This letter began life as a private email. Since Dr. Moreland chose not to respond, which is his prerogative (he undoubtedly has better things to do with his time than reply to a nonentity like me), I’ll post it.
BTW, my criticisms don’t subtract from the fact that Dr. Moreland has either written or coauthored a number of very useful books in the field of Christian apologetics. They’re well worth reading.
Dear Dr. Moreland,
A friend drew my attention to your recent ETS speech about Evangelical overcommittment to Scripture:
Before I comment on that, let me say that I appreciate all the fine work you’ve done over the years in the field of Christian apologetics.
On a more personal note, my parents and I went to one of your presentations shortly before my father died (in 1999). This was at Westminster Chapel in the Greater Seattle area. I’m glad that my dad had a chance to hear you.
That said, I have a number of problems with your ETS speech.
1. You characterize the position you’re opposing in such terms as “bibliolatry,” “false,” “irrational,” “harmful,” “mean-spirited,” “grotesque,” “ignorant,” and “distorted.”
Now, I don’t have any inherent objection to the use of harsh language. But when you single out as spokesmen for the opposing position such men as Schaeffer, Kuyper, Gaffin, MacArthur, Carl Henry, and unnamed representatives of the Biblical Counseling movement, do you really think that’s the most accurate way to characterize the opposition?
2. “Bibliolatry” is the sort of word that Fosdick would use. Why are you lending ammo to the enemy? Can’t you anticipate that liberal Bible-haters will start quoting you?
3.You say you’re opposing Christians who view the Bible as the sole source of knowledge in faith and practice. But you actually cite no one or almost no one who takes that position.
For example, you cite a secondary source on Schaeffer, Kuyper, and Carl Henry, and then immediately shift to an indictment regarding the lack of political reflection and political engagement among Evangelicals. This is just baffling when it comes right on the heels of a reference to Schaeffer, Kuyper, and Carl Henry. These men were deeply involved in political activism. And where Kuyper and Henry are concerned, they were political theorists as well as political activists. Kuyper had a very complex and nuanced position.
4. You also don’t display any firsthand knowledge of the people you talk about. For example, Henry’s aversion to the natural law isn’t due to his general commitment to sola Scriptura, but to his specific commitment to anti-empiricist philosophy of his mentor, Gordon Clark.
Also, wasn’t a major point of Evangelicalism, of which Henry was a founding member, in contrast to the Fundamentalism of the day, the need to engage the culture? Why do you pick on Carl Henry as if he were Bob Jones when, in fact, Henry was in the vanguard of Christian leaders attempting to engage the culture?
5. As to Yoder, to the extent that he admonishes Christians to avoid political activism, that would be due, not to his commitment to sola Scriptura, but to his Anabaptistic separatism.
6. While your golden age view of how universities used to operate has a grain of truth, it also strikes me as so overstated as to be a utopian retrojection. For example, the Great Awakening took place during Colonial American history. And that was in response to such liberalizing trends as the fact that Harvard had already gone Unitarian.
Certainly the secularizing trend has accelerated to the point where we see it today. But it’s been around for a long time.
And even the current degree of secularization is quite superficial. The views of college professors in general are hardly interchangeable with the views of college students in general.
7. To judge by your speech, you also have the frankly naive habit of taking the pomo/PC rhetoric at face-value. But surely you must be aware of the fact that no one is more dogmatic about their moral rectitude of their political views than Far Left academics in sociology and womyn’s studies and queer studies, &c. In theory, they’re moral relativists, but they’re quite absolutistic in their value judgments as well their efforts to impose their value judgments on others by force of law. They don’t preach or practice a fact/value dichotomy. They relativize the opposing viewpoint while canonizing their own.
8. Moreover, Far Left academics generally retain a cognitivist interpretation of religious claims, at least when it comes to Christian ethics and the Bible. They don’t take the position that Scripture is neither true nor false. To the contrary, they regard the Bible as wrong—dead wrong. They regard Scripture and traditional Christian ethics as oppressive, immoral, sexist, patriarchal, homophobic, unscientific, &c.
At a certain level, you must be aware of this. But it’s as if you’re blinded to the obvious because you’re seeing things through the filter of their pomo/PC rhetoric.
9.As to the business of trading Plato and Aristotle for football and school spirit, once again, surely you’re not so Pollyannaish as to believe that back before the (mythical) “shift,” most-all college students were deeply invested the life of the mind.
To take one obvious example, in the past, many college students were noblemen. More aristocratic than Aristotelian. They went to college because that’s what was expected of them. You went to Eton, and then to Oxford, because that was a stamp of your social class.
