The Place of Scripture in Evangelical Thought Essay
The Place of Scripture in Evangelical Thought
As part of the Christian faith during 18th century revivals, three practices evolved forming their own interpretation on the place and authority of Scripture in Christian faith. The first of these were the Liberals who “viewed themselves as the saviors of a defunct out of date Christianity,” they wanted to connect with people and bring them into the faith, not scare them with a set of rules (Bingham 149). Their founder, Friedrich Schleiermacher an 18th century pastor, felt that the Scripture and other doctrines of the faith were not of the utmost importance in the Christian practice and were not needed in daily life (150).
Instead of focusing on the holiness of The Trinity, Liberal’s placed more emphasis on doctrines of sin and grace, and the emotional aspect of the faith (Kerr 213). Jesus was viewed as a historical figure that the church can learn from spiritually, and the Bible as a source of knowledge on Christian history (Bingham 152, 153). In this theological movement being a Christian is considered “nothing but feeling and experience,” the hard facts taught in the Bible didn’t matter so much as the believers feel that they are saved by the faith and are destined for Heaven (Lane 238).
Following is the Evangelical theology which evolved from the Pietism and Revivalist movement and as their way of including people in the faith without the firmness of older practices (Olson 33). Charles Finney, a leader in Evangelism, emphasized the need and ability to evangelize the world while also maintaining the power of free will, thereby preaching to, but not trying to control the mind of the masses (Lane 253, 254). Evangelist’s believe in the supreme authority of the Bible, and maintain the concept that because the Bible was written by man through God’s instruction the Bible is both fully man’s and God’s (256). Furthermore, because the words written by man come directly from God, the Bible is God’s holy word and everything it contains is true (257). The Evangelicals believed that “the Bible is the supreme authority for faith and practice” and it is Christ who redeemed us through the cross (Bingham 162). The Bible is the core of Evangelical theism; anything the Bible states is held true and presented in the sermons and actions of the church.
Lastly is the Neo-Orthodox movement which held that “Christ, not the Bible, is the proper object of religious faith” (Kantzer 18). This means that while the Bible is used in the church it is not the center of the faith. The Neo-Orthodox view on faith is that it “is a step into the unknown, made on the basis of that which is already known. Faith is neither totally rational nor totally irrational” (Lane 270). This means that while Faith is a huge step to take in choosing to follow God, it should not and is not done blindly or without guidance. Following then, is the concept that knowing all of Christian history or knowledge of the Bible, like the Liberals, does not equal faith, understanding and practice of the contents of Holy Scripture is faith (270).
Those of the Neo-Orthodox faith believe that “the Bible is the word of God only in the sense that it witnesses to the past event of God speaking and that God again speaks through it today” (275). Because God speaks throughout the Bible, making it the living word, it should be viewed as a whole that spreads the message of Jesus Christ (Kantzer 19). The Neo-Orthodox movement sought to enforce the Bible as the eternal word of God and His alone, unlike Evangelism, only as our source of guidance for our walk in faith and a manual of sorts to seek Him and reach Heaven.
As each different theological movement evolved and became a functioning form of Christian practice there followed positive and negative attributes for each denomination. The Liberalist did well to become a part of society and distance themselves from the strict and traditional practices of Christianity. Although with this new adaption of the faith they lost part of the meaning behind being a Christian. Liberalists placed more emphasis on faith and ” the love of God but denied his holy wrath against sin – thus ending with a sentimental concept of love” (Lane 271). Because the element of feeling and only the example of Christ as a model and reference point this form of Christianity, while gaining many followers, is unable to convey the true message of the gospel.
In contrast with Liberalism is the Evangelical emphasis on the altruism of the Scripture. Evangelism does an excellent job in molding Christianity to modern times without losing the importance of the Scripture. Although one weakness with Evangelism is Finney’s “insistence that the will is totally unconditioned and random,” which means that more focus is placed instantaneous change of will instead of a transformation in oneself in the life-long aspect of being a Christian (Lane 254). What this means for Evangelism is that while there is emphasis on the Bible and Christ as our savior, there is a complete understanding on what happens during the conversion to Christianity.
Lastly, the Neo-Orthodoxical movement has placed all its authority on the scripture and its divine contents (Kantzer 15). Through this the Bible becomes “authoritative as a supreme witness to Jesus Christ” who is savior and part of the Holy Trinity (Lane 271). In the words of Kierkegaard, a leader in Neo-Orthodoxy, “Faith is not rational. Faith is a personal decision, an act of affirmation, a leap into the dark… Faith involves risk, personal involvement” (270). What this means, is that becoming Christian is not just feeling or a mathematical proof but a sincere desire in the heart to become born again a follower in Christ.
These views hold the Bible as a living word and emphasis is placed on Jesus Christ as savior, and not just an example. These factors cause the Neo-Orthodox theory to be superior. These aspects cause Neo-Orthodoxy to be better because Liberalism, while encouraging conversion through theory, lacks the emphasis of Jesus as our savior and absolver of sins. And Evangelism, while very similar, places more emphasis on the word of God instead of God and Himself. Therefore Neo-Orthodoxy is a combination of the two former theories’ best attributes.
As part of a Non-Denominational church I consider it a Neo-Orthodox practice. By being a part of Neo-Orthodox approach Scripture becomes a pivotal point in my daily life. The Bible, as the living word, is a source of guidance, acting as a manual of sorts to how to live my life the way God intended. In accordance with reading and focusing on the written word there is also importance in praising and worshipping God through song and other means outside of the Bible. The core of Neo-Orthodoxy is not the Bible, but Jesus Christ, who should be the center of our lives. As part of this church I have learned the importance of all parts of our triune God and how one part is not greater or more important than another. The validation for each aspect of God is seen in the Bible as proof.
By understanding who my God is and what his message says I am able to be in society and do my best to be an example for God. Because I grew up in the church and continue to attend Sunday services as well as my own personal time with God I understand what the Bible says in regards to what is right and wrong as well as how to conduct myself in society. Through the Ten Commandments and other laws I know what is right and wrong and by reading proverbs I have learned how to conduct myself in the best manners possible.
Lastly, practicing the Neo-OrthodoxChristian faith has had a tremendous impact on how I view and interact in contemporary culture. It is through Christ that I have remained strong in my faith and in each failure he raises me up again and I am able to repent and move forward in my faith. My desire to become an English teacher after my work in college has been the same for the past four years, and while I have doubts sometimes, God always puts me back on this path and I am going in the right direction. Over time my faith has become cemented and for the most part unshakable. Through the years I have learned which friends help my faith and which ones have not. I came to Regent so that I could grow and learn in a Christ centered environment and be more prepared for when I graduate and find my place as a Christian in this secular world. With the Bible as my sword and the Lord as my strength there is nothing I am unable do, my life in the church has taught me this, and it is a lesson I have learned well.
Bingham, D. Jeffrey. _Pocket History of the Church_. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002. Print.
Kantzer, Kenneth S. “Neo-Orthodoxy and the Inspiration of Scripture.” _Bibliotheca Sacra_ 116.461 (1959): 15-29. _ATLA Religion Database with ATLAserials._ Web. 12 Nov. 2013
Kerr, Hugh T., ed. _Readings in Christian Thought_. 2nd ed. Nashville: Abingdon, 1990. Print.
Lane, Tony N. S. _A Concise History of Christian Thought_. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006. Print.
Olson, Roger E. _Pocket History of Evangelical Theology_. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2007. Print.