December 12, 2017

iMonk Classic: A Conversation in God’s Kitchen (2)

Medieval_baker

Note from CM: This is part two of Michael Spencer’s most comprehensive essay on the Bible (read PART ONE here). For a couple of weeks here we are focusing our attention on posts related to the Bible, its nature and purpose. This has been a hot-button issue in our generation, especially in American evangelicalism, which took a stand in the late 1970’s with The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Michael critiqued that statement, calling it “inefficient, unnecessary, and divisive.” In a roundtable discussion published in Modern Reformation magazine, he said:

I oppose the concept of inerrancy because the word itself moves the argument, intentionally or not, into the arena of a philosophical system foreign to the apostles, Fathers, and Reformers. In short, if we are going to use the word, we will need to submit ourselves to the system from which it arose. On these terms, inerrancy is indefensible.

In today’s portion, Michael discusses what it means to say that the Bible, with all its apparent humanness, is inspired.

• • •

Baker 2Second, How can I say the Bible is Inspired?

Let’s pause and take stock. I’ve said the Bible is a thoroughly human book in which human beings, involved in an experience they identify as God, select a “canon” of literature that contains a conversation about this experience of God. It is important, however, that I put forward some idea of inspiration, since orthodox Christianity requires some way to understand how God speaks in the Bible.

The original Great Books essays stated that the conversation occurs without any set dogma or point of view. The student of the Great Books is free to listen to the conversation and come to any number of conclusions about God, government, reality or human nature.

The Biblical conversation is different. While the reader is free to draw conclusions, the conversation itself is compelling in its conclusions. Because this conversation continues to a point of hearing a unique Word from God, there are limits to what we may legitimately say is being said. The proper understanding of language, culture, history and text is part of this limitation. The Biblical conversation allows great freedom, but there is also agreement that when this conversation is heard honestly, it has a common stream and focus at its center. A stream and focus that reveals a particular God, his ways, his character, his message and ultimately, his Son.

Of course, we should have modest expectations of agreement on this kind of unity in the Bible, and any community of believers that claims to hear a detailed scheme of belief in the Bible is probably listening to some parts of the conversation differently than other communities. Still, even with the diversity of conclusions we will find in listening, the Christian communities that lay hold of this conversation as “their own,” have considerable broad agreement in what the conversation communicates. On the focus of that conversation, there is no contention.

At this point I want to separate myself from any kind of Christianity that sees the Bible as teaching a highly sectarian view of Christianity at the exclusion of other views. I am not shocked that Catholics and Lutherans find the words “This is my body” to mean something different than Baptists do. I am distraught that any of these parties would fail to see that we are all listening to the same texts, and disagreement isn’t because some of us are all that much smarter or better listeners. It’s because we listen to different parts of the conversation, in different ways, and we are allowed to do so.

I love confessionalism. But I despise confessionalism that doesn’t understand and respect what other confessional communities are doing in listening to the conversation. This is why, for instance, I am not personally torn up by the infant baptism debate. Listening to the Biblical conversation, there appear to be two completely plausible conclusions on the subject. I have convictions on which is right, but I have no conviction that the other fellow is so wrong that I can treat him as if he isn’t approaching the same text as I am, with the same amount of worthy respect and reverence.

Scripture is inspired if God has, on some level and in some way, directed its production so that it says what he wants it to say. Human beings may conclude that the Bible is inspired if it demonstrates, in its content and its results, a unity of message that cannot be explained by merely human factors. Despite its humanity, despite its diversity, the Bible speaks to us a message that claims to be from God, and is coherent and clear in its claims. Such a view of the Bible grows as the Bible itself becomes aware of the conversation, and aware of the presence of God in the experience of the writers and their communities. But we should never claim that inspiration is a provable proposition. It is an assertion of faith, and that faith comes because of the presence of Jesus as the final Word of the inspired Conversation.

