By Ron Halbrook
Since the miracles recorded in Scripture are above and beyond the pattern of natural forces, Modernism finds those miracles irrational. We raise the question whether it is not Modernism itself which is irrational. Modernism embraces self-contradictory notions. How these notions can be true without destroying intelligence, appeal to rational evidence, and all the higher motives and capacities of man, is a miracle indeed! Let us look at some of the many miracles of Modernism.
Literary Miracle. In denying the verbal inspiration of Scripture, Modernism is thrown back on explanations for the existence of the Bible to an approach which appeals to the normal course of human life. Once it was said that the prophecies of Scripture were written after the events predicted had occurred, but extant manuscripts now disprove the theory. “It has been related that Voltaire, the great French infidel, said if he could be convinced that the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is genuine, he would concede that at least one prediction of the prophets was fulfilled” (McGarvey, Sermons, p. 128). In addition to the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament made about 250 B.C., we now have the Dead Sea Scrolls which are copies of the Old Testament dating before the time of Jesus. Voltaire’s challenge has been met and Modernist doubts about predictive prophecy have been answered. The Modernist is left with passages such as Isaiah 53 which accurately predicted future events and were written before, not after, the events. He must explain how, men predicted these events without a miraculous revelation from God. A naturalistic explanation of such a supernatural feat will itself be a miracle!
The Modernist has a literary miracle when he tries to reconstruct the life and teaching of Jesus from the New Testament so as to eliminate the miraculous. Modernism tears up the New Testament accounts of miracles, throws away the miracles, reshuffles the remaining material, and postulates what the life and teaching of Jesus may have been. But, when are the New Testament reports to be accepted and when rejected? This opens a Pandora’s box. The Modernist can no longer argue that so-called literary criticism is needed to determine what the original records said; textual scholarship has come so close to the original manuscripts as to discount such an approach.
The interval . . . between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established” (Sir Frederic G. Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology, pp. 288-289).
The New Testament documents are primary-source material pointing like a knife at the throat of Modernist speculations about what “might” have “really” happened! Attempts to explain away such miracles as the bodily resurrection of Jesus “invariably demand more faith than the Resurrection itself, for they fly squarely in the face of the primary-source material” (Montgomery, The Suicide of Christian Theology, p. 39).
Moral Miracle. The Modernist has often argued that God is at work in all the experiences of man. This would mean that God is working in man’s experience when he defines his own morals. By the same token, God would be just as much at work when man breaks that moral code or discards it for a new one. In fact, situation morality as espoused by many Modernists argues just that. What is moral changes with the different circumstances and experiences of a man; breaking his own moral code may be the most moral thing he can do in some situations.
The very expression “situation morality” is self-contradictory. Morals are unchanging principles of right and wrong which do not break down under the pressure of “circumstances.” Situation morality is no morality; it is the search of a blind man in a dark cellar for a black cat which is not there, against which we are warned (Col. 2:8 – taken captive through philosophy and vain deceit). The nation of Israel suffered chaos and recurrent apostasy when “every man did that which was right -in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). The moral miracle of Modernism is that God is at work revealing His will in a man’s experience when he acts first in one way and then in the opposite way. The first absolute rule of situation morality is that there is no absolute rule of morality.
Another moral miracle for some Modernists is involved ,in their explanation of the Gospel accounts of Jesus. The most extreme Modernists have argued that Jesus was a great and good man but not the Son of God in a unique and supernatural sense. How shall we then deliver Jesus from the charge of lying about His nature (John 3:16 “only begotten Son”; Jn. 8:58 – “before Abraham was, I am”)? The answer is that the Jewish authors made up stories about the miracles, the claims, and even perhaps much of the teaching of Jesus as embellishments to the true story. But, this solution involves a moral miracle. How did first-century Jews of the working class so completely transcend all the prejudice and pettiness of first-century Judaism in order to paint the picture of Jesus Christ? Water does not rise above its source. Nothing in the moral character of the Apostles – who argued over which of them would be greatest and who fled when Jesus was arrested – qualified them to produce the moral character of Jesus Christ!
