Scholars and laymen rally for inerrancy in San Diego.

One participant at an unusual event in San Diego last month was reported to have gazed around him and declared, “It looks like all my theological bubble gum cards have come to life.”

Well-known leaders from many branches of evangelicalism had gathered to participate in the “Congress on the Bible,” organized by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI). The one-time event was designed to infuse the evangelical movement with renewed enthusiasm for the authority and reliability of Scripture.

The ICBI organized five years ago to restate and modernize the arguments for biblical inerrancy, arguments that have grown stronger in the light of archeological and historical research. Its books and papers have mainly addressed pastors and academics, and San Diego’s three-and-a-half-day gathering was designed for the laity.

“They’re the ones who pay the bills; they’re the board members [of Christian institutions],” said Norman Geisler, a theology professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. “If all you have is a bunch of preachers and scholars sitting around, you’d never get anything accomplished.”

Some 2,500 attended the congress and packed many of the seminars conducted mainly by professors from a wide range of conservative schools, on various aspects of biblical authority. Speakers at plenary sessions included Christian celebrities known to most people only through books and films, such as Joni Eareckson, Bill Bright, and Francis and Edith Schaeffer.

Presidential counselor Edwin Meese delivered a forthright speech on the value of the Bible, calling it, “the foundation upon which our country was built,” and referring to it as a “reliable roadmap” for charting the direction of the country. Meese is a member of a Missouri Synod Lutheran church in El Cajon, California, and came at the request of an acquaintance, Campus Crusade’s Bill Bright, the chairman of the congress committee.

The organizers handled the nettlesome issue of creationism by scheduling seminar speakers with variant views. Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research lectured on the young earth view, with its literal six days of creation. Walter Bradley, a mechanical engineering professor at Texas A&M University, explained the old earth view, which allows for geological ages.

During a press conference held by three scholars at the congress, it was clear that none of them would be pinned down to the young earth view, which has been pressed in court suits in California and Arkansas, and thus popularized in the press. The three participants in the press conference were Kenneth Kantzer, editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, J. I. Packer of Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and philosopher Francis Schaeffer. All three said that a young earth view of creation (and thus a denial of the geological ages of the earth’s development) was not required for a belief in inerrancy. (An old earth view does not necessarily presuppose human evolution, however.)

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Josif Ton, a Romanian Baptist minister who was kicked out of his Communist country last year (CT, October 23, 1981, p. 54) for his vigorous efforts to spread the faith, recounted his own spiritual journey during a speech. He said he became a Christian early in life and held fast to his faith despite the Marxist indoctrination he received in school. He learned English as a means of furthering his theological knowledge, because there wasn’t much theology available in his language. The first English theology book he read, however, cast him into despair, because it undermined the reliability of the Bible. He said he did not know then that there was a difference between liberal and conservative scholarship, and the result was that he abandoned the faith.

“My faith wasn’t killed by Marxism and communism,” he declared. “My faith was killed by liberal theologians.” It was only after a long while that he climbed back to his former beliefs, he said, and then he made perhaps the strongest statement of the entire conference: “Liberal theologians who undermine the faith of their nation in the Bible work for a Communist takeover of their land.”

Many of the scholars who participated in ICBI believe that the doctrine of inerrancy is essential to any reversal of the trend away from orthodox Christianity, a trend already well advanced in mainline seminaries. James Montgomery Boice, chairman of ICBI, said he doubts that liberal scholars are paying much attention to the organization, however. His views were underscored by a conference participant from a liberal denomination, James Glynn, an American Lutheran pastor from Arlington Heights, Illinois. Glynn said his pastoral colleagues would be amazed to learn he bothered to attend the congress, because none of them take inerrancy seriously. He does, however, and the Cross and Crown Lutheran Church, which he pastors, has grown from 100 to 300 in the three years he has been there. Glynn credits the growth to his serious preaching of the gospel. He himself accepts the Bible’s authority, but he managed to get passing grades in the liberal Lutheran seminary he attended in Saint Paul, Minnesota, by saying to himself, “I need to learn this stuff, but I don’t buy it.” Glynn said that during his entire seminary education he never had a single course that considered evangelical theology seriously. His liberal professors did not grapple intellectually with conservative scholarship, only emotionally, and rejected it out of hand, Glynn said.

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In interviews with a number of professors who conducted seminars at the “Congress on the Bible,” there appeared a thread of opinion that a trend may be developing among liberals to take the historic beliefs about the Bible more seriously.

Harold Hoehner, New Testament scholar at Dallas Theological Seminary, studied at the University of Tubingen in Germany. He said he was surprised to learn there that Tübingen professor Peter Stuhlmacher admitted freely his belief in the deity of Christ and his bodily resurrection from the dead. Stuhlmacher is a student of Ernst Käsemann, who was in turn a protégé of Rudolf Bultmann, well known among theologians for his efforts to “demythologize” the Scriptures of such miracles as the Resurrection. Hoehner said he was surprised that in two generations Bultmann’s system has turned around so sharply, especially since Stuhlmacher teaches at Tübingen, the historic center of New Testament scholarship in Europe. It was at German schools such as Tübingen that liberal ideas about Scripture arose during the last century, and they are by and large the same ideas now prevalent in most mainline seminaries in the United States.

Gleason Archer, the Old Testament specialist at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, said that wherever he travels to speak, he runs into a simple unpreparedness on the part of liberal professors to respond to the results of conservative biblical scholarship. He notes some maturing attitudes at the Ivy League schools, but at schools of lesser esteem, he said, they “are up to date with scholarship as of 1870. They don’t realize much else has happened.” He said, for example, some of these schools still teach that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch, even though, in debate, it is very easy to show how ridiculous that view really is. He noted that Princeton Theological Seminary has awarded a full scholarship to a 1982 Trinity graduate, and he takes that as a sign that such schools are beginning to value conservative scholarship more highly.

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Geisler, who has edited many of the scholarly papers produced by the ICBI, said he is beginning to see evidence that liberals are paying attention. He was surprised when 300 students and faculty at Princeton Seminary gathered to hear him lecture on inerrancy at Princeton last December. At Dartmouth, he gave a religion professor a bibliography on inerrancy and the professor confessed he was familiar with none of the books on it.

Geisler and the others agreed that the battle with their liberal counterparts will not be won by public debate, but by quietly getting to know them, getting them to read the ICBI papers, and by getting them to examine the presuppositions that lead to liberal views of the Bible. Archer said that with its emphasis on scholarship and discussion, “ICBI has specialized in apologetic confrontation in a way that was not possible before.”

TOM MINNERY in San Diego

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