Monday, July 02, 2007

Inerrancy: is it worth redeeming?

Thanks to Chris (here, here, and here), Guy, and Bobby (here and here), the question of biblical inerrancy has been raised again in fresh ways. I confess that as a former adherent of inerrancy, I find this discussion very stimulating. I have written on the topic of bibliology in the past (here and here), and since my own evangelical heritage is rooted in the doctrine of Scripture, I feel compelled to offer some critical thoughts on inerrancy in order to guide this burgeoning conversation.

1. Is “inerrancy” biblical?

The term inerrancy is not found in Scripture, nor is it remotely clear that what has often in the past been defined as the doctrine of inerrancy is anywhere indicated in the Bible itself. Of course, perhaps the doctrine of inerrancy is like the doctrine of the Trinity: we do not find it in the Bible, but the doctrine is itself soteriologically necessary in order to protect what the Bible does affirm throughout—viz. that Jesus Christ achieved salvation for humanity. The question then presents itself: is the doctrine of inerrancy actually necessary? Do we need this doctrine in order to protect the other affirmations in the Bible? This, it seems to me, is the crucial question. Defenders of the doctrine must show that inerrancy—whatever they mean by this term—is a necessary doctrine. Critics of the doctrine believe it to be unnecessary for a variety of possible reasons. I, for one, think it is unnecessary simply because there are other ways of articulating the trustworthiness of Scripture. Moreover, the history of the doctrine demonstrates the shaky foundations upon which it rests.

2. Is “inerrancy” superfluous?

The term inerrancy is generally distinguished from infallibility in a way that makes the former term either superfluous or deeply problematic. For those who are trying to redeem the word, what exactly is being redeemed? Why is “infallibility” not sufficient? What is captured by “inerrancy” that is not captured by any other word? Furthermore, while most recognize the inherent problems with a negative term (not-errant vs. trustworthy), the recent attempts to redeem and maintain the doctrine of biblical inerrancy presuppose that we need to hold on to this antiquated, negative term rather than seek something more theologically appropriate.

To get a sense for what the term “inerrant” means in more traditional doctrines of Scripture, see the doctrinal statement for Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Ore. I’ve emphasized the most relevant statements:
We believe that God is revealed in creation, in the Holy Scriptures, and in Jesus Christ, the apex of revelation. The Scriptures, all sixty-six Old and New Testament books, are divinely authoritative in all they affirm. (Ps. 19:1-6; Heb. 1:1-2; John 17:17)

We believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture. This means the Holy Spirit dynamically superintended the verbal expressions of the human authors of Scripture so that the very thoughts God intended were accurately penned in the wording of the original manuscripts. (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 2:13)

We believe the Scripture is inerrant as to fact and infallibly trustworthy as to truth, and should be interpreted in context to ascertain each author’s intended meaning. Our present Bible continues to bear the final authoritative instruction of God for the church and the world. (John 10:35b; Ps. 19:7; Matt. 5:17-18)
The doctrinal statement for MBC demonstrates exactly why some think inerrancy is necessary while others think it is superfluous. The statement speaks of infallibility in relation to the Bible’s trustworthiness and truthfulness (with which I definitely agree) and of inerrancy in relation to the Bible’s factual character. No indication is given as to why the factual inerrancy of the Bible is of any importance whatsoever. If the Bible is truth and trustworthy, why does it need to be factually inerrant? The two are not mutually dependent upon each other; the creation story can be true without being factually correct in terms of how the universe historically and scientifically came into existence.

It seems that inerrancy is only necessary as a way of “protecting” (which is no protection at all) the Bible (1) from historical-critical methods and (2) from modern science. The first is the more important of the two and looms largest in the history of biblical interpretation. The formation of the doctrine of inerrancy can be traced directly back to the origin of modern historical-critical methods of interpretation. The second is connected with the former, in that modern interpretation is indebted to a greatly enlarged view of science and history. The assumption of many scholars is that what we know about the world today the authors of the Bible certainly did not know, and we cannot simply assume that they know better than we simply because they are “inspired” and writing a document that is both true and trustworthy. Modern science thus provides us with information about our world that we need not jettison in order to uphold the centrality of Scripture, but we also need not jettison the Bible in order to appropriately recognize the insights of science. In the end, where one comes down on the doctrine of inerrancy will depend upon your position vis-à-vis (1) and (2). If you think historical-critical interpretation and modern science both have importance and value for biblical scholarship (or scholarship in general), then the doctrine of inerrancy loses its importance. If, on the other hand, these are things to be feared and avoided, then a doctrine of inerrancy is certainly the historically favored way to “protect” the Bible.

There is quite a bit more in the MBC statement that deserves mention. In particular, I remain perplexed regarding the statement’s attempt to uphold dual authorship. I affirm the notion of God’s superintention of Scripture; with John Webster, I would locate this in a doctrine of providence. But things become dicey when the statement goes on to say that “the very thoughts God intended were accurately penned in the wording of the original manuscripts.” If this is all the statement said, things would be simpler; MBC would be advocating a kind of dictation theory of Scripture. But the statement goes on in the next paragraph to say that Scripture “should be interpreted in context to ascertain each author’s intended meaning.” Something doesn’t quite fit. The statement does not affirm merely dual authorship but dual intentionality: divine intention (which was accurately penned by the author’s) and human intention (which must be interpreted in context). Any attempt to escape the dilemma by saying that this doctrine only truly applies to the “original manuscripts” will find no sympathy from me. Nobody exegetes the original manuscripts; we exegete the Bible that we have in our hands today. MBC must be aware of this, since they speak of “our present Bible.” It seems to me that, on the face of things, we have a conflict between a divine intention that (apparently) determines even the “verbal expressions of the human authors” and human intentions that must be interpreted in context. Must we assume then that the human authors’ intentions are perfectly aligned with God’s intentions? Is this what was superintended by the Spirit? Or are the human intentions responsible for the aberrations and changes within the text’s history, and thus the point of biblical scholarship is to reach God’s intentions behind the human author’s intentions?

The statement seems to be attempting two things at once: (1) an affirmation that everything written in the Bible is “inerrant as to fact and infallibly trustworthy as to truth,” and (2) an affirmation that human authors were truly human and not simply puppets of God. Now according to my wife, who attended MBC, some professors went so far as to say that God wrote the Bible but used human writers in order to communicate; human authorship on this account borders on dictation. The Bible is thus a lot like Christ: a divine subject who assumes human flesh. Other professors, though, recognize that the Bible is indeed a human document, but are n
evertheless compelled to affirm that the Bible is still inerrant as to fact. We are still faced with a conflict. How are God’s intentions verbally communicated in the Bible through human authors and yet the human author’s own intentions are also communicated—ones that are not simply equatable with God’s intentions? How do we avoid collapsing human intentions into divine intentions? How does God not end up overwhelming human agency, thus effectively erasing the human presence from Scripture altogether? In other words, I fail to see how a doctrine of inerrancy like this prevents the logical collapse of dual authorship into divine authorship. I do not see any feasible way for human intentionality to remain human without either being itself superintended by Scripture (in which case it is not human) or being in conflict with God’s intentions.

What all doctrines of Scripture depend upon, in the end, is a robust doctrine of the concursus dei—a doctrine of God’s accompaniment of human action. Karl Barth devotes considerable attention to this doctrine in Church Dogmatics III/3 (§49). Here he outlines how God accompanies humanity as the Lord who affirms the autonomous actions of the human person by opening up space within the covenant of grace for humans to act freely. God precedes, accompanies, and follows human action as the Lord who loves in freedom. God does not override human action but opens up the “stage” (to use Balthasar’s metaphor from Theo-Drama) upon which humanity may act. This is how I would understand the superintention of the Spirit: not as a lightning bolt from heaven but as part of the divine accompanying, and thus not within the doctrine of Scripture but within the doctrine of providence. Any attempt to articulate a doctrine of inerrancy—old or new—must attend to the doctrine of the concursus dei.

