if it walks like a duck

What do these two quotes have in common? 

1. Harry Emerson Fosdick was a liberal pastor who wrote this in The Modern Use of the Bible (1924):  “From naïve acceptance of the Bible as of equal credibility in all its parts because mechanically inerrant, I passed years ago to the shocking conviction that such traditional bibliolatry is false in fact and perilous in result.  …I saw that the new methods of study [higher criticism] were giving far more than they were taking away.  They have restored to us the historic Christ.  They have led us to the abiding, reproducible experiences of the soul revealed through him.  They have given us his imperishable Gospel freed from its entanglements, the Shekinah distinguished from the shrine….”

 2. An emergent leader recently tweeted this:  “The Bible functions in Christianity as the Temple functions in the Gospels.  Just as Jesus was greater than the temple so does Jesus have more authority than the Bible.”

 Perhaps the emergent fellow is not as cutting edge as he thinks?







18 responses to “if it walks like a duck”

  1. Brilliant.

    This is the same exact conflict from the days of Machen. The only difference is that now, instead of arrogantly wagging fingers from “above” the church, our opponents are “humbly” working to change the church from within. That’s what makes it so much more dangerous this time around.

    And I would argue (easily, particularly from John 1) that the relationship between Christ and the Word of God is more like the relationship between YHWH and the cloud of the Shekinah Glory, rather than being like the relationship between the Shekinah and the temple.

  2. Killin’ it! this is great thanks so much!

  3. Jakob

    This is great stuff…
    so this would be one of the guys that makes the Bible part of the “conversation” then
    Not that I’m allowed to know anything, but I know one thing: if the Bible is busy talking, I had best better be busy humbly and reverently listening

  4. sigh… really? is this really important or significant… or is it just fodder for the fire?

  5. Well, some demonstration would be needed on the part of the Emergent church in this issue. If Jesus is more important than the Bible, can they demonstrate a situation in which Jesus and the Bible disagree? I can’t imagine on this Emergent thesis could have any application unless the author of that thesis claims to have communication with Jesus that we do not.

  6. Sigh yourself…
    Yes, the role of the Word of God is important (um…and it’s “significant,” although I fail to see how that’s any different from being important). Randy, I know it hurts when people out you emergents as sloppier, less educated, less well-spoken versions of classical Protestant liberals, but oh well. The truth hurts sometimes.

  7. Justin

    This again strikes at the Doctrine of Scripture. But as some 30-40 years ago the sub-debate centered on inerrancy, it seems now we are moving into a discussion of authority. Do we thus need a Chicago Statement on Biblical Authority as we needed a Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy 31 years ago? I know it won’t solve the problem, but would it at least bring the issue to the forefront and give us a baseline from which to argue and debate?

  8. in response to the peanut gallery:

    If we want to play Ph.D. games, we can do that. It’s also ridiculous.

    My point regarding ‘sigh’ is this: There is always more emphasis on being ‘right’ than on the unity of the church – always. So, we always pick fights and claim superior theology because we want to be right.

    I could argue that Mike upholds a poor theological system because his seminary requires professors to sign a ‘no drinking’ contract. While the position remains in effect as a result of baptist theology from many years ago, I’m not claiming Mike supports the position of the seminary, and frankly it’s not a big deal. It’s just that the seminary finds it important to hold onto this position.

    Simply because Mike teaches at GRTS doesn’t mean that he speaks for the school nor that he holds a no drinking theological position. Likewise, to poke at one’s twitter comment as serious theology is a bit lacking.

  9. If we want to play Ph.D. games, we can do that. It’s also ridiculous.

    Okay, I have no idea what that means.

    I could argue that Mike upholds a poor theological system because his seminary requires professors to sign a ‘no drinking’ contract.

    Red herring much? What the heck does this have to do with the matter at hand (the downplaying of Scripture and elevating of some other, vague, non-Scriptural means of receiving Christ)?

  10. Randy,

    Is there ever a time to respond to irresponsible statements about Scripture like the one that Mike alludes to? Should we bury our heads in the sand and ignore these statements for the sake of unity? Could it be that certain emergents are actually undermining unity with comments like these?

    The late missiologist statesman Dr. Ralph Winters stated at a conference last year that the biggest trend in global mission right now is the polarization between evangelism and social action. Churches, mission agencies, non-profits, etc… are running to either the evangelism side or the social action side, with a true holistic mission being lost in the middle. When comments like these are made by certain emergents, it makes my job harder to persuade churches (usually pastors) to get involved in a ministry like ours that embraces both evangelism and social justice.

    By the way, I find the twitter comment about Jesus and the Bible quite ironic. It seems as if this certain emergent has detached and compartmentalized the written Word from the living Word, and then prioritized them. Isn’t that more enlightenment influenced than post-modern? Maybe Mike is on to something when he questions him about being “cutting-edge.”

  11. Justin

    Randy Buist writes, “There is always more emphasis on being ‘right’ than on the unity of the church – always. So, we always pick fights and claim superior theology because we want to be right.”

    Joel Shaffer insightfully asks, “Could it be that certain emergents are actually undermining unity with comments like these?”

    The Apostle Paul writes, “Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them! For these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the naïve…” Romans 16:17-18

    So it would seem here that the unity of the church is threatened by those who disagree with the teachings of Scripture, and more specifically to this letter, the teachings contained in the letter. Thus, according to Paul, at least in Romans 16, it is those who are holding to wrong theology, or worse just don’t care, who are causing the problems with unity in the church, not those who are seeking to have a right theology and who desire to be right.

