Evangelicals at an Impasse: Biblical Authority in Practice

by Robert K. Johnston

Robert K. Johnston, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology and Culture, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena CA 91182. Prior to that he was Vice-President and Dean of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago.

This book was originally published by John Knox Press in 1979. Copyright held by author and permission granted. Prepared for Religion Online by Rev. Herbert F. Lowe.


The author analyzes the evangelical’s need to develop a consensus theology, one arising out of Biblical, traditional and contemporary data.


  • Preface

    Johnston spells out the issues — inspiration, women’s role in the church and family, social ethics, and homosexuality — and presents his plan for addressing them.

  • Chapter One: The Nature of the Impasse

    Evangelicals are those who believe in (1) the need for personal relationship with God through faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, and (2) the sole and binding authority of the Bible as God’s revelation, but they are at an impasse over the interpretation of major theological matters. The writings of Harold Lindsell, Francis Schaefer, Bernard Ramm, Carl Henry, Clark Pinnock, Dick France, James Packer and others present a range of contradictory theological formulations on such issues as the nature of Biblical inspiration, the place of women in the church and family, the church’s role in social ethics, and the Christian’s response to homosexuality.

  • Chapter Two:The Debate over Inspiration: Scripture as Reliable, Inerrant, or Infallible?

    To deal with issues involving inspiration is more than to make an apologetic appeal to the character of Scripture’s autographs which we no longer possess. It is. instead, to take seriously the issue of theological interpretation. If discussion of inspiration is to prove fruitful in evangelical circles it must move from dogmatic statement to matters of concrete theological judgment. With Scripture’s autographs no longer extant, “Inerrancy” has become a shibboleth, to be defended even at the expense of theological discourse which, however, must be pursued if Evangelicals are to move beyond the impasse.

  • Chapter Three: The Role of Women in the Church and Family: The Issue of Biblical Hermeneutics

    The creedal stance of evangelicals is that Scripture’s purpose – its message of salvation – is accessible to all and is not limited to the clergy. This chapter addresses the need for a correct methodology (hermeneutic) so that private interpretations can be corrected and fresh stimulus gained for the ongoing theological task of the church.

  • Chapter Four: Evangelical Social Ethics: The Use of One’s Theological Tradition

    Evidence from the conflicting theological heritages of evangelicals reveals polarities Evangelism and social justice, political power and the power of servanthood, the individual and the community, love and justice] — all show a need for dialogue between the competing traditions. The traditions in play are illustrated by the editorial content of four evangelical journals: Moody Monthly, Christianity Today, The Reformed Journal, and Sojourners.

  • Chapter Five: Homosexuality and the Evangelical

    There is no Biblical support for singling out homosexuality as uniquely offensive to God or harmful to people.. Evangelicals must eliminate homophobia if the Bible is to remain the sole norm of faith and life in the church. Although evangelicals might have been correct in their basic assessment of homosexuality’s sin, they have been guilty of false argument and misstatement in much of their theological discussion. Until evidence surfaces, evangelicals should gratefully receive the corrections gay advocates can offer, while continuing to assert in love that the traditional position concerning the sinfulness of all homosexual activity is true to the Biblical norm.

  • Chapter Six: Constructive Evangelical Theology

    The evangelical’s task is to seek prayerfully and humbly within the believing community a consensus theology, one arising out of Biblical, traditional, and contemporary data. Only in this way can the current impasse in regard to Biblical authority be overcome and the evangelical church prove itself to be a continuing authentic witness to the Christian faith in the days ahead.