Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Inerrancy Book Review (Part 2)

Yesterday, I largely looked at the critiques of Al Mohler's understanding of inerrancy in Zondervan's new Five Views of Inerrancy.  I had three major take-aways:
  • Christians throughout the centuries have always affirmed the complete truthfulness of Scripture. When the Bible speaks, God speaks.
  • However, the way in which Christians have affirmed the truthfulness of Scripture throughout the centuries is not exactly the same as the way the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) affirms it.  Most of the authors in this book affirm inerrancy without equating it exactly with CSBI.
  • The CSBI is a product of twentieth century American evangelical culture. It has cultural features.
I wish I had time to delve into the intricacies of each author's thought in this book, as well as the responses of each author. Alas!  I will go ahead and stretch out the review one more day, so that I can at least give a little more brain space to Kevin Vanhoozer and Mike Bird today. So my hope is to finish up tomorrow with Enns and Franke.

Kevin Vanhoozer
Vanhoozer is a class act. Like Franke, I don't think he goes far enough with the polyvalence of the biblical text. But V's version of inerrancy is brilliant in relation to the original meaning of the biblical text.

His fundamental insight seems completely indisputable: God did not just speak in the Bible to convey information. He spoke to communicate in several different ways (215). He is worth quoting: "God's Word can be relied upon to accomplish the purpose for which it has been sent, and when this purpose is making affirmations, it does so inerrantly" (223, italics his).

For V, infallibility is the broader category into which inerrancy fits. Inerrancy relates to those instances when God's purpose in the biblical text is to affirm cognitive truths. But God has many other purposes--commands, promises, perhaps even to give us an opportunity to lament or vent. Other words are more suitable to those purposes. Commands are authoritative. Promises are infallible. Laments are cathartic. Assertions are inerrant.

Vanhoozer here is appropriating the insights of speech-act theory. V advocates a "well-versed" approach to Scripture that "acknowledges that what is said is not always an affirmation" (220). Again, this seems beyond dispute. To limit, as C. F. H. Henry did, the basic function of language more or less to the cognitive and to making propositional assertions (214-15) seems almost an incomprehensible position today. Henry may have had a Spock-like personality, but he is clearly the exception among us mortals rather than the rule.

V quotes with approval David Dockery's 1986 definition, which presumably stands behind the wording of inerrancy that Asbury Seminary seminary uses: "The Bible, in the original autographs, properly interpreted, will be found to be truthful and faithful in all that it affirms concerning all areas of life, faith, and practice" (207).

Dockery and Vanhoozer are making a crucial distinction here.  Not everything "mentioned" in the Bible is the point, what was being affirmed. Let me provide my own example. The point of Paul saying he was taken up into the third heaven was not to make a statement about the structure of the universe. Frankly, the point was not even to say that Paul was taken into the presence of God. What the passage was affirming was that no one has the right to boast before God, and though Paul could boast more than his opponents, even he was nothing next to God.

To me, this is a far more defensible version of inerrancy than Mohler's. I'll leave V there. He has some other valid clarifications to make. For example, to take the Bible literally is not the same as literalism. To read the Bible literally, to V, is to read it in terms of what the author was actually doing with the text, which might not actually be literal.

Michael Bird
I think one of the biggest purposes Bird had in mind in his chapter was to put American cultural myopia in its place. His basic point is that global Christianity has been doing just fine with its own affirmations of the Bible's truthfulness and doesn't need to import America's baggage to become more informed and holy.

He spends a couple pages going through a host of affirmations about the Bible used in global Christianity.  None of them use the word inerrant. Even the Westminster Confession, the cornerstone of Reformed faith, affirms the "infallible truth and divine authority" of Scripture (161). The Lausanne Conference comes closest, "without error in all that it affirms" (162). Most, he says, use words like "infallible" and "authoritative."

He does not consider "infallible" a retreat from confidence in the Bible's truthfulness any more than Vanhoozer does. Rather, it takes "a view to the purpose for which God has revealed himself" (163). For Bird, that focus of revelation primarily has to do with Christ and God the Father. "The Bible was intended to impart knowledge of God as Creator and Redeemer, and under that premise, the Bible is completely true in all that it says" (163).

The actual word, "inerrancy" is a relative latecomer on the theological scene. J. I. Packer suggests it was not regularly used in this connection until the 1800s (162-63). Bird can live with it, although he agrees with Donald Bloesch that it is not the preferable word (172). He doesn't see a material difference between it and infallibility (163).

He clearly considers it rife with Americanism and takes a few opportunities to mock us for peculiarities we don't know we have. "Only American evangelicals use Scripture to argue against gun control, against environmental care, and against universal healthcare" (156).

He notes that we have transported our myopia here and there around the world with our enculturated missionaries: "I have met some peculiar Christians from Africa and Europe with oddly American beliefs about taxation, end-times theology, the King James Bible, and prescribed styles of worship" (145 n.2). He excludes these transplants from his description of the global church.

He has no interest in our debates over inerrancy. He sees it used primarily as a weapon in American circles, "a way of forcing conformity to certain biblical interpretations, and to weed out dissenters in denominational politics" (157). "Inerrancy is primarily a weapon of religious politics to define who is in and who is out."

In the end, like John Stott, he is not so much interested in formulas of subscription as in practical submission (165). "How we live under the Bible is the ultimate test of what we believe about God and the Bible."  By the way, elsewhere in the book, Vanhoozer notes that Stott, a British evangelical, was uncomfortable with the word inerrancy because it seemed to reduce the Bible to a set of propositions (200 n.2).

I hope to finish up tomorrow with Enns and Franke.


Rick said...

V's approach shows the necessity of historic and corporate study, and not individual interpretation.

Unknown said...

Frankling speaking I reject inerrancy altogether, the odds against its truth are just overwhelming.

I give my view on inspiration

I know it can sound quite shocking to the ears of a Conservative Protestant.

Lovely greetings.

P.S: I might not receive your answer due to the comment systems.
If you are interested in a conservation, it might be better to answer me on my blog.

Christopher C. Schrock said...

If Christians only attribute truthfulness to the autographs, as V., Dockery, & Asbury do, then how do we think through circumstance of only having NT apographa? Also, I've read B.B. Warfield was seminal for migrating infallibility-speak from the latter to the former. Your thoughts on that development?

Ken Schenck said...

Chris, I do think the original autograph thing reveals a "get back" drive that, among other things, was part of the origins of liberalism. Mainly for neo-evangelicals, it says it's okay to do textual criticism.

I would agree that the shift from infallible to inerrant begins with Warfield, perhaps (as Fred Clark has claimed) to provide an argument against abolition.