By Cecil Willis
Theological Liberalism at Abilene Christian College (III)
The last two weeks, I have been discussing an article that affirmed that there is not even a “trend in the direction of theological liberalism” at Abilene Christian College. Please refer to the two preceding articles for an introduction to this article.
Last week I began to discuss some of the rank modernism that is appearing in Mission magazine, and called attention to the fact that three ACC Bible professors (Everett Ferguson, Thomas Olbricht, and J. W. Roberts) are presently on the Board of Trustees of Mission. Certainly the board bears some responsibility for what appears in the journal, or their positions as board members are mere figure-heads.
Warren Lewis Article
In the January, 1972 issue of Mission, there appears an article by Warren Lewis entitled “Every Scripture Breathed of God is Profitable.” Lewis is “a doctoral student at the University of Tubiggen, Germany,” and “advocates Pentecostalism in the church and had something to do with persuading a missionary in Germany to accept Pentecostalism,” according to James Bales article in Gospel Advocate, March 30, 1972.
Lewis article is the most blatant denial of verbal inspiration that I have seen yet by anyone who professes to be a member of the Church of Christ. Speaking of the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Lewis said: “After we have seen that there are parts of the four stories which clash and jar against one another, we have to ask about our belief that scripture is breathed of God and profitable. We want to set forth how this belief can take into account the fact that scripture does disagree with itself.”
Lewis affirms that “one says one thing but another says something which does not square with what the other said. . . .” He declares, “Each of the Gospel writers paints a picture of Jesus which cannot be forced to agree with the other three pictures. The clashes in their stories which we have already pointed to are just a few of the large number of such clashes which a wide-awake reader could find for himself in the Gospels. We finally most say that there is a Matthew Jesus, a Mark Jesus, a Luke Jesus, and a John Jesus. One is left in the dark as to who the real Jesus might be, what he did, and what his thoughts and feelings were. Yes, they all point to Jesus; but, one wonders which Jesus to believe in.”
Lewis states that one must juggle the accounts to make them harmonize. He asks: “Why do the four Gospels f ail to mesh in so many places: Why do the Gospel writers give jarring views about Jesus?” He says that certain verses have been added to the Scriptures, and that these “show that Christians for a long time have been hard put to harmonize the Gospels. It shows that anyone who tries to harmonize will be forced to make up some new things and leave out some old things in order to remodel the four Gospels into a neater, more pat story.” He then asks, “bow can we say that scripture is breathed of God and profitable when it has jarring, clashing disagreements within it, when it makes up things that most likely did not happen, and when what it teaches about Jesus in one place does not tally with what it teaches about Jesus in another place?”
In his denial of verbal inspiration, Warren says: “God breathed his Spirit on scripture when it was written and he breathes his Spirit on scripture when it is read or beard. 2 Timothy 3 does not, however, speak of verbal dictation or plenary inspiration or any other of the bits of Latin-rooted theological jargon which have been brought in to muddle the issue. Nor does 2 Timothy 3 say that the writers of scripture were inspired.
Lewis says that each man can make of the Gospel accounts anything he sees fit to make of them “But what about the clashes and the jars? The knots of disagreement in scripture which cannot be untied. Nor, indeed, should one try to untie them. For, the disagreements are at the heart of the meaning of scripture. . . . Gods Breath overcomes shortsightedness and stubbornness in order to free the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be changed, rewritten, and made over for Everyman. Scripture was written as our Lord the Holy Spirit breathed men into a profitable freedom to shape their own story of Jesus, according to their own needs.”
If one can acquire Lewis way of looking at scripture, which he calls “The profitable outcome of this grasp of scripture,” then “Such a man does not see the Bible as a blueprint for building a church or a text book for doctrine or road map from earth to heaven. The Bible is a gathering together of many books, each with its own teaching, its own doctrine, and its own view of Jesus Christ.”
The Bible, when Lewis is finished with it, is virtually useless. He says, “the man who has learned to savor the clashes and jars of the Gospels as much as God the Holy Spirit enjoyed writing them should never again be able to use the Bible as a weapon against his neighbor. No one point-great or small-is so important that it cannot be questioned or gainsaid or weighted another way. Every truth about Jesus Christ in one Gospel can be turned around in another Gospel. . . . Scripture is not absolute, inerrant, infallible, or perfect.”
Frankly, it pains me even to be forced to copy such modernistic jibberish, especially from a brother in Christ. For several years, every time we have said anything about “liberalism” among Churches of Christ, some brother has replied, “But we do not have classical liberalism among us, and you therefore have misused the term liberalism.” I have heard that little spiel until I am tired of hearing it. Brother Lewis article is filled with “liberalism,” even the classical kind! I wonder if our young brother who wrote denying there is any theological liberalism at ACC would call this diatribe from Warren Lewis “liberalism,” after Brother Trainer spends three columns narrowing his definition of “liberalism.” Well, its liberalism, modernism, infidelity, and a few other words that describe unbelief, to me.
What did the editor of Mission have to say about his presentation of the Lewis article? Here is what he said in the same issue as that in which Lewis article appeared: “Honesty is the policy of Warren Lewis article, Every Scripture Breathed of God is Profitable, published in this issue of Mission. By honesty I mean this: Lewis is honest with the text of the Gospels — he lets it speak for itself; and he invites you, the reader, to read the text along with him. In other words, he makes an honest effort to speak where the Bible speaks.” To Roy Bowen Ward, speaking where the Bible speaks means to charge the Bible with being a book piled high with contradictions. I think James D. Bales had good grounds upon which he made this allegation: “. . . the editor of Mission is, in my judgment, a modernist” (Gospel Advocate, March 30, 1972).
But someone may ask, “What does all of this have to do with theological liberalism at Abilene Christian College?” I repeat: Three of the ACC Bible professors are Trustees of Mission and are responsible for the choosing or the Editor, and therefore are indirectly responsible for what he publishes, until they disavow it, which they have not yet done! At least, I have seen no public disavowal of their association with Mission, and I think I receive about all of the publications put out by our brethren.
In fact, Editor Ward specifically states that he has the “support” of the Board of Trustees of Mission, which includes three ACC Bible professors. Ward said, in the same issue containing Lewis article, and in the same column in which he made the above quoted observation about the Lewis article: “The Board of Trustees of Mission is a remarkable group. In many ways it is a pluralistic group. Some are relatively well-to-do; others are modestly solvent. Some are over 30 years old; some are still college students. Some vote Republican; others vote Democrat. Some are white; some are black. Most are men; one is a woman. They live all over these United States. But out of these and other diversities there emerges a unity which expresses itself in an extraordinary commitment to the publication, MISSION. Without their hard working support-financial and otherwise, MISSION would not exist. I appreciate their support. Honor to whom honor is due.”
Now Brother Ward said of the Board of Trustees, “Most are men. . . .” Lets just see which one of these ACC Bible faculty members will be the first to be “man” enough to disavow such modernism as that being promulgated by Mission magazine, and publicly to disavow any association with such a liberalistic publication.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 41, pp. 3-5
August 24, 1972