3. A practical inerrancy?

As Multnomah Biblical Seminary professor Paul Louis Metzger pointed out in his after-dinner talk at the Karl Barth Conference, Karl Barth may have rejected inerrancy, but he was a “practical inerrantist” in the way he faithfully exegeted Scripture. I think this is quite right. George Hunsinger pointed out in the Q&A session at the end of the conference that just because you have the highest doctrine of Scripture possible does not mean you are actually doing anything with Scripture. Barth at least proved that he held the Bible in the highest possible regard as the supremely authoritative witness to Jesus Christ.

Along similar lines, Chris Tilling has quite nicely replaced a propositional doctrine of Scripture’s truthfulness with a practical doctrine: “I seek to explain what I mean by inerrancy through my daily practices and inner and communal posture towards scripture.” Here we have stated in written form what I think Barth achieved in his own life: an orthopraxis of inerrancy, one that affirms the truthfulness of Scripture not by setting down strict propositions but through faithful obedience to the Word of God in life and practice. I take this to be a positive development, but it raises the obvious question: will any traditional proponent of inerrancy find this notion sufficient? I suspect not, because a practical inerrancy offers no “protection” against the historical-critical method or modern science.

4. Final thoughts

4.1. What is the relation between inerrancy and the other doctrines of the faith? The question of the Bible has generally been isolated from the other loci, at least in discussions of inerrancy. What is its relation to other doctrines? I have noted the importance of providence above, but this is just a start. If inerrancy is as essential as many Christians seem to think it is, then it must have some bearing on the gospel or be implicated by the gospel in some sense. Is this in fact the case? Or can we achieve all that we need from a doctrine of the Bible in another less contentious manner?

4.2. Why is the relation between Scripture and history? This is a pressing question that needs to be addressed. The single best account I know of is by Hans Frei in The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative. How many inerrantists have read this? How many have engaged Barth’s own wrestling with history and Scripture in his own exegesis (which Frei upholds as a model of the best kind of biblical interpretation)? Moreover, what is gained by insisting so strongly on the historicity of the OT narratives (“inerrant as to fact”)?

4.3. Dynamic infallibilism? Bruce McCormack has a magnificent essay entitled “The Being of Holy Scripture Is in Becoming: Karl Barth in Conversation with American Evangelical Criticism” that was given at a Wheaton Theology Conference several years ago and can be found in Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics, ed. Vincent Bacote, Laura C. Miguelez, and Dennis L. Okholm (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 55-75. In terms of alternative proposals to inerrancy, I do not think there is a better option than McCormack’s “dynamic infallibilism,” which affirms Barth’s point that Holy Scripture “becomes” the Word of God through the dynamic agency of the Spirit in awakening us to the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ witnessed to through the biblical text. McCormack’s position affirms a christological analogy, in which Scripture is fully human and fully divine, but in a dynamic rather than static sense. This proposal holds the most promise for evangelicals, in that it stresses the personal presence of the triune God working in, with, and under the text, but never confined to the text as a static object. The Bible thus has its being-in-becoming, just as God’s being is in becoming.

4.4. What is the future of inerrancy? Inerrancy was born in the heyday of modern biblical scholarship, Marxist rhetoric against religion, evolutionary biology, Freudian undermining of faith, and the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversies. We live in a different age today. Is the doctrine of inerrancy worth redeeming? Is there still life left in this doctrine for future generations? Moreover, are we right to perpetuate a negative doctrine that simply defends against attacks? Should we not rather articulate a positive doctrine that explicates and conforms to the gospel of Jesus Christ? In the end, it seems to me that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is either unbiblical and theologically problematic or it is superfluous. So which is it? And is there a better way?

See also: “Literal or Liberal: Our only choices for interpreting the Bible?” at An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution. This is an excellent post that seeks to get beyond the false dichotomies that often plague conversations about the Bible.

65 comments:

charlescameron said...

I wonder if you might be interested in a series of posts I've started writing on inerrancy.
So far, there are four posts - a quotation from R K Harrison and three articles on "Berkouwer's Doctrine of Scripture".
I will be writing some more posts on this subject.
I hope these articles will add something helpful to your reflections on the subject of inerrancy.

R.O. Flyer said...

I commend you for taking the time to engage such a boring yet pressing topic.

As you point out, "we live in a different age today," but unfortunately belief in biblical inerrancy does not seem any less popular. Although places like Fuller have conceded some to historical-criticism, many evangelical seminaries and biblical scholars continue to maintain this magical view of Scripture. Apparently, then, for some, the doctrine of inerrancy is worth redeeming.

As you note, the notion of inerrancy is nowhere raised in the biblical material. This is, in fact, one of the great ironies of this tradition. 2 Tim. 3:16 is of course the common passage cited to support such a view, but notice how the passage says nothing about the inerrancy or infallibility of scripture. In fact, the passage does not seem at all interested in the question of whether all historical statements within scripture are accurate. Nor does it suggest that the scripture, being inspired, ought to be the controlling and dominating criterion for Christian thought. The passage simply says that scripture, being inspired, is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction...."

In my opinion, defenders of inerrancy are only interested in protecting the Bible because of severe theological insecurity. In the inerrantist view, if the Bible isn't without error then the whole faith is called into question. If the Bible isn't "God-breathed" then we might as well throw the whole thing out. It seems to me this has very little to do with faith in the person of Jesus Christ.

Halden said...

David, I agree with much if not most of what you say here.

I wonder, though, isn't the historicity of many of Scripture's narratives highly crucial to the Christian faith? Certainly the axehead floating and the resurrection are not on par with each other in any way, but it seems like there has to be a historical core to much of the OT narratives, and sometimes it seems like that core has to be be pretty big for the narratives to make theological sense.

And just for clarity's sake, I don't use the term 'historicity' here to mean 'in accordance with what can be discovered through empirical anaylsis of the past' (i.e. Barth's reason for not calling the resurrection "historical" even though he believed it happened in space and time). I use it simply to refer to things that happened in space and time.

Jason Goroncy said...

For what it's worth, I've posted on this here: http://ptforsythfiles.blogspot.com/2006/03/error-of-inerrancy.html

bobby grow said...

David,

nice article. Quickly, it's late, I think historical accuracy is very important to the veracity of the Christian faith . . . I'm not sure why you minimize its significance, are you guarding against something?

You also mention textual criticism, as if it presents a problem for the inerrantist. Why? I've studied textual criticism, and the data available actually reinforces the veracity of the scriptures.

I believe there are two authors, as you, and one intention of scripture. Holding to the idea that God's superintendence and man's agency function in a perichoresis of sorts (distinction relative to subjects, yet inseparability relative intention). One not diminishing or elevating the other. I'll have to read Barth further on this, and I've read Frei (but its been yrs ago now, and will have to refresh).

Ok, it's late, I'm tired . . . let me think some more, and maybe I'll have something more intelligent to say in the morning.

D.W. Congdon said...

Halden and Bobby,

I don't see that I was undermining the historicity of the Bible in any way. What I asked was: "what is gained by insisting so strongly on the historicity of the OT narratives (“inerrant as to fact”)?" I certainly am not denying the OT's historicity, but I am questioning the extreme insistence upon its historicity that we hear from inerrantists -- an insistence that makes it seem as if the gospel depends on their being a worldwide flood.

Is there something else that I wrote which is causing consternation? I don't see anything that should cause one to come to the conclusion that I doubt the Bible's historicity. I've written on this before. I certainly don't place as much by the Bible's historicity as many people do, but I also don't deny it.

Bobby, I'm also not quite sure that I would call my position "dual authorship." I find this term problematic. I affirm God's providential superintending of Scripture, but that's as far as I would go. I'm also wary of ascribing a single intention binding human and divine agency. That makes the Bible even more like the person of Christ, which I want to avoid. I'll have to think through some of these issues further.

D.W. Congdon said...

Bobby, the issue with textual criticism is not my issue, but it is historically what prompted the fabrication of inerrancy in the first place.

R.O. Flyer said...

Halden,

Why does there have to be a "historical core" to the OT narratives in order for them to make theological sense?

