Seeking Light at the End of the Theological Tunnel

by Ted Kyle

A recent rebuttal of criticism and defense of Southern Baptist Anthony Sisemore's attempt to reinstate 1963 language in the denomination's Baptist Faith and Message suggests that a razor-edge dividing line may exist between "bibliolatry" (worship of the Scripture instead of the God of the Scripture) on one hand and sundering God from the Bible on the other.

Or perhaps it merely demonstrates the difficulty of reading each other's minds, and the dangers inherent in trying to do so.

The theological firestorm erupted at the Convention's annual meeting this summer, when Sisemore apparently said, in part, that "…the Bible is just a book." Some of the delegates and officials promptly assumed he was making light of the Bible, and felt that liberalism had just taken its mask off.

But was that the case?

Bill Hendricks, former professor of theology who served at several Southern Baptist institutions, said removal of a paragraph from the 1963 document indicated a change in the way the Lord Jesus Christ is regarded. The deleted paragraph said in part: "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ."

"To remove the living Christ as the touchstone for interpreting the Scripture is to down-grade Christ and promote bibliolatry," he commented at the annual gathering of Texas Baptists Committed. He said the deletion signaled a "shift of emphasis from a Christological principle of interpretation to an assertion that Christ is the focus of the Bible"-a distinction so subtle that it leaves this editor wondering how large a role semantics plays in the case.

Hendricks elaborated by saying he heard one of the framers of the SBC statement "say on nationwide television that Jesus was submissive to the authority of the Bible." Noting that the New Testament had not been written during Jesus' lifetime, Hendricks insisted that Jesus "submitted only to God; while respecting the law and the prophets, He felt free to reinterpret them and to point out where they were being misused by the religious leaders of His day."

The former professor also said the lordship of Christ has been a "towering landmark" in Baptist life.

It is very hard for an outsider to sort this out, since one side wishes to keep the denomination from sliding off into liberalism, and the other side wishes to keep the good old language of the 1963 document intact. Both would seem to be desirable goals. And how can any sincere child of God not agree that Jesus is greater than the Bible? At the same time, who is not aware of the danger of extra-biblical revelation divorced from the Scriptures?

Perhaps the rest of the Christian world will have to rely on the tried-and-proven gauge,"Ye shall know them by their fruits..." (Matt. 7:16).

Meantime we ask both sides to lay aside any motivation less than the yearning to exalt our Lord Jesus Christ, and to seek to genuinely understand one another. If we truly "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" with all our hearts, truth and righteousness will prevail.