Do all the professors at the Moody Bible Institute (MBI) affirm biblical inerrancy?
This question has been hotly debated ever since I reported that one of several allegations against the previous administration was that it allowed professors who deny inerrancy to teach at the institute. Less than a week after that post, three of MBI’s top officers stepped down, though little explanation has been offered other than the board had decided it was “time for a new season of leadership.”
In a recent WORLD Magazine article, Moody VP and Dean of Distance Learning Bryan O’Neal stated, “All of our faculty affirm inerrancy annually when they sign their annual contract. It’s explicit. … There is no drift.” Similarly, MBI said in a statement released on Tuesday, “The Board, faculty, and leadership annually and without reservation agree to (MBI’s doctrinal statement) which is a condition of employment.”
However Moody’s doctrinal statement on inerrancy* was written about 90 years ago – at a time when no one could have predicted how postmodernism would change the plain meaning of words, and the concept of truth itself. At that time, no one foresaw that some evangelical scholars, like Robert Gundry for example, would claim to be inerrantists, yet hold that the magi never visited Jesus, and that the gospel writer had simply “embroidered” the text.
“The question facing the Moody Bible Institute today is not whether all its professors have signed a doctrinal statement on inerrancy, but what do they mean when they sign that statement?”
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Apparently, some of these professors hold to a theory of truth that rejects that truth corresponds to reality. In other words, they don’t believe that what the text clearly says happened necessarily happened. These professors claim to be inerrantists, but are they?
MBI Professors Reject “Correspondence View of Truth” & Chicago Statement
In a 65-page document sent in December from Theology Professor Richard Weber to Trustee Emeritus Paul Johnson (and later distributed to all trustees), Weber alleged that two members of the Bible/Theology Division “professed a postmodern view of truth that would require a re-defining of the doctrine of inerrancy contrary to the conservative evangelical definition expressed in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.”
In addition, Weber stated that MBI administrators Bryan O’Neal, former President Paul Nyquist, and VP and Dean James Spencer were asked to clarify the institute’s definition of inerrancy in light of this revelation, but refused to do so.
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is a consensus document created in 1978 to defend biblical inerrancy against what many perceived to be a liberal trend within evangelicalism. It was crafted by several leading evangelicals, including J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and Norman Geisler – and signed by nearly 300 noted evangelical scholars.
Though MBI has never formally adopted the Chicago Statement, Weber said, “My entire teaching years at Moody, (the Chicago Statement) has been the statement we affirm in all our theology classes.” He added that when he was interviewed for his position 15 years ago, he was told that MBI holds to the Chicago Statement.
Yet at a Bible/Theology Division meeting on January 18, 2017, Weber said he was surprised to discover that two professors – Assistant Professor of Theology Dr. Ashish Varma and Professor of Theology Dr. David Tae-Kyung Rim – stated that they do not hold to a “correspondence view of truth” – the view on which the Chicago Statement is based. In addition, both disclosed that they reject the Chicago Statement’s definition of inerrancy.
“Holding to a correspondence view of truth is essential to affirming true biblical inerrancy . . . This view holds that if something is true, then it describes something real that actually happened or actually existed.”
Gundry, for example, argued that the gospel writer Matthew employed a Jewish literary genre called midrash when he said that magi came to visit Jesus. This genre allowed Matthew to add a non-historical element – supposedly the magi – into his narrative to make a point – allegedly highlighting the mission of Jesus to the gentiles. To Gundry, whether the magi actually visited Jesus is immaterial.
This kind of reasoning has become quite popular in evangelicalism in the past few decades, and is evident in a 2013 book by Zondervan called Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. “Three of the viewpoints in that book actually deny inerrancy of Scripture,” Weber said. “One of the contributors, Peter Enns, says there was no wall around the city of Jericho, but he doesn’t consider that to be an error because he’s essentially redefined what error means. It’s a whole post-modern game. It depends on what the definition of the word ‘is’ is.”
When pressed at the meeting, both Varma and Rim reportedly said they affirm inerrancy and see no conflict between signing Moody’s doctrinal statement and simultaneously rejecting a correspondence view of truth and the Chicago Statement. Varma said different cultures understand error differently, Weber said.
MBI’s doctrinal statement says that the Scriptures are without error, but doesn’t define what qualifies as an error. According to Weber, the meaning has always been assumed. “The understanding has been that ‘without error’ means that they are true and what they say – those things actually happened,” Weber added.
I emailed Varma asking for clarification on his view, but he did not respond. However Rim wrote in an email, “First, I am not the only one with this view. There are three or four others. On campus I am regularly grouped with these individuals – it is common knowledge.
“Secondly, my view on inerrancy is the one held by Kevin Vanhoozer in the Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, published by Zondervan. My hermeneutics is the same as James K. A. Smith (Fall of Interpretation). And my apologetic method follows Myron Penner (End of Apologetics) – hardly individuals who are marginalized in the ‘evangelical’ world. Given how controversial hermeneutics and inerrancy (how to understand it) has been in the evangelical world the last 20 to 30 years, I am not sure who has the authority to say what the majority view is.”
