Beyond Born Again
Section I– The Born Again Experience: A Brave New World?
Chapter 1: A Might Fortress Is Our Mentality
“Hey, wouldn’t you like to be born again
Live a new life that’s free
Without sin, no ties to philosophy.”
— Anne Herring and Matthew Ward, “Learn a Curtsey”
“You’ll be born again into an untroubled world… free of anxiety… fear… hate.”
— “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”
“We want you to experience the total power of the born-again experience without risk.”
— magazine advertisement
The most visible thing about “Born Again” Christians is their claims of new and revolutionary religious experience. Yet too often, outsiders are left without much of an idea as to how these claims may be understood or evaluated. I hope to supply an analysis that will be helpful in this respect. The present chapter will attempt to outline the principal schemas by which “Born Again” people interpret and direct their experiences, specifically those of discomfort or adversity.
Some readers may be surprised or even indignant at seeing names associated together which seem at first to represent very disparate viewpoints. E.g., how can I possibly put Calvinist counselor Jay Adams, fundamentalist preacher John R. Rice, and Charismatic exorcist Don Basham in the same classification? I ask only for a little patience. I believe I will be able to show how these and other Born Again Christians actually work from the same basic models of world, self, and the role of religion.
Briefly I will argue that among Born Again Christians (fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and Charismatics), there is a very distinctive model for relating to and coping with the world. I call it “the hard religious line.” Here all answers to life’s puzzles are strictly religious or spiritual in nature and are directly derivable from personal commitment to Christ and accompanying devotional disciplines. Furthermore, all necessary information for this is in the Bible. The result is a purely religious view of the world and the self which does full justice to neither. This, I will contend, is unhealthy and immature.
Briefly I will outline a derivative model, born in reaction to the one just described, called “the soft religious line.” Here, religious commitment is still given fundamental importance in life, but it is also recognized that even the Born Again Christian is subject to problems and solutions that are not especially spiritual in origin or nature. Accordingly, the Bible is not seen to have the answer to everything. One may also look to and trust other sources. The consequent worldview attributes both significant value and independent reality to the world and the self in their own right. In other words, for “softliners” man is not only homo religiosus, but more as well. This view is more realistic, healthy, and mature.
Finally, I will consider which of the two seems more faithful to the common Evangelical understanding of biblical authority. My perhaps controversial conclusion will be that while the weaker, soft religious line is more progressive and healthier psychologically, the hard religious line is actually more faithful to the typical Evangelical understanding of the Bible. Insofar as this view of biblical authority is deemed integral to Evangelicalism, the hard line would have to be seen as more consistently Evangelical.
Let me explain why I will include such a large number of quotations. Basically, the present chapter is an exegetical study of much Born Again Christian literature. While quotations are always helpful in keeping discussions above the level of mere generalization, they will be particularly appropriate here since many of my Born Again
readers, biblically-oriented as they are, are accustomed to distrust any important assertion unless it can appeal to several supportive texts. In other words, no one is going to believe this unless I can document it thoroughly. Only so can I hope to avoid charges of caricature. I can only hope the several quotations will not be overly cumbersome stylistically.
Social activist-evangelist Tom Skinner once wrote a book entitled, If Christ is the Answer, What are the Questions? Many Evangelical Christians are sure that Christ is indeed the direct answer to all imaginable questions. The familiar evangelistic slogan, “Jesus is the answer,” receives many elaborations, or should I say “paraphrases,” for there really is little in the way of elaboration. Larry Norman, innovative Born Again rock singer and composer, musically runs down a list of national dilemmas and concludes his protest song: “Don’t ask me for the answers /I’ve only got one / That a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son.” Exorcists Frank and Ida Mae Hammond similarly claim, “Hope for our communities and nation does not lie in social and governmental programs…. Our problems are basically spiritual.” But we are more concerned with how the Born Again Christian handles personal problems and difficulties. Here, too, there is much simplicity. Bill Bright, the businessman-director of Campus Crusade for Christ, buoyantly promises:
If we have Christ, we have everything we need, for… we are complete in Him. Do you need love? Our Lord Jesus Christ is the incarnation of love. Do you need joy? He is joy. Do you need peace? Christ is peace….” 
and so on. Fundamentalist counselor Gilbert Little echoes these sentiments:
After you believe that the shed blood of Christ was made an offering for your soul, God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in you…. Finally you overcome the evil influence of doubt, fear, anxiety, nervousness, and worry by trusting and meditating on God’s Word and by walking each day… in the Spirit….”
Once again, Jay Adams: “… if you have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, you may be certain that the way out will come just as surely as the problem itself.” Enroth, Ericson, and Peters, in their excellent study of the Jesus People, point out that among these young Born Again Christians, “Whatever the problem, the simply plan of salvation is offered as the whole solution.”
It will be no surprise that Born Again Christians who have taken such a tantalizing offer seriously will then expect to be free from problems. Daniel Stevick, Keith Miller, and Bruce Larson all bemoan their former allegiance to such views, which, they report, proved unworkable. They, like many fellow believers had been told that new problems would arise only if one is not sufficiently “yielded” or not filled with the Spirit. This picture is hardly the result of mere distortion by the disgruntled. Bill Bright, in Experiencing God’s Love and Forgiveness, claims, “When we walk in the fullness and the control of God’s Holy Spirit, every day is filled with wonder, meaning, purpose, and fruitfulness.” He provides a diagram illustrating that all of life’s interests
automatically fall into or out of place depending upon how recently one has confessed sins and appropriated the filling of the Holy Spirit.  Tim LaHaye asserts that, “The Christ-controlled life guarantees peace and confidence, thereby avoiding many crises (because it is supernaturally directed)….” Sectarian revivalist John R.Rice agrees: “Every Christian ought to be glad all the time. But even a child of God… cannot be happy if there be known sin unjudged, unrebuked, unconfessed in his life.”
The reader has undoubtedly noticed that problems in the Christian experience are chalked up to sin, at least according to these writers. There are other factors, too, all of them religious in nature. Jay Adams is clear in his assessment:
The Bible knows only two categories of causes for bizarre behavior: (1) organic causes, (2) non-organic causes…. all non-organic problems are represented in the Scripture as stemming from the counselee’s sin. There is no third, neutral category… that allows for non-organic difficulties for which the counselee may not be held personally responsible.” 
Gilbert Little seems to agree: “When the Christian succumbs to emotional problems…, he has taken his eyes off God.”  Other writers go on to count in the devil. Fundamentalist Bible teacher R. B. Thieme contends that a Christian who is worried or upset at anything has thereby already succumbed to Satanic pressure.  Charismatic “Deliverance Ministry” specialists Don Basham, Pat Brooks, and Frank and Ida Mae Hammond go one remarkable step further. Problems including self-pity, fear, lust, frigidity, schizophrenia, spiritual apathy, and a legion of others are often attributable to demon infestation and must be exorcised! 
