Biblical inerrancy faces a new angle of moral objections, SBTS panel says

On the surface, biblical inerrancy seems to be merely an intellectual issue. But, like most things, the surface can be misleading. Beneath the inerrancy debates -- even the vitriolic controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention during the 1980s -- lies a moral battle: the authority of Scripture itself versus the authority of its reader.

At a panel discussion concerned with “Revisiting Inerrancy,” held Sept. 27 at Southern Seminary, Bruce Ware, a professor at Southern who attended Fuller Seminary -- a key institution in the mid-20th century debate -- explained this conflict of authority:

“An inerrantist really has two fundamental questions when he or she reads and interprets the Bible: First is, ‘What does the Bible mean by what is says?’ and second, ‘What does it mean to my life?’,” he said. “But if you deny inerrancy, you’ve got a middle question between those two: ‘Is it true?’ So you become, essentially, the authority over the Bible. You become the authority over what you find acceptable in the Bible and what you find unacceptable and reject.”

Biblical inerrancy is a perspective of the Christian Bible that views it as both accurate and true in all that it affirms. Southern Seminary’s Gregg R. Allison, one of four panelists along with fellow professors Denny Burk, Russell D. Moore and Ware, said that both the Bible and Christian tradition support this view of Scripture:

“A strong case can be made for the Scriptural affirmation of its own truthfulness,” Allison said. “And then there’s the theological argument: If God, whose Word we have, cannot tell a lie -- he always tells the truth -- it follows that his inspired Word is true as well. This has been the historical position of the church.”

While the issue of authority remains central to current debates, newer objections to biblical inerrancy propose that an inerrant Bible must be an immoral Bible. If the Scriptures present truth in all that they affirm, then readers face a God who commands wars, judges others and promotes patriarchy.

Seminary president, R. Albert Mohler Jr., who moderated the panel, juxtaposed the old and new attacks against inerrancy, one attack with an intellectual focus and the other focused on these moral implications:

“Put two books side by side: Peter Enns’ [Inspiration and Incarnation] and the other Kenton Sparks’ [God’s Word in Human Words]. Enns talks about the arrival of such things as Darwinism, the documentary hypothesis in biblical criticism and the discovery of Ancient Near Eastern literature. These are intellectual catalysts for the necessary reformation of inspiration and understanding [of the Bible]. I think those things factor in. But I think Kenton Sparks is on the leading edge of the argument, which is moral.

“It is evil and abhorrent to affirm biblical inerrancy, because it then obligates us to biblical texts that we need to have the moral courage to say are not only wrong but evil,” Mohler said, summarizing Sparks' position.

According to Moore, this imposing of external moral standards on God’s Word is as old as the first humans, who tried to determine morality apart from God’s revealed instruction.

“[The idea that inerrancy is immoral] leads right back to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” Moore said. “[The reader] becomes an independent arbiter of what is good and evil. So whenever we start becoming apologetic about the Bible, we start ignoring parts of the Bible because we believe they are somehow bad PR for us. You need to come in and show the way in which God is holy and God is just in the terms that he sets for himself, not some independent arbitration board.”

Despite this new angle, Burk claimed that the issue looks familiar to its 20th-century predecessor, with meaning and message divorced from texts and words.

“As I’ve looked at it, it looks like the same discussion in different clothes,” he said. “I’m reading a new book that claims that  the speech acts of Scripture are inspired, whereas, perhaps, the words themselves aren’t inspired. And that sounds to me a lot like, ‘the main ideas are inspired, but the words aren’t.’ So at the theoretical level, you end up where Wolfhart Pannenberg was, looking for a canon within a canon. We’re having the same conversation all over again, but it’s dressed in new clothes.”

Mohler said that, like many challenges to God and his Word, this more-moral-than-thou approach to the Bible can seem intellectually appealing. But the church of Jesus Christ must pay careful attention to its teaching, not fashionable ideas.

