Has the importance of the concepts of biblical inerrancy and infallibility changed for evangelical Christians today when compared to the end of the 19th Century?  If so, why?

At the end of the 19th century the issue of the inspiration of scripture, specifically its traditional claims of inerrancy and infallibility as the very words of God communicated to and recorded providentially and perfectly by human authors (‘verbal inspiration’), commanded near centre stage within British, American and Continental academic theology.  This essay identifies the primary importance of the emergence of fundamentalism as both an academic response and a cultural reaction to the radical cultural changes that were taking place.  It then evaluates to what degree the formulations it developed to defend the status of the scriptures are still relevant for evangelicals today. 


The origin of the challenge to the status of scripture was in the 19th century application of the Renaissance critical methods to the biblical texts rather than simply according them a special status as a sacred text, written in a special “ Holy Ghost Greek [1] and providentially created and preserved within the Textus Receptus (TR) [2] .  The early “lower critics” were generally motivated by a desire to validate the integrity of the text by identifying sources of discrepancies within extant manuscripts.  Their work is exemplified in Tischendorf (c1862) whom had the distinction of discovering the Codex Sinaiticus and as a consequence of this discovery his second edition of the biblical text revised the text significantly.  He secondly stated the principles on which the text should be reinterpreted [3] .  The subsequent assault on the TR by lower critics such as Westcott and Hort [4] allowed for a complete deconstruction of the traditional theological view described above.  Westcott and Hort proposed an historical theory in which they were to assert that their eclectic reconstruction of the text, a synthesis of extant manuscripts of differing text-types, was the original Greek rather than the Byzantine TR [5] . This work of the lower critics in reconstructing the understanding of scripture as a work of literature with a major human element in its creation and transmission had radical consequences and complemented the emerging higher critical movement that was concerned with the human history of the text in regard to its sources, authors and redactors. 


The second major challenge to the status of scripture was the major assault on the historicity of the narratives.  Darwin’s evolutionary theory seemed to provide a direct contradiction to the creation narrative of Genesis.  M any higher critics had been influenced by Darwinian ideas and the liberal rationalism of 19th century science was theologically hostile to traditional Christianity.  Schleiermacher’s theology of the early part of the 19th century [6] had already de-emphasised doctrine in favour of religious experience and had challenged the traditional received understandings and importance of the historical basis and application of scripture [7] .  It was a straightforward transition for moderate Liberals to embrace a subjective or allegorical reinterpretation of the biblical narrative when its historicity was challenged.  The radical Liberal response, to develop most dramatically in Bultmann was to “demythologise [8] the traditional understanding of Christianity into what were the “essences” of Christianity, accessible purely through the “necessary truths of reason [9] .  However, rather more cautiously, mainstream liberal modernism sought to reconcile biblical teaching with the discoveries of modern science and emphasised the primary role of reason in the interpretation of the scriptures.  Such H igher criticism was considered “objective” and “scientific” concerned with the human history of the text: 

“It was certainly the view of those who argued for the ‘higher criticism’ and liberal theology that the findings of modern science had made implausible many traditional Protestant beliefs.” [10]  


As a consequence, the orthodox opposition developed in a focussed fashion from the 1870s onwards as conservative elements within denominations began holding conferences and making fresh doctrinal statements of their commitment to what was considered basic to the Christian faith [11] .  The climax of this opposition was the publication of The Fundamentals (1909-1912) with close to half [12] of this scholarly and academic [13] compendium focussed on addressing the challenges to inspiration from the critical methods.  One of the contributors was B.B. Warfield who belonged to the Princeton Theological Seminary.  It was to be in the work of these ‘old’ Princeton theologians [14] that an archetypal defence of inspiration was developed.  Thus, it is appropriate to examine the theological and philosophical nature of this defence.  


The reality and validity of lower criticism in and of itself began to demand attention from the Princeton theologians such as A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield because Tischendorf had produced work of exceptional quality that had irrefutably established a transmissional history of the text.  A novel inversion of the text critical principle was found in Warfield’s “original autograph [15] theory.  Indisputable errors in our present text could be present but they could not be presented as belonging to the “original autographs”:

“No ‘error’ can be asserted, therefore, which cannot be proved to have been aboriginal in the text….no phenomenon can be urged against verbal inspiration which cannot be proved to involve an indisputable error [16] (emphasis original)

Any variation was a corruption, a dialectical aberration, a copyist error, misinterpretation or an erroneous correction [17] .  Thus, if there was an error in the text, rather than pushing the text in the direction of higher critical reconstruction, it demonstrated the probability that it must be corrupt.  Inerrancy was thus guaranteed by isolating it strictly in “ the scriptures as original given [18] .


On a theological level, Hodge and Warfield were adamant on the principle, “ a proved error in Scripture contradicts not only our doctrine, but the Scripture claims and, therefore, its inspiration in making these claims [19] .  J Gresham-Machen, in the wake of Warfield, was to write “ the Bible is an ‘infallible rule of faith and practice [and any moderation of the doctrine would not be] logically tenable [20] . Thus, philosophically, for Warfield and those that followed him, inerrancy was logically congruent with infallibility.  This inerrancy defence is considered the “classic defence [21] of inspiration and was the one finally adopted by the fundamentalist movement of North American Protestantism during the 1920s and 1930s.  So, for example, Ellison and Young in explaining the inconsistencies between Chronicles, Samuels and Kings in reporting numerical statistics or the ambiguity as to who actually killed Goliath, asserted they were simply copyist errors and misunderstandings [22] absent from the autographs.   