Positively, exactly how does Christ insure such a thrilling adventure with clear skies all the way? As we have seen, problem-causing sins are to be confessed, the Holy Spirit is to be appropriated, and demons are to be driven out. here are a few more recipes. John R. Rice promises that “… you may have strength for every need by constant prayer”  but his real enthusiasm is reserved for “soul-winning” (person to person solicitation of converts): “… soul winning is such a worthy goal that it makes all of life worth living…. Everything seems to fall into proper focus.” R. B. Thieme’s prescription is a bit different: “What is the stabilizer of the Christian experience? Doctrine… DOCTRINE… DOCTRINE… AND MORE DOCTRINE!”
Even more sophisticated writers who assume the hard religious line still maintain that only Born Again Christians have maximum opportunity for psychological health and well being. Vernon Grounds, of Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, writes:
I keep asking myself, “Where are all these [factors for psychic well-being] to be found?” Conveniently they are to be found in the gospel exclusively–or at least with an adequacy that makes the gospel an unrivaled antidote for neurosis.
Phillip Swihart is sure that “Only Christians have these resources available to them to dare to be honest in dealing with feelings.” 
How are these emotional changes actually effected? It is as easy as knowing the proper text of principle. Swihart says, “We can
ask God to change our attitudes and feelings, to heal our hurts, to set us free from our obsessions, to melt our anger and hate, to give us feelings of joy, peace and love….” For Merlin Carothers, the Bible is enough to overrule emotion: “Your feelings may tell you that you are lonely, but God’s Word says He is with you. Which will you believe? If you aren’t sure, you need to repent….” Peter Gillquist offers the example of his wife. She once told him during a particularly trying day, “I should be discouraged, but I told the Lord that I am rejecting discouragement in His name.” Bill Bright gives the secret of loving those whom we find less than lovable. Since the Bible tells us to love even our enemies, then, logically, such must be God’s will. The Bible also says God will certainly answer prayers that are in accord with his will (I John 5:14-15). Therefore one need only “love by faith,” or claim God’s love for unlovely persons. It is as simple as that!
To take another kind of example, let’s turn to a specific problem and see how “hardliners” deal with it. Tim LaHaye, in Ten Steps to Victory Over Depression, recommends almost exclusively religious therapy, including superimposing God onto your self-image, visualizing yourself as God is shaping you, accepting yourself as God’s creation, accepting God’s forgiveness, thanking God for everything, seeking God’s Kingdom, thinking about God’s available power, etc.
Jay Adams says that to escape depression one must first know God personally (i.e. be “Born Again”), then decide that you want more to please God than to escape depression, and then you must do whatever God says no matter how you feel.. Finally, in dealing with the kindred ailment of anxiety, Vernon Grounds gives almost entirely spiritual advice. The anxious person must repeat Romans 8:38-39 (an assurance of God’s providence) at least five times daily, reaffirm Galatians 2:20, pray for faith, surrender anxieties to Christ a la 1 Peter 5:7, and have Christian fellowship.
Thus far, our evidence has suggested that common to Born Again Christians of very diverse perspectives is a “hard religious line” according to which conversion should eliminate all problems. At any rate, problems are of a purely spiritual nature and may be simply overcome by religious means. As one might expect, the cornerstone for this attitude is the Evangelical esteem for the Bible as the only sufficient norm for faith and practice. I will now turn to representative programmatic statements about the role of the Bible in the “hard religious line.”
Once again we begin with Jay Adams as the most forthright spokesman: “The Christian counselor uses the Scripture as the sole guide for bouth counselor and counselee. He rejects eclecticism. He refuses to mix man’s ideas with God’s.” “… the basic principles for the practice of counseling are all in the Bible.” “The issue resolves itself quite simply into this: if a principle is new to or different from those that are advocated in the Scripture, it is wrong; if it is not, it is unnecessary.” Again, Vernon Grounds:
… when it comes to prescribing a panacea for the problems that plague people, you and I as biblicists can speak up with confidence…. The gospel, we insist, is not an answer, one among many; it is the answer.
That Grounds takes his “biblicism” seriously is evident from the fact
that almost all his chapter titles introduce their subjects as “The Bible and [e.g.] Anxiety.” Bill Gothard, director of the popular “Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts” seminar, claims: “Once the counselor determines the levels of conflict involved… he is then able to guide the teenager in applying clear Scriptural steps….”  Lastly, R. B. Thieme: “All of our assets… everything we need for… every problem, every trial, every difficulty, every adversity… ARE PROVIDED FOR IN GOD’S WORD!” 
Lest there remain any doubt as to the hardliners’ attitude toward psychology and psychiatry, there follow two representative comments. George Dollar, faculty member at Bob Jones University, protests, “If counseling is so vital as its proponents claim…. Does it mean that with the Bible and the Holy Spirit the believer cannot find the answers to his deepest needs without professional counseling?”  And in the opinion of Gilbert Little, it is only “Worldly Christians [who] are prone to turn to the psychologies of man,… an adjustment to this present world and away from Christ.” It is no surprise that, according to Walter Hollenweger, Pentecostal pastors take it as a spiritual defeat when the only alternative left to them is to turn their counselees over to a professional psychiatrist. 
The World and the Self in the Hard Religious Line
Sigmund Freud characterized religion as “an attempt to get control over the sensory world in which we are placed by means of the wish world which we have developed inside us.”
Whether or not all religion must function this way, I propose that the “hard religious line” offers a clear example of this phenomenon as described by Freud. Let us now proceed to set forth some important aspects of the Born Again “hard line” worldview to see if Freud’s characterization fits.
As one should expect, there is a great deal of other-worldliness in this schema. The world is not taken with real seriousness as a reality in its own right. It is sometimes said among Born Again Christians that God does not take them to heaven immediately after conversion simply because he wants them to be here in order to convert others! One may even detect some wistful regret in this explanation.
Peter Gillquist writes: “If we through the Holy Spirit can see our destined [heavenly] citizenship as, eternally speaking, already here, life on this planet becomes merely a sideshow that will soon move on.” “We see this present life as temporary and fleeting.” “The Church of God falls into perspective as being the most important treasure we can know on this earth.” Bill Gothard seems to feel that one’s vocation is only a means of support, e.g., “I’m a Christian, but I work in the meat-packing plant to get money to pay expenses.”  Or, to quote another of Larry Norman’s songs, “What a mess this world is in! I wonder who began it? Don’t ask me, I’m only visiting this planet.”
But the Born Again “hardliner,” like it or not, is, at least temporarily. In the meantime, the world is still suffused by the light of eternity. The Born Again worldview assumes the proportions of a “primitive thought-world” as described by anthropologist
The cosmos is turned in, as it were, on man. Its transforming energy is threaded on to the lives of individuals so that nothing happens in the way of storms, sickness, blights or droughts except in virtue of these personal links. So the universe is man-centered in the sense that it must be interpreted by reference to humans.
