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Author Topic: The Modernist Extreme
Carol Swenson
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The Modernist Extreme


Fundamentalists interpret everything, or everything they possibly can, literally, and insist right from the start on a believing attitude toward the Bible. (This is Carol's view). Modernists interpret everything, or at least everything miraculous or supernatural (or morally unpopular) nonliterally, and insist right from the start on an unbelieving, skeptical attitude toward the Bible .

The dozens of clever, complex attempts by modernist Scripture scholars to discredit the historical accuracy of the biblical texts, especially the Gospels, is a story that is long, tedious and still in progress . Essentially, the argument is that if we used the same critical standards on other ancient literature that modernists use on the Bible, we would doubt every single fact we know today about every single writer and event before the Middle Ages. If modernists applied to the Bible the same standards that historians and textual scholars apply to secular literature of ancient times, the biblical records would be accepted as some of the most reliable and credible of all ancient documents . As Richard Purtill puts it in Thinking About Religion:

It is sometimes claimed that historians simply as historians regard Old and New Testament history as unreliable on some independent historical grounds. But… many events which are regarded as firmly established historically have far less documentary evidence than many biblical events, and the documents on which historians rely for much secular history are written much longer after the event than many records of biblical events. Furthermore, we have many more copies of biblical narratives than of secular histories; and the surviving copies are much earlier than those on which our evidence for secular history is based.

Why then do modernists doubt the biblical accounts?

If the biblical narratives did not contain accounts of miraculous events or have reference to God, angels, etc., biblical history would probably be regarded as much more firmly established than most of the history of, say, classical Greece and Rome. But because the biblical accounts do mention miracles and do involve reference to God, angels and demons, etc., considerations other than purely historical ones come into the picture… [modernists] are convinced as part of their general worldview that miracles don’t happen.… Those who wish to demythologize Scripture reject particular accounts of miracles in Scripture because they hold a general view about the meaning of miracle stories [as mere myth, not historical fact] .
(Purtill, Thinking About Religion, chap. 6)

(For further details about this argument and about the history of biblical manuscripts, see F. F. Bruce’s The New Testament Documents—Are They Reliable? Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict or Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.)

Typical modernist Scripture scholarship is not objective or neutral historical and textual scholarship. It is eisegesis (“reading into”) rather than exegesis (“reading out of”); it reads a particular modern worldview—naturalism, denial of the supernatural and miracles—into the texts, and judges the texts on the basis of that worldview. Indeed, modernists commit a graver version of the very error they accuse fundamentalists of, for fundamentalists only read into the text the same worldview it contains—supernaturalism—while modernists impose an alien and modern worldview on it. Fundamentalists do not add miracles to the textual data, modernists subtract them. This is fudging the data to conform to the theory —the fundamental fallacy of bad science. It is the modernist who is being unscientific here.

Why? What is their motivational strategy?

Modernists want to deny the authority of Scripture for an obvious reason: Scripture clearly contradicts modernist theology on at least five crucial points:

1. Do miracles happen? Is the supernatural world real? Are there angels and devils? Does God ever reach down and “interfere”?

2. Is there a supernaturally-given moral law? Did God, not just Moses, invent the Ten Commandments? Are there, then, any moral absolutes—objective, unyielding moral laws that do not change when our feelings or societies change?

3. Is Christ divine and thus infallible and absolutely authoritative in everything he says?

4. Is human life on earth a spiritual warfare? (This would follow from the first three points. Work it out.) Are the stakes in life infinite? Is there a real heaven or hell at the end? Do our choices matter very much?

5. Is there one objective and true way to heaven—Jesus himself—as he claims (e.g., Jn 14:6)? Or are all the religions of the world equal and thus are generic human sincerity and niceness the only requirements for salvation?

Scripture unequivocally and repeatedly answers yes to all these questions. The typical modern mind answers no. Modernists want to make peace between these two minds. They also wish Scripture would answer less loudly, less clearly, more subtly.

Unbelievers say:

(1) that Christianity is what the New Testament teaches and

(2) that Christianity is false.

Christians say:

(1) that Christianity is what the New Testament teaches and

(2) that Christianity is true.

Modernist theologians want to make peace with both sides, so they say:

(1) that Christianity is not what the New Testament, at face value, teaches but instead is what modernists have selected out of the New Testament (the love ethic without the miracles) as something that will be acceptable to both unbelievers and believers and

(2) that this redefined Christianity is true.

But will Scripture allow Christianity to be redefined? See Galatians 1:8 for an answer.


(Handbook of Christian Apologetics)

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