By Paige Patterson, President
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
The Dec. 17, 2016, issue of The Dallas Morning News carried a shocking headline: “Conservative Belief Spurs Church Growth.” The story recounts the astonishing discovery of David Millard Haskell, associate professor of religion, culture and digital media and journalism at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. Apparently, there is a connection between what conservative churches believe and growth patterns that are largely absent from more liberal churches. This happens even though conservative pastors often violate their own convictions and cast the sheep of their congregations into the spiritual equivalent of slaughter houses. Furthermore, not all conservative churches demonstrate growth, and one can still find some liberal churches that have experienced a modicum of increase.
But wait! This is not news. In 1972, Dean M. Kelley wrote a monograph entitled Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, published by Harper and Row. Some of his definitions were too broad, but who would have anticipated such a book from a United Methodist clergyman who, at that time, was working for the National Council of Churches? Kelley wrote:
If now the leaders of that organization expect to summon those members into the struggle for social improvement, they are simply calling the wrong collection of people. The churches and synagogues are not social-action barracks where the troops of militant reform are kept in readiness to charge forth at the alarums and excursions of social change. Rather, they are the conservatories where the hurts of life are healed, where new spiritual strength is nourished, and where the virtues and verities of human experience are celebrated. To rally those within to launch an attack on the status quo is like trying to lead into hand-to-hand combat a collection of nurses, teachers, physicians, and gardeners, people who are capable, responsible, and responsive—at something else.
Then in 1992, Rutgers University Press, hardly noted for being a vehicle for fundamentalism, published the work of Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-1990. These two sociologists used different examples, but the conclusions are identical. Now Haskell has followed suit. So every 20 to 25 years, people who are not particularly sympathetic with the narrow conclusions of conservative churches keep arriving at the same conclusions. Perhaps the third time will be a charm, and a firm grasp of the obvious will finally be achieved.
How is it that something this obvious seems to be absent from the thinking of so many? Well, let’s see if I might be able to help. I am not adroit with technology. So, I have decided to establish a new social order based on the rejection of technology. I remember with delight when I had to have a quarter and find a phone booth to make a call. At home, we had a tail attached to our phone so you could not wander far, but since it was a party line, you could still listen to what all the neighbors were saying. In this society, I suggest that we reject cell phones and inveigh against them. How many followers, even among the elderly, do you think I will have?
Everyone knows that technology is here to stay, and we all enjoy the freedom afforded by use of our cell phones. There will be little success in my new social order, even though it is not without its redeeming features. To critique technology and urge people to live simpler lives is going to gather precious little following. In fact, one would enjoy greater success in a boxing match with an enraged grizzly than to have a social order that rejects technology. By the same token, criticism of the Bible and churches that faithfully proclaim its truth, while always popular in the academy, in the liberal press, and in a few self-congratulatory elitist circles, is anything but profound.
Here is the stern truth of the matter. Among folks who are interested in attending church, there is little appeal in hearing an erudite minister give a lecture on understanding the ways Plutarch’s approach to biography will somehow help us dance around the “mistakes” in the Gospel accounts of Jesus so as to uncover the real message, which some “scholar” then must translate into our limited context. Since Porphyry launched his attack on Daniel in the late third century, fashionable scholarship has attacked the Bible. Eighteen centuries later, conservative churches are growing worldwide! In spite of all the foibles of its clergy, specious arguments sometimes advanced in its defense, internal debates about such things as style of music and inconsistencies in the lives of Christians, people still want to know if God has anything to say about this life and existence that we share.
Greater Vision Quartet has a song from the point of view of a parishioner: “Preacher, if you want to be my friend, don’t tell me what I want to hear.” The parishioner goes on to ask that the preacher tell him what God says. No one anticipates perfection from even the leaders in the church, but they know well that, in terms of ultimate answers, the universities have failed, the psychiatrists have moved the patients over to recline on their own couches, and the politicians have created such a muddle that any hope there perished long ago. On the other hand, the majority of people who follow Christ and invoke the Bible as a guide for life are a happy people, forgiving offences rather readily, loving one another and even their enemies, accepting the providences of God, and, when necessary, suffering and even dying for their faith with confidence. They tend to be good citizens, they neither steal nor murder, and, in spite of many miscues, they usually maintain the best in family life.
Usually, Christians of a conservative stripe do not spend an inordinate amount of time fretting over the end of the age, the status of dictators in the world, or the possibility of nuclear annihilation. The Bible has taught them how to live, how to think, and how to trust God by faith. These Christians are appropriately concerned, but they believe with all their hearts that the final chapter in human existence has been penned by God.