In such a universe the elemental forces are seen as linked so closely to individual human beings that we can hardly speak of an external, physical environment…. The physical environment is not clearly thought of in separate terms, but only with reference to the fortunes of human selves.
Quoting another anthropologist, W. E. H. Stanner, she adds that primitive man “moves, not in a landscape but in a humanized realm saturated with significations.” This is no less true of our Born Again “hardliner.” He sees the world not so much as an independent reality in its own right, but rather as an elaborate stage or laboratory. Similarly, events do not happen in and of themselves; rather they are a series of signals sent directly by God. Their meaning is that they are devices to educate the believer or shape his behavior, in a manner reminiscent of behaviorist “operant conditioning.” This view of the world even approaches the Eastern concept of maya, i.e., the world as a series of magic tricks, stage illusions, behind which God must be sought.
No better illustration of this kind of worldview could be found than those filling the writings of Merlin Carothers, an extremely popular teacher in the Charismatic movement. Carothers relates how God himself told him, “My son, what I wanted you to know was that you never again have to worry whether anyone will overcharge you, hurt you, or mistreat you unless it is My will.” Carothers goes on to affirm his belief that “if the chair collapses under me it is His will. If the coffee is too hot or the toast soggy, it is His will.” One day, “God was giving me [a] headache as an opportunity to increase the power of Christ in my life.”  He recommends his readers to thank God for letting someone steal one’s parking place since God must have an even better one in store around the corner!  Frances Gardener Hunter, another popular Pentecostal speaker, relates how she believed God had delayed her airplane in a snowstorm so she could have time to read the Bible and to convert a fellow passenger. Our last example is the testimonial of a “satisfied customer” of Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts. He says, “… just the other day we had a calamity at the office, when a water pipe broke and my whole carpet was ruined. But I could come home and joke about it. God just wanted me to get a new carpet.” One may be sympathetic to Eli Chesen’s opinion of this kind of thing as “egocentric thinking in its highest form.” But, “Despite the egocentricity, however, such thoughts can give comfort and reassurance to the person who has faith.” 
Evangelicals who think in this way do not seem to shrink from the deterministic implications of these beliefs. Carothers admits openly that God must be “Really responsible for everything that happens….”  Nevertheless, Carothers seems to want to hollow out spaces for free-will decisions, though he quickly adds that God
will still intervene to work to our advantage any mistake we may make.  This scheme is much to optimistic “Positive Thinking” or to the idea that ours is “the best of all possible worlds” than Carothers and his many fans would probably care to admit. He even veers amazingly close to Christian Science’s gnostic denial of the reality of sickness. He (with many other Charismatics and Pentecostals) says that the believer must “claim his healing from the Lord” and then believe he has been healed even if Satan continues to counterfeit the symptoms! But more about this in Chapter 3.
This cozy universe provides great security. Carothers assures us that God’s appointment schedule is better than ours, so one mustn’t worry if he is caused to be unavoidably late. Peter Gillquist quotes Romans 8:28, adding “His promise is that we are not left to chance or happenstance.” Tim LaHaye is relieved that the Born Again Christian need never make another decision for himself: “Never ask, ‘What do I want to do about this?'” Instead one should let Jesus Christ decide on one’s vocation, spouse, and various daily decisions.  Similarly, a man who attended the Gothard Seminar concluded that Gothard “erased all areas of gray. I’m convinced that God did not make gray.” This desire for total and unambiguous security also surfaced in psychologist John Kildahl’s tests of people who “speak in tongues” (glossolalia):
Our tongue-speakers had a strong need for external guidance from some trusted authority. That is, they had a strong sense of leaning on someone more powerful than themselves, who gave them security and direction in their lives.
This observation raises the question of what sort of self-image is promoted by the “hard religious line.” Many Born Again Christians are not in sympathy with any sort of “self-actualization” approach. Jay Adams warns:
Counselors who focus on improving self-concepts and who try to teach counselees how to love themselves will find themselves spinning their wheels…. Not one word in the Scriptures encourages such activities. 
It is the “I” that gets irritated, filled with hate, rage, and envy…. The “I”, not the Spirit, makes us sick.
Too many Christians seem to forget that self must be crucified daily, moment by moment…. 
The Christian should not trust himself. As already noted, Tim LaHaye urges that all decisions be turned over to Christ, never made on the basis of “what do I want to do?” Gothard shows a similarly dismal view of human judgment when he recommends that in any situation one first decide what he himself would be inclined to do and then take the opposite for God’s will!  Gothard does not stop here, however. He further advises Christians to avoid the possibility of anger and indignation by “yielding all one’s rights to God.” Henceforth one can only expect poor treatment and be grateful when it is not forthcoming! (This is a kind of rigorous self-criticism and mental discipline akin to ancient Stoicism.) The same sort of self-abnegation is put forth in the book Have We No Rights?
which uses a missionary’s experiences as an ideal for everyone: “Every truly consecrated Christian must be willing to give up the right to the normal comforts of life, to physical health and safety, to the privacy of business, time, friends, romance, family and home.”  While any serious commitment must be prepared for ultimate self-sacrifice, the thing to note here is that this sort of thing is being recommended as one’s everyday attitude, a constant willingness to be a door mat.
What then is the value of the self in the hard religious line? As with the world, the self seems to have little or no real value in its own right. It is swallowed up in the religious reality. Swihart is comparatively mild when he says, “We can assume that God gives us feelings so we will be able to grasp, albeit finitely, something of who he is an infinite and thus incomprehensible manner.” Is that really the only reason? At any rate, Gothard goes farther when he holds that God designed our physical appearance before we were born so that it would function as a (mere) “picture frame” to accentuate the Christ-like religious character he intends to develop us in. The purpose is to make the gospel more attractive to outsiders we meet. The self is at best a religious object lesson or billboard. Accordingly, Gothard’s definition of “maturity” is exclusively and entirely religious: “A Christian is mature when he recognizes a personal deficiency or violation of a basic Scriptural principle and has the discernment and the tools to correct the violation.” 
Coping Mechanisms of the Hard Religious Line
When life and the world are evaluated in a purely religious or spiritual framework, it follows that all difficulties are to be met in a religious or spiritual way. I have already touched on this. Now I propose to deal with these religious coping mechanisms in more detail. The coping mechanisms of the hard religious line are of two basic types which I shall dub “combat” and “divination.” Both are usually present among all hardliners, though either may temporarily or permanently predominate.
Combat coping mechanisms see the world primarily as a battleground between the Born Again Christian Soldier and his spiritual foes, “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” First, “the flesh.” John R. Rice puts its succinctly: “Every Christian has a struggle between these two natures, the old nature and the new nature.” One must “confess before God and judge every sin the moment it becomes known to you.”  Merlin Carothers agrees: “Our soul is a battleground where Jesus Christ has won the decisive victory, but each of us must [fight] till our attention is focused on God with a single mind and a united heart.” Surrender your immoral thoughts to God and “When a wrong thought presents itself… imagine it projected on [a] screen. Confess it to God and say, ‘I’ve surrendered that thought. I won’t think it. Absolutely not!'”  Once more, Jay Adams: “The Christian life is a daily battle. Daily a Christian must put to death (crucify) his selfish desires and instead follow the will of Christ.” 
