A Paradigm of Evangelical Unbelief
Faith believes what God said just because He said it, not because it’s been proven to us or because we’ve experienced something. Since faith puts confidence in what God said as true only because He said it, it is faith in things that we cannot see. At one time, theology was the queen of the sciences because God’s Word was considered evidence. The Enlightenment and its consequences changed this way of thinking for professing Christians.
A big clash exists in evangelicalism over the age of the earth—new earthers versus old earthers. The new earthers take the Genesis account literally. The old earthers are influenced by “human observation and discovery.” For instance, they look at the time it takes for light to travel from distant stars and assume that the universe must be billions of years old or else we wouldn’t be able to see these stars through a telescope. So there’s a challenge from science to the record of Genesis 1-3.
Many more evangelicals believe in evolution than what you would even imagine, and especially among the so-called elite and scholarly. This debate among them elevated in March when a well-respected Old Testament Hebrew scholar, Bruce Waltke, posted a pro-evolution statement on a well-visited evangelical website. Several conservative evangelicals have reacted to his statement in very heated fashion. Rightly so. I don’t want to get into extreme detail here, but the paradigm for evangelicals and their faith changed well before this debate began. I do think we have some pot calling the kettle black occurring here.
Evangelicals long ago started discarding scriptural and historic belief for sight. Nothing is more important to faith than the Bible. The Bible promises its own perfect preservation. Evangelicals and fundamentalists took this same paradigm of unbelief long before Bruce Waltke and these old-earth evangelicals. They now say that the Bible never really taught preservation per se. Well, not that the Bible wasn’t preserved—it was, just in a way that you have no hope of a perfect Bible and the one you have you really don’t know the number of mistakes. Just in too, that’s what the Bible has always taught. No one has said this before, but as I speak, well, that’s what it says about itself. I know that some evangelicals and fundamentalists are now saying that they are getting their doctrine of the preservation of Scripture from the Bible.
Having said that, most evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t believe in the perfect preservation of Scripture. Kevin Bauder represents their position on this when he writes in Only One Bible? (p. 155) that Scripture does not affirm that “any singled printed text preserves all of the words and only all the words of the autographa.” He continues: “Such a specific affirmation clearly lies outside of the teaching of Scripture.” Those two statements he makes in the first paragraph of his chapter, “An Appeal to Scripture.” The very next line, which is the first sentence of the second paragraph, he writes: “If the preservation of the Word of God depends upon the exact preservation of the words of the original documents, then the situation is dire.” That last statement is the rub for evangelicals and fundamentalists.
From Bauder’s statements, really just quoted as a representation, because this is the stand of almost all of evangelicalism today, you can see that they depend on their sight and their observation, i. e., their scientific discovery, for their position on preservation. Again and again, evangelicals say that miracle was not the means of God’s preservation. No miracle involved. Supernaturalism was not the means. You would see this many times in Only One Bible? This was not always the case among Christians. At one time, pre-enlightenment and textual criticism, relying on the Bible alone for their doctrine (sola scriptura), they believed in the perfect preservation of Scripture.
Preservation passages are being twisted with the same pattern as creation passages. If you are going to discard the promises of preservation found in the Bible for the science of textual criticism, that without theological presupposition proudly follows the “evidence,” then next will come other doctrines of scripture like creation. That’s not all, of course, because the abandonment of a grammatical-historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3 undermines the entire rest of the Bible, including the gospel itself.
A second part to this paradigm is the new evangelical emphasis on primary versus secondary doctrines. They rank doctrines for the purpose of cobbling together alliances. These old earth evangelicals want to keep the faux unity between them and the new-earthers. They attempt to do this by categorizing this creation doctrine as a non-essential. I read this all over. They insist that it does not affect the gospel, and since the gospel is “first in importance,” the old earth position should not separate them from the new-earth evangelicals. They just differ on a tertiary issue. This, of course, is ripped right out of the conservative evangelical and fundamentalist playbook. If the conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists do not agree to see the nuance between the two beliefs, and not to agree to disagree, they’re the ones causing unnecessary division in “the Lord’s body.” Evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t mind that you believe in the perfect preservation of Scripture. They just don’t want you to cause division over it. Keep the peace.
So let’s review. Evangelicals already moved into the conform-scripture-to-science column with textual criticism. The doctrine of perfect preservation was as firmly established as a Christian belief as teaching on creation from Genesis 1-3. So here we have just more of the same. And now we can still all get along because none of these are essential doctrines. Chalk it all up to a paradigm of evangelical unbelief.