Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Biblical Inerrancy V: Alternate Views of Scripture

I want to know one thing – the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way. He hath written it down in a book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book.

- John Wesley

(Previous posts in the series can be accessed here)

When you encounter a present-day view of Holy Scripture, you encounter more than a view of Scripture. What you meet is a total view of God and the world, that is, a total theology, which is both an ontology, declaring what there is, and an epistemology, stating how we know what there is.

The view of Scripture I have defined is called “full inerrancy”. There are other types of “inerrancy” that many claim to believe, yet an examination of them reveals that most are no inerrancy at all. The other types of “inerrancy” include:

Technical or Absolute Inerrancy: This view was expressed in Harold Lindell’s “Battle for the Bible”, and presents that all of what the Bible is can be shown to be true when evaluated based upon contemporary science, historiography, and journalism. This differs from full inerrancy in that it demands that every description in Scripture be defended in accordance with current scientific, historical, and journalistic standards.

Limited Inerrancy: This view holds that the Scriptures are inerrant in its salvific doctrines. It creates a distinction between these and empirical, natural references, ascribing errors to the state of scientific, journalistic and historical limitations of the time of the writers. For the purposes for which the Bible was given, it is fully truthful and inerrant.

Kergymatic Inerrancy or Inerrancy of Purpose: The ‘big picture’ of the Bible gets across, even though there are errors in it. The ‘inerrancy’ in view here is one that holds that the Bible inerrantly accomplishes its purpose, which is to bring people into personal fellowship with Christ, not to communicate truths. While it accomplishes this purpose effectively, it is improper to relate inerrancy to factuality. Thus, truth is not thought of as a quality of propositions, but as means to accomplish an end. Implicit in this position is a pragmatic view of truth.

Accommodated Revelation: Also, there are views which do not claim any inerrancy of the Scriptures at all. This position emphasizes that the Bible came through human writers and thus participates in the shortcomings of human nature. This is not only true in historical and scientific matters, but in theological and moral matters as well. Proponents of this view are those who simply declare that Paul was wrong in some of his doctrinal teachings because of his rabbinical background, or that sometimes he was right and sometimes wrong. Some even feel that Jesus was wrong, not merely unaware, of the time of his return.

Nonpropositional Revelation: This view denies that the Scriptures are revelation at all, preferring to describe only the person-to-person encounter as revelatory. The whole question of truth or falsity does not apply. The presence of errors in the Bible are those of the writers, because the words are those of the writers, not of God, yet these in no way work against the usefulness of the Bible.

The type of theology that arises from full inerrancy is evangelical or perhaps fundamentalist (though many who call themselves fundamentalist demand absolute inerrancy). While there are a smorgasbord of other theologies, the three most prevalent are liberal theology, neoorthodoxy, and historical-critical theology.

As I demonstrated in a previous post (the bottom half of it), full inerrancy was the historical view of the church, both Protestant and Catholic, until the so-called “Age of Reason” and particularly in the subsequent “Enlightenment” of the 18th century. Even though the Catholic Church added the authoritative interpretation by the church authorities as revelation as well, it did not change the fundamental view of scripture as God’s revelatory word. The Reformers rejected the idea of additional revelation, but their understanding of the nature of the Bible was also the historic position.

Immanuel Kant, perhaps the single greatest contributor to the Enlightenment, said that “Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one’s own intelligence without the guidance of another…Having the courage to make use of your own intelligence is therefore the motto of the Enlightenment.” This movement was characterized by a rejection of external authority – whether the Bible, the church or the state – because people, they said, should not be bound by ancient customs or creeds. Second, human destiny lies in progress, based upon the belief that human nature is basically good. Third, the knowledge of God and religious truth is ultimately attainable through human reason – and therefore divine revelation is unnecessary. As a result of the Enlightenment (the advent of the “modernist” worldview), many theologians came up with new ways to explain the concept of revelation and the nature of the Bible.

Liberal Theology: Liberal theology uses the last two views of scripture (accommodated revelation and non-propositional revelation) to construct its views. Essentially, liberalism claims that revelation comes through human subjective experience.

The primary figure in Theological Liberalism (hereafter referred to as liberalism) is Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) who was highly influenced by Kant. He agreed that we cannot know anything for real, the thing in itself. Therefore we cannot know God in Himself, it’s in the ‘noumenal’ realm. We can’t know Him, but we can only know our experience of God. He defined religion as “a feeling of absolute dependence”. We use our imaginations to construct God concepts that help people because the purpose of religion is to help people, and our religion ends up becoming ideological. Liberalism does not believe that God has spoken.