Do you think the average college student was more interested in composing Latin sonnets in the style of Horace than a good game of rugby—or a trip to the pub, or a trip to the brothel?
And even for that fraction of the student body which did take an avid interest in the life of the mind, wasn’t a lot of the scholarship pretty trivial? I mean, okay, so Richard Bentley unleashed his magnificent erudition to expose the Epistles of Phalaris as spurious. Exactly what signal contribution did that make to the formation of character or the advancement of knowledge?
It seems to me that you’re so intent on justifying the hortatory payoff in part 3 of your speech that you are constantly turning a blind eye to reality in parts 1-2.
10. I don’t know why you bring up archeology. Do you think that Evangelicals are opposed to archeology? What evidence do you have that Evangelicals are generally opposed to archeology?
To my knowledge, Evangelicals have even carved out a subdivision of archeology called Biblical archeology. They’ve made this field their very own.
11. You think that Evangelicals should borrow a page from John-Paul II and Benedict XIV on natural law. Up to a point, I don’t object to natural law. But there are a couple of fundamental limitations to this approach:
i) Natural law is useful on some very broad issues, like the moral status of sodomy. But it doesn’t furnish the kind of fine-tuned guidance we need in many cases.
ii) Because natural law is still a version of theistic ethics, the same folks who reject Christian ethics generally reject natural law ethics.
Your illustration of John-Paul II actually undercuts your appeal. He had a long pontificate. In the final years he was enfeebled, but he originally had a very vigorous pontificate. He was charismatic. He knew how to work the media. He drew huge crowds.
But what was the actual, ethical impact of his pontificate on the moral climate of Europe? You see, irreligious people will repudiate natural law ethics for the same reason that they repudiate Christian ethics. They will repudiate any value system that’s “tainted” by theistic assumptions.
So why should we serve them the near-beer of natural law when we can serve them the vintage proof of Christian ethics? Why not make a case for the greater rather than the lesser?
12.You take a swipe at John MacArthur. But the thing about MacArthur is that he’s a popularizer, and so he exhibits the strengths and weaknesses and typical limitations of a popularizer. He oversimplifies many issues.
At the same time, his ministry has done an enormous amount of good.
Moreover, you don’t seriously think, do you, that MacArthur should be able to argue for dualism with the philosophical finesse of someone like Bill Vallicella, do you? That’s not MacArthur’s metier. He doesn’t operate at that level, and he couldn’t even if he tried.
And while it’s worthwhile to correct his errors, what about the errors of his opponents? There’s a very lopsided quality to your speech.
And here I’m not talking about whether you’re being fair to your opponents—although I think you’re frequently unfair in this speech.
But my main concern is that you come across has having a very blinkered view of where the harm and hazards are coming from.
Yes, we can learn many useful things from the discipline of psychology. At the same time, no discipline is more subject to radical chic academic fads than the field of psychology. That’s been the case for decades, going all the way back to Freud.
Do you think that MacArthur or Jay Adams is doing more damage than Alfred Kinsey?
BTW, I to, have reservations about the Biblical Counseling movement, but you’re information is pretty dated, don’t you think?
Jay Adams strikes me as being a blunt, Luther-like instrument. At least in writing, I find his approach too formulaic—although I have it on good authority that he’s better in person.
But some of his disciples have professional training in the field of psychology.
13.I don’t know what you (or Kraft) have in mind when you say the behavioral sciences can discover regularities in human/angelic or human/demonic interactions.
It seems to me that you’re falsely assimilating the behavior of personal agents to the behavior of natural forces, as if the latter furnishes a good model for the former. But the probability that it will rain tomorrow, and the probability that a demon will take possession of Mary Magdalene tomorrow, belong to incommensurable domains.
14.You then attempt, in the space of a single paragraph, to plug charismatic theology while you dismiss cessationism. Don’t you realize how useless and even counterproductive that is?
If you think this is a serious issue which other Christians need to take more seriously, then this is an intellectually frivolous treatment of serious issue. Indeed, that’s one of the chronic problems with your speech. You try to cover way too much ground in way too little time.
Instead of spending a little time here and there on a slew of things, so that you end up doing everything badly, you would be better off to spend all your time on one or two things and get it right.
15.It’s rather scurrilous to claim that Gaffin is rejecting charismatic theology “out of hand.” He has a considered position on this issue. It’s grounded in the tradition of redemptive-historical theology. That’s a perfectly respectable position.
Now, I happen to think that Gaffin is not an overly impressive representative of that position. He lacks the intellectual aptitude of Vos, Kline, Poythress, or even O. P. Robertson. He strikes me as being a NT scholar who strayed into systematic theology.
