One of 'liveblog' headlines coming out of yesterday's Evangelical Theological Society meetings in San Diego reads: "Fighting Bibliolatry at the Evangelical Theological Society -- Talbot's J. P. Moreland warns that evangelicals are over-committed to the Bible." I blinked and read the headline again. Yes, that is what it said. I quickly printed the article by Ted Olsen and stuffed it in my Bible as I headed out the door to a meeting.
Later I had a chance to read Olsen's account of Moreland's session on "How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It." I was fascinated to read how Moreland thinks that our over-commitment to the Bible is actually doing us evangelicals harm and holding us back. Fascinated because I am not sure what evangelicals he is talking about. From my experience it is not our 'over-commitment' to the Bible that is holding us back but our increasling 'ignorance' of the Bible both in the pew and the pulpit and increasingly among those who fancy themselves evangelical scholars.
The drivel being published today that seeks to redefine 'a high view of Scripture' so that inerrancy is not required, or those who are looking to 'recover and proclaim the scandal of the cross' in a way that downplays penal substitution, or those who want to reconfigure the atonement in terms of 'non-violence'... just to name a few recent offerings from formerly reliable evangelical publishers -- do not seem to be examples of 'over-commitment to the Bible' but symptomatic of a restless desire to escape the constrains of Scripture.
What is especially interesting is what Moreland apparently suggested in terms of areas where extra-biblical knowledge might be helpful to us. He claims that by being over-committed to the Bible evangelical scholars and the movement as a whole are rejecting "guidance, revelation, and so forth from God through impressions, dreams, visions, prophetic words, words of knowledge and wisdom." And that we are missing out when it comes to cultural and political engagement because we do not appeal to natural theology and moral law.
This may explain why whenever I pick up a supposedly 'important' book by an 'evangelical' who wants to retain the designation 'evangelical' while stepping away from traditional evangelical doctrine -- but not so far away that he upsets the obviously dull constituency that pays his salary -- that they always begin with how complicated and mysterious and confusing everything is. If Moreland really thinks that the fanciful dreams of scholars who already tend to be out of touch with real life are going to help us where the Bible has failed to disclose the mind of God, he is sadly mistaken. If we cannot figure out the biblical message after 2000 years how will we agree on the meaning of dreams, visions, prophetic words, and words of knowledge and wisdom from men and women who are so enamoured with the mysterious and ever changing winds of doctrine.
He says that the problem with evangelicals is that they see the Bible as the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items, and accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice. This may be true in some circles, or at least it might seem that way, but most evangelicals that I know believe that the Bible is the final source of authority, not the sole source. We understand that "all truth is God's truth" (to quote a familiar phrase) but not that all truth is revealed in the Bible.
However, because the Bible is the standard of truth, we believe that we must compare everything that we think we know about the world around us with what is revealed in God's Word. The Bible is the objective standard against which all truth claims are measured. And judging for Moreland's presentation, we need this standard of truth more than ever. How thankful we should be that although in the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, that in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son in a way that we can understand. He has not spoken to confuse us but so we might know the truth.
Any suggestion that we move away from the Scriptures to other forms of revelation is irresponsible and pernicious. Christians are bound to confess about God's word what their Lord did on the eve of the watershed event in redemptive history -- "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17). Whatever problems there are with the way evangelicals interpret the word or apply it or fail to apply it to life -- and I would be the first to admit that there are many such problems -- they will not be solved by moving away from the Bible but by studying it more carefully and begging God to give us understanding into its meaning and a willingness to obey.