In summary, it is possible to summarise Warfield’s position with the following definitions:

1.     Inerrancy implies that the Bible “ contains no error of any kind – not only theological error, but error in any sort of historical, geographical or scientific fact [23] .  It is also stated in terms of its truthfulness, “ it is completely true in what it says, and makes no claims that are not true [24] ;

2.     Infallibility is understood initially in that “ the Bible does not intentionally mislead in matters of faith or action [25] .  This author has previously offered this definition:

“[It is the view that] the correct use of reason with regards to the biblical texts allows the discovery of objective principles with which to conduct oneself in this life and to enter into union with God through His Word.  The Bible contains spiritual “facts”, not opinions, of the writers by the virtue that the scripture states about itself that it was “God-breathed” [26]

In essence, infallibility is more a quality expressing the ontological state of the scripture as a whole and overlaps heavily with the definition of inerrancy in terms of truthfulness.  In this ethical sense, it is a witness to its inerrancy, “ inerrantists…stress the epistemological self-containedness of Scripture [27] .


The argument in these terms endured through the 20th century.  Young was to write in 1956, “ To maintain there are flaws or errors in [the scripture] is the same as declaring there are flaws or errors in God Himself [28] .  Packer based his correlation of scripture with the actual words of God [29] on Warfield’s argument.  Poythress [30] maintains the validity of the argument in contemporary Christian discourse.  Though Barr called it “[an] absurd theory without evidence [31] and is arguably correct in his assertion that reason was the primary “ architectonic authority for [Princeton theology] [32] , his polemic does not necessarily constitute a forceful argument within the world of textual criticism.  Particularly with the modern eclectic methods of textual criticism that generate an “original text” that has no direct manuscript evidence, Warfield’s argument remains a triumph of rational argument of comparable logical quality to these arguments.  Contra Barr, Aland and Aland demonstrate the historical claims of Westcott and Hort had serious methodological deficiencies [33] and Robinson demonstrates the weakness of the claims of the Higher critical theories to objectivity [34] .  As the original autographs were not known to exist Warfield presented an untestable but irrefutable thesis.  However, the important question now to be considered, was how Warfield’s view was applied within historical evangelicalism and how significant are the concepts for the modern evangelical movement.


“Evangelical” in the broadest possible sense applies to those Christians for whom the scriptures rather than church tradition or papal sanction have the “ ultimate authority in matters of spirituality, doctrine and ethics [35] .  The evangelical “ confines and submits himself completely to the teaching of the Bible [36] .   Being evangelical is defined as commitment to the “ fundamental and inalienable authority of scripture [37] .  For some evangelicals of the 20th century, this was seen to imply a single evangelical theology known as fundamentalism:

“‘Fundamentalism’ is just a twentieth century name for historic Evangelicalism [it] is the only consistently thought-out version of the faith, and the ‘Fundamentalist’ is the only Christian who uses his mind in a fully Christian way.” [38] (emphasis added)

In contrast, McGrath, an influential, contemporary moderate evangelical theologian, writes to distance evangelicalism from fundamentalism but nevertheless accepts fundamentalism as a specific historical movement within conservative evangelicalism:

“The deliberate decision to use the term evangelical…dates from 1942.  The formation of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)…represented a carefully weighed and considered move to distinguish ‘evangelicals’ from ‘fundamentalists’…There was a need for a reappraisal and a fresh start.” [39]

Barr, in contrast again, who provided the seminal and polemical critique of fundamentalism, characteristically denies such a distinction is possible:

“These men are…conservative evangelical [scholars].  For the average fundamentalist reader…the function of conservative scholarship is to give him comfort and security” [40]

This analysis is directly refuted by McGrath:

“Barr’s deeply flawed work failed to distinguish between fundamentalism and its evangelical critics, satisfying only those sufficiently ill-informed to be unable to distinguish them yet sufficiently prejudiced to dislike each with an uncritical vigour.” [41]

McGrath, supported by other evangelical scholars [42] , asserts that it is historically clear that post-Second world war, some senior American evangelicals recognised the need to avoid the schism and factionalism that characterised the American fundamentalism during the 1920s and 1930s by distinguishing essentials from non-essentials [43] . The modern consensus would be that “ fundamentalists are a subgroup within evangelicals [44] .  Further, the author believes the main determinant as to the significance of the issues in question for contemporary evangelicals is their current relationship to specific aspects of the fundamentalist doctrinal positions and it is to an identification and examination of these issues that is now focussed upon.


The precursor to fundamentalist theology was the publication of Charles Hodges’ Systematic Theology in the early 1870s.  The important innovation in his theology was that proper Christian revelation was necessarily the result of an evaluation by reason of the propositions present in scripture:

“Revelations cannot be made to brutes or idiots.  Truths, to be received as objects of faith, must be intellectually apprehended…In other words, knowledge is essential to faith.  In believing we affirm the truth of the proposition believed…” [45] (emphasis added)

Hodge was heavily influenced by Scottish Enlightenment philosophy and placed emphasis on facts as constituents of understanding:

“under the new dispensation, our Lord selected twelve men, endowed them with plenary knowledge of the gospel, rendered them infallible as teachers, and required all men receive their instructions as the words of God…” [46] (emphasis added)

He also comprehensively rejected mystical forms of Christian knowledge:

“the gift of speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit, was analogous to the gift of miracles.  The one as obviously ceased as the other.” [47]