When specifically asked if he affirmed inerrancy as described in the Chicago Statement, Rim did not answer my question, but stated, “I want to affirm that each year I sign the Moody Doctrinal Statement with a clear conscience. I affirm each of one those articles, including the one on inerrancy.”
I talked with Kevin Vanhoozer, the well-respected author and research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School whose view Rim likened to his own. Vanhoozer’s view actually seems quite different from Rim’s. Not only does Vanhoozer affirm the Chicago Statement, but he also affirms a correspondence theory of truth.
“I affirm correspondence as an intuition into the nature of truth. How can I be a Christian and say, ‘He is risen!’ if he has not risen?”
However, Vanhoozer said he rejects an extreme or “wooden” correspondence view that holds that “every word links up to some object in the world.” He said this view fails to take into account different kinds of literature in Scripture like poetry and parables.
“Think of the Song of Songs,” he said. “If you don’t pay attention to the metaphor, the simile, all the comparisons, the flowery language, the artist’s rendering of the beloved – when everything is interpreted literally, it’s pretty frightening.” Yet Vanhoozer said the Chicago Statement accounts for different kinds of literature and is nuanced, so he is able to affirm it.
Certainly, Rim is correct when he asserts that inerrancy and hermeneutics (how to interpret Scripture) are extremely controversial within evangelicalism right now. He’s also right that many well-respected evangelicals define inerrancy and truth in ways that are very different from those who hold to the Chicago Statement. For example, one of the authors Rim cites, Myron Penner, is a postfoundationalist – someone who does not believe that knowledge claims need to be based on something absolute and certain.
I would guess, however, that some of these new definitions would make D.L. Moody roll over in his grave. As Moody once said, “Truth never grows old. The word of God is just as true today as it ever was. We want no new paths. The way our fathers took is the best way.”
The current crisis over inerrancy is not a reason for Moody to broaden its definition or to refuse to clarify it. If anything, the crisis reveals the need for Moody to be clear and unwavering, and to shine a beacon of light into the current sea of confusion. Unfortunately though, MBI – at least up until now – has been unwilling to do this.
Moody Administrators Refuse to Clarify Stance on Inerrancy
Weber reported that during the meeting last January, he tried in vain to get clarity from MBI administrators. First, he appealed to O’Neal to explain what MBI means by inerrancy. O’Neal reportedly said, “The Chicago Statement is one definition of inerrancy, but it’s not the definition,” seemingly affirming that MBI acknowledges numerous views of inerrancy and the Chicago Statement is only one of them.
Weber then appealed to VP Spencer: “What does our doctrinal statement mean when it says ‘without error’?” he asked. Spencer reportedly replied that the definition of inerrancy was beyond his purview and that it was up to the trustees and the president to define.
“I’m formally requesting that you go to the trustees and the president, and you ask them for a clarification on what our doctrinal statement means by ‘without error,’ and ask them, ‘Does that coincide with the Chicago Statement or is it something different?’ And he would not do it.”
Several days after that meeting, Weber said he sent a three-page letter through the ombudsman at Moody to President Nyquist, explaining the controversy over inerrancy and asking for clarification concerning the MBI doctrinal statement. Specifically, he asked what the doctrinal statement means by the phrase “without error.”
Nyquist responded with three sentences, which failed to answer the question: “We require faculty to affirm our doctrinal statement. The Chicago statement, written decades later, is not identical to our doctrinal statement. If a person affirms our doctrinal statement they are able to teach at Moody.” By failing to answer Weber’s question adequately, Nyquist essentially opened up MBI’s doctrinal statement to any interpretation. MBI says there is no drift at the school, but that’s because it’s ceased to have a clear reference point.
I sent emails to both Spencer and O’Neal requesting interviews and clarification, but neither accepted my request. Certainly though, O’Neal, the MBI board, and Interim President Greg Thornton understand that the issue regarding inerrancy is far from settled at the institute. And their recent blanket statements about professors signing the doctrinal statement simply obscure the issue.
Sadly Weber, whose convictions about doctrinal integrity drove him to confront MBI administration, is among 34 professors whose positions have been cut. Rim is being cut, as well. However, the institute has retained Varma. And in addition to teaching responsibilities, Varma has written theology curriculum for Moody Distance Learning. According to some professors, this curriculum does not clearly present Moody’s position on certain doctrinal issues, but instead provides students with a variety of views from which to choose.
The Way Forward
Certainly, Moody is facing an unprecedented crisis in its long and illustrious history, and inerrancy is only one of several issues leadership must address. But inerrancy is arguably the main issue because so much in Christianity hinges on our view of Scripture.
President Nyquist’s administration opened the door to postmodern understandings of inerrancy. And now Moody must decide if it is going to close that door, or follow its current, uncertain course.
In some ways, Moody’s situation is not all that different from the situation The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary faced nearly 25 years ago. The school at that time was engaged in a tug-of-war between progressives, moderates, and conservatives. However, when the trustees hired Al Mohler to serve as president, the school charted a decidedly conservative course.
