Volume 49 - Issue 1

The House Divided: An Assessment of the American Neo-Evangelicals’ Doctrine of Scripture

By Ryan Reed


Carl F. H. Henry, Harold Lindsell, and Bernard Ramm represent three of the most formative voices within the neo-evangelical movement in America. Nevertheless, these three figures held to three different tones and methodologies on the doctrine of Scripture. Lindsell represents the evangelicals that saw inerrancy as a test for evangelical authenticity, as seen in his works, The Battle for the Bible and The Bible in the Balance. Though closer to the Lindsellian view, Henry saw inerrancy as a test for evangelical consistency rather than authenticity. Ramm represents evangelicals that affirmed a broad concept of inerrancy but did not see it as either the test of authenticity or consistency. This particular issue would cause early cracks in the unity of the new evangelical movement. By examining these three figures’ understanding of the doctrine of Scripture, this paper will show how the early neo-evangelical leaders struggled to decide how clearly they would identify with their fundamentalist roots.

In October 1976, Carl F. H. Henry sat down with Stephen Board from Eternity magazine to discuss neo-evangelicalism. Birthed from the womb of fundamentalism, neo-evangelicalism emerged onto the scene of the American theological stage with the founding of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1943. Men like Harold Lindsell, Bernard Ramm, Kenneth Kantzer, Billy Graham, and Henry himself championed the movement. This new evangelicalism repudiated the spirit of fundamentalism’s separatism while holding fast to the fundamentals of the faith.1 Nevertheless, the ghost of their fundamentalist heritage was hard to remove.2The movement firmly stood against the separatists, but the question remained: How much of the spirit and symbols of fundamentalism should they preserve?3 Nowhere did this question arise more frequently than on the issue of biblical authority, and on inerrancy in particular. When Harold Lindsell wrote The Battle for the Bible in 1976, he effectively threw down the gauntlet against those who would bear the evangelical title but jettison the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. Lindsell’s work magnified the widening controversy over the question of who is a “genuine evangelical.” Naturally, Board began his interview with Henry on this particular subject: “Who on earth is an evangelical in your view?”4Board’s chief concern dealt with the widening controversy within evangelicalism on whether inerrancy should be a central mark in evangelical identity. In this, the neo-evangelical movement did not have one unified answer. This can be seen in the writings of three neo-evangelical representatives: Carl F. H. Henry, Harold Lindsell, and Bernard Ramm. These three figures represent three different tones and methodologies on the doctrine of inerrancy. Is inerrancy a test for evangelical authenticity, or is it merely a test for evangelical consistency? These three figures ultimately disagreed in their primary concerns. By examining Lindsell’s, Henry’s, and Ramm’s doctrine of Scripture, this paper will attempt to show the underlying presuppositions with which each theology was concerned and argue that evangelicals today should embrace a modified Henrian-Lindsellian position on inerrancy as a test for evangelicalism.

To prove this thesis, this paper aims to analyze three different viewpoints related to inerrancy: first, Lindsell’s doctrine as presented in The Battle for the Bible and The Bible in the Balance; second, the critique of Lindsell’s work by Henry; and third, Ramm’s doctrine in relation to Lindsell and Henry’s critiques. Lastly, this paper will discuss the contemporary applications of these viewpoints for evangelicals.

1. The Battle for the Bible: Beginning the Neo-Evangelical Civil War

In 1946, Charles Fuller chose Harold J. Ockenga to preside over a new evangelical divinity school he hoped would become the “evangelical Cal Tech.”5 Ockenga would operate as the “president in absentia” and “work to recruit the charter faculty and map out the curriculum.”6 Seeing an opportunity to utilize his connections with his fellow Cambridge Evangelicals,7 Ockenga began recruiting them to fill the prospective faculty. One of the men primed for this new endeavor was Harold Lindsell. Lindsell was young, but he possessed administrative abilities and could fill the role of the registrar, along with teaching church history and missions.8

Though the school faced adversity early and often, the prospects for Fuller were excellent.9 Lindsell writes, “The seminary started with thirty-seven students, and in a few years enrolled three hundred. Faculty members were added, buildings were erected, and endowments were secured.”10 At its inception, the school was committed to the fundamental doctrines of the evangelical faith. According to Lindsell, the school committed itself to “provide the finest theological defense of biblical infallibility or inerrancy.”11

The first test for Fuller concerning inerrancy came in 1949 with the hiring of Bela Vasady, who joined as a visiting professor from Princeton Theological Seminary. Vasady had been recruited to Fuller by Henry and Edward Carnell, who were highly impressed with the scholar. Henry reported to Ockenga that Vasady regarded “the Bible as God’s inscripturated revelation, and as infallible.”12 Nevertheless, when the first faculty completed the school’s doctrinal statement, they discovered that Vasady had reservations about an inerrant Scripture. Specifically, the statement adopted by the faculty and by the board of trustees of the seminary stated, “The books which form the canon of the Old and New Testaments as originally given are plenarily inspired and free from all error in the whole and in the part. These books constitute the written Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”13

