Bible Freedom was defined in 1991 as “the historic Baptist affirmation that the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church and that Christians, with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey the Scripture.” In comparing the CBF to the SBC, Shurden stated in his Address to the Public that, “We interpret the Bible differently. … [and] We also … have a different understanding of the nature of the Bible.”
Today, concerning Bible Freedom, the CBF states, “We believe in the authority of Scripture. We believe the Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, is central to the life of the individual and the church. We affirm the freedom and right of every Christian to interpret and apply scripture under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.” Note the changed language from Shurden’s definition in 1993 to the CBF’s definition in 2021, including the removal of the words “obligated” and “obey.”
While confessing their belief in the authority of the Scripture, what exactly this authority is or how it relates to the individual’s soul freedom is not explained. In discussing the authority of the Bible, Michael McCullar states in Basics of Theology, “Scripture contains all we need for understanding our faith, for creating a lifestyle of faith and righteousness, and for discerning correct theology and teaching. Divine inspiration makes the Bible an all-inclusive book of faith.” However, neither he nor the CBF define what authority means, how the Scriptures relate to the authority of God, the relationship between one’s interpretation and the authority of Scripture, the role of the Holy Spirit in understanding Scripture, the role of Scripture’s authority in the church, or the role of the church in interpretation, if any.
In contrast to Shurden’s definition of Bible freedom, that the Christian is “both free and obligated to study and obey the Scriptures,” the modern-day core value states that the CBF affirms “the freedom and right of every Christian to interpret and apply scripture.” This statement further confuses the nature of Scripture’s authority, as it is one thing to be free to study the Bible for oneself and not be forced into believing particular interpretations of others, but it is another thing entirely to claim that every Christian has the right to interpret Scripture however they want. However, the seeds of this present understanding are found in Shurden’s early explanation of Bible freedom when he wrote, “Baptists insisted on freedom of access to the Bible and freedom of interpretation of the Bible precisely because it is the only means of arriving at the mind of the Lord Christ.”
Shurden does, however, offer a caveat in his explanation that is not found in the CBF’s contemporary explanation of Bible Freedom: “The right of private interpretation does not mean that any or every interpretation is correct. It does not mean that the Bible means anything or everything or nothing.” Shurden goes on to call out those Baptists who “do not want to go to the trouble to be good interpreters. … We must distinguish between the noble privilege of interpreting the Bible for ourselves and the responsibility of working hard at determining what its authors intended it to mean.”
 Shurden, The Baptist Identity, 9.
 Shurden and Shepley, Jugular, 267.
 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, “Who We Are,” 2021, accessed August 18, 2021.
 McCullar, Michael, Basics of Theology (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2013), 11.
 Shurden, The Baptist Identity, 11.
 Shurden, The Baptist Identity, 20.
 Shurden, The Baptist Identity, 20.
Note – This article was co-written by Terry Delaney and Dr. Gary Shultz, Jr.
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