Thus, the Bible is regarded as nothing but the confirmation of the religion of reason, often stated in fictitious stories, and is not the Word of God. Rather, the teachings of the Bible are only the experiences of the Christian community expressed in words. The idea of revelation in the religious experience became popular first in liberalism. Schliermacher’s student, Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889) argued that we need to understand Christ as the archetypal man, the Christ-figure (since liberals believe that we obviously don’t know if we know the historical Christ, that Christ is not the revelation of God, and is not God) for how we should live in ethical behavior – social justice. In liberalism there is no sin, no atonement (because there is no need since we are “basically good”), and no revelation. Another example of a leading pioneer of liberalism is Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930) a church historian. His claim would be that we read the Bible to discover the kernels among the husk. There are all kinds of “husk” according to von Harnack - miracles, supernatural parts of the Bible, etc (of course he and his followers are Darwinists, and think there is a lot in the Bible that is crazy) but there are some “kernels” of truth that we save and keep.

Liberalism affirms, in Clark Pinnock's words, that "divine truth is not located in an ancient book but in the ongoing work of the Spirit in the community, as discerned by critical rational judgment." Note, however, that "divine truth" means to liberals, not God's instruction nor a permanently valid human formulation, but simply an authentic awareness of God, to which no particular form of words is necessary either as a means or as an expression. As J. Gresham Machen pointed out half a century ago in Christianity and Liberalism, the liberal position in all its forms is deeply anti-intellectual in both its stance and its thrust, and this explains why it is so consistently hostile to the attempts of both Roman Catholics and evangelicals to formulate a definitive theology on the basis of a supposedly definitive Bible.

Liberalism also espouses a type of Christology that is not "from above" in the sense of seeing Jesus Christ as the divine Son, the second person of the Godhead, and the eternal Word made flesh, according to John's Gospel, Philippians 2, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1-2, which the Nicene and Chalcedonian formulae follow. Instead, liberal Christologies are "from below," seeing Jesus in "humanitarian" terms as a prophetic, God-filled man, an archetype of religious insight and excellence, one who, however much he carries for us what Ritschl called the "value" of God, is not God in person. Such Christologies involve, of course, abandoning all thought of a real ontological Trinity and a real divine sin-bearer. They require a reconstructed view of salvation in which Christ's mediation appears as a matter of teaching and trail-blazing only, with no hint of his having borne the Creator's wrath against our sins in order to render him propitious to us - for it would take a divine person to do that. Liberals characteristically cut the knot here by denying that there is any personal wrath of God against us that needs to be quenched and maintain a barrage of criticism against "word-made-flesh" Christology as being necessarily docetic, minimizing the true humanness of our Lord.

Liberalism highlights human religious greatness, as seen in the Bible, in Jesus, and in all Christian, pagan, and secular pioneers who have in any way contributed to man's "humanization" by stressing life's spiritual and moral values. Rightly does Pinnock say that “liberals have sought to replace the idea of the Bible's infallibility as teaching from God with what they saw as proper respect for its human greatness" as "a classical witness of those in whose lives God once worked which can once again serve to alert us to his reality."

Liberalism held its greatest sway from the late 1800’s until the First World War – when the idea of a subjectivity that cannot describe anything, not even the poison gassing of men, as objectively sinful, fell out of favor, and out of the ashes of WW I arose…

Neoorthodoxy: For many theologians, equating subjective religious experience with divine revelation brought God too close to human beings, who were clearly capable of significant evil. Thus, some kind of objective message from God, the One who is transcendent and who can encounter individuals in their sinfulness, is necessary. Revelation and its expression in human words must be more than human insight into spiritual and moral things. In neoorthodoxy, revelation comes through events in which God personally encounters individuals. Neoorthodoxy often uses kergymatic and limited inerrancy to describe its view of the Scriptures.

The initiator of neoorthodoxy was Karl Barth (1886-1968), who embodied the neo-orthodox commitment that God exists and had made Himself known. The events through which God revealed himself include the saving acts of God in history such as the call of Abraham, the Exodus, and the person and work of Christ. God exists as a transcendent, holy God, who made Himself known in Christ. The Bible is a witness to the revelation of God in Christ, and Christ is the Word of God, not the Bible. The Bible does a pretty good job of witnessing to God, but is not inerrancy or a divine product. Therefore, since the Bible is a good witness to Christ, we should preach from it. In neoorthdoxy, however, the Scriptures are not revelation itself. God continues throughout history to use this original witness of the Scriptures to confront people in similar revelatory occasions in which he encounters individuals to reveal himself.

This “encounter” is referred to as God “speaking”, and its content is “the Word of God.” But this Word is never equated with human words, such as those in the Bible. Rather, the “Word” is personal, that is, God himself in revelation, and particularly Jesus Christ, the Word of God. This revealed Word encounters us not as information, but as God’s saving presence, and this calls for obedience, not assent to certain truths.