Mohler was unwavering. “The task for Southern Seminary in the years ahead,” he said in his convocation speech, “is to stand on the faith . . . without compromise.”
“Now is a crucial, crossroads moment, and how MBI leadership responds today will determine the trajectory of the next several decades. As Mohler did, Moody leaders need to stand on the Word of God without compromise.”
Moody is not Southern Seminary, but I think it can learn from Southern’s example. Now is a crucial, crossroads moment, and how MBI leadership responds today will determine the trajectory of the next several decades. As Mohler did, Moody leaders need to stand on the Word of God without compromise. As Revelation 3:2 challenges, Moody must strengthen what remains.
Clarify inerrancy so there is absolutely no question what Moody means by the term or where it stands. And then expect God’s blessing. It may take a year, or as many as five or 10, but God will bless if MBI – if it is faithful.
*Initially I linked to a statement about what Moody Believes concerning the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, rather than the 1928 Statement. The 1928 Statement says, “The Bible is without error in all it affirms in the original autographs and is the only authoritative guide for faith and practice and as such must not be supplanted by any other fields of human learning.” The Moody Believes statement is more extensive and includes, “(T)he Bible, in its original documents, is free from error in what it says about geography, history and science as well as in what it says about God. Its authority extends to all matters about which the Bible speaks.“
47 thoughts on “Do All MBI Professors Affirm Inerrancy? It Depends on Your Definition”
One Of the first things I was taught in a Theology 101 class at Dallas Theological Seminary was that when discussing theology it’s always important to ask the question, “What do you mean by that?” Seems pretty basic.
2 bad approaches: 1) say you believe something when you really don’t, but adopt sophistry or strain at definitions, to pretend you do, sign statement & keep your teaching job. 2) get overly analytical, strain at the gnat, insist on some mumbo jumbo. Take the claim above on the Correspondence theory of Epistemology: “If something is true, then it describes something real that actually happened or actually existed.”
I believe that the following axiom is true: “If A = B, then A+C = B+C.” This is true, tho I don’t think it describes something that happened or actually existed.
The Bible is the Word of God (axiom 2 in my epistemology). Corollary: The Bible is without error & infallible, tho it truthfully records errors & lies which various non-prophets have spoken (“Thou shalt not surely die” & the arguments of Eliphaz in Job). The scripture cannot be broken.
– Former Professor at MBI, sad to read about what has been going on.
Words. Such a sticky time to be a Christian. I hope that the issue of the clarification of the institutions stance on inerrancy is resolved.
On a side note, I hope that Up For Debate, or some form of it, isn’t gone forever; programs such as yours are much needed, especially for times like these.
more prophetic words from Julie Roys….so after Dr. Spencer told Dr. Weber clarification of MBI’s doctrine is up to the trustees, he then refused to bring Dr. Weber’s request for clarification to the trustees because he didn’t think the trustees would understand it? What a contradiction. If that is true…I know a run-around when I see one….that is what people do when they are trying to keep something they don’t want people to know or see covered up….. and just like the retaliation against Julie Roys, it appears Dr. Weber was retaliated against because he was doing MBI and its faculty a service by asking MBI leadership to take their doctrinal statement seriously. It wasn’t just the 3 who resigned, but those who have now replaced them that apparently showed such disregard toward the seriousness of what MBI holds to be true and right. And it was those who replaced them who have removed Dr. Weber from his classroom.
When I was a student at MBI in the 1980’s, we were clearly taught that verbal plenary inspiration was the school’s stance. Hearing about the recent events at MBI and this theological “drift” makes me sad. Thank you Julie for finally calling out these professors by name. Their views need to be revealed so that action can be taken to stop this apostasy before MBI turns into another Wheaton College, where students openly protest speakers who don’t foster a favorable view of homosexuality.
Can you go into more detail regarding how some at Moody are liberal?
Can you give an example of an evangelical theologian who has classified the views of Rim and Varma that you discuss in this article as reflecting liberal Christianity?
Have you read any books by liberal theologians on their view of the Bible? They do not resemble the views of Rim and Varma. I recommend reading a book by a liberal theologian’s view of the Bible (rather than a book about a liberal theologian) to see for yourself that Rim and Varma are not even close to liberal in their views of the Bible, such as the book “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally” by Marcus Borg.
I chose Moody because I considered it a bastion of inerrancy, and those were the kinds of professors that I had 20 years ago. At the same time, the school was on the cutting edge of innovative ministry both here in the States and overseas. I won’t be able to renew my giving to Moody unless there is a firm statement on what they mean on inerrancy. People sign all sorts of things without really upholding what they mean.
I stopped my autogiving, and with the response they gave me, I do not believe I will start giving again at this point. They gave me politically correct answers like “Moody recently announced strategic changes to position the ministry for continued Kingdom impact long term“ and also told me that this blog had “ emotionally charged and mis-leading language” and was from “anonymous and secondhand sources”. This was in response to my simply telling them that I was going to stop auto giving until I had more information about why Julie was suddenly let go and as to why the president and two other men were let go. Their response made the situation seem worse. Why can’t these things be talked about? And if these professors are aligned with biblically inerrant views, why can questions not be asked of them if people truly feel the need to ask?
