WESTaka   Union School of Theology   


Error enters the fold - belying the Lord Jesus
Cornelis Bennema is WEST's new senior lecturer in New Testament and Union's academic dean - an old fashioned liberal in neo-liberal guise.

WEST: Multiplying errors to itself - an analysis.

1. As Peter Nicholson has described in detail, Bennema's thesis accounts the Gospel of John as 'fiction'. 

'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. 
(Cornelis Bennema, p.16 Ch.1. The Power of Saving Wisdom, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen. The full thesis may be found here.)

'John's aim in retelling the dialogue between Jesus and, for example, Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman, was to persuade and convince his readers not of certain historical facts
but of their significance and theological truths.' (p.16, Ch.1. The Power of Saving Wisdom)

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.  (p.16., Ch.1. The Power of Saving Wisdom)

Despite describing the use of the term 'fiction' and 'fictional' 'unhelpful', Bennema is back to his old ways in his latest publications.
He regards the Gospels as narrated for effect rather than sober factual reporting let alone inspired Truth.
This is a dangerous heresy and certainly not fit for one in a senior teaching position in what used to be an evangelical seminary.

The difference between his doctrine and Gresham Machen's is the difference between chaff and wheat. (courtesy of Peter Nicholson)

2. Bennema is wholly uncommitted to, at times uncomfortable with if not actually hostile to, John bar Zebedee's authorship of the Gospel.

'Suffice it to say that the illocution* of using the character of the BD [Beloved Disciple] is to assert the truthfulness of what has been narrated In the Fourth Gospel.
That is, the eyewitness language adds to the plausibility of the Gospel's truth claim...' [emphasis added] (p.104, footnote 2, Ch.3 The Power of Saving Wisdom)

[*Defn: An act of speaking or writing which in itself effects or constitutes the intended action, e.g. ordering, warning, or promising. [Empasis added] Oxford Dict.
Perlocution would have been a safer expression.]

'Although we remain agnostic whether the gospel and the epistles of John have common authorship (an author we call ‘John’),
 the similarities in language, style and theology suggest that they at least belong to the same school of thought.' [Emphasis added] fn.3 p.108 Christ the Spirit and the Knowledge of God A Study in Johannine Epistemology in M. Healy and R. Parry eds The Bible and Epistemology Biblical Soundings on the Knowledge of God Milton Keynes Paternoster 2007:107-133.

'We contend that the author of this gospel is the Beloved Disciple, who we tentatively identify as John the son of Zebedee'
fn.1. p.1, 'Encountering Jesus'.

Imagine a church elder, Mr.S, accused of closet bigamy was asked 'Who are you married to?' If he replied 'I contend that the woman I have wed is my beloved, who I tentatively identify as my wife, Mrs.S', would his wife and church not still have proper grounds for acute concern about his level of commitment from such a statement?

Just how tentative this proposal is in Bennema's mind can be seen from his discussion on pages 178‑181 of the same book.
'As I wrote before', he writes on p. 181: 'The identity of the Beloved Disciple remains a debatable (and perhaps irresolvable) issue. Although we tentatively propose that John of Zebedee is the most likely candidate, John the Elder is a serious contender.'

'I contend that the Beloved Disciple is a real historical character, one of the Twelve, but not the author.'  p. 145, Excavating John's Gospel.
(Emphasis mine)

'Even if the Beloved Disciple were the author, we still have to resolve the problem of his identity - is he a 'fictional' exemplary character or can he be identified  as John the apostle?'
p.5 Excavating John' Gospel

Bennema's position is unstable and prone to shifting - it is difficult to ascertain what he will defend before professional doubters,
not just in a popular Bible Study, or when under scrutiny.

A denial of Johannine authorship is tantamount to a blasphemous denial of Divine inspiration, and another assertion that the whole Gospel is nothing but charming human fiction.

It is this poisonous cobra that Bennema is charmed by, and refuses to slay outright. See Bultmann's sinful position on Johannine authorship.

'...Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.'
(John 21.23b-24)

Or perhaps Dr  Bennema considers this statement to be fiction too?