Barth represents not only the greatest of the neoorthodox thinkers, he also represents its most conservative. Even so, though Barth makes quite a meal of rejecting any formal ascription of inerrancy to the Bible and of affirming its "capacity for errors," he declines to identify particular mistakes in it, although he declares in general terms that there are some, both factual and religious. On the contrary, "while preaching the inerrancy of the Bible, Barth practices its inerrancy": his interpretations, while sometimes novel and unconvincing, are always presented as elucidations of the witness the text actually bears, without any suggestion that anything it says should be discounted as false. Evangelicals will applaud Barth's exegesis as correct in method, if not always in substance; but we must realize that by stating that the prophets and apostles erred in their writings, even if we cannot say where, Barth himself has made his exegetical method seem hazardous, arbitrary, and untrustworthy. It is impossible to maintain high doctrines of revelation and inspiration without at the same time being willing to defend in detail the veracity and historicity of the biblical writings. But here Barth fails us, and the effect of his failure is to make it seem unreasonable for anyone to trust the texts as he seems to. It must be recorded that other neoorthodox thinkers see this very clearly, and therefore do not so trust the Scriptures.

No self-respecting neoorthodox preacher would ever preface the reading of Scripture by saying, “We will now hear the Word of God.” That would be blasphemy, presuming to tell God when and to whom He is to speak. The neoorthodox view is that reality and truth are dynamic rather than static or substantive. Revelation is something that happens, not something that is. Thus, when the neoorthodox speak of revelation, they have in mind the process, not the product.

Historical-critical Theology: The third view of Scripture sees revelation not in or through history, but as history. These theologians, led by Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928-), state that God acts through history in such a way that the events actually were and are revelation of himself. They view the acts of God in history as literal, not figurative or metaphorical. The resurrection of Jesus, perhaps the supreme act of God in history, can be proved by reason, just as any other fact of history.

In HC Theology, the history discussed is not exclusively the events in Scripture, but all of history is considered the revelation of God. By doing so, the previously discussed differences between general and specific revelation are eliminated. In this view the revelation of God throughout history does not need the support of any supernatural revelatory Word. Rather, the manifestation of God is open to anyone. When we thoroughly investigate our world and our own human nature, using the best critical tools of modern scholarship, we recognize the reality of God by the light that his presence sheds on our experiences. The resurrection of Christ obviously has significance for human life – it proves that the God of Israel is the one true God. However, it’s further significance is not established, because history continues, as does the revelation of God.


Conclusion:

All of these Modernist views of Scripture have four things in common. First, they are significantly different from the nearly 1800 years of Christian theology regarding Scripture prior to the Enlightenment. Second, they all accept human reason as the final criterion of truth. Even those who have a desire to have a Word that addresses humanity from outside still accept the conclusions of rationalistic scientific historical criticism in saying that the Bible has errors in it and is not the objective truth of God. Third, revelation is conveyed only indirectly through human religious subjectivism. Revelation may come through the exalted insight of human reason – individual or communal – through emotional religious experience, or through an encounter with God. This reason may be described as “illumination by the Spirit”, but it is reason nonetheless, revealed as such because it is almost always in exact agreement with the current cultural view of that time and place. But, revelation is never the direct communication of divine truth, coming to individuals as objective propositional teachings. Lastly, because this revelation is mediated indirectly and never objectively, it never communicates absolute truth. Its truth is always conditional in some way by its limited historical environment and it is therefore always relative. It is only claimed as truth when it cannot be measured in any fashion. Thus, in all cases above one can “follow Jesus” without believing anything specific.

Now that the alternate views of Scripture have been defined, I will finish the series with a post describing “The Need for Inerrancy.”

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:14-18)

13 Comments:

  • Hammer,
    "the teachings of the Bible are only the experiences of the Christian community expressed in words"

    Aha. Now I see why you don't like it when I say that the Bible is the record of God's self-revelation - you think it's a hallmark liberal trait! However, there's some crucial differences. The most important being that little word "only". The Bible is plainly the record of God's self-revelation. It is, though, more than "only" that, because it is also the means through which God reveals Godself to us, and is also the authoritative document for the Christian religion. A second crucial difference is between "the experiences of the community expressed in words" and "the record of God's self-revelation". The second is vastly more than the first - it isn't about us but about God.

    I'm also a bit confused during your description of liberalism, because you say both that "The idea of revelation in the religious experience became popular first in liberalism" and also, only a few sentences later, that "In liberalism there is ... no revelation". I'm not sure, therefore, what point you are making here.

    "Liberalism affirms, in Clark Pinnock's words, that "divine truth is not located in an ancient book but in the ongoing work of the Spirit in the community, as discerned by critical rational judgment.""

