Religion: Bible Battles

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To Evangelical Protestants, who number perhaps 40 million in the U.S., the Bible is not only the locus of faith but, increasingly, a subject of spirited debate. Things heated up considerably last week with the publication of The Battle for the Bible (Zondervan; $6.95). Its author: the Rev. Harold Lindsell, 62, editor of Christianity Today (circ. 118,000), the movement's most influential journal. True Evangelicals must believe that the Bible is completely error-proof or "inerrant," writes Lindsell, not only on doctrine and morals but on every detail of history and science. U.S. Evangelicalism, he warns, is being dangerously "infiltrated" by laxer views.

Lindsell cites the Lutheran Church -Missouri Synod as a case where "neoliberals" nearly moved an Evangelical denomination away from its traditions before conservatives regained power (thus pushing the church to the brink of schism). Lindsell sees trouble ahead in his own church body, the 12.5-million-member Southern Baptist Convention. Though no conclusive data are available, Lindsell claims that "90% of the people in the pews believe in biblical infallibility." Even so, he sees the infection of liberalism "spreading steadily."

Lindsell is also alarmed by gradual changes at the interdenominational Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., probably the best U.S. Evangelical divinity school. Fuller once required faculty members to affirm that the Bible is "free from all error in the whole and in the part," notes Lindsell, who taught there for 17 years. But since 1972 the creed has read simply that the Bible is "the only infallible rule of faith and practice." That leaves Fuller well to the right among seminaries, but nevertheless Lindsell believes disaster looms.

Lindsell singles out Fuller Theologian Paul K. Jewett, whose recent book Man as Male and Female contends that when St. Paul wrote that woman was created for man, he reflected his narrow rabbinical training and contradicted his teaching elsewhere that in Christ "there is neither male nor female." Thus Jewett questions Paul's teaching on the subordination of women.

Sharp Line. Jewett's book had already been criticized by some Fuller supporters and a faculty and board committee has been pondering whether Jewett went too far. Meanwhile Seminary President David Hubbard told a special chapel meeting that Lindsell seeks to draw a sharp line "through the heart of the Evangelical community. The dangers of forcing this cleavage are frightening." Added Hubbard in an interview: "Lindsell has the gas-balloon theory of theology. One leak and the whole Bible comes down. As a result he has to spend all his time patching."

Billy Graham—Mister Evangelical —who sits on the boards of both Lindsell's magazine and Hubbard's seminary, calls the book "one of the most important of our generation." But other Evangelicals are less enthusiastic. Says Theologian Carl F.H. Henry, Lindsell's predecessor as editor of Christianity Today: "Lindsell is relying on theological atom bombing. As many Evangelical friends as foes end up as casualties."