Biblical Inerrancy Watch: the Evangelical Free Church of America

May 22, 2013

In response to a recent blog post on the seepage of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy into Quakerism, a Friend asked for examples. Here is one.

In this month’s “Communicator,” the yearly meeting’s newsletter, Indiana Yearly Meeting’s Superintendent, Doug Shoemaker, reports on a conference he attended:

     Recently four of us from IYM were sent by our Evangelism & Outreach Committee to Barclay College where we participated in the very first National Friends Church Multiplication Conference. Planners of this historic event, which gathered evangelically-minded Friends from around the country, dared to ask, “Can you imagine what would happen if God poured out His Spirit in such a way that we experienced a Friends church multiplication movement?!”

He names Bruce Redmond as the “featured speaker” at this National Friends Church Multiplication Conference. Who is Bruce Redmond, I wondered? Someone who works on church planting for the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). What does EFCA believe, I wondered. Here is what they believe about the Bible:

EFCA The Bible So there it is, one example: the Bible as “without error,” “the complete revelation,” “the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged.”

Why was someone from the EFCA chosen to be the featured speaker at a National Friends Church Multiplication Conference?  Do “evangelically-minded Friends from around the country” (Shoemaker’s phrase) want to embrace this view of the Bible? Does being a disciple require acceptance of Biblical inerrancy?

Also posted on River View Friend.

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Comment by James C Schultz on 5th mo. 22, 2013 at 11:53am

One of the versions of the bible that was popular when i first got "saved" was the "LIVING Bible".  I think the greatness of the bible is that it is a living book which the Holy Spirit can use to speak to us today in a world closer than ever to complete  destruction as well as it did to all our ancestors including George Fox, Martin Luther, etc. in a simpler day.  Through this Living Bible the Holy Spirit has and is radically changing lives by revealing God's Will for us as individuals who He has called by name before we were in our mother's wombs but as Paul said: the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.  If you believe the Bible is the "complete revelation" you have to consider what it says completely.  I also seem to recall a place in the Book of Revelations where one Angel tells John not to reveal what another Angel says. Rev. 10:1 to 4 

Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 22, 2013 at 2:17pm

I don't find anything very remarkable about this statement of faith in the Bible.  If I were preparing a statement, I wouldn't express myself the same way, but this confession of faith is probably less shocking to me than some of the creedal statements (yes, they are that) put out by many liberal Friends.

The statement does not say that the Bible is “the complete revelation,” but that it is "the complete revelation of His will for salvation".  I am not entirely sure of all the ramifications of this statement, but I think I could affirm it without reservation. 

Comment by James Michael Tower on 5th mo. 23, 2013 at 1:15am

Hello Doug. I definitely have to agree agree with William that there is nothing too profound about that statement. It seems to be making more of a statement about scriptural authority than innerrancy per se. There are differences between "infallibility" and "innerrancy." I would make the case that what the E free church is advocating is infallibility and not innerrancy. Infallibility centers on the belief that the inspired text of the bible is inspired in a way that it cannot fail to lead a person on the path of salvation who is willing to go down that road. Innerrancy tends to be, in it's extreme form, a kind of philosophical defense of inspiration. Often those who advocate this view do not use the language of human authorship at all, which the E free church clearly did here.  On a side note, as one who attended the conference and actually heard Bruce speak, it seems to me you are completely over reacting out of context about innerrancy, especialy as it was never even mentioned by the speaker. Nor was the conference propagating any kind of view of the bible whatsoever. Within denominations, there are often words about the bible. The faith and practice of my yearly meeting contains some, as I am sure yours does as well. The point is, not everyone agrees with every little thing in their denomination's official literature. In fact, most people are largely unfamiliar with it at all. Just as you could be a democrat who is not an environmentalist or a republican who seeks documenting illegal alliens, you could be a Quaker who holds to innerrancy (or whatever else). People tend to be pretty diverse in holding opinions. Just because an outsider was brought in to share some of their valuable experience , does not mean they were pushing some kind of agenda. Bruce talked mostly about church planting, in fact that is all he talked about. I hate to be rude, but this post seems like much ado over googling someone and screenshotting a website. As with evangelicalism and fundamentalism, infallibility and innerrancy are more complex and nuanced than you might think...

Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 23, 2013 at 8:41am

After I wrote my first reaction to Doug's Bennett's piece on having an Evangelical Free Church leader speak on church planting, I wondered: 1.if Bruce Redmond is a Swede; 2.what did he actually talk about; and 3.did he say that he endorsed every jot and title on his denominational website's presentation of its theological convictions?  It is interesting that James Tower mentions both of the latter questions, but never tells us if the speaker is a Swede; the Evangelical Free Church is of Swedish origin, isn't it?

If Dr. Bennett had been invited a few years ago by an Evangelical Free Church group to talk higher education, could we have looked at Indiana Yearly Meeting's website to see what Bennett believed about the Bible?  I doubt it!

At the risk of seeming impertinent, I would like to suggest that Doug Bennett could find more valuable things to do with his time than worrying about the evangelical Friends and inerrancy!




Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 23, 2013 at 9:27am

I just looked up the Evangelical Free Church on Wikipedia.  It resulted from a pan-Scandinavian surge of ecumenicalism, and was not all Swedish in origin.

But, now get this!! From Wikipedia:

Membership trends

The EFCA has experienced tremendous growth since its formation in 1950, at which time there were 20,000 members and under 300 congregations.[11] By the 1980s there were over 800 congregations and over 100,000 members.[11] In 2003, the Association reported 300,000 members in over 1,400 congregations.[11] In 2010, the EFCA reported a weekly attendance of 357,709 in 1,480 congregations.[1] As of 2000, California had the largest number of congregations with 175.[12] However, membership is primarily concentrated in the Midwest.

No wonder the evangelical Friends invited Bruce Redmond to speak on planting new churches!


Comment by Doug Bennett on 5th mo. 23, 2013 at 9:28am

I’m listening Friends, and appreciate James Michael Tower’s calming words. 

I am a ‘big tent’ Quaker. Over several decades I’ve been drawn to worship among Friends of all kinds, evangelical and universalist, programmed and unprogrammed, and I’ve appreciated all these opportunities. I am a seeker, and I am pretty sure that much will remain unclear to me throughout my days. I learn best with and from other seekers. What troubles me most is when I see lines being drawn, orthodoxy being insisted upon, creeds being asserted as tests. 

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve come to think that a submerged disagreement about the Bible is tearing Friends apart, and that a concerted effort to read the Bible together will do us much good. One thing that stands in the way of that is the settled, wholesale rejection of the Bible among many FGC meetings. Another, I believe, is the seepage of inerrantist ideas from non-Quaker fundamentalist churches into evangelical Friends churches. 

“Inerranist” is a label, and as such has its limits. We definitely need to go beyond such labels. I was drawn to Quakerism through Fox’s epiphany that God continues to speak to us if we will still ourselves and listen. Thus, I do not warm to assertions that the Bible is God’s last or only authoritative word.  I see that in the EFCA statement, but it is a short statement.

Little can be discerned about the future direction of the Friends church  from the beliefs of one speaker invited to a single conference. The conference has resonance for me because I read about it in the newsletter of the yearly meeting from which hundreds of us are being “set off.” Those being set off largely would have chosen to remain part of a pluralistic, big-tent Indiana Yearly Meeting. But we are being set off for failure to adhere to a certain orthodoxy.   

And what is that orthodoxy? The presenting issue is a creedal assertion that homosexuality is a sin, that we know this because the Bible (alone) tells us so, and that it tells us so in just five snippets.

Insisting on the five snippets view is not the right way to read the Bible. I believe the Bible has a much deeper and clearer call to love God and love our neighbors. This is a call that makes no sense of the view that homosexuality is a sin, a view that causes so much harm and hardship in this world. 

And yes, the EFCA stands foursquare behind the “homosexuality is a sin, the Bible tells me so” view.  Still, neither Bruce Redmond nor the EFCA nor one conference are the issue. The issue is how we listen to God.  I believe the Bible is essential for listening to God, but not God’s last or only authoritative word.

Comment by Clem Gerdelmann on 5th mo. 23, 2013 at 2:49pm

Speaking of "planting new churches", Friends may benefit from my latest, albeit botanical, blog.