I am quite heavy hearted, but I am praying and I am also excited for all that Jesus IS doing, both through his disciples at Moody and all over this world. However, I cannot give to an organization where it seems something (sin) is being covered up. It seems silly, If we are giving money to an organization we should be able to ask questions about where the money is going, there is certainly at least pride in this, but I also realize pride is constantly a reality is in all of us! Thank you Julie for answering the call.
From the Preface of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:
“We are persuaded that to deny [the Chicago Statement] is to set aside the witness of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit and to refuse that submission to the claims of God’s own Word which marks true Christian faith.
We see it as our timely duty to make this affirmation in the face of current lapses from the truth of inerrancy among our fellow Christians and misunderstanding of this doctrine in the world at large.”
And if that were not relevant enough, item five of “A Shorter Statement” reads,
“The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.”
It pains me that Moody has professors and VPs that have moved away from the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. Worse, they don’t seem to be willing to listen to the people or acknowledge the inerrancy issue as being as serious as it is.
“When all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; To your tents, O Israel! Now look after your own house, David!” So Israel departed to their tents” (1 Kings 12:16, NASB).
I would not consider Vanhoozer a “conservative” as much as I wouldn’t consider him a “liberal,” either. He has certainly moved the definition of inerrancy away from the Chicago statement. You mention his book on the Five Views of Inerrancy.
What Vanhoozer argues in his essay is the Bible has problem passages that need to be addressed. Such problems exist due to conflicts with science, geography, archeology, language, contradictory texts, etc. Some problems can be solved; however, literary concerns need to take part in solving these problems. So Vanhoozer turns to speech-act theory to solve the problem. He argues that what God does, God does perfectly. So if God gives a warning, the warning is given as perfectly as it can be given. If God makes an affirmation, what God affirms is absolutely true. Thus, the Bible is inerrant when it is affirming something. So how do we know whether the Bible is making an affirmation or not? Where does the affirmation lie? In the historical statements? Or in deeper religious truth claims? Vanhoozer next states that questions concerning the historicity of the fall of Jericho can be answered through literary issues. “The prior question for a well-versed approach to inerrancy must rather be, what is the author of Joshua saying/doing with his words? Specifically, is the main thrust of Joshua to give the kind of factual reporting that Americans have come to expect of newspapers such as the New York Times? We might expect this, but if we do, it says more about us than about the biblical authors, who could hardly be considered journalists. Rather what we have in Joshua is historical testimony, presented in an artful narrative way (that is, as a story-shaped history) and intended to highlight certain theological themes, all for the purpose of shaping the identity of the believing community and of encouraging them (us!) to walk faithfully before God.” (226) So then Vanhoozer refuses to answer the question of whether the Jericho account was historical or not, stating that the point of the text, “what the text affirms—is that God has indeed made good on his promise to give Israel the land and that the people on their part must respond to God’s faithfulness in like manner.” He does give the reader of the text the ability to affirm the historicity of the text, stating that “it does not follow, however, that the accounts in Joshua are myths, or even legends. On the contrary, Joshua 6 is artful narrative testimony to an event that happened in Israel’s past, an event that reveals both who God is (faithful to his promise) and who Israel is to be in response (obedient to the covenant). Readers, especially those who believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, are within their epistemic rights to trust this testimony until shown otherwise.” (228) So Vanhoozer believes that a reader of Scripture has an epistemological right to believe in the historicity of the Joshua account until which time external (to the biblical account) evidence shows otherwise. So if evidence does demonstrate otherwise, would Vanhoozer be willing to admit that the Bible is wrong in its historical statement? This is a question he does not answer.
What Vanhoozer does is to separate “religious truth” as affirmed true by the text, and “historical fact” as either less important, or possibly even non-existent within certain biblical narratives. While such statements are not as liberal to the degree that John Shelby Spong is liberal, they do reflect the liberal tendencies of separating religious truth from historical fact, as found in scholars such as Von Rad and others.
Not that anything Jesus said applies, nevertheless…..
Jesus told us to not make false statements, or vows- statements or vows that we fallen people may sincerely want to fulfill, but HE knows us better than we know ourselves….
“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”
20 years ago I was a Nazi. Jesus changed my heart and got me reading HIS Word. At first I thought everything I was reading was nonsense, and I freely shared my views with my parents, who were newly ordained Methodist pastors. My Mom told me that I was missing the spirit of The Word, and I had to just keep going…. as a newborn.
As I grew in Christ, I also grew in faith and trust in HIM, moreso than HIS Word, but because HE helped me to DO what I was reading and wondering/praying about through HIS Word. If I had not acted on my reading and wondering/praying- making mistakes along The Way and learning from them- I could have simply rejected all of it with my “vow” that God’s Word makes no sense, isn’t realistic, etc, etc.
