In the previous post I mentioned the Preface and Summary parts of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. I think all Wesleyans can wholeheartedly agree with the spirit of the Preface and most of the summary statements. The point of debate has more to do with the concrete playing out of the summary statements into concrete specifics. Some Wesleyans will agree with the specifics. Others such as myself think they have too superficial an understanding of meaning, culture, and genre. Both can be venerable Wesleyan perspectives.
The third part of the Statement is where it gets into specifics. 19 affirmations and denials. Today I want to start looking at them.
1. The first is an affirmation that the Scriptures are the authoritative Word of God and a denial that they receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any human source.
I agree. I do pick up the subtle assumption that the text has had a relatively constant meaning from its origins till now. From my perspective, that is a Newtonian assumption in a quantum world. The question of whether the Bible is authoritative really pales before the really hard question, namely, what meaning of these texts is authoritative.
2. Scriptures are supreme. The authority of the Church is subordinate. Creeds, councils, declarations are of lesser authority.
Given the assumptions of the authors, I agree. I think the "Church" here is understood in a political sense--the political bodies of church history, not least the "Catholic church." I certainly do not think any political church holds such authority, and the creeds and councils are still political statements. In my opinion, however, when these authors say "Scriptures," they really mean the Bible read Christianly, the Bible read as Christian Scripture. They would disagree that they meant this, but in my opinion they cannot see their own glasses and how those glasses color their perspective.
From my point of view, these sorts of statements involve subtle but significant misunderstandings of language. It poses as contradictory options things that, on deeper examination, I believe are virtually the same. I'll agree to it in the same way I agree when my son says something like, "So it's better to score a touchdown than strike out, right Dad?" What I'm thinking, though, is that he's a little confused.
In my opinion, so many of the meanings these signatories themselves found so authoritative in the text of Scripture were themselves products of their own Christian tradition. The signatories would deny that this is the case, but they do not properly see themselves, in my opinion.
The NIV is a wonderful example of the "say one thing, do another" dynamic I see necessary for this hermeneutic to sustain itself.
Say: We are listening to the Bible. Our interpretations come from the plain sense of the text. We are under the authority of the text and not letting the Church have a higher authority.
Do: Let's translate "form of God" as "very nature God" so the full divinity of Christ is not in question (Phil. 2:6)--is "shape" really the same as "very nature"?! Let's translate "firstborn of creation" with "firstborn over creation" (Col. 1:15) so there is no question of whether Jesus is created or not. Let's add a word out of nowhere to "did not give" so it reads "did not just give" (Jer. 7:22), even though there is no such word in the Hebrew--we don't want to leave any question about whether Leviticus was written at the time of the exodus. Let's add another word out of the blue so that "to the dead" reads "to those now dead" so there is no room for the dead being saved (1 Pet. 4:6)--Protestants don't believe such Catholic ideas. Again, let's take the word "entirely" out so that we give no room for a completely allegorical interpretation in 1 Cor 9:9-10.
Most of these moves have no clear basis in the text and seems in each case to be motivated overwhelmingly to maintain the perspective of the neo-evangelical tradition, thus deconstructing the fundamental claims of this hermeneutic. When push comes to shove, those of the Chicago Statement approach consistently trump the most obvious meaning of the Bible with evangelical tradition, in my opinion.
The Church is something more profound and Spiritual than any of the specific creeds or councils... and the Church led by the Spirit is already assumed in much of what the crafters of this Statement call the "Scriptures."
3. ... is directed against those who only consider the Bible a "witness" to revelation or who are Barthian saying it only "becomes" revelation or that it depends on human response for its validity.
I don't maintain any of these things in the form attacked. I believe each book was a moment of inspiration to its original audiences. I believe that the Bible was the word of God, even though the Holy Spirit does make it "become" the word of God regularly beyond the original meaning (they were attacking Barth in this one). So I won't spend any time on this one.
4. God uses language for revelation. Our creatureliness/fallenness does not "thwart" it or make it inadequate.
I agree. However, I see no way that our creatureliness and enculturatedness does not make revelation relative to a particular framework. The authors of the Chicago Statement might have denied this. I see no way around it. All language is cultural, even though some elements might appear in every culture.
5. We affirm progressive revelation... but later revelation does not correct or contradict it... and no normative revelation since the Bible.
But what about the "eye for an eye" rule that Jesus rejects or the allowance for divorce that Jesus says was a concession to Israel's sinfulness and not God's plan. What about Jesus' sacrifice as the end of the sacrificial system--I personally can't see that Leviticus was expecting this at all. Look at what Paul does with the Sabbath Law. And I think Arius had a pretty good bibilical case for a view of Christ a little less than Athanasius was looking for. The debate was not settled on the basis of the Bible alone.
I just don't think things are as nice and neat as the Statement makes them out and I'm really worried about a paradigm that, rather than trying to follow the most likely interpretation, expends its energies and ingenuity trying to explain away difficulties.
6. Total inspiration. OK, but let's see what they meant.
7. Not just human insight. Indeed!
8. God used their personalities, didn't override them. Yep.
9. Inspiration did not confer omniscience on the authors, but enabled them to speak trustworthy. Their finitude or falleness did not introduce distortion or falsehood.
Yes, trustworthy to the target of what God was trying to say to their particular audiences at a particular time and place. But such revelation at a time and place will rarely apply to many other times and places with equal directness or poignancy.
10. inspiration a matter of autographs, but it has been transmitted faithfully.
Yep. Not an issue... although, I would not preclude the possibility that God at some times and places has spoken through texts that were not the original text. The Chicago paradigm finds this idea problematic. The Wesleyan, because of our affirmation of the Spirit, should be quite comfortable with this possibility.
The Chicago paradigm would find this lying on God's part. Surely He could not be a truthful God and speak as if a particular verse or wording were in the original. But this is such a misguided understanding of truth. When we humans always believe many things about the world that are not correct, God could hardly speak to us at all if He did not start with our understandings, even though He knows they often aren't quite right.
This distinction gets at the heart of the difference between the two understandings of inerrancy I am discussing here.