Vasady made it clear that he could not sign this statement in good faith. Lindsell recounts that the statement included a preface requiring every faculty member to sign it yearly without mental reservations. Anyone who could not do so would voluntarily leave the institution. Vasady believed that inerrancy was a trait that could be “applied to God alone and not to any production in which humans had a hand. The relevant question for him was whether the Scriptures were ‘an authentic source for our salvation.’”14 The early faculty called a special council in the last effort to resolve this difficulty with Vasady. Still, when all was said and done, Vasady agreed to begin looking for another position immediately.

The seminary had survived its first test and had stood upon a statement of biblical inerrancy.15 Nevertheless, according to Lindsell, by 1962 it became evident that certain faculty and board members no longer held the belief that the Bible was without error. Cracks began to form over the issue until, eventually, the board was confronted with the fact that a number of the faculty did not believe in an inerrant Scripture. In a meeting on what would come to be known as “Black Saturday,” the board refused to stand firm on the original commitment of the seminary’s confession. This event inevitably led to the resignation of several faculty members. Lindsell writes,

Presciently Charles Woodbridge left in 1957. After Black Saturday, on the heels of further abundant evidence of the change of direction, other faculty resignations followed. Wilbur Smith was the next to resign after the 1962–1963 school year closed. I left the institution at the end of the following year, and Gleason Archer left just one year after that. The departure of all four was directly related to the question of biblical inerrancy.

The shift in direction at Fuller was becoming apparent.

The internal struggles of Fuller would soon grow into a wider battle within the broader neo-evangelical movement, and Lindsell would lead the charge.16 In 1976, he published The Battle for the Bible, which charted the slide away from inerrancy by many organizations considered evangelical. This book included a chapter on “The Strange Case of Fuller Theological Seminary.”17 It is in this book that Lindsell defines his doctrine of inerrancy.

Lindsell wrote that the Bible, in all of its parts, constitutes the written word of God to men. He affirmed strict inerrancy, believing that the Bible is free from all error in its original autographs. He wrote, “It is wholly trustworthy in matters of history and doctrine. However limited may have been [the original author’s] knowledge, and however much they may have erred when they were not writing sacred Scripture, the authors of Scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, were preserved from making factual, historical, scientific, or other errors.”18 Lindsell confessed that the Bible was written by human and divine agencies, but this did not necessitate error.

Lindsell believed that just as Christ was fully human and fully divine, yet without sin, the Bible is the product of human and divine agencies, yet without error. God cannot lie, he argued; therefore, he cannot produce any falsehood. If Scripture is inspired at all, it must be infallible.19 This conclusion, for Lindsell, impacts how students of the Bible interpret and study the Bible. Those that hold to the presupposition that Scripture is true will not stumble over its supernatural elements. A confession of biblical infallibility rightly places the Bible above human judgments instead of placing human judgments over the Bible.

Next, Lindsell made two critical arguments concerning biblical inerrancy. First, he argued that inerrancy is a revealed truth belonging to the catholic Christian heritage. He wrote, “It is my contention that, apart from a few exceptions, the church through the ages has consistently believed that the entire Bible is the inerrant or infallible Word of God.”20 Lindsell briefly examined various Christian leaders’ teachings from the early church until the modern era to bolster this claim. He concluded that it has only been in recent years that evangelical Christianity has been “infiltrated by people who do not believe in inerrancy.”21

Lindsell’s second crucial argument in The Battle for the Bible is that inerrancy is a touchstone, watershed, and rallying point for evangelicals.22 Lindsell believed that returning to biblical inerrancy would usher in a new day of experiencing the blessings of God. He encouraged those who had left the inerrant position to return to this essential belief and those who held the position to remain steadfast. According to Lindsell, when inerrancy was lost, it inevitably led to other concessions. For Lindsell, biblical inerrancy was the anchor that kept believers from theological drift. He believed that the impact of forsaking inerrancy would cause a domino effect that would eventually shipwreck individuals and institutions. Some, nevertheless, believed that Lindsell went as far as to insinuate that those who “disown inerrancy are indeed headed for final wrath and doom.”23

At the end of The Battle for the Bible, it was clear that Lindsell believed that evangelicalism should make biblical inerrancy a benchmark for membership. Moreover, Lindsell argued for a stricter view of inerrancy than many in the evangelical camp.24 It was also apparent that Lindsell was closer to his fundamentalist forefathers in tone than other neo-evangelicals, particularly Carl Henry, one of the four men to which Battle of the Bible was dedicated. Although Henry was far closer to the Lindsellian position than Fuller’s, he maintained several reservations about Lindsell’s book.25

