Theologians debate the Bible on TV.

Theologians to debate bible inerrancy announced the Chattanooga News-Free Press in a full-page story on the coming verbal joust in a local TV studio. Participants were Fuller Theological Seminary’s Jack Rogers and Westminster (New Wilmington, Pa.) College’s Peter Mackey versus John D. Woodbridge and Donald A. Carson from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Rogers and Mackey were “representing the view that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, but errant in certain matters,” with Woodbridge and Carson contending that the Bible “is inerrant in all that it teaches.”

Reservations for 175 studio seats, with the opportunity to ask questions, were quickly snapped up. At debate time (December 7), the line of hopefuls and those holding reservations stretched into the parking lot of WDEF-TV, which had rented its facilities to the “John Ankerberg Show” (see accompanying story).

Standing in the audience, Ankerberg referred to Rogers’s The Authority and lnterpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach (Eternity magazine’s 1980 Book of the Year). Many evangelical scholars critized the book (CT, Sept. 4, 1981, p. 16). “What do you mean when you say in your book that the Bible is authoritative?” Ankerberg asked Rogers.

The bearded Rogers replied, “I mean that the Bible is the bottom line …, the kind of book that is alive by the breath of God.”

“You called Warfield’s theory that the Bible is inerrant a ‘novel’ approach?”

“Yes,” Rogers replied.

“You view the Bible as salvation history and not to give infallible [information]?” Ankerberg continued.

“That’s right.”

“This is the view of the early church?”


Swinging to Woodbridge, Ankerberg cited the Trinity professor’s 71-page review of Rogers’s book in the Trinity Journal. “You dispute Rogers’s claim that inerrancy is not found in the church fathers, in Calvin and Luther?”

“Yes. I checked his footnotes,” Woodbridge replied, to a chorus of chuckles from the audience.

Rogers frowned, perhaps recognizing that he was the villain to most of the audience: “Augustine said the purpose of the Bible is not science, but salvation.”

Retorted Woodbridge, “Augustine also wrote of disastrous consequences to those who admit one false statement in the Bible.”

Rogers seemed to concede that Augustine, Calvin, and Luther held to an infallible Bible, but noted that they spoke as “prescientific people.” They didn’t know anything about what we know of science.… People in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could accept the authority of the Bible apart from our twentieth century mindset. “The question” Rogers continued, “is whether their perspective and the Bible’s perspective is the same as modern science.”

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“The Bible never intended to teach us anything about the [physical] universe,” Rogers further contended. “I think many of the biblical writers assume the world was flat. They described the world as flat. They described the world as they saw it. They were talking in ancient Mideastern ways and they were not in error.”

Ankerberg accepted a question from the audience addressed to Woodbridge: “What impact would it have if you admitted the Bible to be wrong in scientific areas? What would that do in other areas?”

“Many correlate [the alleged errors in science] in other ways. They would mistrust salvation.”

Rogers had been eyeballing Woodbridge closely. “You don’t have to deny biblical authority to allow human beings to be human beings,” the Fuller professor insisted. [The scientific statements] that they made weren’t errors in their day; why do we have to impose our standards on them? Some of the things we know may be judged untrue by future science.”

After a break, during which Ankerberg announced that defectors from the Jehovah’s Witnesses would be appearing on a future program, a member of the audience asked Rogers, “If areas of the Word of God are not true, who determines [which]?”

Rogers: “Scripture gives us guidelines. Take the dietary laws …”

Mackey (breaking in): “The whole problem [continues to be] how we determine error. Take Genesis 1 and 2. If you take each passage as being historical and scientific, you have conflict. You have to look at God’s intentions. But I don’t think these are errors. You must look at the intent of Scripture.” Mackey, who is writing a book on C. S. Lewis, said Lewis did not take the Edenic account as history. He saw it, said Mackey, as “a folk tale teaching the nature of human sinfulness.”

Ankerberg: “Jesus spoke about Adam. Was there a real Adam? Can you answer that?”

When Mackey remained silent, Carson declared, “I can.” The studio audience applauded.

Rogers to Carson: “Could a serious evangelical understand that [the Eden account] differently?”

Carson: “I’m not saying there are no metaphors in Genesis.”

“Evangelicals seem split,” Ankerberg observed. “Can they ever unite on their view of Scripture?”

“We don’t disagree about the authority of the Bible,” Rogers replied, “but how we interpret particular passages.”

When Ankerberg asked, “What can we all agree on?” Mackey responded, “We generally agree on the great orthodoxies of the Trinity, the Cross, the Resurrection, the authority of the Bible.” Mackey added that this is where evangelicals differ with Bultmann: “He and his disciples hold an antisupernatural bias. They don’t accept these great orthodoxies.”

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Ankerberg: “How can evangelicals stay together?”

Mackey: “By talking to each other. Very often our ecclesiastical position becomes normative, when we ought to start with the Bible.”

No one disputed this point, but the definition of biblical inerrancy remained in question. All agreed that the Bible uses figurative language and that it does not speak in the language of a scientific or historical textbook. But is the Bible inerrant when it touches on matters of history or science? Is it contined to the time and mindset of the biblical writers, or does it hold true across all time? The Chattanooga video debate did not clearly bring agreement on these questions.