“[These challenges] take us right back to Genesis 3,” he said. “And it takes us back to every single point in the history of the church where the church has had to look at error in the face and say, ‘We see the attraction of it, but what it amounts to is a denial of the faith.’”

Drawing from Canadian theologian J.I. Packer, Mohler concluded saying that the church must submit to God’s authority, and thus his Word: “When the Scripture speaks, God speaks.”

Video from the panel discussion, including the full discussion covering a variety of issues not discussed above, is available at sbts.edu/resources (here).

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Evangelicals should seize educational opportunity as US faces a “Mormon Moment” during election

During the 2012 election cycle, evangelical Christians will learn about the importance of clarifying theological distinctives when voting for a candidate with shared values, but who is from a different religious belief system, according to a panel discussion at Southern Seminary, Sept. 11, “The Mormon Moment: Religious Conviction and the 2012 Election.”

Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. moderated the panel, which featured Russell D. Moore, senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the School of Theology; Mark T. Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics and vice president of extension education; and Greg Gilbert, senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church, Louisville, Ky.

“The Obama and Romney campaign is a good thing for evangelical Christians,” Moore said, because believers can proclaim the gospel even as they give serious thought to the political arena.

This election cycle is also offering increased scrutiny of Mormonism, an effort that can help distinguish their teachings from orthodox Christianity. Mohler said he hopes that Christian voters will think with deep theological concern and receive guidance from their pastors to help them make sound decisions

“This is an educational moment for evangelicals, and it could turn out to be a healthy thing for the church if they can learn to think more carefully about how to agree with a person’s policies while disagreeing with his theological beliefs,” Gilbert said.

Mohler identified the greatest problem with American Christianity in the past as the priestly role believers have assigned to politics, rather than focusing on theological and political clarity.

As for the present state of affairs, Mohler noted, “The hardest issue is not priestly, it’s not merely political, but it’s representational: What does it mean worldwide for a Mormon to be elected president of the United States?”

“It becomes increasingly important for Christians to clarify what they mean by the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Gilbert said in regards to the potential respect Mormonism can gain from the election. “In order to be faithful, we’re going to have to tighten up our theological understanding of what the Gospel is, that it’s not just the social effects but the theological doctrines and truths.”

Coppenger assessed the current political situation with concern that Mormonism can gain a foothold and dismay that evangelical Christians are no longer representing the faith in the political sector.

The panel members also discussed the Constitutional clause stating that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Gilbert responded that such a clause does not affect how individual voters can consider religious beliefs before voting for a candidate, only how the government can intervene.

“Our religious beliefs do affect how we see public policy,” Moore stated. “We need to ask how are these religious beliefs affecting whether or not the person is going to be able to work for the common good.”

Americans last faced the reality of Mormonism on a national scale in the late 19th century, when Mormons migrated to Utah and sought statehood. After pointing out this historical development, Mohler noted that “America has been transformed since that time, and so has the Church of Latter-day Saints [the office name of the Mormon church].”

Forum members discussed that, although they often are fine citizens and neighbors, Mormons  run contrary to orthodox Christianity with their essential doctrines. These teachings include the rejection of the Trinity; the Book of Mormon as completing Scripture; Jesus’ life as a model human; and Jesus’ appearance in the U.S.

Mormonism is “theologically, a brand new start,” and is therefore an American religion, Moore said, affirming a popular quote from writer Harold Bloom. Mormonism teaches dynamic revelation and living prophecy, doctrines that allow for evolution of Mormon thought.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suddenly changed on polygamy just in time for statehood and changed their mind on priesthood right after the triumph of the American Civil Rights movement,” Moore said.

The Latter-day Saints exhibit a dedicated Americanism and a fastidious commitment to family life. Coppenger explained that these admirable characteristics are merely an outworking of their beliefs that the New Eden and eschatological fulfillment will take place in the U.S. and that marriage is eternal -- Mormonism teaches that marriages are necessary for facilitating the population of new planets.