I have been contact with someone recently who concedes that Adam and Eve were probably not historical persons, but believes that all other figures and events in the OT were historical. For instance, he believes that Moses wrote the Pentateuch.

I understand the theological difficulties that arise with the notion that most of the Old Testament is simply fictional ideology, but I am not concerned with the historicity of the narratives in the OT. In fact, I'm not all that concerned with the historicity of the narratives of the NT. From a historical-critical perspective, it would surely be odd to say that the biblical witnesses are generally trusworthy or inerrant on historical issues. This is simply dishonest. I think Barth understood this well and that is why he understood the historical nature of the resurrection in the way you point out Halden.

Halden said...

David,

Ok, that clarifies things well. I'm in agreement about the 'insistent hanging-on' mentality that comes with inerrancy.

Ry,

I wasn't really referring to the Adam and Eve narrative, because I don't think, literarily speaking that that story is meant to be taken as a historical treatise. What I mean to say is that in regard to the biblical narratives which self-consciously present themselves as history, we have a stake, to one degree or another in their relative historicity.

What is central is a thorough literary-theological reading of Scripture that is extremely genre-sensitive. I hope that clarifies things. For example, I don't have a problem with Job perhaps being fiction, if a thorough literary study of that book yeilds such an understanding. I don't really have my mind made up about that particular issue, and I don't care that much. However, when Israel's whole identity as a people is "God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand", I think that if that didn't happen in real time, then Israel's faith has some explaining to do. Because that theological claim definitely implicates the historical.

Shane said...

Hi guys, I'd like to commend both David and the other contributors to this debate for its clarity and cordiality--two factors all so often lacking in discussions of this difficult topic.

I would, however, like to make a few suggestions to broaden the scope of (an already admittedly wide-ranging) discussion.

First, a problem for the inerrantists. Affirming the Bible to be inerrant is absolutely meaningless unless one also elucidates criteria as to what would count as an 'error'. When the Bible speaks of the 'dome' of the sky in Genesis and the Psalms this presumably should not count as an error regarding a question of fact. However, if the Bible says that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead and he was not, that should count as an error. These are two extremes, but there are a large number of cases which fall between them. The Psalms speak of the sun and the moon as hostile demonic entities ("Sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night", etc.). Should this commit us to believing that in fact this is the case? The question is how to separate the cases?

My suggestion is to rely on natural science and philosophy to help us and then reinterpret the Bible in the light of the things it proves. Not uncritically--as if Bultmann's lightbulb proves the resurrection false or somesuch nonsense--because there are some qualifications I must make which space does not permit here. But, I take it that this will not be an attractive line of argument for the Biblical Inerrantist because of its implications for Creationism (and probably angelology and demonology and all sorts of other things too). Nor do I imagine that it will suit my Barthian friends who will be tempted to read it as natural theology in a labcoat. Nevertheless the facts are that we feel the need to take some parts of the Bible in dead earnest and we do not feel that need for other parts. This deserves closer examination.

Second, is the probably inerrantist response to the dilemma I proposed above, namely an investigation into the concept of literary genre. "Surely," the inerrantist will say, "the fact that the Psalms are poetry and the Gospels something closer to biography or history will show us which parts of the Bible we are to take in earnest and which we are to interpret poetically or symbolically."

I find this response dubious for a couple of reasons. First, appealing to literary genre presupposes that we know what the literary genres of antiquity in fact were and it isn't clear to me that we do. Obviously we can investigation Tacitus and Herodotus to see what their conception of history was, but how would we know what a jewish peasant writing in the first century in a foreign language thought of the literary conventions of his time. Appeal to genre is also tacitly an appeal to the intentions of the author, which is problematic. Moreover, it also presupposes that each and every text falls under some category--which seems to me to be difficult to maintain precisely because authors sometimes break conventions. If we adopt the idea that there are two authors of the text, one of whom is God, then the idea of an appeal to intentions goes from problematic to hopeless, I think.

Third, I would like to register some discomfort with the idea that what the Bible gives us is not propositions but narratives in which we find a form of life we can live our way into or something of that sort. Perhaps I just have Wittgenstein on the brain at the moment but this strikes me as the sort of thing one would say in the wake of Wittgenstein. (Whether Wittgenstein would say it himself I have no idea.) Doubtless there is something helpful enclosed in this idea--"meaning" is also a social phenomenon and there is much more to language than "If p, then q; not-q; ergo not-p." However, I think we should resist the idea that narrative gets rid of propositions. I think it is crucial to the faith that the proposition:

"God is three persons in one substance"

be true and that it be derived somehow from the Bible. This is not to say that there is something like a "Metaphysics of the Bible"--I think that it is a category mistake to say that there is a metaphysics in the Bible. (This represents a change in my earlier views.) But ordinary language like the language in the Bible does seem to me to carry ontological commitments with it. For instance, a very non-metaphysical story about God's dealings with mankind seems to carry the ontological commitment that there is such a person as God.

What we need then is a way of saying which ontological commitments faithfulness to scripture forces us to endorse and which ontological commitments we should allow science and so forth to revise. I fall down on the side of wanting to allow science to revise biblical cosmology, but not to allow it to revise the resurrection.

It seems to me then that the hermeneutical distress which theology inherits as its birthright has to read the Bible and the metaphysicians and the scientists and somehow read them together. Teasing out the ways in which they are to be read together, of course, is the trick. Scientism and fundamentalism are both to be avoided, since they make the relation flatly one-sided in one direction or the other but finding a principled middle position between the two is quite difficult.

Shane said...

(In before the catholics come and tell us we need an infallible magisterium to authoritatively interpret for us.)

R.O. Flyer said...

Halden,

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of archaelogical evidence for the biblical claim that "God brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand."

Shane,
You make some great points, here.

Your skepticism regarding our knowledge of how to read literary-genres in the Bible is certainly legitimate, but perhaps a bit overdrawn. I think that literary criticism is a helpful and necessary tool for interpretation. Indeed, many times we find ourselves in situations where how the text ought to be read is not at all clear, but certainly this is not always the case.

I agree that the biblical material ought to be read with modern science in mind. However, I think that problems arise when we focus on reading the biblical material in light of modern science. For instance, if we reject, ignore, or demythologize apocalyptic imagery, angels, and demons, etc. simply because they reflect a pre-scientific worldview, then I think we miss out on the power and significance of these things (I think here of Walter Wink).

Regarding your last point,

"I would like to register some discomfort with the idea that what the Bible gives us is not propositions but narratives in which we find a form of life we can live our way into or something of that sort...I think we should resist the idea that narrative gets rid of propositions. I think it is crucial to the faith that the proposition:
'God is three persons in one substance.'"

Indeed, this proposition is crucial to the faith but it cannot be understood apart from the narrative. I would say that the biblical narrative does a better job making this point that the proposition does, though it nowhere says this explicitly.

D.W. Congdon said...

Great comment, Shane! I think Barth's theology is actually quite open to modern science. Barth's concern is not with external sources of knowledge, but rather with the assumption that these are sources of knowledge of God. As aids in interpreting Scripture and clarifying our understanding of the world, Barth is quite accepting and generous towards them. Unlike R.O., which violently rejects anything that is not explicitly related to the gospel, Barth's covenantal ontology affirms and opens up a space for diverse voices, including those of philosophy and modern science. But Barth is insistent upon allowing the gospel to appropriate these other voices, rather than allowing these other sources of knowledge to appropriate and manipulate the gospel.

The challenge that the inerrantist will raise against what you've written is that you (and I) are being arbitrary in upholding the historicity of the resurrection and the non-historicity of the Garden of Eden. Their response will be that they are being consistent and we are being arbitrary and selective based on our modern (read: non-Christian) presuppositions. This is a serious objection, and I have to at least respect the concern for consistency. Of course, it rests upon a very naive view of the Bible (as if it is a wholly consistent text itself) and an a priori rejection of ambiguity and literary diversity within the text. It also fails to articulate the gospel, i.e., what should be accorded special significance within the biblical text. In other words, the fundamentalist objection seems to make the Bible itself the gospel rather than the person of Jesus Christ. This is the biggest problem for me.

