Plain vanilla is good

Plain vanilla is good

This is a review of Rolland McCune’s doctrine of scripture and God’s self-disclosure from his text, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity.

I read Rolland McCune’s systematic years ago, and still refer to it occasionally. It is an excellent representation of scholarly, second-stage[1] Northern Baptist fundamentalism. Tellingly, it is the only meaningful work of systematic theology a latter-day Baptist fundamentalist has yet produced in America.[2] I still treasure memories of reading the second volume of his systematic theology text regarding Christology.

In the doctrine of scripture from his first volume, McCune explains that general revelation acts through creation and conscience and reveals non-verbal information about God.[3] Preservation of scripture is providential, not miraculous. “Because of this, God does not miraculously prevent mistranslations or errant transmissions.”[4] God’s word is providentially preserved in the totality of manuscripts.[5] The Spirit assures us God’s word is true and provides “an ongoing capacity to understand the significance of scripture.”[6]

Accurate interpretation of Scripture is predicated on two pillars; (1) scripture is sufficiently clear about the Gospel, and (2) it is sufficient for life and godliness.[7] “It does not wait to be sufficient until it encounters the individual nor does it cease to be sufficient when rejected or ignored by the same.”[8]

In fact, the entire debate—both about inspiration and, even, inerrancy—boils down to whether or not one accepts Scripture’s origin and, subsequently, its claims about itself. Either these are accepted or rejected; there is no middle ground.[9]

McCune has excellent discussions about Jesus and the apostles’ testimony about the inspiration of the Old and New Covenant scripture.[10] His chart of the Old Testament miracles Jesus affirms is particularly helpful.[11]

McCune holds to a concursus kind of inspiration,[12] which he curiously files under the “dictation” heading.[13] He explains, “Concursive inspiration insists on the (miraculous) participation of both man and God in the writing process.”[14] He flippantly dismisses the dynamic theory in two short paragraphs, citing Augustus Strong as a proponent, falsely claiming this view believes scripture “merely records human reflections on historical encounters with God.”[15] Strong’s extensive discussion[16] deserved better than this, and McCune errs by imputing neo-orthodoxy to him—an anachronism if ever there was one!

Scripture is the result of God’s creative power—it is God-produced, not God-animated.[17] If “all” Scripture is produced by God, “then this production must extend to its very words.”[18] McCune does not deal with problem passages. As McCune left matters, the reader must conclude God moved the biblical writers to quote the LXX rather than the Hebrew, and produced Paul’s (shall we say) … creative re-purposing of Psalm 68:18 at Ephesians 4:8-10.

McCune believes inerrancy “argues for accuracy of statement, not necessarily exactness of statement.”[19] He declares, “[w]ithout question, the Bible teaches its own inerrancy by claiming its own truthfulness.”[20] Given that McCune goes on to pursue two lines of evidence for the Bible’s truthfulness,[21] one wonders why Michael Bird’s suggestion to re-package this concept as “divine truthfulness” has not caught on with Americans.[22]

McCune then draws a parallel to Christ’s dual nature incarnation to help us understand how God and man worked together to produce inspired scripture.[23] Troublingly, Strong has an excellent discussion on this very point just beyond where McCune last cited him,[24] but McCune never credits Strong (or, indeed, any theologian) with this insight.[25]

McCune closes the selection with a helpful survey of seven ways God reveals Himself to people.[26]

McCune does not interact with those even a bit to his left in any sustained way. For example, it would have been helpful if he had addressed criticism from the center-left of evangelicalism such as that of Donald Bloesch, who labeled positions like McCune’s an “epistemic bondage to Enlightenment rationalism.”[27] Bloesch was neither a liberal or a fundamentalist, and his observations are worth the effort to engage them. For example, “[b]iblical inerrancy has become a slogan masking a not-so-hidden antipathy to the historical-critical approach to Scripture.”[28]

But, McCune stays away from this. His is a solid, conservative systematic theology advancing views rather standard among second-stage Northern Baptist fundamentalists and their heirs. It’s a beginning text. It’s a “safe” place to get the “right” answers. That is not to say McCune’s answers are wrong. He just does not interact meaningfully with opposing views. Indeed, the student reading his text may not realize there are other views that hold sway in the broader stream of evangelicalism.


[1] This is Roger Olson’s term (Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology [Louisville: WJK, 2004]pp. 36-39). He accurately distinguishes first-stage fundamentalists who were concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy from second-stage fundamentalists whose rhetorical foe became conservatives who “compromised” on doctrine. First-stage fundamentalists are the modern conservative evangelicals (e.g. the GARBC). Second-stage fundamentalists are groups like the FBFI and the ACCC, who still fight the good fight of separation from evangelicals and other conservatives.