I put very little, to no, trust in organized religion, any aspects of it, or any person who (seemingly) do- my judging by my hearing, or not hearing, God’s voice in their preaching/teaching. I followed Dr Charles Stanley, very ‘religiously’ for 5 years after my new birth….. until he said something that caused me to wonder, and pray. God answered that prayer by telling me that HE is God- not Charles Stanley.
God desired a personal relationship with each one of us, so much, that….. Yeah, HIS Only begotten Son was given to us, to crucify, kill, and bury. Are these institutions, run by our fellow fallen brothers and sisters, still crucifying, killing, and burying Jesus?
Time will tell, and they will be judged.
One visit with my parents, over lunch, my Mom, the ordained Methodist pastor, via “seminary”, and she who challenged me to seek The Spirit in God’s Word- she commented that “… Surely God did not create evil….”.
My immediate reply- the truth in love- was, “Oh yes HE Did Mom! HE most certainly did create evil.”. She couldn’t believe that I said that and asked me where I found that in The Bible. I responded with:
and most clearly John 1:1-3.
That shut her up. I did not want to, or like, shutting up my Mom, who at 75 years of age at the time, could still have knocked my head off…… but The Truth is The Truth, and sometimes, some of us simply must say it- no matter what. Mom heard The Truth from me, and was silent. I was in awe of God, and thankful for HIS helping me to “challenge” my Mom, who I respected and feared. That conversation helped our relationship, and both our relationships with our Lord, uncomfortable as it was at the time.
Jesus told us, and “us” includes everyone who has been, and is, a part of MBI or any other school, to NOT make any vows, and yet…..
This shaking of MBI may very well be God’s making sure of the hearts of both the students, and the teachers, and administration. HE knows, we don’t.
Thanks for your story. I praise God for calling and saving you,
And me. I have studied the Word of God for almost 50 years and I will study those verses you cited to back up your thought that God
Created evil. I will do cross references from those scriptures and get back to you. So far I am getting the statements written in Genesis: “ God saw that it was
Good.” (All His creation)
Please reply with your email.
Mine is [email protected]
God’ rich blessings to you this day.
I am troubled by your declaration that God created evil. Neither Genesis 1, nor John 1:1-3 mention evil. They speak of God creating the world, which Scripture clearly states was good (Genesis 1). Isaiah 45:7 speaks of the sending of calamity- not moral evil. While the Hebrew word could be translated evil in some contexts, the ESV, NIV, NASB, and NET translate it as “calamity” or “disaster.” It would be unwise to conclude that God created evil from this text. Moreover, it is inappropriate to conclude that because God created all that has been made (John 1) that he created evil. The tradition, particularly St. Augustine, has spoken of evil as a privation of good. Evil is not its own thing; rather, it is the absence or aberration of good. God created order. Sin is disorder. Perhaps it is wise to conceive of evil in these terms, because it helps us to understand God’s relationship to good and evil more correctly.
Also, I suggest reading Psalm 5:4 and James 1:13-18. I think they offer insight that should shape our thinking of this topic.
Wow. All I can say MP 15, is wow, in response to your comment, and that we shall see.
I am trusting in the God that I know, through HIS Word- AND prayer, that HE created what HE said HE did, and that when HE says that HE created ALL, that HE does not lie.
I am staking my life and eternity on my trusting HIM and HIS saying clearly what HE did, and did not create- are you?
Yeah, I am..and I’m doing it in the way that most (Western) Christians have for thousands of years…. lol
Why are you doing this? In a cultural moment that is so negative, violent, and antagonistic, the church should be a place we can look towards as a bastion for faith, hope, and love. Instead of tearing one another down for minor differences in our definions of doctrine, we should spur one another towards Christ.
As a current student at Moody, I have taken both Drs. Rim and Varma. Both men deeply love the Lord, both men hold fast to the Scriptures, and both men have pushed me along in my relationship with out Triune God. The authors Dr. Rim mentioned are assigned for some of his classes; if you’re truly worried that he’s pushing students away from traditional evangelical belief, I suggest that you read them and see firsthand that he’s teaching orthodox Christianity.
I don’t doubt that Rim and Varma love God. And I don’t have any desire to divide unnecessarily. But I firmly believe doctrine is incredibly important, especially when it comes to the inerrancy of Scripture. I have read Penner and even had him on my radio show. I would be happily engage him in discussion, but I would never want him to instruct my children.
Thank you for your kind reply. I also agree that doctrine is especially important. However, I’m not convinced the nuanced differences between the definitions of inerrancy between these two professors and Weber should stir up vitriol within the body. If anything, I enjoy that these beliefs can coexist on campus. I like that students can wrestle through and faithfully seek the Spirit’s guidance on issues they’ll inevitably face within ministry in an environment constructed to provide stability and support for those kinds of questions. I think conversational theology is incredibly important, and given that both of these orthodox views of innerrancy are normative within the evangelical church for the time being, students should have the opportunity to dialogue with professors who fall into both camps.
I don’t think rejecting the correspondence view of truth and the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy is normative. The Evangelical Theological Society voted in 2004 to adopt the Chicago Statement as its definition of inerrancy, seemingly indicating that it is the normative view within evangelicalism.
