In America, the public denial of the virgin birth can be traced to the emergence of Protestant liberalism in the early 20th century. In his famous sermon, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?," Harry Emerson Fosdick--an unabashed liberal--aimed his attention at "the vexed and mooted question of the virgin birth." Fosdick, preaching from the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in New York City, allowed that Christians may hold "quite different points of view about a matter like the virgin birth." He accepted the fact that many Christians believed the virgin birth to be historically true and theologically significant. Fosdick likened this belief to trust in "a special biological miracle." Nevertheless, Fosdick insisted that others, equally Christian, could disagree with those who believe the virgin birth to be historically true: "But, side by side with them in the evangelical churches is a group of equally loyal and reverent people who would say that the virgin birth is not to be accepted as an historic fact. To believe in the virgin birth as an explanation of great personality is one of the familiar ways in which the ancient world was accustomed to account for unusual superiority."
Fosdick explained that those who deny the virgin birth hold to a specific pattern of reasoning. As he explained, "those first disciples adored Jesus--as we do; when they thought about his coming they were sure that he came specially from God--as we are; this adoration and conviction they associated with God's special influence and intention in his birth--as we do; but they phrased it in terms of a biological miracle that our modern minds cannot use."
Thus, Fosdick divided the church into two camps. Those he labeled as "fundamentalists" believe the virgin birth to be historical fact. The other camp, comprised of "enlightened" Christians who no longer obligate themselves to believe the Bible to be true, discard this "biological" miracle but still consider themselves to be Christians.
More contemporary attacks on the virgin birth of Christ have emerged from figures such as retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong and German New Testament scholar Gerd Luedemann. Luedemann acknowledges that "most Christians in all the churches in the world confess as they recite the Apostles' Creed that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. Now...modern Christians completely discount the historicity of the virgin birth and understand it in a figurative sense." Obviously, the "modern Christians" Luedemann identifies are those who allow the modern secular worldview to establish the frame for reality into which the claims of the Bible must be fitted. Those doctrines that do not fit easily within the secular frame must be automatically discarded. As might be expected, Luedemann's denial of biblical truth is not limited to the virgin birth. He denies virtually everything the Bible reveals about Jesus Christ. In summarizing his argument, Luedemann states: "The tomb was full and the manger empty." That is to say, Luedemann believes that Jesus was not born of a virgin and that He was not raised from the dead.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?