And my own position is not as narrow as his. But the basic framework is sound.
16.Of course, if we *stipulate* that God led the elders to emphasize family over evangelism this year, then I guess this would count as extrabiblical revelation. But why should we stipulate to that premise in the first place?
If that's what God wants a local church or denomination to do, then why would his leading be limited to the elders? How is the laity in a position to verify a divine leading when the laity was out of the loop? Why wouldn’t God be leading the laity as well as the elders, if the interested parties need extrabiblical revelation to carry out his will in this particular case?
17. What do you mean by spiritual “impressions,” anyway? This is one of the problems I have with charismatic theology. If you really think there are situations in which a Christian or group of Christians is in need of extrabiblical revelation to carry out the will of God, then God is quite capable of disclosing his will in some utterly unmistakable fashion.
The charismatic appeal to spiritual “impressions” is a way of fudging the fact that you don’t have access to any unambiguous source of extrabiblical revelation. It’s a fallback for the absence of extrabiblical guidance. What’s the value of a guide whose directions are so difficult to pin down?
Indeed, I don’t know any place in Scripture where God communicates his will to an individual through spiritual “impressions.” As I recall, God is far more direct and pointed in getting through to a person.
18. You also palter in equivocal verbiage when you say that God continues to “speak to” and “guide” his children in various ways.
i) To begin with, “speech” and “guidance” are not synonymous concepts. God could guide us without speaking to us. He could guide us by the providential ordering of our circumstances.
Of course, a cessationist would also add that God has already spoken to his people—in Scripture.
ii) Likewise, “speech” can either be used in a literal or metaphorical sense. Which do you mean?
19.In the same connection, you talk about dreams and visions and prophecies. Well, I’ll just touch on two or three issues:
a) It’s one thing to say that God may favor some Christians some of the time with special guidance. But in cases like that, God is taking the initiative. It may or may not happen. And for most Christians, most of the time, it doesn’t happen.
If, when, and where it happens is out of our hands. Uncontrollable and Unpredictable.
So we should go about our lives as we usually do, making our decisions without any expectation of divine guidance—beyond Scripture. If something extraordinary happens, fine.
We can pray for either thing promised, prescribed, or permitted in Scripture. If God does something miraculous, all the better. But most of us will still have to go to the butcher and the baker for our manna or quail.
Frankly, it’s self-defeating for charismatics to even attempt to convince every Christian that charismatic theology is true. For if it were true, it would be a truth which we already know by experience. The fact that most Christians don’t have this experience is fatal to the scope of claim. Here I agree with J. B. Mozley:
“It is evident that in multitudes of cases of theological opinion in the Church public, not to mention these innumerable daily cases in the private life of all Christians in the world, who have been, are, or will be, there is, as a matter of fact, no continuous revelation which decides for us,. And wherever it stops, all the objections which apply to the original revelation’s continuance, apply in principle to its cessation too,” The Theory of Development: A Criticism of Dr. Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 127.
Yes, you can come up with ad hoc excuses to explain the chasm between the universality of the claim and the paucity of the experience, but this is special pleading.
And that’s what I would expect since, in my reading of Scripture, there is no promise of universal private guidance.
b) I also wonder, at a concrete level, how far you’d go with a dream or word of knowledge. Suppose a Christian has a dream in which a figure who identifies himself as the angel Gabriel tells him to quit his job, then take his wife and seven kids to Mongolia to found a Christian mission.
What do you think a Christian should do in that situation? According to Scripture, he has a prior obligation to provide for his wife and kids.
What if the angel Gabriel didn’t appear to him in a dream? What if it’s just a garden-variety dream? The angelic character was imaginary, even though it seemed to be real.
Where do you think his responsibilities lie?
20. Finally, to circle back to where we began, your objection was partly pragmatic. You were concerned with the harm which is done by cessationism.
Well, what about the harm that’s done by Pentecostalism? What about all the lives that are devastated by charlatans who prey on the gullible masses?
What about credulous Christians who entertain false hopes? Whose delusive expectations are dashed by brutal experience? Who were deceived or self-deceived into believing that God made them a personal promise. Who become bitterly disillusioned because the Lord “broke” his promise?
What about well-meaning Christians who fritter away their lives “waiting on the Lord” to reveal his “perfect plan” for their lives? Waiting for their daily itinerary to drop out of the sky?
What about Christians who think it’s “carnal” to make common sense decisions? Who resort to gimmicks like bibliomancy to divine God’s will? Who truly think that’s the God-honoring way to choose a mate?