Halden said...

According to who, Ry? I don't read the conservative evangelical stuff on these kinds of issues, so don't think it's them talking, here. Phrases like "archeological evidence" are just thrown around as if there is a settled consensus about a form of scientific inquiry that is extremely imprecise, provisional, and controversial. This simply isn't the case.

I've even read historial-critical approaches, like Paul Hanson's, which, while not taking the Exodus narrative at face value, finds plenty of a historical core to those narratives.

Ultimately, I oppose a de-historicizing that creates a dualism between God's action and the world. Lose God's real involvement with history in Israel and Jesus and you lose the gospel of God as a liberator of the oppressed (an image of God that I know is dear to your heart).

R.O. Flyer said...

I also oppose "a de-historicizing that creates a dualism between God's action and the world." I fully recognize the implications of a God who is not really involved in the history of Israel and Jesus. I think you have taken my comment a bit too far. My point is that the historicity of the "historical core" of the OT and of the whole Bible has been seriously challenged. I don't think that we need prepare defenses for the historicity of Exodus. I believe that God brought Israel out of Egypt just as I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, but these things cannot be defended from a scientific, archaelogical, or historical-critical perspective; in my opinion, only the life of the church can witness to these events (as having happened in space and time).

Halden said...

Oh, I certainly agree that we cannot "proove" the historical claims of our faith on the basis of scientific research or archeological evidence.

Indeed, only the life of the church can witness to these events. If that is all you were saying then I totally agree.

R.O. Flyer said...

The whole problem with the inerrantist position is that it is concerned with defending that the Bible historically without error. As a result, you get conservative biblical scholars who despite the evidence, attempt to harmonize the Bible so that it is accurate on every historical point. When one needs to apply historical-critical methods in order to make some sort of apology for the "historical core" of the Christian faith, this, to me anyway, simply reflects a deep insecurity in the gospel.

Halden said...

I don't care about making defenses for the Bible, generally, although I do think that some defenses are quite appropriate (hell, Paul even said he was appointed for the defense of the gospel).

I certainly have no interest in subjecting the biblical narrative to the canons of historical research, whatever they happen to be at the time. All I care about is that the church proclaim and embody the story of God in Israel and Jesus as true. So I would certainly say that I believe the Exodus was a real event that took place in space and time, though I would not contend that this can be proven or disproven by historical or archeological research.

Anonymous said...

Just a note on a disturbing correlation. The main problem with reformulating inerrancy is that only seminarians and professional theologians actively promulgate such stuff. Many pastors disagree or are unable to share honestly with their congregations. When they do, you get the "mainline collapse" which is largely attributable to a lack of a compelling account of biblical authority.

Most lay people and non-seminary trained theologians (rightly or wrongly) are simply not inspired by "living into a (largely fictional) narrative". And if we are dependent on the "life of the church" to witness to truth of these narratives, then I think again you leave most folks cold. Have you been to church lately? Most people have little faith in the institution.

For most, I'm afraid, it is the book or nothing. Word about the good book just hasn't gotten around yet, but evangelicals are slowing letting go. When they do, we'll look a lot more like Europe I'm afraid.

I also worry about how the use of the "overall narrative" of Scripture seems to just facilitate the projection of a certain politics onto the Scriptures. The end result is something unrecognizable to the vast majority of the non-trained laity. This is particularly so when the adherents of the new view seem so much more comfortable in secondary sources as opposed to the Scriptures. Alienate people from their bibles and you might as well call the whole thing off.

Halden said...

I don't think anyone here is questioning the authority of the Bible.

As for "fictional narratives", everybody believes that the Bible is full of those unless you think that there actually was a specific woman who found her lost coin, or a son that historically demanded his father giving him his inheritance early so he could go and blow it in a foriegn country. We don't have a problem living into those "fictional narratives" because they still communicate profound truth.

And besides, I don't think anyone is really denying that the story that the Bible tells happened, only that we can't use scientific and rational method to prove that, thereby giving us an unassailably secure faith based on a book. We can't demand greater certainty for our faith than Jesus had going to the cross. We live ultimately by trust, not by certainty.

R.O. Flyer said...

I am curious to know what you mean by "I also worry about how the use of the "overall narrative" of Scripture seems to just facilitate the projection of a certain politics onto the Scriptures."

I don't think anyone is saying that we should have faith in the institution we call church. I also don't think anyone is saying that the church will always faithfully embody the gospel. But the church is still called to proclaim and witness to the gospel even though it undoubtedly has failures. We are called to be the "salt of the earth." In my opinion, the lack of a compelling position on biblical authority, though problematic, is not among the central reasons why the church is out of touch with how to proclaim and witness to the gospel.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think anyone here is questioning the authority of the Bible."

For you that is a fine distinction, but most don't make it. Errors=no ultimate authority in roughly 97% of church goers minds.

"We don't have a problem living into those "fictional narratives" because they still communicate profound truth."

But Halden, the reason people "live into" these tales is because they believe Christ actually said these tales as instruction. If someone told them the gospel account of such tales is pure fiction (i.e. Jesus never said them, they are the product of one the evangelists) then no one is interested in "living into them" any longer. The majority of "historical errors" are not at the margins or explicable by appeals to genre in any case.

"I don't think anyone is really denying that the story that the Bible tells happened"

Of course many scholars are. This is the problem with believing in "the overall narrative". 1) It is selective: generally Exodus +God of the poor+resurrection. In fact it becomes so generalized it soon tends to float free from Scripture and ignores much(the majority) of it.

But more importantly 2) The story is put together from many independent parts. It is a literary construction. The "proto-history" is a clear non-historical piece by every sane person's measure. Abraham's God was not originally the God Moses represented. The cult of Yahweh was not the cult of El. Isaac and Jacob were likely separate patriarchs. Israel was not monotheistic originally. The Law is from all over the place not rooted in the Exodus but the monarchy. The conquest never happened (Thank God!). The account of the monarchy has its moments of veracity, but then no one cares about that portion of Scripture. The God of Moses and the Jerusalem cult were merged. And on it goes... The very concept of the "one coherent story the bible tells" is a fiction (no matter how accurate any part is). "Living into the narrative" is therefore living into an obviously ancient politically motivated fictionalized history.

No amount of church witness will solve these historical-critical issues. God can't be vindicated in any way it seems if the story is rooted in unrelated peoples tales of their unrelated gods. If they have all been brought together to witness to the "one true God" then we are acknowledging that the overall story is not historical in its merged portrayal of them. The Bible then becomes not revelation but the man-made myth that embodies the religious knowledge gained by (some) humans in their quest for God.

That's the way I see it anyway.

D.W. Congdon said...

Anonymous,

I understand the point you are trying to make, but I think it's flawed on a number of levels. First, no one is inspired by a proposition; we don't live differently because our doctrinal statement says something more profound than "their" doctrinal statement. Even if the biblical narrative does not itself shape a particular kind of existence, it certainly has a better shot at it than a proposition. I certainly don't any noticeable improvement in ecclesial-communal life among conservative evangelicals just because they hold to inerrancy.

Also, do you really think that judging certain OT stories to be mythological is the cause of a European "Gottesvergessenheit" (God-forgetfulness)? That is, do you really think one's rootedness in the Bible depends upon one's position on the historicity of the flood narrative? You seem to imply that if we take certain stories in the OT to be "non-historical" we are emptying the biblical narrative of any existential significance. And just to set the record straight, I don't think the Bible is "largely fictional," if by that we mean largely un-true. Would you still find it problematic if I said that we need "to live into the truthful narrative of Scripture"? Or is the only option for a fruitful, vibrant Christianity: "living into a literal and absolutely historical narrative"?

You also wrote: "For most, I'm afraid, it is the book or nothing. Word about the good book just hasn't gotten around yet, but evangelicals are slowing letting go. When they do, we'll look a lot more like Europe I'm afraid."