What I will write next is so important, that I cannot assert loudly enough the importance of understanding what I am claiming. The primary reason I believe the Bible is inspired is its presentation of Jesus. Only the activity of God in bringing a final Word into history and into the conversation can cause this conversation to have divine implications totally beyond the human realm of origin and explanation.

Jesus is all the proof I need. Either he came from God, or we somehow cooked him up on our own. Is that a hard choice?

Jesus is not the product of human speculation. The Cross and the Gospel of the Cross are outrageous. Offensive. Unthinkable. Absurd. Yet the Bible tells us that the comprehensive point of the entire activity of God in history is revealing a crucified and risen Jesus as the Lord of the Universe and the source of salvation to all who believe in him. Imagine if someone read the Great Books and said the key to all truth and reality is a crucified criminal who lived two millennia ago. Such a conclusion would be demented. Foolishness of the highest order.

Yet this is exactly what the Bible says. It offers us Jesus as the meaning of all of history, the meaning of our lives, and importantly for this essay, the final Word, the conclusive Word in the Biblical conversation.

Listen to Jesus in Luke 24, quoted above. He tells the disciples that the scriptures are inspired….because they speak of Him. Without Jesus, the scriptures make no sense. They will have no message other than the question of how this God can possibly have a relationship with people who are unfit to know him and unwilling to embrace him? Without Jesus, God is a mystery. Contradictory. Without Jesus, the Bible is not inspired. It is an unfinished symphony. A tragedy without resolution. A romance whose lovers are never united.

The book of Revelation proclaims that Jesus is the one who is worthy to open the scroll of all human history and give it meaning: Himself. It is no accident that Revelation is a library of Biblical references and historical, mythic symbolism. It is a sampling of the Biblical conversation. Jesus is the crowning Word of ALL conversations. Biblical, spiritual, economic, political, governmental. Scripture is INSPIRED BY the PRESENCE OF CHRIST throughout the conversation.

smoo6b bakerIt’s evident that this approach to inspiration is not particularly interested in terms like inerrancy. I believe the search for a way to compliment the Bible enough to make every word true is one of the most colossal wastes of time ever engaged in by Christian minds. Further, the logical torture that produces approaches to scripture like young earth creationism makes me profoundly sad, because it misses the point, and misleads anyone who hears it into believing that a book whose final Word is “I am the Truth,” is really about whether there ever was a water canopy over the earth or dinosaurs on the ark.

The Bible is about Jesus. The inspiration of the Bible is the presence of Jesus in the conversation. The authority of scripture is the authority of Jesus. The “inerrancy” of scripture is that, rightly understood, it takes us to Jesus. The Law came through Moses, but grace and TRUTH came through Jesus Christ. The TRUTH of the Bible was not there without Jesus. Any discussion of inspiration that is not- eventually- about the relationship of Jesus to that part of the conversation, is useless. The distance of any part of the conversation from Jesus is the distance of that part of the Bible from what Christians mean by “inspiration.”

The very definition of straining at gnats and swallowing camels is debating the inspiration of Judges without seeing how Judges relates to Christ. When Christians feel the field of battle for inspiration is some battle in the Old Testament, they are demonstrating they are lost in the field where the treasure is buried. They are going down roads that lead nowhere if they are discussing questions ultimately unrelated to Christ and Gospel.

Christ is not a character in the Bible. He is not chapter 23-25 in a 30 chapter novel. He is the story. He is the novel. He is the only character we need to know. The entire book is about introducing him to us in pictures and language we can understand.

I want to be clear that I am not invalidating the content of scripture, particularly the Old Testament. It is the Old Testament Jesus says is about himself. Read it, he tells the Jews. It is about him. It is the Old Testament where he apparently appears on every page. But if we start seeing content in that Old Testament removed and separated from Christ, we are looking at texts apart from anything that will save us. They may inform or motivate, but they will not save. And this conversation is about the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

My entire Christian experience, I’ve been reading attempts to defend the inspiration of the Bible logically, and apologetically. Christians fear the question “How do you know the Bible is inspired by God?” more than almost any question. I do not fear that question anymore, because I have a simple answer.