Comment by James Michael Tower on 5th mo. 24, 2013 at 12:35am

Thank you for showing the heart behind your post, as well as revealing why innerrancy matters so much to you. I didn't know you were a seeker. For the record, theories of inspiration stem from your (and my) concern not to lose sight of the value of the Bible. This conversation has to do with scriptural authority. I find my view of scriptural authority has not really changed all that much, but my reasons for that authority have changed quite a bit. I am more from the neo-orthodox camp, which I find to be a very liberating way of looking at the Bible both critically and devotionaly. I would say Barclay was in this camp before Barth made it so popular. People often quote his preface but fail to see that the entire rest of his Apology argues for a validation of his experience from scriptures. I do believe that God is still speaking, but admit being baffled at Quakers who have drifted away from any semblance of biblical authority. To me, this seems like a radical redefinition of what it means to be a Quaker. My personal view of inspiration is that it has both divine and human authorship. A good analogy of this would be the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus, in which His humanity and divinity were not in conflict. I believe God gave a message to human authors who wrote to specific audiences and contextualized their words to connect with these audiences. It would seem the height of arrogance to me to hold to a biblical literalism that does not take into account that the bible was written to a pre-scientific, eastern culture, or one that fails to notice poetical, or figurative language.

For me orthodoxy is extremely important, but I am not sure homosexuality is a matter of orthodoxy per se. While (full disclosure) I do see homosexual sex as a sin because of the biblical text, but it is not a particularly special sin. I do see the love that two people share as coming from God, even if it is not kept within teh bounds of God's own design. Most people who try to deny this love is real do so to their own detriment. Most of my orthodoxy concerns have much more to do with Jesus, and less to do with sin. While I appreciate a "big tent Quaker" exclusivity (and enjoy building relationships and learning from each other), I also wonder what Fox, Penn, Pennington, and Barclay would make of Buddhist, universalist, or non-theist Quakers. I do not see the Bible as much tearing us apart, as religious syncretism is. Pluralism in the extreme seems to tear against group identity. A group with an identity crises generally isn't a group for very long in my humble opinion.  Thank you for your thoughtful response. It is unfortunate that in the minds of many, the Bible has to be God's final word in order for it to be authoritative at all.

Comment by Howard Brod on 5th mo. 24, 2013 at 3:43pm

Just a point of clarification in defense of liberal Quakers.  I have traveled within those circles among Baltimore Yearly Meeting Friends for nearly 30 years.  To say there is a wholesale rejection of the Bible and its value, is a gross over-statement.  My meeting (perhaps one of the most liberal Quaker meetings there is) is NOT exclusionary.  Currently, our adult Sunday School is discussing Jesus' Sermon on the Mount each Sunday.  Over this past Easter we discussed the biblical texts on who the Bible says Jesus was.  The meeting is very inclusionary, and therefore we have Quakers from all stripes among us.

The meeting 20 minutes down the road from us (also a liberal Quaker meeting) has weekly Bible study.  They too have a varied membership who hold all types of spiritual inclinations.

I would say that a liberal meeting that holds a disdain for the Bible, is not really operating in the liberal Quaker tradition.  They have decided to adhere to a doctrine - one that rejects the Bible.  Although I've never experienced such a liberal meeting, there is probably one out there, I'm sure.  Please know that experiencing a liberal Quaker's personal disdain for the Bible, does not mean the whole meeting holds this same view.  Liberal Quakers accept people as they are and trust that God will take charge of their spiritual growth as they come to know and experience him.

For clarification purposes, I would say that liberal Quakers as a religion do value what the Bible and especially Jesus offered to the world in order to set us on the right path towards the Light.  Liberal Quakers relish experiencing that Light of Christ in a host of ways that our little human minds can't always comprehend.  We are therefore open to that Light wherever we find it ("walk cheerfully  over the world answering that of God in every one"). 

Most Quakers today do not practice all of the tenets of early Quakers.  It seems we have specialized, if you will.  Liberal Friends may favor continuing revelation and inclusively "answering that of God in every one".  Evangelical Friends may have come to desire paid ministers even though early Friends would have considered that very wrong because it goes against biblical injunctions against hireling ministry. 

My point is that God is greater than our own minds and limitations.  I suggest we let him do his work with the various tools and vehicles he has at his disposal.  I for one think it is awesome that within Quakerism we have such a beautiful spectrum of Light.


Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 24, 2013 at 6:22pm

There's a table in the center of our Meeting room. On the table, at one time or another, there have been flowers and/or candles. For some time now, there's been a Bible. Also a Faith&Practice, sometimes other documents. I occasionally see people reading the Faith&Practice.


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