I think that, if you are right, we are in deep trouble. If it is the book or nothing, then the decision has already been made: nothing. Because unless we have Christ, we have nothing at all. If we hold on to the Bible until our face turns blue but do so at the expense of Christ, our faith is empty. If we have the highest doctrine of Scripture around, yet lack a rootedness in the gospel of grace, our churches will die. If take every word of the Bible seriously but don't take the triune God seriously, then our Bibles might as well be full of blank pages (cf. 1 Cor. 11). For me, the moment evangelicals think their faith depends upon the Bible, they have already thrown it all away. Christian faith does not rest upon Scripture; it rests upon Jesus Christ. Granted, the two are not mutually exclusive, but the choice is not "the book or nothing." It is Christ or nothing.

bobby grow said...

Let me state what I believe as a Full Inerrantist defined by Millard Erickson:

2. Full inerrancy also holds that the Bible is completely true. While the Bible does not primarily aim to give scientific and historical data, such scientific and historical assertions as it does make are fully true. There is no essential difference between this position and absolute inerrancy in terms of their view of the religious/theological/spiritual message. The understanding of the scientific and historical references is quite different, however. Full inerrancy regards these references as phenomenal; that is, they are reported the way they appear to the human eye. They are not necessarily exact; rather, they are popular descriptions, often involving general references or approximations. Yet they are correct. What they teach is essentially correct in the way they teach it.

I don't see how this definition is at odds with anything anyone has communicated on this thread thus far.

It also seems ironic to me. Those here who argue that inerrancy is just a defence mechanism . . . similarly engage in creating a defence mechanism for scripture by creating its own category--thus vouchsafing it from higher (historical) critical critique. It also appears to take an anti-realist epistemology seriously, that denies the correspondence theory of truth . . . until of course it comes to the kergyma and the resurrection. David anticipated this response well, in my mind this is an arbitrary methodology and "inconsistent".

I think liteary analysis, genre analysis, etc. are all very important to understanding the message of the text . . . I just think it is naive to de-historicize the text in order to do this; or at least it reflects the epistemology I noted above.

Ultimately, I do think that the language of "inerrancy" is negative and was formed as apologetic during a particular time in history . . . but I don't think it is necessary to jettison this language per se. My problem here is more conceptual than linguistic. In other words, for me inerrancy symbolizes an "realist" epistemology that better explains reality than the alternatives I see many of you suggesting. I guess I am a true "fundie", and you Princeton guys should know more about this than me, given your heritage (the Princetonians, Warfield, etc.).

In Christ

D.W. Congdon said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for your second comment. That helps clarify things significantly. A couple things:

First, what we need more than ever (as I mentioned in my original post) is a doctrine of divine providence. If our doctrine of providence is developed enough, then we can see the political, social, and religious development of the Bible not as a sign of its fictional nature but rather as God's providential ordering and accompanying of the scriptures to its present form. We can rest confident that God is acting before, during, and after the editing and arranging of these texts. Part of the problem is that we think only the original documents are truly authoritative, but why make this assumption? Certainly, the Jewish interpreters and early Christians never held to this view. What we need to communicate in churches today is the insistence that God is at work in this text, that the "errors" and changes throughout history are part of God's providential superintention of the text. We can be confident that God is the Lord over this text, just as God is Lord over our lives and the world.

Second, I think you are actually overgeneralizing others in your cariacture of the "biblical narrative." Not all events in the Bible are of equal importance. The two most important events are (1) the Exodus from Egypt and (2) the Cross/Resurrection. The first is the liberation of Israel and the second is the liberation of humanity. Together they form the two foci around which the rest of the Bible is oriented. Together they constitute the heart of the gospel: the God who liberated Israel is the God who liberated humanity in Jesus Christ and who will come again to consummate the work of redemption. The rest of the narrative must fit into this overarching framework.

Are we oversimplifying the Bible when we focus on these events? In a way, but that's nothing new. The Christian church from the very beginning simplified things in this way. As Paul himself said, he preaches Christ and him crucified. Is this an oversimplification? Yes ... and no. On one hand, the Christ-event is not the whole story; but on the other hand, it is! We may simplify some things, but as long as we have the gospel, we have everything.

R.O. Flyer said...

bobby grow, I don't think anyone is "vouchsafing" the biblical material "from higher (historical) critical critique." At least I am certainly not. The truth of the matter is that historical-criticism simply cannot speak to all matters. It is not really a matter of consistency. The resurrection of Jesus is simply not historically verifiable, so there is no use defending its historicity by an appeal to inerrancy or through the use of an argument based on historical-critical analysis.

D.W. Congdon said...

By the way, I noticed that my comments regarding the difference between the Bible and the person of Christ might be misleading, so I've added section 4.3 to my original post highlighting Bruce McCormack's position with which I am in full agreement. I heartily recommend his essay to everyone.

bobby grow said...

RO Flyer said:

. . . The resurrection of Jesus is simply not historically verifiable, so there is no use defending its historicity by an appeal to inerrancy or through the use of an argument based on historical-critical analysis.

I think you overstate, RO. The resurrection is indeed "historically" verifiable, given eyewitness account (existence of the church), etc. inductively speaking. It's not emprically verifiable, with that I would agree . . . but again I see history and science as distinct disciplines (of course with some over-lap, i.e. archaeology). If the resurrection is not a historically viable, then neither is the Christian faith (at least this is how the Apostle Paul argues I Cor 15).

It's almost as if the church is able to "create" truth ex nihilo . . .and that if we just believe and assert enough that the resurrection did happen, then it did, apart from any necessary antecedent reality--according to your view.

Or maybe your saying that the questions historical critical analysis presents are the wrong questions, thus using scripture to answer those questions is mis-guided. Is that all you're saying?

D.W. Congdon said...

Bobby,

The problem, as I have articulated to you already, is that the "full inerrancy" position places all the emphasis on the text and little if any emphasis upon the dynamic workings of the triune God in and through this text. I want to shift the focus away from the words on the page to the reality which the words attest -- viz. Jesus Christ as the self-revelation of God. This is not anti-realist but rather critically realist. I can affirm the reality of God's revelation while also critically analyzing the biblical literature. While I wish to distinguish these two realities, I think inerrancy wants to collapse them.

D.W. Congdon said...

Or maybe your saying that the questions historical critical analysis presents are the wrong questions, thus using scripture to answer those questions is mis-guided. Is that all you're saying?

This is certainly something that R.O and I (and others) wish to affirm. So on this point I think we are in agreement.

But there is more. While the church does not "create" truth, I certainly do not want to say that the Bible is some sort of receptacle that "contains" truth. The Bible itself isn't the truth. Jesus Christ is "the way and the truth and the life." We must remember that the Bible is not the source of our faith; the triune God in Jesus Christ is. And the only reason the Bible is "living and active" is because God is living active. Thus, the church "lives into the truth" of Scripture in the present tense. The gospel takes on fresh forms in the here and now of the church; it is not encased within the words of the Bible.

There does seem to be a tendency toward eliminating faith and mystery in your account, Bobby (or maybe in the inerrantist account, to be more fair). I would like to see less concern about trying to "fix" and "nail down" the truth of the Bible and more willingness to humble submit to the God of all truth and the Lord over us and the Bible.

bobby grow said...

David,

I realize what you're emphasizing relative to the text, witness, and Christ . . . and I am sympathetic. I guess the rub and reticence for me, is how you, or "neo-orthodoxites", in general, keep the Bible as the "Unique-Special-Authoritative" Witness to Christ versus church tradition, homilies, and the trees. Could you help me understand this?

Also, what I sense, and maybe I'm wrong, is that you believe there are historical/scientific errors in the Bible; and that by positing a framework that decentralizes the "words in the text" of the Bible allows you to hold onto the kergyma, while at the same time nodding the head to higher critics--and saying, "so what".

Halden said...

Anon,

A few little points.

First, there simply ARE some errors in the Bible. When Jesus sent out his disciples did he tell them to take nothing but a staff (Mk. 6:8), or not even a staff (Matt. 10:10)? Now, this discrepancy seems pretty inoccuous and I don't care one fig about resolving it. But, this and other examples could easily be produced. Hence, I don't think that Authority=No errors is in any way tenable.