“Theologically, Mormonism is very dangerous; sociologically, there is much to be commended,” Moore said, responding to Mormons’ American and family values.

Gilbert countered Moore’s point: “As a pastor, I think it’s crucial to make sure that my people understand the distinctions between Mormon and Christian theology and be able to make the next step, which is to say that it doesn’t matter what the social effects are, what finally matters is whether or not the gospel is right or true.”

Mohler, stating that Mormonism is a false gospel that leads to eternal destruction, also noted that even Christian values are not enough to provide salvation.

Indeed, reconciliation with God is the most important contention of the Christian faith, Moore added, but he also promoted siding with Latter-day Saints and pro-life atheists over social issues in politics.

Closing out the discussion of Mormonism and politics, Mohler closed by reminding attendees: “Above all we have a gospel responsibility, that we are first and foremost citizens of the heavenly kingdom and our concern is that others will become a part of the kingdom through the proclamation of the gospel.”

Audio from the panel is available here. Video from the panel discussion is available here.

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“Towers” hosts free writing seminar, Sept. 21

Southern Seminary's Office of Communications invites all students, faculty and members of the Southern Seminary community to attend the “Towers” writing seminar, Friday, Sept. 21, from 9 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., in Honeycutt 246.

Jeff Robinson will help attendees hone academic, Web and popular writing, with a particular emphasis on journalism.

Robinson has won more than 20 awards for writing and journalism excellence in his 20-plus years of experience. He served as an editor and reporter for several newspapers in the southeast, his writings appear in USA TodayThe New York Times and Baseball America, and he was the director of news and information for Southern Seminary from 2000 until 2010. At present, Robinson is co-writing a book about John Calvin with SBTS church history professor Michael A.G. Haykin, due out from Crossway. He is now elder of preaching and pastoral vision at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Communications will provide lunch for those who RSVP by Tuesday, Sept. 18. To RSVP, email towers@sbts.edu or call (502) 897-4000. Those who do not RSVP may still attend.

Schedule as follows:

  • “This Is My Father’s World”: Christian news writing in a fallen world, the WORLD Magazine approach to biblically focused journalism (9-9:45 a.m.);
  • Journalism 101: the “formula” for clear, concise news writing contrasted with feature writing and in light of common fallacies (10-10:45 a.m.);
  • Nuts and Bolts: Crucial Aspects of News Writing: writing leads, conducting an interview and meeting deadlines (11-11:45 a.m.);
  • “I Hear Your Voice Calling”: feature writing and developing one’s “voice” or style for accepted journalistic practice (1-1:45 p.m.);
  • Don’t Waste Your Journalism: encouragement as to how news writing will make one a better student and gospel minister, with Q&A (2-2:45 p.m.)
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September “Towers” urges missional living in Louisville

The September “Towers” is now on stands and online.

The cover text for this “Towers” issue, “rooted progress,” borders on oxymoronic. Rooted things stay still. Progress, well, progresses. And that’s the point: seminary culture is a transient culture, and so sometimes it becomes easy for students to lose focus on the community around them during their seminary years. We want to encourage these transients to continue progressing through studies, but, at the same time, put down roots in the city of Louisville, Ky. Toward that end, Don Whitney talks to Josh Hayes about students investing in a local church and being intentional in evangelism and Douglas Renfro proposes that students seeking to minister overseas can experience international missions locally.

Inside the September issue, you’ll find an interview with Timothy Paul Jones talking about his new DVD series, Church History Made Easy. And the "History Highlight" column looks at Southern Seminary's move from South Carolina to Louisville.

Southern Seminary Resources publishes “Towers,” Southern Seminary Magazine and other seminary publications digitally as well as physically. Check out the Resources page for an improved online reading experience.

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Mohler comments on Romney’s faith at NPR

A recent article by National Public Radio, Aug. 29, included an interview from R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary.