    And here we have another issue - when I (and others) say that Truth does not reside in the Bible, I think that you see echoes of this liberal position and thus oppose it. However, there are once more crucial differences, most particularly in that final clause, which gives primacy to "critical rational judgement". That Truth is primarily the ongoing work of the Spirit in the community, rather than being simply words on a page, would (I hope) be both obvious and acceptable to all Christians. The break made by liberalism is that this Truth is known mainly through the exercise of rational thought, rather than directly by experience and revelation.

    One criticism I'd make of your account of liberalism, though, is when you describe its fall. I don't think that it had much to do with its relationship to subjectivity and objectivity (sinfulness). Rather, what WWI did was to break the assumption that humanity was good. The horrors that we inflicted on one another during those years made it impossible for the vast majority any longer to believe that human beings were fundamentally good. Which is, as you said, one of the assumptions of liberalism.

    "It is impossible to maintain high doctrines of revelation and inspiration without at the same time being willing to defend in detail the veracity and historicity of the biblical writings."

    This seems, to me, to be a logical error. Why can one not have a high view of the Bible while maintaining a small capacity for error? It is simply not true that the only possible positions are "absolutely inerrant" and "absolutely untrustworthy" - you yourself deny the absolutely inerrant position, so do you not open yourself up to this criticism? Once we admit that we move away from absolute inerrancy, this argument that we must defend the Bible in every detail has fallen apart. This is the logical strength of absolute inerrancy - that by taking arguments to their extreme, it can claim "purity". Rather, we must both maintain that a high regard for Scripture is compatible with a degree of flexibility in interpreting the Scripture.

    That is, we don't have to make a binary choice between "absolutely inerrant" and "absolutely untrue". That has never been the position of the Church. Even when arguments sound a little like it, a few moments thought shows that this is not what is meant - because "absolute inerrancy" is not the Christian tradition.

    "All of these Modernist views of Scripture have four things in common. First, they are significantly different from the nearly 1800 years of Christian theology regarding Scripture prior to the Enlightenment."

    Do you suggest that evangelicalism is not a product of the Enlightenment? Although, in this respect, evangelicalism can claim continuance from earlier Christian theology and practice, it is itself indisputably a creature of the Enlightenment. As such, it has its own problems when placed against "the historic Christian witness".

    "Second, they all accept human reason as the final criterion of truth"

    But is evangelicalism truly any different? The focus of evangelicalism is on the Bible - but on the Bible as understood by the individual and as delivered by the preacher. The knowledge is to be learned as by lecture, to be encountered as propositional truth, and to be dealt with in a formal theological structure. Reason is a central part of the evangelical tradition, and it's disingenuous to criticise other traditions for using it.

    Finally, to address one of the first points you made:
    "The type of theology that arises from full inerrancy is evangelical"

    This is, perhaps, the core of the question. Evangelical theology requires full inerrancy. Full inerrancy implies evangelical theology (although perhaps not necessarily). However, neither statement tells us whether this is the only valid way to understand the Bible. The evangelical assumption is that it is. But that's not an argument: "Because I say so". The fact that evangelicalism produces a self-consistent theology does not prove that it is true. And if someone holds to a different tradition (perhaps catholic or Orthodox, perhaps postmodern or feminist), you cannot appeal to them on the basis that "evangelicalism requires full inerrancy" when the whole gap between you is precisely in accepting evangelicalism as a Good Thing.

    For example, Postmodernism has dealt fatal blows to the claims of modernity to absolute, objective knowledge. It is no longer possible for the thinker to assume that Modernism holds sway. Postmodernity has not really established a sufficient framework to replace Modernity, but the old framework is shown for the sham that it is. This has serious implications for theologies based on Modernity and the Enlightenment that produced it - including evangelicalism. This isn't the same as the old Modernist rejection of authority (both liberal and evangelical). Quite the reverse - postmodernism is often a return to authority, to following the leader or tradition that makes absolute claims. The difference is that these claims are couched in different terms to the old, Modernist ways.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 10/09/2006 05:16:00 AM  

  • Excellent. I think this is the best of the posts so far. I particularly like the careful delineation of finely-distinguished views.

    I'm especially happy that you nowhere used the word 'infallible'. When moderate to liberal evangelicals started misusing that word as a label for what you're calling Limited Inerrancy, it just struck me as deceitful. Infallibility is the impossibility of being wrong, whereas inerrancy is merely happening to be wrong. That's why the classic position always preferred the stronger term 'infallibility', because it marked a higher view of scripture than using the word 'inerrancy' would do. When they hijacked the term to refer to a lower view of scripture, they were then able to claim that they had the historic view because they were using the same word. We're now at a point where you can't get away with using the word without defining it, which is truly unfortunate.

