A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
19th August 2008
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Last week I wrote about the word “evangelical”. The word is a very important historical marker of theology. Like the other words “orthodox”, “charismatic” and “catholic”—the word evangelical is true of all Christians. But because of historical developments these different terms have come to mark out particular theological distinctives.
The Evangelicals came out of the eighteenth century awakening when the Wesleys, George Whitfield and others preached the gospel of Jesus especially in terms of personal salvation, rebirth and repentance.
They were Protestants and so believed that justification comes through faith in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Protestants they were also convinced of the authority of the Scriptures. They sought to return to living under that authority. So, one of the hallmarks of Evangelicalism has always been a commitment to the authority of the Bible.
Evangelical living follows the Proverb: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-7). Evangelicals do not make human understanding the basis of decisions but rather choose to follow the wisdom of God.
Many people today call themselves Christian or even Evangelical, but do not live by the word of God. They give lip service to the authority of the Bible, but they do not base their lives upon it. They use the Bible, but they do not submit to it. Their Christian faith was commenced in evangelical Protestantism, but those beliefs do not govern their actions.
This rejection of what the Bible says is not just a matter of sinfulness or ignorance. We all, unhappily, continue to sin and nobody knows and understands the Bible completely. It is quite possible to sin and/or to misunderstand the Bible and still accept its authority over your life. Even ignorant sinners can genuinely seek to be governed by the Bible's teaching.
The rejection of the Bible is something different to that. It is more intentional than ignorant. There are people who want to be known as Evangelicals, even perceive themselves as Evangelicals, but do not want to conform their lives to the Scriptures.
When the Bible says something that is consistent with what the world thinks, Christians are generally happy to obey the Bible's teaching. But when the Bible speaks in a voice that is quite different to the world—or even in contradiction to the world – then people need to make a choice for the basis of their life. The real Evangelical will choose the Bible
It is no surprise that the world does not like this rejection of human wisdom in the light of God's revelation. The world in its pride is sure and confident in its own wisdom. The Scriptures are relegated to religious if not superstitious teaching. It is viewed as old-fashioned, coming from a different culture and a different age and therefore irrelevant.
A non-evangelical commentator on Proverbs 31 wrote:
The “good wife” envisaged by the sages, who looks after the house while her husband takes his seat at the city gate, is not a prototype of the modern liberated woman. A preacher who holds up Proverbs 31 as an ideal for the women in his congregation can hardly expect to be taken seriously.
Here is intentional rejection of what the Bible is saying. This is not “trusting the Lord with all your heart”. This is “leaning on your own understanding”—or at least the understanding of today's society.
But while this rejection of the Scriptures is open and intentional it is not all that different to the more subtle and ill-defined comment made in a supposedly evangelical commentary: “The wise lived in a society which was different from ours. In their day, a wife was supposed to help her husband. … Nowadays not all wives have to help in this way.”
This then makes Bible's teaching time and culture bound and not applicable to us today. It implies that in the present day we have a greater understanding than Proverbs and we are to lean on our understanding.
That non-Evangelicals do not live by the Scriptures is no surprise. But it is very sad when people who profess Christ and wish to be known as evangelicals are unwilling to side with the Scriptures against the world.
They generally attempt to stay within the evangelical fold by their “interpretation” of the Bible. But this is an intellectual conceit that makes nonsense of Bible reading by twisting the Scriptures into conformity to the modern world. Such activity makes scripture reading superfluous. If I am only going to obey the Bible when it agrees with me, what is the point of reading it? If I have already made up my mind as to what I will or will not do—it is better to read my own mind—think my own thoughts—and leave it at that.
There is nothing new in all this. The apostle Peter warned of twisting scripture to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). Evangelicalism is not whether we believe in the authority of the Bible in theory but whether we intend to put it into practice in our lives.