“I don’t know what you mean by inspired. If you mean, how do I know it’s right and true in everything it says, then I don’t believe in that kind of inspiration. But if you mean how do I know that the Bible is God’s true communication to me, it’s simple. The Bible shows me Jesus. The reason I believe the Bible is inspired is that it shows me who Jesus is and what Jesus means. That’s the answer to all the questions that matter to me.”

Comments

  1. ” Without Jesus, God is a mystery.”

    Jesus does not erase the mystery of God. With Jesus we get even more mystery: The mystery of incarnation; the mystery of the Son’s relationship to the Father and the Spirit; the mystery of salvation worked by a suffering Messiah; the mystery of resurrection; the mystery of the crucified who simultaneously is Lord. Jesus deepens and heightens the mystery to a point where it is practically intolerable; he doesn’t resolve the tension of mystery that the God of the Hebrew scriptures gives us: he sharpens and extends it to a painfully paradoxical level, and the scriptures that witness to him do the same.

    • The idea of Biblical inerrancy is an attempt to reduce the mystery of Jesus as depicted in the scriptures to a manageable level; but then, so was much of the doctrinal elaboration of the Church in the Medieval period, using different tools and strategies, as were many of the systematic theologies that developed in the wake of the Reformation.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And all ended up trying to box God in — “Now I have God All Figured Out! My Theology/Inerrancy is Perfect! God HAS to work THIS WAY!”

        You’d think they’d learn from Jesus’ example of always doing the unexpected and giving “The Way God HAS to Work!” one-eighty flip after one-eighty flip. Like the “Subversive Wisdom of Torah”, there’s something wild and free about it. No Tame Lion Here.

  2. Faulty O-Ring says:

    “At this point I want to separate myself from any kind of Christianity that sees the Bible as teaching a highly sectarian view of Christianity at the exclusion of other views.”

    Since this very sentence excludes other views, I suppose you mean to exclude only those who accept only themselves, but not those who exclude some and accept some (plural). Of course, any view would “exclude” views which contradict it, unless we are willing to abandon the left side of the brain entirely. So “accepting” the views of others cannot mean accepting that they are correct (otherwise they would be your views), only that they have not transgressed some sort of boundary.

    “I am not shocked that Catholics and Lutherans find the words ‘This is my body’ to mean something different than Baptists do.”

    Nor are you shocked, presumably, that the Catholic Church sees itself as true, in a way that they would not accept Lutherans as being. They believe that there is one Church, and that they are it (although they would recognize that “the Church” is also present in some way among the Orthodox, despite the schism and all that, and of course there has been ecumenical dialogue with everybody to some extent).

    If Catholicism is legit, what about Mormonism? (Their sacred rites depict other denominations as hopelessly corrupt, and claim Mormonism to represent a restoration of a primitive Christianity that had been lost.) What about the Jehovah’s Witnesses? (They distinguish “Christendom”–that means you–from “Christianity.”) What about independent fundamentalist Baptists?

    • Spencer’s genial tolerance of a plurality of different views and interpretations of scripture is eminently Protestant; indeed, where Protestantism does not result in fanaticism, it’s bound to result in just such tolerance and broadness. Spencer exhibits a very mainline and denominational viewpoint in this.

      • Faulty O-Ring says:

        Oh Christ, this is Spencer. My eyes didn’t register the byline, so here I am arguing with a ghost. Well, what is this mainline and denominational viewpoint? Creedalism?

        • Old and New Testament as canon (with minor differences concerning the exact extent of the OT), Trinity, Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, Parousia with Jesus at the center of the entire unfolding drama as Lord and Redeemer. It’s complicated but consistent.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Why would anyone expect it to be simple? It makes sense the way it is; look around at the world, it is Orderly and Consistent – at a certain level. But otherwise it is crazy complicated and interwoven.