Consequently, fundamentalism was to emphasise correct doctrine as a prerequisite of the evangelical life and minimised, if not specifically excluded [48] , the experiential and mystical aspects.  Fundamentalism, however, was also a cultural movement.  It was specifically American within the American context of the development of the republic and its democratisation of knowledge.  The revolutionary fervour of the Restorationists [49] had swept away much of the Calvinist theological hermeneutic and had modified the classical Reformed theology with a literal hermeneutic, simplicity and “common sense” [50] .  T he cultural mood was such that the Bible did not need theologians or traditions to interpret it for the people, they could read it and understand it for themselves by the exercise of their own reason:

“We claim to be, not only rigid literalists, but unsparing iconoclasts – ruthless demolishers of all theories.  We wish to strip the passage of all the superincumbent strata which ingenious men have deposited all around it, and come down to the plainest most literal reading of the text.” [51]

Thus, by the middle of the 19th century a primitive form of theological rationalism had come to dominate American Protestantism [52] and it was in this context that Hodge’s successor at Princeton, B.B. Warfield and his son A.A. Hodge developed fundamentalism and its characteristic view of inspiration.  Hodge had not required absolute inerrancy to support infallibility but Warfield’s fundamentalism collapsed them into one concept out of logical necessity:

“[Charles Hodge] though firm on the infallibility of the Bible, did not insist that this was absolutely congruent with its inerrancy…Errors in scripture could not be tolerated…any one ‘proved error’…threatened the inspiration of scripture and thereby the reliability of the teaching of the apostles [and] the total credibility of the Christian faith.” [53]

Thus, the separation of these concepts is important in distinguishing moderate evangelicalism from fundamentalism [54] .  Barnhart demonstrates that within a representative modern Reformed Protestant denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)) that there is an extensive nuancing of the terms that elucidates the separation [55] .  He posits three categories within the SBC:  extended inerrancy, limited infallibility and appropriate infallibility. [56]  


Extended inerrancy posits that “ when the Scriptures affirm something as true, it is true exactly and precisely as stated [57] and so of logical necessity, collapses inerrancy and infallibility into one another.  This was the position first taken by Warfield and is characteristic of fundamentalism.  Thus, for fundamentalists committed to extended inerrancy such as Schaeffer, Poythress and Lindsell, the project of harmonisation of clear discrepancies or differences between the gospel accounts requires major apologetic effort [58] .  In contrast, limited infallibility admits of “ irreconcilable differences [59] between parallel accounts.  Discrepancies regarding sequences of events would imply one or both authors were in error regarding facts but maintains that what the passage as a whole asserts remains infallible as to the spiritual significance of the central event.  Similarly, appropriate inerrancy admits of the possibility of factual error but because the genre of the writing [60] may not require factual accuracy (e.g. a Psalm or Proverb).  Again, it is possible to maintain that the passage communicates exactly what God intended it to communicate. 


How this works in practical theology is seen in a contemporary example in Birch-Machin.  Birch-Machin is firm on infallibility.  The importance of “ [being] rooted in his word [61] appears as an injunction.  There is found the statement of theological orthodoxy “ all revelatory ministry is built upon the foundation of the word of God [62] and he affirms the authority of scripture using the familiar inspiration ‘proof text’ of 2 Tim 3:16 [63] .  However the praxis of the movement he founded is mediated through the practical experience of God in the moving of His Spirit and maintains a necessary distance from inerrancy:

“Sometimes prophets just get things plain wrong but this does not undermine their ministry…Paul prophesied [but] an angel corrects Paul…A [further] misinterpretation of prophecy is recorded in Acts 21:10-12…Therefore we shouldn’t throw out a whole prophecy if there are a few points that are not correct or misinterpreted.” [64]

Here we see the attempt to establish a subjective context for Christian truth in [the realm of] Christ’s person rather than a purely objective with reference to Christ’s words [65] .  This hermeneutic is seen as a primary interpretative principle by the authoritative Anglican N T Wright:

“When we take the phrase ‘authority of scripture’…we recognise that it can have Christian meaning only if we are referring to scripture’s authority in a delegated or mediated sense from that which God himself possesses… how does this authority actually work [and] how does it relate…to the ‘authority’ [of and within] the Church?.” [66]   (emphasis added)

This is in direct opposition to theEnlightenment view of a secularised , objective truth universally accessible to reason, that appeared within theology as “general revelation [67] .  It was this view of objective truth that was commonly held by the Princeton theologians, “its rationalism passed into modern American Reformed evangelicalism…without troubling themselves to ask where they came from .” [68]   This remarkable coalescence of Enlightenment rationalism and theology is seen vividly in the Restorationist writings of Lamar:

“The Scriptures admit of being studied and expounded upon the principles of the inductive method; and…when thus interpreted they speak to us in a voice as certain and unmistakable as the language of nature heard in the experiments and observations of science.” [69]

For the fundamentalist, the propositions of Scripture are generally considered syllogistic statements [70] and all scripture makes normative, true statements that the Christian mind should resolve with complete certainty:

“Regardless [of genre] [the] biblical writers, their literary devices have a logical point which can be propositionally formulated and is objectively true or false.” [71]

Similarly, in 1971 D.M. Lloyd Jones, one of the most conservative of British evangelicals, was to address evangelical students at IFES [72] , “ Scripture contains propositional truth.  This [is the] dividing line between evangelicals and pseudo-evangelicals .” [73]   However, McGrath demands a separation from this propositional view of Christian knowledge:

