Front Page: winter 1993 LIVING ON BORROWED TIME Despite all the noise being made by the vo

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Front Page: winter 1993 LIVING ON BORROWED TIME Despite all the noise being made by the vociferous religious right and the influence it currently exerts on the Republican Party, there are clear indica- tions that Christian fundamentalism is rapidly losing ground. In "The Strange Decline of American Evangelicalism," John Warwick Montgomery cited a recent report by the Princeton Religion Research Center, which said that a nationwide Gallup poll revealed that "the Average American's belief in the reliability of Scripture has declined by half in the last 30 years (from 65 per cent in 1963 to 32 percent today)" [Christian News, Sept. 21, 1992, p. 1]. The article went on to say that "69 percent of U.S. adults now identify with moral relativism." After citing these statistics, Montgomery declared evan- gelicalism "a conspicuous failure in our generation." That some unusual liberal trends are developing in fundamentalist church- es has been apparent for some time. To stay abreast of what is going on in the religious right, TSR subscribes to several fundamentalist papers, and the same theme runs through most of them. What can we do to hold our ground against liberalism? A bitter fight is being waged in the Southern Baptist Convention between the old-line inerrantists and those who believe that the inerrancy doctrine is indefensible. The same is true in the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church. In the Church of Christ, the denomination that TSR's editor was once affiliated with, a hard-core guardian-of-the-faith group constantly pleads for a return to "the old paths." They wage constant battle with "liberal" preachers who have renounced the we-are-the-only-true-church mentality and now openly seek accommodation and fellowship with other denom- inations. They rave against "modernistic" professors in their "Christian" col- leges, who unabashedly teach in their classes that the Bible contains errors and even mythology. The situation has become so desperate for some of the diehard congregations that they have given up on their Bible colleges and established their own "schools of preaching" to train ministers in the old-line doctrines of the "restoration" preachers who founded the Church of Christ. Probably the most startling development in this church is the trend to minify the issue of instrumental music in Christian worship. In 1910, this issue split the Campbellite movement into the Christian Church and the Church of Christ, and thereafter the latter vehemently denounced the use of instrumental music in worship as the work of Satan himself. That is until recently, but now many Church-of-Christ preachers are acknowledging that this view may be erroneous. They speak of a "new hermeneutics" and ex- press the desire to have dialogues with the liberal wing of the Campbellite movement to see if some kind of accommodation can't be mutually agreed upon that would unify the two groups. To the old-line, guardian-of-the-faith preachers, of course, "new herme- neutics" is a cuss word, and they will have no part of it. They preach sermons and write articles against it and issue debate challenges to those who advocate it, probably believing that someday they will lead their wayward brothers back into "the old paths" when once more the denunciation of in- strumental music, divorce for any reason but adultery and lots of other good things like these will be preached again in Church-of-Christ pulpits through- out the land. No one likes to be a party-pooper, but we predict that this just ain't going to happen. The reason why it will never happen is as simple as the principle implied in the WW I song lyrics quoted in TSR's first issue: "How are (see TIME, p. 15) you ever goin' to keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Pa-ree?" ("The Last Hurrah of the Inerrancy Doctrine," Winter 1 1990, p. 3). Just as the soldiers of World War I who had had their horizons broadened by their experiences in Europe were unlikely ever again to be content with the routinism of life on the farm so ministers and Bible college professors whose knowledge has been broadened by exposure to facts about the Bible that in times past were kept from the flock will never again be content to hide the truth for the sake of preserving something as dubiously important as "the old paths." Once something is learned, it cannot be unlearned. This is the principle that spells doom for Bible fundamentalism if not the Bible, period. We live in an age of rapid discovery. In this century, man journeyed to the moon; in the next century, he will journey to Mars and probably beyond. Man has conquered many diseases and will conquer even more. Scientists talk routinely of genetic mapping, gene-splicing, black holes, quarks, and other concepts the ordinary mind can barely grasp. In such an environment as this, how can people possibly go on believing that the God who created an endless universe once lived in a tent that nomadic tribes carried with them in their desert wanderings, spoke to them from a column of fire that followed them overhead, selected them to be his chosen people "above all peoples on the face of the earth," and took delight when they slaughtered animals and incin- erated them in homage to him? How can people who will witness the eradica- tion of cancer, AIDS, cystic fibrosis, etc. through the application of scientif- ic methods continue to believe that "the son of God" once went about curing diseases by casting out devils? To ask such questions is to answer them. They won't go on believing such ridiculous nonsense. That kind of supersti- tion is doomed. Even now, it is running on empty. We say this knowing in advance how Bible fundamentalists will scoff at it. No doubt, they will cite men like Thomas Paine and Voltaire, who made similar predictions within time frames that have now come and gone, yet the Bible, "the word of God," endures. We are well aware of what Paine and Voltaire rashly predicted. Their primary mistake was that they were too optimistic. Faith in the Bible will not die overnight; it will not die in the next century or probably even the century after that. But it will die. The history of religion is one of birth, development, expansion, decline, and death. It happened to the ancient religions of Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Persia. It will happen to Christianity, as it will also happen to Islam, Hindu- ism, and Buddhism. Christians who scoff at the notion of a distant future in which no one believes in their "word of God" should consider the statistic quoted in Mont- gomery's article. Already within our lifetime, we have witnessed a 50% loss in faith in Bible inerrancy, and no doubt the 65% who believed in Bible inerran- cy in 1963 was significantly lower than the percentage who believed in it in 1930. Go back a hundred years before that, and the percentage of believers in Bible Inerrancy (in Western societies) probably exceeded even 90%. So if Bible inerrancy is not living on borrowed time (as we believe it is), why does it steadily lose ground? What is going to happen to thrust it back into the privileged position that it once enjoyed? People constantly tell us that they are praying for our return to the fold, but this is never going to happen, no matter how many prayers are uttered. We have learned too much ever to go back to what we once were. Few laymen devote even a tenth as much time to studying the Bible as we do, yet they live in an age when they can't help absorbing information that erodes belief in biblical superstition. That erosion will remain steady until there is nothing left... except amazement that anyone could have ever taken a book like the Bible seriously. 2


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