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            This is the sort of “consensus” statement that could only originate within conservative Protestant circles. It excludes many things that other denominations (that it embraces) consider important.

          • I live in the ELCA and TEC, usually considered “liberal” Protestant denominations, and the consensus I’ve described is accepted in them as much as in “conservative” denominations.

    • Of course, tolerance is never limitless; but it can be generous or stingy on the one hand, and sober or irresponsible on the other.

    • “Since this very sentence excludes other views, I suppose you mean to exclude only those who accept only themselves, but not those who exclude some and accept some (plural).”

      I think Michael’s statement is meant to be a statement about epistemology: reasonable people, working within the patterns of interpreting scripture inherent to their own traditions and training, and drawing from their own concerns and experiences, are going to read the Bible differently. By recognizing this fact, I may regard differing viewpoints as plausible or intelligible, and not the product of idiocy or madness.

      This belief does not preclude me from advancing a viewpoint. I can affirm a single tradition’s reading of Scripture. I can accept several tradition’s readings of Scripture as seeming profitable. I can be more open still. None of the three stances is incompatible with the belief that people work within the confines of their context. That is, I can observe (negatively) that people work from limited vantage points and (positively) that their reading of Scripture and tradition are enriched by particular legacies and ideas. And I can surmise this must be true of myself, as well. That does not mean I will not affirm a viewpoint. It means that I will have some self-awareness of what I am doing, and some respect for other people who are doing the same thing. One can simultaneously have some humility about one’s self and respect for others, while accepting the necessity and importance that I must decide to believe something and live as though it is true.

      So, I don’t think Michael is being inconsistent to like some traditions more than others, as though by admitting to the need for tolerance he has to love every claim equally. Nor is he precluding anyone from being deeply committed to the claims of their tradition. I think he’s taking aim at an attitude that deeply impassioned or defensive apologists sometimes take, wherein they assert that everyone else is simply and obviously wrong, and has nothing to say, and (if listened to) would only serve to contaminate My Pure Tradition with some Foreign Material. Give them a contrary argument, and before your sentence is over, they are already tooling up for go on the attack. Michael certainly saw this attitude in abundance among his fellow Southern Baptists. We can all find it in our own traditions, as well.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > reasonable people, working within the patterns of interpreting scripture

        This is important – and it should be noted that the legal system uses this concept as well.

        I can read a text – any text – and come to a conclusion. Someone else can read a text and come to a different conclusion. If they can explain how they came to that conclusion most of the time I can say “Oh, yea, I can see that.” Even if I do not end up agreeing – honest and reasonable people can recognize the points in another person’s argument.

        Reasonable positions are to be tolerated; that is the golden rule of a civil society.

        … and then there are the what-the-…. readings of a document. Although most often these are more dishonest than truly unreasonable – the result of *using* a text to get to a point rather than seeking out the point of the text.

        Dishonest readings should be given no space.

        Charity requires a wide gray margin between these spaces where it is best to just hold one’s tongue; in reality it is not a bright clear line.

        • “Dishonest readings should be given no space.”

          -How often does this happen, that is, an intentionally dishonest in the deceptive way reading? My guess is that even the “what-the…..?” readings are sincere people “trying to get to a point” but doing so because they sincerely think the point is true, or worth making.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      (Their sacred rites depict other denominations as hopelessly corrupt, and claim Mormonism to represent a restoration of a primitive Christianity that had been lost.)

      In that respect, how does Mormonism differ from thousands of One True Evangelical “Old Testament” Churches? All of who make the same claim, just for THEIR not-a-denomination?

      • I think Faulty O Ring and you are making more or a rhetorical point by way of noting some general similarities, so I shoudn’t quibble. But if a serious discussion were desired, there is are definite differences between the three things.

        Catholicism claims to be the same church established by the apostles in the New Testament; its subsequent development (it admits to ‘development’) represents the growth of that church.

