Michael Horton writes this from the Ligonier blog
I really do believe we are facing the same doctrinal crises that the Reformers faced, only in some respects it’s worse because Rome never questioned the authority of Scripture or the inerrancy of Scripture. Both are widely disputed in Protestantism generally, and increasingly in evangelicalism particularly. If we lose the authority of Scripture and the sufficiency of Scripture, then what’s the point? There would be no point in trying to understand what we believe and why we believe it—no point in even talking about a Gospel because there would be no authority for this Gospel. Then justification is as much up for grabs today as it has ever been. According to all the studies I’ve seen, most American evangelicals believe that they save themselves with God’s help. That’s the prevailing view in all the studies that have been conducted. Do your best. That’s why Jesus is no longer seen as the only way, truth, and life. And that wasn’t up for grabs in the Reformation—that Jesus is the only way of salvation—that wasn’t up for grabs. The issue in the Reformation was how salvation is applied to us, but everyone believed Jesus was the only way of salvation. Today, that’s no longer taken for granted. We have to fight for it.
Religious pluralism has not only made us more aware of other beliefs, which is good, so that we’re explicit about what we believe and why, it has made us more vulnerable to the belief that religion is really about morality. It’s about being nice. It’s about being good. It’s about loving each other. It’s not really about the intervention of God in human history, assuming our flesh, dying on the cross, and being raised the third day for our justification, His return in judgment, and a real Heaven and a real Hell. To the extent that we’ve already turned religion into morality—something we do rather than something that God has done for us—to that extent, religious pluralism will mean, not only that there are lots of people of different religions we must respect and to whom we have to witness, but rather that there are all of these wonderful people who have their sources of morality just as we do, and we need to realize that there are different paths to God. Increasingly that’s where we’re going with a lot of pastors, telling believers that Jesus is the best way of pursuing community and self-sacrifice, but not the One who was sacrificed for our sins and raised for our justification.
I think he is right. The authority and sufficiency of scripture are eroding and being replaced with community pragmatism, moral based teaching, existential experience and a decreased reliance on scripture. What he doesn’t say explicitly here is the common practice today of listening for God to speak to us today. No longer strictly a Charismatic concern, the premise that we must listen for the voice of God to guide our Christian walk has become a widely embraced concept within mainstream Evangelicalism. The combination of these factors has produced an insufficient view of scripture as God’s spoken word to us by which we learn of the fullness of his verbal revelation to us, which he accomplished in his Son. Scripture then becomes a referee for the divine voice instead of being the divine voice itself, leaving the church to scramble to fill in the gaps and encouraging members to do the same. With a heightened sense of individualism it devolves into everyone “hearing” what is right in their own eyes.
So is it any wonder that contradictory ideas creep in and begin to take root? The less committed we are to the authority and sufficiency of scripture, the more of an open door it creates for other ideas about God and Christianity. I can’t help this is especially true, when we are relying on listening for God to speak to us about what to do next and thinking whatever voice that pops in our heads is a substitute for the sure word of Scripture.
I’ve been pretty focused on this topic over the past few years and will be tackling it in my upcoming Master’s thesis. If we don’t see how God has already spoken that will inevitably lead to chaos and confusion. Stay tuned, I have much more to say on this topic.
Lisa, this is exactly what I saw happening in our longtime church. There is now a nuanced view of scripture’s inerrancy, Scripture is not the only source for teaching from the pulpit. There’s no teaching of justification. Jesus is someone to imitate, rather than God in human flesh who came to save us from our sin and the wrath of God to come. The sermons have become moralistic. The mission is to spread human flourishing and to become fully human.
” the common practice today of listening for God to speak to us ……the premise that we must listen for the voice of God to guide our Christian walk has become a widely embraced concept within mainstream Evangelicalism.”
Yes, this too is now often spoken of from the pulpit. No longer is it said that the primary way that we hear from God is through the Bible!
Sounds like a topic well worth writing on, Lisa.
Of course the issue of authority and inerrancy of Scripture is a problem in any age – John 5:46-47. Christians are roundly and correctly criticized for allowing their political agenda, be they left or right, to shape their outlook on Scripture; so to, whatever happens to be the philosophical or scientific zeitgeist should also not shape our theological paradigms. Rather, Scripture should criticize the zeitgeist.
Thank you. Well said and spot on. So many problems today (both inside and outside the church) track back to an inadequate view of Scripture as God’s revelation to us. Thanks. (A friend of NCD and DTS alum) –Sandy
Thanks Sandy. I’ve heard your name mention many times. All good of course 🙂
I’m enjoying your blog Lisa.
I really do believe we are facing the same doctrinal crises that the Reformers faced, only in some respects it’s worse because Rome never questioned the authority of Scripture or the inerrancy of Scripture. Both are widely disputed in Protestantism generally, and increasingly in evangelicalism particularly. If we lose the authority of Scripture and the sufficiency of Scripture, then what’s the point? There would be no point in trying to understand what we believe and why we believe it—no point in even talking about a Gospel because there would be no authority for this Gospel..
Oh Lisa, I don’t have to tell you that I totally agree with the view of scripture that Horton and yourself sure do seem to be partnering on here. There’s an elephant in this room isn’t there? How I do pray that you are never seduced into wavering on this.