As I understand Moody, the institute was never intended to provide a smorgasbord of different theological views, even orthodox ones. For example, no one who is Postmillennialist could teach at Moody. Some may consider Moody’s view too narrow. That’s fine. Go to Wheaton or Westmont.
I don’t think honest disagreement needs to be vitriolic, though. There’s no vitriol here. However, I think the way the administration is publicly speaking about the issue is very disingenuous and needs to be called out. If MBI is going to shift its position and begin embracing postmodern definitions of truth, then it needs to make this new position known so parents, alumni, and donors understand what it is they’re supporting.
It is hard to know who loves, becs we can’t see into peoples’ hearts. As to the Correspondence Theory of Epistemology, do you believe this truth: “If A = B, the A+C = B+C” ? Does it pass the test as you stated it? Though I am not a pietist, I prefer to say that Axiom 2 in my system is “The Bible is the Word of God.” Scripture cannot be broken. It is true, inerrant & infallible.
But I never saw a long doctrinal statement that I wanted to sign, because somewhere there wud be something I disagreed with (as when DTS said there were 2 sacraments, but I don’t find the word sacrament in scripture). I suppose you feel forced to get philosophical and bring out technical terminology when someone signs that he believes the Bible is inerrant, but turns around and denies something the Bible clearly states. Now what is going to happen when a Bible College loves to hire men with Ph.D. from secular universities & liberal religious universities? Question arises, Did said person pay some doctrinal 30 pieces of silver to get his degree? Did Robert Gundry abandon pre-Tribism to get his PhD out of FF Bruce (falsely termed “evangelical”)? (my supervisor at U/Mch from which I graduated) – not that Pre-Trib vs post is a matter of orthodoxy.
– former MBI professor me
The above responses very well said and need to be thought about. I’m afraid that some who are responding the way they are is because they haven’t been around long enough to observe that no system builds itself up on its own. Given time and neglect everything decays…and that includes much of our theological thought of the day. One of the evils of our time has been that in Christendom we have been fed so much simplicity that the topic has virtually become void of all meaning. To say it another way, we can do two things with truth; over complicate it so no one understands it or over simplify it so that it looses all meaning.
I sincerely hope your show in some form can continue. I enjoyed and appreciated the information and knowledge shared so much. Thank you.
“Why Franklin Graham’s salary raises eyebrows among Christian nonprofits”
He makes $880,000/year.
A pastor friend of mine who is also a Moody Grad made a good point to me. Shouldn’t Moody formalize their acceptance of the Chicago Document? It seems a little flimsy to say, “we’ve not adopted this document, but everyone knows we believe it.” Well, the truth is not everyone knows and agrees with it if you have professors who can’t sign off on it. What the Chicago Document does is clarifies in detail what the true meaning of inerrancy is.
I’m curious that you have recorded another person’s statement on two professors and publicly described them as liberal and as rejecting the correspondence view. Given that at least one of them did not respond to your inquiry, could you not have withheld comment until you knew for sure? I know Professor Verma well. The examples you describe and liberal views rejecting the correspondence view do not describe him. This kind of presumption hurts people, it hurts families. Maybe this is a reason he doesn’t wish to correspond?
Adhering to this standard would essentially allow any source who wanted to stonewall a story to do so. I gave Dr. Varma a chance to respond. He chose not to do so. However, I talked to other people present at that meeting who corroborated Weber’s account.
Remember Julie, Dr. Varma has the right to refuse to respond to you, an individual who is no longer employed by Moody Bible Institute, about matters that put his livelihood on the line.
I know that I would be afraid to respond, given your track record of inciting outrage against administration and faculty.
Perhaps this devoted professor (which I know him to be, as a student) prefers to spend his time on his students and family more than responding to you? Can you blame him? Should you blame him?
I think not.
As far as I know, Dr. Varma is still employed by Moody.
It’s the way you have presented it. A reader can sense a clear animus from these words- does Verma’s silence mean that he agrees with what you have said? Digging for theological missteps could be done in any direction. Your sources aren’t above it either, but it doesn’t mean it should be done so recklessly and publicly. You owe these people the courtesy.
Having read _Five Views On Biblical Inerrancy_, it does make me wonder how careful Dr. Weber has read that book. From Julie Roys’ blog post:
“Three of the viewpoints in that book actually deny inerrancy of Scripture,” Weber said. “One of the contributors, Peter Enns, says there was no wall around the city of Jericho, but he doesn’t consider that to be an error because he’s essentially redefined what error means. It’s a whole post-modern game. It depends on what the definition of the word ‘is’ is.”
Weber’s statement is misleading. Al Mohler, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Bird, and John R. Franke all say that they affirm inerrancy, in some form. Pete Enns does not believe that inerrancy best describes how the Bible “behaves.” It would be fair to say that Pete Enns does not consider himself an “inerrantist.” But Weber’s statement might imply (as I read him) that Pete Enns might be one of those three affirming inerrancy, yet redefining what “error” means.
That is just confusing.
