biblical-criticism

F. David Farnell

Isaiah 40:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Matthew 24:35 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 

My ancestors hail from England.  My great grandparents came from Staffordshire County, England and emigrated to America at the end of the 19th century.  My name “David” reflects my great grandfather “David Farnell.”  My great grandmother was “Rhoda Griffiths Farnell” whose life exhibited a strong commitment to the Word of God.  She regularly prayed for the safety of my father, her grandson, who fought, in the American Army, alongside with the British 8th Army in World War 2 in North Africa and Italy.  According to my father, his grandmother always had her afternoon tea with biscuits, as well as her mince-meat pies at Christmas that reflected her ancestry.  My father always was thankful for his British grandmother’s constant prayers. Her prayers brought him back safe from that horrific global conflict.  Once he was home safe, she soon passed into glory speaking of seeing “God’s shining light.”  He became a Christian because his grandmother never ceased praying.  I believe that I am in ministry due also to her prayers.

When my great-grandparents left England, England had experienced many centuries of a global influence for Christianity, for it was responsible for evangelizing most of the known world.  Wherever the British Empire went, British missionaries followed.  Indeed, the Great Awakening in America was stirred by such a great British preacher as George Whitfield in 1730-1740.  No other country in the 19th century, not even America, could claim such a heritage when my ancestors came to the United States.

Today, Christian churches, cathedrals in England stand boarded or now serve as museums or bars. British newspapers declare Christianity dead in England.[1] Indeed, even the Archbishop of England declared that she is a “post-Christian nation.”[2] The British and Scottish Universities are spiritually dead, yet the irony is that American evangelicals send their students to be trained at these prestigious institutions. Ian Murray, in his excellent book, A Scottish Christian Heritage,[3] catalogued “The Tragedy of the Free Church of Scotland,” wherein the University of Aberdeen, once a lighthouse for the inerrancy of God’s Word, fell by the wayside and now is a centering of virulently anti-biblical thinking that influences many young scholars who now attend its hallowed halls and whose heart so rapidly turns away from child-like faith in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

What caused Christianity in England and Scotland to fail so decisively?  What turned Aberdeen and other such once great Christian center universities away from a vital belief in God’s Word and trust in the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ?  Neither threat from 20th century Communism nor the might of the Nazis was able to defeat the Christian heritage:  of England and Scotland.  Christianity fell from within, from the carelessness of her clergy and her people who did not recognize the danger (Acts 20:28-31) inside her own gates; from self-professing academics who claimed “discipleship” of Jesus but were not genuinely or firmly committed to His Word (Matt. 10:37-38; 16:24-27) but instead with evangelistic zeal championed radical theories of German critics who assaulted God’s Word and who long ago had lost their way spiritually; that destroyed the faith of the preachers that they were training in these schools, that, in turn, weakened or destroyed the faith of those who attended the sermons of these lukewarm clergy (“I wish that you were either hot or cold but you are lukewarm”–Rev. 3:15-17).   The British, the Scottish Christian heritage was destroyed internally by its own membership.

basics-of-biblical-criticism_2nd-edition

America now is facing the same crisis that destroyed Christianity from within in the United Kingdom.  Soon “Ichabod” or “the glory has departed” will be written about America’s Christian heritage as was with England and Scotland.  American evangelicals now send their best and brightest to radical schools in Germany, but especially England and Scotland, where long ago God’s Word was weakened, rejected, and now mocked.  These continental and British-trained evangelical American scholars hold vast influential sway in seminaries founded in the United States at the turn of the 20th century; schools and seminaries that once fought firmly for God’s Word in the modernist-fundamentalist struggle that destroyed mainline denominations’ in the United States in the first decades of that century.  America evangelicalism is being threatened, not from without, but from within its own ranks.  Scholarship now reigns over Lordship; radicalism over spiritual renewal and revival.  The light of God’s Word becomes enveloped in a growing darkness and skepticism rather than a vibrancy of trust.

