Wednesday, August 12, 2009

BJU, Smith, Alcohol, and the Deeper Problem

BJU recently decided to pull a book by Dr. Randy Jaeggli entitled The Christian and Drinking. This was due in part to a need for a new printing anyway. It was also motivated by a veritable barrage of negative comments about the book, including a review by Shelton Smith who is the editor of The Sword of the Lord newspaper.

BJU says of Smith’s review:

This review exemplifies a deeper problem, and perhaps the most serious one of all. It is an unwillingness to allow for a serious analysis of biblical evidence. This unwillingness to accept biblical evidence, even when it supports a dearly held conviction, underscores the problem.

I recently read someone (who I cannot remember) who suggested that the hallmark of fundamentalism—biblical authority, that “whatever the Bible says is so”—is coming back to bite some. I think he’s right. When Dr. Jaeggli went back to the Bible and came to a different exegetical conclusion about the use of some words, he was loudly accused of compromise. The weight of the biblical argument (about which Dr. Jaeggli was certainly correct) was irrelevant. He differed with the real authority—what good men in past generations taught. Even though he agreed with the good men in past generations about application, he was still wrong. 

There is, among some no doubt well meaning people, the tacit suggestion that one can go to the Bible for authority so long as your conclusions do not contradict those conclusions of men who went before. If you examine the biblical evidence and arrive at a different conclusion, you are anathema even if your application is the same (as Dr. Jaeggli’s was). You have compromised.

So what is the real authority for these? It is not the Bible but rather conclusions that were drawn about the Bible. In that, they have ceased to be fundamentalists.

It is interesting that some who claim that “good men differ” about certain matters (Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Bible versions, mode of baptism, etc) are quick to suggest that good men cannot differ about lines of separation with others or conclusions about biblical exegesis on certain passages. For some, you can differ about whether or not God is sovereign, but don’t you dare suggest the Bible does not universally condemn the alcoholic beverage or that John MacArthur might be a believer, or that John Piper might actually love God and the souls of men.*

In other words, there are certain biblical conclusions that are debatable but do not cost fellowship, while there are other biblical conclusions that are not debatable and do cost fellowship. (Interestingly, to closer you get to a fundamental doctrine, the more tolerance is accepted. Things like an errant view of bibliology are accepted so long as we agree about some radio preacher. Strange stuff, my friend.)

Perhaps fundamentalism’s greatest need at this point is to decide what will be the authority? Will it be the good men who have gone before? Or will it be the Bible itself?

No one should mistake where I am. I am a fundamentalist, and have explained why elsewhere on this blog. (You can search the blog for “fundamentalism” or “fundamentalist” and find those.) I have also made my views on the use of alcohol clear on this blog.

But I am not a fundamentalist because of what men of prior generations said, or what men of the current generation say. I am a fundamentalist because of what I think the Bible teaches.

What men of old said is informative. It is not authoritative.

And it’s not going to be authoritative, even if you yell and scream about it. Or write long blog posts about it. Or reviews in newspapers.

As fundamentalists, we need to get back to the Bible. And then stand on that.


*In the interest of deference to some, I offer here a disclaimer that no one I quote in this article should be understood to be a part of the Trinity or an angel from heaven. Therefore, they are sinners with actual sin problems of which we should be wary. I disagree with everyone mentioned on this blog anywhere. I even disagree with myself sometimes. So don’t whine that I don’t offer enough disclaimers.

I assume that you have the common sense and biblical training to be discerning. If you don’t, don’t complain to me. Talk to your pastor lovingly and prayerfully about his failure to train you, and be willing to find a new church if you need to where the pastor will take seriously his responsibility to teach people to think biblically, rather than to repeat a list of approved people, schools, practices, habits, etc.


Anonymous said...

CLASSIC post. Love it.

Anonymous said...

All things being equal, I would rather go with an "old guy" ie. Dr Bob Jones SR. and many others I could name, who had a proven ministry of many years than some "new guy" who has suddenly discovered some twist to Bible teaching which opposes what has been held for many years by people who loved the Lord and tried to serve Him.

Proverbs 22:28 (no doubt there is something in the Hebrew that will negate that commandment)

It is funny how standards are always going down in this age.

Larry said...

Thanks for reading and taking time to respond. Several comments by way of response, enumerated for clarity.

1. Dr. Jaeggli's position is not a new one. It is, according to church historians, the majority view of the church throughout church history. It has been held by people who "loved the Lord and tried to serve him." It is a not a "twist."

2. The issue has to be one of biblical integrity: What does the Bible actually say? We cannot (as surely you agree) compromise what it says in order to reach a position, no matter how noble or well intentioned the position is. Total abstinence is what I believe and teach. But I dare not make the Scriptures say something they don't say in order to teach that. I undermine the only infallible authority I have if I do.

3. Standards are going down in many ways, but not in all. Again though, as I said in my article, we have to decide what the standard is? Is the standard going to be BJ Sr (or someone else) or the Bible?

Ironically, Dr. Jaeggli holds the same position that BJ Sr did. Some have unfortunately misrepresented that. Dr. Jaeggli and BJ Sr both agree that a Christian should not drink. The only difference is the way that they got to that conclusion.

Prov 22:28 is a great verse, and a good reminder. But the "ancient landmark" has to be Scripture. Don't move from it.

I have not seen many people actually interact with the Bible on this. More are concerned with the cultural application rather than the exegesis of what the Bible actually says.

Jeff said...

Thanks Larry. I appreciate your post. I haven't read Jaeggli's book but I plan to, however, in the interest of preference to the scriptures themselves I nearly finished with my own complete study through the Bible on this very issue.
The error you describe so well in your post as well as the response from anonymous really show how eager we are to be our own gods and displace the one true God as the ultimate authority over our lives. It is not merely a issue of intellectual laziness that allows someone to simply accept the opinion of a man without regard to what the scriptures actually says. When I set up a man to be more of an authority than the scriptures themselves I slip very quickly into another gospel. Is that not the major issue we take with our catholic friends who regard the church as an equal authority with the Bible? At some point--the point where the two disagree, you have to ascribe final authority to something. The outcome of that decision shows who is your god. That is what is at stake in this discussion, not simply a position in an issue. What is at stake is who you are choosing to be your God or god.

Tobe Witmer said...

I agree Larry. I think you summed things up very well. Fundamentalism and especially "younger fundamentalists" must stay to the Book, not who can yell the loudest or has the most influence.

Dr. Smith's second article was very weak. I commend Dr. Hankins and Jaelggli for going the extra mile to go see him.