Critiques and Possibilities: Evangelicalism Part III

I’ve been working on a series of posts concerning Evangelicalism and when I get to it Quakerism.
Visit my “Series on Evangelicalism” under the Featured page for the rest of the posts on this topic.
In the last post I explained two different definitions which arise, the sociological standpoint of understanding a movement and the propositional way.  The second way is to compile the main sayings and practices of a movement in order to identify core values for that group.  Within this second way – I offered a definition from Evangelical Historians George Marsden and David Bebbington.

Within these two different sets of definitions there are some really good things and some things that have created trouble for the American church.  I want to level two critiques that lay quietly within Marsden’s #1, and #5.  Those two are, “The Reformation doctrine of the final authority of the Bible??? and “he importance of a spiritually transformed life.??? I say quitely because when one reads over these things quickly most Jesus following Christians would and should agree.  But there are some real problems that underly an Evangelical’s understanding of these things.  I limit critiques to the two due to time and space.


Authority of the Bible
#1 – The Authority of the Bible in Evangelicalism trumps every other kind of authority.  Martin Luther’s “Sola Scriptura??? is the foundation for such a belief.  To an Evangelical the Bible is and should always be authoritative foundation in a believer’s life.  It is a foundation, one that cannot be called into questioned, for all of christianity.    In other Christian traditions, such as Quakerism, the Bible is authoritative but it should not outweigh other equally important modes of authority, the Holy Spirit, the Community of Faith and the Tradition of the Church.
In other words for many Postmodern Theologians, I think you could include Nancey Murphy and Wolfgang Pannenberg in this,  there are multiple modes authority (I think this is the direction that Quakers must diligently head) in the life of a Christian not simply one.  The Spirit plays a primary role in interpreting and helping the community understand the world and the Scriptures together in context.  However on a day to day basis, these authorities are all equal, there is no foundation other than Christ and from which all these other modes flow.  Functionally speaking they all help interpret, explain, exemplify, make sense of one another.
Sola Scriptura was not the way of the early church, it was a new Enlightenment idea birthed from Luther’s Pen. And like most everything in the Enlightenment, dualisms were created.  Sola Scriptura, creates among many dualisms, the separation of believers.  In modernity there are those who understand, learn and teach the Word of God, and there are those who listen.  Christians are separated between clergy and the laity, the learned and the student.  If the Bible is the ultimate authority in a believer’s life then the one with the power to preach and teach the Bible represents and thus embodies that ultimate authority for the church.  It is not a stretch to see some Christian Fundamentalist-Evangelicals as committing an idolatry of the Bible.  This is a complete back lash of the priesthood of all believers as taught by the New Testament itself.  When we welcome the authority of tradition, the Holy Spirit, the community of believers and the Bible then we level the playing field and invite the whole of creation to come and know Jesus.
Viewing the Bible as an Authority, which guides and directs the believer’s life is a strength within the Evangelical community.  Reading, learning from and guiding one’s life by the Scriptures is to invite God’s presence into one’s life and enter into the whole narrative of God’s community of people.  The Bible is a part of this work, but when Evangelicalism downplays other parts of God’s work in order to elevate the written word they have forgotten that it is the Spirit that birthed the Word, the community and the tradition.

I will cover #5 tomorrow.

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