“The world” in our trio of opponents might be said to include all sorts of (negative) circumstances including sickness, poverty, irritations,
and discouraging events. Since “greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4), Born Again Christians must “take authority” over such difficulties. Peter Gillquist says: “As we take hold of the authority which has been delivered to us, [we exercise] dominion over the circumstances surrounding us…. [e.g.] worry… insecurity… hesitancy to be free.”  Kenneth Hagin: “God’s plan is for you to rule and reign in your life– to reign over circumstances, poverty, disease, and everything that would hinder you.”  For Hagin and Carothers, this includes automatic freedom from sickness.
Thirdly, the Born Again Christian must do battle with the devil and his minions. “Demon powers are set in array and given authority by Satan to control the entire world and plague it with pernicious evil.”  There is a remarkable across-the-boards-agreement here between Evangelical Christians of divergent perspectives. All seem to agree that Satan need not be kept in reserve only for particularly distressing theodicies. On the contrary, according to fundamentalist R. B. Thieme, “The Believer in Jesus Christ is the NUMBER ONE TARGET of the strategy of the Devil…. This is the Devil’s world….”  Philip Swihart agrees that Satan attacks us “in our daily lives” by distorting our feelings and tempting us to be dishonest with them. Hagin, the Hammonds, Basham, and Brooks all warn of the real possibility that demons are behind certain problems in our lives. The Hammonds give a list of over three hundred oft-recurrent demons. Traditional Evangelicals, including Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God, believe that the Christian must “resist the devil,” by prayer and other spiritual disciplines, to offset his harassment. But the new “Deliverance Ministry” advocates (e.g., Basham, Brooks, the Hammonds) go further and claim that actual demon-possession occurs in the Born Again Christian. (Traditionalists consider this a possibility only for the “unsaved.”) In this case, the evil spirits must be exorcised and then kept out by a faithful program of spiritual disciplines.  When one recalls that almost any nagging bad habit or psychological problem is quite possibly (though not always) to be diagnosed as demonic, it is evident that Deliverance Ministry advocates have successfully revived yet another aspect of the primitive and medieval worldview, that of animistic spirit possession. Also, one is reminded of the all-too-human tendency hastily to assume that one has every disease the symptoms of which he hears described. The Deliverance Ministry cannot but find the demons it looks for; it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. (There are other quite interesting aspects of the Pentecostal belief in demon-deliverance which I will consider in a separate chapter.)
The combat coping mechanisms involve such severe and constant self-criticism and introspection, and such vigilance against demonic attack that one wonders just how beneficial these devices can be for coping. Is not the medicine worse than the sickness if one takes these coping mechanisms seriously?
The second major type of hardliner coping device is what I call divination. Here I am concerned with the Born Again view of the world as a “realm saturated with significations.” The Gothard-Carothers belief that God causes and/or allows all events and circumstances now comes into its own; the Born Again Christian must thank
God for whatever happens and then try to discern the divine intention–what is God trying to teach him, or how is God trying to mold and develop him?
It is worth pausing at this point to note an important area of unresolved tension. Hardline Evangelical Christians do not seem to take seriously the apparent contradiction in saying on the one hand that they must beware the antagonistic, devilish forces literally swarming about them, and believing on the other that God causes all events for their good! And most of them do in fact consciously hold both beliefs. My guess is that they invoke either belief when it seems appropriate to the particular situation. If there is an unavoidable difficulty, it is a divine trial or test. If there is temptation, it is the devil. If it could be either, perhaps the individual’s disposition or mood will decide which to invoke.
The reader may wish to suggest a resolution of this difficulty, but let me try to beat him to it. “Doesn’t the Bible teach that God sometimes uses Satan for his own purposes, as in the book of Job?” This may well be so; it is certainly a logically coherent idea. But the problem is that Evangelical statements about Satanic harassment such as those examined here seem to carry a rather different tenor. One definitely gets the feeling that the Born Again Christian feels himself to be the object of unjust assaults. This becomes apparent immediately from the characterization of this devilish activity as temptation to sin, which the Evangelical would never attribute to God. Though God might test (as in Job’s case), he is supposed never to tempt. Most Christians would make this distinction, but the uniquely hardline inconsistency arises from the belief that God causes all events that come your way. Where in this picture is there room, logically speaking, for Satanic temptation?
If the combat coping mechanisms saw the world as a battleground, the divination method sees the world as a proving ground. The Christian is an apprentice, an initiate, or a soldier in boot camp. He must successfully reach the end of the obstacle course. “God puts us in difficult circum-stances to strip us of our old nature and teach us joyful submission to His will.”  “God is using the circumstances of this earthly life to equip me… for living forever with Him.”  These difficulties range from soggy toast and ruined carpets (as we have seen) to financial ruin and the death of one’s children.  God may be teaching or chastising. Gothard standardizes the divination formula:
- Thank God for the irritation. No matter what, there’s a purpose.
- Identify possible causes. Did I in any way cause this?
- Determine ultimate objectives. What qualities does God want to develop in me? He has allowed the irritation for my ultimate benefit. 
Carothers makes a great deal of step No. 1 above in his writings. One should praise the Lord literally for everything. This can be observed to result in an alarming, almost childish giddiness in those who take this seriously. Among other things, he advises individuals to thank God for an alcoholic father, for being drafted to go to Vietnam, and for one’s daughter becoming a nude nightclub dancer! Carothers gives endless examples tending to reinforce the conclusion
that if you are willing to thank God for a horrible situation, then God will be pleased enough at your humility to reward you by changing the situation. At one point, he tries to cover his tracks by denying that this is his intent, but the overwhelming tendency of his work is nonetheless in this direction. He is at least theoretically willing, however, to admit with Gothard that circumstances may not change. Rather God will use them to change you. And what sort of change is involved here? As one might guess by now, the goal is to become more nearly perfect religiously.
Divination has another important role to play. One must also divine the will of God before making important (and sometimes even not-so-important) decisions or choices. Remember how LaHaye advised letting Jesus make all your decisions for you. How do you go about finding out Jesus’ opinion on, e.g., which college to enroll in? There are at least two views here. Many, especially Charismatics, simply “feel led” to choose one alternative over another. Moreover, the decision is sure to be the right one if in announc-ing it, one can add that “I’ve prayed about it.” Prayer is imagined in an almost mechanical way to “clear the lines of static,” so that God’s signal can get through. And if the situation is serious enough, fasting may be added to the process.
