Last Friday I read the first two chapters of J.I. Packer's 1958 book, " 'Fundamentalism' and the Word of God." While it has been fifty years since this book has appeared, it is not irrelevant to the current debate concerning the Bible's authority within the context of personal faith and doctrinal orthodoxy. In 1958, Packer was dealing with criticisms of the Evangelical faith from those who opposed Evangelicalism. Today, some of the same criticisms are being leveled against Evangelicalism by those who claim to be within the Evangelical camp.
At first Packer does not distinguish between the terms Evangelical and Fundamentalist because critics of Evangelicals consider the two terms synonymous. Packer lists the incomplete definitions the critics use to define Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism. Some define the terms to refer to a particular view of the Bible's origins, others think they refer exclusively to Biblical inerrancy, while others believe they refer to a strictly literal interpretation of Scripture. While critics cannot agree on a precise definition, they all agree that Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism as a theological stance is untenable in the light of modern scholarship; that it is anti-intellectual and authoritarian. The critics refer to it as a recent phenomenon, a product of twentieth century reaction to modern scholarship concerning Scripture. Actually, according to Packer, it is to be considered as a legitimate continuation of the Church's expression of the Christian message. Later, Packer does distinguish between the two terms when he explains why British Evangelicals have always resisted being referred to as Fundamentalists. Packer makes a convincing case for Christians to avoid using the term fundamentalist when referring to themselves; evangelical should be our label of choice.
The real issue between Evangelicals and its critics is the question of Biblical authority, states Packer:
"We shall maintain that Jesus Christ constituted Christianity a religion of biblical authority. He is the Church's Lord and teacher; and He teaches His people by His Spirit through His written Word...We shall argue that subjection to the authority of Christ involves subjection to the authority of Scripture. Anything short of unconditional submission to Scripture, therefore, is a kind of impenitence; any view that subjects the written Word of God to the opinions and pronouncements of men involves unbelief and disloyalty to Christ...Evangelicalism, however, seeking as it does to acknowledge in all things the supremacy of Scripture , is in principle Christianity at its purest and truest."
I had hoped to be a bit more detailed in this review, however my computer is acting rather slow today. Tonight I will read the next two chapters, "Authority" and "Scripture", which will require me to begin reading earlier than usual on Friday evenings.