Theological Progress And Evangelical Commitment -- By: Vernon C. Grounds
BETS 4:3 (Nov 1961) p. 69
Theological Progress And Evangelical Commitment
Does theology still have a frontier or has its frontier long since been closed? Is our situation theologically like that of the United States in 1800 with vast areas unexplored and unannexed? Or is our situation more akin to that of the United States in the second half of the 20th century with the whole continent from ocean to ocean and from Mexico to Canada mapped out in detail and thoroughly cultivated except for isolated patches of desert and wilderness? At this hour in Christian history is the theologian merely a prosaic cultivator of old farms and orchards or is he a pioneer blazing new trails into regions of truth as yet unpossessed? This, I gather, is the problem which I am to discuss with you from the evangelical perspective.
Now from our perspective, committed as we are to a thoroughgoing Biblicism, this problem has certain facets and complications which liberal theologians largely ignore. As disciples of empiricism in one of its several forms, they believe that truth is perpetually in process of being made. And since they therefore sit very loosely to Scripture, they view themselves at pioneers forever moving Westward. Their frontier is wide open; with Schelling they agree that the pursuit rather than the possession of truth is man’s highest privilege.
But as an evangelical I must assert at the outset of this address that the theological frontier is not wide open. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the territory of special revelation has been painstakingly explored and charted by 20 centuries of dedicated scholarship. As a result, the need for a pioneering spirit among Biblicists seems anachronistic; what we need apparently is the patient spirit of the farmer or perhaps the fighting spirit of the patriot who seeks to protect his country from invasion by religious Bolsheviks.
Take up, for example, that masterful study which James Orr published exactly 60 years ago, The Progress of Dogma. In it, as he traces the evolution of theology across the ages, he makes this statement:
We have to recognize the fact that our fathers have labored, and we have entered into their labors; that history has been in travail with these subjects for the past nineteen centuries, and has brought forth more than wind; that we are not dealing with human speculations, but with a divine revelation, the records of which have been in men’s hands from the beginning, and on which men’s minds have been directed with the intense desire and prayer for light; that Christ promised His Spirit to His disciples to guide them into truth, and not first to scholars of the nineteenth century; and that the presumption—practically the certainty—is, that the great decisive landmarks in th...
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