Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Top evangelical theologians agree on inerrancy!

Inerrancy is just a bit unfashionable at the moment, even among those who call themselves evangelical. Earlier this month, the doctrine was voted the "Worst theological invention" (here), even worse than Arianism and Papal infallibility! But two prominent evangelical theologians from both sides of the Atlantic have recently affirmed Biblical inerrancy. Donald Macleod touched on the subject in his From Glory to Golgotha (here),
"I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. Why? Not because I am unaware of current trends in Biblical studies or even because I can vindicate the Bible against all the objections adduced by historians, scientists and literary critics. My belief in inerrancy arises from loyalty to Christ. He said, 'The Scripture cannot be broken'. This position - the fundamentalist position, if you wish - is not bibliolatry. It is Christiolatry. It is an act of devotion to the One we regard as a teacher sent by God". (p. 153)
Having finished that book, I started on Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology by John Frame, P&R, 2006. In the chapter on The Authority of the Bible, Frame had this to say,
"Let us now discuss the inerrancy of Scripture, a fiercely debated topic in contemporary theology. The term simply means "no errors", that is, "truth", in the common garden-variety sense. What Scripture says, is true, never false. Therefore you can rely on it. There are no errors in it....
Now, some so-called obvious errors don't have obvious solutions, though for every problem of this sort, there are usually two or three solutions proposed in the literature. The problem here is that people who find supposed errors in Scripture actually have a misunderstanding of the Christian faith....How can we believe that God would forgive our sins through Christ? Think how many problems there are in believing that! But if we waited until all the problems were solved, we wouldn't believe in Christ at all." (From p. 68-69).
Macelod and Frame are two of the most creative contemporary Reformed theological thinkers. I was encouraged to see them speak out so clearly on this unpopular, yet vitally important Biblical doctrine.

37 comments:

michael jensen said...

Justly unpopular, I feel! We would be well rid of this unbiblical word!

Exiled Preacher said...

What's wrong with using non-biblical language to define and clarify biblical concepts? I don't suppose you feel the same about other non-biblical terms like trinity or homoousion. The of repeated jibe that "inerrancy" is not a Bible-word is a whopping, stinky red herring.

The truth behind "inerrancy" is the important thing, not the term itself. God's word is without error - it is true in whatever it affirms. What's the big problem with that?

Jonathan Hunt said...

COmplete aside: Do you (Guy) accept the so-called regulative principle in any way? 'Cause your man is in the 'Frame' (he he) for some truly creative theology there!

And on 'non-scriptural' words - I agree with you, Guy, mostly. The only thing I get slightly nervous about is the expression 'covenant of works'.. it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a ... well, you get the picture

Exiled Preacher said...

Jonathan,

I do accept the regulative principle. But that doesn't make me a Psalms only with no accompaniment man. I understand that Frame has written in defence of music groups etc. I don't agree with him on that. But his Salvation Belongs to the Lord is a good intro to systematics.

We can profit from someone with whom we disagree on some issues can't we?

Exiled Preacher said...

Jonathan

PS

According to the book I referred to, Frame holds to the RP. But he argues that RP leaves us some lattitude on incidentals. He also says that Reformed worship should be contemporary rather than traditionalist.

Jonathan Hunt said...

I wasn't discounting Frame on account of his funky view of the RPW, it just sprang to my mind, and I was just interested in your position on the RPW - there are very few intelligent sounding-boards I can turn to these days.

Regarding profiting from someone with whom we disagree, NT Wright springs to mind most immediately. I benefit hugely from his Resurrection work, especially. Would his recent demurrings on the doctrine of penal substitution change that...? I don't actually think so personally, but I wouldn't be able to commend him as a writer to a new christian, I suppose.

Another thought.. he says worship should be 'contemporary'. Man, there are hundreds of ways of interpreting THAT!!!

Exiled Preacher said...

Jonathan,

Yes, I really enjoyed NTW's The Resurection of the Son of God. Brilliant. His Paul in Fresh Perspectives is worth a look too, even though his views of justification feature more in the latter.

i_alderman said...

Hi Guy- are you sure that you mean the same thing when you say 'inerrency' as those who voted it the worst theological innovation? I think that they were in some ways responding to the effects it has brought about. Arianism doesn't seem to be much of an issue in comparison to our American religio-political nonsense that is the result (arguably) of fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism which places so much emphasis on inerrency. I think that a christological error is worse than a biblical error, but this biblical error has done so much damage. It seems to me that inerrency can be affirmed without affirming the entire bible (particularly Gen 1-11) as an historically accurate text, but those particular chapters carry so much weight in the states (in our latest political debate, 3 out of the 10 republican candidates said they reject evolution).