Mohler was the only one of the contributors who had an unqualified affirmation of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Vanhoozer could affirm the Chicago Statement, but in a more nuanced manner. Bird considers the inerrancy debate to be part of the American tradition, out of step with the global church, where terms like “infallibility” and “divine truthfulness” are more accurate to describe Scripture. Franke has a more postmodern (and in my view, inadequate) approach to affirming inerrancy by “recasting” inerrancy in postmodern categories.
The point of the book, in my estimation, is that “inerrancy” can be a difficult word to properly define. Unfortunately, Weber’s brief comments here do not add clarity.
It might be more helpful if Dr. Weber can expand on what he really meant to say.
I’m sure Dr. Weber will be able to find a job fairly quickly at Hyles-Anderson College, Bob Jones, or Pensacola Christian College. I’m sure they’ll be happy to have you as well.
Bob, exactly how are those schools involved with this issue?
They align with Julie’s theology and Dr. Weber’s theology more than Moody’s. They’d be a better fit at those schools.
Bob, those schools are premillennial, pre-trib, young earth. This is their theology. Aren’t these doctrines endorsed at Moody?
Hyles-Anderson College, Bob Jones, or Pensacola Christian College are fundamentalist colleges, Moody is evangelical. What’s the difference? J.P. Moreland at Biola University noted, for example:
“Evangelicals are not Fundamentalists. While they share many beliefs in common with Evangelicals, contemporary Christian Fundamentalists differ from Evangelicals in that Fundamentalists are far more black and white, they are deeply suspicious of culture and anything that smacks of compromise with contemporary thought, they are too confrontational, narrow, rigid, judgmental, and harsh for Evangelicals. Fundamentalists tend to elevate minor areas of Christian teaching to the status of central dogmas and militantly fight all who compromise. The texture and tone of Fundamentalists differ sharply from those of Evangelicals. Fundamentalists tend to be defensive while Evangelicals tend to be more mercy-oriented towards outsiders.”
My point is Julie and Weber are more on the fundamentalist side than the evangelical. Moody is not a fundamentalist school, but evangelical. Moody may have some fundamentalist teachers, but they are not the majority (I attended Moody from 2004-2008). These fundamentalist teachers are trying to change the institute from evangelical to fundamentalist.
If God inspired the authors of the Bible, so that they did not make any errors, why did he not ensure that the scribes accurately copied the text, who later introduced textual errors. Technically speaking, none of the 5000+ manuscripts of the NT is exactly alike. They contain errors. Therefore, the text we read today is not inerrant. It suggests that God is not too concerned with keeping the text error free as some American evangelicals like yourself are. Surely, a God who could inspire the text can also preserve it if he thought it was that important.
Whatever problems those schools might have, the issue currently facing MBI isn’t one of them. By the way, Moody Bible was fundamentalist from its inception until it abandoned that stance sometime in the 1970s. Until then, its constituency and position were solidly fundamentalist. Dr. Will Houghton received his honorary doctorate from BJU. Dr. Harry Ironside served on the Boards of Trustees for both Wheaton College and BJU in the 1930s. MBI was better off when it resisted the world. As one who’s been enrolled as a student at Wheaton, Moody and BJU, I know what I’m talking about.
Militarily defending a very narrow view of inerrancy (remember both Rim and Varna hold to inerrancy) reflects fundamentalism more than evangelicalism. Decrying, as Julie has done, rule changes that allow drinking and recreational gambling also reflects fundamentalism. As you noted, many years ago Moody moved from a fundamentalist school to an evangelical school. The fundamentalists at Moody don’t like this and are trying to reverse this change. Not only are they trying to reverse it, they are basically saying evangelicals schools like Moody are not truly Christian. If they are truly Christian, why be so militant and aggressive and demanding? Moody is not saying one cannot hold to the Chicago statement, but they realize the issue is complex and there those who hold to inerrancy sometimes differ.
I get the financial issues Julie has been noting. I think Moody’s financial decisions have been problematic giving its financial struggles and its reliance on donations.
Dr. Louis Barbieri made a good point in one of my theology classes. He said we have everything the original authors wrote. The problem is we have too much, meaning Scribes added to the Scripture for clarification. When you study the 5,000 variant Greek texts you can surmise what the original is.
How do we really know we have everything? How do we know that scribes did not remove anything? The manuscript evidence indicates they did remove, not only add, so in places we really do not know what the original said. If God perfectly inspired the text, why not also perfectly preserve it? Maybe God is not concerned with the minute details like we moderns are, but the major points only.
It was my understanding that Moody held to the Chicago Statement (if not by signature, at least in spirit). That is how it portrayed itself – at least as I understood. I would venture to say that a vast majority of its supporters assumed this as well, whatever word is used. Simply, that the Bible is true.
Labels (evangelical, orthodox, fundamentalist, etc.) are not always helpful – definitions can change over time. I would prefer Biblical, but even that term is variously defined. However, inerrant, as the Chicago Statement defines it, is still useful – and I would suggest, essential. It defines us.
