Today in class we were trying to bring clarity to some of the words that Wesleyan Church Wesleyans use in relation to the Bible. These are words like inspiration, authority, inerrancy, and so forth. The clarity comes, I think, when we are careful about the type of literature we are talking about.
So what authority does a biblical narrative have over us--it's telling a story, not commanding us to do something? Or what does it mean to say that the psalmist is inspired when he exclaims, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Or what does it mean to say that the command to love our neighbor is inerrant? Sure, we can come up with answers to such questions, but they do not fit naturally with the genre in question. It's like asking someone if they believe you can hammer a nail with a pipe wrench. I suppose you would answer, "Yes?" but the question seems a little confused.
So here was my attempt today to line up terms with genre categories:
Infallible is an overarching category that is best defined to say that Scripture never fails to accomplish God's intended purposes, which are various (rather than the strange definition used in the 20th century that used the word to limit the "inerrancy" of the biblical texts).
Some of those purposes include:
1. truth telling passages match with the word inerrant (with caveats about metaphorical language, language of limited scope, and the place of the text in question in the flow of revelation).
2. commands match with the word authority (with caveats about differences between their time and our time, hyperbole, the scope of the command, and the place of the command in the flow of revelation)
3. promises match with the word trustworthy (with caveats about God's freedom to cancel promises on the basis of human repentance or hardheartedness). Proverbs are not promises but statements of general truth which sometimes have exceptions.
4. narratives played various roles in the history of the Bible's composition. Their primary purpose was to express theological truths about God and Israel or about Jesus and his followers. When read as Scripture, they are expressions of our Christian identity and provide the stories of our family.
It makes sense to speak of all of the above purposes as inspired, as God-breathed truths, commands, promises, and narratives, remembering their intended scope and level of literality, and their place in the flow of revelation.
5. Some texts, further, are human expressions, such as psalms of thanksgiving or prayers for God to destroy Israel's enemies, for babies to be bashed against rocks and for troubling individuals to emasculate themselves. Again, although we could no doubt think up a way to use the word "inspired" in relation to them, they seem rather to tell us that it is okay to get angry at God or be puzzled at what He is up to.
Anyway, this is what we came up with today. Any thoughts?