See also Tyler Robbins, “Fundys, Evangelicals, and the Eye of a Needle …” at eccentricfundamentalist.com (15 December 2019). Retrieved from https://eccentricfundamentalist.com/2019/12/15/fundys-evangelicals-and-the-eye-of-a-needle/.

[2] One possible exception is Emery Bancroft, Christian Theology, second revised ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976). Bancroft’s work began life in 1925 and went through several editions. Bancroft died in 1944, and was a co-founder of Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, PA. I hesitate to include Bancroft because I doubt he could be considered a “fundamentalist” in the second-stage sense of the term at all.

[3] Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, 3 vols. (Detroit: DBTS, 2006-2009), 1: 42-43.  

[4] Ibid, p. 49.  

[5] Ibid, p. 54. 

[6] Ibid, pp. 56-57.  

[7] Ibid, pp. 58-62.  

[8] Ibid, p. 61.  

[9] Ibid, p. 63.  

[10] Ibid, pp. 65-77.  

[11] Ibid, pp. 67-68.  

[12] Ibid, pp. 37-39.  

[13] Ibid, pp. 80-81.  

[14] Ibid, p. 81.  

[15] Ibid, p. 80.     

[16] Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tappan: Revell, 1907), 211-222. McCune’s issue with the dynamic theory seems to be that it denies God’s direct agency in the choice of words (Systematic Theology, 1:80). Strong is inconsistent on this point. At the beginning of his discussion, he argues inspiration is plenary (Systematic, 211) but then remarks, “[t]hought is possible without words, and in the order of nature precedes words. The Scripture writers appear to have been so influenced by the Holy Spirit that they perceived and felt even the new truths they were to publish, as discoveries of their own minds, and were left to the action of their own minds in the expression of these truths, with the single exception that they were supernaturally held back from the selection of wrong words, and when needful were provided with the right ones,” (Ibid, p. 216).

[17] McCune, Systematic Theology, p. 83.  

[18] Ibid, p. 87.  

[19] Ibid, p. 90.  

[20] Ibid, p. 91.  

[21] Ibid, pp. 91-93.

[22] “Rather than ‘inerrancy,’ a better categorization of Scripture’s claims for itself would be ‘veracity,’ or ‘divine truthfulness.’ Instead of stating how or in what way the Bible is not untrue—which is an odd thing to say, when you think about it—we are better off simply asserting that God’s Word is true as it correlates with God’s intent for what Scripture is to achieve, because he is faithful to his world and to his Word,” (Michael Bird, “Inerrancy is Not Necessary for Evangelicalism Outside the USA,” in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, ed. Stanley Gundry [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013; Kindle ed.], KL 2655).

[23] Systematic Theology, 1:102-103.  

[24] Strong, Systematic, 212-222.  

[25] See McCune, Systematic Theology, 1:102-103 at footnotes 129-131.  

[26] Ibid, pp. 171-187.  

[27] Donald Bloesch, Holy Scripture (Downers Grove: IVP, 1994), 33f.

[28] Ibid, p. 32.

Sufficiency of the Scriptures (Part #3b)

10reasons

This is Part #3b on my series about the absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures as the sole, infallible authority for Christian faith and life. Part #1 set the stage. Parts #2a and #2b examined what several books in the New Testament had to say on the subject. Part #3a, along with this post, examine several critical passages which teach the doctrine of sola scriptura.

2 Peter 1:16-21

In this passage, Peter shows great concern that Christians “confirm their calling and election,” (2 Pet 1:10). He listed several traits (2 Pet 1:5-7) which should be the practical outworking of a fruitful life in Christ (2 Pet 1:8). Peter endeavored to constantly remind Christians of these points (2 Pet 1:12-15), and then set out to demonstrate the validity of the truth he preached.

Peter made it very clear that he and the other apostles “did not follow cleverly devised myths” when they preached of the second coming of Christ, and reminded his readers he was an eyewitness of His majesty! (2 Pet 1:16). Once again, deviation from a concrete, propositional truth is a negative thing to the NT evangelists. Peter is stressing the legitimacy of the doctrine he preached, and he did so by affirming that it was truthful and in accordance with actual events. Peter recounted what he saw on the Mount of Transfiguration, when he saw the glorified Christ and heard the voice of God the Father issuing His seal of approval on His Son’s ministry. His Second Coming will happen. Peter assures his audience he knows this to be true because he witnessed God’s approval on His Son (2 Pet 1:18).

Implicitly, then, the whole of the Gospel message is also true and correct. Peter makes this very connection when he remarks, “and we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed,” (2 Pet 1:19a). Peter’s eyewitness testimony confirms the validity, accuracy and above all the sufficiency of the OT Scriptures – the transfiguration confirms the eventual fulfillment of the prophesies.[1] Peter uses the authority of the OT Scriptures alone to confirm the new mystery of the church age and the Gospel of Christ. This is progressive revelation once again; the new revelation in perfect accord with the old.

