Question: I am concerned by what I see in the modern church. It seems that evangelicals no longer claim the Bible as their authority for faith and practice. What do you think?
Answer: In order to answer this question I think we have to look at historical developments in the Western church during the last century. Classical 19th Century Liberalism asserted that reason (man) was the authority for theological truth claims. During the 20th century a number of theological movements (Fundamentalism, Neo-orthodoxy, Pentecostalism) all developed as a reaction to such “authority” claims made by classical nineteenth century liberalism. Fundamentalism said, “No way, the proper authority for belief and practice is the Bible.” Neo-orthodoxy said, “No way, the proper authority for belief and practice is one’s personal [crisis] experience with God.” Pentecostalism said, “No way, the proper authority for belief and practice is the Holy Spirit.”
So, those who have been called Evangelicals have always been pretty diverse when it comes to what they have believed about the ultimate authority for belief and practice. And, Evangelicalism today has become so diverse that the nomenclature is almost meaningless; — What is Evangelicalism? Consider the following quote from David Wells;
As evangelicalism has continued to grow numerically, it has seeped through its older structures and now spills out in all directions, producing a family of hybrids whose theological connections are quite baffling: evangelical Catholics, evangelicals who are Catholic, evangelical liberationalists, evangelical feminists, evangelical ecumenists, ecumenists who are evangelical, young evangelicals, orthodox evangelicals, radical evangelicals, liberal evangelicals, Liberals who are evangelical, and charismatic evangelicals. The word evangelical, precisely because it has lost its confessional dimension, has become descriptively anemic. To say that someone is an evangelical says little about what they are likely to believe (although it says more if they are older and less if they are younger). And so the term is forced to compensate for its theolog¬ical weakness by borrowing meaning from adjectives the very presence of which signals the fragmentation and disintegration of the move¬ment. What is now primary is not what is evangelical but what is adjectivally distinctive, whether Catholic, liberationalist, feminist, ecu-menist, young, orthodox, radical, liberal, or charismatic. It is, I believe, the dark prelude to death, when parasites have finally succeeded in bringing down their host. Amid the clamor of all these new models of evangelical faith there is the sound of a death rattle.
The sound of death is hard to hear, however, given the rumble of the large numbers that the evangelical movement has attracted and the chorus of voices being echoed from the cultural pluralism that surrounds it. The pluralism is providing insulation from criticism and reality. It is not hard to see that the disappearance of a center of values in culture is now paralleled by a disappearance of a theological center in evangelicalism.
— David F. Wells, No Place for Truth, p.134