The Place of Scripture in Evangelical, Liberal and Neo-Orthodox Thought

The Place of Scripture in Evangelical, Liberal, and Neo-Orthodox Thought

Since the beginning of the twenty- first century the authority and nature of the scripture has elicited major debates and issues in relation to the Christian faith eliciting various illegitimate expressions and forms of authority that have emerged from a “postmodern mindset of selfishness” (Mayhue, 228). This paper will seek to compare and contrast the views regarding the nature and authority of Scripture with reference to three theological movements: Evangelical, Liberal, and Neo-Orthodox.  Moreover, look at the strengths and weaknesses of each.

The Issues

The liberals viewed themselves as the ones who would save an obsolete version of Christianity. They said that they aimed at connecting with people and bringing them into faith rather than scare them with a set of rules (Bingham 149). The founder of liberalism was Friedrich Schleiermacher who was a preacher in the 18th century. Friedrich argued and felt that doctrines and scriptures of faith had no major importance regarding practice of Christianity and therefore they were not needed in our daily lives. The liberals did not put focus on the holiness of The Trinity but emphasized more on the doctrines of grace and sin and the emotional aspect of faith. According to the liberals, Jesus was a historical figure that the church can learn from spiritually and the Bible being a complement as a source of knowledge on the history of Christianity (Bingham 152, 153). This movement viewed that being a Christian is nothing but a feeling and an experience. According to this movement, the facts taught in the Bible do not matter much as believers feel they are saved by faith and thus ordained to heaven (Lane 238).

Conversely, Evangelicalism has a connection to Pietism and Puritanism and it traces its origins in the eighteenth century back in Britain and British colonies. The people who had beliefs in this movement had five convictions.

One is that the Bible is the supreme authority for faith and practice. Secondly, the essential of new birth includes conversion via grace. Thirdly, the “centrality of the redeeming work of Christ”. Moreover, the pressing need to evangelize the world and lastly the Holy Spirit indwells among the church, which comprises a community of believers (Bingham, 162). This movement believes that the biblical Gospel should not be distorted. Many theologians have had their views regarding evangelicalism such as Warfield who suggested the Bible to being “the inspired and infallible word of God”. He also suggested that the Bible as “breathed out by God” and therefore God is the author of it (Lane, 256). Interestingly it is notable that though evangelicals are united by their doctrine of Scripture they tend to hold different doctrines. For example, Lane has the view of Warfield representing a middle ground. (258).

On the other hand, Neo-orthodoxy is the most recent theological movement. It was first discovered by Karl Barth in 1916 and it was considered to present a strange new world within the bible where it overtook modernism as the most dominant theology of the mid twentieth century that came with a another unique aspect of the Bible (Kantzer, 17).The Neo-orthodoxy came to being as a reaction to Liberalism. This movement holds that the Bible itself is not a revelation but a record of the revelation (Kantzer, 20). Moreover, they claim that the Bible is an objective document but God does not inspire it and therefore it is not God’s word until God lets it be his word (Kantzer, 21).

The Implications

Each of the three movements to the place of scripture has its strengths and weaknesses that make them be either true or false. Lane observes that evangelicals are always concerned with the truthfulness of the scripture though there have been debates on “infallibility” and “inerrancy” of the Bible. This movement has lead its focus is on subject matters of debates of “hermeneutics” and “the science of interpretation” of the Bible (Lane, 260). Strengths of the movement are the belief in evangelizing the world that is spreading of the word of God to all regions. Beliefs of evangelicals have greatly influenced the Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The core of this movement is that a Christian should spread the word of God to other regions helped by other Christians.

On the other hand, the liberal movement as per their founding father Friedrich Schleiermacher several aspects of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy emerge. Friedrich Schleiermacher was largely influenced by the Pietist thought thus he was taught that ““religion is more than merely theology and ethics, knowledge and action, knowing and doing the right thing” (Lane, 237). Based on this background, Friedrich went beyond what he was taught and stated, “Religion involves more than knowledge and action”, but instead “sees it as something distinct from knowledge and action” (Lane, 238). Friedrich is seen to have divided theology and religion. According to Lane, the Liberal movement “has a combination of an inadequate view of human sinfulness, leading to a defective view of the work of Jesus Christ, leading in turn to a low view of his person” (240).

Neo-orthodoxy also has its share of weaknesses and strengths as well as impact on Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy. According to this movement, it is important to emphasize the unity of scripture and renew interests in hermeneutics. It is closely related to the Christian faith living as well as practice and thought one of the movements theologian, Karl Barth asserts that theology should only be based on the word of God and not human philosophy. It disregards all other aspects of natural theology, which is based on human, and creation reason (Lane, 275). This movement brought about contributions by other theologians such as the one wrote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that distinguished concepts of cheap and costly grace, which ended up influencing many Christians into the thought that discipleship has a cost.

Having looked at the three movements, I find evangelicalism to have more weight than the others do. Having said that I do not agree with all its aspects but I do believe in the five convictions that this movement drew its arguments. It is my belief that every Christian should contribute to evangelism and spread the word of God to as many people as possible in the whole universe.

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