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Inspiration of the Bible

Where did our current evangelical and fundamentalist movements come from?

The Renaissance and the Reformation

For the first 1000 to 1400 years of Christianity the view of the Scriptures was fairly straightforward. The canon of the New Testament was debated back and forth, but most were in agreement as to which books bore the mark of the Holy Spirit.

As early as 1100 A.D. a group of believers, the Waldensians, who originated in northern Italy and Lyons, France and later in England, quit believing that the Roman Catholic Church was the true church. About 1400 A.D., influenced by John Wycliffe in England, and Jan Huss in Hungary, the Waldensians quit believing the doctrine that the bread literally became the body of Christ (a doctrine which had only been clearly articulated in the 1200s by the Roman Catholic Church). They also quit believing that baptism literally washed away sin, seeing these acts as symbolic, something that Ulrich Zwingli echoed (1500s) during the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland.

Martin Luther in the 1400s said that he questioned whether James and Revelation should be included in the Bible. 

As empirical testable science became the driving force during the Renaissance (1400 to 1800A.D.), so also the power of the church and the Bible lost ground. Galileo quotes Thomas Aquinas (from the 1200s) in a commentary on Job that poetic statements in the Bible should not be taken literally, but should be understood to be accommodating the peoples' current understanding of science, rather than eternal truth about scientific matters "God hangs the earth on nothing."

There was never a time when people were completely unscientific. People doubted the miracles of Jesus because they said those things were not possible (i.e. unscientific). But to subject the entire world to a scientific lens was new, and to believe in science as a philosophy was extremely new.

Germany became the power house of scientific theology. Every question that could be asked of the Bible, God and religion came out of Germany and reverberated around the world. New seminaries were started to combat the growing doubt in the scriptures: Yale, Harvard, Princeton. Questions of the Bible's inspiration were largely ignored by the frontiers of the expanding United States, frontiers which were peopled by idealistic farmers who wanted new and open land. Just as Abraham Lincoln on the frontier only went to two years of school, just so most frontier farmers did not worry about the collision of traditional biblical beliefs, science and philosophy.

Though Lincoln's traditional faith was transformed by the brutality of a deeply religious south and a deeply religious north pummeling each other into a bloody pulp:

"Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully."

But as each successive generation in the United States has become more educated, educated in the prevailing mindset of the United States, each generation has had to wrestle with questions the previous generations did not wrestle with. The movie Waterworld depicts a world that has flooded, with almost no dry land. The older people have almost no advice on how to live in such a world.

Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism

American Fundamentalism traces its roots to the 1920s when a movement began to fight modernism in churches. It was at this time that fundamentalist church leaders began to demand that preachers and pastors state clearly their belief in the verbal inerrancy of the scriptures, the divinity of Christ and the virgin birth.

In the 1940s and 1950s Billy Graham is credited with beginning the evangelical movement with his magazine, Christianity Today. Up until 2000  radio shows, TV shows and parachurch ministries have united fundamentalists, pentecostals and evangelicals into a movement that made denominational divisions largely irrelevant.

The Evangelical Promise

Evangelicalism, to listen to radio and TV shows, and to read the self-help books published by them, promised:

* A loving marriage

* A happy family

* Obedient, believing children

* A warm church community

Evangelicalism, as epitomized by the biggest parachurch organization in the 1980s and 1990s, Focus on the Family, featuring Dr. James Dobson, summarized a whole movement's longing: to be loved by a happy family. It also became identified with a political movement called the Christian Right:

* to stamp out abortion as cruel to the mother and murder to the baby

* to support traditional education that upheld traditional religious values, and homeschooling (and to oppose the NEA), and to teach the Ten Commandments and creationism in schools.

* to uphold spanking as a form of discipline that could be administered by parents to train their children to obey and respect authority

* to oppose the advancement of homosexual rights

* to oppose the advancement of equal rights for women, seen as in opposition to the role of women as depicted in the New Testament

* sometimes became allied with the Republican Party, but increasingly became disenchanted by mostly lip service and no real results toward the Christian Right's agenda.

To a lesser extent the Christian Right also supported blue collar mainstays such as respect for the flag, freedom to own guns, adherence to the original constitution, support of the United States military, and a gold-backed monetary system. Trust in unions was a little suspect because unions were usually supportive of the Democratic Party, which opposed much of the Christian Right's agenda. Opposition to the advancement of civil rights for minorities was also a minor part of the Christian Right's agenda. Anything that disturbed the view that Americans had a manifest destiny to conquer the Indians, take over their land and live without the burden of a heavy government yoke, was opposed with ferocity.

Did it Work?

Evangelicals since the year 2000, have been questioning everything on the evangelical slate. Why? Because for most it didn't work. Evangelicals question whether they had happier marriages, happier children and happier church communities. Did evangelicals somehow miss the central point of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Why were evangelicals depicted in the media as shrill Pharisees that spewed hatred?

Evangelicals are now questioning the literal seven day creation story, the young earth theory, and the verbal inerrancy of the scriptures. They also have begun to view God as less monolithic and more learning from his creation.

What did the apostle Paul say?

There are very few scriptures in the Bible that say the scriptures are inspired. One of the few is Paul's statement (see sidebar) that all scripture is God-breathed, and profitable for teaching, etc.

Besides the fact that Paul is clearly talking to Timothy about the Old Testament, notice that the apostle Paul did not say that all scripture is one hundred per cent correct on every issue. Paul did not say that the scriptures are verbally inerrant. He said all the scriptures were profitable for teaching and training in righteousness.

The apostle Paul almost never said, "I am an apostle, therefore obey me, because I have the Holy Spirit." Usually he said, "Do this because it is reasonable and in concert with the purpose of God as illustrated by these stories you already believe in."

The apostle Paul did not hesitate to rethink traditional thought on the Old Testament scriptures. And he did not say, "I am inspired and this has been delivered from God to me to you." He said, "Let's look at these Old Testament stories again and view them in light of what we know about Jesus."

Why don't we view the scriptures the way Paul intended them to be viewed: as persuasive?

How did Jesus quote the Scriptures?

An argument I have often heard defending the verbal inspiration of the scirptures is Jesus arguing with the Sadducees about the resurrection from the dead. Jesus' argument rests on one word "AM" as opposed to "was". The argument goes: if Jesus was willing to rest his argument on the tense of one word, then Jesus must have had confidence that every word in the Bible was correct.

This is not a valid argument for two reasons:

1. Jesus was making an argument based on the Name of God: JHWH or Jehovah, the great I Am. Jesus had confidence that his Jewish tradition had gotten the name correct.

2. Jesus always used arguments that made sense to his audience. He started where they were and moved forward using facts they believe in.

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14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

II Timothy 3


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