Adam Hamilton.Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today. HarperOne, 2014. 352 pages. ISBN: 9780062234964
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2016. Volume 34.
Posted Nov., 2016
Hamilton pastors one of the largest mainline United Methodist churches in the world, The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. Many mainline churches look to Hamilton for leadership as they face mass losses of people leaving their churches. Hamilton comes across, at times, much like an evangelical while holding to his mainline theology. This has led pastors of United Methodists to flock to hear Hamilton speak because they see in him a hope for mainline churches.
I have an old friend who pastors a mainline United Methodist church. He is liberal. He wasn't always that way and comes from a strong Wesleyan family who holds to conservative theology. He himself turned apostate years ago for sin (in this case, an immoral relationship with a woman). From there he had a "conversion" back to Christ after 9/11/2001 but decided to attend the very liberal Chandler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. This led to his complete rejection of what he saw as "fundamentalism," and he embraced mainline theology (liberalism). Hamilton became his hero. My friend viewed Hamilton as he viewed Rob Bell or other liberals. He found in Hamilton, though, an evangelical passion that he missed but was not willing to return to. My friend loved that Hamilton preached from the Bible and preached the Bible as if he actually believed it, but my friend knew that Hamilton rejected the Bible.
Now let me state here that Hamilton probably would not say that he rejects the Bible. He would state that he rejects the "fundamentalist" view of the Bible. For example, in this book Hamilton builds a case for the Bible while trying to argue that the Bible is not the "inerrant and infallible Word of God." Hamilton holds that the Bible is only faithful as it relates to salvation. So where the Bible disagrees with modern science (Genesis 12) or where the Bible disagrees with modern culture (homosexuality, genocide, slavery, women) then we reject the Bible. God allowed the human beings who wrote the Bible to record these events as if God did them but He did not. When it comes to Darwinian evolution for example, Hamilton holds that the Bible is wrong about creation in Genesis 12 and he holds that the writer of Genesis 12 (whoever that may be) is not writing science but allegory. Modern science (in Hamilton's worldview) has proven evolution and the Bible is just wrong about creation. Hamilton goes on to write that there are countless errors in the Bible and even fundamentalists know this. He points to the various resurrection accounts as proof of this.
Yet Hamilton wants to have his cake and eat it too. After all, Karl Barth saw what happened in Europe when liberalism won the day. He saw the mainline churches dying, the world turning toward evil, and the rise of Nazi Germany out of the ashes of liberal theology. Barth wanted to save the Bible while rejecting the Bible. Hamilton wants that as well. He wants to hold to the good stories in the Bible, the morals that it teaches (especially about peace and love) while rejecting much of the Bible. He wants to preach the Bible as if it's true while holding that it is not. So while trying to tear up the "fundamentalist" views of the Bible, he wants his own liberal friends to still read the Bible and respect the Bible though don't take it too seriously.
There are so many holes in Hamilton's views. First, Hamilton fails to deal with Jesus' view of the Bible. What view did Jesus have? Liberals love Jesus, but they love the Jesus they have created in their own images. They want a "hippy" Jesus who loves everyone, is all about peace and love, and wants nothing more than for people to find purpose and happiness in life. They want to reject the Jesus who affirms the authority of the Bible. Hamilton never points out that Jesus said His Words were true (John 17:17) and His Word cannot be broken (John 10:35). Hamilton never points out that Jesus affirmed that God created all things, including Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:45). Hamilton never points out that many of the stories that Hamilton would see as made up, such as Jonah and the great fish, Jesus affirmed (Matthew 12:40). Hamilton never deals with Jesus' affirmation of the authority of the Bible nor with His affirmation of its timelessness (Matthew 5:17-19 which would include the issues of homosexuality within the law of Moses).
Secondly, the Bible affirms its inerrancy. Texts such as Psalm 12:6; 18:30; 19:8; 119:140; Proverbs 30:5; Isaiah 45:19 affirm this. I highly recommend Dr. Vic Reasoner's The Importance of Inerrancy. He deals with the biblical arguments as well as the Wesleyan historical issue here.
Thirdly, Hamilton places himself as the judge of Scripture. This happens over and over again, not just in Hamilton's book but with others who reject inerrancy. How do we decide what is from God and what is from man? Who knows? Like others before him, Hamilton can pick and choose what he regards as "Scripture" or not. In fact, he could reject the entire thing (and many liberals do). Yet he holds that the Bible is true about salvation. Why? Because he believes that this is the bottom line issue for the Bible. The Bible is not a science book or a history book per se. It is all about Jesus and His work in saving us. He applauds those evangelicals who see the inerrancy issue as separate from salvation (in other words, one can be saved while rejecting inerrancy). He wants his own people to accept what the Bible says about salvation while ignoring what it says about creation or about homosexuality or about slavery.
Yet who is the judge here? Why accept what John 3:16 says if Genesis 12 is wrong? Why accept what God said in John 5:24-25 if the story of the Exodus is full of errors? Why even believe in the resurrection of Jesus if in fact the four Gospel Hamilton's view of salvation if the Bible is full of errors.
Hamilton could not say why. I suppose he would argue that he has experienced salvation (sort of the Karl Barth view of salvation and Scripture) and this makes it true (pragmatism). But if salvation is not based on a historical truth (in this case the resurrection of Jesus, which Hamilton believes in while saying that the Gospels are full of errors), how can we know?
John states that we can know (1 John 5:13). John states that the resurrection is based on the truth of God's Word (John 20:31) as does Paul the apostle (1 Corinthians 15:17). Hamilton would affirm all this while rejecting the inerrancy of the Bible all because it doesn't equal his worldview.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 states clearly that all Scripture is inspired by God or breathed out by God as the ESV states. God is truthful (Titus 1:2) in all His ways (Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Samuel 7:28; Psalm 33:4; 146:6; Isaiah 65:16; Romans 3:4; Hebrews 6:18). If Hamilton is willing to affirm the goodness of God, the truthfulness of God, why reject His Word which 2 Timothy 3:16 states He breathed out by His Spirit? 2 Peter 1:16-21 is clear that Peter did not regard his experience as the foundation for truth but the sure foundation of God's Word. I again point to Jesus who said that God's Word is truth (John 17:17), but Hamilton would say that only some of it is true and that only with regards to salvation. This is not logical. In conclusion, Hamilton offers nothing for mainline churches. Nothing. He gives the same old answers liberals have always been giving for the Bible. Keep reading it! Keep studying it! But reject it! Because of pragmatism, Hamilton's voice is listened to even by some who would say they believe the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. If I could have five minutes with Adam Hamilton I would want to talk about his Bible. Does he read it? Does he study it? Why? How does he determine what is true in it or not? How can you trust that God will save you if you can't trust that He will preserve His Word?
My prayer is that Arminians would reject Hamilton's views. Let us remain faithful to the Word of God. As John Wesley stated about the Bible,
This is that Word of God which remaineth forever: of which, though heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle shall not pass away. The Scripture therefore of the Old and New Testament is a most solid and precious system of Divine truth. Every part thereof is worthy of God; and all together are one entire body, wherein is no defect, no excess.
Dr. John MacArthur is correct when he writes
The most important lessons we ought to learn from church history seem fairly obvious. For example, in the two thousand year record of Christianity, no leader, movement, or idea that has questioned the authority or inspiration of Scripture has ever been good for the church. Congregations, denominations, and evangelical academic institutions that embrace a low view of Scripture invariably liberalize, secularize, move off mission, decline spiritually, and either lose their core membership or morph into some kind of political, social or religious monstrosity.