    By Blogger Jeremy Pierce, at 10/11/2006 11:55:00 AM  

  • John,
    Thanks for your response. I have pretty easy answers to your notes.

    First, I do not oppose some of your statements because they happen to coincide with theological liberalism. I oppose them on the basis of their falsity. Yes, I know you don’t agree that they are false.

    It is, though, more than "only" that, because it is also the means through which God reveals Godself to us, and is also the authoritative document for the Christian religion.

    While I agree with the descriptives you give to Scripture, the definition will stand. I am discussing theological liberalism there, and the additional descriptives you provide do not reflect liberalism. It certainly doesn’t beg any kind of authority!

    I’ll add “authoritative” to clarify the second use of “revelation” in the mentioned passage.

    That Truth is primarily the ongoing work of the Spirit in the community, rather than being simply words on a page

    I know you call it that, but the results happen to be the same as if you used “critical rational judgment.” I already mentioned that in the conclusion, and will expand in the final post.

    The horrors that we inflicted on one another during those years made it impossible for the vast majority any longer to believe that human beings were fundamentally good.

    And thus human beings are fundamentally…sinful. Thus my statement.

    "It is impossible to maintain high doctrines of revelation and inspiration without at the same time being willing to defend in detail the veracity and historicity of the biblical writings."

    People aren’t martyred for a book that has errors. That’s the high view I speak of. Not, “A really, really important book”, but “A divine book’.

    My denial of “absolute inerrancy” is a denial of definition, not status. I have made this abundantly clear. There are no errors of any kind when understood in the standards of the day of its writing. No discussion of interpretation is introduced in this series.


    That is, we don't have to make a binary choice between "absolutely inerrant" and "absolutely untrue"….because "absolute inerrancy" is not the Christian tradition. Yes it is, and I have demonstrated it is. See post 3 in the series for a refresher. I don’t claim “absolutely true” vs “absolutely untrue”. It’s not a “false in one, false in all” position that liberals claim evangelicals use, but “false in one, uncertain in all”.


    Do you suggest that evangelicalism is not a product of the Enlightenment? Although, in this respect, evangelicalism can claim continuance from earlier Christian theology and practice, it is itself indisputably a creature of the Enlightenment. As such, it has its own problems when placed against "the historic Christian witness".

    We are discussing views of Scripture. An inerrant view is the historic view. I do not claim that for all of evangelical theology.


    The focus of evangelicalism is on the Bible - but on the Bible as understood by the individual and as delivered by the preacher. The knowledge is to be learned as by lecture, to be encountered as propositional truth, and to be dealt with in a formal theological structure.

    You have betrayed your caricature of thinking using straw men. Evangelicalism is nothing of the sort. It is a faith based in Scripture and tied to the theological tradition of the church, infused with and guided by the Holy Spirit, effectual upon the individual and practiced in community.

    However, neither statement tells us whether this is the only valid way to understand the Bible..

    That’s the final post, silly, not this one!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 10/11/2006 04:28:00 PM  

  • In this view the revelation of God throughout history does not need the support of any supernatural revelatory Word.

    ...

    Now that the alternate views of Scripture have been defined, I will finish the series with a post describing “The Need for Inerrancy.”


    Hammer, in your next post I think you should address the validity of using the word "need" when addressing inerrancy. To me, the Bible is either inerrant or it is not, regardless of any "need". By claiming a need you open yourself to similar criticism you often make against liberal interpretations, you strongly desire (need) an inerrant Bible to fit your world view, so you deceive yourself to believing it must be so.

    By Blogger Mark, at 10/11/2006 06:36:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    "I do not oppose some of your statements because they happen to coincide with theological liberalism. I oppose them on the basis of their falsity."

    I'd be intrigued, then, to know on what basis you believe these statements to be false:
    1) Ultimate truth resides only in God, not in any created thing - even the Bible.
    2) The Bible is God's ultimate self-revelation.
    For these are the two statements I was referring to here - which I believe you confuse with liberal sentiments when they are no such thing.

    "the additional descriptives you provide do not reflect liberalism"

    Of course not - I was describing my own position as it is distinct from liberalism!

    "I’ll add “authoritative” to clarify the second use of “revelation” in the mentioned passage."

    OK. But I'm still unsure about your point that "The idea of revelation in the religious experience became popular first in liberalism". This doesn't seem to be possible to me, unless you're meaning something distinct by "revelation". Because the word and concept were well established in the Church long before liberalism took root. All of the mystics wrote of "revelations" - it is even in many of the titles of their writings! (Sister Julian of Norwich, for example, and her Revelations of Divine Love.) I'm guessing that you are using "revelations" here to mean some conviction not that new things were being told but that old things were being "untold" - which isn't the same thing at all!