2. God, Revelation and Authority

Carl Henry may not have been the father of the neo-evangelical group, but he was undoubtedly one of their leading theologians. His first significant theological work, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, energized the early movement and foreshadowed Henry’s future as a theological and societal leader of the new evangelicalism.26 In Henry’s most significant work, God, Revelation and Authority, he argued a thorough defense of the doctrine of inerrancy. For Henry, “There was a confidence in inscripturated divine utterances that could withstand all analysis and any scrutiny.”27 Henry stood firmly in the inerrantist tradition of Old Princeton and believed, like J. Gresham Machen, that the doctrine of inerrancy is prior to and contingent upon the doctrines of revelation, God, and Jesus Christ. Furthermore, one must build the doctrine of inerrancy on Scripture’s inspiration and authority.28

These convictions are present in the ordering of God, Revelation and Authority. Henry does not tackle the doctrine of inerrancy until after writing a prolegomenon (vol. 1) and discussing revelation (vol. 2), the doctrine of Christ as the supreme revelation of God, and propositional revelation (vol. 3). It is not until halfway through volume four of his magnum opus that he addresses inerrancy specifically, and only after describing the authority and inspiration of Scripture. This organization shows the context in which Henry believed theologians should discuss inerrancy.

Much like Lindsell, Henry believed that Scripture teaches its own inerrancy. Nevertheless, contrary to Lindsell, Henry believed that the Scriptures did not teach inerrancy as explicitly as it teaches its own authority and inspiration.29 Henry stated that inerrancy is the position on Scripture because it “is implicitly taught, is logically deducible, and is a necessary correlate of Scripture as the inspired Word of God.”30

Henry argued that inerrancy is a deductive conclusion from Scripture’s authority and inspiration, and many of those who reject inerrancy do so based on an inductive approach to Scripture. That is, many who reject inerrancy begin with the presupposition that the text of Scripture includes errors. This is less justifiable logically, Henry supposed, than beginning with the presuppositions of inerrancy.31 Henry believes that the Scriptures explicitly teach verbal inspiration, and he notes that many who deny inerrancy inevitably deny verbal inspiration.32

In agreement with Lindsell, Henry affirms that inerrancy has been the church’s historical position. He cites examples from church history and shows that the first debates over the term inerrancy only began with the major battles at Old Princeton, within the work of J. Gresham Machen, and in the contemporary evangelical discussion.33 Henry asserted that the inerrantist position on Scripture has always been the general view of historic Christianity.

The significant difference between Henry and Lindsell was not their belief concerning inerrancy, as both agreed it was taught in Scripture. Instead, it was how far each was willing to press the centrality of the doctrine for evangelicals. Lindsell clearly believed that inerrancy was the test of evangelical authenticity, whereas Henry believed it was merely the test for evangelical consistency. Ronald Nash notes, “However much Henry regretted the fact that some evangelicals were wavering on the doctrine of inerrancy, he was not quite ready—on that count alone—to dismiss them from the evangelical camp.”34 Henry warned against making inerrancy central to all theology and believed that the debate concerning inerrancy within evangelicalism had become an “unbalanced preoccupation.”35

There are at least three reasons why Henry lacked the desire to make inerrancy the test of evangelical authenticity. First, Henry believed that the chief concern for evangelicals should be scriptural authority. He wrote, “My conviction is that the first thing the Bible says about itself is not its inerrancy or its inspiration, but its authority.”36 His primary difference with Lindsell was that he believed that Lindsell inverted the emphases present in Scripture concerning itself. As has been shown in Henry’s theological hierarchy, authority must come before inerrancy.

Second, Henry’s primary strategy in the neo-evangelical movement was to build a coalition of evangelicals that held to a Christian world and thought view. Henry’s ambitions for the movement were large, and to accomplish them he must employ the best and the brightest evangelical minds, even if they did not hold to strict inerrancy. Henry believed that making inerrancy a strict test of evangelicalism would alienate “the enthusiasm and cooperation of one whole wing of the conservative theological witness today, precisely at a time when we need all the energies we can enlist in the battle.”37 Henry envisioned a “Big Tent” evangelicalism that would fight against a non-evangelical world view, but this inevitably created a doctrinally minimalist evangelicalism.38

Third, Henry questioned whether inerrancy could unite people in any meaningful way other than to simply affirm inerrancy. Henry felt that in-house evangelical arguments over inerrancy would distract evangelicals from important tasks such as evangelism, societal and political involvement, and confronting liberal theology. It was not that Henry believed that inerrancy was not crucial. Still, he believed that inerrancy alone could not propel a coalition to engage the broader society nor protect an organization from doctrinal compromise.39 In this way, Henry distinguished himself against the more fundamentalist branch of neo-evangelicalism.

