The liberal historical critical approach to the Bible has a long, tortured process but Dr. Gerald Bray may be correct in pegging Thomas Hobbes as a starting point. Bray, in his textbook Biblical Interpretation: Past & Present (IVP, 1996), wrote about the long dead philosopher, “He did not hesitate to state that the law of God was valid only because it conformed to the dictates of reason—a clear sign of a shift in the basis of authority, which was to have tremendous consequences for the future” (p. 229).
Near the beginning of his three volume work, Gary Dorrien stated, “Against the emotionalism of the Great Awakening, Congregationalist pastors Charles Chauncy (1705-87), Jonathan Mayhew (1720-66), and Ebenezer Gay (1696-1787) called for a “supernatural rationalism” that correlated reason and revelation. They urged that New England Christianity needed, not a revival of Calvinist piety, but a modern, rational, freedom-affirming religion that caught up with the spirit of a burgeoning European Enlightenment” (The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900).
Not a lot has changed! Liberal theology still strives to dissect and reassemble Scripture to cohere with their proponents’ “reason” and the ever shifting winds of the pervading culture. This brings us to the latest work by ex-evangelical internet star Rachel Held Evans.
Her newest book is Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again (Thomas Nelson, 2018). I had not planned to read the book and review it. After all, I have a stack of works to plow through in preparation for doctoral work. But I saw that a Bible professor from a local Christian university praised Inspired, so here it goes.
Evans notes that as a young evangelical she had questions about Scripture that were largely ignored until she was given a copy of Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, which she quickly dismisses as being too defensive. Oddly enough, she then goes on at length to defend her current reading of Scripture as errant and primarily a source as a conversation starter. Yet, she has no struggle with any passage that condemns the rich and praises the poor. Evans seems oblivious to her ad hoc approach. In fact, I’ve never met a liberal Christian who ever questioned verses they can easily agree with…funny how that happens.
I don’t have the space here to hit every hermeneutical error that the author commits in her mishandling of God’s inerrant Word but I will mention a few: (1) She follows Matthew Vines (who simply distilled the work of the late John Boswell) in refusing to admit that Scripture condemns homosexual activity despite the fact that Boswell’s work was roundly panned even by Biblical scholars that Evans looks up to such as N.T. Wright (and even Boswell’s own student turned New Testament professor Richard Hays); (2) She anachronistically draws parallels between the socio-economic world of 1st century Palestine (a time of abject scarcity) and post-industrial North America (a place of abundance). Evans should read a few non-Marxist economists before making sweeping statements about such matters; (3) She questions, with a fair bit of snark, why God would order the destruction of the Canaanites and their children for their sin of sacrificing children. What she obviously misses is that God’s commands were not the narrow, angry outbursts of a vigilante but the decree of the creator with absolute foreknowledge (see The Problem of War in the Old Testament by Peter Craigie), which does make a bit of difference; (4) She dismisses the classic view of penal substitutionary atonement with little more than a slouch and an eye roll, which means she has not really spent a great deal of time reading and reflecting upon the holiness of God and the severity of sin.
I could go on.
E.J. Young in his classic work Thy Word is Truth cogently argues that one must acknowledge that Scripture itself claims to be the very words of God (2 Tim. 3:16) and that if you question that, you immediately have serious issues with your doctrine of God and, in the end, you, the creature, are placing yourself as judge of the creator and that is not a seat you want or deserve.
If you are looking for books that deal with the inspiration of Scripture and its logical consequences, do yourself a favor and pick up Young’s book or Inerrancy by Norman Geisler or the classic work by B.B. Warfield or the prolegomena to Herman Bavinck’s four-volume Reformed Dogmatics but avoid Rachel Held Evans’ Inspired.