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Anti-supernaturalism, an expression of secular humanism, entered the church in the guise of ‘liberal’ and ‘modernist’ theology. Although it has a superficial appearance of being ‘Christian’ one does not have to look very far below the surface to find denial of anything ‘supernatural’.

On this basis there are churches and priests/ministers/pastors who teach that:

  • ‘God’, as the Bible presents him, does not really exist
  • the concept that Jesus is the pre-existent ‘Son of God’ is invalid; he is just a human being
  • similarly, his virgin birth and physical resurrection did not occur
  • his miracles can be explained away by physical and psychological causes
  • his death is not a divinely planned substitutionary sacrifice by which sins are atoned
  • his ‘second coming’ is not a real, physical, personal return of the real Jesus, but an era in human history when the principles and ethics of Jesus will be implemented by humans on earth.
  • ‘salvation’ is a social concept relevant for this world only

In addition, anti-supernaturalism departs from the traditional Christian belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant and authoritative Word of God, teaching that the Bible is a non-authoritative and fallible collection of human religious writings from a bygone age which may or may not have any relevance for us today.

Early in the twentieth century a group of Christian men, who were later designated ‘fundamentalists’, sought to redeem Christendom from its dominance by the liberal and modernist theology, and to recall Christians back to the historic fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith.

Among the essential, fundamental truths listed were:

• the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible
• the deity of Christ and his virgin birth
• the substitutionary atonement of Christ’s death
• the literal resurrection of Christ from the dead
• the literal return of Christ
• the Trinity

When we compare these two lists it is clear that anti-supernaturalism plays a subversive role within the church, eroding or removing almost everything that makes the Christian church ‘Christian’, including the integrity of the written Word on which its beliefs and practice are grounded.

The destructive effect of this theology, while it has been overcome to some extent, continues to impact the church today.

[1] Some churches and clergy are still unashamedly anti-supernatural.

[2] In others, even in some which had never discarded the fundamentals, there is a residual legacy of a type of agnosticism, or lack of confidence, that is centred on how we are supposed to regard the Bible. To put it another way – there is an expressed uncertainty regarding to what extent, if any, it is possible to be certain about truth regarding God. There is a reticence to make dogmatic statements. There is a shrinking away from being definitive and affirming “God says …” because the Bible says. Confidence in what the Bible teaches is sometimes even deplored as human pride.

But the Bible gives us the right, indeed the responsibility, to make definitive affirmations. It repeatedly contrasts the darkness and the ignorance of unbelievers with the understanding and knowledge of believers. It assures us that in knowing Christ we know God, in seeing Christ we see God. It teaches us that the indwelling Spirit instructs us so that we are no longer ignorant – so that the things we previously could not understand we now do understand. It outlaws any ‘humility’ that refuses to acknowledge the certainty of God’s truth.

We know God because we know Christ. To claim otherwise is to deny both Christ and the Scripture. To deny knowledge is to say that Christ has not come and given us understanding. To repudiate certainty is to say that God’s self revelation in Christ and in the Scripture is obscure or unintelligible or untrustworthy.

[3] There is a further strange and contradictory spin-off impact of liberal and modernist theology: because doubts about the nature of the Bible were generated within evangelical Christianity the door was opened for a new theology of revelation that allows for, indeed, has come to expect, contemporary revelation from God that is equally as authoritative and equally as infallible as the Bible. Hence we find in many churches today Christians being encouraged to hear direct revelatory words from God, and to share these in the church as the authoritative words of God for Christians either individually or corporately. 

In each of these three expressions or impacts of anti-supernaturalism we are left with a denial or a reduction of the significance of the Bible. Everything becomes uncertain and unclear. Truth becomes variable, relative and open-ended. Certainty and confidence are destroyed. Authenticity and authority are eroded.

But, as Francis Schaeffer shouted in the titles of two of his books: God is ‘the God who is there’ and ‘ … he is not silent’. There is God. And there is his sure and certain written Word, on which his Son, the living Word, deliberately grounded all of his human life and all of his human choices. Even so may we.

Ezekiel 1 – 39 refers 68 times to knowing that God is the LORD
New Testament epistles – refer 26 times to the fact that ‘we know’
Whole Bible: the ratio of faith words to knowledge words is roughly 2 : 5. 

John 8:12; 12:44,45; 14:6-9; 1Corinthians 2:6-16; 1John 5:20.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012