    "The horrors that we inflicted on one another during those years made it impossible for the vast majority any longer to believe that human beings were fundamentally good.
    And thus human beings are fundamentally…sinful. Thus my statement.
    "

    You miss my point, I think. You wrote in the original article: "the idea of a subjectivity that cannot describe anything, not even the poison gassing of men, as objectively sinful, fell out of favor". That is, the fall of liberalism was due to the fall of subjectivity. I don't think that's true - it was the fall of "basic goodness" that was the issue. Indeed, the 20th century has seen subjectivity rise to heights never dreamed of by the liberals, with the ascent of Postmodernism.

    ""absolute inerrancy" is not the Christian tradition.
    Yes it is
    "

    The problem here, I think, is that you insist on applying Modernist categories to pre-Modern thinkers. And that you still treat all truth as being of the same kind. My point was that a Modernist understanding of inerrancy is not the historical position of the Church.

    "Do you suggest that evangelicalism is not a product of the Enlightenment?
    We are discussing views of Scripture. An inerrant view is the historic view. I do not claim that for all of evangelical theology.
    "

    The problem is that the Modernist heritage of evangelicalism controls its approach to truth and the Bible! You cannot simply ignore these effects while condemning others for their own similar influences.

    For example:
    "The focus of evangelicalism is on the Bible - but [knowledge is] to be encountered as propositional truth
    You have betrayed your caricature of thinking using straw men. Evangelicalism is nothing of the sort.
    "

    You yourself have repeatedly insisted in several discussions that propositional truth is the most valuable and highest form of truth (that facts are more important than anything else). You yourself clearly regard the Bible as teaching primarily propositional truths (facts about God).

    The point here is that this elevation of propositional truth above all other forms of truth is the essence of Modernism. To say that, when pre-Modern theologians talked of "truth", they meant primarily propositional truth is simply wrong. So, to say that the historic position of the church is identical to a Modernist formulation of inerrancy (which says that biblical interpretation is primarily concerned with extracting propositions from the text of the Bible) is to miss most of what the historic position was about. Propositions are part of the Bible, but only a part. And not even the greatest part.

    We've been through this before, but you still claim that I'm creating a straw man when I make this distinction. And yet not to make it is intentionally to confuse distinct ideas - to lay claim to ground that is not truly ours. Yes, the historic position of the Church was that the Bible was ultimately truthful and without error. But that historic Church never approached the Bible in the way Modern evangelicals do - as a book to be read privately and from which we should attempt to extract propositional truth. Until only the past century or two, the vast majority of Christians would have encountered the Scriptures mostly in the context of worship and liturgy, and as a devotional and instructive text (and far more) rather than as a collection of propositions.

    To read the Bible as a collection of propositions is a profoundly Modernist thing to do. The claim that Christians have always done so is false. Therefore, the claim that Modernist inerrancy is identical to historical inerrency is false. They may be related, but the relationship is questionable.

    "That’s the final post, silly, not this one!"

    Fair enough :-) You were leaning that way, though.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 10/12/2006 10:35:00 AM  

  • I'd be intrigued, then, to know on what basis you believe these statements to be false:
    1) Ultimate truth resides only in God, not in any created thing - even the Bible.
    2) The Bible is God's ultimate self-revelation.


    The second is false. The Incarnation is the ultimate self-revelation. The Bible is God's written self-revelation, and in the absence of the Incarnation bodily walking among us, is the authoritative revelation.

    Your use of "Modernism" causes so many problems. Any chance you can do a post on what you believe Modernism is and how it relates to faith? I'd appreciate it.

    You continue to argue against straw man caricatures of evangelicalism. I have stated what it is. You assume I think that propositional truth is the highest because it makes me easy to attack. The highest truth is Christ. Also, all truth is held in Christ. The Spirit reveals truth to whom He will. None of them have to be propositional. However, propositional truth is easily understood and forms a foundation for truth in the human realm. Without assenting to the propositional truth that I am a sinner, I cannot receive the understanding of the greater truth of the grace of God. The result of acquiring truth is action of some kind, even if it is only in the mind. Any action, seen or unseen, propositionally has a truth associated with it, no? It happened or it didn't. It hurt someone or it didn't. It was right, wrong, or indifferent.

    Am I missing some truth you are thinking of? I recall your post on myth, wisdom, etc. Those led us to propositional truths. The wise choose what is right, the myth teaches what is right. Maybe I still don't get your point.

    As best I can tell, John, the vast majority of Christians still encounter scripture in worship (corporate and private), liturgy, and as a devotional and instructive text. I do. So do the evangleicals I know. It is Modernism that has led to people who claim to be Christians, yet deny the propositional truths contained in the Bible - not the other way around.