Another group of Evangelicals is more suspicious of the subjectivism implied in all this. They resort to a list of steps for divination (to be found for instance in Paul Little’s Affirming the Will of God, or Oliver Barclay’s Guidance). Despite the de jure belief in supernatural direction, this approach boils down essentially to common sense. For example, one should assess his or her options (the available “open doors”), seek advice from more mature Christians, make sure one’s choice is at least in harmony with biblical principles (though how this would bear on, e.g., which college to attend, I leave the reader to decide), and so forth. The best decision you can come up with must be God’s will, since he is in control and would not let you honestly misconstrue the clues. After all, he wants you to find his will, doesn’t he?
But the thing to note is that, despite the differences, in both cases the Born Again Christian is told that he can and must discern the will of God before acting. Witness the constant admonitions to make sure you are “in the center of God’s will,” or to “find God’s perfect will for you.” Now here’s the problem. What happens if things don’t turn out the way you decided God wanted them to? Suppose you are “led” to plan an outdoor evangelistic program, but it rains! Well, it turns out that God’s will must have been something other than what you had surmised? The Lord moves in mysterious ways, after all. The Born Again Christian may even chide himself for having presumptuously thought he could second-guess God to begin with. “I’ve tried to see / your plan for me / but I only acted like I knew / Oh Lord forgive the times / I tried to read your mind” (Keith Green, “Trials Turned to Gold”). His ways are inscrutable to mortals!
All this would be fine except for the fact that the rhetoric of “finding God’s will” continues to go on as it did before. The next decision will be approached the same way! The Evangelical will once again assume that God’s will is not inscrutable and can be known to us. Again we have a pair of contradictory beliefs, each of which
is invoked at the psychologically appropriate time. When the believer wants to avoid worrying whether he will make the right decision, he uses the divination formula to climb cozily into “the center of God’s will.” On the other hand, if things go sour he can assure himself that it is all for the good since God is working in ways unforeseen and unforeseeable by a mere mortal like himself!
One would imagine that after a while this contradiction would outlive its usefulness and cause frustration. Perhaps the most acute case of this would be the much-publicized disaster at Toccoa Falls Bible College, where several students were killed when a dam burst. Now certainly these young people came to study there because they had arrived at God’s will for their lives-he wanted them to serve in the pastorate or on the mission field. But it was not to be. Instead, it turned out to God’s will to “take them home to be with himself.” How could they have been so wrong? And, let’s face it, in terms of this belief-system either they were wrong, or God is playing some pretty cruel jokes. One would think that this “Lisbon Earthquake” would severely shake the plausibility of the divination scheme. But survivors were probably too preoccupied with figuring out what God meant to teach them through the tragedy, to notice.
One could avoid this trap by deciding to go consistently with one belief or the other. That is, one could simply decide once and for all that God’s will is inscrutable, and that one can only do his best to make ethically or biblically appropriate decisions, and hope they conform to God’s will. Or one could rely on divination; if and when things fall apart, one could just conclude “back to the drawing board!” You must have made a slip-up somewhere in the process and not assessed God’s will correctly. But even here, if one is “wrong” enough times, one would eventually have to conclude that it cannot be so easy to find God’s will as one was led to believe. In any event, I believe that the incongruous interplay of beliefs described above fairly represents the common practice of hard-line Evangelicals.
One of the most disturbing implications of the hardliners’ view of the submissiveness of the self and the divine orderedness of circumstances is that of unquestioning obedience to authority. The most widely known version of this is Gothard’s “Chain of Command.” Among others, this celestial bureaucracy includes God, government, husband/parents, and employers, in that order. God uses his subordinates, our superiors, as hammer and chisel to knock the rough edges off Christians “so that the true reflection of Christ can be seen from every angle.”  Brooks adds that obedience to the chain of command is also necessary if lasting deliverance from demons it to be achieved.  According to Gothard, wives must acquiesce to their husbands’ decisions, recognizing God’s will even in hubby’s mistakes. She should even thank God if her husband beats her! Carothers adds that if she complains she is sinning, and that she isn’t really submitting to him until she is glad he is exactly the way he is and enjoys submitting. 
What about the government? Carothers, who perhaps significantly is a military chaplain, leaves us in no doubt: “The government may be wrong, but if we rebel against it, we are disobeying God. That means communists or fascists or crooked officials…. They are that way because we need to learn submission.”  Carothers does not balk at declaring that God not only allowed, but actually caused
Adolf Hitler’s rise to power: “What about… Hitler?… Are we willing to thank God for raising [him] up? Can we accept His work that He is doing it for our good? Can we honestly praise him for it?” Thank God, Carothers grants that Christians may draw the line at obeying orders such as killing six million Jews or committing apostasy. One searches in vain for any principle compelling one to draw such a line, however.
It is not surprising that an other-worldly religious outlook would be indifferent to social change and similar issues, but now we are in a better position to see just why this is so. The Born Again Christian who advocates the hard religious line is not only apathetic to larger social questions because he imagines the “real” struggles to be those of personal, individual piety. In addition to this, the very worldview by which he rationalizes his privatistic struggles is of such a nature as to legitimate the social status quo. For instance, Bill Bright asks, “Do you thank God when you are dis-criminated against… racially?” The ideal is to avoid letting one’s spiritual equilibrium become ruffled by anger, rather than to become angry enough to change social inequities. It is probably no coincidence that Bright is a supporter of one of the Christian Right’s political organizations called “The Christian Freedom Foundation.” Similarly, Merlin Carothers remarks:
In recent years we’ve seen scores of “liberation” movements pop up. They all teach that we have “rights” as human beings and need to stand up for our-selves. But these movements are all based on the same false concepts of authority and submission.
I close these observations with an oft-quoted maxim from Bill Gothard: “Freedom is not the right to do what we want, but the power to do what we ought.”
The Psychological Danger of the Hard Religious Line
A very popular chorus among Born Again Christians is Ralph Carmichael’s “He’s Everything to Me.” Among hardliners, there is a definite tendency toward totalism, i.e., at least ideally the Born Again Christian must “lay all on the alter,” be “totally dedicated.” Peter Gillquist, for example, offers an illustration which he thinks “really communicates godliness.” A student once said to him,
I don’t want Jesus Christ to be first in my life any more… If He’s first in my live… then that presupposes there must be other things second and third…. If that is true, then these other things will be vying for first place. I just want Him to be my life.
John R. Rice extols “soul-winning” in similar terms: “To be absorbed in the greatest task in the world and have all one’s powers, all one’s energy and enthusiasm harnessed in this great work certainly does simplify the matter of living right.”  This is probably not the only thing it does. It may be argued that such zeal promotes immaturity and instability since it forces self-integration on too narrow a basis. The “hard religious line” is a clear example of what Gordon Allport calls “the immature [religious] sentiment” which
“is not really unifying in its effect upon the personality. Excluding as it does whole regions of experience, it is sporadic, segmented, and even when fanatic in intensity, it is but partially integrative of the personality.” It is this too narrow basis of integration that characterizes what theologian Paul Tillich calls “idolatrous faith.” Such faith must sooner or later collapse since is has elevated to ultimacy that which is merely one of the self’s several finite interests; it cannot long provide real fulfillment. Other unconscious drives will eventually demand expression. 
