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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dissembling Evangelicalism in Sydney (Part 2 of 5)

This is the second instalment of an address given by Maurice Roberts on the topic of "The Guilt of Higher Criticism" given at the centenary of the Bible League in England in 1992. As the instalments unfold I suggest you bring to mind the thinking you encounter when dealing with Sydney Episcopalians (Anglicans) on Genesis 1. Instalment two commences herewith:

"II. A Survey of the Higher Criticism shows it was Guilty of Undermining Confidence in the Scriptures

The year of noticeable change in Britain apparently was 1860. Before then it had been in Germany only that the Higher Critical movement received acceptance amongst a large number. But events in Britain were to alter public opinion in favour of the Higher Criticism. One influence was the publication of Darwin's 'Origin of Species' in 1859. Then in 1860 came a book entitled 'Essays and Reviews'. This comprised seven essays. The essay by Benjamin Jowett entitled 'On the Interpretation of Scripture' gave special offence even after it was modified at the suggestion of the poet Tennyson. But Jowett's essay shows a typically low view of the Bible.

It is difficult for us to understand, perhaps, how prominent churchmen at that time were developing attitudes to Scripture which were so much at variance with the church's dogma concerning an infallible Bible. But it is necessary for us to understand something of the change that was coming and I give one example drawn from 'Essays and Reviews'.

Frederick Temple, who was Headmaster of Rugby School and later Archbishop of Canterbury, in his essay, used this misleading comparison to illustrate the nature of God's revelation to mankind. He compared the human race to a colossal man who went through three stages: childhood. youth and then manhood. According to Frederick Temple, God adapts his teaching to mankind at each stage of man's development. In the childhood of the human race, therefore, God reveals to mankind how to live by laws. In the youth of mankind God taught us to live by examples but now that we have come to our manhood as a race, God teaches us by principle.

In the Scriptures, he says, are to be sought these principles by which nineteenth-century mature man is to live. If 'careful criticism' should 'prove that there have been occasional interpolation and forgeries in that Book the result need not be unwelcomed. The teaching of the Bible remains unaffected by any changes in the idea of inspiration which present knowledge necessitates'.

By 1861 'Essays and Reviews' had already passed into its tenth edition and was having a widespread and harmful influence on the attitude of churchmen in this country and elsewhere.

In 1862, Bishop J. W. Colenso of Natal, South Africa, produced his notorious book 'The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined'. He rejected Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and pronounced the Bible to be no infallible book. He then used a phrase which Professor F. D Maurice, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Cambridge some years later, had used and which was to become a favourite with Liberals for decades to come. The Bible may not be described as being the Word of God but may be allowed simply to contain the Word of God.

In 1881 William Robertson Smith, Professor, I am afraid I have to say. in the Free Church of Scotland College in Aberdeen, brought out his book 'The Old Testament in the Jewish Church'. This was to mark a new era. Smith was popularising Old Testament German criticism. Following the notorious German critics Graf and Wellhausen, Smith gave wholehearted support to their critical approach to the Scriptures and to their theory that Israel's religion came not by divine and supernatural revelation but by gradual process of evolution. Smith had to leave his post in the Free Church of Scotland and he took a Professorship in the University of Cambridge. But his influence lingered on in Scotland and did further harm.

He gave popular lectures in Edinburgh and Glasgow to large audiences of lay people, and in the short space of fifteen months 'The Old Testament in the Jewish Church' sold six thousand five hundred copies. It is astonishing to us to realise that he was arguing that the new approach to Scripture could be carried out in a way fully consistent with the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms of the Puritans! We know now looking back from our point of view that this optimism was misguided and ludicrous.

It is important for us to grasp that an entirely novel view of revelation had been that God had deposited his mind in a Book and that the words of this Book as originally given were verbally reliable. But the new view was that revelation was something subjective. They said that revelation was God revealing himself to persons in their own subconscious mind. Consequently, the Bible was now said to be, not God's revelation itself, but only a record of that revelation to man. But since it is a record given by men of God's revelation it contains verbal and historical errors.

So the new view of revelation was not that it was something objective but subjective. The Bible, in other words, was now to be considered not as an infallible Book, but as something less than that. Least of all, they said, was it to be thought of as teaching a set of theological propositions.

This note needs to be made very clear here. W. R. Smith was everywhere recognised as a man of remarkable brilliance and indeed genius, and because this attitude to Scripture and revelation was to become the general one from that day to this in most academic circles, we cannot too clearly inform ourselves as to the origins of this changed attitude

More in a few days.

Sam Drucker

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