Bible: The Authentic Source Texts

5 - How Has Textual Darwinism Corrupted the Church?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
When Evangelicals embraced this theory, they were well on the way to viewing the Bible as just another religious book.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part 5 of a series. Read part 4.

When Evangelicals embraced this theory, they were well on the way to viewing the Bible as just another religious book.

Let me briefly review what we have covered thus far in this series. We have seen that an absurd and ungodly theory of the nature of Scripture has become the accepted position of the Evangelical church, the basis of virtually all Bible translations, and the shaky underpinning of most present-day preaching. It is highly accurate to call it the Darwinistic theory of the Biblical text, because we find many disturbing parallels between this compromise on the Bible and the church's compromise with Darwinian evolutionism.

We have also seen that this theory has wormed its way into the doctrinal statements of most Evangelical churches and institutions. The predominant Evangelical position has shifted from "the Bible we hold in our hands today is inerrant" to "the Bible was inerrant - but only in the original manuscripts." We have also seen, in brief, how this ungodly theory became the generally-accepted Evangelical position.

This change reflects the fact that the vast majority of conservative pastors and Bible scholars no longer believe, or at least are not certain, that the text contained in the original manuscripts of the Bible has been preserved intact. They have been taught, in college and seminary classrooms, that for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years much of the exact original text of Scripture has been lost to the church or has at least been unclear.

Here is the logical outcome of the theory: No church member or preacher who subscribes to this theory can be certain that we have the actual and complete inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God in our hands today.

Just Another Religious Book

This raises the question we shall now consider: What happens when the vast majority of Evangelical pastors and scholars embrace such a theory as the truth?

The answer is that we would see spiritual disaster all around us - precisely what we do see today. If those who profess to believe the Bible have nothing they can hold in their hands and say, with absolute confidence, "This is the complete, inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God" - then they have no clear objective authority. The Evangelical church that embraces such a theory is in no better position than liberal Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, or any of the more recent cults. The church that embraces such a theory is in no better position than anyone else who says, in effect, that all roads lead to God. In fact, the church that has embraced such a theory is no better off than the atheists or the secular humanists. They also acknowledge no inerrant authority.

If what the postmodern Evangelical majority says about the Bible were true, then the Bible would be merely another religious book. And that is how the Bible is viewed in much of postmodern Evangelicalism. It may retain an aura of "traditional specialness" in certain circles, but it has no clear title to the status of the one and only supernatural Word of God. The Bible's exact content and canonical limits are open to human critical judgment - not merely the judgment of ecclesiastical authorities, but also of secular scholars. Such a "Bible" demands no unique status as its own infallible interpreter. It is just another piece of world literature - revered by some, reviled by others, and subordinate to the judgment of all. It has no claim to unique and final authority.

Revered But Not Read

That is, in fact, how much of Evangelicalism now views the Bible. Dr. Stephen Prothero of Boston University is not a Bible-believing Christian, but he has done extensive statistical research on the changing state of the Evangelical church. He has made an observation that should send a chill into the hearts of believers. He notes that over the past century "among Evangelicals there's been this shift.from Bible reading to feeling - from knowing what Jesus actually had to say to having a 'relationship' with a 'Jesus' that they know little or nothing about - from actually reading the Bible to merely revering the Bible..."1

This observation is confirmed every week in thousands of churches that claim to believe the Bible but no longer truly believe in inerrancy. Systematic, expository Bible preaching has given way to motivational lectures where the Bible is simply one among many books and persons cited along the way. Many of these churches base their programs and policies on the latest fad religious books rather than on the Bible.

The Church Unplugged

The Evangelical church has become the church unplugged - largely disconnected from the only legitimate source of power and authority, the truly inerrant Word of God. Evangelicals may be able to quote the clich├?????├????├???├??├?┬ęs of the latest fad religious book, but they are ignorant of the only Supernatural Book.

The young people in churches who say that only the original manuscripts of the Bible were inerrant are for the most part Biblically illiterate. A survey commissioned for Christianity Today magazine found that 80% of Evangelical young people could not place Moses, Adam, David, Solomon, and Abraham in chronological order. 85% could not place the major events of Jesus' earthly life in the actual order in which they happened. Only 20% knew to look in the book of Acts for the account of Paul's missionary journeys. Only 60% of these young people in what claim to be Bible-believing churches could locate the Ten Commandments in Exodus chapter 20. Only 33% knew where to find the Sermon on the Mount.2 Although the survey cited in this particular article did not mention it, one wonders if these young people knew how to find any passage where the Bible says how they are to be saved from sin.

