J.P. Moreland: "Fighting 'Bibliolatry' at the Evangelical Theological Society"
Ted Olsen, an editor at Christianity Today, is attending a meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) being held in San Diego, and he reports on a talk by the philosopher J. P. Moreland:
"Postcard from San Diego: Fighting 'Bibliolatry' at the Evangelical Theological Society: Talbot's J.P. Moreland warns that evangelicals are 'over-committed to the Bible.'" (Christianity Today, November 14, 2007)The ETS is the organization that Francis Beckwith used to head before he returned to Catholicism, after which, he had to step down from his position as its president. The issue was related to the ETS's membership requirements:
ETS membership has only two doctrinal requirements: you must affirm the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture.The latter requirement posed the problem, apparently. Be that as it may, I find interesting that the ETS requires members to affirm the Trinity, which implies that for them, it's something additional to scripture. Of course, Trinitarianism is orthodox Christian theology, but how does the ETS ground it on the narrow foundation of Scriptural inerrancy? I'm asking in ignorance and perhaps conflating two different issues, i.e., inerrancy of the Bible and sources of theology. Possibly, the ETS insists on biblical inerrancy but allows for other sources of theological truth.
Yet, one of Moreland's points seems to be that the ETS, or perhaps Evangelicals more broadly, exclude any authority outside of scripture:
The problem, he said, is "the idea that the Bible is the sole source of knowledge of God, morality, and a host of related important items. Accordingly, the Bible is taken to be the sole authority for faith and practice."Which returns us to the problem that I noted. The Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible. Now, I don't doubt that the ETS has a response, for there are a lot of learned and intelligent people in it, including William Lane Craig, but the concept of the Trinity draws on the Greek philosophical tradition and would not make sense (assuming that it does make sense) outside of that tradition.
This sort of thing is what Pope Benedict XVI was referring to in his Regensberg talk as the two streams that join in the Christian tradition, namely, Jewish spirituality and Greek rationality. Readers will recall that I analyzed the Pope's address as being more critical of Protestant 'dehellenization' than of Islam. Well, Moreland could have been channeling the Pope on this in one of the points that he made:
"The sparse landscape of evangelical political thought stands in stark contrast to the overflowing garden both of evangelical biblical scholarship and Catholic reflection on reason, general revelation, and cultural and political engagement," he said. "We evangelicals could learn a lesson or two from our Catholic friends."By "open theism," Olson is referring to an ETS controversy of a few years back over God's omniscience, in which some evangelical theologians limited God's knowledge based on biblical passages that seem to show God looking for information or changing His mind. Apparently, the "Catholic issue" is not a hot button one:
That wasn't as provocative a statement coming a few months after the ETS president became one of those "Catholic friends." Catholicism is on the agenda here, and Catholics are both implicitly and explicitly discussed in the meeting's many discussions of justification. But Catholicism doesn’t seem to be the "new open theism" at ETS.
No, more provocative was Moreland's argument about why evangelicals became over-committed to the Bible. Rather than developing a robust epistemology in response to secularism, he said, evangelicals reacted and retreated. Now evangelical theologians aren't allowed to come to any new conclusions about the truths in Scripture, and they're not allowed to find truths outside of Scripture. As a result, he said, they're engaged in "private language games and increasingly detailed minutia" and "we're not seeing work on broad cultural themes."Interesting, at least for me. Too bad that Moreland's paper isn't (yet?) online.