Drowning in the Wading Pool
In this section, Beaumont characterizes his move away from Evangelicalism as “Wading Past Protestant Ports.” However, it seems more likely that he is drowning in a wading pool.
Evangelicals are often accused of being ignorant of history. Although there are obviously exceptions to this, I was not one of them, nor, it seemed, were many of the Evangelicals I interacted with regularly (for example, I was sometimes attacked for “teaching Catholicism” when I was simply affirming Protestant teachings such as infant baptism!). According to some Protestant scholars such as James R. Payton, the Reformation is misunderstood by many Protestants as well. So I dug in to see what I might discover. (Ibid., 32–33; emphasis in original)
Again Beaumont uses his own criteria: “for example, I was sometimes attacked for ‘teaching Catholicism’ when I was simply affirming Protestant teaching such as infant baptism.” After chiding Evangelicals for disputing all doctrines, suddenly Beaumont characterizes his understanding as Protestant teaching. What happened to the ubiquitous debates? Were there no Evangelicals who disagreed with what Beaumont presented as “simply affirming”? It seems that the charge of disunity is for Beaumont a convenient characterization to use when he needs it and to ignore when it is not convenient. Again Beaumont takes the statement of one or a few Evangelicals to apply across the board.
As an illustration of Beaumont’s lack of critical thinking, he makes a blatant fallacy of chronological snobbery:
As to the question of orthodoxy, Protestant denominations generally understood the Bible through some official confessions that were written when their particular group was founded, but in the end they could grant these no more binding authority than Evangelical “doctrinal statements.” It seemed to me that if one were going to trust some official statement, why choose these latecomers as authoritative? Further, even on the most important Reformation teaching (sola fide) there was still disagreement after five hundred years! (Ibid., 33)
Simply because a statement is late does not make it false. He seems to be scandalized by the fact that Evangelicals disagree after five hundred years. Once again he takes his own understanding as infallible while imposing it upon others. The Catholic Church has had just as much disagreement over the centuries as has any other Christian group. During the early middle ages, popes dug up the bones of previous popes and dragged them through the streets to demonstrate their objections and contradictions with other popes. Let us not even mention the inquisition, in which those who seemed in fact innocent were tortured and killed. Indeed, Beaumont himself is a “latecomer” who acts as the voice of authority in condemning Evangelicals.
In a footnote Beaumont observes,
Ironically, Luther wrote the following during his Reformation: “Therefore come forward, you and all the Sophists together, and produce any one mystery which is still abstruse in the Scriptures. But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from their own blindness or want of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth.” Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will IV. (Ibid., 33,n22)
I fail to see how this is ironic. The many Evangelicals with whom I am familiar either personally or through their writings would agree wholeheartedly with Luther’s statement. Indeed, Augustine made a similar observation. Evangelicals indeed have agreed in the notion of the perspicuity of Scripture, that is, the teaching of salvation by grace through faith is clear and understandable even to the young. And, contrary to Beaumont’s characterizations, this is a doctrine over which there is either very little or no disagreement among Evangelicals.
Beaumont declares, “Many modern Protestant scholars accepted this paradigm and embraced the idea that the canon was something fluid and nonauthoritative” (Ibid., 33). As an authority Beaumont cites Michael J. Kruger, yet he has conveniently ignored Kruger’s argument as summarized by the editors: “In effect, this work successfully unites both the theology and the historical development of the canon, ultimately serving as a practical defense for the authority of the New Testament books” (Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited [Wheaton, II: Crossway, 2012], back cover). So, although, according to Beaumont, modern Protestant scholars have the paradigm as Beaumont characterizes it—notice again that it is the modern Protestant scholars who have “accepted” and “embraced” an idea. Where are the disagreements? Why is it now the case that Protestant scholars accept and embrace a view, and disagreements and debates are conveniently ignored?
The final difficulty I had was choosing between Protestant denominations. Other Protestants seemed to choose based on which denomination agreed most nearly with their own interpretations of the Bible. In other words, one read the Bible, decided between a myriad of Protestant doctrinal disagreements, and then looked for the denomination that “got it right”. The real authority, then, was not so much the Bible as the individual’s interpretation of the Bible. (Beaumont, Evangelical Exodus, 34)
The problem here is that Beaumont is doing precisely the same thing for which he chides Protestants. Additionally, what person is there who believes something he knows to be false? Everyone believes that his beliefs are true. That’s precisely why a person believes them. So, for individual Protestants to select a denomination that agrees “most nearly with their own interpretation of the Bible” is not unique or problematic. Along with everyone else who believes something, Beaumont selects his own organization based on the fact that it “most nearly” agrees with his own interpretations. Then to characterize Evangelical beliefs as “the individual’s interpretation of the Bible” is a non-point. Everyone interprets the Bible and thereby has his own individual interpretation. Beaumont is doing the same thing.