Rogers and Mackey consistently contended that the gap between them and their opponents was not as big as it might seem. “They are making a mountain out of a molehill,” Rogers insisted, “because they’re afraid of consequences that I don’t think will happen. I think [the CT] editorial (May 29, 1981, p. 12) was very fair. I’d like to build on that consensus and that’s what I hope this [dialogue] will do.”

Woodbridge and Carson voted for more dialogue also, while steadfastly maintaining that the differences were crucial to the faith and doctrine of the church.

Ankerberg edited the debate into four weekly, half-hour programs, with the first airing the third Sunday and Tuesday evenings in January over the CBN cable network, and on several independent Christian stations.

Video Debates: An Ankerberg Specialty

He looks so much like the Dutch boy on the paint can that you’re surprised at hearing the name is John Ankerberg. Performing on camera, he could easily be mistaken for a network show host—which he is, on the CBN satellite cable network. But his show is not your typical evangelical production, either in format or guests. Ankerberg features video debates between leading Christians and non-Christians, and between Christians with opposing views on the hottest issues of today. He gives his non-Christian guests a show-biz promotion and ample opportunity to present their positions.

“When I start to do a program on a certain topic,” Ankerberg said, “I tell representatives of the non-Christian view to send us their best people. Often we get the top man for no fee. Then I ask evangelical friends around the country, ‘Who is our best person in this area?’ I call him and say, ‘Look, I’m going to have this non-Christian on, and will you come and defend the biblical position?’ I seldom get a ‘no.’ ”

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Ankerberg has long been a well-known name in the evangelical world. John’s father, Floyd, succeeded Billy Graham as staff evangelist for Youth for Christ (YFC). John grew up on the evangelism circuit, traveling summers with his father.

At 13, he enrolled at Mount Prospect (Ill.) High School, not knowing a single student. By graduation, he had developed a YFC Bible club of over 400 teenagers at the school.

As a student at the University of Illinois (Chicago Circle Campus) and later at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, he was Inter-Varsity’s (IV) counterpart to Campus Crusade’s Josh McDowell. He spoke and debated on more than 78 American college and university campuses and led IV’S Chicago Evangelism Project (sponsor of coffeehouses on Chicago’s North Side during the turbulent sixties). While at Trinity, Ankerberg commuted to campus speaking engagements in a private plane, returning the next day to classes.

“Questions from students that I couldn’t answer,” Ankerberg recalls, “I took back to my profs at Trinity.” One of his professors was John Montgomery, whom Ankerberg terms “the best apologist we’ve got in the evangelical world.”

After Trinity, Ankerberg helped establish the Willow Creek Community Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, a church which grew from 100 to 3,000 adult members in 36 months. Then he launched into full-time evangelism, holding city-wide crusades in major cities of Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe.

He got into television in Kansas City with YFC’S Al Metsker, a close friend of his father. Metsker set up a Christian TV station and gave Ankerberg time for “Roundtable.” Ankerberg sat on a high table and answered questions from a circle of Christians.

Ankerberg is shooting for five programs a week on four Christian satellite cable networks (CBN, PTL, Trinity, and National Christian Network). With a live audience, he wants a format similar to Phil Donahue’s, “except that our program will always include the Christian position. That’s unique in Christian broadcasting today, but the idea isn’t new. Paul used it in debating with the pagan philosophers at Athens.”

“Evangelicals have a big arsenal,” Ankerberg notes, “and I intend to use it against the biggest non-Christian philosophies. Take Francis Schaeffer. Wouldn’t he be great against B. F. Skinner?”

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North American Scene

Thirty new United Presbyterian churches will be launched in 1982, due to a series of grants from the denomination’s Mission Development Grants Committee. The committee approved an amount of $522,000 to finance the developments, which will include Hispanic, black, Korean, Formosan, and Anglo congregations. Other funds will go to redevelop churches in such places as the Nevada mining town of Tonapah. The UPCUSA church there, once strengthened by the grant, will be the only congregation of a major Protestant denomination within 100 miles.

Three Lutheran groups are considering merger. A proposal for unity is being drafted by leaders of the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. An authorized poll of conventions of each of the three denominations showed convention delegates in favor of the merger by a 6-to-l margin.

White Protestant congregations in Miami, Florida, are going to have to reach out to more Latinos and blacks to survive. That was the conclusion of a study by the Miami District of the United Methodist Church; it showed a net loss of 10,000 members over the last decade. The heavy influx into Miami of both races has significantly altered the city’s population. Its black population is now larger than any city in the South except Houston.

The Dallas Mennonite Fellowship is working to establish a Center for Peace Research, Education and Action in that city. The fellowship, in a recent meeting, instructed a committee to begin a search for a director of the center. The center would encourage scholarly study in the areas of peace and peacemaking, create educational programs for area churches, and be directly involved in peacemaking on a smaller scale in the mediation of disputes.

All five officers of the American Atheists’ Los Angeles chapter have resigned in a dispute with national leaders Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her son Jon Garth Murray. The dispute arose over a conflict with the city of Santa Monica about Christmas displays. The Los Angeles atheists agreed not to contest a nativity scene in a park if the atheists could have their own exhibit. It depicted the “pagan origins” of the holiday. “California can ruin everything for atheists,” O’Hair said. “If we go in [as part of the Santa Monica display], we only add to their [nativity scenes] right to be there.”

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