Thursday, April 24, 2008
Infallibility vs. Inerrancy: Reformation 21
Over at Reformation 21, there is a review article by Martin Downes entitled, Is Inerrancy Unbiblical, Rationalistic and Presumptuous? A critique of A.T.B. McGowan's proposal for evangelicals to reject inerrancy which deals with Andrew McGowan's book The Divine Spiration of Scripture.
I don't want to offer a counter-response to Downes' article as I'll leave it to Andrew to respond himself if he chooses to (although I don't think that the central focus of Andrew's article is against inerrancy as much as it is reconfiguring a doctrine of Scripture as part of a doctrine of God). But a number of questions do come to my mind. Now before I press ahead let me say that I ask these questions as one who is committed to the authority and veracity of Scripture. I write as one who regards the Word of God as "true and trustworthy" and I have laboured elsewhere to show that the Gospels are historically reliable accounts of Jesus' career. In my mind, the Bible teaches history, theology, and ethics and it is "true" on all three counts. I teach my students that the goal of their instruction is that they would know better the Word of God and the God of the Word!
(1) To what extent is it legitimate to derive a theology of Scripture from a priori inferences about God? Does "God is X and therefore Scripture is Y" constitute a reasonable argument? At one level I want to say "yes" as I would maintain that the faithfullness of God means that his Word will also be faithful and reliable. But does an a priori inference allow us to determine what the phenemenon of Scripture must have been and to define further the standards upon which its "faithfulness" must conform to? I am not so sure on that one. (2) The WCF 1.5 and 1689 LBC 1.1 all use the phrase infallible to define the veracity of Scripture (the Anglican 39 Art. 6 speaks of "sufficiency"). Does a preference for "infallible" over "inerrant" constitute a doctrinal abberration? Is the entire Reformed Tradition, as exemplified by the confessions, an insufficient theology of Scripture? As I read the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy the impression I get is exactly that: infallibility alone is insufficient (see esp. art. 11 and 19.III.C). I remain concerned and confused as to why persons, however polite and well intentioned, imply that my Reformed Baptist heritage that has been around for 400 years just ain't good enough any more (and the same is true for Presbyterians)! It was good enough in 1689 and it is jolly well good enough now! Can one become a liberal by holding fast to 400 years of tradition? (3) Is there any cultural or historical contingency to the Warfield/Henry articulation of inerrancy? Keep in mind that inerrancy was articulated during the height of the fundamentatlist versus liberal controversy of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. There was the "Battle for the Bible" in North America which was really about the struggle between Modernity and Revealed Religion. Christianity was subjected to a critique based on the assumptions of post-Enlightenment philosophical rationalism. Did Christians such as Warfield and Henry try to defend Scripture by using the same tools of philosophical rationalism such as a foundationalist epistemology and objectivist views of historical knowledge? Has the inerrancy of the autographa always been the rubric upon which Christians at all times, in all places, and in all ages have articulated the authority and veracity of Scripture, or was it a new way of defending the Bible against an atheistic worldview birthed out of of the rationalist impulse of the time in the particular setting of North America? In other words, is inerrancy a "catholic" doctrine?
The Chicago Statement provides the best exposition of inerrancy to date and one that tries to nuance the term where it needs to be. If I had to choose between "errancy" and "inerrancy", I'd choose inerrancy any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Still, I am reminded of the words of Howard Marshall who said that if you need fifteen pages to define one word, may be you should just get a new word. I have an old explanation in mind: "The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation ... All of which are given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life." (LBC 1.1-2).