John MacArthur, President of The Master’s Seminary, has warned that the gravest danger to God’s Word is always from within.  He told how Christians in America and throughout the world must brace for a new onslaught of skepticism from within its own membership.  As a professor of New Testament, I train seminary students in New Testament language and literature coming to The Master’s Seminary from literally around the world (e.g. former Soviet Union countries, Russia, China, North Korea).  These students are a monumental testimony that communism and atheistic dictatorships are not able to weaken God’s people or their trust in His Word.  These students, their families, indeed, their ancestors faced the onslaught from without.  The faithful in Russia, China and Korea withstood the danger from without.  But today, the influx of radical scholarship from within now threatens God’s people in these nations as the outward evil could not.  Indeed, Russian, Chinese, Korean Christians were safer when facing the KGB, Chinese secret police, and Korean tyranny than they are with evangelicals now trained in Continental and British Universities.  Basics of Biblical Criticism will demonstrate the foundational truth of this latter assessment of the grave danger from within.  These countries are now being weakened by the influx of cults, heretics, as well as radicalized, doubting Christian academics within evangelicalism.

Every Christian generation must be willing to take a stand for the Word against those whose goal is to destroy God’s people from within, whether these do so deliberately, carelessly or unwittingly. Always must the faithful be vigilant. A book I have written, along with apologist Norman Geisler, entitled The Jesus Quest The Danger From Within, has traced this danger being faced now by Christian evangelicals.  The book details the shocking degeneration of the spiritual vitality of evangelical seminaries and churches that have been infected by scholarship that reigns over the Lordship of Jesus and His Word.  American at the turn of the 20th century fought off the last conflict from within, but now is rapidly losing the spiritual battle once again from within. As England and Scotland had suffered in the loss of its Christian heritage, so also American evangelicalism travels quickly down the same path toward an irreversible destruction of trust in the inerrancy of God’s Word.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, World War 1 the fires of destruction engulfed Europe.  In the United Kingdom, the privilege of being a torch light for the gospel had been extinguished, the embers growing cold and dark.  The shameful irony of that period was that while Charles Darwin, the man who single-handedly did more damage to the church than any other in recent times with his preposterous hypothesis of evolution that had no true scientific foundation, found honor being enshrined in Westminster Abbey, while John Knox, the great Presbyterian reformer who was one of the biggest champions of the Gospel in modern times, lies buried under a parking lot with a small plate marking the spot.  Oddly, a cryptic remark by German physician, Albert Schweitzer in his book written at that time, spoke of the infiltration of the German Universities long ago by a group doing great damage to the church in Germany known by the name of the “illuminati.”[4]

In America during this period, a similar shadow of darkness was attempting to extinguish the glorious light of the Gospel.  The Great Awakening of the 18th Century had long lost its influence.  America’s churches grew spiritually cold, dead, yet a small remnant remained within them.  Bible colleges, originally founded for the proclamation of the Gospel in the “Colonies” had grown intellectually but decayed spiritually.  Harvard, Yale, Princeton, all originally designed to train preachers, were fountain-heads of virulent atheism or rampant unbelief.  This period in America was marked by several characteristics:

As in the United Kingdom who had tread a similar path previously …

(1) Evolution had gained hold in Christian institutions with Genesis 1-11 being regarded as symbolic, fiction or worse, a fairy-tale, instead of genuine history of the Divine creation of man in God’s image.  Adam and Eve were regarded as symbolic rather than mankind’s first parents.  The catastrophism of a world-wide flood, so evidenced in the geologic columns, was dismissed as either a mere local flood or so much literary fiction.

(2) Higher criticism, what is known today as “historical criticism,” assaulted not only the Old Testament but also the New Testament. Virulent doubt, unbelief pervaded the interpretation of every book of the Bible.

(3) The Gospel records, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were dismissed as untrue, fictional or at best, symbolic rather than historical documents of Jesus’ life.

(4) American denominations were training its clergy and scholarship for its religious schools and churches from German and British institutions that long ago had turned hostile to the Word of God. Future American preachers sat under prestigious professors from Oxford, Cambridge, Aberdeen, Tubingen, Gottingen, Harvard, Yale, etc. etc. etc. whose ears were filled with anti-biblical theories that denied the foundational historicity and factuality of the biblical text.  The “fire in the bellies” for preaching God’s Word was diminished by influencing the next generation of preachers.  One could characterize the period with Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

(5) The American Christian atmosphere filled with a desire for new thinking, i.e. “novelty” in its colleges and schools. Faithfulness to God’s Word, echoing Paul’s command in 2 Timothy 2:2 “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” was dismissed as old fashioned, not in keeping with the modern world.

(6) Churches dismissed inerrancy. Errancy pervaded every part of Christian churches and schools.

(7) As a result, Jesus was lost. The first search for the “historical Jesus” was being conducted because the Gospels had lost credibility in mainline denominations. The Jesus of the Gospels was considered a fiction, so scholars searched for him in unbelieving ways.

