Television programs focusing on religion often deal with the subject of the trustworthiness of the Bible. While they present some of both side of the question of its divine inspiration, all too frequently the predominating voices are those of liberal scholars. The lines below reflect much of what they say. They appear in the interviews as presenting the conclusions of recent biblical scholarship. The claims are that theirs are the conclusions based on the most recent research into the origins and contents of Scripture. In the end they cast so much doubt as to what is in the Bible that if one follows their leading he will not spend much time reading the Holy Book. However, if one listens closely to the few conservative theologians who appear on these programs he hears truth that confirms his confidence in the reliability of Scripture. He hears ample reasons for continuing to make a serious study of the Bible.
The fact is that a particular philosophy provides the starting place for critics of the Bible. Packer observes, “The point needing emphasis is that liberal Protestant views of Scripture, as indeed of all else relating to our redemption, differ from the generic conservative evangelical view, not just in detail, but in their whole frame of reference.” Warfield even suggests, “Wherever five ‘advanced thinkers’ assemble, at least six theories as to inspiration are likely to be ventilated.”
The previous article in this series presented several erroneous views of the inspiration of the Bible that were held as historic, traditional opinions of those who planted seeds of doubt as to the authenticity of Scripture. This installment looks at more recent aberrant views on the nature of the inspiration of the Bible. They include those of modernism, neo-orthodoxy, and post-modernism. The aim here, though, is more than just to inform the reader of their positions. It contains a warning of the deadly consequence of hearing them, not being aware of their philosophical underpinnings, and being persuaded to turn away from the pages of the God’s Word.
The following lines focus on both the philosophical foundations and the theological results of religious modernism. The latter includes a discussion of the origin of the Pentateuch, the authorship of the Book of Daniel, and the nature of the history of the Bible.
Philosophies upon which false views of the nature of biblical inspiration rest differ among themselves. Yet, since they evolve from the reasoning of men, they frequently change radically with the passing of time. For example, the Reformation rested on the premise that the Bible as the authoritative and infallible Word of God must ever remain the sole and sufficient guide for the believer’s faith and practice. However in the eighteenth century the focus shifted from subjective Scripture to man as the authority to interpret it. Rationalism became the order of the day in hermeneutics. In their view everything in the universe can be understood and explained by human reason. The rise of the evolutionary theory in the nineteenth century led to a focus on the human source of the Bible, thus depriving it of much of its divine nature. With “higher criticism” as its method, men attached the term Modernism to the movement.
Theological modernism is built on a philosophical foundation that rejects the possibility of the supernatural. It interprets everything in the Bible from that base. From its vantage point it devises schemes to explain away all of the miracles of Scripture. As Archer observes, “Those who reject the miracles of the Bible, including that of inspiration, do so because their philosophy declares that ‘no events can take place in nature that do not constantly recur so as to be subject to scientific observation and analysis.’” Marshall explains the view as holding that, “Everything, but everything, that happens in history is governed by the laws of natural cause and effect. Miracles and acts of God are impossible.”
An account from my own life illustrates all of this. One of my requirements in a university course was that of attending an evening lecture by a noted guest speaker. I took my seat in the assembly room and listened intently to what she had to say. Along the way in her speech she offered her explanation of the miracle of the cloud by day and the fire by night which followed the journey of Israel in the wilderness. According to her, certain ones in the nation lit torches on long poles and extended them high in front of the people as they marched by night. At dawn they extinguished the lights, and the resulting smoke formed a cloud out front for them to follow. She also explained away the miracle of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. Her interpretation of the event began with a generous lad’s offering to share his lunch with another. This stirred others in the vast throng to do the same. The result was that all had plenty to eat with some left over.
The results of the modernistic base for critiquing Scripture appear in its view of the origin of the Pentateuch, the authorship of the Book of Daniel, and the nature of history in the Bible.
Origin of the Pentateuch:
The theory of the gradual development of all things led liberal theologians to conclude that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. According to them, the Pentateuch evolved, developed over a long period of time. Its contents were not revealed by God to one man nor recorded under divine inspiration. Rather, in their view various editors collected materials from different sources and put together what we now have in the Bible as the Pentateuch. Scholars refer to this view of its authorship as the documentary hypothesis.
