It’s hard to get a radar on the logic behind accusations that Southern Baptists place the Bible above Jesus. This tired old charge has been flying since at least 2000, when the Southern Baptist Convention firmed up its faith statement. A document I read recently was a reminder that the “bibliolatry” charge is as alive and well as those Internet rumors about Madalyn Murray-O’Hair?she’s dead, by the way?pushing to get Christian broadcasting off the air.
The bibliolatry charge was employed in the last century by opponents of biblical inerrancy. Of late, Baptist moderates have found it useful.
In the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement, Jesus was described as the “criterion” by which Scripture should be interpreted and Scripture as “the record of” revelation rather than revelation itself. This language was omitted in the 2000 BFM revision to help clarify the SBC’s stance on biblical inerrancy amid challenges in semantics.
As most Texas Baptists know, the changes are the cause of some perpetual soreness with critics.
What you won’t hear from some quarters is that a problem developed in post-1963 Baptist life that needed solving: Those who held that Scripture, while “containing” God’s Word contained errors also, could easily affirm the Bible as the record of God’s revelation while privately holding neo-orthodox views or so-called limited inerrancy. The latter holds that the biblical writers got it right in the salvation message and things pertaining to it, but erred in historical narratives and “non-revelatory” details.
One could claim to believe in “the authority of Scripture” on the one hand, and dismiss Genesis 1-11 as partially or totally allegorical on the other.
Or if one were a red-letter Christian, he could, for example, question Paul’s insistence about male leadership in the church and home as cultural blindness by appealing to Jesus’ elevation of women during his ministry. In this scenario, the question “What would Jesus do?” is applied in creative new ways.
Thankfully, with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, the wiggle room was taken out and the hems were sewn back taut to fit a doctrine of inerrancy in the autographs, the original writings, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 and all points in between down to the jot and tittle. The SBC has spoken in the spirit of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon and other notable saints: What Scripture says, God says.
I recall sitting in on an interview with the late Garth Pybas, who at the time was one of the last living members of the 1963 BFM committee charged with revising the 1925 BFM statement. At the time, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Ralph Elliot’s book “The Message of Genesis,” originally published by the Baptist Sunday School Board’s Broadman Press, had shocked most Southern Baptists for denying the historicity of Genesis 1-11.
Pybas was adamant: “There wasn’t a liberal in the bunch.” His understanding of the Jesus-as-criterion language, he explained, meant that Jesus believed in the full inspiration of the Old Testament, including Genesis, based on his frequent quoting of the Torah and the prophets. In other words, when Jesus spoke of Abel or Noah historically, that settles it for us.
If only everyone was as clear-minded and well-meaning as Pybas was.
Unfortunately, what was intended as a faithful response to Elliott’s book over time became a loophole for some as the WWJD? question was answered by appealing to a Jesus of one’s liking.
The BFM 2000 provided much-needed clarity on several issues, not the least of which was the article on the Bible.
Everything we know about the Trinitarian God (that includes the Son) he has graciously breathed out for us through human writers at particular places in time so that, as Paul told the Athenians, “we might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
I’m not exactly sure how one would place Scripture above Jesus, save for praying to the pages in the NIV or Holman or KJV and bowing down before them each day in front of the fireplace.
No doubt, some who have repeated this charge likely don’t know what they are saying. They are simply repeating what they have heard without critically thinking. But others, doubting the full inspiration of the Scripture, continue the rumor.
A reader, concerned about our running a story last issue about the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meeting where a presenter questioned Christ’s deity, wanted to know where we stood on the issue.
I happily explained we did, indeed, believe in the deity of Jesus, and added that “we affirm the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture; its inerrant nature is foundational for sound doctrine and a sure-footed faith, and from it flows all that we believe.”
See, it’s hard to hold absolutely to the deity of Jesus while denying the absolute truth of the very revelation that tells you about him. That’s tantamount to building a house on sand, and Jesus had something to say about that.