in matters pertaining to eternal consequence.
The authority of Scripture must be understood not simply in terms of the truthfulness of its propositional claims but also in terms of its ability to direct the contemporary life of the people of God. Scripture is not to be treated as a museum in which we enter for the purpose of studying ancient truths no longer relevant in a contemporary environment. The truth revealed to us in Scripture is eternal and true. Evangelical thought requires that culture always be tested and judged by Scripture.
Our approach to the Holy Scriptures is significant. We are not to apply ourselves to Scripture, but rather we are to submit to the authority Scripture has over us. Anything less is a self-inflicted handicap that sends out an invitation for the evil one to join in the parade of skepticism. Again, our inability to understand certain parts of scripture is permissible, however; to deny divine inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures on the grounds that we do not understand something He has given us within the Holy Scriptures is unacceptable. Perhaps, if we lack wisdom we should ask for wisdom.
. Anthony N S. Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought, completely rev. and expanded ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2006), 238.
. Ibid., 239.
. Anthony N. S. Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought, 238.
. Ibid., 274.
. Ibid., 274-275.
. Ibid., 264.
. Anthony N. S. Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought, 239.
. Robert H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, fifth ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 122.
. Anthony N. S. Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought, 240.
. Ibid., 241.
. Anthony N. S. Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought, 251.
. Anthony N. S. Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought, 261.
. ESV Bibles by Crossway, Esv Study Bible, Personal Size (Trutone, Saddle, Ornament Design), Box ed. (Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2014)
. Williams, Michael D. 2011. “Theology as witness: reading scripture in a new era of evangelical thought Part II Kevin Vanhoozer, The drama of doctrine.” Presbyterion 37, no. 1: 16-30. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, 22.
. Anthony N. S. Lane, A Concise History of Christian Thought, 265.
. 2 Peter 3:16
. James 1:5-8
Gundry, Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament. fifth ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.
Lane, A N S. A Concise History of Christian Thought. completely rev. and expanded ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2006.
Williams, Michael D. “Theology as witness: reading scripture in a new era of evangelical thought Part II Kevin Vanhoozer, The drama of doctrine.” Presbyterion 37, no. 1 (2011 2011): 16-30. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed December 10, 2015).