“For reasons which ultimately reflect the dominance of Enlightenment ideas at Princeton during the nineteenth century, evangelicalism was prone to minimise the narrative elements in scripture, in order to secure the intimate relationship between Scripture and doctrine, often regarding the former as a doctrinal sourcebook.” [74]

He similarly objects to this conception of Christian truth:

“‘Truth’, in the New Testament sense of the term, is not abstract or purely objective; it is personal, and involves the transformation of the entire existence of those who apprehend it and are themselves apprehended by it.  It is necessary…to rescue evangelicalism from this secularised notion of truth.” [75]

In short, the logical force of the inerrantist argument is posited to rely on a secular and propositional view of truth. It is Enlightenment rationalism that provides the force of the argument, not a Christian concept, “ ideas whose origins and legitimation lie outside of the Christian gospel…exercise a decisive influence on that gospel” [76] . Thus, what is being asserted is that much of what constituted Higher criticism, liberal theology then the responses and reactions of fundamentalism was the late modernism of the 19th century. 


This thesis is readily tested by considering the case of a prophetic utterance from a member of the congregation.  Most believers who accept the “charismatic” experience [77] would agree that the utterance of those who prophesy were Holy Spirt “inspired” operations [78] logically equivalent to “inspiration” as found in the text most quoted by the fundamentalists:

“Every (or all) [79] scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” [80]

Yet Paul gave repeated instruction regarding prophecy within the congregation where the congregation would probably typically be a small group of believers meeting within a house [81] or in an open space [82]

“Two or three prophets should speak and the others should evaluate what is said.” [83]


“Do not treat prophecies with contempt.  But examine all things; hold fast to what is good.” [84]

The Greek verbs [85] translated here ‘evaluate’, ‘examine’ and ‘hold fast’ both imply a critical evaluation and the possibility of error by the prophet.  In summary, being mediated through a fallible human with fallible linguistic processes and limited epistemological resources, the inspiration of a prophetic word does not guarantee the infallibility.  So, the thesis would seemed to be confirmed.  There is no need to require inerrancy as a condition of infallibility, you simply understand that the inspired utterance was expressed approximately by human language via the interface between the inspired human spirit and the fallible reasoning processes.  


Another key concept to examine within evangelicalism and fundamentalism is the use of “Providence [86] .  Providence features heavily in fundamentalist apologetics as in God’s oversight and validation of the creation and inspiration of the scriptures.  However, an over-emphasis on deterministic “providential inspiration” poses theological problems for Christian praxis.  For if the apostles of the Lamb [87] or their successors had some “special providence” by which the Holy Spirit ensured that what they wrote was normative for the life of the believing community, a special type of “super believer” is introduced whose experience and quality of faith is somehow superior to what the Body as a whole could enjoy.  There is quickly a biblical cult-like stratification of believer with dispensation (as found in the Jehovah’s witnesses) and a “special” experience was granted to certain believers to ensure that a normative foundation was laid [88] .  This also implies and requires that the canon of New Testament scripture was clearly written just by those first twelve apostles and that the process of canonisation was uniform and unambiguous.


Neither of these presuppositions are proven.  Firstly, traditional attribution of Revelation to the apostle John or 2 Peter to the apostle Peter are problematic because of the differences present in linguistics and theology between the books and their traditional authors.  The fundamentalist defence of Packer in refuting the possible pseudonymous authorship of any canonical material simply employs circular hermeneutics [89] by stating that ‘any false statement in scripture’ contradicts “ scripture’s view of itself [90] as ‘truthful’ and so concludes, “ to deny authenticity is to deny canonicity also [91] . However, other fundamentalists explain differences in the Greek of 1 and 2 Peter on the basis of the difference between the Greek skills of the secretaries of the apostle, a novel conjecture which is not evaluated here but it shows the logical requirement to refute the possibility of pseudonymity despite the high probability of scribal copying, editing and assembly [92] well established to have happened within the transmissional context in which they were set.  Secondly, canonisation is described as an extremely complex process even when described by the most evangelical scholars, [93] it illustrates the circumlocution in the fundamentalist arguments and the paucity of evidence for such important suppositions.  In brief, reflective scholars illustrate the complex transmissional processes and the differences in the settled canon between Christian churches which are highly problematic for a deterministic view of Providence.


Thus it is possible to discern that “Providence” as conceived by fundamentalists is a self-referential logical device that ensures the integrity of the text and is not a distinctively Christian concept.  A more distinctive Christian view of providence is the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit within the life of the Church.  It is an existential reality, not a rational one.  The Church in time and space generated doctrine by interpreting its experience using scripture as understood within space and time;  it has been the product of theological and philosophical reflection, then mediated, interpreted and reinterpreted by the experience of the believing community.  There have been times of great corrective action as in what is called the Reformation but no one who has studied the Reformation would suggest they made no mistakes, regardless of the inspiration and providence of God that powered those movements which reshaped the understanding of what it means to be Christian.  This moderated view of “providence” also avoids the theological problems of alternative, evangelical though non-fundamentalist hypotheses [94] ; non-Protestant Catholic interpretations [95] ; the problems of non-Western religions and “New Age” spiritualties [96] which all claim an experiential basis for their praxis.  From a logical basis at least in the post-modern context, none would seem to have more merit than the other and as McGrath would assert, is simply a “competing rationality [97]


However, this is not in any way to automatically set the contrary conclusions of such movements necessarily above those of the fundamentalist theologians.  Whilst with Barr it is reasonable to challenge the safety of the concept of a “proof text [98] when one considers the “context” of a passage as important for its meaning, one can also reasonably argue with Packer, that starting from a hermeneutical assumption, our religious experience does indeed reinforce the truth of that hermeneutic.  This is known as a hermeneutic circle or a hermeneutic spiral [99] .  It is also true that some of the Higher critical conclusions and methods have been rightly critiqued by fundamentalist themselves [100] but the simple point being argued here is that both sets of arguments are rationalist arguments of the same logical quality and share the same weakness.   The theological and philosophical issue is that an evangelical faith that grounds itself in the categories of modernism either as fundamentalism or liberalism, leaves itself vulnerable to all the post-modern and post-liberal critiques of modernism.  


