By the close of the 19th century, Christianity was being preyed upon by liberal academics. Following the textual revisions of Westcott & Hort to the inspired Scriptures, Christians were being urged to accept these changes as authoritative, put away their KJV Bibles, and start accepting the theories of higher criticism that were leaking into America via European (mostly German) seminaries. While not everyone buckled, many did. And the times were beginning to look bleak indeed for those who believed in the simple truths of the Bible.
But there was already a powerful movement afoot to restore the “faith delivered once for all to the saints” (Jude 3) and wrest Biblical interpretation out of the hands of the modernists. While even Baptist institutions were being infiltrated by men like C.H. Toy, there was a great quickening going on among evangelicals, fueled largely by a belief in the pre-millennial coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. This movement helped stem the tide of what would have been a blanket-victory on the part of liberalism.
The publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 was the evangelical reaction to modernism. It restored sane, time-tested hermeneutical principles to the study of God’s word, and put a needful emphasis on the great truths of Gospel salvation which were being maligned or misrepresented by pulpits. In short, it restored Christianity back to the pews, also inspiring ministers to fulfill their duty in feeding Christ’s sheep and evangelizing the nations. Published by Oxford University Press, the Bible became a high authority on matters of Christian truth and teaching, and also an instant best seller. Little did America know that its influence would help preserve the moral integrity of America for the next 50 years.
Of course, liberalism was to have its revenge too. Lengthy diatribes began to be written against the Scofield Bible, even impugning the character of the editor himself; though most of these were palpably unfair or dishonest. Pundits detested (as they still do) Scofield’s almost complete lack of academic credentials. They were offended and aggrieved at the notion that a “people’s Bible” could be printed by one of the most prestigious publishing firms in the world, and take off with immediate success.
Unfortunately, academics within the evangelical community stealthily pocketed Scofield’s legacy and made Christian doctrine again the property of the seminaries. The last half of the 20th century saw a wearisome series of battles being waged among academics over the truths taught by the Scofield Bible. There were a few divisions within evangelicalism that stood aloof from these skirmishes. But again, by the 1970’s the Southern Baptists, as well as other denominations, were immersed knee-deep in liberalism.
Today The Scofield Reference Bible still sells fairly well, but its authority is far from what it once was. The little church on the corner where you used to hear God’s word faithfully preached every Sunday has been long closed down, and the mega-church that took over the block is now thriving. “Purpose-driven” has turned into “profit-driven” by now, and the sleek, well-dressed man at the pulpit preaches a more ‘tolerant’ doctrine. One sometimes wonders whether we are moving forwards or backwards. But then open the Bible and read what Scofield said about the final destiny of what we call “Christendom”. Like H.G. Wells, he predicted that all this would happen.
The Scofield Bible helped preserve American evangelicalism during a time when other Protestant nations were falling away from vital truth. From a moral perspective, Great Britain deteriorated shortly after WWII. And if it had not been for the advent of television in the 1950’s, American Christianity would probably still be in a reasonably healthy state now. With all that is happening in the church and the world today, may God grant that He raise up another man like Scofield to lead us back into the “old paths,” restore our souls with saving truth, and bring us a few more years of blessing before Jesus Christ returns.