Meanwhile, as Christians wait for that blessed day (Titus 2:13), Peter calls his readers back to the sacred Scriptures, encompassing both the Hebrew Scriptures and the new revelation of the apostles. He tells them to “pay attention” to them, “as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts,” (2 Pet 1:19b). “As a light, God’s word has validity and authority.”[2]

It is significant that Peter directs his readers only to God’s unshakable word for comfort and guidance in Christian life. Calvin remarked,

His object only was to teach us that the whole course of our life ought to be guided by God’s word; for otherwise we must be involved on every side in the darkness of ignorance; and the Lord does not shine on us, except when we take his word as our light.[3]

Peter continued onward and emphasized the source of Scripture; “no prophesy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation,” (2 Pet 1:20). Again, it is not a cunningly devised fable. It is divinely inspired. It is propositional truth. No true prophesy “was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” (2 Pet 1:21). “To bear” or “to guide” translates the Greek word phero.[4] As Scripture authors penned their works, they were impelled, borne along and guided by the Spirit. “The metaphor here is of Prophets raising their sails, the Holy Spirit filling them and carrying their craft along in the direction He wished.”[5] This, along with 2 Tim 3:16-17, is clear testimony to the divine nature, authority and absolute sufficiency of the Scriptures.

The next post will establish that the New Testament is the sole, infallible authority for church polity. It comes from a distinctly Baptist perspective because, well . . . I’m a Baptist! 


[1] Edwin A. Blum, 2 Peter, vol. 12, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 274.

[2] Roger M. Raymer, 2 Peter, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. J.F. Walvoord and R. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 868.

[3] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 388.

[4] The Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Logos Bible Software, 2011.

[5] King, Holy Scripture, 95.

The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess

Below is a linked article to a short blog series entitled “10 Basic Facts About the New Testament Every Christian Should Memorize.” The author is Michael Kruger, author of an excellent book on the canon of the New Testament entitled Canon Revisited.

This excerpt is from the first in the series, which emphasizes that Christians should know that the NT writings are the earliest Christian writings we have!

One of the most formidable challenges in any discussion about the New Testament canon is explaining what makes these 27 books unique.  Why these and not others?  There are many answers to that question, but in this blog post we are focusing on just one: the date of these books.  These books stand out as distinctive because they are earliest Christian writings we possess and thus bring us the closest to the historical Jesus and to the earliest church.   If we want to find out what authentic Christianity was really like, then we should rely on the writings that are the nearest to that time period.

The full article is here.

Scripture as Historical Source Documents

I must draw everybody’s attention to the new work by Candida Moss, entitled The Myth of Christian Persecution. I will reserve judgment on her work because I have not read it; however, I encourage everybody to read a short article where she summarizes her views on the matter here.

There is a tendency with liberal Christians and non-believers to deny the authenticity, let alone historicity, of Scripture from the outset. No serious scholar, of any theological persuasion, would deny that the NT is the most widely attested document from the ancient world. We can be more certain about the text of the NT than any other document from antiquity. However, such critics a priori dismiss them as historical source documents out of hand because their worldview will not accept anything else.

“Sure, they’re old documents,” they say. “We can’t actually take them seriously, though. They’re religious, after all . . .”

The irony is that such critics are blind to their own hostile starting point of enmity against God (Rom 1:18), while at the same time they castigate Christians for making inspired, inerrant Scripture their own starting point!

There is a wide divide between liberals and non-believers on one hand, and conservative, Bible believing Christians on the other. There is a tendency to want to toss the Bible aside and dive into the early church fathers to rebut some of Moss’ claims from her article. Surely the church fathers have a good amount of information to offer us, but we must never give up the validity and historical accuracy of the Scriptures themselves. If we do, we’ve already lost the battle before it even began.

This graphic, from Answers in Genesis, captures the opposing worldviews at play in any apologetic encounter. The picture depicts evolution vs creationism, but you get the idea . . .

The ultimate irony here, however, is that Moss contests the most basic fact of Christianity – Christ died for our sins and suffered persecution because He dared to proclaim the His divinity and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (Mk 1:14-15). Christ promised the disciples that persecution would inevitably follow and prayed for their safety (Jn 17:14-15). The Gospel is inherently offensive to sinful men. How can it be otherwise? Moss’ contention that early persecution was a convenient myth is (1) an explicit contradiction of the testimony of Scripture and (2) an implicit admission of an exalted view of man, in that she would deny the Gospel is inherently offensive to sinful men who have no fear of God (Rom 3:9-18).

The “Gospel” of Judas . . . ?

gospel-judas-1

A news story about the so-called “Gospel of Judas” is starting to receive attention from the media.