The biblical record for the answer to the apologetic problem in the plurality of competing rationalities, analogous to our post-modern context, was a straightforward demonstration of spiritual power, not an appeal to logic.  This was the current author’s experience from being enmeshed in eclectic new age teaching and spiritualism during his youth to be suddenly confronted with the spiritual power of Jesus in a direct spiritual confrontation with these other “spirits”.  Rational apologetics did not settle the issue (in fact, the author was completely unaware of their existence) only the reality of the life of the scripture expressed by the community was the real arbiter of truth [101] .  This “truth”, though rooted in the scripture, was not a static propositional block of knowledge but becomes with the transformation of the inner life of the believer [102] .  Scripture and the inner light of the Holy Spirit and the experience of being the body of Christ is more than the sum of its doctrinal parts [103] , important though they are.  This was recognised by the Barth [104] , [105] in his formulation of the written word becoming the living word because of the presence of the Spirit [106] .  His designation as “neo-orthodox” and his eventual rejection by fundamentalist and some very-conservative evangelical thinkers [107] was the result of moving beyond the bounds of a theology that is expressed in the propositions of reason alone.


So, in summary, the case being made here is that inerrancy and infallibility interpreted in the sense used by fundamentalists or by the most conservative of the evangelical theologians, is firmly rooted in an Enlightenment rationalism.  The Reformed emphasis on “scripture alone” was fused with Enlightenment rationalism in Hodge when he rejected the mystical component.  To the fundamentalist, right doctrine rather than right living is the mark of the true evangelical.  Fundamentalism, contra Packer, was not simply “historical evangelicalism [108] but a modern reinterpretation of evangelicalism to deal with a late modern challenge.  The Fundamentals dealt with the issue of scriptural inspiration and authority because the apologetic priority of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was to provide a logical ring-fencing of scripture using liberal rational principles to respond to the liberal-rational critique.  Warfield’s concept of “autographs” provided an un-breachable fortress of inerrancy but only of apologetic value, as McGrath observes, if its modern presuppositions are held by the target audience [109] .  Such fundamentalists are accurately described as “ modernists swimming against the tide [110] .


However,for the evangelical body of Christ that is not part of the late-modern intellectual tradition, in an African, Asian or Latin-American context, they will interpret and apply scripture authoritatively in their cultural context without reference to these technical arguments.  This phenomena is sometimes referred to as “neo-fundamentalism” to reflect its claim to orthodoxy:

“Neo-‘fundamentalism’ empowers individuals in new ways and open them up to freedoms which have never before shown up...among the social groups most affected by these movements third force Christianity is more centrally marked by the importance of the gifts of the Spirit than by the doctrine of biblical inerrancy...away from religious/cultural monopolies and towards a pluralism based on the voluntary principle [an] autonomous spiritual space” [111]

Similarly, in a Western context, the “neo-fundamentalism” of the Healing and Word of Faith movements unconsciously imported the Barthian conception of the Word of God permitting an increased role for the supernatural and the mystical.   However, the use of spiritual gifts and the speaking in tongues is moderated in such neo-fundamentalisms as being “subject” to the written Word [112] and you can discern the modern roots of those movements.  However, for post-modern evangelicals in “Fifth Wave” churches and fellowships, such as the Speakers of Life (SOL) movement, the emphasis is now on the supernatural and experience of God, “ While we base our theology on the Bible, it is our experiences with God that makes his truth come alive in our hearts [113] .    


So, in final answer to the question, although the “Battle for the Bible [114] , particularly in the North American context is still very much a live issue for fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalism is seen as an unacceptable innovation which is to be aggressively opposed [115] , evangelicals worldwide have generally progressively shifted their focus from the idealist premillennial fundamentalism to a form of theological realism that is less eschatological and implicitly post-millennial [116] .  The movement amongst thinking evangelicals since the mid-1970s is that of creating a living community of faith demonstrating the living experience of the Faith [117] with its spiritual power, reclamation of wrecked lives and a radical reclaiming of culture, science, economy, education and nation [118] .  Post-modern evangelicalism is about “experiencing God” and consequently, the abstract issue of inspiration has lost its general presence in Christian discourse.  Such evangelicalism separates itself from fundamentalism by locating truth and objectivity in the person of Christ by the internal dwelling of His Spirit and allowing limited infallibility to deal with the realities of the bible as literature and appropriate inerrancy to deal with it theologically as it relates to the praxis of a living Christian community [119] .  There is now a post-modern prerogative within a pluralistic cultural context similar to that found in the biblical narrative of Acts [120] .  It requires a truly biblical solution to the challenges to its authority by unbelievers as found in neo-fundamentalist and “Fifth Wave” churches.  Rational apologetics needs to shift with the innovations in rationality.