In this dark time for America, a faithful remnant began praying. The precious Spirit of God sovereignly demonstrated his mercy to those who were praying for revival.  In 1909, God moved two Christian laymen, wealthy California oil magnates who were brothers named Lyman and Milton Stewart, to set aside a large sum of money for issuing twelve volumes that would set forth the fundamentals of the Christian faith and which were to be sent free of charge to ministers of the gospel, missionaries, Sunday School superintendents, and others engaged in aggressive Christian work through the English-speaking world. A committee of twelve men who were known to be sound in the faith was chosen to have the oversight of the publication of these volumes. Entitled, The Fundamentals, they were a twelve-volume set published between 1910 and 1917 that set presented the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Three million individual volumes were distributed. R. A. Torrey related his own personal knowledge and experience with these volumes in the following terms, “Rev. Dr. A. C. Dixon was the first Executive Secretary of the Committee, and upon his departure for England Rev. Dr. Louis Meyer was appointed to take his place. Upon the death of Dr. Meyer the work of the Executive Secretary developed upon me. We were able to bring out these twelve volumes according to the original plan. Some of the volumes were sent to 300,000 ministers and missionaries and other workers in different parts of the world. On the completion of the twelve volumes as originally planned the work was continued through The King’s Business, published at 536 South Hope St., Los Angeles, California. Although a large number of volumes were issues than there were names on our mailing list, at last the stock became exhausted, but appeals for them kept coming in from different parts of the world.”[5]

An immediate impact of The Fundamentals was the alerting of God’s people regarding the worsening spiritual condition that the church was experiencing. God’s people issued a call to assemble throughout America, rallying in defense of God’s inerrant Word. Warren Wiersbe related, “[a]t that time in history, Fundamentalism was become a force to reckon with, thanks to effective preachers, popular Bible conferences and the publications that taught ‘the fundamentals’ and also exposed the growing apostasy of that day . . . It was a time of growth and challenge.”[6]  On May 25–June 1, 1919, six thousand Christians met in Philadelphia at “The World Conference on Christian Fundamentals.”  W. H. Griffith Thomas chaired the Resolutions Committee, while popular well-known fundamentalist preachers spoke for those days, such as W. B. Riley, R. A. Torrey, Lewis Sperry Chafer, James M. Gray and William L. Pettingill. Delegates came from 42 states in America, most of the Canadian provinces as well as seven foreign countries to rally against the infiltration of destructive higher criticism and liberalism of the day in the church. The Conference issued God Hath Spoken (Philadelphia: Bible Conference Committee, 1919) that consisted of 25 addresses that were delivered at the conference and stenographically recorded for posterity.[7]

Today, at the turn of the 21st Century, American churches once again are facing the very same challenges that they already had experienced at the beginning of the 20th century.  The hour grows dark again for the glorious light of the Gospel in the United States. Basics of Biblical Criticism will detail the horrific onslaught that the church in America is now facing in the very same way that was faced at the turn of the 20th century.

The early twentieth-century church in America faced a sobering assessment of the spiritual decay of Bible understanding and interpretation, especially in terms of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. At best, a partial inspiration of Scripture was promulgated among churches, with scholars arbitrarily picking and choosing portions of the OT and NT to either spiritualize or allegorize away any form of literal, plain interpretation or out rightly reject the text of Scripture altogether. In light of this very serious decay of sound Bible teaching, the early twentieth century Bible-believing community began to rally support for the Scriptures in a determined effort to counter the spiraling downward effects that mainstream denominations in America were experiencing. Because of the efforts of the faithful within the church, publications like The Fundamentals (1917) and Bible conferences such as “The World Conference on Christian Fundamentals” (1919) served as a rallying cry to focus attention to the dangerous drift away from the inspiration and inerrancy of God’s Word. A call to interpret Scripture according to the plain, normal sense of Scripture (known also as “grammatico-historical interpretation” in contrast to “historical criticism” of the liberal denominations that caused such havoc) also became a central focus of Bible-believing Christians.