As expected, Lindsell disagreed with Henry. He feared that Henry’s position was in danger of compromise because of his willingness to place a lower priority on inerrancy than other statements concerning the Bible. This was not the only negative reaction to Henry’s doctrine of inerrancy. Some neo-evangelicals, including Bernard Ramm, criticized Henry’s position as modern and rationalistic. Ramm suggested that Henry’s position stumbles because it “glosses biblical criticism.”40 Ramm believed that Henry’s old paradigm of evangelical theology should be abandoned for a better one.41

3. The Biblicism of Bernard Ramm

Both Carl Henry and Bernard Ramm represent evangelicalism’s willingness to dialog with alternative viewpoints, but Ramm took a more positive approach to modern theology, particularly neo-orthodoxy.42 Unlike Henry, Ramm “hoped to find in aspects of [Karl Barth’s] brand of modern theology assistance in reformulating evangelical theology in order to move beyond fundamentalism.”43 Ramm eventually came to believe that Barth provided a paradigm for evangelical theology in the wake of the Enlightenment.

Like Henry, Ramm devoted himself to the topics of Scripture, authority, and inspiration. Ramm intended to chart a middle course between subjectivism and authoritarianism. He believed that God produces, in his divine self-disclosure, the Spirit speaking in the Scriptures, which is the source of its authority. As a result, the final authority of Scripture is in the revelation of Christ, to which “the Bible witnesses as the Spirit effects illumination.”44 If Lindsell’s chief concern was inerrancy, and Henry’s was authority, Ramm’s was revelation.

Ramm believed that fundamentalism made at least three errors concerning Scripture. First, he believed that fundamentalists had lost a comprehensive doctrine of revelation by overemphasizing inspiration. Second, fundamentalists divorced the Spirit from the Scripture.45 Finally, despite their distaste for scientific accommodation, they “let the spirit of science permeate their apologetic” and sought to scientifically demonstrate Scripture’s inspiration.46

Although Ramm did not spare fundamentalism in his critique, he still affirmed verbal plenary inspiration.47 He believed that only an intelligent “biblicism is adequate to the present day situation in science, philosophy, psychology, and religion.”48 Much like Lindsell and Henry, Ramm affirmed that “all the major churches of Christendom have accepted the divine inspiration of the Bible,” but he maintained that “these churches have accepted the inerrancy of all the historical and factual matters of the Scriptures which pertain to matters of faith and morals.”49 Ramm concluded that “the Bible is errant in historical, factual, and numerical matters which do not affect its faith and morals.”50 This concession was closer to the Fuller position than the Lindsell-Henry position.51

Ramm criticized Lindsell’s Battle of the Bible not only for its tone but also for its overall theological point. He writes,

Further, we are not home free if we claim there are no errors in Scripture. Anybody who has lived with biblical criticism through the years knows the clusters of problems we face on every page of Scripture. If we told a logician that there are no errors in Scripture but a thousand problems … he would die laughing. We must not have a view of Holy Scripture which—to use a current philosophical phrase—dies the death of a thousand qualifications.52

Furthermore, Ramm believed Lindsell’s insistence on inerrancy would turn off evangelical scholars who know “the battle and the issues are elsewhere and must be elsewhere.”53

Inerrancy, for Ramm, was a broad, nonrestrictive category, and he believed that debates concerning it “pay no great dividends.”54 His only restriction concerning Scripture, for evangelicals, was biblicism, or a particularly high regard for the Bible and a belief that all essential spiritual truths are found in it.55 Ramm could not find common ground with more conservative evangelicals that understood the doctrine of Scripture as a test for evangelical authenticity. Simply put, Ramm argued that to be inerrantly sure of scriptural inerrancy requires a theology of glory that Christians do not yet possess.56

Lindsell believed that Ramm’s desire to produce something modern and novel was the motivating factor for rejecting Lindsell’s views of inerrancy. Lindsell declared that the real question “is not whether it is ‘old hat’ but whether it is true.”57 In numerous references in God, Revelation and Authority, Henry spoke highly of Ramm’s contribution to evangelical thought, specifically to its doctrines of revelation and inspiration. Yet, Henry does criticize Ramm’s “theology of glory” statement. If that type of certainty were required to believe in inerrancy, in Henry’s estimation, it would also be necessary for the theology of the cross. Henry writes, “To be inerrantly sure of anything—including Ramm’s alternative—would seem to fall under the same judgment.”58

Henry also reviewed two books by Bernard Ramm, expressing concern over the direction of Ramm’s theology.59 In Henry’s review of An Evangelical Christology, Henry wrote, “Ramm defends the Gospels against radical criticism but disavows the evangelical orthodox emphasis on inerrancy.”60 Henry believed that this was a capitulation to Barthian thought. He faults Ramm for viewing inerrancy as indefensible and for rejecting propositional revelation.61 Henry believed that Ramm was sailing too close to neo-orthodoxy and did not represent the direction Henry desired for the evangelical movement.

