By Cecil Willis
Recently some exceedingly important discussions have been occurring between some who have been writing in Truth Magazine and some others who have been writing in the Gospel Guardian. Brother Gene Frost, a faithful gospel preacher who lives and works in Louisville, recently called to my attention that something I had said implied that everyone who wrote for the Gospel Guardian shared the sentiments of a few who write for the Gospel Guardian, or of the Editor who, until now, has shown a disposition to cover up for those errorists on his staff, whose teachings have been under fire. If anything I have said publicly or in private, orally or in writing, has been understood to indict every person whose name appears in the Gospel Guardian, or who has written an article for that paper, more has been read into my statement than I intended. It would be helpful, however, if those who do disagree with the error taught by Edward Fudge and his cohorts would expose that error through the pages of the Gospel Guardian.
As this article is being written, a great host of things have been said by Brother William Wallace in recent issues of the Gospel Guardian, which eventually will necessitate some reply. After he has had his “say” completely on these points, some reply will be made. Meanwhile, I want to write some things which I have contemplated writing for about five years, whether Brother Wallace agrees that the seeds of this doctrinal defection goes back that far or not.
Since the early 1950s, I have read nearly everything that Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett have written. I have watched their migration from one extreme position to another, and it is my judgment that their march into ever deeper forms of liberalism is by no means ended. The premises they have accepted do not permit them to stop now, unless they are unwilling to accept the inevitable logical consequences of these premises, and thus choose to stop in obvious inconsistency. Bluntly stated, they must either give up their insistence upon immersion as an essential of salvation, or they must give up their relativistic principles. Which they will sacrifice remains to be seen.
The title for this article is a “take off” on the title of a book by G. C. Berkouwer, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth. The Ketcherside-Garrett-Fudge heresy correctly has been labeled the “grace-fellowship” heresy. Recently I made the statement that I have known this controversy was inevitable among conservative brethren for at least five years. Brother Wallace scoffed at such an idea. Scores of brethren across this nation, if they care to do so, can verify that I have stated privately that this very controversy inevitably was going to arise among us. I know, God knows, and scores of brethren know that this apprehension has been expressed for several years.
It is impossible to separate what a man believes from his presuppositions. One’s basic presuppositions in philosophy are sometimes called his “world-view.” Good books which you might like to secure and read on this point are James Orr’s The Christian View of God and the World, Gordon Clark’s A Christian View of Men and Things, or An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, written by the late but brilliant Edward J. Carnell. Incidentally, the last mentioned book is without doubt the best book on Apologetics I ever read!
One’s apriori judgments color what he thinks in every field. For example, it is easy to trace existentialist (relativistic) philosophy through math, science, psychology, philosophy, ethics, theology, or any other discipline one wishes to contemplate. Just as putting on a pair of colored glasses would affect the appearance of everything one sees, one’s basic presuppositions affect everything one thinks or believes. And don’t you ever forget it: we are living in an age of philosophic relativism! The only absolute that remains, in the minds of many, is that of John Dewey: “Absolutely no Absolutes.”
At least until very recently, the prevailing theology among denominationalial scholastics has been that half-breed school of thought usually called “Neo-Orthodoxy.” Some think they now see a trend indicating a turn from NeoOrthodoxy. But Neo-Orthodoxy has many other names: Neo-Supernaturalism, Dialectical Theology, The Theology of Paradox, The Theology of Irrationalism, The Theology of Pessimism, Existential Theology, The Theology of Crisis, The Theology of Judgment, etc. Most theological historians would give to Karl Barth the “honor” (?) of being the Father of Neo-Orthodoxy. The philosophical background for NeoOrthodoxy is relativistic Existentialism.
Many of the readers of this article would question my credentials to write upon the philosophy of modern religion. When I speak upon Evolution, sometimes unbelieving “scientists” in an open-forum period challenge my credentials to speak on a “scientific” subject. I usually turn around the charge. I defy any scientist to define the “scientific method,” and then to tell me what about his background training qualifies him to speak on the origin of things. Scientific method involves observation, experimentation, etc. Now what scientist observed the creation? The origin of life and of the universe is a metaphysical (i.e. beyond the physical) subject, and this makes it a philosophical rather than a scientific subject, and it just so happens that my graduate school major was philosophy.
