The Uneasy Conscience Of Modern Liberal Exegesis -- By: J. Barton Payne

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 01:1 (Winter 1958)
Article: The Uneasy Conscience Of Modern Liberal Exegesis
Author: J. Barton Payne

The Uneasy Conscience Of Modern Liberal Exegesis

J. Barton Payne

Trinity Theological Seminary

(A paper presented at the second annual meeting of the Mid-Western Section of E.T.S., 1957)

Modern evangelicalism is based upon the affirmation of the reality of God’s special intervention in human history, that is, of the genuineness of the miraculous, climaxing in the supernatural life of Christ. Consistent, then, with the possibility of a supernaturalistic revelation, with the positive claims of Christ, and with the uniform assertion of Scripture, evangelicalism accepts the Bible as God-given and as true. The evangelical depends basically upon the mind of Christ, and not upon minor historical corroborations, for his belief in the truth of Scripture; but he naturally rejoices in historical confirmations of the facts of Scripture, as congruous with his overall faith, when such may appear. Whatever may have been said about “the uneasy conscience of modern fundamentalism” regarding social ethics1 the evangelical has an easy conscience, based upon a well integrated approach of logical consistency, regarding Biblical historicity.

Liberalism, on the other hand, is characterized by an underlying distrust of the supernatural. Sometimes this is admitted, and the Biblical miracles are dismissed as outrightly fictitious. For example, Robert Pfeiffer states in reference to Daniel:

The traditional theory, by accepting the book at its face value, necessarily presupposes the reality of the supernatural and the divine origin of the revelations it contains. But such miracles as the divine deliverance of Daniel from the lions and a hand without a body writing a message on a wall lie outside the realm of historical facts.2

More frequently, however, modern liberalism, under the influence of Neo-orthodoxy, exhibits an uneasy conscience over the wholesale humanism of the old-fashioned “modernism,” an example being the pathetic attempt of the Interpreter’s Bible to salvage preaching values from a critically dissected Bible. But such twinges of the liberal conscience are so common on the modern theological scene as to require little comment. They are not the subject of this discussion; and, when all is said and done, they actually constitute but a disguised form of the old antisupernaturalism. For, though lip-service is paid to God’s interventions in history, these interventions are so redefined in man’s own rationalistic terms as to deny their true historicity: facts become “mythological,” “culturally determined,” or “supra-historical.” The net result is still liberalism and stands in ...

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