4. Contemporary Application

The theologies of Lindsell, Henry, and Ramm offer several lessons for contemporary readers. This paper will examine these contemporary applications by evaluating the positives and negatives of each position and then state several helpful observations for evangelicals wrestling with these issues.

First, Lindsell’s position of strict inerrancy has much to admire. His desire to allow the Bible to speak for itself and take it “in its plain and obvious sense” must be commended. Lindsell’s sounding of the alarm on the doctrinal drift away from inerrancy, particularly in Southern Baptist life, revealed the inevitability of the inerrancy controversy within the denomination.62 Lindsell’s work falls short in its tone and his desire to find strict logical consistency in the supposed contradictions of Scripture.

Henry’s work on establishing the intellectual foundations for inerrancy is magisterial. Inerrancy must be supported by authority and inspiration. It does no good to have an inerrant document that does not bear the authority and inspiration of Almighty God. His desire to seriously engage the works of broader evangelical scholars is also worthy of emulation. Henry’s warning of a truncated theological system that is reduced only to inerrancy is a trap to be avoided. Nevertheless, Henry’s “big tent” philosophy of evangelicalism may be desirable for the entire movement but practically fails at the institutional level. Inevitably, without an anchor, the tent grows too big.

Ramm’s insistence on the Spirit’s role in revelation is commendable, but his capitulations to Barthianism are concerning, particularly in how he redefines inerrancy to only apply to spiritual matters. Ramm’s desire to discuss the relationship between science and Scripture is also commendable, but again, in doing so, he diminishes Scripture’s authority.63

A study of these three men and their theology of Scripture yields at least four implications for evangelicals today. First, evangelicals must confess that Lindsell’s Domino Theory has proven true throughout American evangelical history. Once an institution jettisons a belief in inerrancy, this generally leads to other capitulations as well, especially after the sexual revolution of the 1960s.64 Henry is correct to point out that this is truer for institutions than for individuals, but the warning is clear: churches and institutions that intend to maintain doctrinal purity must not cede an adherence to biblical inerrancy.65

Second, evangelicals must be willing to follow Henry’s example in engaging with and partnering with other scholars who hold to an evangelical biblicism but are not comfortable with the language of inerrancy. Indeed, there is much to be learned from those who do not consider themselves inerrantists. However, inerrantists should be careful with the degree to which they partner with non-inerrantists. Henry is correct to view inerrancy as a test of evangelical consistency instead of authenticity; nevertheless, this belief must be tempered with an understanding of Lindsell’s Domino Theory. Perhaps an individual evangelical can remain orthodox and evangelical without adhering to inerrancy, but evangelicalism as a movement cannot.66

Third, evangelicals must heed Henry’s warning not to miss the theological forest for the proverbial tree of inerrancy. Inerrancy must be part of a broader, comprehensive, and historical theological system, not merely the theological system.

Fourth, evangelicals must avoid the tone and separatism of fundamentalism. Lindsell’s failure to root inerrancy in biblical authority and his tone caused many to tune out his jeremiad. J. I. Packer writes, “[Lindsell] makes himself appear as an evangelical (or should I say, fundamentalist) scholastic, doing theology as it were by numbers, concerned only to maintain frozen finality of some traditional formulations of the doctrine of the nature of Scripture—and that is to make this whole discussion seem a great deal less important than it really is. Indeed, some evangelical wiseacres have written it off as trivial already; but that is not really a very discerning position.”67 These critical issues should not be hindered by a loveless tone, nor are they so trivial that evangelicals can retreat and cede broader Christian scholarship to those who do not hold to inerrancy. Instead, evangelical Christian scholars ought to present winsome arguments that show the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Christian Scriptures.

5. Conclusion

We return to Stephen Board’s question to Carl Henry, “Who on earth is an evangelical in your view?”68 Henry answered, “An evangelical, in brief, is one who believes the evangel. The Good News is that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual life to all who repent and receive divine salvation proffered in the incarnate, crucified, and risen Redeemer. The Christian message is what the inspired Scriptures teach—no more, no less—and an evangelical is a person whose life is governed by the scriptural revelation of God and his purposes.”69 Furthermore, a consistent evangelical holds to the inerrancy of God’s word.

This brief study of Lindsell, Henry, and Ramm’s views on Scripture show the internal disagreement within the neo-evangelical movement. Yet, despite the disagreements, evangelicals today can glean from each. They warn evangelicals of the importance of doctrine and the dangers of in-fighting. How believers walk this line will affect their cultural impact on a broad scale. Henry warns, “It is we ourselves who champion God’s inerrant Word who will be weighed in the balances for what we have done with it, both internally and externally.”70 May evangelicals be found faithful in their stewardship of God’s word.

