The Issue Of Biblical Authority -- By: Morris Ashcraft

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 01:2 (Spring 1984)
Article: The Issue Of Biblical Authority
Author: Morris Ashcraft

The Issue Of Biblical Authority

Morris Ashcraft

Dean of the Faculty,
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“There is only one thing greater than Liberty, and that is Authority,” wrote P.T. Forsyth.1 Forsyth’s statement sounds strange indeed in an age that has revolted against most authorities and has advanced the secular doctrine that humanity is its own authority. Langdon Gilkey understands this secular spirit well. He identified four characteristics of this secular spirit: contingency, relativity, temporality, and autonomy.2 Gilkey knows the radical theology related to names like Gabriel Vahanian, Harvey Cox, Thomas Altizer, and William Hamilton in which the secular spirit is so exalted that persons no longer have to look to outside authorities as they once did; now, they look only to their colleagues for answers to the questions of life. Forsyth’s statement, however, reveals a deep theological understanding of Christian faith and its consequent effect upon the human spirit particularly at the point of freedom and authority to which we will return later.

The articles in this issue of the journal deal with current issues in the Southern Baptist Convention. I had the opportunity of modifying the title, but have chosen to keep it as it is for reasons that will be obvious.

The controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention is not primarily concerned with the authority of the Bible. All, or almost all, participants hold to a high view of biblical authority and would articulate the doctrine in such a way as to enjoy the support of their adversaries except for one thing, the word inerrancy.

The present controversy is not about the Bible or the authority of the Bible. It is about a statement about the Bible. That statement is the same “One Point Theology” of Fundamentalism as it developed between 1870 and 1925 and as it appears in the contemporary expression of that theology:3 the inerrancy of the original manuscripts of the Bible.

My interest in “The Issue of Biblical Authority” goes far beyond a theory of inspiration. The authority of the Bible is a reality whether we recognize it or not, but for us its value comes only when we recognize it and allow it to be the authoritative source for our understanding of God, human life, and guidelines for evaluating the issues of life.

My concern is whether we, the church people, are reading the Bible, and if so, whether or not we are understanding it and allowing it to shape our lives. We certainly cannot judge by the number of Bibles being sold. The...

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