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Why the Fascination?

The student of Scripture frequently endures lengthy interactions with historical critical theologians as he or she reads even conservative commentaries, systematic theologies and other publications. These monologues- you can’t seriously call it dialogue since historical critics rarely care what conservatives have to say- seem obligatory for many authors to include in their work. Why do some conservatives have such a fascination with a Wolfhart Pannenberg or a Brevard Childs or others whose very starting point in regard to God and His word is unbelief?

The heart of theological liberalism and the historical critical method is a denial of the supernatural. I appreciate W. S. Towner’s plainness and honesty when he writes concerning the book of Daniel:

We need to assume that the vision as a whole is prophecy after the fact. Why? Because human beings are unable accurately to predict future events centuries in advance and to say that Daniel could do so, even on the basis of a symbolic revelation vouchsafed to him by God and interpreted by an angel, is to fly in the face of the certainties of human nature. (Daniel. In Interpretation; John Knox, 1984, p.115)

Dr. Towner is very representative of what I mean. According to him, if a prophecy seems accurate, it must be a forgery written after the supposed fulfillment occurred. And why must it be so? Because a theologian decided at some point in his or her life before even reading the texts in question that miracles are impossible and therefore predictive prophecy, Jonah’s experiences, answered prayer, the new birth, a resurrected Jesus Christ and all other supernatural events have to be fairy tales. The decision of unbelief once made is thoroughly determinative. No possible evidence can alter that decision or the “scholarly” results it inevitably forces.

So why the fascination? We know a first principle of the New Evangelicalism was dialogue with unbelieving scholarship. A supposed fault of the fundamentalist mind c. 1942 was an unwillingness to interact with what were then still called “Modernists.” Those intolerant Fundamentalists viewed deniers of inspiration, the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, Christ’s second coming, personal salvation from sin, etc., as enemies of the gospel rather than reliable sources of truth.

I do not know why Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry and other founding fathers of New Evangelicalism decided to legitimize theologians who were no more Christian, in a Biblical sense, than Moonie or Watchtower “scholars.” I know the only two reasons I would be tempted with that sin would be because of a suspicion on my part that maybe liberalism and neo-orthodoxy could be right after all or because of a sense of inferiority and fear of man.

What have sixty-eight years of dialogue yielded? The unbelievers still aren’t listening and still don’t believe and will never take conservative scholarship seriously because their a priori unbelief will always rule out the supernatural before the discussion begins. Wake up: there is only a monologue. The believers, on the other hand, are having some doubts about eternal verities. Eternal punishment, for instance, was once regarded as a motivation to win souls and send missionaries. Now it is seen by some as evidence to doubt the Bible if not the existence of the good God of the Bible. It seems rolling in the mud has not cleaned up the mud hole.

Where does Global Baptist Schools come down on this?

We absolutely reject the historical critics as legitimate sources of information to understand the Bible. Such truth as they present is minimal and may easily be found elsewhere. We believe their methodology reflects the belief system of a cult. All cults should be understood in order to contend for the faith once delivered, but no cult is a legitimate source of that faith. If you read a Bultmann, read him with all the respect you would give to a Mormon commenting on the deity of Christ.

We program, and we urge upon our students extensive exposure to the Bible itself. How often the historical critics seem to have not even read carefully the texts they attack! Simply reading the text with an intentional dependence on the Holy Spirit yields a message of meaning, faith and genuine transformation for suffering people. Reading it with the presupposition it is myth is a hopeless and sterile exercise that helps no one.

We urge competence in Bible backgrounds, in the languages and in careful exegesis. We are not advocates of ignorance, but we reject the odd notion that people who decide the Bible is untrue before they open it have anything of positive value to say.

We also see God working today, changing lives and answering prayer. We believe in the supernatural. One can easily anticipate the objection of unbelief here, but as someone said it’s hard to refute an experience of Almighty God with a sneering theory of a man.

Chris Owens
About the Author
Chris Owens founded Global Baptist Schools in 2003 and serves as the Chairman of the Executive Board of the Ministry.