5. Anti-supernatural Bias

A watchful eye must be kept whenever referring to source material outside of Scripture, especially in regard to the attitudes and assumptions of the writers of same. Even those who think of themselves as fundamentally1 conservative in outlook and upholders of evangelical distinctives (e.g., inspiration, inerrancy) may be found proposing ideas which are at odds with these foundational understandings of the Scriptures.

Couch identifies key elements of evangelicalism:

A great many within the evangelical camp hold strongly to the doctrines of revelation, inspiration, and even inerrancy of the original texts of Scripture. Since the Reformation, evangelicals as a whole claim to take the Word of God literally, reading the prophets and apostles in a literal manner and accepting the historicity of the Scriptures at face value.2

The importance of these evangelical distinctives has been recognized by Thomas:

Since about the middle of the twentieth century, a movement known as evangelicalism has had a considerable impact in thwarting the advance of liberalism in Christian circles. Evangelicals have been a major force in the creation of new organizations, seminaries, denominations, and local churches that honor the Bible as the inerrant Word of God.3

McGrath writes:

Evangelicalism is historic Christianity. Its beliefs correspond to the central doctrines of the Christian church down the ages . . . In its vigorous defense of the biblical foundations, theological legitimacy, and spiritual relevance of these doctrines, evangelicalism has shown itself to have every right to claim to be a modern standard bearer of historic, orthodox Christianity. . . . the future of Christianity may come increasingly to depend on evangelicalism.4

Whenever evangelical principles are compromised, there will always be serious repercussions. As is often the case where Satan is afoot, the results are typically subtle and take time to come to full fruition—like introducing a small amount of poison into a fresh cool drink which the drinker doesn’t detect until it eventually takes its deadly toll. Nowhere is this implicit denial of evangelical distinctives more evident than in historical-critical discussions of authorship, the dependency of source material, and appeal to extra-biblical literature as the key to understanding the divine message.5 As Couch observes, the problem is not with the historical-critical approach itself, but with the bias of those who practice it. “Historical-critical interpretation in and of itself is not bad, it is an intelligent, research-oriented approach to the determination of Scripture. Many of the scholars who employed this method, however, held an anti-supernatural bias.” [emphasis added]6

Because of the correlation between biblical Christianity and evangelicalism, some commentators realize it is advantageous to suppress their opposition to evangelical principles. Herein lies the danger: some commentators who claim to be evangelical in outlook endorse liberal methodologies which in essence deny evangelicalism. They often embrace rational skepticism which is the foundation of an anti-supernatural worldview. “By adopting the methodologies of those who are less friendly to a high view of Scripture, most evangelical specialists have surrendered traditional, orthodox understandings of historicity.”7 Although Thomas deals primarily with the application of liberal principles to the synoptic gospels, many of the same principles populate popular commentaries on the book of Revelation in our day.

This accommodation of liberal principles by those who claim to be evangelical was noted by Schaeffer: “The evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age. First, there has been accommodation on Scripture, so that many who call themselves evangelicals hold a weakened view of the Bible and no longer affirm the truth of all the Bible teaches- . . . As part of this, many evangelicals are now accepting the higher critical methods in the study of the Bible.”8 Schaeffer recognizes the high view of Scripture as the dividing line between those who are truly evangelical and those who are not: “Holding to a strong view of Scripture or not holding to it is the watershed of the evangelical world. . . . evangelicalism is not consistently evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who do not.”9 Let the reader beware! Much of what would pass itself off as evangelical commentary on the book of Revelation is not truly so—having embraced anti-supernatural presuppositions which are rejected by evangelicalism.

In accord with our stated policy of inoculation, we will spend some time helping our reader to more easily identify when anti-supernatural bias is afoot so that he may be aware of its presence and avoid its consequences.

By way of introduction, we offer the following example: “It seems likely that John has written his book carefully to signify the perfect plan of God and the completeness of his work.”10 Can you identify the hint of anti-supernatural bias in the preceding quote discussing John’s motive for writing the book? Although admittedly a subtle example, the anti-supernatural bias is evident in the word carefully. This commentator is saying between the lines that the book of Revelation is a carefully constructed literary work which we are to implicitly assume is of human origin, thought, purpose, and design. Here we see one of the key characteristics (and dangers) of anti-supernaturalism: it communicates on two levels. On the surface level are explicit statements which may condone evangelical principles. Below the surface is an implicit denial of same. The effect is much like a friend, who upon gaining the reader’s trust, sets about slowly and methodically to betray that trust.11

Other cases are more easily detected. For example, it is fairly commonplace to encounter discussion concerning the authorship of John suggesting it was written by a person of another name. But this asks the reader to endorse the notion that God has packaged His message of divine perfection within a lie (claiming to be written by John, but actually written by someone with another name)! Another commonly-encountered attitude of academic sophistication is a blatant disregard for inerrancy, such as found in redaction-critical theories whose implicit denial of inspiration is exceeded only by their creativity and appeal to total speculation. Aune believes “the author composed several different apocalyptic tracts for a variety of reasons over twenty to thirty years and then decided to combine them into a single document.”12 Never mind the introduction to the Apocalypse which says otherwise.13 Those who spawn these elaborate constructions may have sincere intentions and believe they are performing a service for Christ, but such is the nature of deceivers who are more effective having been deceived themselves (2Ti. 2Ti. 3:13). History illustrates one of Satan’s main tools against the church to be well-meaning believers who lacked an appreciation for the long-term effects of the fully-developed fruit of their ‘contribution’ to Christ.14 As has been observed: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”


Notes

1 “In 1910, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church issued the Five Fundamentals of the Faith, which included: first, the inspiration of the Scriptures; second, the Virgin Birth; third, the substitutionary atonement; fourth, the resurrection of Jesus; and fifth, the miracles of Jesus. Those who subscribed to these five points were labeled ‘Fundamentalists,’ and so a new word was coined. . . . The General Assembly issued these in 1910 and reaffirmed them in 1916 and 1923.”—Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 73.

2 Mal Couch, Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications), 11.

3 Robert L. Thomas, “The ‘Jesus Crisis’: What Is It?,” in Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell, eds., The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 13.

4 Ibid.

5 For an excellent treatment of this topic, see [Ibid.] and [Gerhard Maier, The End of the Historical-Critical Method (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1977)].

6 Couch, Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, 20.

7 Thomas, “The “Jesus Crisis”: What Is It?,” 13.

8 Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 5:320-321.

9 Ibid., 333.

10 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 17.

11 Perhaps the most powerful weapon of Satan is the packaging of truth with deadly error. As we take in the truth, we often fail to spit out the error which rides along with it.

12 Osborne, Revelation, 28.

13 Compare Aune’s elaborate construction with Osborne: “The unity of language and thought in the book is so extensive that many recent commentators assume unity and do not even discuss redactional theories.”—Ibid., 27.

14 One wonders how often these contributions are fueled by pride rather than a godly reverence for and belief in the sufficiency of what God has set forth. How many modern-day paraphrases of God’s verbally inspired Word fall prey to this very error?