Vol. 3, No. 2 April 2000
SBC President Assigns
Attributes of Deity to the Bible
By Dr. Bruce Prescott
In the September 1999 issue of the Mainstream Messenger we advised our readers that one of the chief dangers of Fundamentalism is Bible idolatry — exalting the Bible to the status of a divine mediator between God and man. I quoted an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution which stated that on November 15, 1998 SBC President Paige Patterson told the congregation of First Baptist Church of Norcross that, “The path to salvation is not an easy one to follow. It begins with accepting the Bible as infallible and inerrant.”
In recent correspondence with Mainstream Baptists, Patterson has denied making the statement attributed to him and wrote that even had there been “a slip of the tongue, I certainly do not believe that which you featured me as believing and have never said anything remotely like that any place else.” Patterson insisted, “ I do not believe that one’s position on infallibility or inerrancy has anything to do with one’s salvation.”
These statements from the Southeastern Seminary President and architect of the Fundamentalist takeover of the SBC are difficult to reconcile with statements he made to Seminary students on August 26, 1999. Baptist Press quoted him as saying, “Friend, it is as logical as it can be, if we do not have a more sure word of prophecy from the Word of God, if we do not have the Word of the Lord, infallible and inerrant and absolutely trustworthy, then nobody, nobody, nobody who’s ever lived, nobody who lives now, nobody who will ever live, has an answer that will tell us how to get to God for sure.’”
I pointed this discrepancy out to him in a letter and asked him if he was now repudiating a position that he and others had been using for decades to divide our denomination.
Patterson responded in a letter that said he does not believe that the Bible is “the vehicle for salvation, only the road map.”
He chided me for failing “to distinguish between epistemology on one hand and soteriology on the other” and accused me of thinking my argument was with him, “when, in fact, it is with the Bible.”
Having learned a little philosophy myself, I knew that epistemology is the study of knowledge and truth. From my theological studies I also knew that soteriology refers to the doctrine of salvation. So, when Patterson identified the Bible as an “epistemological source,” and wrote, “The only difference between us is that I believe that the source has to be infallible, inerrant, and absolutely trustworthy if we are to have a ‘sure word of prophecy,’” I knew that he didn’t know what he was talking about.
I wrote Patterson and told him that his description of the difference between us was mistaken.
“I too believe in an infallible, inerrant, and absolutely trustworthy epistemological source,” I said. “The real difference is that I find that source in Jesus while you find it in the Bible.”
I also advised Patterson that the distinction he makes between epistemology and soteriology is “heretical” and “bibliolatrous,” i.e. it makes the Bible an idol.
Patterson’s distinction is heretical because it undermines the unity of Christian doctrine. It is bibliolatrous because, at the very least, it exalts the Bible to a place that properly belongs to Christ alone.
I knew Patterson was wrong because when Thomas asked Jesus, “How do we know the way?” Jesus did not refer him to an “infallible, inerrant, and absolutely trustworthy” road map. Jesus said ,“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” (John 14:5-6) In philosophical and theological terms, Jesus said the “road,” the “epistemological source,” and the “vehicle” of salvation are all one and the same. That means that ultimately, for Bible believing Christians, Jesus is the sole source of certainty and absolute truth, just as much as He is the only “vehicle” or “way” to salvation.
In my letter I advised Patterson that, “As long as you persist in assigning attributes of deity to the Bible, I must insist that the ‘source’ of the salvation you proclaim differs from that of the apostles.”
The truth is, Fundamentalist epistemology has more in common with the foolish “wisdom of the world” than with the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:17-31). True proclamation must determine with Paul “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
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