[1] For more on fundamentalism see George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800–1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970). Also see R. A. Torrey, The Fundamental Doctrines of the Christian Faith (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918). For the history of fundamentalism into the 20th century, see Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); Matthew Avery Sutton, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2014).

[2] The aim of the neo-evangelical movement could be summarized by Carl Henry, who states, “It is an application of, not a revolt against, fundamentals of the faith, for which I plead” (Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947], xiii). For more on neo-evangelical theology, see Millard Erickson, The New Evangelical Theology (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1968), and David O. Moberg, The Great Reversal (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972).

[3] This tension could be seen first at Fuller Theological Seminary. Marsden writes, “As far as their movement was concerned, they all sided firmly with Graham against the separatists and the militant dispensationalists. But for some, as for Graham himself, this inclusivism did not mean abandonment of militant fundamentalist defenses of the faith and its key symbols, especially the inerrancy of Scripture” (George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987], 171).

[4] Stephen Board, “The House Divided: An Interview with Carl Henry,” Eternity (October 1976): 36–39.

[5] Owen Strachan, Awakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 111.

[6] Daniel P. Fuller, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: The Story of Charles E. Fuller (Waco, TX: Word, 1972), 200.

[7] The Cambridge Evangelicals were a group of scholars that studied in Cambridge in the 1940s. These young evangelicals determined to gain elite training and credentials from Harvard and other secular institutions. Many of these evangelicals were drawn to Cambridge because of the influence of Ockenga, who organized the Plymouth Conference. The conference was an early attempt to cultivate the burgeoning neo-evangelical academic impulse. For more on this group, see Garth M. Rosell, The Surprising Work of God: Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2019), 187–212.

[8] For more on the early faculty of Fuller, see Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism, 25–27.

[9] For a firsthand account of early Fuller see Carl F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian (Waco, TX: Word, 1986), 114–43.

[10] Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 106.

[11] Lindsell, Battle for the Bible, 107.

[12] Marsden, Reforming Evangelicalism, 102. Marsden notes that perhaps Henry and Carnell’s eagerness caused them to see more commonality on Scripture than was actually there.

[13] Lindsell, Battle for the Bible, 107.

[14] Marsden, Reforming Evangelicalism, 114.

[15] The Vasady fiasco itself warned of the difficulty to come. It essentially pitted Fuller’s two prominent desires against one another: the desire to maintain doctrinal fidelity and the desire to produce a world-class faculty.

[16] Glenn Miller writes that Lindsell’s book marked the end of the “Era of Good Feelings” and set off a series of battles within evangelicalism (Glenn T. Miller, “Baptist and Neo-Evangelical Theology,” Baptist History and Heritage [2000]: 33). Philip Thorne notes, “Various attempts to analyze this battle have occurred, but the important point is that American Evangelicalism in the seventies reached “an impasse” on the interpretation of biblical authority. Some institutions and denominations developed new doctrinal statements or position papers designed to include a range of opinion on the subject (Fuller Seminary, Christian Reformed Church, Wesleyan Theological Society). Others revised doctrinal statements to exclude broader interpretations (Assemblies of God), sponsored conferences to clarify and defend traditional doctrine (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy), or mobilized constituencies to gain control of educational institutions (Southern Baptist Convention)” (Phillip R. Thorne, Evangelicalism and Karl Barth: His Reception and Influence in North American Evangelical Theology [Allison Park, PA: Pickwick, 1995], 23).

[17] Lindsell, Battle for the Bible, 106–21. Marsden writes, “To complete the salvo, Lindsell persuaded his old friend Harold Ockenga to write the foreword…. Ockenga [still on the board at Fuller] had nothing but praise for Lindsell’s work and mentioned the Fuller case directly. This was full-scale civil war” (Marsden, Reforming Evangelicalism, 279).

[18] Lindsell, Battle for the Bible, 30–31.

[19] Lindsell, Battle for the Bible, 31.

[20] Lindsell, Battle for the Bible, 42–43.

[21] Lindsell, Battle for the Bible, 70.

[22] Lindsell, Battle for the Bible, 201–2.

[23] Board, “The House Divided,” 24. Lindsell writes, “I do not look for or expect a time in history as we know it when the whole professing church will believe either in inerrancy or the major doctrines of the Christian faith. There will always be wheat and tares growing together until the angels begin their task of reaping the harvest at the end of the age.” Carl Henry took particular offense at this statement, calling it “an unfortunate and excessive” statement. In his follow up book, The Bible in the Balance, Lindsell responded to Henry that he did not intend to make that implication. He writes, “I thought the statement about the wheat and tares was clear enough and had nothing more in it than the biblical observation that there are wheat and tares awaiting the harvest. I did not have in mind as tares those whose only transgression is a denial of inerrancy. I had in mind the denial of the major doctrines of the Christian faith.” Harold Lindsell, The Bible in the Balance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 34–35.