The hard religious line fosters unquestioning acceptance of prepackaged answers. As Eli Chesen points out in Religion May Be Hazardous to Your Health, this kind of acceptance of “arbitrary answers” and “rigid, confined, and stereotyped religious thinking patterns can be directly contributory to emotional instability.”  The hard-line Born Again Christian will be inhibited in learning for himself about life, asking ultimate questions, or even working through and understanding his personal problems, since as we have seen, he is told to “give them to the Lord” and pray them away. It is imagined that the Holy Spirit will miraculously intervene to solve one’s problems. In fact, to try to solve them oneself would be sin; it would be acting “in the flesh,” i.e., sinful self-sufficiency. Psychologically this kind of “spiritual growth” may result in the retardation of personal growth.
Some examples are in order at this point. Jean Houston, director of the Foundation for Mind Research in New York City, describes a teenager who joined the Jesus Movement after a severe family crisis of some sort.
She escaped her guilt and horror, but it had the effect of a psychological and social lobotomy. Where once she had been superbly inquisitive, she now could relate things only in terms of her religion-but she now had a focal point for all her energy.
The same tendency to put all one’s eggs in one tight basket comes out again in John Kildahl’s research on the practice of glossolalia:
It appeared to us at the conclusion of our study that the more integrated the personality the more modest he was in both claims and practice of glossolalia. Those who stated that they solved virtually every problem with which they wrestled by means of glossolalia were fundamentally immature. 
The eventual collapse predicted by Tillich may be observed in the remarks of Wilfred Bockelman on the Bill Gothard seminar, certainly one of the most exhaustively and rigidly detailed programs of “hard line” indoctrination:
A number of professional counselors… told me that both they and their colleagues experience an increase in caseload whenever Gothard comes to town.
This includes people of low ego strength. They already have a low opinion of themselves. And now they have another law laid on them and they can’t meet these demands either, so they experience yet another failure. 
How ironic that his totalism is often advertised with the words of
Jesus: “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Some Born Again Christians who have become dissatisfied with the hard religious line would want to counter with another quote:
Why do we try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe that it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved (Acts 15:10-11).
It is to this latter group we must now turn.
The Soft Religious Line
Perhaps during the preceding discussion the reader has been hard pressed not to think of William James’s classification of “the Sick Soul.” But there are the “Healthy Minded” among Born Again Christians. It is not unusual to find in the writings of such people that they are consciously defining their positions over against hard-liners whose position they themselves once may have held. In fact, it will take us less time to explain this “soft” religious line since it is almost pure negation of the hard religious line.
First of all, the softliners repudiate the notion that conversion to Christ eliminates problems. O. Quentin Hyder, in The Christian’s Handbook of Psychiatry, says, “it is absolutely untrue that Christians cannot or should not become mentally ill. We are just as vulnerable as pagans.”  Consequently religious answers are not always enough. Bruce Larson quite openly says that “worship, prayer, Bible study, and a genuinely pious life” are not enough. Christians also need involvement in the world. Instead of praying for God to remove their fears, Christians should ask for courage to “launch into action despite our fears.”  He describes his mother’s grief at the death of his stepfather. She declined help, claiming that “Jesus Christ was adequate for her needs.” Yet what finally brought her out of depression was involvement with others in a tutoring program.  Softliners such as Larson and Keith Miller contend that the volitional dismissal of unwanted feelings (a la Gillquist, Bright, et al.) is actually repression. Instead one should seek psychological help if necessary.  They stress the need for new methods of helping people and are quite open to the various approaches of modern psychology. For instance, Larson advocates “Relational Theology” which draws methodologically not on religious dogma but on things like personal encounter, leadership dynamics, and communication theory.  Keith Miller seeks to interpret the process and benefits of Evangelical conversion to Christ in terms of Maslow’s model of “clusters of needs.”  Thomas Harris’s “Transactional Analysis” has also been very popular among Born Again Christians holding to the soft religious line. For instance, Jon Tal Murphree’s book When God Says You’re OK, attempts to make Transactional Analysis’s benefits even greater by putting the relationship to God in this framework. Ruth Carter Stapleton’s ministry of “Inner Healing” was actually little more than Transactional Analysis with a religious veneer.
The use of secular psychological models and methods by softliners indicates that they do not see the solution of problems as qualitatively different between Born Again Christians and the “unsaved.”
Is there any difference, then? Christian psychologist Hyder recalls: “The actual psychotherapy I had given him was not significantly different from that which he would have gotten from a non-Christian psychologist.”  Softliners feel that one’s commitment to Christ facilitates the healing process that everyone has some chance to go through successfully. They attribute this to the psychological effects of having strong religious beliefs. Some soft-line writers attribute psychological potency to the metaphysical truth of their own beliefs, but it is hard to see how this is necessary from their own description of the factors of psychological health. Miller suggests that it is the experience of loving God and fellow Christians that helps the Born Again Christian to meet several clusters of needs relatively quickly. Larson feels that commitment to Christ gives a boost toward being able to become vulnerable and to affirm ourselves and others.  In other words, being Born Again does not give the convert a new answer to his problems; it merely gives him a shot in the arm to do a better job at trying the same answers everyone else has.
Of course, there is also attention to the Bible among soft-line Born Again counselors. Witness Hyder once again: “With [Christian patients] I honestly attempt to integrate sound principles of psychotherapy with teachings of Scripture.”  The impression here, however, is very different from that of hard-line counselors like Jay Adams who would apparently preach a sermon on repentance to anyone who came to him for any reason. It is obvious that the role of the Bible is very different here. Adams, Thieme, Little, and the others assumed the Bible and its dogmas to be an adequate medical kit. They need to look no further. This is no so among the soft-liners. For example, Gary Collins writes:
It does not follow… that God reveals all truth about men or about His universe within the pages of Scripture. Medicine, physics, chemistry, and a host of other academic disciplines have discovered truths about God’s world which are consistent with, but not written in , the pages of the Bible. 
Yet these people do consider themselves Born Again Christians with the adherence to “biblical authority” that is implied, so lip service at least is given to the Bible’s importance. James Mallory protests: “Christians have sometimes concluded that the ‘real answers’ to man’s practical problems are outside the Bible somewhere. So they soft-pedal the Bible, and then apply to ‘science’ or ‘psychology’ for the real answers.”  Yet Mallory himself seems to have done just this. While he indeed focuses on some basic biblical ideas, he repairs to secular psychiatry for the “immense amount of truth” to be found there, including “many complex medical aspects of emotional problems” and “many techniques to help people open up better.” The contrast between hard-line and soft-line use of the Bible is of more importance than is usually understood. I will return to this point later.
The World and the Self in the Soft Religious Line
Whereas the hard religious line tends to rob the world of any inherent value or reality, making it “a humanized realm saturated
with significations,” the soft religious line reverses this. The Born Again Christian who adopts the soft line may be compared to the “layman” of Yves Congar, for whom the things of this world are “really interesting in themselves” because “their truth is not as it were swallowed up and destroyed by a higher reference.” 