Early efforts in devising the theory divided Genesis into two documents. The process developed largely on the basis of the predominant names for the Lord which appears in different places. Material which contained the Name Elohim became known as the Elohistic document. That which referred to God as Jehovah came from the Jehovist document. Those developing the theory later concluded that the priestly legislation in the Pentateuch did not exist until the period before the Exile of Israel into Babylon. This they called the Priestly document. That which appears in Deuteronomy they dubbed the Deuteronomist document. Since the theory claims that these documents from different sources were assembled together by some unknown editor, the view has the common name of the JEDP theory of the authorship of the Pentateuch.
Concerning modernism’s view of the origin of Scripture, Young writes, “. . . the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, are not at all the work of one man. Rather . . . , they are the compilation of several originally independent documents. These documents, over the long years of Israel’s history, have been pieced together by editors and redactors.” Such thinking leads them to conclude that these books contain two different accounts of the flood and other contradictory material.
In an attempt to discredit the Bible, at one time critics concluded that writing was not known during the time of Moses so that he could not have written the Pentateuch, its first five books. In response Young declares simply, “The discoveries of archaeology have proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that writing was known long before Moses’ day.” More explicitly Edwards writes, “For many years critics claimed that Moses could not possibly have written the first five books of the Bible, for the simple reason that writing had not been invented so early on. We now have royal libraries and archives that pre-date Abraham, not to mention Moses, by at least 500 years. One quarter of all the houses discovered in Abraham’s hometown contained writing materials.”
Of greater significance is the fact that Jehovah instructed Moses to write “in the book” the account of Amalek’s attack on Israel and hand it down to Joshua (Exod. 17:14). It seems clear that his composition of the Pentateuch was already in process. Gill says this instruction came to Moses so “that the account of this battle with Amelek should be put down in the annals or journal of Moses, in the book of the law he was writing, or was about to write, and would write, as he did, see (Joshua 1:7,8) that so it might be kept in memory, and transmitted to the latest posterity.”
Such confusion as to the origins of Scripture hardly inspires one to read the Bible. If a person hears or reads what these scholars have to say he likely will just leave the Word of God on the shelf. The family Bible will do nothing but gather dust in its conspicuous place as a decorative piece on the living room table. Thankfully, though, other equally academically qualified men who have spent their lives in intellectual pursuits as serious students of Scripture offer facts to refute the spurious claims as to how the Bible came to be. Their works confirm one’s confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture. The result of their work is to encourage people to continue to read the Bible.
Conservative scholars concluded from the beginning that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Their reasons include the claims of the books themselves. For example, they declare, “Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said” (Exod. 24:4). In Leviticus the words, “Jehovah spoke to Moses” or similar expressions occur thirty-five times. Nineteen of these begin specific chapters. This fact is impressive, considering the fact that the book has only twenty-seven chapters. Nearly half of the chapters in Numbers begin the same way. Deuteronomy 31:24 declares, “Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end.”
The rest of the Old Testament bears witness to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Joshua attributes all of the law, another way of identifying the first five books of the Bible, to Moses. To Joshua as the new leader of Israel Jehovah said, “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you” (Josh. 1:7, 8). The prophets speak of the Law of Moses. As the voice of Jehovah Malachi brings his book to a close saying, “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel” (Mal. 4:4).
The New Testament also attests the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Jesus spoke often of the “writings of the law,” sometimes referring to them in shorthand fashion as simply “Moses” (Luke 16:29). This obviously credits him as the author. The Lord attributes quotes from Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy to Moses. Luke made reference to the Law of Moses (Acts 28:23). Paul recognizes Moses at the writer of the Pentateuch when he refers to the customary reading from “Moses” in synagogue services (2 Cor. 3:15).
With these truths about the origin of the Pentateuch before me, I choose to follow conservative scholars as they rely on Scripture itself for their conclusions as to the Bible’s authenticity. I continue to read it, then, with utmost confidence. Indeed, I stake my very life, my eternal life on what it teaches.
Authorship of the Book of Daniel:
Further, the rejection of the possibility of miracles has led the higher critics of Scripture to declare that Daniel did not write the book in the Bible that bears his name. According to them its contents could not have been composed by the one described in the book but by one who lived in the second century before Christ. Their conclusion is based largely on the fact that their philosophical base does not allow them to accept the miraculous in prophecy. The prophet provides a broad outline of the history of the world from 600 B. C. through the millennium. This includes a picture of the great world empires of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome and that of the Antichrist near the end-time. These theologians simply cannot accept that one living in the fifth century B. C. could possibly have foretold the history of the great world governments that far in advance.