And by the way, there is a reason why conservative seminaries are holding their own in a day when most of the rest are on a downward turn. Of the 10 largest seminaries in America, almost all of them have a conservative persuasion. As Finke and Stark note, “Because most Baptist seminaries in the North were independently organized and thereby free of denominational control, they easily became a haven for the expression and development of liberal theology.”
With the millions of abortions taking place, coupled with the failure in the local churches to call out the called and the prevailing tendency among millennials to see little need of instruction, these conservative seminaries are attuned closest to the local churches and remain strong. The close pastoral relationship between these seminaries and the local churches that support them with prayer and funding results in a steady stream of students who hold them close to the Bible. How many more sociologists will have to recount this history before the social establishment notes the phenomenon and begins to ask why this is the case?
Dean M. Kelley, Why Conservative Churches are Growing (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), 151.
**This article was originally published at www.defendinginerrancy.com
Many leaders in the modern inerrancy movement are strong Calvinists. From this some have inferred that inerrancy is a uniquely Calvinistic doctrine. They claim that the prime movers on International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (1978-1989) were strong Calvinists. This is true, however the ICBI was not exclusively made up of strong Calvinists and they were by no means the beginning of the inerrancy movement. In fact, the doctrine of inerrancy was held by the Early Church Fathers and on through Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. So, it is historically inaccurate to claim that inerrancy originated with Calvinism.
Medieval Church Inerrantists
Belief in inerrancy of Scripture has been the standard view of orthodox Christianity from the beginning (John Hannah, Inerrancy and The Church, 1984), long before there were Calvinist in name or doctrine. St Augustine (4th cent. A.D.) held to the inerrancy of Scripture, proclaiming that “When they write that He has taught and said…the members put down what they had come to know at the dictation of the Head. Therefore whatever He wanted us to read concerning His words and deeds, He commanded the disciple, His hands, to write. Hence one cannot but receive what he reads in the Gospels, though written by the very hand of the Lord Himself” (Harmony of the Gospels, 1.35.54). He added that “by the admission of a falsehood here, the authority of the Holy Scripture given for the faith of all coming generations is to be made wholly uncertain and wavering” (Letters 40.3.5).
As for alleged errors in the Bible, he declared emphatically that “it is not allowable to say, the author of this books is mistaken.” No error can be in the original text which was breathed out by God. Rather, said Augustine, “either the manuscript [copy] is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have misunderstood” (Against Faustus, 11.5). Continue reading
Recently, Barry King, pastor of Grace Baptist Church (http://tiny.cc/te1v3), Wood Green, London came into contact with some friends in Germany who are at the heart of a struggle for Biblical reformation in their land. The testimony of Anita Kupfermann is sending shock waves through the churches of Germany. Her complete testimony was published in German in Bibel und Gemeinde in the October 2011 issue (pp. 9-14). This English translation is published here in hopes of encouraging prayer for Anita and others like her who are standing for Biblical orthodoxy in Germany.
Would you join him in prayer for God to continue to move among German Baptists?
— the Editors of SBC Today
My Life Changed! How God Gave Me Faith:
Thank you for taking the time to read my story!
My name is Anita Kupfermann and I would like to tell you about my time studying theology. It is my hope that this little account of my experiences will serve as a warning and an encouragement to you. I would like to warn you of how the so-called “Higher Critical” (Historical Criticism) method left my relationship with God, and therefore my entire life, severely damaged. Yet I equally hope to encourage you! I can testify with great joy and thankfulness that the Lord Jesus Christ, during my time at university, healed my unbelief and called me to follow Him.
I hope and pray that God will be glorified through these pages and that you, the reader, will be encouraged to fully trust the Word of God.
My Time At Theological College & the Higher Critical Method (HCM)
Through my parents I was confronted with the Christian faith at an early age. I regularly went to Sunday School and was baptized at the age of 14.
A full ten years later, whilst working at a nursery, I was gripped by the desire to do something else with my time, something equally meaningful. I wanted to submit myself to the Word of God and reflect on my walk with God. Although I had been baptized, I realized that I did not know the Bible. I couldn’t say I had a living relationship with God. I longed to know God better, to better understand what being a Christian meant. So, I decided to attend a theological college for ten months. My hope was that these ten months would supply what was missing in my faith.
Right from the beginning of my time at theological college I was confronted with Biblical criticism in the form of the “Higher Critical” method, (HCM). The HCM is the current philosophy of understanding and explaining Bible passages at German universities, as well as at many free-church theological colleges. According to this philosophy the Bible is not understood to be the inspired Word of God but a contradictory, mistake-prone, human work. Just like any other piece of literature it must be critically questioned and examined. This method of approaching the biblical texts normally leads to rejecting the historicity of the Bible – in other words, the historical accuracy and reliability of the Bible is questioned. Simply put, the Bible’s stories are just myths that never happened.