3. An intimate dependence upon and emulation of explicitly panentheistic interpretations of wisdom literature.
(Panentheism is a pagan cross of deism and pantheism - it is loosely defined as 'God and the world are inter-related: the world being in God and God being in the world')

'In other words, 'salvation' can be understood as an intensification of that work of the Spirit that is already immanent to a person, namely, the mediation of life and wisdom, and this saving work of the Spirit was sometimes/oflen experienced as bringing new qualities of understanding, life and relationship with God. This 'panentheistic' model of salvation is explicitly present in Wisdom of Solomon and Philo, and to a lesser extent in Qumran and Sirach?
The strength of our model is the strong coherence or continuity between the interrelated role of Spirit and Wisdom in both creation and salvation; the same Spirit and Wisdom that are at work together in creation are also co-operating with one another in salvation.' (p.96, Ch.2. The Power of Saving Wisdom)

'In chapter 2, as a possible conceptual background for aspects of Johannine pneumatology, the representative Jewish wisdom writings are selected (Proverbs, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, Philo and some Qumran literature) and their nexus of Spirit-W/wisdom–‘salvation’ examined. From this investigation it is concluded that Wisdom is the source of life/salvation, in that Wisdom’s revelatory teaching contains saving wisdom-knowledge-truth that leads to (eternal) life/salvation,
and the Spirit is the agent of salvation, in that the Spirit mediates this life to people. It is suggested that sapiential Judaism understood ‘salvation’ as an intensification of that work of the Spirit that is already immanent to a person, namely, the mediation of life and wisdom. This saving work of the Spirit was sometimes/often experienced bringing new qualities of understanding, life and relationship with God. Hence, a model of salvation is proposed [by CB] in terms of various degrees of intensity and/or quality of divine Spirit and W/wisdom. By virtue of their creation, people have Spirit, a certain measure of wisdom, and the cognitive ability to process wisdom (the ‘mind’). ‘Salvation’, then, is a sufficient increase in measure and difference in quality of endowment of Spirit and W/wisdom.'
(Cornelis Bennema, PhD synopsis Tyndale Bulletin 52.2 (2001) 295-296.)

'Nevertheless, the tendency of the Jewish wisdom tradition to present the Spirit as panentheistic (esp. in Wis. and Philo) is not as much endorsed by the author of the Fourth
Gospel as perhaps assumed' [Emphasis mine]
(p.254, Ch.6. The Power of Saving Wisdom)

'In the final evaluation, the Fourth Gospel is ambiguous in depicting the Spirit as the principle of the physical life and in indicating degrees of intensity and quality of Spirit. In the Fourth Gospel, the concept of degrees of intensity and quality of wisdom would be more sustainable, and the concept of the Spirit as facilitator of cognitive perception, understanding and life is manifested most obviously. Hence, a soteriological model in terms of degrees of intensity and quality of Spirit and W/wisdom does not seem entirely sustainable on the basis of the Fourth Gospel.'
(p.254, Ch.6. The Power of Saving Wisdom)

The last sentence is hardly a blistering rebuttal of the portrait of syncretistic relationship between John and the Apocryphal panentheism which hitherto CB has so carefully woven

4. A tendency to view Christ's own spirit as the Holy Spirit. A strange neo-Apollinarianism with a panentheistic twist
(not as per Apollinarius' semi-Eutychian position, Christ's human soul replaced by the eternal Logos - a definitive stance of this nature carries far reaching potential implications
both for the person of Christ and the nature of the Godhead).


Excavating John's Gospel p 208


Excavating John's Gospel p 208

Excavating John's Gospel p 218


Excavating John's Gospel p 144


5. As is now common to WEST, profoundly ecumenical.

These are quotes citing graphic examples of syncretism, from the chapter by the invited Jesuit contributor - Michael Amaladoss,
Director of the Institute of Dialogue with Cultures and Religion in Chennai, for the first SAIACS 2010 consultation. Cornelis Bennema edited the papers.
'Indian and Christian Changing Identities in Modern India'


Michael Amaladoss SJ
Michael Amaladoss SJ
Michael Amaladoss SJ
Michael Amaladoss SJ

This teaching is not evangelical.
The College that endorses such teaching is no longer evangelical. (Nor even neo-evangelical)

WEST claims to believe, 'We accept the Holy Scriptures, as originally given, as the inspired, infallible and inerrant word of God'
these increasingly look like hollow words used only to deceive the simple.

More detail and analysis may be found here, WEST: Multiplying Errors to Itself

Last modified 26/5/16