Ethical Miracle. The ethical miracle of Modernism is that proponents are not required to reveal their true convictions, but in fact may conceal them by proclaiming their doctrine in the language commonly used to express the opposite convictions. Baptist minister W.S. Morgan attended Yale Divinity School and subsequently went into Unitarianism. He advised those going through the same transition but who feared the loss of their pulpit, “Don’t label your heresy . . . . Do as I do. Give them heresy in such a fashion that the very saints will not suspect it. Bad ethics, you say! 1 say, very bad! But this is the only way in which hundreds of orthodox pulpits can be held” (Morgan, American Unitarian Association tract No. 223, quoted in Gordon, The Leaven of the Sadducees, p. 96). Another Liberal acknowledged that this approach to the conflict between traditional and modern creeds had been often used but lacked “honesty and frankness.” In discussing “Two Creeds for Every Church,” William Pepperell Montague said,
One solution of the problem more often put into practice than defended in theory is the “double standard” of truth -one for the person, the other for the congregation; or at least for the more simple of its members. The latter are to be allowed, if not encouraged, to take the creed literally; while the minister takes it with reservations. It is difficult to defend this policy against the charge of bad faith and deception in a matter where, if anywhere, absolute honesty and frankness should be required. Sooner or later the minister will be asked point-blank by one of his flock, who is assailed by doubt, as to the truth of some article of doctrine. He must then either tell an outright lie or else let the cat out of the bag and abandon his double standard of truth (Chapt. IX of Roberts and Van Dusen (eds.), Liberal Theology, p. 157).
Montague advocated “the ideal solution” of adopting two “widely divergent” creeds. “The one creed will be sung, the other will be said,” thus satisfying the whole range of “religious experience,” from the “emotional” to the “cognitive” (Ibid., pp. 159, 162). In other words, we will believe and preach the Modernist faith but will sing and rejoice in the ancient faith. This solution internalizes the bad ethics in the individual: self-deception is practiced for the sake of feeling a false sdnse of continuity between the ancient and modern faiths. The Modernist’s ethical miracle is that of doubletalk “in a matter where, if anywhere, absolute honesty and frankness should be required.”
Intellectual Miracle. The intellectual miracles of Modernism are many. We have already seen that what is moral one minute may be immoral the next, and vice versa, but God is at work in all these experiences. Furthermore, the truth which is not subject to question is that all truth is subject to question. Modernism treats all truth as relative, expanding, ever changing: there is no final truth, yet this very truth is itself final, not relative, and unchanging. In explaining “The Meaning of Liberalism,” William Ernest Hocking asserted that “liberalism is not to be identified with any particular dissent . . . but only with dissent from the view that any version of Christianity is all final” (Liberal Theology, p. 57). The Bible, then, is not a complete, final, and all-sufficient revelation of God’s will to man; nothing about the Gospel of Christ is settled and certain for all times. We are thus asked to believe that the one revelation which is “all final” is that no revelation is “all final.” Montague advocated that the “intellectual creed” – the one we really believe and preach, the Modernist creed – “will be regarded in the first place as probable rather than certain” (Ibid., p. 159). He did not mention that this raises the question whether what he thus advocated is itself “probable rather than certain.” In Modernism, the one truth which is absolute is that no truth is absolute, the one truth which is not relative is that all truth is relative. The miracles of the Bible do not hold a candle to the miracles of Modernism, if the preeminent objection is that we are asked to believe the incredible!
Miracle of Origins. Modernism rejects miracles recorded in Scripture that have to do with the origin of the world, of man, of Jesus Christ, of the church, and of the Bible itself. But, Modernism accepts its own miracles when it comes to the question of origins. The theory of evolution became an all-encompassing answer in answer to all questions of origins for the Modernist; God works through evolution, we are told. How did one form of plant life, say ferns, produce another form such as Redwood trees? And how did plant life evolve into animal life? How did an animal such as a snake or an insect such as a fly produce elephants and eagles? How did the animal kingdom which is amoral produce man with the capacity for moral understanding and choice? How did a male evolve into a female, or how long did the first male have to wait until the animal kingdom could evolve a female? None of the missing links which are the very keys to the theory of evolution have been found, but we are asked to put our faith in the non-miraculous miracle of evolution. The law of evolution has been spoken from Mount Science and woe be to the man who does not tremble at this word.
We have already shown that Modernism cannot account for the origin of the moral character of Jesus Christ; Modernism’s own supposition is that a motly band of Jews who all taken together could not represent one-tenth of the character of Jesus is responsible. The Modernist has no better explanation for the origin or the New Testament church. After the church’s existence is acknowledged, he may point to Paul as the great organizer and evangelist to the Gentiles. But, then, the Modernist must account for Paul’s conversion by rejecting his own account and explaining how he was converted without the miraculous appearance of the resurrected Lord. As for the Bible itself, Modernism is left with the problem of explaining the origin of predictive prophecy, which was discussed earlier. An explanation of such prophecy in the Bible without the miraculous intervention of God would itself be a major miracle.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 27, pp. 440-442
July 10, 1980