The Nature of the History in the Bible:
Another deadly thing results from the philosophy of liberal theologians. It has to do with the nature of the historical items in Scripture. Some scholars contend that the material in the Bible is unique. It differs from other literature. Its language is that of a sphere that cannot be understood by the employment of the human senses. Its history, for example, is not like that of other records of the past. It is in fact “holy history.” In their view no study of Scripture should search its pages expecting to find exactness and truthfulness such as he would find from the pen of the secular historian. Rather, he should understand that its “events” consist of figurative descriptions of what happens in the spiritual rather than the real world. For example, the theory holds that Adam was real only as a symbol of man’s autonomous power toward good. Further, rather than being a physical phenomenon, the Flood was simply a story to symbolize a great encounter between God and man.
Reflecting such a view of the production of the Bible, Acthemeier rejects what he calls the “prophetic model” of the origin of Scripture. He defines it as that which holds that, “An author, inspired by God, sets down God’s word for the people.” Yet he says that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, Jeremiah did not compose the book by his name, and an apostle was not the author of the so-called Pauline epistles (though he could have been a source of some of its original material).
Instead, Acthemeier views the Bible as having come together by a group of editors, influenced by the needs and views of their communities, who each combined material from different sources to produce its various books as they exist today. He concludes, “As this material is handed on from generation to generation, especially in the case of the Old Testament, and is adapted and re-created to meet new situations, the ‘creation’ of that material ceases altogether to become the act of one inspired individual.” Then he says, “It is that fact, more than any other critical view or conclusion, which calls into question the usual view of inspiration.” Note how he presents a speculative theory as a fact!
Edwards responds to all of this saying, “When ordinary people read a book, much of which is clearly written as history, they expect to be able to rely upon it as factual; just as ordinary people expect historical biographies to tell us the truth about the person concerned. Evangelicals are ordinary people.” Archer confirms their confidence when he notes the fact that Psalm 105, “composed four or five centuries after the Exodus, heartily reaffirms the historicity of the ten plagues of Egypt,” the parting of the Red sea, as well as the sudden death of Dathan and Abriam in judgment upon them for their rebellion against Moses.
Further commenting on the accuracy of the ancient documents of the Old Testament, Edwards writes, “. . . Ptolemy, the great astronomer-geographer of the second century AD, whose conclusions were accepted without question for thirteen centuries, listed eighteen kings of Babylon and most of these bear no resemblance to the names of monuments and inscriptions.” By way of comparison he then declares, “There are more than forty kings of Israel and Judah listed in the Bible. Each is found in the correct order and references to the kings of surrounding nations are all accurate when checked with the records of those nations. By any fair critic the Bible must be seen to be an amazingly accurate book.”
Many who hold erroneous views as to the inerrancy of Scripture reject its account of the resurrection of Jesus. However, the Bible emphatically teaches that one must believe that God raised Him from the dead in order to be saved. Paul declared, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Elsewhere the apostle clearly added, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). In short, the story of Jesus is history; if you can't believe that, how can you be saved?
I once attended a session of the Jesus Seminar during one of its meetings in my city. Some view this body of men as being composed of the greatest New Testament scholars of our times. Following rules made up by themselves, they seek to discover what portion of the Gospels came from the actual words and deeds of Jesus. By vote they have determined that only a small percentage of words attributed to Him in the Bible actually came from Him. Everything else simply reflects what His followers put into His mouth to depict what they desired Him to be.
Since the meeting of the Jesus Seminar took place near Easter, in the session I attended they discussed the resurrection of Jesus. According to them, the Teacher did not rise from the dead. At first the faith of His students was shattered by His execution on the cross. After a few days of despair, though, they began to reflect on His teaching that He would always be with them. They concluded that He never meant to say that He would experience a bodily resurrection. Indeed, He was yet with them spiritually and always would be. Those of the Seminar blamed the “literalists” like Doctor Luke for writing accounts falsely describing a bodily resurrection for Jesus!
