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
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.