A Response by Dr. Randy White
Pastor, First Baptist Church of Pampa, TX
The following answers about the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message were made in response to questions posed by a student's letter to Dr. Randy White, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pampa, TX
The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message statement on the scriptures said "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ" This statement was removed--at the disdain of moderate Baptists. It was substituted with " All scripture is testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation." The moderates said that fundamentalists were "placing the Bible over Jesus," a preposterous claim. They were really creating a "straw man" to fight--since no one in the conservative camp ever suggested anything to the effect of the Bible over Jesus.
The problem with the earlier statement is not that it was wrong, but that it opened up a door to go almost anywhere. One could say "the criterion of biblical interpretation is Jesus, and I think Jesus would have said or done..." This statement could then go almost anywhere with nothing to tie it to truth.
Now, to prove I am not creating a "straw man" argument of something that never happened, I bring up my Southwestern Seminary text from Old Testament Survey written by LaSor, Hubbard and Bush1. Notice how the authors give themselves tremendous liberty in Old Testament interpretation by using their view of Jesus as the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted:
"Compared to the viewpoint of most of his Jewish contemporaries, Christ's approach to the Old Testament is dynamic, not static. He looked upon the Old Testament not as a catalogue of fixed principles regulating religious conduct, but as the inspired and authoritative record of God's activity in history, an activity which presses toward its denouement in his coming kingdom. As Jesus' words are spirit and life (John 6:63), so the Old Testament when viewed with his insights becomes a guide to life (John 5:39)." (LaSor...page 2).
Now, notice that they are saying that "we think Jesus would have interpreted the Old Testament and a very fluid manner, thus we are going to do the same." Now the door is wide open to do whatever you want with whatever the Old Testament says.
With this door now open, the text's authors go through it quickly.
Let me give several examples. Their interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is that this section, "is not 'history' in the modern sense...rather, it conveys theological truths...portrayed in a largely symbolic, pictorial literary genre." (LaSor...pg. 74). I believe I would be correct in paraphrasing that statement to mean that what we read in Gen. 1-11 about creation, the flood, etc., is not necessarily to be taken historically like we would take an account of the civil war, but rather symbolically. That is, there are theological truths that are accurate, but specific teachings of 24 hour days, 40 days and nights of rain, etc. are just symbolic.
We can go further. The book's interpretation of Genesis 1-2 (the creation) was that these chapters teach that there was, "special divine intervention in the production of the first man and woman."
(pg. 72). This position clearly allows one to take an evolutionary approach to the creation of man, because you "intervene" on something already taking place.
Further, with the interpretation the text took on the Old Testament, a literal interpretation of the text is not necessary in any way.
The text even mocked the idea of literally interpreting Genesis 1-2, saying, "Adam means 'mankind' and Eve is '(she who give) life'.
Surely, when the author of a story names the principle characters Mankind and Life, something is conveyed about the degree of literalness intended!" (pg. 72).
The 1963 statement, though well intentioned, left a wide-open door to liberalism. Professors went through that door, even at Southwestern which remained one of the more conservative seminaries. This text from my 1987 Old Testament class stands as proof that the statement needed to be removed from the BF&M. Further, it was a statement which was only in the '63 version--not in the 1925 or the documents that preceded it, so that statement was not a historical Baptist position.
Dr. Randy White, Pastor
First Baptist Church