Friday, July 24, 2009



Conservative evangelicals are often accused of being reactionary. i.e. always being ‘anti-‘ something. What are we for? What do we celebrate in the midst of our battles? One thing we can celebrate and thank God for is the authority of scripture above all man-made philosophies. But defending the authority scripture today is not the same as it was centuries ago or even in our parents generation. Most of the creeds and confessions Christian organisations profess are out of date – not because they are wrong, but because they don’t answer the challenging questions being posed by our culture. Many Christians have adopted the worldview of our culture and then try to use it to interpret scripture. The result is confusion in ethics and belief. On most issues scripture contradicts our popular worldly culture – and on many issues a church culture which has tried to accommodate that worldly culture. The consequence is that the authority is subordinated to the culture rather than used as the ‘Sword of the spirit’ to destroy worldly ideas and transform that culture. The first question Satan asked mankind was ‘Did God really say’? If he can sow confusion on that issue, then he can lead us into sin on a lot of other issues.


Have you heard anyone promoting these ideas? Have you or your organisation been affected by them.

MODERNIST LIBERALISM: Disbelieving the TRUTH of scripture. This ideology which began in the 1850s in Germany assumes that scripture must be subordinate to the findings of modern academic thinking. Thus, for example, Biblical miracles are disbelieved. Modernism gutted most of the mainline Protestant denominations in the 1920s and 30s, but is losing popularity.

NEO-ORTHODOXY: Believing the Bible is SPIRITUALLY TRUE but not necessarily true in other respects. Popularised by the theologian Karl Barth. When asked whether he believed that God created the world, he replied ‘This world does not matter’. When asked whether a newspaper reporter would have had anything to photograph had he witnessed the resurrection, he dodged the question. Adopted to varying degrees by many evangelical groups, many of which had rejected modernism.

POSTMODERNIST LIBERALISM: The belief that the Bible has personal authority for me, but not absolute authority over those who don’t believe it or interpret it differently. A belief that the meaning of scripture is NOT CLEAR and thus no one can impose their views on anyone else. This uncertainty on the meaning of scripture turns the clear teaching of scripture on issues like homosexuality into just someone’s opinion. Also a belief that feelings and relationships are important, while truth and right behaviour are not. Closely linked to this is the view of POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, where one should avoid mentioning anything in the Bible that might offend someone of another cultural belief. Also closely linked to this is the FEELINGS FOCUS, a belief that we should avoid telling anyone anything in the Bible that might offend their feelings. Needless to say, the authority of scripture is drastically undermined by gagging of expressing scriptural truth. Such a belief results in a weak view of scripture which has no authority in society.

PIETISM: A belief that scripture has authority in my personal devotional and church life, but has nothing to say about how we should govern society for example in terms of politics, commerce or interpret the study of history. The result is the authority of scripture is limited to the individual and the church, but one cannot for example tell the government not to legalise abortion.

POPULAR PSYCHOLOGY: A belief in the ‘non-directional counselling’ approach where everyone must decide in ethics what to do for themselves. Thus one must never tell anyone what the scripture says they should do in their situation or that in terms of the scripture they have done anything wrong. Scripture is then just ‘good advice’ but never binding or prescriptive. The concepts of ‘guilt’ and ‘sin’ are taboo and should never be mentioned lest people are offended. Closely linked to this is the view that we should NEVER JUDGE someone’s actions. While the scripture does teach caution in judging, it does not prohibit saying that something is wrong or sinful.

THE EVANGELICAL MEGASHIFT: A belief that we should only talk about those doctrines in scripture which don’t offend our culture, but still profess to believe in them. So for example, such Christians would avoid mentioning hell, judgement, the wrath of God, sin, the fear of God and rather talk only about relationships, feelings, God’s love and mercy. The result of this firstly that scripture loses its binding authority as God is portrayed as someone who will not do anyone any harm if they disobey it. Secondly, doctrines that are underemphasised in the next generation end up being denied. That was the pattern with early C20 modernist liberalism, and is already starting to happen in C21 evangelicalism.

NEW AGE/ANIMIST: ‘New Age Christians’ put the Bible on a similar level of authority to other religions and human philosophies. Thus the Bible can’t be used to judge the truth claims of other religions. Rather they mix in whatever bits they like e.g. Belief in astral bodies. Western Christians who do this are called New Age, while black Africans tend to mix in their ancestral beliefs.