Since mainline denominations were so sorely infected, large numbers withdrew from denominations deemed now spiritually beyond repair. The faithful formed a host of Bible colleges, Christian colleges and Seminaries were founded in the first 50 or so years of the twentieth century that would promote the inspiration, inerrancy and plain, normal interpretation. Moody Bible Institute was founded in 1886 by evangelist Dwight L. Moody. In 1907 Lyman Stewart funded the production of The Fundamentals (mentioned above) which heralded the founding of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. By 1912, Torrey, coming from Moody Bible Institute, became Dean of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles and assumed editorial leadership in publishing The Fundamentals as a four-volume work in 1917.  The warning of J. Gresham Machen that “as go the theological seminaries, so goes the church” struck deep at the heart of Bible-believing scholars everywhere: “many seminaries today are nurseries of unbelief; and because they are nurseries of unbelief the churches that they serve have become unbelieving churches too.  As go the theological seminaries, so goes the church.”[8]  In 1929, Machen was influential in founding Westminster Theological Seminary as a result of Princeton’s direction.[9]  Dallas Theological Seminary was founded in 1924,[10] and Fuller Theological Seminary was founded in 1947 by Biola graduate, Charles E. Fuller along with Harold Ockenga. These are just a select few of the many schools founded by faithful men in this period. The hope was that these new schools would preserve a faithful, orthodox view of Scripture.

After this strategic withdrawal by fundamentalists of the first generation who fought the battle to preserve Scripture from the onslaught of historical criticism as well as its subsequent searching for the historical Jesus, subsequent generations from fundamentalist groups became discontent with their isolation from liberal-dominated mainstream biblical scholarship.  The lessons of history were forgotten by subsequent American generations of the battle fought at the turn of the 20th century.  By the mid-1960s, prominent voices were scolding fundamentalists for continued isolation and dialogue and interaction once again became the rallying cry.  Carl F. H. Henry’s criticisms struck deep, “The preoccupation of fundamentalists with the errors of modernism, and neglect of schematic presentations of the evangelical alternative, probably gave neo-orthodoxy its great opportunity in the Anglo-Saxon world…If Evangelicals do not overcome their preoccupation with negative criticism of contemporary theological deviations at the expense of the construction of preferable alternatives to these, they will not be much of a doctrinal force in the decade ahead.”[11]

Echoing similar statements, George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982) of Fuller Theological Seminary became a zealous champion of modern critical methods, arguing that the two-source hypothesis should be accepted “as a literary fact” and that form criticism “has thrown considerable light on the nature of the Gospels and the traditions they employ” adding, “Evangelical scholars should be willing to accept this light.”[12]  Indeed, for Ladd, critical methods have derived great benefit for evangelicals, “it has shed great light on the historical side of the Bible; and these historical discoveries are valid for all Bible students even though the presuppositions of the historical-critical method have been often hostile to an evangelical view of the Bible. Contemporary evangelicals often overlook this important fact when they condemn the critical method as such; for even while they condemn historical criticism, they are constantly reaping the benefits of its discoveries and employing critical tools.”[13]  Ladd asserts, “One must not forget that…everyday tools of good Bible study are the product of the historical-critical method.”[14]  George Ladd catalogued the trend of a “substantial group of scholars” whose background was in the camp of “fundamentalism” who had now been trained “in Europe as well as in our best universities” and were “deeply concerned with serious scholarship.”[15]  He also chided fundamentalists for their “major preoccupation” with defending “inerrancy of the Bible in its most extreme form,” but contributing “little of creative thinking to the current debate.”[16] Although Ladd acknowledged that historical-critical ideology was deeply indebted for its operation in the Enlightenment, and the German scholarship that created it openly admitted its intention of “dissolving orthodoxy’s identification of the Gospel with Scripture,”[17] Ladd sent many of his students for subsequent study in Britain and Europe in order to enlarge the influence of conservatives, the latter of which influence was greatly responsible for the fundamentalist split at the turn of the twentieth century.[18]

Today, Ladd serves as the recognized paradigm for current attitudes and approaches among evangelical historical-critical scholarship in encouraging evangelical education in British and Continental institutions as well as the adoption and participation in historical criticism to some form or degree, actions which previously were greatly responsible for the fundamentalist-modernist split.[19] Lessons from what caused the last theological meltdown had long been forgotten or carelessly disregarded.[20]  These schools now train the American evangelical churches producing a host of dangerous thinking regarding inspiration and inerrancy as well as plain, normal interpretation (“when the plain sense makes common sense, seek no other sense”).

Bible Colleges, Christian Universities, and Seminaries, once founded to guard faithfulness to Scripture in the early and mid-20th century, are now once again becoming the hotbed of the latest teachings of the theological left of the United Kingdom and European schools. The very same errors that crept in at the beginning of the 20th Century. History now repeats. The next article will detail the destruction occurring among evangelical institutions in the 21st century.