    Writing to Timothy, Paul says, “I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the message/Word, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction. For there will be a time when people will not tolerate sound teaching. Instead, following their own desires, they will accumulate teachers for themselves, because they have an insatiable curiosity to hear new things…” 2 Timothy 4:1-3

    I wonder how many in the church accused Timothy of picking fights and claiming superior theology simply because he wanted to be right?

    If so, I can’t even imagine what the Cretans thought of Titus…

    I wonder what so many in the emergent leaders thought Jesus meant when he prayed, “Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth.”?

  12. Let me suggest this: The twitter comment likely came as a push-back against the worship of the biblical text. We should certainly honor the text, but the Word of God isn’t God. It points us to God.

    If the biblical text is the breath of God, then it should breathe life into people and into all of God’s creation. Instead, evangelicals have often used it to kill, to harm, to tear apart, to divide.

    We are so concerned about purity, that we make ourselves the purifiers. While we are called to keep watch, we are not called to separate the sheep and the wolves. This is the position of the Father, and his alone.

    It IS our duty to treat one another as brothers and sisters. Perhaps family fighting is part of being family, but kicking siblings out or telling them that they no longer are family members has no place in the story.

    Let us remember that protestant are good at protesting, and we really stink at creating unity. So, history continues to repeat itself.

  13. Laymen Speaks


    Scripturally speaking, is it ever our obligation to correct, or question one another? Is there ever a time when biblical love requires confrontation? In all of your posts you seem to have this idea that as long as a person is sincere, who does anyone think they are to question the sincerely held beliefs of another. Without questions and attempts at truly answering the questions, there is no “conversation”. Many emergent leaders by and large are talking to themselves and speaking into the air. When the movement matures to the point where it will truly interact with legitimate questions and/or concerns as Mike has addressed here, it will have begun to take steps toward biblical change in the church. As it currently stands it would appear to me that many emergents (to borrow a phrase from Francis Schaeffer) “have their feet firmly planted in mid air”.


  14. Laymen,

    It can appear to you however you want. To Mike, it appears that he is sympathetic to the cause and yet it’s his rally cry. To you it appears we care less about hte biblical text.

    In reality, we are willing to ask hard questions. We’re willing to lament and, we’re willing to admit that ‘church’ in America hasn’t worked for the past two decades as people exit by the millions each year.

    If we are willing to admit that our past efforts of recent decades haven’t been blessed by the Spirit has we had hoped, then perhaps we are willing to admit that we’ve erred. If we want to just keep believing, that’s also fine.

    One legitimate concern by me: Why do we worship the biblical text as much (if not more than) as Yahweh? He said what he said, but he didn’t tell us to worship his voice. He said to fall before him — not his words as recorded by man. The two are NOT the same things. “Make no other God’s before me’ still stands. Or doesn’t it?

    really – tell me…

  15. Layman Speaks


    “Make no other God’s before Me” does indeed still stand. The problem is that without revelation, we worship “we know not what” The lie of Eden still flows today “you shall be as gods”. Cain thought he could approach God anyway he wanted and when he was rejected but his brother was not, he killed his brother. The point is that mankind from the very beginning has wanted to approach God in his own way but God has revealed otherwise. It is why all so called “religion” that does not have the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the central truth of it’s teaching, is only man imagining god.

    Jesus himself said “…the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.” John 12:49 The point being that if our Lord would not speak without first hearing from His Father, what makes us think that we have the right to speak for the Lord without first hearing His words as revealed to us? I would contend that without first hearing from God, you cannot fall down before Him. Worship is all about Him. He desires it, He puts within us a desire to do it, and He tells us how. Loving scripture is not loving the text more than loving God, it is the only way we can know for sure that we are loving the right Person, in the right way.


  16. Laymen,

    I appreciate your thoughts, but Scripture isn’t the only way to know God’s intent. He gives us the Spirit. He gives us the gift of discernment. He gives us the ‘people of God’ also called the ‘council of God.’ So, I often wonder why we are so scared to listen to these forms from God.

    We claim to understand Scripture clearly so we hesitate to listen to discernment and the voice of the church. Yet, interpretation has its own issues with language and idioms – not to mention the information uncovered by such things as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    The biblical text tells us to rely on the Spirit, the the fellowship of believers, to our elders, and yet someohow these are always secondary to the text. Yet, it’s not how the Scripture understands these things. They don’t stand apart from one another.

    What if Joseph or Daniel or John hadn’t recognized their visions for what they were? What if Peter hadn’t recognized the Spirit of God on Pentecost?

  17. Hmmmm…. Methinks Randy walks like a duck.

  18. Layman Speaks


    Here is where we disagree. you said:

    “I appreciate your thoughts, but Scripture isn’t the only way to know God’s intent. He gives us the Spirit. He gives us the gift of discernment. He gives us the ‘people of God’ also called the ‘council of God.’”

    All revelation is secondary to the biblical text. God has spoken. When we say we are being lead and taught by the Spirit, it is true. This leading and teaching will NEVER disagree with the biblical text. The Holy Spirit IS God but His voice will never disagree with the voice of the Father as revealed in scripture. All lesser forms of insrtuction like discernment, the people of God, or even our elders may be used of God to instruct us, but they are not revelatory in the same sense as God speaking. As a matter of first principles, revealed scripture comes before all other forms of revelation.

    The Jesus revealed in scripture is the only Jesus who is in fact God incarnate. We know of Him because of the bible. We cannot follow one whom we do not know, thus the priority of scripture.


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