Recent Interpretations of Biblical Authority Part 1: A Neoorthodox Historiography under Siege -- By: John D. Woodbridge

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 142:565 (Jan 1985)
Article: Recent Interpretations of Biblical Authority Part 1: A Neoorthodox Historiography under Siege
Author: John D. Woodbridge


Recent Interpretations of Biblical Authority
Part 1:
A Neoorthodox Historiography under Siege

John D. Woodbridge

[John D. Woodbridge, Professor of Church History, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois]

[Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of four articles delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 6–9, 1984.]

Many Americans are caught up in a “personal rights” craze. At least that is the opinion of a federal judge who hears and sees much as he travels from one federal court to another. Americans are ready to resist any authority whatsoever that hampers or restricts “rights of free expression.” Pollsters seem to confirm the accuracy of the judge’s reading of the national pulse.1

Undoubtedly the protection of personal rights is very important. It is as American as apple pie. But the present fascination for the defense of personal rights has an unsettling dimension: the refusal to acquiesce before the laws of government or the teachings of churches, or the instruction of educational institutions if they cross personal feelings or judgments. Many Americans are inclined to do what is right in their own eyes. Two illustrations may be cited. Internal Revenue Service officials bemoan an epidemic of tax cheating that has swept the land. And Roman Catholic clergy know only too well that many of their flock ignore the teachings of their church about artificial birth control. Not that all Americans are law-breakers or disloyal. But as the federal judge put it, there is reason to wonder if in fact a moral majority exists. Or perhaps it might be better to ask if a majority exists which agrees on a fixed set of ethical principles.

Biblical Authority in a “Me Decade”

It might seem odd to begin a series on the topic “Recent Interpretations of Biblical Authority” with these all too brief

comments about the present cultural scene. Nonetheless this does seem appropriate. There is reason to believe that in part the virulent rhetoric and criticism issuing from some opponents of biblical authority stems not so much from the emergence of any remarkable new data to which they are privy but from a more broad-based anti-authoritarian impulse within the land.

For on the intellectual side of things, biblical authority has fared reasonably well within the last 20 years or so.2 In the field of church history a number of scholars are confirming what evangelicals have long argued: until the 18th century the Christian chur...

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