Scholars such as those of the Seminar have contributed in no small way to the decrease in the confidence People now have in the Bible. On the other hand, commendation belongs to those who confirm the faith of readers of Scripture. One who suffers exposure to doctrinal error responds in one of two ways. He will either accept it and experience its deadly consequences or he will reject it and in the process build immunity toward it. In the process he continues to read the pages of the Bible with greater confidence than ever and be blessed thereby.
For some time Modernism held sway with its deadly effects in destroying confidence in the Bible. However, the two world wars of the twentieth century shattered the conclusions of leading theologians as to the trustworthiness of human reason and the innate goodness of man. This resulted in the development of a new view of Scripture. Its proponents held that the meaning of the Bible comes from the personal encounter of each individual with it. Young illustrates the view saying, “When we read the Bible, the truth finds us. It may be, however, that a certain passage of Scripture actually does not inspire us. We turn therefore to something else, and suddenly our souls are inspired. The Truth has met us. Another person, however, turns to the passage of the Bible which we have not found inspiring. To him, this passage becomes meaningful.”
One can correctly conclude this to be pure subjectivism since it argues that the Bible does not become the Word of God until the Spirit makes it so to each individual. Young responds, “The Bible is authoritative, therefore, whether there is a Divine-human encounter or not. The Bible is authoritative whether or not its message is borne home to me in compelling power. It is authoritative whether I believe it or not.” It contains the truths by which one will be judged even if he totally rejects the Bible. Still, since this approach to Scripture revived the use of many of the traditional terms regarding the Word of God (though attaching new definitions to them), scholars assigned the title of Neo-orthodoxy to it. Woodbridge takes note of “the hypothesis that the Bible is infallible in matters of faith and practice but errant in matters of science, history, and the like.” He then concludes, “Modern-day evangelicals have usually associated this designation with the teachings of neo-orthodoxy.”
According to Van Til, the noted theologian, a leading proponent of neo-orthodoxy, Karl Barth, declared, “If God has not been ashamed to speak through the Scriptures with its fallible human words, with its historical and scien¬tific blunders, its theological contradictions, with the uncer-tainty of its transmission and above all with its Jewish char¬acter, but rather accepted it in all its fallibility to make it serve Him, we ought not to be ashamed of it when with all its fal¬libility it wants anew to be to us a witness; it would be self¬-willed and disobedience to wish to seek in the Bible for infallible elements.”
Of course, conservatives understand that the message of the Bible does not become of real profit to a person until the Holy Spirit opens his understanding so that he sees the Scriptures as the Word of God. Yet, any similarity between this and the views of Barth as to the Bible becoming the Word of God to a reader is deceitful. Though Paul declared that “the letter kills but the Spirit makes alive” (2 Cor. 3:6), he did not view the Word that God has spoken as a dead, lifeless thing. The writer of Hebrews declares that “the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12). Barth and others simply confuse illumination with inspiration. Marshall writes, “The weakness in Barth’s position is that in his insistence on the need for illumination now he tends to deny inspiration then, although the two activities of the Spirit are surely complementary and in no way exclusive to each other.”
More recently post-modernism has come into vogue in discussions on the inspiration of Scripture. Nunnally says, “Postmodernism is skeptical of the faith which modernity and liberalism have placed in the fundamental goodness, reason, rationality, and objectivity of humanity.” Edwards declares, “Postmodernism is existentialism dressed up in new clothes; in brief it means simply that all authoritarian and dogmatic statements are disallowed.”
Yet, a clear definition of the philosophy easily escapes those who endeavor to find one. Indeed, to follow the philosophy of postmoderns in one’s intellectual life is to end up in confusion. Of the current scene Phillips writes, “Now modernity asserts that all knowledge is mediated through the subjective perspective of the knower. A knowledge reality probably exists, but this reality can never be known objectively.” Badger writes, “Postmoderns think the meaning is beyond recovery, but probably means something different than, often the opposite of, the plain meaning.” However, Clendenen writes, “But stubbornly maintaining that readers and writers are shackled and blinded by their own woldviews so that messages cannot be conveyed and worldviews cannot be transformed runs counter to experience and reason, as well as the Christian faith.”