The article, "The Risks And Rewards Of Romney's Faith Story," features various opinions about how the Republican presidential candidate's Mormon faith will affect the election.

"When it comes to the importance of family and the centrality of marriage, the responsibility to reward industry and to reward thrift and to reward the moral virtues, yes, there's a great deal in common," Mohler says regarding the shared values of Romney's faith with evangelical Christianity.

The full article is available online at NPR's website (click here).

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Patterson urges SBTS students to hold fast to inerrancy, signs copies of new commentary

Commemorating the battle fought for the inerrancy of Scripture in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Seminary, warned Southern Seminary students that they will face struggles concerning that doctrine in years to come.

"The devil knows that a quiet confidence in the certainty of God's Word is his undoing," Patterson said, during a chapel service at SBTS, Aug. 28.

The leader of the conservative resurgence celebrated that each of the SBC’s six seminaries embraces the doctrine of inerrancy. In a brief anecdote, Patterson credited men and women like the six pastors from Alabama who traveled to Los Angeles in a single Volkswagen Beetle to support the conservative movement at the SBC’s annual meeting in 1981, as the “real heroes of the conservative movement in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Patterson, however, noted that seminary students should be concerned about the doctrine of inerrancy, so that they may be prepared for looming battles within the convention.

“I perhaps will not live to see a serious attack within the Southern Baptist Convention, but you will,” Patterson said. “And you will have to rethink these things for yourself.”

If a person denies the inerrancy of Scripture, Patterson emphasized, he or she denies the goodness and truthfulness of God. Pointing to Matthew 22, Patterson illustrated the doctrine of inerrancy through Jesus’ encounters with Jewish religious leaders.

Rooting his teaching about inerrancy in the person of Jesus as the Messiah, Patterson used discipleship as a model for believing inerrancy.

“Because Jesus believed that every single word of Scripture was divinely inspired, I’m going to believe that it is the inerrant Word of God,” he said.

Patterson closed his message exhorting Southern students to cherish the Bible.

"I believe in the inerrancy of God’s Word because in all the years I have lived, I have watched its power to transform lives.”

Upon entering chapel, students were provided a copy of Patterson’s The Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence: The History. The Plan. The Assessment., a collection of articles about the doctrinal struggles in the 20th century.

After chapel, Patterson signed copies of his latest commentary, Revelation in The New American Commentary series, at Lifeway Campus Store on Southern’s campus.

Patterson’s sermon is available here. Patterson’s previous sermons at Southern Seminary are also available online at The Boyce Digital Library (here).

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Moore discusses student loans, seminary education at The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial, Aug. 24, written by Southern Seminary's Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration.

The article, "Student-Loan Debt and the Future of Seminaries," discusses affordable seminary options for churches and future pastors. Read Moore's featured editorial by clicking here.

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Mohler writes about Helen Gurley Brown, sexual revolution at The Atlantic

Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. published an essay about Helen Gurley Brown and her contribution to the sexual revolution at The Atlantic website, Aug. 23. Brown, an author and longtime editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, died Aug. 13.

In his essay, “Why the Sexual Revolution Needed a Sexual Revolutionary,” Mohler credits Brown as a major player in the onset of the U.S. sexual revolution of the 1960s.

“When Brown's Sex and the Single Girl hit the bookstores in 1962, it lit a firestorm of controversy,” he writes. “... [She] dared to scandalize the nation, virtually inventing the ‘single girl’ as a cultural category. Brown urged young women to see themselves as empowered by sex, money, and men — but without any need for the traditional commitment to marriage.”

The sexual revolution, according to Mohler, was not an accident. Rather, like any revolution, the actions of an aggregate of individuals contribute to a culture shift over time. In the case of Brown, her persistently provocative writings significantly affected an entire generation.

