[A]ccording to Molly Worthen, history professor at University of North Carolina, evangelicals have never consistently adhered to a single source of authority
....[she writes in] her book Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism
....RNS: You claim that evangelicals have never had a single authority guiding them, but many within the movement would contest that the Bible is their single authority. How do you respond?
Molly Worthen: If the Bible were truly evangelicals’ single authority, there wouldn’t be thousands of different evangelical denominations around the world....
Ever since evangelicals threw off the authority of Rome and distanced themselves from the ruling powers of Europe’s established state churches (even if they often joined those churches), they have been torn by the desire to obey conflicting authorities. These are: personal spiritual experience; Enlightenment reason and the demands of the secular public sphere; and a traditional or “literal” interpretation of the Bible.
This struggle to balance competing authorities is far more acute among evangelicals than among, for example, Catholics (who take the command of the pope very seriously, even if they sometimes disagree with him) or liberal mainline Protestants (who are, by and large, willing to let the goddess of Reason rule over the Bible, or rule serenely in her own separate sphere).