Second, I'm not talking about every whackjob scholar out there that thinks Jesus was a zealot and got eaten by dogs, I'm talking about what people are saying in this conversation. Confusing the issue by citing liberal boogeymen is just a smoke screen that obscures THIS discussion.

Third, no one here is saying that the OT stories are fictions, just questioning if the historical tools of analysis can "proove" their veracity. I don't want to speak for the other participants in this discussion, but for me, what is imporant about biblical study is to be as literarily sensitive as possible. Certainly, as Shane says, genre is a tricky thing, but I don't think its a problematic as he does. The important thing in biblical study is to see how the Triune God is speaking through Scripture, about what he has done, what is doing and will do in the world. That requires careful attention to the different literary nuances with which God speaks in the many and varied parts of the Bible.

bobby grow said...

Anon,

I obviously disagree with Halden, and would say there ARE NOT errors in the Bible. But of course this is more of a discussion about a philosophy of textual criticism than dogmatics . . . although they are inter-related.

Halden said...

I don't know how the "errors" get more cut and dry than the one I posted, Bobby. My problem, though in saying that is not with the Bible, but with our definitions of what it must mean for the Bible to be true. Matthew and Mark record the same statement of Jesus, but the record him saying mutually exclusive things (he can't have said both to take a staff and not take a staff). So which one is it? One of them has to be wrong.

These are the kinds of questions that the innerrantist is stuck with, when obviously the question about whether or not the disciples are suppsed to take a staff with them on this particular journey is not imporant in the least to the aim of Matthew or Mark.

But how would you answer this question, since you're an innerrantist? And if you say the word "autographs", I'll shoot you for copping out, pacifist though I be. ;o)

bobby grow said...

Halden,

I'll have to get back to you on resolving that issue for you. I'll have to dig up my "Hard Sayings of the Bible" (hehe). I could come up with a few of my own, but I won't cause that would just create more work for me (time constraints and all). Surely you're aware of variant readings, and such, I'll have to check that out. I knew you weren't a pacifist at heart ;).

Halden said...

You need not really bother. My point is that trying to figure out how these two Scriptures do or don't conflict distracts us from actually striving to engage these texts on thier own terms, or even more centrally from striving to hear how the Triune God may be speaking through them. And that is the point of the Scriptures.

bobby grow said...

Halden,

I could say that reading Barth distracts us from engaging the trinitarian voice of God in the text as well; I suppose this is just a matter of priority. But thanks for lessening my homework load ;).

I suppose on one hand, relative to finding denoument to passages like the ones you highlight, is the "job" for the apologist; while the other engaging the text on their own terms is the job of the exegete (recognizing of course the reality of both inter and intra textuality).

And like I said before, inerrancy is probably better placed under the sub-set category of theology: apologetics. Instead of the subset known as bibliology.

Halden said...

I suppose you could say that about Barth, but Barth's whole project was to call people to attend to the voice of the Triune God in Scripture bearing witness to Jesus Christ, so I don't think you'd have much a case there.

Inerrancy, on the other hand tells us to look at biblical texts in a certain way that makes them the object of study, rather the witnesses which point away from themselves to Christ. Scriptures are ultimately to be looked through, not at.

Anonymous said...

Halden, it seems to me you are indistinguishable from an inerrantist because you still are treating the errors as on the margins and not in some "core". As I pointed out the question is not over the change of an irrelevant word or event, but whether substantial portions of the narrative are fabrications (not to denigrate their spiritual value at all for my part). Your quibbling over empiricism and historical verifiability allows you to dismiss as "looney liberals" those who can show rather huge problems with the historicity of the text. I'm talking standard texts. This reminds me of creation-science methodology to be honest.

David:

I think that "Exodus and resurrection" is not enough for the narrative. Paul wants the God of "Abraham" to be shown faithful. He seems to have little time for the Exodus much less Sinai (which = slavery in Gal 4).

But in any case the Exodus is only valuable as faithfulness to Abraham. The original Exodus event would of been of a small group not related to Abraham's group or promises. The theological value of this groups religion would be dubious especially as 'liberation' (since Yahweh seems indifferent to the Egyptian poor and Canaanite poor) if it had not been put in the narrative as a continuation of Abraham's privilege. He would have been a lesser member of a pantheon we cared little for. Every people had a particular event they could attribute to divine beneficence against a greater power.

None of these were creators. Or even both of these Gods were part of an arrangement where another God did the creating. The details are not complete but we know that Israel's religion did not develop the way it is depicted (the overall narrative). [Similar to evolution, we don't know all the details, but we know it didn't happen THAT way.]

I think we have to go the route you suggest David and say we meet Christ through this inspired mostly fictionalized tale. But I think this comes down to often choosing a way of life and calling it 'liberating' and thus Biblical. But that is also a religion that obviously not many want to participate in. Too intellectual and aesthetic, linked to a 'bookish' upper middle class.

I have to run. I hope that made sense. I'll be back after the Fourth to read replies.

bobby grow said...

Halden said:

. . . Scriptures are ultimately to be looked through, not at.

No doubt, of course you have to look "at" them in order to look "through them"--much like the spectacles I have on my face everyday. I'm not really arguing for not reading Barth . . . it was more of an anecdotal comment, which most of this dialogue is reducing to at this point.

Thank you for the interaction all, I'm not neo-orthodox, and probably will never be. But I do think evangelicals do have things to learn from Barth and neo-orthodoxy, esp. when talking about the subjective instrumentality of the scriptures.

I hope David will address my question on how Barthians (for lack of a better term) make scripture a unique special witness to Christ vs. other so called witnesses [?].

off to work, be back later.

R.O. Flyer said...

bobby, I never said the resurrection wasn't historically viable. I said it wasn't historically verifiable nor is it empirically verifiable. From the perspective of historical-criticism the so-called eyewitnesses (which we don't really have - I'm unconvinced by Bauckhaum and others) aren't historically reliable texts! What I am arguing is that we should feel OK about that fact, just like we should feel OK about the fact that there are errors as Halden has pointed out. Why is that such a big deal? In my opinion, the risen-ness of Jesus is something revealed to us by the Triune God, not by the arguments of conservative biblical scholars and their apologies for the historicity of the resurrection.

D.W. Congdon said...

Anon,

I'm honestly quite confused about your position. I thought at first you were a hardcore inerrantist, but now it sounds like you are a radical liberal. Halden is quite clearly no inerrantist, since he thinks that the Bible has historical errors. Just because he doesn't think these are problems for the truthfulness of Scripture does not keep him in the inerrantist camp. Trust me, ask an inerrantist and they'd quickly revoke his membership! Halden is just a thinking evangelical who realizes the Bible is both trustworthy and full of contradictions and historical problems.

From what I can gather, it seems that you are unable to acknowledge this both-and; all you see is either-or: either the Bible is entirely without error (or at least the errors are marginalized) or the Bible is utterly untrustworthy. Both fundies and liberals/atheists make the same false dichotomy. Either the Bible is entirely and literally correct or it is a piece of fictional mumbo-jumbo. I thought at first you were defending the fundie side, but now it seems as if you are arguing for the liberal side. But both groups are fundamentally mistaken, and Barth is just one theologian who shows us a better way. Barth is able, like Halden, to say both-and: the Bible is both full of historical errors and entirely trustworthy and authoritative. Whenever we move from both-and to either-or, we are falling for the fundamentalist/atheist rhetoric that would have us see things in only blacks and whites. This is both antithetical to the gospel and a distortion of Scripture.

As for your comments about the biblical narrative, I never said that the exodus event and Christ event are the only parts of the story. What I said is that these form the constitutive "core" of the Bible. Without the exodus, you have no OT; without the resurrection, you have no NT. You can have all the other stories (even Abraham), but if you don't have God delivering Israel, there is no Bible. If you don't have God delivering humanity in Jesus, you have no Bible.

