News Articles

Draper tells why he penned book on biblical authority

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“The key issue for Southern Baptists and every other group that is serious about the Bible is whether the Bible is really our authority,” James T. Draper Jr. believes.

That is why he and Kenneth Keathley have updated Draper’s 1984 book, Biblical Authority: The Critical Issue for Southern Baptists, in a new volume, Biblical Authority: The Critical Issue for the Body of Christ. Draper is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and Keathley is dean of students and assistant professor of theology and philosophy at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The book is published by Broadman & Holman, LifeWay’s trade publishing division.

Draper wrote the first edition when he was president of the Southern Baptist Convention and at the height of controversy in the denomination. It was targeted to Southern Baptists. He and Keathley updated the book out of the conviction the issue must be kept at the forefront for evangelical Christians.

In addition to broadening the focus of the earlier edition, the authors added two new chapters-one on the sufficiency of Scripture and a final chapter on biblical authority and the SBC today and into the future.

Draper believes the emphasis on “Scripture as sufficient for whatever we need” was “a dimension the first book missed.”

In that chapter, Draper and Keathley acknowledge the Bible does not address every life issue. For example, the Bible doesn’t specifically mention euthanasia, drug addiction or abortion.

“The Bible is not a rulebook that identifies everything we should and should not do. If it did, I could use it like my fat gram book where I find out what foods are not good for me,” Draper said.

Instead of rules, the authors write, the Bible provides “a set of clear teachings, principles and commands that provide the Christian with the framework and tools to deal with all the issues of life. The Bible may not directly address such questions as whether abortion is ever permissible or whether it is proper to clone humans, but it does present a plain ethical system by which such difficult concerns can be answered.”

Draper and Keathley warn about subtle ways they believe the sufficiency of Scripture is being undermined in churches. They list three “dangerous errors”-adding to the word of God, replacing the word of God and displacing the word of God.

They said some evangelical Christians add to the Bible when they claim to receive “special, private revelation.”

“To contend that a Christian must receive a private word from God in order to completely know and do God’s will is to implicitly deny the word of God,” Draper and Keathley wrote. However, they emphasized the importance of making “the distinction between private revelation and God’s guidance. When believers claim God is guiding them, they are making a much more modest assertion than the one claiming to receive private revelation.”

As an example of replacing the word of God, they said that could occur “whenever biblical truth is replaced or negated with modern psychological theory.”

“Christian counseling must function on the premise that Scripture is the greatest psychology text that will ever be,” Draper and Keathley wrote. “Consequently, every psychological perspective must be held up to Scripture. If it matches, well and good. We should keep and use it. If it does not equate with scriptural realities, however, it must be discarded. That is the task of Christian counselors-to minister with integrity, living out what we say we believe as Christians and calling others to do the same.”

Displacing the word of God takes place when the preaching of the Bible is relegated to a minor part of the worship service, they said.

In the final chapter on the SBC, Draper and Keathley warned that conservatives must not fool themselves “into thinking that the issue of the authority of Scripture is the only challenge facing our convention.”

They cited three possible pitfalls, beginning with what they termed “the danger of Christian cannibalism” or internal conflict.

“It is an unarguable fact that conservative and fundamentalist movements in the past have had a track record of splintering and infighting,” they wrote.

“The best way for conservatives to ensure that fratricide does not occur in our ranks is for us to protect our hearts.”

The second pitfall Draper and Keathley listed is “Baptist exclusivism” or “how to maintain the balance between upholding Baptist distinctives while at the same time cooperating with the larger Christian community.”

They cited a “passionless orthodoxy” as the third danger that could befall the SBC.

“If we become satisfied with a dry-eyed orthodoxy, then we will condemn ourselves to a slow, demoralizing decline,” they wrote.

Envisioning the Southern Baptist Convention “if it were completely under the lordship of Christ,” Draper and Keathley predicted churches would function 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet the needs of people.

“Our people and our churches would be growing, and the gospel would be news again because of the faithfulness of God’s people-not because of the notoriety of the failure of professing Christians,” they said.

Draper expressed optimism about the future of the SBC.

“We’ve got probably the greatest willingness on the part of any generation to risk and to sacrifice generally that I’ve ever seen,” Draper said. “I think the under-40 group are the ones wanting to go to Cambodia or start a church in inner-city Los Angeles. When I was in school we thought about a county seat town and a country club membership. They’re thinking about starting churches in places that don’t have the gospel.”

However, he emphasized that younger Baptists won’t support the SBC “because their daddy did. They want to know why should we, what’s the benefit and how is God honored in this. So we’re having to redefine ourselves, not for us, but for them.”

    About the Author

  • Linda Lawson