More on Evangelicalism, Fundamentalism and the Bible

May 16, 2013

Worth reading this week is a blog post by Rachel Held Evans entitled Is God’s Presence Limited to the Scripture?

The question is on her mind (her answer is no) because of a blog post by Tim Challies, a prominent evangelical, on The Boundaries of Evangelicalism. Challies’s opening salvo is the statement that one of his “gravest concerns” in the contemporary church “is the power and prevalence of mysticism.” (Challies is worth reading for an example of how not to read the Bible.)

What does he mean by “mysticism?” He means any direct, unmediated experience of the Holy Spirit; any seeking for God outside the bounds of Scripture. He means by mysticism, for example, Fox’s epiphany that “Jesus has come to teach his people himself.” That is why Quakers should take notice. 

Here is Challies’s conclusion about the Bible as the all-sufficient resource: “God has given us his Word to guide us in all matters of faith and practice. When we commit ourselves to mysticism, we commit ourselves to looking for revelation from God and experiences of God that come from outside that Word. We reject his gift--his good, infallible, inerrant, sufficient gift--and demand more. Because God promises us no more, we quickly create our own experiences and interpret them as if they are God’s revelation. Yet the Bible warns us that we can do no better than God’s Word and have no right to demand anything else. The question for Evangelicals today is just this: Will God’s Word be enough? Because whatever does not lead us toward God’s Word will always, inevitably and ultimately lead us away.”

Rachel Held Evans, a young Evangelical blogger, begins her response by noting that Challies’s “post is so full of historical inaccuracies, theological problems, and contradictions that it’s hard to know where to start.” Nevertheless, she does offer a spirited counter.  I won’t try to summarize what she says, just encourage you to read it. 

Here’s the core of what she has to say: “When we become more committed to the testimony than to the Person to whom it testifies, we are likely to miss the presence of Jesus even when it’s right in front of us. Probably because it took some form we weren’t expecting. Probably because it showed up outside of our boundaries. “

“Challies is wrong,” she says toward the end. “We do have direct access to God. We need no additional mediator.”  And she adds about that word “boundaries” that Challies forefronts in the title of his post “I have come to see that these boundaries designed to shut others out only serve to shut the builders in.”

Quakers should care about this because, among evangelical Friends, and in an unreflective way, something like Challies’s view is becoming more common. Rachel Held Evans shows how one can take the Bible seriously and yet not think it is God’s only and last word.

Also posted on River View Friend.

Views: 635

Comment by James C Schultz on 5th mo. 16, 2013 at 1:52pm

I have talks with God all the time about the possibility I am being deceived by what I think He is showing me.  But that deception can come from an incorrect interpretation of the bible as much as what I sense in my soul He is revealing to me.  It isn't called a walk of faith for nothing.  It isn't until I step out in faith that I find out if I got it right and everytime I don't get it right I learn a little more about myself and those who advised me one way or the other.

Comment by Doug Bennett on 5th mo. 16, 2013 at 2:00pm

Very like my experience, James. Thanks.

Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 16, 2013 at 2:09pm

Challie's view sounds like cessationism.  See


Cessationalism has been around for a long time.  It holds that all other communication from God and the miraculous gifts (speaking in tongues, prophetic ministry, healing) ceased once the Biblical canon was formed.  I don't see how there is any  biblical basis for this view.  Moreover, it makes the Christian life as described in the New Testament ("Christian process", to adapt an expression from the "Quaker process" folks!) off limits for us today.  I find this incomprehensible!!!

Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 16, 2013 at 2:23pm

The word is cessationism, NOT cessationalism!

Comment by Forrest Curo on 5th mo. 16, 2013 at 5:42pm

Wasn't this the problem Jesus kept having with the scribes & Pharisees? He kept telling them it was going on right now, in front of them -- and they wanted to know what Authority he was going by...

We can always get things wrong... but God remains available to correct & clarify, if we keep asking rather than insisting.

Comment by Daniel Wilcox on 5th mo. 27, 2013 at 11:25am

Good morning Doug,

I hate to say it (to quote a cliche:-) but the Evangelical Free's view of Scripture is the least of your (our) worries.

What is far more troubling about the EF is that many of their churches claim to follow Calvinism's infamous T.U.L.I.P.--the poisonous doctrines of T--humans have no libertarian choice but are born at conception sinful, U--that only some humans are ordained to salvation, L--Jesus only loves to save a limited number of humans, I--no one has a choice in receiving or rejecting salvation, P--only those who were unconditionally elected will be sanctified and go to be with God.

Very tragic stuff contrary to nearly everything Quakers (of all stripes) hold dear--especially the infinite love of God for everyone.

Daniel Wilcox

Comment by Andy Bonnell on 5th mo. 30, 2013 at 10:52am

I wonder about Mr Challies' use of the phrase "God's Word" to refer to the Bible.  Muslims seem content with the identification of a book, the Qu'ran, as the Word of God.  Christians have traditionally identified a person, Jesus, as the Word of God. 

Of course, the Bible is made of words.  Christians usually say that those words come from God and show us the way to God, even as the examples and teachings of Jesus' followers show us the way to God.  Christians of the Protestant variety add the claim that private reading of the Bible can correct and reform the  traditions of the Church, and some Protestants go so far as to claim that text of the Bible contains within itself all the truths of religion.  Quakerism originated within the Protestant movement and for the most part is still recognizably part of that movement, though the variety of Protestantism that most formed the thinking of early Friends was that of the Church of England, which sets the Bible first in a hierarchy of sources of religious knowledge that also includes tradition and reason.  To that "three-legged stool" Friends added a fourth support, direct mystical insight. 

All that being said, it is difficult for me to see how a Christian can use the phrase "God's Word" to refer to anything or anyone other than Jesus. This is especially puzzling when the  object being set up as a rival to Jesus is the Bible.  What does Mr Challies make of the first chapter of the Fourth Gospel?  When John says that the Word became flesh, does Mr Challies imagine a Bible printed on leather pages? If not, how else can he possibly interpret it, given his premise?

Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 30, 2013 at 11:13am

Among evangelical Protestants the Bible is commonly referred to as "the Word".  IMHO this is a bit of a misnomer, but it is not entirely out of the ballpark.

A case in point:  Hebrews 4:12-13 "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of ..."  This doesn't seem to me to be a reference to Christ.  It may not refer specifically to the Bible either, but to "God's Word" in a more generic sense.

Another case: "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path." Ps 119:105.  I suspect that this is also a generic reference, but probably does not refer specifically to Christ.

My argument is that "word" is used in various ways in the Bible, and that we shouldn't assert one usage as the only correct one.



Comment by William F Rushby on 5th mo. 30, 2013 at 12:02pm

Actually, the definitive way to address how "God's word" is used in the Bible would be to examine the texts in the original languages.  What ancient Hebrew, Biblical Greek and old Aramaic words are rendered as "word" in English translations?  And what are the likely referents of these words in the original languages?   I am not qualified to answer such questions, only to ask them!

Comment by Howard Brod on 6th mo. 3, 2013 at 8:00am
By now you all know how I feel. If it is so complicated that one must "discover" what the originally translated word(s) meant, and if we must rely on linguistic scholars and their opinions, and if there are so many interpretations to sift through - it can't be of Spirit to pursue this route to please, understand, or experience God. The message of Jesus was a simple and universal one: Love and forgive. That was his (God's) formula for healing the world. This we can all experience through practice to know it is true. Everything else is conjecture, and can not be relied upon.


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