“Since 1960 we have experienced a moral revolution that has transformed every dimension of American life, and the death of Helen Gurley Brown is a reminder that the sexual revolution did not happen by accident,” Mohler writes. “Like all revolutions, this one required moral revolutionaries.”

He concludes:

She was a living contradiction, who argued that being the single girl was the ideal, but then married; and that married men were fair game for adulterous affairs, but then drew the line at her husband.

The lesson for those who, like me, believe that the sexual revolution represents a moral disaster is that such moral revolutions come like a great tidal surge, led by revolutionaries willing to scandalize mainstream culture, confident that their controversial ideas will one day move into the cultural mainstream. Helen Gurley Brown lived long enough to see it all happen, to mark the 50th anniversary of Sex and the Single Girl and to know that she had played a major role in one of the most significant cultural transformations in human history.

Mohler’s full article is available at The Atlantic website: here.

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Southern Seminary to offer course credit at 2013 The Gospel Coalition national conference

Southern Seminary will partner with The Gospel Coalition (TGC) to offer up to six hours of transferable graduate or undergraduate credit available to students from Southern Seminary, Boyce College -- Southern’s undergraduate school -- or any evangelical school in conjunction with the 2013 TGC national conference in Orlando, Fla., April 8-10, 2013.

Attendees can take either New Testament 1 or an elective class about the Gospel of Luke, both taught by Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern, in conjunction with the TGC national conference.

They can also take Introduction to Missiology taught by Zane Pratt, dean of the Billy Graham School school of Missions and Evangelism at SBTS, in conjunction with the TGC pre-conference about World Missions,April 6-8, 2013. Registration is now available on the TGC website for these courses, which will include exclusive lectures and events featuring professors, pastors and panel discussions.

The early-bird registration rate for each class is $400. This cost does not include the registration for the TGC conference or pre-conference. To register for the class, select the “Student + Conference Class” rate when registering for the conference at The Gospel Coalition website.

For more information, including course syllabi and FAQ, visit the TGC website. Those with questions should direct them to tgc@sbts.edu

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At special forum, Frank Page discusses SBC issues, says local church is God’s plan to attack the gates of hell

“The local church is God’s plan to attack the gates of hell,” said Frank Page, President of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee to a special forum, Aug. 16. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the seminary, hosted Page in a discussion of major issues in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Among the many issues surrounding the convention, Page emphasized that the most important issue is not doctrinal, but rather the relevance of the SBC to the 21st century. He suggested that this methodological divide in the convention could even threaten the growth of Southern Baptist churches in the future.

Page celebrated the consistent desire among Southern Baptists to promote and expand the Great Commission. “I think Southern Baptists have grown weary of slogans and programs, but believe in the power of the gospel.”

Page explained that the Executive Committee is lowering its costs so that more Cooperative Program funds go directly to missions, but noted that the CP still depends on churches giving to support missionaries who are ready to serve. Mohler and Page discussed the challenges of a generation in which there are more missionaries ready to go than the SBC has the resources to send.

Speaking directly to those in attendance, Page encouraged Southern students pursuing church planting to consider ministry in traditional church settings noting that an aging pastoral pool is making it so that some churches aren’t able to find pastors. However, he communicated clearly a vision of healthy churches planting healthy churches.

“We don’t need more churches in America, we need more healthy churches,” Page said, promoting traditional churches and church plants working alongside each other.

Concerning the issue of Calvinism, Page stated that he envisions unity in the convention in spite of differences concerning soteriology.

“I challenge the students and faculty at Southern Seminary to be sensitive to our convention and respect those who may not have the same theological positions you have,” Page said, desiring to “establish a dialogue that is Christ-like and filled with the Spirit of God.”

Page also called for unity around the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, believing it “sufficient to pull people of various soteriological beliefs together strategically and practically.”

He said he hopes the BF&M 2000 continues to promote unity rather than arguments around theological issues.

A full video of Thursday’s forum discussion with Frank Page is available at sbts.edu/resources (here).

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