As with the hard religious line, the worldview is reflected in the coping mechanisms. First, one notices in the literature a distinct shift away from what we called “divination.” Instead of urgings to discern God’s will in every event, we find suggestions that in general pain and adversity are necessary for personal growth.  Secondly, instead of “combat,” the task of the Christian is seen as growth and relationship: “The true man of God… can move out into creative relationships and adventure, implying that he may fail and will fail. But when he does, he does not justify his failure by blaming God’s guidance.”  In the soft religious line, life and the world have their own value and are not solely a theatre for the performance of a one-man religious drama. Soft-line Evangelicals still talk about God’s guidance, answered prayer, etc., but there is a noticeable shift away from the world-picture of the hardliners, where every event is a coded message from God.
According to the soft religious line, the Born Again Christian has a real and valuable self. He is not important only as a potential carbon copy of Jesus Christ, an exemplar or advertisement of the gospel. Cecil Osborne, in The Art Of Understanding Yourself, says, “God is not concerned only with the need for his children to be decent and moral and honest…. He is concerned… that our lives shall be rich and full and creative; that we shall discover our highest potential….”  Miller echoes these sentiments: “If my faith is in God, then my job is not to build a successful, untainted religious life; it is to live a joyful and creative human life.”  By the criteria suggested earlier (maturity, stability, and an adequate basis of self-integration), the soft religious line is clearly healthier than its rival.
The reader may be thinking, “But surely it’s not such an ‘either-or proposition’!” Yes, that’s true– most Evangelicals probably combine both approaches, “hard-line” at some points, “soft-line” at others. The two schemas represent the axes along which most Born Again Christians would range themselves. I do not seek to make anyone into a straw man. I only point out, e.g., that insofar as one adheres to the hard religious line, one is tending towards unhealthiness. I hope to have provided a grid upon which the reader may “plot” his spirituality, so as to see where it would lead if pursued consistently.
Any list of Evangelical beliefs would include the adherence to the teaching of the Bible taken at face value, the propositional authority of “the plain sense of the text.” All Evangelical Christians are united on this point regardless of in-house disputes on questions such as inerrancy. Thus it is a priority for Born Again Christians to show that their psychological methods and views of self and the world are at the very least consistent with and suggested by the teaching of the Bible. All of them try to do this. In this section,
I will ask how well their attempts come off.
First I will describe what may be considered a hermeneutical abuse of the text sometimes called “psychologizing.” This is the attempt to use Old and New Testament characters to illustrate authoritatively (and thus somehow to provide evidence for) the modern writer’s view of psychology. The literature used in researching this chapter abounds in such psychologizing. For example, Bruce Larson cites Jesus’ cure of the Gerasene demoniac as an example of the affirmation of persons. Jesus’ naming Simon “Peter” (“The Rock”) shows how we should imaginatively envision a person’s potential.  Swihart sees Elijah in 1 Kings 19 as an example of a man repressing his feelings. He speculates from Exodus that Moses had been a spoiled child in Egypt. Jesus, by throwing the money-changers out of the temple, was engaging in a non-verbal form of admitting and “owning” his feelings.  LaHaye tries to substantiate his use of a four-temperament emotional categorization by pointing out “Bible personalities [who] show temperamental strengths and weakness.”
There are at least two major difficulties with such a use of the Bible. First, the portraits of individuals in the Bible are so sketchy and fragmentary that it would be extremely hazardous to try and “psych them out”. In lieu of any real evidence, these writers wind up reading in their own preconceived notions. Second, as is almost universally agreed, the “authority of the Bible” refers to the intended teaching of the Bible, i.e., not to the character sketches of cameo-players who appear from time to time in the redemptive drama. In other words, the biblical documents are usually oratory or polemical in intent and seldom seem to make a point of what “temperament” a character had, or whether or not he repressed his negative feelings! If character sketches are being appealed to merely to demonstrate certain psychological characteristics common to human beings, why is the Bible used as a focus instead of, say, modern novels, newspapers, plays, or diaries? Probably the answer lies in a mystification of the idea of biblical authority. This notion is vaguely invoked to legitimate the writer’s psychological analysis since, after all, he is drawing his examples from the Bible! Even if we could be sure that the Bible provided detailed and inerrant records of certain personalities, this would hardly make them better or more compelling evidence than any modern data. This is so by the very nature of what the psychologist is trying to do with the data. Accuracy in data is helpful but doesn’t determine what the data will help prove. (On my second point, see Greidanus’ excellent discussion in Sola Scriptura, Problems and Principles in Preaching Historical Texts.)
Little aptly sums up the hard-line view when he says,
Many Christians are searching the Scriptures, hoping to find Biblical passages to substantiate their psychological views. Jesus and the apostles did not spend time expounding psychological theories of man; they preached the gospel.
Advocates of the hard religious line seek to enter into the worldview of the Bible at several major points. For instance, the attribution of most or all sickness to demon-influence is quite at home in the apocalyptic worldview of the evangelists, particularly Luke (Luke 4:33-39; Luke 10:9-20; Luke 13:11-16; Acts 10:38). On the other hand,
sickness as often, or even usually, inflicted by God as a punishment or for some other reason is clearly present in New Testament texts such as Mark 2:10-11; Luke 13:1-5; John 5:14; John 9:1-3; John 11:4; II Corinthians 12:7-9; James 5:14-16. Paul sees delays in his travel plans as the work of Satan (I Thessalonians 2:18) and imagines himself to be constantly engaged in battle with demonic forces (Ephesians 6:11-12ff). That God is in deterministic control of all events is a fair inference from texts including Matthew 10:29-30; Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Obedience to the government (even that of Nero!) is inculcated in Romans 13:1ff; I Peter 2:13ff. Submission of a Christian to his superiors even to the point of willingly taking unjust beatings “because he is conscious of God” is command in I Peter 2:18-3:6. Rigorous self-denial is urged in Luke 14:26; I Corinthians 9:27. The deprecation of non-religious reality is present in Colossians 3:1-3; Phillipians 1:21; 3:7-9. Stoic acceptance of any circumstance is inculcated in 4:11-12; II Corinthians 12:10; I Corinthians 7:17, 21. Purely religious “solutions” to anxieties are reflected in 4:6-7; I Peter 5:7. Hardliners, then, seem to be pretty faithful to the “literal, propositional” sense of the text, that sense which is supposed to be normative for Evangelicals.
By contrast, softliners seem to select very basic biblical ideas, and then expound them in terms of a modern, humanistic worldview. For instance, man’s creation in the image of God is taken to imply a modern notion of human dignity and rights. Or the Fatherly love of God is sometimes taken to imply that God will not send calamities to judge and chastise his children, even though this certainly was not the inference drawn by the author of, e.g., Acts 5:1-11. The notion of Christians developing into maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:13) is made the basis for an emphasis on humanistic self-actualization, though Paul’s intent seems to be more strictly religious, or even mystical. For the softliners, what is really important in the Bible is not so much its propositional prescriptions for living, but rather its rudimentary message of salvation, which is then applied in the context of a modern worldview.
