The Word & the Words
Conservative Christians often say that the brutal conflicts in their churches over sexual and doctrinal issues reflect the fundamental division over the authority of Scripture, but I don’t think this is true any more. The notorious Bishop John Spong gamely—and in a way, rather pathetically—keeps old-fashioned skepticism alive, but few of his allies join him in rejecting Scripture so thoroughly.
Almost everyone believes in the authority of Scripture these days. Almost everyone believes in the Resurrection and other doctrines Spong dismisses as primitive myths and outdated metaphors. The gap between liberal and conservative is, or seems, smaller than it was, and many conservatives have seen this as a sign of the death of liberalism and the beginning of a revival.
The gap seems smaller because the real division is now subtler than it was: the Churches are divided between those who believe that “the Word” is separable from the words of Scripture and those who believe that the words of the Word are inspired and binding. At times, the two will sound very much alike—which is to say, that men committed to the most radical doctrinal and moral innovations will speak, especially when among more orthodox men, as do Pope John Paul II and Billy Graham.
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David Mills has been editor of Touchstone and executive editor of First Things.
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