Essay / Misc.

Scripture proportions

“It is not enough to teach the truth; it should be taught in Scripture proportions.”

I spend a lot of time reading evangelicals from about 100 years ago. These people are the generation that is just getting over the death of D. L. Moody, and picking a strategy for the global, interdenominational movement of conservative theology and practice which would come to be called fundamentalism. Disinformation and false stereotypes about these people are so pervasive that I never know where to start debunking. I should probably do an “Everything You Know about the Founders of Fundamentalism is Wrong” post. The catalog is far too long for just a Top 10 list.

The best antidote is immersion in primary text. It doesn’t free you from all generalizations, but it does give you a chance to coin a few of your own fresh generalizations, instead of generalizing from other peoples’ worn out generalizations — what an escalating spiral of abstraction that has become!

For me, the tide started turning when I discovered Biola’s own The King’s Business, a monthly journal published from 1910-1970. The first decade is available online here. Just try dipping into an issue at random. It’s like a time machine to a young Los Angeles with starry-eyed zealous evangelicals who had a vision for “this great metropolis on Asia’s rim.”

R. A. Torrey, then world famous but now less so, was the editor for several years, and provided a great deal of content. One of his regular columns was a “Problem Passages” Bible question feature. In a January 1916 edition of the journal, a reader asked why Methodists are so opposed to the doctrine that Christ will return before the millennium. Torrey’s somewhat leisurely answer covered a lot of ground (go ahead, click through and read it for yourself), including the observation that a lot of Pre-millenarians are nutjobs who don’t know which end of the Bible to point at the future (that’s a rough paraphrase). But he warmed to his subject with this section:

Doubtless another thing that causes very determined opposition to Pre-millenarian teaching and Pre-millenarian teachers, is that so many Pre-millenarians make a hobby of their doctrine. The truth of the Pre-millenarian position is precious to the writer of this editorial, but there are many other things taught in the Bible beside the Pre-millenial Coming of our Lord, and it is not enough to teach the truth; it should be taught in Scripture proportions; and to be everlastingly harping on just one truth, no matter how true it is, and no matter how precious it is, does harm and not good and even serves to bring that truth into reproach and disrepute.

Teaching truth in Scripture proportions means you need to have a command of the whole system of Christian truth. With a sense of the whole firmly in mind, you are equipped to recognize when one element of it is taking up too much of your time, attention, and affection.

In these days when the very foundations of faith are being undermined, even in professedly Christian circles, true Christians certainly cannot afford to divide on a question so secondary as the exact time of our Lord’s return. … We cannot afford to divide from brethren on secondary questions.

Here Torrey waves the flag for ecumenical cooperation in the form of co-belligerence against a common foe. That foe is what the early fundamentalist movement (The Fundy Foundin’ Fathers!) identified as the main danger of the day: liberal denials of primary Christian doctrines. So the Methodists don’t agree with Torrey’s eschatology? Fine, that eschatology is not the main thing (or, frankly, the plain thing) in Scripture.

What false stereotypes about early fundamentalism does this editorial debunk?

1. They had no sense of proportion in their doctrine
2. They obsessed on eschatological correctness
3. They were divisive and willing to break fellowship over any doctrinal disagreement

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