What connects Abraham, Exodus, Moses, and Christ (as well as all the rest of Scripture) is the covenant. The narrative of the Bible is the narrative of the covenant. I recommend that you read my posts in my "Spirit of the Lord" series, particularly §10.1 on the covenant. The category of the covenant is definitive for the biblical narrative, and its key dramatic moments are found in the exodus and in the death and resurrection of Christ. Without these, the covenant is null and void. Certainly, the Abrahamic account is important (as Paul's epistles demonstrate), but Paul is only able to make use of Abraham over against Sinai on the basis of what Christ accomplished.

So again we come back to these pivotal moments in the history of God's people. What is the basis for the Psalmist's hope? The Exodus. What is the event that Yahweh calls Israel to remember through its history? The Exodus. Similarly, Paul tells us to remember Christ crucified and risen. Jesus himself says to eat and drink "in remembrance of me."

To restate, I do not see any reduction in making these two events more central than the others. Of course, only talking about exodus and resurrection is not sufficient. I never said that we should only talk about these and discard the rest. But not every event in the Bible is of equal importance. As faithful readers of Scripture, we need to be able to recognize what is of central and definitive significance, and what is not; and we must, as faithful readers, interpret the latter in light of the former.

D.W. Congdon said...

Bobby,

I don't think I can do a better job than Barth himself in Church Dogmatics I/1 (§4). But since I assume you don't have time at the moment to read this important, I'll say a few things.

First, read my post from the "Heresies" series if you haven't already.

Second, Barth's "threefold Word of God" ascribes the designation revelation to Jesus Christ alone not out of any desire to lessen the authority and centrality of Holy Scripture. He does so out of the prior conviction that God alone reveals God. Since the Bible is not God, and since Jesus Christ is (as the second person of the Trinity), we must speak of Christ as the revelation of God. Revelation is personal, not propositional; it is christological, not anthropological or textual. Barth does not ascribe revelation to God in order to move any authority away from Scripture; he does so in order to remember that the Bible does not act, but only God does. Revelation is a dynamic verb, not a static noun. And only persons can act, not books. Only God reveals; the Bible does not itself actively reveal God. If the Bible is the Word of God, it is only because the triune God acts in and through it to bring the reader into an existential encounter with God. Barth's concern is with the acting, loving, revealing, gracious God, and out of this prior conviction he recognizes that God has ordained this particular text to be the creaturely bearer of God's self-communicative presence in the community of faith.

Third, Barth's "threefold Word of God" does not emphasize Christ as the self-revelation of God at the expense of recognizing Holy Scripture as the sole authoritative witness to revelation. How does Barth maintain Scripture's importance? Well, in his threefold Word of God, he speaks of them as existing in a kind of perichoretic unity. The three "Words" of God mirror the three Persons of the Trinity. There is a kind of analogy here. Just as the Father necessitates the Son and the Spirit, so too the Word of God incarnate necessitates the Word of God written and Word of God proclaimed. The three Words of God are mutually dependent upon one another and necessitate each other. You do not have one without the other two. With this understanding in place, there is no possibility for lessening the sole authority of Scripture. In fact, if nothing else (and this is what is really great), Barth's doctrine of Scripture is just as high if not higher than that of inerrantists. Barth makes the Bible a constitutive part of the Word of God that is properly Jesus Christ but also overflows into preaching. His doctrine also elevates preaching into a highly privileged position within the life of the church. Certainly, the stress falls upon Jesus as the definitive and constitutive center of the Word of God, but Scripture is made a necessary consequence of Christ's self-revealing reality. I really cannot think of a better way to honor the authority of Scripture while also recognizing Jesus Christ as the basis for our faith as the Son of God incarnate who reveals God -- but in whose revealing action summons and ordains Scripture to be what John Webster calls the "sanctified creaturely auxiliary of the communicative presence of God."

JohnLDrury said...

David,

Thanks for this thoughtful post. One thought: I am not sure that we can speak of inerrancy as a emerging exclusively as a reactionary doctrine in the modern period. Althought that is certainly when it got developed in greater detail, one can find explicit affirmations of the Scriptures containing no factual errors as far back as Augustine. Now there is certainly something radically different about the modern forms (e.g., it is linked with a belief in perspicacity; it used as a step in a foundationalist system; it controls one's interpretive options; etc.). But to treat inerrancy as a wholly recent claim is misleading.

Other than this historical quibble, great post and discussion overall!

JLD

bobby grow said...

David,

excellent, thank you, that was the clarification I was looking for. We went through all of this with Metzger, in his "Church and Culture" class, as we used his dissertation as our primary text (this was prior to its publication). I just didn't assimilate it, at that point (I had Luther and Sibbes on my mind ;).

I'm still an inerrantist, and the passages Halden provided actually, upon further review, don't present the errors that he wants it to, technically speaking . . . but I'm not going to persuade either him or you of that, I fear.

Anyway thank you for the thoughtful post, and from now on I'll just consider you my neo-orthodox brother in Christ, and you can consider me your "fundie" brother in Christ.

Shalom

D.W. Congdon said...

Bobby,

Let me ask you this: how many "errors" would you need to encounter before you discard inerrancy? I can come up with some real difficult ones that are blatant contradictions. There's actually a whole book that attempts to go through each of these errors one by one and explain them away. But why? Just so one can hold on to a very shaky doctrine? I think Barth shows us that we can hold the Bible in the highest regard and be completely unafraid of whatever modern biblical scholarship might uncover (or archaeology or science or whatever). Inerrancy will always remain on pins and needles, and reams of paper will continue to be wasted trying to show how there aren't any errors. I encourage you to rethink why you hold to inerrancy. But I'm happy to call you my brother in Christ -- even a "fundie" brother. :)

vynette said...

I suggest that the entire New Testament warns us of the danger of holding to the 'inerrancy' of Scripture.

The New Testament writers claimed that Jesus of Nazareth was the man chosen from among the people and appointed by God to rule the world. They claimed that he represented the true values of God and that his opponents had judged him by their own false standards. They also claimed that he had fulfilled the 'scriptures' predicting his death.

Yet the opponents of Jesus searched these same 'scriptures' but could not relate the writings to the man. On the surface, this seems understandable - there were particular and exact statements by the prophets that when the 'anointed' of God appeared, the fortunes of Israel, then at their lowest ebb, would be restored.

But therein lay the basic error! The opponents were relying first on words and events to lead them to their 'messiah'. Jesus' supporters relied first upon fundamental values, then adduced words in their support. For them, he was the 'spiritual' fulfilment of the Israelite hope.

We must not forget that the Jerusalem priests thought that the Old Testament was 'inerrant.' By concentrating on words, personality and events and ignoring basic values, they demonstrated their flawed thinking and inadvertently crucified their messiah.

I suggest that the doctrines built up around the personality of Jesus of Nazareth, such as the Trinity, reflect the same attitudes and display the same flawed thinking. If Jesus of Nazareth were to appear on earth today, he would be unrecognisable in terms of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

R.O. Flyer said...

Bobby, I recommend you read James Barr's Beyond Fundamentalism.

bobby grow said...

David,

I could actually come up with a few myself, they're real "doozies". But even with those I think there are reasonable ways to approach them that does not presuppose error. To be quite honest the approach that assumes there are errors in the Bible (higher criticism) seems just as negative as non-inerrantists paint inerrantists in their approach. Of course this all comes back to our variant views on "inspiration", and your concursus dei. It seems you emphasize the humanity of the scriptures, and your emphasis is more than I am comfortable with.

Flyer thanks for the recommendation, I've heard of this book, and Barr. Maybe you should read Habermas on the resurrection or William Lane Craig for that matter.

Happy 4th all, peace and liberty in Christ

D.W. Congdon said...

Bobby,

This will sound like a cheap shot, but it's not; I mean this as a serious question: How comfortable are you with the full humanity of Christ?

I ask this because the Bible has to be at least as human as Christ was, and I think one's bibliology reflects one's christology (and vice versa).

Also, I don't really want to say that there are "errors" in the Bible, because this gives the impression that I think the Bible is wrong or untruthful about things. That's not the case. It's important to clarify what we mean by "errors." Certainly the Bible is inerrant if by that we simply mean entirely trustworthy and true. But that is quite obviously not what most evangelicals mean by the term.

