Christianity Today finally offers some sanity in response to all the hoopla surrounding Michael Spencer’s posts (and publication in the Christian Science Monitor) on “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” (which I criticized here).

Professor John Stackhouse (Regent College) takes aim at Chris Tomlin’s worship songs. He selects the weaker of Tomlin’s songs and offers a lot of pedantic criticisms, but I agree with him on the whole. Tomlin is no Wesley or Watts, lacking their imagery and analogical skill. But, to be fair, Wesley and Watts wrote some pretty pathetic hymns as well, which just happen to no longer be sung.

Art Boulet directs us to James McGrath’s review of G. K. Beale’s The Errosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism. Here is the conclusion, which I love:

“Inerrancy is a zombie concept that has remarkably persisted for decades in spite of long having died the death of a thousand qualifications. The only hope for Beale and other supporters of the doctrine is that no one will ask the sorts of awkward questions or point out the awkward evidence that we’ve only scratched the surface of here. But I am persuaded that those days are gone, perhaps not for an older generation of conservative Christians, but for that which is growing up today. And if the stalwarts of the old guard want to protect their flocks from inconvenient truths, it will take not just sending them to Evangelical schools, but somehow censoring their internet access as well, not to mention protecting them from looking at the Bible’s actual contents too closely. And once conservative Evangelicalism shows itself to be able to persist only under that sort of totalitarian regime, its downfall is assured. The Bible tells me so.”




  1. Have you read Craig Allert’s indirect treatment of inerrancy in his, A High View of Scripture? The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007)?

  2. I’ve read parts — enough to not care to read more. Allert does a good job of just laying out what everybody knows who goes to any non-fundamentalist seminary. But as a constructive proposal, it is weak. He doesn’t situate the Bible’s authority within the doctrine of God (economy and providence), which is required if we are going to go around telling people that the Bible has errors. Otherwise, the fundies are right, and either Harnack or Bultmann is the logical result.

    I’d highly recommend John Webster’s Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge, 2003) and McGowan’s The Divine Authenticity of Scripture: Retrieving an Evangelical Heritage (IVP, 2008).

  3. Oh, sorry, I got Allert and Sparks mixed-up. It is the latter work, God’s Word in Human Words (Baker, 2008), that I found most disappointing. Allert could still use a better constructive proposal, but I highly appreciate his clarity and honesty.

  4. I would love to know Gordon Wenham’s take on inerrancy, specifically, whether he agrees with the moderate inerrantist view his father advocated.

  5. Commented at your older post, perhaps more appropriate here.

    * * *

    I think you are exaggerating his thesis. You say:

    Michael Spencer (iMonk) predicts that evangelicalism will collapse. The imminent demise of evangelicalism has been predicted by the sage, well, pretty much since the Reformation.

    But no, he did not predict the demise of evangelicalism. In the article, “collapse” = “contraction.” Regardless of the cause(s) (e.g., the secularization thesis), I think the data collected about how Americans are self-identifying their religious beliefs (ARIS) supports Spencer’s thesis.

    Two further remarks. (1) I’m struck by the vast majority of responses, both pro and con, that assume that evangelicalism just is Christianity, i.e., that evangelicalism, because it is assumed to be stripped of “inessentials,” is real, default Christianity. I know of no evangelicals who understand the church in primarily sacramental terms, for example. Ask the questions “Who are we?” and “What are we doing?” Take the latter question. If I answer “hearing the Gospel and celebrating the Lord’s Supper,” where forgiveness is the taproot of this activity, then that’s like an entirely different religion compared to the typical answer you’d get from an evangelical.

    (2) I think the internal causes of the collapse are more significant and potent than the external. If I had to sum up the main internal cause in his essay, I’d group points 2, 4 and 6 under the heading of “Failure to Catechize.” My own experience in the evangelical church, complete with friends, is not unlike yours, Kevin. But we were left to our own resources and ingenuity to teach ourselves the basics of the faith, such as are summarized in the Apostle’s Creed. Most young people in that environment fail, and through no fault of their own. My experience teaching these young people in a secular university largely lines up with Spencer’s analysis.

  6. Thanks for the comments, Joel. I actually agree with your points about a too interior and individualist mode of thinking in contemporary evangelicalism. A real sacramental theology, with a real ecclesiology — an evangelical ressourcement — is much needed, and many scholars are working toward that end. Nonetheless, I think we can over-correct ourselves and suppose that our hope will be found in having a “robust” sacramentalism and confessionalism, forgetting that this has often led to an equally perverse form of Christian faith, which inevitably requires a pietist corrective. That’s my fear when I listen to the White Horse Inn or read Scott Clark’s blog. We have to keep in balance that authentic evangelical Christianity is both a confessional-sacramental faith and a pietistic-revivalistic faith. A healthy church (and healthy Christians!) adhere to both. Rome understood this long ago, and has cultivated both aspects, more or less.

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