The Gospel of Judas is a fragmented Coptic (Egyptian)-language text that portrays Judas in a far more sympathetic light than did the gospels that made it into the Bible. In this version of the story, Judas turns Jesus over to the authorities for execution upon Jesus’ request, as part of a plan to release his spirit from his body. In the accepted biblical version of the tale, Judas betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

First, the document dates to 280 A.D., which is approximately 250 years after Jesus’ ministry, death, burial and resurrection.

Second, the author assumes a great deal about the canonization of the New Testament. There were good reasons why the Gospel of Judas was not accepted as authentic, inspired scripture by the early Christian community.

Third, this is not a tale. The Biblical account of Jesus’ ministry is a historical, objective fact.

Fourth, Jesus did not die on the cross “as part of a plan to release his spirit from his body.” This seems a bit mystical to me, and consistent with other false, Gnostic “gospels” the media and theological liberals like to trumpet from the rooftops.

Criteria

Briefly, these were the criteria for Scripture to be considered authentic in the early years of Christianity:

(1) It had to have been written by an actual Apostle of Christ (Mk 3:13-21) or a disciple

The New Testament was written by these men who walked with Christ and were taught by Him personally. It was written in their own lifetimes. The copy of this spurious “Gospel of Judas” was written 250 years later and conflicts with contemporary accounts. Not too trustworthy!

To place this in a modern context, say I suddenly produced a letter entitled, “The Memoirs of General Fred Hillbilly – Confederate General Extraordinaire.” Suppose in this letter, I claimed that General Robert E. Lee actually didn’t fight at Gettysburg at all – his army was routed while in camp and all his soldiers were asleep. Men were bayoneted in their tents, shot out of hand and all prisoners were hung without trial and tossed into mass, unmarked graves. It was a cold-blooded massacre, and the myth of Picket’s charge on the Union lines was invented to protect the reputation of the Union Army and President Lincoln. This is obviously ridiculous revisioist history, not to be taken seriously by any thinking person. This is precisely what this “Gospel of Judas” is to Christian history.

(2) It had to reflect the common, orthodox body of teaching received by the apostles and disciples

The Gospel of Judas did not reflect this teaching. Documents which did not reflect the accurate, corporate teaching of Christ and the apostles was given little weight. For example, “The Memoirs of General Fred Hillbilly – Confederate General Extraordinaire,” does not reflect accurate history. Likewise, the “Gospel” of Judas does not mesh with contemporary source documents – including Scripture. Never let anybody tell you Scripture cannot be trusted because it is “religious.”

(3) It has to have divine qualities – it testifies of itself

Inspired Scripture will speak to those who are genuinely saved and have the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:6-16). To those who have not been saved by the grace of God, it will be virtually incomprehensible. The whole weight of Scripture testifies to the authenticity of the Biblical account of Jesus’ betrayal at Judas’ hands. Satan was working in Judas’ heart, tempting him to betray Christ (Jn 13:2). Jesus stated one of the disciples would betray Him (Jn 13:21), and identified Judas as the man (Jn 13:26). Judas then fled into the night (Jn 13:27). This account is also given in Mt 26:14-16, Mk 14:10-11 and Lk 22:3-6. A false “gospel” which posits that the purpose of Christ’s death was to “release His spirit from His body” does not gel with the body of faith, or corporate teaching, of the rest of the New Testament.

When people think of “choosing the canon of Scripture,” they inevitably conjure up images of men sitting around a conference table, picking which books belong in the New Testament and which one’s don’t. It did not work this way! Those books which had the marks of authenticity, described above, grew in popularity and prominence and were gradually adopted over time by the great majority of the Christian churches in the first three hundred years or so after Christ’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension. In short, by the time lists of “orthodox” books began to circulate, the church fathers were not arbitrarily picking some to keep and some to toss in the trash –they were merely codifying what had already happened in the larger Christian community.

There is no reason to take this silly “gospel” seriously. Please force unbelievers and theological liberals to use these same standards of reasoning and apply them to undisputed historical figures – they will see the amazing double standard at work. Would anybody be willing to give “The Memoirs of General Fred Hillbilly – Confederate General Extraordinaire” the time of day? Then don’t give the “Gospel of Judas” the time of day either.

How Did Books Get Into the Bible?

Ever wonder why some Christian writings are in the Bible and others aren’t? Have you ever heard about “lost” Gospels that never made it into the canon? Why didn’t they?

We’ll take a look at this in the video, and respond to Dr. Bart Ehrman’s implication that writings the church considered “heretical” might deserve a place in the Bible. Even if you don’t care about Dr. Ehrman’s charge and just want to know the criteria for canonicity, this is a helpful video. Enjoy!