    I maintain that the historic view of Scripture is full inerrancy, which is the evangelical heritage and interpretation of Scripture. I challenge you to stop claiming some vaporous "Modernist interpretation that is not historic" and demonstrate this alleged discontinuity. I have already demosntrated the historical disconnect with the trifecta above. And don't give me some whack-job quote from the kind of guys you like to call evangelical on your site. Use NT Wright if you like - you are fond of quoting him as your evangelical of choice!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 10/12/2006 02:08:00 PM  

  • Mark,
    The post will speak for itself. It isn't my need for inerrancy - humanity needs inerrancy.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 10/12/2006 02:10:00 PM  

  • John wrote:

    “…we must both maintain that a high regard for Scripture is compatible with a degree of flexibility in interpreting the Scripture.”

    Well, no. Here’s what the Spirit said through Peter:

    “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. […] We also have the prophetic word… […] knowing this first, that no prophesy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophesy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Sprit.” (2 Peter 1:16-21)

    John, I wonder where you get the idea that “a degree of flexibility in interpreting the Scripture” is something “we must maintain”? Can you support such a claim? Now, be sure to apply your own standard: “But that's not an argument: "Because I say so".”

    By Blogger Robert, at 10/14/2006 12:51:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    "The second is false. The Incarnation is the ultimate self-revelation."

    Erm, yes, I did misrepresent myself there, didn't I! That is pretty much the point I've been making. I guess I should have written:
    "2) The Bible is the record of God's self-revelation."

    As for Modernism, I'll try to get around to a summary post, but for the moment, a quick summary would contain the following characteristics:
    rational
    objective
    fact-oriented
    reductionist
    individualist
    materialist (in the technical sense rather than the moral one)

    These lead to the main problems that Modernism poses for Christian faith (not that these are all characteristic of evangelicalism, please note) - elevation of intellect over holiness; concern for externals rather than internals; little awareness of or respect for any forms of truth outside factuality; tendency to see things as "nothing more than" the sum of the parts we understand; self-focused rather than community- or Creation-focused; disregard for the spiritual (obviously, evangelicals and liberals are influenced in rather different ways by this one!).

    "You assume I think that propositional truth is the highest because it makes me easy to attack."

    No, I assume that because you've repeatedly said so. You may have mis-spoken yourself.

    "Without assenting to the propositional truth that I am a sinner, I cannot receive the understanding of the greater truth of the grace of God."

    The thing is, though that "I am a sinner" isn't exclusively or possibly even primarily propositional. It deals with relationship, status and even myth. The statement "I am a sinner" isn't something that we receive as a proposition but as an action, a relationship. Assent to the proposition is nothing - living the relationship that it implies is everything. Granted, one must recognise one's state before God. But the proposition is the tiniest part of this, and isn't the most important or the first part.

    "The result of acquiring truth is action of some kind, even if it is only in the mind."

    No, I don't agree. Acquiring truth doesn't lead to any action. Only motivation can lead to action - and motivation requires more than fact. It requires emotion, drive, relationship.

    "Any action, seen or unseen, propositionally has a truth associated with it, no? It happened or it didn't. It hurt someone or it didn't. It was right, wrong, or indifferent."

    Only insofar as one can analyse the action. As you say, one can discuss its existence, certain of its effects. But, for instance, the fact of whether the action hurt someone is less important than the fact that someone was hurt. That is, the hurt is more than the fact of its existence. The hurt is, by its nature, more about the relationship, the pain, the dislocation, than it is about the abstract fact of its existence. The experience of the hurt is primary; the description of the hurt in propositional terms is secondary.

    "I recall your post on myth, wisdom, etc. Those led us to propositional truths. The wise choose what is right, the myth teaches what is right. Maybe I still don't get your point."

    No, I don't think you do. Myth teaches is what is right - but does so in a far more encompassing way than propositional truth can. Myth (among other things) gives us examples to emulate. For example, we know that bravery is a virtue as an abstract proposition, but it is the myths, the examples of Thermopylae, Agincourt, Waterloo, The Alamo, The Battle of Britain and many more that teach us how to be brave. It is not possible to encapsulate any one of these myths in propositions - there is no set of propositions that has the same power as the story of the Battle of Britain ("Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few" and all that). Similarly for all the others. And similarly for all myths - they contain far more than the sum of their parts, and far more than the propositions that make them up or that can be deduced from them. It's "the spirit of the Corps", the "right stuff", the "American dream". There is power here that far transcends mere facts.

    "t is Modernism that has led to people who claim to be Christians, yet deny the propositional truths contained in the Bible - not the other way around."

