A Rejoinder of Lamentation

by Harry Osborne

August 9, 2000

     It is difficult for this writer to find the words to adequately express the wistful thoughts, heartfelt grief and sheer astonishment with which this rejoinder is undertaken. The recent statements of brethren Ferrell Jenkins and Colly Caldwell make me wonder what happened to the men I have known, loved and respected for 25 years. They were my teachers and mentors. They were men whom I sought to imitate in the proper sense (Heb. 13:7). When I read their statements and hear the arguments being made in defense of their recent actions, I am left in utter disbelief that these words are coming from the same men so loved and admired for their steady, studious, faithful and dignified lives. My love and thanksgiving for what these men have done for me remains, but my conscience will not allow me to be silent about their present teaching nor to adopt their tone in this discussion.

     This rejoinder is not intended to be a point-by-point analysis of responses made to the Open Letter. Rather, it hopes to deal with common principles in a variety of responses in a thematic way. Excellent point-by-point rejoinders have been done by Tim Haile, Dan King, Maurice Barnett, Bill Reeves and others. The reader would do well to read each response and rejoinder before this article. My purpose is to make an appeal to those still willing to study, discuss and fairly examine the principles at stake in this matter. May God help us all to examine our hearts to make sure that our desire is only for truth.

Regarding Miracles

     The most astonishing affirmations made by our brethren, in their efforts at a defense of their actions, are those related to miracles. When it was shown that the views espoused by brethren Hill Roberts and Shane Scott provided for vast ages of uniformitarian action to prepare the inanimate earth as a habitation for life, it was taken for granted that faithful brethren would immediately recognize such as being opposed to the nature of miracles as instantaneous actions which cannot be explained by natural forces. No one could have prepared me for the assault to that foundational truth undertaken in defense of these brethren. Instead of agreeing with this basic truth, brethren Ferrell Jenkins, Hill Roberts and Colly Caldwell have affirmed that miracles need not be instantaneous and/or may take place by natural forces.

     As a case in point, it has been suggested that the parting of the Red Sea for the deliverance of Israel took place as a result of a wind blowing all night, thus opening the path. A simple reading of the literal, historical account shows their contention is not true. In Exodus 14:21, the text says the sea was parted by a strong wind from Jehovah, that this divine action was sustained through the night, and that God made the sea dry land. The text does not say that it was a natural wind which slowly pushed back the sea and dried the land over a period of the night. In fact, such an interpretation is precluded by the facts presented in the text. Immediately after the text reveals that Jehovah divided the sea, we are told that Israel crossed on dry ground with the sea walled up on both sides (v. 22). Since the Israelites at this time numbered between 2 and 4 million people besides their possessions and animals, it is obvious their crossing would take all night. When do we find the Egyptians beginning their pursuit? It is not the next afternoon or evening as would be the case if the sea was not fully parted until the morning. The text says the Egyptians were in pursuit "in the morning watch" (vs. 23-24). It was at that time that God brought tribulation upon them and released the sea to seal their doom (vs. 25-28). Neither the parting nor the releasing of the sea was accomplished by a slow-moving, natural process. The literal text is an affirmation of sudden action beyond the scope of natural explanation.

     Another defense of non-instantaneous miracles has been sought in the account of Mark 8:22-25. We are being told that the healing of the blind man was an example of such. That Jesus acted upon the sight of the blind man twice is not disputed. However, the action of Jesus was instantaneous and fully effective to His purpose in both cases. (This writer spoke with brother L.A. Stauffer who affirmed his intent was to teach the same thing in his commentary. Brother Jenkins' misuse of brother Stauffer's material to bolster a different teaching is regrettable and we trust it will be corrected.) A student of the literal text will note that the previous paragraph sets the stage for understanding Jesus' action (Mk. 8:14-21). The disciples of Jesus had seen that He demonstrated miraculous power in feeding 2 multitudes. But they had failed to see clearly or understand that the miraculous power proved Him to be the Christ. Hence, Jesus asks them, "Having eyes, see ye not? ... Do you not yet understand?" The healing of the blind man was an illustration of the spiritual vision of the disciples. Jesus did exactly and instantly what He intended to do both times. Peter then got the point and confesses with full spiritual sight, "Thou art the Christ" (Mk. 8:29).

      When Pentecostals fail to grasp the point, it is expected. When a faithful brother entrusted with leading a Bible faculty fails to grasp such a point, it is a time to grieve a lack of focus on the biblical text wherein he was once unmatched. When the text is so misused by another faithful brother entrusted with leading a college to which brethren send young men and women to grow in an atmosphere of respect for solid exegesis, it is stunning and calls for a closer look at the direction being charted at Florida College. There is no joy to be found in noting such misuse of the literal text. May God help us restore a reverent respect for that text and a diligent attention to its proper use.

