Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What J. P. Moreland Really Said

In a recent post (“Over-committed to the Bible?”, Nov. 16), I agreed with several points made by J. P. Moreland in a paper he presented at the Evangelical Theological Society.

I relied on a report by CT’s Ted Olsen, to which J. P. Moreland has now responded. He calls Olsen’s summary “generally fair,” but he says that “because it is still a summary,” it “could not provide the needed context for understanding [his] paper.”

Since the lay audience has now heard about his paper, he has made it available on his website. Read his argument and evaluate it for yourself.

The church and the Bible

In my previous comment, I said that the church was the missing element in Moreland’s picture of evangelical “over-commitment” to the Bible. Now that I’ve read his paper, I need to refine that.

J. P. is clearly calling for scholars to conduct their search for the truth (whether in biblical or extra-biblical areas of research) for the sake of the church. And when he talks about evangelicals who take the Bible as the sole authority for and source of truth, he quotes earlier authoritative evangelical statements that portray the Bible not as the sole authority but the supreme and final authority. In that context, the church and tradition are also mentioned. The church is not missing from his paper.

Moreland portrays evangelical over-commitment to Scripture as a reaction to the shift in our universities and our culture away from the search for an integrated understanding of knowledge and from a commitment to cognitive notions of truth.

By and large, Evangelicals responded during this shift by withdrawing from the broader world of ideas, developing a view of faith that was detached from knowledge and reason, and limiting truth and belief about God, theology and morality to the inerrant Word of God, the Bible. If I am right about this, then Evangelical over-commitment to the Bible is a result of the influence of secularization on the church and not of biblical and theological reflection.

But the point I made in my November 16 post, I believe, still stands. Evangelical over-commitment to the Bible (as Moreland carefully defines it) is also the result of our abandonment of our heritage of reading the Bible with the larger church.

Martin Luther read the Bible in innovative and intensely personal ways, but he was still in dialogue with all that had come before him. Luther read the Bible in conversation with the church. Somehow over the centuries that got transformed into the idea that just any Christian, disconnected from past and present believers, could read the Bible, know precisely what it meant, and try to use it as the sole authority for truth.

If we could recover the habit of reading the Bible in conversation with past and present believers, all the while paying attention to the inner testimony of the Spirit (Calvin), it would go a long way toward curing the ills Moreland has diagnosed.

1 comment:

gerald mcdermott said...

Right on, David.

In fact, Jonathan Edwards himself worked similarly, deferring to his own sense of tradition when interpreting Scripture. I make an argument for this in a new article, published as a chapter alongside your chapter in a book edited by Robert Millet on religious authority.

Gerald R McDermott
Roanoke College