Finally, the concursus dei isn't a doctrine that we can choose to deal with or not. It is an essential aspect of the doctrine of providence, and without it evangelicals are incapable of explaining how they think divine and human action come together in their doctrine of Scripture.

Hope you had an enjoyable holiday!

bobby grow said...

David,

that's not a cheap shot. I'm very comfortable, and I'm not into docetic or monophysite christologies either. And I agree, one's christology will reflect one's bibliology. I hold to chalcedonian christology (like you)--distinct natures, yet inseparably related, in the person of the Jesus of Nazareth. I see these in mysterious tension (I Tim 3:16). I see the basis of Christ's person defined by divinity, and not vice versa, this is the kenotic teaching we find in Phil 2:5-8 (adding humanity to His divinity). This is why, all things being equal, why my view of inspiration is what it is.

How comfortable are you with Christ's full divinity?

It's only 7:15pm on the west coast, so we still have fireworks to look forward to . . . hope yours was a good one.

D.W. Congdon said...

Well, you only need to read a few of my posts on christology to know the answer to that question. And certainly if you have any inkling about Barth's theology, you wouldn't need to ask.

All that being said, I'm not convinced that you are doing justice to either the humanity of the Bible or the humanity of Christ. Christ is not simply the addition of humanity to divinity -- that's actually a heresy, if such crude terms are taken too literally. I think you mean to imply the assumptio carnis, but it's important to remember what Chalcedon teaches us: not that Christ is simply divinity and humanity spliced together to create one person, but rather something much more radical. Chalcedon forces us to say that as divine, Christ is human, and as a human being, Christ is divine. In other words, we do not have divinity and humanity in the abstract first, which are then brought together to form the concrete person Jesus. On the contrary, in Jesus we see what true humanity and true divinity actually are. Hence the later Barth's description of theology as the-anthropology: theology includes anthropology in that the basis for both is the person Jesus. Barth thus speaks of the "humanity of God." (Of course, his focus is thoroughly christocentric, and thus unlike the anthropological reductionism we find in Rahner.)

I want to say the same about the Bible, while being very careful not to make the Bible into a kind of incarnation. Unlike Jesus Christ, who simply is the second person of the Trinity, the Bible must become the Word of God by the actualizing power of the Spirit who works in and through this text to bear witness to Jesus Christ (cf. McCormack, "Being of Holy Scripture Is in Becoming"). To make the Bible more than this is to infringe upon the uniqueness that belongs to Christ alone; to say less is of course impermissible for other reasons. In the end, the christological analogy is helpful as long as we remember how radical the Chalcedonian formula actually is. Christ is God precisely as a human being, and God is most truly God precisely in being this particular human. The Bible is not less human, which means that the Bible is fully and entirely a human text -- but as this human text, it is also (or rather, it becomes) the divinely ordained creaturely witness to the self-revelation of God.

bobby grow said...

David,

my question was actually a cheap shot.

Yes, sorry for the crude language on the assumptio carnis, that indeed is what I meant. I've held to a more static/essentialist approach here . . . but I am interested in reading more on Barth's relational/actualisation christology that you proposed in your AAR paper.

Obviously I haven't read McCormak, Crisp, or a whole slough of the theologians you are conversant with. I'm not necessarily that motivated to read all of these guys either, my primary area of study has been biblical studies and historical theology (and I am still more prone to read books on Luther than Barth, and books on biblical theology, than Jungel)--and time is sparse for me . . . so I'll do my best. If the Lord ever makes it possible for me to do a PhD (finances being the primary hinderance) then I will have the concentrated time to do what you're doing (becoming a "formal theologian"--you're living my dream ;).

Good interacting with you David, you're someone I can learn from; I appreciate your irenic Christian demeanor--keep up the good work.

D.W. Congdon said...

It's been a good conversation. Certainly keep reading what you already are -- if only more theologians actually read biblical studies and historical theology!

Maybe someday I will make you a Barthian yet! :)

(Or rather, as the "As Barth" contest seeks to show through verse, we must be like Barth, not like a Barthian.)

bobby grow said...

Maybe if I could be "as Barth" and an inerrantist . . . you may yet persuade me ;).

There are features of Barth that I appreciate, primarily the emphasis that he places on the "instrumentality" of the scriptures, etc. Anyway thanks again for the conversation, you have w/o a doubt challenged me (a good thing)to think and re-think some of my bibliological perspective. Keep up the good work, and I look forward to further interaction down the road.

Shane said...

DW said:

"First, no one is inspired by a proposition;"

Oh sure they are. Propositions are just the logically clear cousins of ordinary language sentences. "God exists" is a proposition and so is "I love you."

you can formalize the first as, 'There exists some x such that x is God.' and the second merely implies that "love" is a two place ordered relation. 'L(i,you)' does not imply 'L(you, i)' and that's the whole tragedy of human romance.

shane

D.W. Congdon said...

Shane,

Two things. First, do you really think anyone is inspired to worship from the proposition "God exists"? There are so many people who do believe that God exists, but which changes nothing about their existence. For that matter, Deists believe that God exists. Also, "I love you" may be a proposition, but that simply means virtually all human speech is constituted by propositions.

Second, and more importantly, I was speaking of doctrinal statements, not propositions in general. And I'm confident that no one is changed by doctrinal statements.

Shane said...

The relationship between a logical proposition and a sentence of ordinary language is itself a question of heated philosophical debate. Personally I think there are bits of language that escape translation into propositional form--poetry is one stirling example. The meaning of the poem is not amenable to logical dissection in the same way a prose essay is. Poetry may be even more important to the essence of language the prose in a certain sense too.

But all of that is beside the point. My point is simply that quite a lot of what we say in ordinary speech depends upon propositional content and while we rightly ought to focus on narrative (and poetry)--we ought not to neglect the importance of the propositional as well. There is a logic of christian belief--it isn't easy to access as if you can just snap your fingers and out it pops from the text--but nevertheless it is essential.

that's what i'm trying to get to.

shane

bobby grow said...

David said:

. . . And I'm confident that no one is changed by doctrinal statements.

You mean if a Jehovah's Witness is confronted with the defintion of Chalcedonian Christology, you don't believe that the Holy Spirit can encounter that particular individual through the proposition of Chalcedon resulting in a changed perspective relative to the nature of Christ?

Robert said...

It saddens me to see this rejection of inerrancy (while trying to hold on to authority) in the Princetonian tradition.

Mr. Congdon, your heart knows better.

D.W. Congdon said...

Bobby,

I'm not sure if your comment was tongue-in-cheek, so I'll assume it was a serious comment.

First, as you note, the Holy Spirit is the agent of change, not the doctrinal statement.

Second, and more importantly, I made that statement in the context of a supposed conflict between propositions and narratives. While I think it might be theoretically possible for a proposition to be the starting-point for change, if there is no narrative of God's grace and deliverance to support it, I'm quite sure it will fail.

D.W. Congdon said...

Robert,

Why should my heart know better? It's clear that I don't reject inerrancy flippantly or out of some gut reaction to something. I reject it for biblical and theological reasons. I reject it because I want to be more faithful to the Bible than inerrancy lets me be. Do you have any reasons for why I should think otherwise about inerrancy?

bobby grow said...

no tounge and cheek for me.

So then we agree, thanks for clarifying . . . as I read you before I thought that you were saying that propositions cannot provoke change.

D.W. Congdon said...

I don't mean to be too nitpicky, but I still don't think propositions provoke change -- the Holy Spirit and narratives do. The proposition, in my estimation, can only be the occasion for change, not the agent of change itself.

WTM said...

David - allow me to pick a nit on the concursus Dei in Barth.

It is true that God opens up a "stage" on which we act. But, that is only the preceeding action. God also accompanies our acting on the stage and follows our acting in determining the effects that it will produce and in direcing our acting toward his redemptive ends. And, in all this, God is utterly soverign such that human activity must finally - on the basis of the confession of faith - be recognized as divine activity.

What the 'setting the stage' image runs the risk of is implying that once we are on stage, God is done acting. This can sound good when we are trying to maintain human freedom, but it isn't the whole story.