PRAGMATISM/UTILITARIANISM: A belief that we should do what works best for the ‘greater good’, rather than to follow the detailed instructions of scripture. Scripture was written in a different context, but not really practical to follow in our culture today. For example, such people may argue promoting condoms rather than abstinence will help stop HIV-AIDS. Such people won’t speak up against sin if they don’t think people will listen to them. Contrary to this is the example of the Bible prophets who spoke truth even though most did not listen. Closely linked to this is IDEALISM, the idea that scripture is just an ideal we should try to live up to and not really practical to follow for example on standards for sexual holiness.

EMOTIONALISM: Such people may say ‘Follow your heart and not your head’. There is a bit of truth in that because the heart has an important role in the Christian life, but it cannot be used as an authority above scripture. This is sometimes applied as HEDONISM: A view that God wants us to be happy, even if this means disobeying the scripture. Thus for example, someone questions the scriptural prohibition on homosexuality because a homosexual couple he knows are so happy together. On the other hand, divorce is condoned when it is believed an unhappily married couple would be happier apart.

With the INSPIRATIONAL/HOROSCOPE method of Bible interpretation, people open the Bible randomly or where they know the nice bits are and look for scriptures that will give them encouragement while ignoring the rest. There is then no compulsion to try to understand or obey the bits we don’t like. We can just skim over them and move on. Thus the Bible’s authority is subordinated to our preferences.

ANTINOMIANISM (or ANTI-LAW): A view that because we are under grace that we are no longer bound to follow the moral instructions of scripture, so long as we do things out of a motivation of love. This idea has been around since New Testament times and alongside passages such as Colossians 3 attack it.

DIRECT REVELATION ABOVE SCRIPTURE: A belief that what one feels God has spoken into our own heart is above what he has written in his word. Examples of this error include a pastor saying that God had told him to divorce his wife and marry another woman. On another occasion, an unmarried couple knelt down to pray together about whether or not God wanted them to sleep together and concluded after prayer that he did. Another lady believed after prayer that God wanted her to have an abortion. Any ‘direct revelation’ which contradicts scripture is from the devil and not from God.

EXPERIENCE ABOVE SCRIPTURE: A belief that if our experience does not match a scripture we know, then we can disbelieve that scripture. For example, such a person may say ‘I know the Bible says God heals, but I don’t believe that because I know a good Christian who was sick and she died’. In such situations, we should not question scripture, but rather whether we have understood its meaning correctly – and study it further to understand it better.

HYPER-AUTHORITARIANISM: A belief in some churches that only senior church authorities can accurately interpret the Bible and that no one has a right to challenge them on the basis of scripture. Thus if anyone in an organisation is unsure of the ethics of a matter, they consult the senior authority. If they condone it – then it is okay. Such hyper-authoritarian authorities will often not want to be accountable to the historic accepted interpretations of scripture agreed with the wider body of Christ, but wish to make their own interpretations on an ad-hoc basis. The result is that the senior authorities often make exceptions and decide to ‘show grace’, bending the rules of scripture for themselves and their friends – leading to multiple scandals in the church.

MAN FEARING: Man fearing can take many forms. It includes for example, DEMOCRACY – often the reluctance of a spiritual shepherd to enforce the teaching of scripture for example in a church discipline case, where this might be unpopular with the sheep. In countries where there is overt state persecution, believers brave the threat of arrest to speak the Word of God, but in our culture we have the much milder persecution of simple unpopularity and social disapproval when we do so – even sometimes from other believers. We must recognise this for what it is PERSECUTION, count the cost and risk the consequences.

DISMISSING OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: Because many parts of the Old Testament have been superseded or differently fulfilled in the New Testament, many find it easier to simply dismiss the whole of the Old Testament rather than learning to interpret it correctly through the lens of the New Testament. Thus one then cannot appeal to the authority of the Old Testament scriptures. Contrary to this approach, Jesus and the New Testament writers quoted heavily from the Old Testament.


The above ideas challenge: The reliability of scripture, the right to speak scripture, the clarify of scripture, the practicality of scripture, the authority of scripture over human authorities and the question of who has the right to interpret scripture.

So we must demolish all of these cultural human ideologies with our glorious Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God and look for opportunities to speak it in defiance of our cultural norms and pressure. Unlike these human ideas, scripture is the WORD OF GOD. It is true and contains commands applicable to everyone for all time – Christian or not. It is the basis on which all will one day be judged and the authority on which we can challenge any other human authority.

Gently but firmly we must point out to people when they use these methods with authority above the word of God.

We trust that it is clear and practically applicable in our situation. Combating the worldly ideas of our culture is a big job. Fortunately we don’t need to do it alone. Word of God itself is what will defeat them. We must just keep speaking it, regardless of the consequences.