Back in my college days I wrote a paper on the topic of inerrancy, because for me it was THE foundational issue. Lindsell’s “Battle For The Bible” said it well, as did Schaeffer’s “The Great Evangelical Disaster” a few year’s later. It truly is, as Shaeffer put it, the “watershed” issue. Differ here, and we end up in very different places. And in my years in ministry, I have repeatedly witnessed this – both theologically, and, consequentially, ethically. Reports suggest an erosion of both at Moody. One inevitably follows the other.
Most concerning, though, is the logic behind rejecting the traditional understanding of inerrancy. Simply, if Adam isn’t neccesarily literal, the flood was a local flood or near-eastern myth, the walls of Jericho didn’t fall down, Daniel and the lions was allegory, etc., then it’s not much of a leap to question the virgin birth or resurrection of our Lord. Who determines what is or isn’t true? Which authority is able to decipher the real meaning of a text? This opens a Pandora’s box (excuse the myth analogy). Stumble here and eventually all the blocks come tumbling down.
I agree that Moody needs a Mohler. That would save this school, and bring God’s blessing. Short of that…. finances will dry up… most supporters are of the traditional ilk.
As I have stated in comments on other blogs, I truly have a troubled heart over what is happening at Moody. When I read the letter about the Urban Ministry dept and about Clive Craigen, I thought “is this student demonstrating a mature understanding of the social implications of the good news of Jesus, as well as a multi-faceted view of missiology and political engagement?”
As I read what is stated about Rim and Varma, I have to admit that I have to wonder if this is making a mountain out of a non-existent mole hill. I had Rim for apologetics (received one of my worst Moody grades), and had to reconsider a lot of what I thought was sound reasoning. I never had Varma as a professor, but he was one of the professors on my summer study trip in 2010. During that trip it was evident that he did not hold B B Warfield’s inerrancy view.
I mention the above three professors because there is a glaring elephant in the room. Moody’s current doctrinal statement has a heretical statement on the Trinity. This was pointed out by a seminary theology professor. If we care deeply about theological points, is it more significant to make sure the school clarifies a statement on our Triune God (1st tier doctrine), or on missiology or inerrancy?
If Rim states that he can sign the statement on inerrancy with integrity, should we doubt him?
But then again, if professors have been signing the school’s doctrinal statement for decades which holds a heretical view (ask the theology professors), then maybe it is just plain time to go through the whole document and revise it.
It is not good for the teachers to be in an environment where they have to ask “am I teaching within the boundaries allowed.” This can cause bitterness and resentment. I truly do wish the best for all the professors there. Clarification is needed.
I wonder though – have you consulted Dr. Mohler about this situation and asked if he agrees with the sentiment that this is similar to what theirs was like? Have you asked former Moody presidents about whether there was any controversy about the doctrinal statement? If you are bold, maybe you could ask Ehrman to weigh in on this, since inerrancy is one of the main reasons why he states he left Christianity (and he is one of the most [in]famous alums of our beloved MBI).
Thank you for keeping me informed about the school I love very much.
To clarify, Ehrman is pretty clear that he left fundamentalist Christianity (not Christianity all together) because of problems with inerrancy. He talks about this in his book “Misquoting Jesus.” He stopped be a Christian about 15 years later because of the problem of suffering. In fact, Ehrman also just recently wrote about inerrancy on his blog: https://ehrmanblog.org/misquoting-jesus-and-my-fundamentalist-faith/
please explain how Moody’s statement on the Trinity is heretical.
Where does the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy affirm a correspondence view of truth or deny other views? I skimmed through it and word-searched “correspondence;” no luck.
I’m late to this discussion but have gone through college and seminary throughout the late 90’s and 00’s. Just a quick comment. Evangelicalism has been wrestling for quite some time with Postmodernism. It seems the thoughtful crowd in evangelicalism has embraced postmodernity’s critique of modernity and are grateful for it. This is all well and good, because the core of modernity was to find an epistemological basis apart from the Bible and Church dogmatics. But cogito ergo sum isn’t a solid basis and none was ever found, leading to Kant, leading to postmodern critiques. This has led to observations about the role of language and paradigms, etc. in how we understand things. It’s from here, that postivite postmodern proposals run off the rails that there is no objective truth or ways to know objective truth.
In short, most evangelical scholars embrace postmodern critiques of modernity but do not embrace many of their solutions, but see helpful correctives to places Christianity has embraced modernity.
From here, there is a spectrum of responses. Some don’t wade in very deep, sense there is a deep threat, and without understanding some of the benefits of postmodernity, lambaste it all. Postmodern is a perjorative in every sense. Sadly, some evangelicals embrace too much and lose the sense that God speaks and we can understand and apprehend truth. Many are still processing, and there is a spectrum of responses. Since Vanhoozer is mentioned here, I would highly recommend Is There Any Meaning in This Text as a thoughtful wrestling with many postmodern scholars and his formulation of how we can move forward.
But this is an issue that faces every institution [it roiled Cedarville sometime back in unhealthy ways]. I think if everyone would keep in mind the distinction between postmodern critiques of modernism [helpful] and postmodern attempts to constructively talk about truth [often unhelpful], we’d be better served in communicating clearly in this day and age.
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