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Standing Firm

Standing Firm on Moody’s Doctrine

Q & A with Dr. Bryan O’Neal, dean and vice president
  • Linda Piepenbrink
  • April 12, 2019

The new Moody Publishers book Standing Firm, edited by Bryan O’Neal ’87and John A. Jelinek, gives a fresh look at Moody Bible Institute’s doctrinal statement, including an excellent chapter on its history by theology professor Gregg Quiggle and expositions of core doctrines written by more than a dozen members of Moody’s stellar faculty. From Jonathan Armstrong (“The Revelation of God”) to Benjamin Wilson (“The Sign Gifts of the Holy Spirit”), professors explain and affirm the rich theological positions that have shaped Moody throughout its history.

What prompted the writing of the book Standing Firm?

We’ve made statements like those in this book a number of times in the past, but last year when Moody was going through a lot of change, some of our constituents were asking questions about who we are, so it was a great opportunity to affirm where we stand. It is a chance to showcase our faculty—that these are really quality people who are clear thinkers and clear communicators who believe these things and want to connect with their students and our external constituencies.

Has Moody changed any of its doctrinal positions over the years?

We’ve never moved away from a position that we’ve held, to my knowledge, but there have been a number of times when we’ve clarified or added to our affirmations. Moody’s original doctrinal statement was in 1928, and later the footnotes were added. Starting in 1983, we added statements on sign gifts, human sexuality, and gender roles in ministry. 

Recently Moody rewrote the first article of our doctrinal statement that deals with the deity of God. The original statement, while clear in what it intended, wasn’t worded very well. So rather than try to tweak it, the trustees invited some of the faculty to work through it and recommend a better way to formulate that first article. The new wording is better and also makes a number of robust moral claims about God’s nature besides merely Trinitarian ones.

Has Moody ever changed its view of inspiration and inerrancy?

The 1928 statement talks about the inspiration of the Scriptures, and back then Moody intended that to include inerrancy, because if God is true and inspires His Word, then He can’t lie. But later movements in the church made a distinction between inerrancy and inspiration, saying that the Bible was inspired but maybe human authorship had allowed error to creep in. So in May 2000 Moody added a footnote making clear that we, in fact, affirm inerrancy as well as inspiration. The typical phrase is verbal and plenary, which means that inspiration and inerrancy extend to the words—and to all of the words. There’s usually a qualifier around that that recognizes the need to interpret according to the genre and the use of literary devices and approximations.

How will this book assure alumni and constituents that Moody remains committed to the essentials of orthodox Christianity? 

Our doctrine hasn’t changed except where we’ve gotten more specific or added to our claims. There’s never been a time to my knowledge when we’ve reduced or eliminated anything that we’ve claimed. One of the things about theology—and this is technically a book on theology—is that the Bible never changes. But theology is the task of speaking biblical truth to a certain culture in a certain time, so this is a chance to express those beliefs in our present cultural context. Rather than just reprinting something that we wrote years ago, the new book is framed in the vocabulary, issues, and dialogues that are going on in the church right now.

How would you respond to someone who suggests Moody’s doctrine has changed?

We’venevertaken a weaker stand on inspiration or inerrancy. Sometimes people have wanted a particular interpretation and have claimed that we deny what the Scriptures say. But in the recent past, questions about philosophy of language and theories of knowledge went far beyond the scope of most doctrinal statements. Some people were concerned with certain members of our faculty, accusing them of not affirming the doctrinal statement, yet every level of the Moody administration engaged that question—the dean, the provost, and the president all considered those accusations and determined that the faculty were sincere in their affirmation of the doctrinal statement.

Outside of the doctrinal statement, people sometimes ask the question, “What does Moody believe about literal 24-hour days of creation?”

We haven’t taken a position on that question. Part of that is because we exist to serve as broad an evangelical church as possible, and plenty of evangelical churches with a high view of Scripture might hold to other views of creation than a 24-hour-day view. We areexplicit in affirming a special creation of Adam and Eve and rejecting evolutionary processes between kinds. Usually questions about the age of the earth are directly tied to evolution, and we’ve taken a stand on the question of evolution and not on the age of the earth for the timeline of creation. In practice, I suspect that a very large majority of our faculty would hold to a traditional 24-hour-day view, but it’s never been something that we’ve insisted that we explicitly affirm. 

We would not accept a theistic evolutionary position. We affirm the special creation of Adam and Eve and deny evolutionary processes between kinds. That’s explicit in the footnote, but that arose as a necessity to be addressed in the statement itself, section 4: “Man was created in the image of God and fell into sin.” That’s all we said in 1928. But the footnote on that says, “Affirms first human beings were special and unique creations by God as contrasted with being derived from any pre-existing life forms. Further God created everything after its kind, excluding any position that allows for any evolutionary processes between kinds.” So the footnote is explicit in its rejection of macro evolution, but it wasn’t the same sort of pressing issue in 1928 that it became later.

Who has to sign the doctrinal statement? 

Faculty and officers and trustees sign it every year. Everybody who works at Moody has to affirm the doctrinal statement. When you apply you can’t get to the application itself without clicking, “Yes, I agree” on the doctrinal statement box. The students don’t have to sign our doctrinal statement. They affirm a much smaller list of about eight or nine points, which are listed in the catalog as well as online. The students affirm them as a condition of admission and then also as a condition of graduation. There’s a lot of overlap: inspiration, authority, inerrancy, Trinity, deity, humanity, they’re consistent with all this. In practice our doctrinal statement is clearly a dispensational doctrinal statement, whereas our student body is much broader and not necessarily dispensational. We don’t require them to hold to all the components of dispensationalism that we affirm, but we do say, here’s how we are going to teach.

Why is Moody’s doctrinal statement still important?

As I say in my chapter, it kind of functions as the About section of an online profile; it tells you about the organization. We want to be upfront about who we are and why we hold certain positions. We think that helps us attract the right kind of students, as opposed to students who are going to show up and be surprised or frustrated; the right faculty, so they can teach consistently with our community; and the right staff; as well as present a compelling case for these various positions. We believe these positions are true. Almost everybody in historical Christianity agrees about key issues like the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Not all Christians agree on questions about end times or church government. We think we’ve got good answers to those questions, so we want to present them. The preamble to our doctrinal statement says, “Throughout the history of the church, various groups have employed other positions. We readily recognize that we are not defining orthodoxy for the whole body of Christ. We gladly embrace all who adhere to the essentials of biblical Christianity.” So we’re not claiming that everything in our doctoral statement is one of the essentials of Christianity, but it is part of our identity. 

Who will be interested in reading Standing Firm?

I am a Moody alum. Since the book has come out, a number of classmates from my time have reached back out to me and said, “Hey, glad to see that Moody is standing firm and that you’re standing firm.” So there is something here about reconnecting with our alumni to encourage one another that we are still about that work. And the title of the book is obviously drawn from the school song, with the line, “Firm may she stand though by foes of truth surrounded.” I always point students and alumni to the closing lines of the song that say, “Glory over yonder. . . . When Jesus comes in glory, we shall part no more.” And so we’re in this season as graduates all around the world, serving faithfully in our own context, churches, or ministries, homes, businesses, and it’s okay to be temporarily separated from each other because when Jesus comes in glory, we shall part no more.

About the Author

  • Linda Piepenbrink

Linda Piepenbrink is managing editor of Moody Alumni News and senior editor for Moody’s Marketing Communications department.