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I think you took that humorous survey too seriously, Guy.

I have seen a few definitions of inerrancy that I could sign, but they had so many qualifications that I felt to do so would be dishonest--the word would convey something different than the definition I could support. It is not a helpful term in conveying the proper authority of Scripture.

BTW, appealing to John Frame and Donald McCleod may not be your best strategy for winning more support for the doctrine: 1) Because arguments from authority (the old "Moltmann--or whomever--agrees with me" ploy which makes it sound like one went to Tubingen and convinced Jurgen personally), especially from personal authorities, are very weak arguments.

2)Are Frame and McCleod really the "top evangelical theologians?" Did I miss something? They have influence in VERY conservative Calvinist circles, but I can't see them approaching the kind of influence you are claiming for them.

Exiled Preacher said...

Mr Alderman & MWW,

I know that the poll at F&T was meant to be humorous. My post was a little tongue in cheek too with its tabloidesque headline.

I realise that simply quoting Macleod & Frame isn't necessarily going to win over any doubters. But I was pleased to see that they both continue to affirm inerrancy. What matters is not who they are, but the quality of their arguments.

The doctrine hasn't been politicised in the UK in the same way as seems to be the case in the USA. But I still think that it is important to affirm that the Bible, as the written Word of God is without error.

Andrew and Carolyn said...

I find i-Alderman's statement very interesting. Genesis 1-11 seems to be ASSUMED to be historically inaccurate. On what basis? Evolution?

I feel that he is hitting on the nerve of so much rejection of inerrancy. We quiver and quibble on this issue because we are a little entranced by the prevailing scientific hegemony of mass media. I think the question comes down to whose word you believe - God's or mans.

I apologise if that sounds unnecessarily harsh...

michael jensen said...

Yes, it is a little harsh and misses the point I think. That merely assumes your reading of Gen 1-11 is right, which I would contest. So, putting it in terms of voice of God or man etc is actually a whole net load of red kippers.

Like Michael W-w, there are some version of inerrancy I could sign, but I feel it is not a useful or accurate or helpful way to speak about the authority of scripture. I certainly am most sceptical about claimed errors in the text! It puts the emphasis in exactly the wrong place. I do know OF COURSE that it is a word not found in the Bible: I think it is (in many permutations) an unbiblical way of speaking about the scriptures, whereas the Trinity is not an unbiblical way of speaking about the Godhead.

Isaac said...

Hello Andrew and/or Carolyn- maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that bit about the politicians and evolution (in my post above, which identified me as i_alderman for some reason) because that is not why I don't read Gen 1-11 as historically accurate. I think it is a mistake of genre to do so. It seems to me, then, that those who are so concerned about the truth of scripture that they read it historically are actually reading the text in a way that misuses it (abuses it?) and makes it untrue. To say that I am making a choice for 'man's word' over 'God's word' seems a bit unfair, for I am trying to read God's word in the best way.

Andrew and Carolyn said...

Michael/Isaac -

Thanks for that. I really don't intend to sound arrogant, or assume that my own interpretation of Scripture is 'right' as posed against what others believe. That's pretty contrary to my general attitude really. I'm also grateful for being able to fellowship with those who have different but principled opinions.

But what about Christ's hermeneutic approach to Genesis 1-11? Matthew 19 certainly seems to suggest that he treated the creation of Adam and Eve as historical, real, and non-allegorical. Or was he engaging fable in his debate with the Pharisees? Wouldn't that have been a strange position to take given that the whole locus of the discussion was on what God had said in literal terms to His covenant people?

What of Paul's use of Adam in Romans 5? Is he arguing from the supposition that his readership accept that what he is referring to never happened in real terms? Where does that leave the whole notion of fallenness?

To me this is where the 'Voice of God/Voice of Man' issue becomes more than just a trawler load of distraction. The key question for any non-literal approach to Gen 1-11 is WHY? Why read it in any other way than literally? What compels a reader to adopt such a hermeneutic? Genre seems a little strange as a basis for arugment, given the Saviour's approach to it.

I'd genuinely love to know your approach to the texts cited above.

Exiled Preacher said...

Interestingly, Frame believes in 24 x 6 day creation, while Macleod sees Genesis 1 as a literary framework. Inerrancy doesn't inevitably mean that we have to believe in 24 x 6. The doctrine in itself does not resolve the framework / literal account debate. That has to be decided exegetically.

Macleod would not argue that Gen 1 is wrong, but that it was never meant to be a literal account of the creation process. B.B. Warfield, the great inerrantist was sympathetic to evolutionary theory.

Andrew and Carolyn said...

