The Great Debate on Biblical Authority and Biblical Hermeneutics: Are Baptists Really As Divided As They Think? -- By: Mark Ellingsen

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 10:1 (Fall 1992)
Article: The Great Debate on Biblical Authority and Biblical Hermeneutics: Are Baptists Really As Divided As They Think?
Author: Mark Ellingsen


The Great Debate on Biblical Authority and
Biblical Hermeneutics:
Are Baptists Really As Divided As They Think?

Mark Ellingsen

Pastor, St. John’s Lutheran Church
Asheboro, North Carolina

The great debate on Biblical authority and Biblical hermeneutics has been carried on publically in the SBC for now close to two decades. It is a debate that has precedents in American Christianity since the emergence of the Fundamentalist movement at the turn of the century.

As a sympathetic outsider, whose own tradition has been marred by harsh debates on the issues currently occupying Southern Baptists, I still sometimes scratch my head and wonder what the debate is really all about. After analyzing the alternatives closely, the two sides do not seem that far apart. In fact, when one compares the core suppositions of these alternatives with the theological models which prevail in Christian scholarship and in many, though not all, of the so-called mainline churches, the debate in the SBC over Biblical authority appears more like a family disagreement among allies than a struggle for the soul of the Church.

This article aims to offer SBC insiders enmeshed in the debate the perspective of this outsider, to help them see how much they as well as Confessionally oriented theological traditions like this author’s own Lutheran heritage have in common, especially in relation to most of the prevailing theological options. In order to accomplish these aims, we need to consider critically the suppositions which more or less characterize the Moderate and the more Fundamentalistic orientations in the SBC.

I am told by some influential Southeastern Seminary faculty that, even though neither partner was Baptist, the debate on the nature of Biblical authority staged a decade ago between Evangelical scholars John Woodbridge on one side and Jack Rogers/Donald McKim on the other is somewhat representative of the internal SBC debate insofar as each side finds empathy with one of these debating partners.1 (In some respects, the Rogers/McKim-Woodbridge debate was itself a rehearsal of the attack launched by Harold Lindsell in his The Battle for the Bible and the corresponding defense of Scripture’s detailed inerrancy offered in 1978 by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in its The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in reaction to the attribution of any “limited inerrancy” to Scripture by the Statement of Faith of Fuller Theological Seminary.2 ) Thus we shall analyse the respective suppositions involved in the hermeneutical debate between these scholars, examine the convergence of their views wi...

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