Word count:  5027


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J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans:  1958)

Dr Johnson C. Philip and Dr Saneesh Cherian (eds) ‘Writings of B.B. Warfield (Volume 2)’ (Philip Communications, Kindle edition: 2013)

Alvin Plantinga, ‘Advice to Christian Philosophers’ in The Analytic Theist – an Alvin Plantinga reader , James F. Sennett (ed.)( Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans: 1998)

Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels (Wheaton, Crossway: 2012)

Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview (Wheaton, Crossway: 2012)

Richard Quebedeaux, The Young Evangelicals:  Revolution in Orthodoxy (New York, Harper-Row: 1974)

W. Robertson Smith, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church (London, Adam and Charles Black: 1870)

Richard Rothe, Zur Dogmatik (Gotha, F.A. Perthes: 1863)

Maurice A. Robinson, ‘Appendix: The Case for Byzantine Priority’ in The New Testament in the Original Greek , Maurice Robinson and William G. Pierpont (eds) (Chilton, Chilton Publishing Company: 2005)

Richard Rothe, Zur Dogmatik (Heidelburg, Heidelburg University Press: 1868)

James F. Sennett (ed.), The Analytic Theist – an Alvin Plantinga reader (Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans: 1998)

Jeffrey B. Straub, ‘George William Lasher – Baptist Proto-Fundamentalist’ in DBSJ Vol 11 (2006)

R.V.G. Tasker, The Greek New Testament: Being the Text Translated in The New English Bible (London: Oxford University Press), 1964

Anthony C. Thiselton, Hermeneutics – An Introduction (Grand Rapids, William B Eerdmans: 2009)

Dave Tomlinson, The Post-Evangelical, revised North American edition (El Cajon, EmergentYS Books: 2003)

Dave Tomlinson, Re-Enchanting Christianity (Norwich, Canterbury Press: 2008)

R.A. Torrey, C. Dixon (eds.), ‘The Fundamentals – A Testimony to the Truth’ (Grand Rapids, Baker Books reprint: 2008), Vols I and II containing the original 4 volumes.

Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics – an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Zondervan: 1996)

B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek: With Notes on Selected Readings , Hendrickson (ed.) (Peabody, MA: 1988 [1882])

Tom Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God (2nd edition) (London, SPCK: 2013)

E.J. Young, Introduction to the Old Testament (Leicester, Tyndale Press: 1963)

E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth (Leicester, Tynedale Press: 1973(1956))


[1] Richard Rothe, Zur Dogmatik (Gotha, F.A. Perthes: 1863), p138

[2] The passion surrounding this issue is alive and well today in “the King James debate”, see www.1611KingJamesbible.com and D.A. Carson, The King James Debate – A Plea for Realism (Baker Academic), 1979 for two radically different views.  The KJVO (King James Version Only) side of the debate maintains the pre-critical era position, i.e. the supremacy of the Textus Receptus, the group of manuscripts from which most Reformation era Bible translations were made.

[3] Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament, trans. Eroll F. Rhodes, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans: 1995), pp11-14

[4] B. F.Westcott and F.J.A.Hort, Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek: With Notes on Selected Readings (Peabody,MA: Hendrickson rep. ed., 1988 [1882])

[5] Aland and Aland (1995), p14

[6] Reden über die Religion (Emg. trans. Religion, Speeches to cultured despisers) , 1799.

[7] Jeffrey B. Straub, ‘George William Lasher – Baptist Proto-Fundamentalist’ in DBSJ Vol 11 (2006), p140

[8] German Entmythologisierung first in the work ‘Neues Testament und Mythologie’ in Offenbarung und Heilsgeschelen, Beitrage zur Evangilischen Theologie, Bd. vii: 1941.  This was an anthology of his work but he began publishing around 1910.

[9] Alister McGrath, A passion for truth – the intellectual coherence of evangelicalism (Leicester, Inter Varsity Press: 1997), p88.

[10] Bruce, S., ‘Modernity and Fundamentalism: The New Christian Right in America’, The British Journal of Sociology , Vol. 41, No. 4 (Dec., 1990), pp.487-488.

[11] An academic description of this phenomenon is “proto-fundamentalism” as it predates the self-identification of the group in 1920 by Curtis Lee-Laws when he called people “to do battle royal for the fundamentals and let us be called ‘fundamentalists’” (Curtis Lee Laws, “Convention Side Lights” in Watchman-Examiner, 1 July 1920, p. 834)

[12] ‘The Fundamentals – A Testimony to the Truth’, R.A. Torrey, C. Dixon (eds.) (Baker Books reprint, Grand Rapids: 2008), Vols I and II.

[13] Although it would seem reasonable to assert “fundamentalism” started with the Fundamentals this is perhaps an over-simplification.  Fundamentalism quickly became characterised as anti-academic and culturally isolationist.  Some of the authors of the Fundamentals would perhaps not be considered sufficiently orthodox by modern fundamentalists.

[14] J Gresham-Machen was first Professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary who later left to found Westminster Theological Seminary owing to the progress Liberal theology had made into the famous conservative school.  A typical example of the struggle in the seminaries of the orthodox Calvinists against the new theologies is related in Straub (J.B. Straub, DBSJ 11 (2006): 135–150).  Although this study applies to the Baptist Seminary it was very closely paralleled in the Princeton Presbyterian seminary. 

[15] B.B. Warfield, ‘The Authority and Inspiration of the Scriptures’ in Collected Works of BB Warfield, Volume 2 , Dr. Johnson C. Philip and Dr. Saneesh Cherian (eds)(Amazon Kindle Edition, Philip Communications: 2013), locations 398-424

[16] B.B. Warfield (2013), locations 398, 424

[17] B.B. Warfield (2013), location 407-416

[18] Most conservative evangelical colleges will still require staff to submit to a variation of this principle as a condition of employment.