I think that the balance between the two authors is helpful, Guy. But I would imagine that they don't have divergent views on the literality of Gen 3 - or perhaps they do (I've never read either author on this particular issue)? I don't have a major issue with literary framework ideas (although that's not my own position) for chapter 1, and don't feel that it presents any necessary compromise to inerrancy. But surely to lump the first 11 chapters into a non-literal genre does?

Exiled Preacher said...

Andrew,

I agree. Understanding the whole of Gen 1-11 in a non-literal way makes for huge theological problems. Both Frame & Macleod argue for the special creation of human beings and a literal fall.

Andrew and Carolyn said...

Thanks for your response, Guy. What's your own feeling on the motivation behind treating Gen 1-11 in such a hermeneutically isolated way? I find this so interesting and intriguing.

Thanks also for such a solid blog. I learn something from it most times I visit - even if I don't always leave a comment.

Isaac said...

I wouldn't characterize it as 'hermeneutically isolated'. I think that hermeneutics must be appropriate to the genre that is being read. We certainly don't read Gen 1-11 the same as a psalm or as apocalyptic literature. Maybe the we disagree about whether it is a different genre than the rest of scripture (which I think it is).

Andrew and Carolyn said...

Hi Isaac,
In what way does it differ generically from the rest of Scripture? What indicators are there in the text, or in the Bible's own interpretation of the text which lead you to this conclusion?

You're absolutely correct to allow genre to direct your reading of differing passages in Scripture, but I'm not sure that genre is the issue here. Is Genesis 12-50 in a different genre than the first eleven chapters? What authority do you base that on, and what motive do you have for not treating these chapters historically and literally?

Exiled Preacher said...

Michael,

I don't think that inerrancy is an unbiblical way of speaking about the Scriptures. What of Ps. 19:7-11, for example, that describes the Word of God in all its diverse forms as, "perfect", "sure", "right",
"pure", "true and righteous altogether" etc.

The Psalm also insists that God's speech has perlocutionary effects -it "coverts", "enlightens" etc. It would be wrong to so emphasise inerrancy that we forget that Scripture is primarily God's own witness to Christ. The Bible is the theodramatic script that the people of God are to perform. But it is an entirely reliable and true script.

Isaac said...

andrew and carolyn- I think that we are presented with a 'primeval history' that is essentially without historical context. It seems to me that the editor has historicized (?) them by attaching them to the patriarch narratives through the genealogies. I want to emphasize though, that 'non-historical' doesn't mean untrue. Not believing in 'the fall' doesn't mean that we aren't fallen.

Andrew and Carolyn said...

Thanks, Isaac. What evidence do you have that the 'editor' took such an approach? Does the structure of the narrative not suggest harmony and unity, rather than a number of 'historicised' ideas addended to historical account? If the text doesn't suggest the approach you're advocating, are you implying that this is due to the skill of an historicising editor? If so where is the line between 'historicising' and deceiving the reader?

Respectfully, I think that such an approach does violence to the integrity of the Scriptures as inspired. This is exactly why the approach to Gen 1-11 and issue of inerrancy are so crucial to our whole understanding of God's Word as a whole. Where is the line drawn with you approach? Is it only Gen 1-11 which are subject to such scrutiny because of the primeval genre?

The other issue which you haven't addressed is why such an approach is needed? What biblical/culture influences necessitate such a obscure interpretation? Also, why are we fallen if there was no fall?

Please don't misinterpret my probing of your views as being harsh or unfair. I'm interested to know, and am as yet left unconvinved by your logic/hermeneutics.

Guy, sorry if I've kind of hijacked this thread in talking to Isaac. If you want me to shut up, butt out, and go get my own arena to talk to people I will fully understand!!

Exiled Preacher said...

Andrew,

This blog is meant stimulate dicussion, so feel free to carry on.

Isaac said...

It does seem that we're not exactly sticking to the topic of the post. Sorry about that. I don't expect you to be convinced, because I would bet we have some differences in our presuppositions that underlie these views.

I don’t think I can answer all your questions but I will answer the best I can.

I think the Babel account is a good example of an ahistorical account that is inserted between two genealogies to provide an historical context. Here seems to be an example of editing that is not that well done. the story is an insulated unit that really isn't contextualized by the genealogies. (unless the dividing of the earth in the time of peleg is a reference to Babel)

Does the presence of an editor negate the inspiration of scripture? If the individual books of the bible are inspired (I agree) and the collection of books are inspired (I think they are) then why would we have to assume that individual books must be literary wholes, and of a single genre in order not to do violence to their integrity?

I don't think that this is an obscure interpretation. It really seems very natural to me. If the bible is (as dei verbum puts it) "the words of God, expressed in human language", then it is incarnational, and the human history of the texts seems to be an important factor.

thanks for the conversation. I haven't had to express myself with regard to these things for a while. it is always good to rethink things..