[24] Marsden writes, “Whereas Carnell, in his notorious chapter on ‘difficulties’ in his Case for Orthodox Theology, had resorted to the expedient that the Old Testament chronicler might have given us ‘an infallible account of what was said in the public registers and genealogical lists,’ which themselves might have been inaccurate, Lindsell would allow no such equivocations. He implicitly rejected, for instance, Everett Harrison’s principle of interpretation published in Carl Henry’s Revelation and the Bible, published in 1958. Harrison, a solid inerrantist, had said that the way to deal with such problems as the apparent disharmony of the Gospels was to avoid imposing our own ideas on Scripture…. Lindsell, by contrast, looked for logically consistent harmonies. So, for example, he suggested that one good way to solve the problem of the seemingly contradictory accounts of the timing of Peter’s three denials of Christ was to posit that there had actually been six denials, with no more than three mentioned in any one Gospel” (Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism, 279–80).

[25] For another evangelical critique of Battle for the Bible, see J. I. Packer, Beyond the Battle for the Bible (Westchester, IL: Cornerstone Books, 1980), 144–46. For a critique from a more moderate/liberal view, see Donald W. Dayton, “‘The Battle for the Bible’: Renewing the Inerrancy Debate,” The Christian Century (1976), 976–80.

[26] For more on the life and influence on Henry, see Bob Patterson, Carl F. H. Henry (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1983); Matthew Hall and Owen Strachan, Essential Evangelicalism: The Enduring Influence of Carl F. H. Henry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015); and Gregory Alan Thornbury, Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

[27] Thornbury, Recovering Classical Evangelicalism, 117.

[28] George Michael Coon, “Recasting Inerrancy: The Doctrine of Scripture in Carl Henry and the Old Princeton School” (PhD thesis, University of St. Michael’s College, 2009), 142.

[29] Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 6 vols. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1976–1983), 4:168.

[30] Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 4:168.

[31] Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 4:170, 173–74.

[32] Henry specifically mentions Daniel Fuller. He writes, “The inevitable consequence of insisting on biblical authority and inspiration on the one hand and on an errant Bible on the other is, of course, that inspiration ceases to be a guarantee of the truth of what the Bible teaches; the authority of Scripture must then somehow be divorced from the truth of its content” (Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 4:193).

[33] Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 4:380.

[34] Ronald Nash, Evangelicals in America (Nashville: Abingdon, 1987), 98.

[35] Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 4:365.

[36] Board, “The House Divided,” 24.

[37] Board, “The House Divided,” 24.

[38] In a letter to Dick Kantzer, Henry expressed his concern in this way, “I’m troubled by reports from various places about Dr. Lindsell’s forthcoming book which specializes in identifying sheep and goats among evangelicals on the matter of inerrancy. The non-evangelicals will rejoice that they are making gains; the evangelicals who repudiate inerrancy will be glad to know they have a base in so many places; and those who hold inerrancy will seem to have only a polemical weapon rather than an epistemological arsenal” (Henry Archive, box 6 folder 24, cited by Coon, Recasting Inerrancy, 193).

[39] Coon, Recasting Inerrancy, 190. Henry specifically fought to prevent Eastern Theological Seminary from removing their inerrantist statement from their confession of faith. For more on this, see Coon, 195–98. Henry believed that Lindsell’s Domino Theory was true, particularly with institutions. He identified jettisoning inerrancy as the leading cause of theological compromise.

[40] It was not that Henry’s view of inerrancy disregarded biblical criticism, but rather higher criticism. Lindsell disagreed with Henry stating that “Orthodoxy and historical-critical method are deadly enemies that are antithetical and cannot be reconciled without the destruction of one or the other (Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, 82). Henry disagreed and stated that many scholars in the Evangelical Theological Society utilize biblical criticism without compromising the doctrine of inerrancy. He wrote, “What is objectionable is not historical-critical method, but rather the alien presuppositions to which neo-Protestant scholars subject it” (Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 4:393).

[41] Bernard Ramm, After Fundamentalism: The Future of Evangelical Theology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983), 26–27. Ramm argues that Barth’s new paradigm would better serve evangelicals in their theological pursuit.

[42] Ramm was not the only evangelical seeking to find another way forward on inerrancy. Donald Bloesch also articulated an alternative on inerrancy (“The Sword of the Spirit: The Meaning of Inspiration,” Reformed Review 33.2 [1980]: 65–72). Bloesch sought to find a middle ground between those that see inspiration as nothing more than a general illumination and those that hold to a “inerrancy of Scripture … which allows for no inconsistencies in the details of what is reported.” In some ways Bloesch sounds like Henry. He emphasizes the importance of affirming the authority of Scripture, but he insists that the authority of Scripture is “rooted not in the manner of its writing but in the way it is applied by the Spirit to direct us to Christ” (p. 68). Bloesch’s understanding of inspiration is spiritually pragmatic. In other words, the Spirit’s use of the word to save is more important than inerrancy. His view is much closer to Ramm’s new paradigm. For details on other evangelical departures from Henry’s view, see Millard Erickson, The Evangelical Left (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 61–86.