[19] A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield, ‘Inspiration’, Presbyterian Review, Vol 2 (1881), p245

[20] Machen (2009), pp63-64.

[21] Poythress (2012), p13n.

[22] E.J. Young, Thy Word is Truth (1973(1956)), p123

[23] James Barr, Fundamentalism, 2nd edition 2nd impression (London:  SCM Press, 1984), p40

[24] Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview (Wheaton:  Crossway, 2012), p13

[25] Barr (1984), p288

[26] Michael Macneil, Critically assess the view that Fundamentalism is a revolt against modern secular society (Bangor, Unpublished: 2011), p5

[27] Joe E Barnhart, What’s All The Fighting About?  Southern Baptists and the Bible in Southern

Baptists observed, N. T. Ammerman (ed.) (Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press: 1993), p126

[28] H.L. Ellison, ‘Chronicles’ in The New Bible Commentary Revised, Donald Motyer, JA Stibbs, AM Wiseman, D Guthrie (eds) (Leicester, IVP: 1970), p370;  E.J. Young, Introduction to the Old Testament (Leicester: Tyndale Press), p397

[29] J. I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids: 1958), p86

[30] Poythress (2012), p13n;  Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels (Crossway, Wheaton: 2012), p13 and p13n.

[31] Barr (1984), pp279-284

[32] Barr (1984), p284

[33] Aland and Aland (1995), pp14-18

[34] Maurice A. Robinson, ‘Appendix: The Case for Byzantine Priority’ in The New Testament in the Original Greek , Maurice Robinson and William G. Pierpont (eds) (Chilton Publishing Company, Chilton: 2005), pp534ff

[35] Alister McGrath, A Passion for Truth (Leicester:  Apollos, 1996), p22

[36] D.M. Lloyd-Jones, What is an Evangelical? (The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh: 1992), p42

[37] McGrath (1996), p23

[38] Packer (1958), pp19-22

[39] Alister McGrath, Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity (Inter Varsity Press, Downers Grove: 1995), p22

[40] Barr (1984), p123

[41] McGrath (1995), p43

[42] Lloyd-Jones (1992), p89

[43] Lloyd-Jones (1992), pp85-91

[44] Poythress (2012), p13n

[45] Hodge (1871-1873), Chapter 3 (S5)

[46] Charles Hodge (1871-1873), Systematic Theology (unabridged Kindle Edition), Chapter 4 (S7)

[47] Hodge (1871-1873), Chapter 4 (S7)

[48] For example, traditional Southern Baptist fundamentalist theology has no role for the supernatural.

[49] Restorationists were associated with the Great Awakenings and included Jonathon Edwards in the first and Charles Finney in the second as major figures.

[50] Mark A. Noll, America’s God – From Jonathon Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Oxford University Press, New York: 2002), pp379

[51] Unknown author, ‘The Millennium of Rev xx’ in Methodist Quarterly Review, Jan 1843 in Noll (2002), p381

[52] Mark A. Noll, America’s God – From Jonathon Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Oxford University Press, New York: 2002), pp367-385

[53] Barr (1984), p263

[54] Barr (1984), p263

[55] J. Barnhart, ‘What's all the fighting about? Southem Baptists and the Bible’ in Southern

Baptists observed, N. T. Ammerman (ed.) (Knoxville, The University of Tennessee Press: 1993), p140

[56] Barnhart (1993), p139ff.

[57] Barnhart (1993), p139.

[58] See Poythress in the bibliography.

[59] Barnhart (1993), p139

[60] Barnhart (1993), p139ff

[61] Mark Birch-Machin PhD, Speakers of Life – How To Live an Everyday Prophetic Lifestyle (River Publishing, Maidstone: 2014), p41

[62] Birch-Machin (2014), p41

[63] Birch-Machin (2014), p41

[64] Birch-Machin (2014), p41

[65] This is a frequent constructive in the Greek and this interpretation is technically called a locative dative.  Whether the term should be interpreted in this way is a problem for exegesis, see Wallace (1996), pp153-155.

[66] Tom Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God (2nd edition) (SPCK, London: 2013), p23

[67] Barnhart (1993), pp124-127

[68] McGrath (1996), p170

[69] J.S. Lamar, The Organon of Scripture: or the inductive method of Biblical Interpretation (J.B. Lippincott & Co, Philadelphia: 1860), p176

[70] For a description of syllogistic logic see Anthony Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2010), pp96-100

[71] Carl F Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (6 vols) (Wheaton, Crossway Books: 1999), Vol 3 p453

[72] International Fellowship of Evangelical Students whose publishing arm, the Inter Varsity Press is still active.

[73] Lloyd Jones (1992), p72

[74] McGrath (1996), p108

[75] McGrath (1996), p178

[76] McGrath (1996), p200

[77] It is of note that the US fundamentalists of the Baptist SBC and the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (AOG) were amongst the most vocal in their opposition to the charismatic movement as it affected the mainstream denominations during the 1960s and 1970s.  The case of the AOG is most remarkable as it was founded by the new experience of the charismatic gifts at the beginning of the 20th century.  The major problem for both bodies is characteristic of fundamentalist theology, ‘these believers do not believe the right thing and yet have what we have, it must be counterfeit or it contradicts our entire theology’.  Some of the most vicious battles between denominations have been fought on this basis.