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8633540/Ageing-Church-of-England-will-be-dead-in-20-years.html accessed on October 9, 2014.

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10790495/Former-archbishop-of-Canterbury-We-are-a-post-Christian-nation.html accessed on October 9, 2014.

[3] Ian Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Banner of Truth Trust, 2006).

[4] Schweizer wrote an enigmatic statement in this work, that many theologians in German “wrote under the impression of the immense influence exercised by the order of the Illuminati at the end of the eighteenth century.” Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus.  Introduction by James M. Robinson.  Trans. By W. Montgomery from the first German Edition, 1906 (New York: Macmillan, 1968), 4.

[5] “Preface,” in The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, R. A. Torrey, A. C. Dixon and others, eds. (Grand Rapids Baker Reprint, 1972), vol. 1.  Reprinted without alteration or abridgment from the original, four-volume edition issues by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles in 1917.

[6] Warren Wiersbe, “Foreword,” in The Fundamentals for Today.

[7] God Hath Spoken (Hebrews 1:1-2) Twenty-five Addresses Delivered at the World Conference on Christian Fundamentals.  Stenographically reported under the direction of a Biblically trained expert  (Philadelphia: Bible Conference Committee, 1919).

[8] J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World. Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1965 [1936], 65.

[9] For a revealing look at Machen’s struggle, see J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946 [1923]);  idem. The Virgin Birth of Christ. Second Edition (New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1932 [1930]; idem. What is Faith? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946 [1925].

[10] For a recent recounting of the history of Dallas Theological Seminary, see John D. Hannah, An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).

[11] Carl F. H. Henry, Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and Lord (London: Tyndale, 1970 (1966), 9.

[12] George Eldon Ladd, NT and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967) 141, 168-169.

[13] Ladd, NT and Criticism, 10.

[14] Ladd offers two examples:  Kittel and Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament and Arndt, Gingrich, Baur and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament; Ladd, NT and Criticism, 11.

[15] George E. Ladd, “The Search for Perspective,” Interpretation XXV (1971), 47.

[16] Ladd, “The Search for Perspective,” 47.  In a hotly debated book, Harold Lindsell in the mid-1970s detailed the problems facing Fuller, the Southern Baptist Convention and other Christian institutions due to the encroachment of historical criticism from European influence.  See Harold Lindsell, “The Strange Case of Fuller Theological Seminary,” The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 106-121.  Marsden’s book also covers this period in Reforming Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987).

[17] Ladd, “The Search for Perspective, 49 cf. Ladd’s citing of this admission by Ernst Käsemann may be found in the latter’s, Essays on New Testament Themes (London: SCM, 1964), 54-62.

[18] An example of one of Ladd’s students is the late Robert Guelich who wrote The Sermon on the Mount, A Foundation for Understanding (Waco, TX: Word, 1982).  Guelich promoted an exegesis “that . . . makes use of the literary critical tools including text, source, form, tradition, redaction, and structural criticism” and goes on to assert “for many to whom the Scriptures are vital the use of these critical tools has historically been more ‘destructive’ than ‘constructive.’  But one need not discard the tool because of its abuse.”

[19] Mark Noll conducted a personal poll/survey among evangelicals and has, as a result, described Ladd as “the most widely influential figure on the current generation of evangelical Bible scholars.”  Ladd was “most influential” among scholars in the Institute for Biblical Research and was placed just behind John Calvin as “most influential” among scholars in the Evangelical Theological Society.  See Noll, 97, 101, 112-114 [note especially p. 112 for this quote], 116, 121, 159-163, 211-226.  Moreover, Marsden described Noll’s book, Between Faith and Criticism, as making “a major contribution toward understanding twentieth-century evangelical scholarship.” See George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism , 250 fn. 9.  Since Noll marked out Ladd as the outstanding figure influencing the recent paradigm shift in twentieth-century evangelical scholarship toward favoring historical-critical methods and since Marsden promotes Noll’s book as making “a major contribution toward understanding twentieth-century evangelical scholarship,” this paper uses Ladd as the outstanding paradigmic example, as well as typical representative, of this drift among evangelicals toward historical-critical ideologies that favor literary dependency hypotheses.

[20] For further historical details, see F. David Farnell, “The Philosophical and Theological Bent of Historical Criticism, in The Jesus Crisis, 85-131.