Andrew and Carolyn said...

Hi Isaac

I think you're right about presuppositions. While I think our tone is mutually respectful (which is great!) I have a feeling that we won't find common ground on a lot of these issues. To me your description of how chapters 1-11 fit into the overall structure of Genesis doesn't allow for either an integrated or inspired text. How can we trust what the Bible is saying when 'behind the scenes' is an 'editor' stitching historical fallacy to historical veracity in such a way to make the reader believe that it belongs to the latter category rather than the former? I'm also not clear as to where your own presuppositions come from - why MUST chapters 1-11 not be treated as historical? How can we be fallen (Romans 5?) without the fall?

I don't expect you to come back on any of these questions. I appreciate your gracious engagement on these issues of difference.

michael jensen said...

Yes, guy: righteous and altogether true. Not inerrant! The former are moral categories. The latter is epistemological.

It is rather confusing to have inerrancy tied so strongly to a particular reading of Genesis etc I feel...

Exiled Preacher said...

Michael,

If something is "true", isn't that an epistemological as well as a moral claim? Can the Bible be morally true while epistemologically faulty?

michael jensen said...

I am not claiming it is 'faulty'. In a way, what I am saying is that inerrancy doesn't claim enough for scripture, because it focus on the very limited and not very useful truth/error dichotomy. This is literature we are dealing with, not some science textbook!

This is better expressed in the Chicago Statement, which talks more sensitively about genre than many do. But then they bring up the so-called 'original autographs', and I can only see sleight of hand.

michael jensen said...

Just re-read your earlier post: and your nice Vanhoozerian comment about perlocutionary force make me nod in agreement so much that I am willing just to agree to disagree. My only quibble with 'inerrancy' is with as a piece of terminology - I would certainly not teach or expect any kind of 'errancy'.

Exiled Preacher said...

MJ,

Yes. Inerrancy has to be carefully qualified so that we don't expect scientific precision from Scripture. Biblical genre also needs to be taken into account. Inerrancy on its own won't tell us how to view Gen 1 etc. A fixation with inerrancy that sidelines Scripture's witness to Christ and the practical effects of the Word is, of course unhelpful. But I think that the doctrine is worthwhile in that it encourages us to value the truth content of Scripture.

But, as you say, we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

Grosey's Messages said...

mmmm does MJ believe that textual criticism has arrived at the final definitive original autographs?
Steve

michael jensen said...

Grossey:

no, textual criticism of course only approximates the originals, of course. But that's ok!

With some biblical texts, the notion of an authorial original is suspect anyway: there may have been several versions circulating. 'Authorship' as we understand it in our copyright culture is not really the same. Jeremiah is a case in point. I think rather that we ought to look at the process of canonisation rather than authorship on its own in all this. We can see inspiration by the Spirit all the way through the process: why not?

I think you can nod to all I have just said and still hold to a version of inerrancy actually.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Michael J. is right (must be his godly name :-) ), Jeremiah is a prime example of why I find the entire "autographs" argument to be a red herring--or red kipper if that's expression on your side of the Pond. It is not even clear what we would call the "autograph" of Jeremiah: 1)The first version that the king destroyed line-by-line? [The king clearly identified the Word of God with the words of the text and thought that if he destroyed the latter, he destroyed the former. I think many inerrantists operate with a de facto, maybe unconscious, version of this view.] 2)The second copy? 3)Baruch's scribal editions? 4) The version in the LXX with additions not found in the Hebrew text?
An inerrancy of the autographs claims that only the autographs are inspired. I hold that the Spirit breathes out God's word not only through every writing stage and every stage of canonization, but through translations, too. The Scriptures we have are all we need for "instruction, reproof, training in righteousness."

Exiled Preacher said...

Some interesting points re Jeremiah and the autographs, MJ & MW-W. And also on translations being the word of God. When the NT cites the LXX, the writers introduce the quotes with "God says", "the Scripture says", "The Holy Spirit says" etc. But mistakes creep into translations that would not have been present in the original texts.

Grosey's Messages said...

I understood that the comment in the Chicago declaration about the original autographs was more than sleight of hand, but an acknowledgement that much much more work must go into textual criticism before one could acknowledge they had the original autographs.
I am just saying "sleight of hand" is too strong a comment.. "2 bob each way" ? maybe...

michael jensen said...

Yes, I like that Grossey -'sleight of hand' may be too uncharitable. What I mean is, 'I think that particular article is a fudge, and reveals a problem in the way inspiration is equated with a particular idea of the authorial process which is questionable given the texts we are dealing with'.

Michael W-W: yes, inspiration works through translations, yet of course there are good and bad translations too...