What about the adults? Among the people who call themselves Bible-believing Christians in America today, less than one adult in six reads the Bible at least once a week outside of a church service. 35% of the adults in Bible-believing churches never read the Bible at all.3 Yet the latest fad religious books sell by the millions and enjoy avid readership.

Consider these statistics on Evangelicals' beliefs about essential doctrines: 37% of adults in Evangelical churches do not believe the Bible is totally accurate. 45% do not believe Jesus Christ was sinless. 52% do not believe Satan is real. 57% do not believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. 57% believe that good works play a part in gaining eternal life. A similar number of Evangelical adults believe that other religions are valid ways to God.4

Systematic, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse, expository preaching of the Word of God has mostly given way to a topical, motivational approach geared toward the felt needs of the audience. Much of it is the same kind of talk you would hear from a behavioral consultant in a business setting, only the one in church has some religious jargon thrown in.

When the church buys into the Darwinistic theory of the nature of Scripture, it creates a spiritual vacuum. What is true in physics is also true in the church: Nature abhors a vacuum. The secular mindset fills that vacuum. Man, not God, becomes the source of authority. As a result, man's word, not God's Word, shapes the church's agenda. If the church doesn't stand on an inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God that Christians can hold in their hands today, then it stands on the thinking of the world. There is no third alternative.

The Church Uncertain and Ineffectual

The church that has rejected the doctrine of an inerrant Word that we can hold in our hands today quickly becomes the church uncertain about Biblical truth. And the church uncertain quickly becomes the church that cannot speak with authority to people about how they should think and live.

In a church that has lost its doctrinal anchor, sin is often trivialized: "We've all made mistakes" - "We've all made some poor choices in life" - "Nobody's perfect" - "Some of us have made poor lifestyle choices." Cohabitation outside of marriage used to be called "living in sin" and considered shameful. But it is rare to hear such preaching today.

Examples of the trivialization of sin in the Evangelical church abound. According to a recent survey, less than 10% of adults in Evangelical churches cite the Bible as the primary basis of their worldview and behavior.5 According to another recent survey, 19% of those who are living with a partner outside of marriage identify themselves as Evangelical Christians.6 A well-known mega-church that has embraced the Darwinistic view of the Bible found that although 91% of its people stated that their highest value in life is having a deep personal relationship with God, 25% of the church's singles, 38% of its single parents, and 41% of its divorced members "admitted to having illicit sexual relationships in the last 6 months."7

A recently-released survey reports that while 79% of Evangelical adults "believe that the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches," only 46% of Evangelical adults believe in absolute moral truth.8 And lest we be encouraged by the 79% figure, we need to remember that saying "the Bible is accurate in all the principles it teaches" is a far cry from saying that "the Bible we hold in our hands today is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God, the exclusive rule of faith and practice given by Christ to His church."

The Issue That Draws the Line

Clearly, the Darwinistic view of the Biblical text has been a disaster for the church. What is the central issue that draws the line between the majority today who hold such a position, and the minority who still believe that it is possible for us to have, in our hands today, the complete and inerrant Word that is uniquely authoritative and demands undivided submission? The issue is how they answer this question: Do you truly believe God's promise to preserve His Word, intact and free from error, for all time and for all eternity?

Next: The Central Issue - Naturalistic Restoration or Supernatural Preservation?

References:

  1. Dr. Stephen Prothero, C-SPAN television interview May 13, 2007.

  2. Gary M. Burge, "The Greatest Story Never Read," Christianity Today, August 9, 1999.

  3. Based on surveys by Barna Research, www.barna.org; Bible Literacy Center, centerforbibleengagement.com.

  4. These statistics are from Barna Research, www.barna.org, especially the Barna Research report, Religious Beliefs Vary Widely By Denomination, 2001.

  5. Source: Barna Research, http://www.barna.org/

  6. The U. S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008, available online at http://religions.pewforum.org/, page 68. This survey was conducted by The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life, a research arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

  7. A survey conducted by George Barna as reported in G. A. Pritchard, Willow Creek Seeker Services: Evaluating a New Way of Doing Church (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996), p. 236

  8. Barna Survey Examines Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years, as viewed on 3/9/09 at http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/21-transformation/252-barna-survey-examines-changes-in-worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years.

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