Regarding Clarity of Speech

     In my West Texas home of Pampa, there was a respect for plain speech and the proper use thereof. We were taught to state the truth so that none would miss the point. Double speech and obfuscation were not qualities to be admired. As a child in a basement Bible class, my teachers respected and taught the obvious meaning of "there was evening and there was morning, one day." As we grew beyond the foundational matters, the clarity of truth was not left behind. Depth of teaching was evidenced by making the distant and difficult become clear and within reach. Such was characteristic of Jesus' teaching (Lk. 24:44-49; 10:25-37; Matt. 22:23-40). The same identifying mark was upon the speech of the apostles and prophets of old who were inspired of God (1 Cor. 1:17-2:5; Isa. 35:8).

      When this writer sat for the first time in Freshman Bible under brother Colly Caldwell, I marveled at how simple he made the most difficult of passages. The next year, brother Ferrell Jenkins delivered in abundance on his promise to make the "light bulb" come on in my head about the theme of the Bible. The clarity of truth in contrast to the confusion of error was impressed upon me in those classes. With the recent erroneous teaching advanced and tolerated, I am caused to wonder why those who impressed upon me the clarity of truth are now unsure how to interpret Genesis 1. How is it that "day" can now mean billions of years? How is it that "God created the heavens and the earth" can now mean God caused the Big Bang to gradually produce the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1)? How can "in six days" now be understood as in 4.6 billion years (Exod. 20:11; 31:17)? How can "He commanded and it stood fast" now mean He commanded and it started to happen, but was not completed for millions or billions of years (Ps. 33:9)? How can "the beginning of creation" now mean near the end of uniformitarian stabilizing (Mk. 10:6)?

      Brethren, these are not difficult phrases in any human language. These are not abstruse passages in any translation. One of the first rules taught in understanding the Bible is: "All words are to be understood in their literal sense, unless the evident meaning of the context forbids" (D. R. Dungan, Hermeneutics, p. 184). The above texts do not forbid a literal interpretation, they support such. When denominationalists engage in the art of textual manipulation, it is expected. But when such methods of "interpretation" are advanced in the name of "apologetics" to young men and women at Florida College, it is no less than shocking.

      It is also disturbing to see these same brethren using phrases so artfully worded as to suggest one thing and say another. Speech of this kind is the mainstay of politics, but it should be abhorred by Christians who seek unequivocally to speak the truth and avoid deception.

Regarding the Use of Restoration Writers

     Brethren Ferrell Jenkins, Shane Scott and Tom Couchman have appealed to the words of W.W. Otey suggesting he was tolerant of non-literal views of creation in the 1930's. Whether such is a fair use of his words, I will leave for others to discuss. A trusted friend and brother, Bill Phipps, was the grandson of brother Otey and lived with him for 12 years. He learned the fundamentals of faith at Otey's feet. Brother Phipps takes exception to this portrayal of his grandfather in a letter I would be glad to share with anyone interested. Could it be that brother Phipps knows more about the fully developed concepts of brother Otey than do the above brethren? After full examination of the text and its implications, is it not possible brother Otey understood and taught his grandson the truth?

     Brethren Jenkins, Caldwell and Scott have all attempted to bring the words of Steve Wolfgang to help in their defense. To all who will fairly view his full classes during the Florida College lectures of 2000, brother Wolfgang did not give the Bible faculty at Florida College words of support in their present path. Instead, he indicated that such extremes as those currently supported by some would have been seen as beyond the boundaries of acceptance by brethren generally. In short, there is no case of past brethren being willing to tolerate advocacy of the Big Bang theory and the uniformitarian development of the physical world. The fact that such has been done is beyond dispute and no rebuttal of the citations made has been forthcoming from these brethren. Brother Wolfgang also encouraged those at Florida College to heed the warnings given and the material written by Dan King and this writer. Why these brethren chose to leave out that part of brother Wolfgang's words is a matter between them and God.

     Whatever the teaching of past brethren, our faith and practice can never be based on what Restoration figures believed and practiced. Scripture alone provides us with a proper standard for faith and practice. Historical information may help us illustrate truth, but it does not determine it. When we see those whose handling of the text clearly contradicts its obvious sense, even the undeniable fact that others have done the same must be met with a big "so what!" Let God be true and let His word be our guide, not man.

Regarding Truth & Falsehood

     Most disturbing of all to this writer is that disputes of fact have arisen between us which cannot be harmonized as differing interpretations. Brethren, failure to tell the truth is that which God hates and will severely judge (Prov. 6:16-19; Rev. 21:8). False representations of fact cannot be excused no matter what the end.

     It has been shown by documented evidence that brother Hill Roberts claims the Big Bang theory may be harmonized with the Genesis record. Yet, our brethren have denied it was taught. In a recent seminar in the Birmingham area, brother Roberts claimed that this writer misrepresented him without even communicating to him. The truth is that I initiated correspondence with brother Roberts, before ever reviewing his teaching in print. Brother Roberts was then offered the opportunity to defend his views in discussion or to write an article doing so, but he declined. Before publishing reviews of his teaching in the April 1999 issue of Watchman Magazine, I sent the articles bearing his name to brother Roberts for advanced review so that misrepresentations could be avoided. Brother Roberts produced no case of such, so the material was published. No admission has been made to date by our brother of his false statements. While corresponding with brother Roberts, this writer also asked him to verify or correct his claim to a plurality of faithful brethren that, due to his security clearance, he had access to classified material which proved the antiquity of the earth. Such fanciful tales are not the sign of one who should be used to lecture at Florida College and then defended by its president and head of the Bible faculty. These actions go to a problem even beyond the severity of the present discussion.

