Friday, September 15, 2006

More notes on Inerrancy in Response to Steve Hays

My claim was twofold. First, the word "inerrancy" conjures up in the minds a kind of lead-footed literalism that would force us to accept Young Earth Creationism, etc. It would also, for example, force us into the hands of the universalists in response to such passages as "Every knee shall bow," etc. What any interpreter will do at that point is to supply "context" into which the passage fits. They will argue that the error emerges from reading the passage to narrowly and not adding in the context. (I want to point out that there is a danger that what we call "context" is simply the whole boatload of preconceived theology and Sunday School lessons that we brought to the text in the first place). So a "lead-footed" inerrancy proves too much, but a more sensible inerrancy might not in fact do enough work. Exactly what does it take to make out the claim that so-and-so is really making an error attribution to Scripture? Augustine is the classic example of someone who would if asked have affirmed "inerrancy" in a heartbeat, and yet developed a theory of origins that, if anything, looks more like Darwinian evolution than Young Earth Creationism. Was Gundry attributing error to Matthew when he analyzed it in terms of midrash? Is Pinnock an inerrantist or not.

The Chicago Statement, which has been touted as the locus classicus for inerrancy, seems to back away from drawing out all the hermeneutical implications that many advocates of the doctrine have defended. The book that spelled all this stuff out, ironically enough, is Pinnock's early book Biblical Revelation. There, he claims Ruth cannot be fictional, since for it to be fictional would be to attribute a deceitful literary form to Scripture. But there are plenty of people who would continue to use the word inerrancy who would deny that Pinnock drew all the correct consequences of inerrancy, including a guy by the name of Clark Pinnock.

I think everyone, including C. S. Lewis and myself, or Pinnock for that matter, who thinks of Scripture as special revelation, also accepts some version of the doctrine of inerrancy. I mean God can't be sitting up in heaven saying "Darn that guy I'm inspiring to write I Samuel. He's saying I wanted all the Amalekites killed!"

However, Steve seems to think that all beliefs on matters of faith should be determined simply on an analysis of what we find in the biblical text, without asking any further questions of whether that is plausible on other grounds, such as scientific ones. One must sign oneself to believe whatever we find through a grammatical analysis of Scripture.

But what I would say is that I don't accept the complete subordination of all other forms of knowledge to the knowledge gathered through bibical exegesis. We know that pi is 3.1416... not 3, there is good reason to believe in an ancient earth, and God has provided us with minds to discover some truths in methods that are not simple a matter of Bible study. Even if the Scripture is inerrant in some important way, Scripture readers and students are quite errant. We do have more knowledge and understanding which may conflict with a straightforward acceptance of actions attributed to God as good. No one should be expected to come to Scripture with a blank slate for a mind to be written upon by the text, and no one ever does. I know, about as well as I know anything, that an omnipotent being who condemns people to everlasting punishment who he could just as easily have saved without endangering anyone else's salvation is not a good being, much less a perfectly good being. So, a the end of all the verse wars about Calvinism, I'm just going to put my hand up in front of my face and do what William Rowe calls the G. E. Moore shift.


Anonymous said...

Ahhhh. The G.E. Moore to leap tall buildings with a single bound, and able to dispense with any skeptical argument in the absence of reasons.

Yet, I liked your use of it here.

You've probably seen Arthur Holmes' book, All Truth is God's Truth, which spells out that truth is to be found everywhere, not just in the Bible, from the Christian standpoint.

It was actually that whole idea that truth was true wherever we find it that led me away from Christianity. For then, rather than taking Biblical statements as the deciding truth to any particular issue, I now had to try to deal with outside-the-Bible truths and evidences to the contrary, thinking to myself that since all truth comes from God there should be no contradiction. But the harmonization attempt that I tried didn't work. At that point I had to decide between the Bible, or that truths I discovered apart from the Bible. And at that point the Bible lost.

Jason Pratt said...

Well, it happens. {shrug} Walk according to the light you _can_ see, then, looking for more light thereby. I trust the Light Who enlightens every person who is coming into the world; including for Him to not be only sitting around on His throne over there waiting to see if you'll make it home--much less preparing to flush you as a loss if you don't. {s} That river going out from under the throne at the end of RevJohn, is said to be for something _very_ different than for flushing away the people still outside... (Besdies which, you might be a sheep and not a goat in the first place. As Lewis liked to say, in regard to that judgment, "There will be surprises...!" {gg!})

Anonymous said...

That's what I despise most about Xians, their true hatred of others that is just below the hypocritical skin.

I'm just glad when they're honest enough to admit what mean spirited nasty people they really are rather than pretending to be loving. They really only love you if you agree with all their ideas and their version of Xianity.

Jason Pratt said...

It's a real problem; but it isn't easy to dismiss, either. Ideas obviously do make a real difference, and can in practice as well as in principle be contemptible. Otherwise, there wouldn't be much point in despising people for being hypocritical, would there? {s}

Still--the people I love the most in the world, certainly do not agree with all my ideas; and the one I love the very most is not a Christian in any professing sense at all. As real as the problem you're talking about is, I think there are still plenty of us who would (and do) sacrifice ourselves for people who don't agree with us.

But the temptation to what you're talking about is common, and commonly acted upon, too. Ironically, it's due to the widespread acceptance of a technical heresy (even though unrecognized as such). {s} Ideas do have consequences.

Jason Pratt