[78] Greek qeo,pneustoj (theópneustos): a communication which has been inspired by God in  ‘ Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains’ , 2nd Edition, J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida (eds) (United Bible Societies: New York, 1988).

[79] The Greek construction can mean both translations.  To translate “all” refers to the body of scripture; to translate “every” emphasises the inspiration within each unit of scripture.

[80] 2 Tim 3:16 (NET)

[81] Act 2:46, Act 5:42, Rom 16:5

[82] Act 16:13

[83] 1 Co 14:29, The NET Bible, Version 1.0 - Copyright © 2004, 2005 Biblical Studies Foundation, www.netbible.org.

[84] 1 Th 5 20-21 (NET)

[85] diakri,nw (diakrenō), dokima,zw (dokimazō) and kate,cw (katechō)

[86] Packer (1956), pp77-81

[87] Rev 21:14, Jesus’ immediate companions.

[88] Charles Hodge (1871-1873), Systematic Theology (unabridged Kindle Edition), Chapter 4 (S7)

[89] Packer (1956), pp182-186

[90] Packer (1958), p75ff

[91] Packer (1956), p186.

[92] John Reumann in Phillipians – Anchor bible commentaries (Yale, Yale University Press: 2009) demonstrates forcefully the thesis that Phillipians in its present form was assembled from fragments of maybe four of Paul’s letters.

[93] Roger T. Beckwith, ‘The Canon of the Old Testament’ in Understanding Scripture , Wayne Grudem, C.John Collins, Thomas R. Schreiner (eds)(Crossway, Wheaton: 2012), pp71-80;  Roger T. Beckwith, ‘The Apocrypha’ in Understanding Scripture, Wayne Grudem, C.John Collins, Thomas R. Schreiner (eds)(Crossway, Wheaton: 2012), pp89-100; Charles E. Hill, ‘The Canon of the New Testament’ in Understanding Scripture, Wayne Grudem, C.John Collins, Thomas R. Schreiner (eds)(Crossway, Wheaton: 2012), pp81-88;

[94] Barr (1984), pp156-162

[95] Barr (1984), p165ff

[96] McGrath (1996), p176

[97] McGrath (1996), pp93-94

[98] James Barr, Escaping from Fundamentalism (SCM, London: 1984), p3

[99] Anthony C. Thiselton, Hermeneutics – An Introduction (William B Eerdmans, Grand Rapids: 2009), pp13-16

[100] Torrey (2008), Volume 1

[101] Wright (2006), p117

[102] Wright (2006), p123

[103] In some sections of the post-modern church this is known as “emergent Church” (see Tomlinson in the Bibliography).  Emergence theory is a general scientific theory attempting to describe non-deterministic phenomenology, e.g. a star-fish which loses its leg will expectedly re-grow its lost leg, what is not expected is the severed leg will grow a new starfish!

[104] Karl Barth, Kirchliche Dogmatik, Volume II, part 2, (Evangelischer Verlag, Zollikon-Zuerich: 1948), pp102-106.

[105] Karl Barth, Kirchliche Dogmatik, Volume I, part 1, (Evangelischer Verlag, Zollikon-Zuerich: 1948), p136

[106] This is expressed biblically in Ephesians 6:17.  Although this is commonly translated the “the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God” the Greek shows that the text is properly translated the spirit-filled Word of God is the sword of the Spirit. The relative matches the gender of its antecedent and so the antecedent of the relative is ‘of the spirit’ not ‘the sword’.

[107] D M Lloyd Jones (1991), p72

[108] Packer (1958), p19

[109] McGrath (1996), p176

[110] Lawrence, B. (1989), Defenders of God:  the fundamentalist revolt against modern secular society , San Francisco:  Harper San Francisco, p35.

[111] Martin, B., ‘From pre- to postmodernity in Latin America:  the case of Pentecostalism’, Religion, Modernity and Post Modernity, Heelas, P., Martin, D. & Morris, P. (Eds), 1998, p107

[112] Birch-Machin (2014), pp40-41

[113] Birch-Machin (2014), p75

[114] Wright (2005), p.ix

[115] A tenet of traditional Baptist theology (shared by many denominations whose origin was in the Reformation) is that miracles, signs and wonders were for the establishment of the Church only and that in the post-apostolic age only the evangelistic, teaching and pastoral ministries are necessary.  The charismatic experience is thus dispensationalised and even presented as counterfeit spiritual activity – i.e. those that have that experience are actually energised by the satanic.

[116] The “millennium” is thought of as the 1000-year reign of Christ on Earth (Rev 20: 2).  Whilst classical Reformation theology was amillenial with the current church age being viewed as the millennium and Christ was to return at its consummation, fundamentalism considered the presence of evil in the world as a reductio absurdum for this view and were almost completely premillennial viewing the “Kingdom” as a spiritual concept with the end of the age being viewed as full of evil, the remnant Church being removed in the “rapture” and a great period of judgement called the Great Tribulation before Christ’s return and the institution of the Millenium at His return by Him alone.  Post-millennialism takes the opposite view, there is no rapture, the Church is to become more and more glorious, transforming the culture of the world with Christ’s supernatural power and authority, so that the Kingdom is created on Earth and Jesus is welcomed to receive the Kingdom at the end of the millennium.

[117] Dave Tomlinson, Re-Enchanting Christianity (Norwich, Canterbury Press: 2008), p74

[118] Landa Cope, An Introduction to the Old Testament Template, 2nd edition (YWAM Publishing, Seattle: 2011), pp15-16

[119] Barnhart (1993), pp139ff

[120] McGrath (1996), p201