WEST: The Fourth Gospel is Partially Fiction

By Peter Nicholson

Regular readers will be familiar with concern about Wales Evangelical School of Theology in Bridgend, South Wales. This is because of the increasing departure from biblical orthodoxy that is happening there. This article provides further evidence: this time of theological liberalism being countenanced. Liberalism is not true scholarship but learned arrogance and unbelief. Historically it has wreaked endless catastrophe upon the Church of Christ and is the ultimate insult to Him who is the Truth. For a fuller version of this important article, readers are invited to go to: http://strateias.org/bennema.pdf

We would like to draw attention to a book entitled The Power of Saving Wisdom: An Investigation of Spirit and Wisdom in Relation to the Soteriology of the Fourth Gospel. The author of this book is Cornelis Bennema, who is Senior Lecturer in New Testament at Wales Evangelical School of Theology. The book weaves a depressing tapestry of liberal and neo-liberal comment, and we do not propose to write a detailed critique of it here. We intend only to draw attention to the following remarks made by the author:

Whether it is necessary (in order to accept the truth claim of John 3) that Nicodemus existed, or whether it is necessary that his conversation with Jesus took place exactly as has been recorded is perhaps more ambivalent. Nevertheless, even if historical facts cannot be reconstructed any more, we still require a kind of narrative plausibility: for example, we prefer to see some historical reality behind the Nicodemus story, in that it must be plausible that such a conversation could have taken place. In our understanding, the Fourth Gospel moves along a spectrum of a mixture of (what we would call) ‘history’ and ‘fiction’, in which the stories about Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, for example, perhaps contain more fiction than the passion narrative in John 18 19 [p 16]. … it does not necessarily need to be historically accurate in all its detail; it may be a mixture of historical accuracy and fictional imagination in its witness to the T/truth. This is not to deny a historical substratum to the Fourth Gospel, but the question of how much is historical need not dominate the debate concerning to what extent the Fourth Gospel is true [p 106].

This is, of course, Bultmannism. Some readers may not be familiar with the thought of Rudolf Bultmann or the destructive power of the heresies on which it was founded. We feel sure, however, that many will remember former Bishop of Durham David Jenkins, who achieved notoriety by calling into question whether the Resurrection was “literally physical,” comparing such an event to “a conjuring trick with bones”. Jenkins’ ideas came from the same foul source as Bennema’s. The difference this time – thirty years on – is that these ideas are now coming from inside the WEST/Affinity consortium.

Previous articles have drawn attention to a statement issued by WEST giving the impression that there is “no evidence of false teaching by the WEST lecturers”. Are we to understand that this claim extends also to WEST’s expert on the Johannine literature? After all, the selection committee appointed him precisely because of the work he has published in this area. We feel justified in asking which members of the committee read and approved this material, and equally justified in pointing out that Bennema enjoys the enthusiastic and unqualified support of the principal.

The last twenty years and more have seen a massive corrupting of Polish evangelicalism through, amongst others, the significant support for the Evangelical School of Theology in Wrocław which has come both from WEST itself and from Carey Baptist Church, Reading (FIEC/Affinity). We must ask if there is anyone at the top of any of the various branches of this coalition who has the strength of conviction necessary to bring about the profound repentance which is now so urgently required.

We would urge the sincere and zealous preachers of tomorrow, if they are attracted by WEST’s supposed academic prowess, or its assertions of faithfulness to the Evangelical and Reformed tradition, to give careful consideration to these shocking facts. May the Lord enable us all to be steadfast and “valiant for the truth” in these days, that we might answer the call of Moses, “Who is on the Lord’s side?”

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