[43] Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 288.

[44] Bernard Ramm, Witness of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 62–65.

[45] Bernard Ramm, Special Revelation and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961), 120.

[46] Ramm, Witness of the Spirit, 126.

[47] Ramm’s understanding of inspiration requires a closer look that is outside the scope of this paper. Robert Price writes, “Ramm does seem to be proposing the conceptual inspiration model, though his language at one point suggests that he means merely to explain what he sees as the proper connotation of the rubric ‘verbal inspiration.’ Nonetheless, it would be hard to deny that he is defining it in terms of conceptual inspiration. Ramm seems to have been alone in holding this view, even among neo-evangelicals” (Robert Price, “Neo-Evangelicals and Scripture: A Forgotten Period of Ferment,” Christian Scholar’s Review 15 (1986): 327).

[48] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1970), 95.

[49] Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 201.

[50] Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 201.

[51] Interestingly enough, Marsden remarks that when Billy Graham and L. Nelson Bell determined to start an evangelical paper, Lindsell wrote to them suggesting that Carl Henry would make an excellent editor. Graham replied that Henry might be too fundamentalistic for the periodical. Graham remarked that “its view of Inspiration would be somewhat along the line of the recent book by Bernard Ramm, which in my opinion does not take away from Inspiration but rather gives strong support to our faith in the Inspiration of the Scriptures” (Marsden, Reforming Evangelicalism, 158). This is interesting for two reasons, first, in this work Ramm declared that the Bible contained culturally accommodated statements, suggested that the Bible could be unreliable concerning scientific data, and proposed theories such as a local flood, a figurative “long day of Joshua,” and an Old Earth theory that may allow for theistic evolution. See Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954). The second interesting aspect of this correspondence is that Lindsell was clearly more fundamentalistic than Henry, yet he would be chosen to follow Henry as editor of Christianity Today.

[52] Bernard Ramm, “Misplaced Battle Lines” in The Reformed Journal 26 (1976): 37.

[53] Ramm, “Misplaced Battle Lines,” 37.

[54] Bernard Ramm, “Welcome Green-Grass Evangelicals,” Eternity (March 1974): 13.

[55] For more on biblicism as a mark of evangelicalism, see David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 1989). Bebbington’s Quadrilateral has long been a standard in defining evangelicalism. His four marks of an evangelical are biblicism, crucicentrisim, conversionism, and activism. See also Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).

[56] Bernard Ramm, “Misplaced Battle Lines,” 38.

[57] Lindsell, The Bible in the Balance, 50.

[58] Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, 4:190.

[59] For more on Henry’s critique of Ramm, see Warren Harvey Johns, “Revelation and Creation in the Thought of Bernard L. Ramm and Carl F. H. Henry: The Creation ‘Days’ as a Case Study” (PhD diss., Andrews University, 2005), 274–82.

[60] Carl F. H. Henry, “The Person of Christ,” Eternity (February 1986): 39.

[61] George Hunsinger, John B. Cobb, and Carl F. H. Henry, “Barth as Post-Enlightenment Guide: Three Responses to Ramm,” Theological Students Fellowship Bulletin 6 (1983): 16.

[62] For more on the Inerrancy Controversy in the SBC, see Jerry Sutton, The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000). For a more moderate viewpoint, see Bill Leonard, God’s Last and Only Hope: The Fragmentation of the Southern Baptist Convention (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).

[63] Johns, “Revelation and Creation,” 274–82.

[64] See Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, 141–60.

[65] Perhaps the neo-evangelical movement would have had a greater lasting impact if it had more ecclesiological accountability. The interdenominational aspect is commendable, but not at the expense of sacrificing the local church and its authority.

[66] Christopher Huan states it this way: “An evangelical can remain orthodox and evangelical without being an inerrantist; but evangelicalism cannot remain orthodox when evangelicals are not inerrantists” (Christopher Huan, “Inerrancy as a Litmus Test of Evangelical Orthodoxy?” in Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate, ed. F. David Farnell [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015]).

[67] Packer, Beyond the Battle for the Bible, 146.

[68] Stephen Board’s question is still hotly debated today. For a contemporary discussion on this issue, see Thomas Kidd, Who Is an Evangelical?: The History of a Movement in Crisis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019).

[69] Board, “The House Divided,” 36.

[70] Board, “The House Divided,” 39.


Ryan Reed

Ryan Reed is a PhD candidate at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the pastor of First Baptist Church, in Bruce, Mississippi.

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