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When evangelicals have debated, it has usually been Calvinists versus Arminians or dispensationalists versus Pentecostals. Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, says a pox on all evangelical houses, at least exegetically. He appreciates what each tradition brings to the table—from a fresh appreciation of God's sovereignty to holiness, eschatology, and gifts of the Spirit—but he argues in his latest book that in their distinctives, all four branches are least faithful to the Bible. In the end, his book, The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism (Baylor University, 2005), makes a positive argument for how biblical interpretation should be done in an increasingly postmodern setting. CT managing editor Mark Galli interviewed Witherington.

So, what is the problem with evangelical theology?

It has exegetical weaknesses that are not recognized or owned up to by the various evangelical Protestant strains of theology. That's what it boils down to.

You write that in our distinctives, we are least faithful to the Word. What do you mean?

The issue is not really with Christology, the Trinity, the virginal conception, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, or the Bible as the Word of God. The issues I'm concerned about are the distinctives of Calvinist, Arminian, dispensational, or Pentecostal theology. When they try to go some particular direction that's specific to their theological system, that's precisely the point in their argument at which they are exegetically weakest.

The Calvinist system links the ideas of predestination, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Each of those has its own exegetical ...

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November 2005

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