Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Perfect Guide and Perfect Truth Inerrancy

Franklin Mason argues that Perfect Guide Inerrancy, as opposed to perfect truth inerrancy, is what is needed. Please do follow the link back to his original discussion of Perfect Guide Inerrancy,

This is an attempt to avoid the conclusion of what I call the inerrancy or chaos argument. The idea of the inerrancy or chaos argument is that without some firm doctrine of biblical inerrancy, theology will sooner or later give away the store. Everything that our sinful hearts don't want to believe, or whatever doesn't fit with the Zeitgeist, will be swept aside, and Christianity reduced to platitudes.

On the other hand, we want to avoid the kind of literalism that led Martin Luther to condemn heliocentrism because it conflicted with a literal reading of the sun standing still for Joshua, which of course also led the Church to make Galileo be silent about heliocentrism.

C. S. Lewis wrote two letters two American writers relevant to the inerrancy issue, which might be helpful in developing Mason's project. As would his chapter on Scripture in Reflections on the Psalsm.


Mike Darus said...

In his effort to promote a "new" inerrancy, Mason fails to accurately represent the "old" inerrancy. No one I know that holds to inerrancy believes we should stone disobedient children. They also recognize Paul's silencing of women was due to cultural and perhaps even architectural first century conditions. This "Perfect Truth Inerrancy" sounds like a straw man. He is arguing against nobody with these examples. He seems to want to refute "verbal plenary" inspiration. But if he wants to do that, let him parse The Chicago Statement.

The concern of the conservative theologian is that some theology requires dependence on the meanings of words. If Mason wants to jettison verbal inspiration for the authority of the over-arching themes, he will make Scriptural exegesis muddy and subjective. Theologians depend on objective meanings of words to get to objective truth claims.

He also seems to want to select which passages of Scripture are authoritative and which are less. This opposes "plenary inspiration" which holds that all Scripture is equally inspired. In practice, it is admitted that some Scriptures are more inspiring than others, the the biblical interpreter is not free to cut and paste. Key to this concept is the progressive nature of revelation that embraces "an eye for an eye" as a move in the right direction in a retribution-based society while looking forward to a brighter and better moral future in the New Testament and beyond. The death penalty for an adult child leading a rebellion may have been necessary for the survival of the tribe. We don't need to read into this a toddler that won't eat his peas. Jesus' interruption of a stoning shows the progression nicely.

Mason would do better to label his view as "Perfect Guide Authority." This is not a bad place to be. But when it comes to Biblical exegesis, the commentator who approaches revelation from the hermeneutic of inerrancy (properly understood) will wrestle more successfully with even the most culturally sensitive passages. Let the clear meaning of the text challenge us. Let it challenge our modern materialistic minds with bold statements of the reality of the spiritual world. We need to live in the tension, not seek a free pass.

Victor Reppert said...

Mike: Does the addendum that he accepted as the result of his discussion with SteveK help at all?

I think you are right that one needs to work through the Chicago Statement, and then I think there are further hermeneutical reflections to be made. One needs to get a clear idea of what I have called a "sensible inerrancy" amounts to, and then we have to ask what a "sensible inerrancy" rules out.

On the one hand, you can't have God saying "Darn that I Samuel writer! He keeps saying I wanted all the Amalekites killed!"

On the other hand, I am wondering about being able to getting the Bible to "lie flat" and give us, for instance, a nice clear answer to the predestination problem. They tried to do it with the Pharaoh case, I tried to play the same game back with James 1:13.

I also would not want to deny that all Scripture is part of the inspired package, even though not all of it functions in the same way.

For example, you get passages in Deuteronomy and some of the Wisdom literature that tell us that obedience to God is rewarded and disobedience is punished. The blessings and the cursings, you know. And these promises and threats are made in a very this-worldly manner. And then you get some other books that attack that very idea, Job, for instance. The Deuteronomy passages would have to be regarded as, in a narrow sense, errant, but part of a broader message, inerrant.

That's why I have trouble with taking a couple of chapters in Exodus and settling the free will debate that way.

It has always seemed to me that you can use the word "inerrancy" and have some fairly liberal hermeneutical principles, and also not like to use the word inerrancy, and still be pretty conservative about one's interpretation.

I remember some 30 years ago either Time or Newsweek came out with a story entitled "How True is the Bible?" And I remember wanting to rename it "How is the Bible True?"

The Lewis discussions are worthy of attention, also. Can one accept all of Lewis's claims and be a Chicago-style inerrantist?

Mike Darus said...

The authority of the Bible does not imply that the Bible answers all the questions we want to ask. The problem of evil and the paradox of free will and sovereignty are two issues the Bible does not solve. I contend that there is a running debate between the biblical authors on these issues. That is one reason why there is a debate. If the Bible does not intend to provide a solution, there can be no error.

Lewis may be a little too liberal for the Chicago Statement. His view that good literature is inspired in the same sense as Scripture confuses the popular definition of inspiration with the theological one. This is a big mistake. The presence of parables does not give permission to discount the historicity of Job, Jonah, and Esther. The Chicago Statement, I think, seeks to defend these books. Job is not as critical but Esther and Jonah lose a lot of punch if the Jews were not in danger of eradication and if there was no revival in Nineveh.

Lewis makes a good point that the kind of truth we are demanding was not envisioned by the authors. Calvin wanted a systematic theology but Scripture seems unwilling.

If inerrancy is seen more as a method of hermeneutics, the real issue is: "What different conclusions do you get?" I suspect someone who views Job as an authoritative parable my get the same message about the majesty of a sovereign God as a literalist. But the literalist will come away with a more robust doctrine of angelology. Lewis was careful to say that he does not discount the supernatural in his approach, but there is a danger that the supernatural suffers when inerrancy is sacrificed.

Victor Reppert said...

I think the first step in the discussion has to be the concept of special revelation. There has to be some special care taken to insure that what God is concerned about revealing gets to us. Hence anyone who believes in special revelation believes in some form of inerrancy. Everyone who believes in inerrancy also believes that the inerrancy has to be rendered "sensible" by offering a range of caveats, although people have a tendency to forget that when they want to ram an argument from Scripture home (the Bible says, if you deny this you're denying inerrancy). So a simple "Do you believe in inerrancy" is not going to get us very far.

Interestingly, I wrote a paper in my first year of grad school for a course on authority at ASU in which I found that the leading treatment of the canon of Scripture, written by Hans von Kampenhausen, had argued that in selecting books to be Scripture they were concerned with apostolicity rather than inspiration. They thought all sorts of things were inspired, but that didn't do much for them when it came to selection of Scripture.