Indeed many theologians would salute this shift as a very responsible attempt at hermeneutics. (We will see why in Chapter 9.) However, whether it is faithful to the Evangelical ideal of the propositional authority of all biblical texts in all matters of faith and practice is quite another matter. I argue that this use of the Bible is not in harmony with the peculiarly Evangelical understanding of biblical authority, whereas the hard-line approach is.
First, I will compare statements of representative soft-line writers with surprisingly similar statements by theological liberals and secular psychiatrists. As already noted, softliners do not feel themselves obliged to stick to the Bible as their primary guide in psychological matters. To repeat a statement of Collins:
It does not follow… that God reveals all truth about men or about His universe within the pages of Scripture. Medicine, physics, chemistry, and a host of other academic disciplines have discovered truths about God’s world which are consistent with, but not written in, the pages of the Bible.
Bockelman agrees that “… the Bible is not a textbook on science
or medicine… the findings of science are also gifts and revelations of God.” Compare these statements with one by Joseph Fletcher of Situation Ethics:
… the arts and sciences… no longer bow down to… authoritarian principles. Their lifeline is no more handed down in advance or dropped from above by “revelation.”… Men have turned to inductive and experimental methods… appealing to experience…. Psychology, for example, got its start and growth this way.
Secular psychologist Abraham Maslow comments,
It used to be that all these questions were answered by organized religions in their various ways. Slowly these answers have come more and more to be based on natural, empirical facts and less and less on custom, tradition, “revelations,” sacred texts, interpretations by a priestly class. 
It should be apparent that all these quotes are moving in the same direction– psychology must have its own life, its own freedom, and not be tied down as the handmaid of the Bible and its dogma.
There is another, more specific point of agreement here, i.e., that the Bible has only limited relevance because of its origin amid an ancient and outmoded way of looking at some questions. Critiquing Bill Gothard on the use of the Bible, Evangelical New Testament scholar Gordon Fee remarks, “You cannot just stamp the first century culture onto the twentieth century and say it is the divine order.” On the difficult problem of homosexuality, softliner J. Rinzema feels free to disregard the Bible’s absolute prohibition: “The confirmed homosexual was not recognized until roughly 1890. The Bible writers assumed that everyone was [naturally] heterosexual.” Liberal Joseph Fletcher makes a similar remark in Situation Ethics, “Paul and the Gospel writers were entirely innocent of the problems we are discussing. It never occurred to them.” Finally, Eli Chesen speaks from a secular standpoint:
The Bible was written long before anyone knew anything about modern psychology and the psycho-sexual developmental process. Even if its writers’ intention were the best, they could not have taken these important factors into consideration.
These statements are so similar that without the appropriate labels it would be difficult to distinguish which one represented which viewpoint. But it would also be hard to guess that any of them was to be associated with people who allegedly take the literal sense of the Bible as their infallible guide to practice! As Evangelical theologian Donald G. Bloesch says, “We must hasten to add that this [biblical authority] includes… its interpretation of man, life, and history.” But does one get this impression reading soft-line psychological literature? Is not their understanding of man and life derived from elsewhere?
While nearly all Born Again Christian organizations swear by the literal sense of scripture as the infallible rule for faith and practice, it seems that only the hardliners take this seriously in the particular area of “practice” we have been discussing, i.e., psychology and
coping. Soft-line Born Again writers seem to take a position closer to that of Liberal theologian James Barr who denies that the Bible is
a resource-book, a work to which one could turn with one’s problems and receive directions about what was right or what should be done…. The Bible is not in fact a problem-solver. It seems to me normal that the biblical material bears upon the whole man, his total faith and life, and that out of that total faith and life he takes his direction as a free agent.
Can the soft religious line be salvaged as a biblically consistent option for Evangelical Christians? Charles Kraft of Fuller Seminary, in his book, Christianity in Culture, gives us a hint as to how it can be. Kraft points out how Evangelicals have often found themselves in a quandary over “biblical injunctions” to wear veils, not to wear jewelry, etc. There has been a sense that such passages are culturally-bound in their relevance, and that it would be both naive and legalistic to take them literally. Kraft gives a helpful articulation of the implicit principle of hermeneutics at work here. He says that the traditional grammatico-historical adherence to the literal “plain meaning” of the text has deprived Evangelicals of any real plumb line with which to separate the culture-bound from the transcultural elements of scripture. He suggest a schema whereby God is seen as “supracultural,” revealing supraculturally valid truths in the context of the various human cultures, including the Hebrew and Greek cultures of the Bible. God’s basic principles will be clothed in the culturally-conditioned forms of the biblical writers. For instance, God inculcates the supracultural principle of propriety and modesty via Paul’s culturally relative injunction to wear veils in church. Sometimes the broad principles are simply stated as such, with a greater degree of abstraction or generality. Where this is so, the biblical interpreter has little difficulty in finding direct guidance from the text using the grammatico-historical method. But when the principle reaches us in a text’s culturally-determined clothing, the interpreter is faced with a puzzle. Kraft proposes another hermeneutical method, dubbed the “culturo-linguistic,” or “ethnohermeneutical” method. In thus asking what were the culturally-determining factors in a given passage, the exegete is only pursuing the “historical” half of the “grammatico-historical” method. The point is that the interpreter has a tool at his disposal enabling him to take seriously the point of the text without taking as literally binding statements which are dependent on an alien, and thus inappropriate, cultural setting. I think this hermeneutical procedure implicitly underlies the soft-line approach to the Bible as outlined above. It seems to me plausible that many of the texts which give rise to the hard-line views of the world, self, and coping really represent the cultural-conceptual furniture of an earlier age. One could consistently abstract what seem to be larger biblical principles from such cultural baggage, as the softliners seem in fact to have done. I am not unaware of the problem of “where do you draw the line?” In other words, how does such an apparently innocent device as Karft’s “culturo-linguistic” method of exegesis differ in principle from Bultmann’s program of “demythologizing,” the divorce of the gospel from its first-century “mythological” supernatural trappings? I will return to this issue in Chapter 10.
I have sought to explain some important aspects of the experiential world of Evangelical Christians. In doing so I have indicated that it is by no means either as simple or as spiritually free as their evangelistic propaganda would suggest. Obviously this study will be only as valid as my material is truly representative and my interpretation accurate. To these ends I have drawn from popular and influential writers and spokesmen across the Evangelical spectrum and have buttressed my assertions with ample quotations. Perhaps my study will cause some of my readers to reassess the assumptions and principles governing their religious life.
“Beyond Born Again: Towards Evangelical Maturity” is copyright © 1993 by Robert M. Price. All rights reserved.
The electronic version is copyright © 1997 by Internet Infidels with the written permission of Robert M. Price.