     It has been shown that brother Shane Scott teaches non-literal interpretations of the creation account. It has also been proven that he affirmed uniformitarian change over vast amounts of time by natural law to account for the present order of the physical universe. Yet, our brother and his defenders have denied such. Despite statements from several students that brother Scott had so taught in his classes, the carefully worded denials continued. Accusations have even been made that this writer made up such charges. When our brother denied that he ever taught such, I produced quotes of his teaching on a discussion list which not only verified the charge made, but also showed a clear acceptance of the Big Bang theory. Brother Scott's reply complained that the discussion list (Markslist in 1993) was confidential and open to the free statement of any view "without fear of recrimination." First, there is no passage which gives the right to teach error without fear of answer in any forum. Second, a discussion list among scores of brethren, available to the public, which is indexed on CD-ROM and is sold at the Florida College bookstore is not private. Third, this writer had already reminded our brother of his statements in correspondence. When one persists in a false statement after warning, the Bible does not sanction the concealment of falsehood. Character does matter in places of influence and honesty is essential in our character.

Where Are We Going From Here?

     The Open Letter was posted about one month ago. In that month, we have been witness to some astounding statements made by the defenders of the non-literal teaching on creation advocated and tolerated at Florida College. The following are among the positions taken in defense of such teaching:

  1. We cannot be sure how we should interpret the creation account.

  2. We can be sure it is not literal, but we must search for what God meant to say therein.

  3. Whatever one teaches about the creation account has no effect on our salvation or fellowship.

  4. Miracles need not be instantaneous.

  5. Miracles need not be beyond natural explanation.

  6. One may teach error with impunity if it is embedded several levels down on a CD or on a list.

  7. We may interpret an historical account figuratively without the text demanding such.

  8. If we find a word used figuratively anywhere, we may use it figuratively at will.

  9. A "Gospel/Doctrine" distinction is valid.

     With that amount of movement over the past month, where will we be in this discussion a month from now? What new errors will be advanced and what old ones will be resurrected? Why should it matter to you what positions are being advocated a month from now? By the end of this month, a new school year will begin at Florida College. Parents, whatever is being taught at that time will be upheld as truth to your son or daughter if they attend Florida College. It is your duty to prepare them to recognize the presence of this error and oppose it if you decide to send them there. Brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever is being taught at Florida College a month from now will sooner or later affect you as the error is more surely believed and spread on the campus. It is a sad fact that the teaching of such doctrines has an impact upon many young people. When it is mixed with an attitude of contempt for those who teach the truth, as it has presently come to be, it is even more dangerous. We all have a responsibility to give diligent attention to the right handling of God's word on this important subject so that we can teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2, 15).

A Final Plea

     The ultimate end of this controversy is that which none of us knows for sure, but the signs do not bode well for the future. Doctrinal change away from truth is occurring at an alarming rate among us. Hostility is evident as those changing their doctrinal views are being called upon to defend the changes. Justification of a human institution seems to have gained the ascendancy in the hearts and minds of some. Those calling error into question have been dismissed as "enemies of the college" who should be cast away. The degree of such a sentiment in some of the responses published on brother Jenkins' website have been startling to many of us who abhor the very mention of division, much less the serious threat of such. There is now, I fear, a danger of some turning these differences into a permanent wedge of division if a calmer reaction to conflicts over doctrinal points is not taken. Each of us needs to get on our knees and humbly ask God to help us seek His will, not our own will. As God is my witness, I seek division with no brother or sister in Christ, but I seek a unity based upon submission to divine truth. It is not the time to cast off brethren who raise concerns in either direction. It is time to have open and honest discussion of the real matters at issue.

     Those who are younger sometimes fail to grasp the seriousness of potential division. The present situation has been the result of erroneous teaching regarding the creation by ones not tested over time. Examples are needed from those who are older and more mature in the faith. Some of those older brethren have shared a common faith tested in other times of conflict. Some have been associated with one another in local work, home studies, evangelistic efforts and lifting up reverent praise to our God in worship. Some can recall the dark days when you stood shoulder to shoulder in defense of truth against past onslaughts. Are you ready to forget all of that in order to defend the right of untested men to teach a doctrine which denies the literal truth of God's word and sets a precedent for the use of a new hermeneutic with untold and incalculable effects upon future generations? Are you ready to throw away the confidence you have built up in one another over many years without at least going the extra mile to discuss these matters openly? If not, let us all work to take steps towards healing on the basis of truth. Dear brother or sister, can we commit ourselves together to that end?

by Harry Osborne

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