In this article, and perhaps in some others to follow, it will be necessary that I speak somewhat about Existentialism, and about its influence upon modern denominational theology, and then about the influence of modern denominational theology upon the thinking of some of our “precocious neophytes” (as James Adams aptly has named them). Even the peers of some of these young brethren who are defecting from the faith have recognized and called attention to their existential views toward revelation. This view causes them to state that we can never know anything for sure, since it is possible that we may not exhaustively know a subject. Though a finite mind may not know all about the Infinite Mind, this does not imply the human mind cannot know that about God which He has chosen to reveal through His Son (Matt. 11:27; Jno. 14:9; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:13). Jesus explicitly stated that one can know the truth (Jno. 8:32). One young brother among us has declared that God could not completely and perfectly reveal His will to man, because God limited Himself to human language as a vehicle for this revelation, and that human language is not perfect. Thus God’s revelation not perfect. This is existentialistic relativism!
When Paul’s competence to speak upon a subject was challenged, he defended his competence, though he said it made him appear foolish in the eyes of some (See 2 Cor. 12:11-13). For several years, I have wanted to say some things about Neo-Orthodoxy, and its impact upon some who think themselves to be quite conservative in their view toward the Bible. Several years ago, Leroy Garrett said it did not really matter whether one believed in the Deutero-Isaiah theory or not. Ketcherside advocated a Neo-Orthodox position toward revelation several years ago when he emphasized the difference between God’s Covenant and the record of God’s covenant; between the New Testament and the record of the Testament. Ketcherside did not then go on to advance the usual Neo-Orthodox position that the Testament and the Covenant are perfect, but that the record of the Testament and Covenant is filled with many imperfections.
I would like now to go into these matters somewhat. Some may not be much interested in articles of this kind. But those who really want to understand what is happening among us, and why, should be very interested in articles like the ones I propose now to write. Our younger student preachers particularly should find “relevancy” in these articles.
A college degree sometimes merely means a person spent a certain number of years at a school. Even graduate degrees do not necessarily imply one knows what he is talking about. I have never been one to stand in awe at my brother who has a Ph.D. degree. Nor have I stood around in envy of him. I have known some men who did not finish High School who had more education than some I knew with a Ph.D. degree. This I say that you might keep the following remarks in proper perspective.
I completed a Master’s Degree, and a few hours beyond that, in Philosophy. It was my good fortune to get to study under Gordon Clark, who has been considered the most outstanding “evangelical” philosopher in America. Carl F. H. Henry, in the first chapter of A Festschrift (The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark) said that Clark was “one of the profoundest evangelical Protestant philosophers of our time,” and that Clark “stands out above all else in the contemporary philosophical milieu, as a champion of a personal God . . . .” Edward J. Carnell, Paul K. Jewett, Carl F. H. Henry, and several others are among the outstanding contemporary philosophers who studied under Clark.
Paradoxically, most of my other graduate work in philosophy was done under Dr. Walter Sikes (William E. Wallace’s Uncle), who was about as modernistic as Clark was Calvinistic. Dr. Walter Sikes was married to the sister of Foy E. Wallace, Jr., and Sikes formerly had been a teacher at Abilene Christian College.
Dr. Sikes could be described as Neo-Orthodox. When I decided to do my Master’s Thesis on “A Critique of Emil Brunner’s Concept of Revelation,” Dr. Sikes told me, “It had better be good!” Emil Brunner was the outstanding NeoOrthodox proponent of the revised concept of the Bible, commonly referred to is Neo-Supernaturalism. As Barth did the definitive Neo-Orthodox work on the sovereign grace of God, and Reinhold Niebuhr popularized the, Neo-Orthodox position on sin, Emil Brunner was the most outstanding NeoOrthodox advocate of the existential view of revelation. Brunner wrote about forty books. About twenty of them had been translated into English, and the others were available only in German. In addition, Brunner wrote about 300 periodical articles.
After doing my research and compiling a card file system from which I was prepared to write my thesis, I wrote about half of the intended paper. My criticisms of the NeoOrthodox view of revelation were said to be not “objective enough.” Finally, I decided that if I intended to get a degree from Butler University, I was going to have to choose a historical subject, and it was at this point I began work on the paper which later was published as W. W. Otey: Contender for the Faith.
These facts are cited simply to let some of those who may think I am completely unfamiliar with the literature to which I am about to allude know that I at least have been exposed to the writings of the chief Neo-Orthodox proponents. I intend to show that there are remarkable similarities between the concepts of revelation, sin, the church, and the grace of God held by these leaders of NeoOrthodoxy, and some of those who under the guise of “orthodoxy” would restructure the church and the beliefs of church members today.
These last few paragraphs have not been written asking for any logical “special pleadings,” but merely to ask for a fair hearing. Pernicious error has been, and yet is being taught, and it must be dealt with. Indeed, healthy doctrine must be taught, and error exposed.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:10; pp. 3-5
January 9, 1974