According to Carl Henry, Kraft holds that theology is so bound by the interpretations of each culture on earth that it is virtually impossible to come to any true understanding of deity. This borders on cynicism which suggests that absolute Truth either does not exist of if it does man cannot know it. Such a theory makes communication between God and man as well as between man and man virtually beyond the realm of possibility. In a discussion of the matter Henry writes, “If there is no truly objective meaning, Kraft should desist form communication that implies that his own culture-skewed notions miraculously escape the defects he attributes universally to the views of all others.” To the contrary, though, Dockery declares that communication is possible. He writes, “This is possible because the text’s meaning is controlled by language conventions that exist between the speaker and hearer or author and reader.”
The approach of Kraft and others takes people back to the time before writing existed. MacArthur observes, “In fact, many ancient religions—including Druidism, Native American religions, and several of the oriental cults—eschewed written records of their faith, preferring to pass down their legends and rituals and dogmas via word of mouth.”
Of course, experiences teach language has its limits. However, Zacharias declares “. . . communication is impossible if we do not grant univocal meaning to our words.” Brown says, “. . . the implications of devaluing verbal communication cut at the heart of biblical worldview. God has chosen language as an integral mode of self-revelation. If the verbal is no longer important, where does that leave Scripture?”
It may seem to some that Christianity and postmodernism have some common ground as to the power of man’s intellect. The Bible teaches that the human mind was so adversely affected by the Fall that unaided human reason cannot comprehend the gospel. Veith writes, “Human nature is so deformed by sin that our very capacity to reason, to discern, and to act on truth is distorted. Our problem is deeper than mere ignorance of the facts, a mental lapse, or a sincere misunderstanding. We are dead in our sins. No one can be brought into the faith by reason alone—our minds will run and hide from the reality of God. Rather, we must be altogether changed by the Holy Spirit, who brings us to faith in Christ through the gospel.”
However, noting the dangers of trusting experience as one’s source of authority, Froehlich, observes, “Experience in itself suffers from ambiguity. It encompasses multiple possibilities. It can lead in many directions, and the deeper it reaches, the more ambiguous it becomes.” He continues, “Thus faith, real faith, needs its language. Without language, it has no existence. And this language, whatever its specific shape, has a clear priority in the sequence of existence. Language is already there, prior to experience.” Putting the two in their balanced positions he concludes, “Faith needs language in order to be, and it needs experience to move from the mere sound of words to their truth.”
Fretheim, though, frowns on any attempt to discover the original intent of the author who wrote any portion of Scripture. Indeed, he claims there is no single meaning behind any text of the Bible. Reflecting the “reader-centered” practice of hermeneutics which some promote in our times he declares, “Reading is a dialogical process in which the contribution of both text and reader is important to meaning.” He continues, “. . . meaning changes over time not only for different readers, but for the same reader, for readers are different persons every time they read the text” Thus he concludes, “So the texts themselves do not speak with one voice; they have many layered meanings, and it is usually impossible to sort them out. To speak of an original or intended meaning is simply not being true to the historical character of the text.”
Fretheim even declares, “God the Holy Spirit is not somehow confined to just one meaning in order to speak to readers.” He says further, “Speaking of a multiplicity of meanings helps dilute the control of academic or ecclesiastical power brokers or, for that matter, any group that would use particular interpretations to make a move to power.”
For Fretheim the Bible is not trustworthy in what it contains in the area of science and history. In his view even declaring it trustworthy in what it says on faith and ethics is too simplistic for use in an acceptable hermeneutic. Scripture actually presents a distorted view of God!
However, Armstrong offers something different concerning the clarity of Scripture. He writes, “Basically, ‘perspicuity’ (or clarity) means the Bible is self-interpreting as to the essential truths.” Of course he recognizes, with Peter, that there are things in Scripture which may be “hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16). As he says, “There is much we do not understand, but Scripture does teach all that we need to know to obtain eternal life and to live to the glory of God.” His words are so much more comforting and appealing to reason than those of the postmodernists! Otherwise, why would Jesus speak of the Old Testament with the title Moses and the Prophets and exhort His audience to “listen to them?” (Luke 16:29).
In the lines above I have presented more recent aberrant views on the nature of the inspiration of the Bible. They included those of modernism, neo-orthodoxy, and post-modernism. The aim, though, has been more than just to inform the reader of their positions. I have offered a warning of the deadly consequence of hearing them, not being aware of their philosophical underpinnings, and being persuaded to turn away from the pages of the Holy Book by their theories.
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