    Oh, I'd agree with you there. But it is also Modernism that claims to reduce the Bible to a set of propositional truths. Each of us knows this in our lives - the Passion narrative has power to move us; the theology of the atonement doesn't (in general!). The Bible is much more than the propositions it contains. And that "more" is just as important as the propositions - and it colours and shades the propositions to quite a large extent.

    "I challenge you to...demonstrate this alleged discontinuity."

    A) As with any other worldview, Modernism affects how we see truth.

    B) Modernism started roughly with the Enlightenment.

    C) After this, people understood the world differently to the way they did before.

    D) As a consequence, they viewed literature (including the Bible) differently.

    E) Therefore "inerrancy" now cannot be assumed to be the same as "inerrancy" before the Enlightenment - the ways of knowing and understandings of human knowledge are different.

    I am not meaning at all to suggest that there is a total discontinuity - but I do suggest that there is a sufficient change to cause serious pause when discussing something that deals precisely with methods of knowing, as inerrancy does.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 10/15/2006 06:00:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    "John, I wonder where you get the idea that “a degree of flexibility in interpreting the Scripture” is something “we must maintain”?"

    I said "we must both maintain". That extra word's rather important. I was talking to Hammer, and meant that he and I must both maintain this idea because of the positions we both espouse - neither of us wants to take the "plain" reading of Scripture at face value without carefully interpreting it to make sure that the reading that is "plain" to use is, in fact, the correct reading. That is, we both want to say that the "literal", "plain" reading of Scripture may be wrong - that we must have some flexibility in how we read and understand the Bible in order to get the correct meanings.

    Hope that's a little clearer for you.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger John, at 10/15/2006 06:08:00 PM  

  • John,
    All that work, and you still failed to do what I asked that mattered. I appreciate you going into detail about other "truths" (which I do get, and don't really disagree with), yet in the end you did not demonstrate the alleged Modernist discontinuity in how evangelicals view Scripture and how the church historically did. Simply laying out five assumptions is not a demonstration of any kind. It is five assumptions.

    Just like when you claim I said something like "propositional truth is the highest form", you need to demonstrate I actually said it. To claim there is this alleged discontinuity (just as you claim that evangelicals as a whole think the Bible is a collection of propositional truths) requires evidence, John. From the first post, I asked for Scriptural and historical evidence from those who disagree. You have yet to provide either for your positions.

    That's OK, if one is willing to admit that they break with historical Christianity, but I haven't seen that admission from you yet. Unless you are prepared to do that, demonstrate from history and Scripture how the evangelical doctrine of Scripture is so far removed from the historic view of Scripture - just like I demonstrated that it is perfectly aligned with post #3. If you can't show a collection of doctrines from evangelical scholars that are disconnected from the historical views of Scripture by the fathers through Chalcedon, you are making it up. You are attacking straw men.

    I think you are making it up. That's why I challenged you to show it. You will radically impact my thinking if you can do it.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 10/15/2006 07:41:00 PM  

  • [Hammer and I] both want to say that the "literal", "plain" reading of Scripture may be wrong - that we must have some flexibility in how we read and understand the Bible in order to get the correct meanings.

    If this were our first encounter, John, I would have certainly given you the benefit of the doubt; but it’s not, so I couldn’t. Our first substantive discussion occurred in response to this post. In the comment thread, you wrote the following:

    ”You still fail to address the issue, though. Even supposing that there is a single true meaning of the Bible (which I doubt not because I believe its meaning to be fluid but because I believe it to be deeper and more multilayered than that), how do we establish it?

    To deny any role for interpretation means that there is some objective Meaning to be sought and whose truth can be established definitively by logic.”


    Logic is not the enemy of God; it’s not merely the tool of the heathen. Logic is essential to exegesis; it assists in the understanding of what is actually being communicated by God through the Scriptures, which ought to be interpreted in the context in which it was intended, rather than in a “wooden literal” sense, which is what I would call flexibility.

    You pay lip-service now to “flexibility” and trying to “get the correct meanings” through interpretation, but don’t you really mean that the Bible is so “multilayered” that “a single true meaning of the Bible” can never be established?

    I’ve never claimed that the Bible is saying only one thing; but I am arguing that the message communicated in the Bible is comprehensible, albeit not without divine intervention, which we discussed a few posts ago.

    By Blogger Robert, at 10/15/2006 07:54:00 PM  

  • John,
    I forgot to note - I would wholeheartedly disagree with "The Bible is the record of God's self revelation." It is revelation itself, God-breather, and not merely a record. It is a specific and authoritative revelation given as a gift of grace.

    That kind of adds a completely different dimension than your first response, so I'm not sure where you would go from there.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 10/16/2006 11:53:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home