        Protestant sects or denominations with strong primitivist impulses are trying to recapture an original apostolic purity or golden age, recaptured in their group’s interpretation of scripture and reconstitution of the church.

        Mormonism is one of several highly primitivist groups originating in the tumult of the Second Great Awakening; however, by introducing an new set of revealed writings, arguably it has gone beyond being a sect and has instead become a new religion. Jan Shipps has offered this interpretation very convincingly her history of Mormonism, which uses it as a case study in how new religions appear and develop. According to Shipps, for his you need three elements: a new prophet, a new scripture, and a shared history.

        Thus Mormonism is a fourth major monotheistic religion in its infancy, alongside Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Latter-Day Saints are trying to seem more like a version of evangelicalism recently, but I think that is more of an evangelistic decision, and unless they fundamentally change character from having a new prophet, Scripture, and sacred history, they’re bound to function as a new religion. And I don’t see them doing this: they have a huge industry, more so than almost any other group, dedicated to interpreting and telling their community’s history. That sense of “peoplehood” is not one that permits being a denomination or sect.

        • For the sake of clarity, I should probably have struck ‘monotheistic’ as a modifier above – It would take one on a sidetrack into mormon history and ideas that are quite besides the point. It is a religion whose texts include the New Testament, the Old Testament, and the Book of Mormon, and a new prophet, and a new sacred history. That is the point.

          • Mainstream LDS as it is presented today is, imo, sorta kinda monotheistic, but very different from Judaism and Islam… more like a 19th c. sci-fi version of xtianity, in many ways. (Albeit w/new prophets and sacred books as you say.)

            One of the things that sets it completely apart from Judaism, xtianity and Islam is that in the LDS (all groups, not just the official LDS church), god was a human man who became a god. (“Flesh and bone” is a phrase they often use.) Going through all of the temple rites allows humans (in the LDS view) to become divine beings.

            Afaik, there is no transcendent, omnipotent God who created the earth (and the universe) by fiat. This is completely different than Judaism, xtianity and Islam, though I certainly do think the LDS is the red-headed stepchild of 19th c. revivalism. Problem is, nobody in the evangelical community (and in other xtian communities) wants to admit to the relationship.

          • and the LDS *did* have a Mother god at one time. She’s still there, lurking in the shadows of Mormon belief and Mormon history. The folks who are activists for Mormon women being admitted to the priesthood (via temple rites) base their claims partly on this mostly ignored part of their own history.

            So do I think Mormonism is monotheistic? Not really. Is it a new religion? Definitely!

          • Yes, yes, and yes.

            I realized right after I replied that the modifier wasn’t accurate. (I’d dropped it in unthinkingly, because I was trying to describe LDS’ relationship to the Judaism/Islam/Christianity.) But then I also realized that clarifying was going to take me into a minefield. Polytheism? menotheism?

            Seemed like the best plan was to make like Forest and RUN. :p

            (An aside, the rabbit hole one falls down to discuss this matter is probably a good example of the fact LDS is a very young new tradition – its hasting out its definitions and experiencing its early theological contortions in contemporary time.)

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “Mormonism is one of several highly primitivist groups originating in the tumult of the Second Great Awakening; however, by introducing an new set of revealed writings, arguably it has gone beyond being a sect and has instead become a new religion. Jan Shipps has offered this interpretation very convincingly her history of Mormonism, which uses it as a case study in how new religions appear and develop. According to Shipps, for his you need three elements: a new prophet, a new scripture, and a shared history.”

          The problem is that that the question “Is this group Christian?” is generally intended as a rhetorical weapon, making it hard to discuss as a purely descriptive matter. For what little it is worth, I think it patently obvious that Mormonism is a distinct religion from Christianity. Either the Book of Mormon includes something significant not found in the Old and New Testaments, or it does not. If it does, then it follows that any group incorporating it as scripture is significantly different from any group that does not. I have never seen anyone, Mormon or not, argue that the Book of Mormon contains nothing significant not found in the Old and New Testaments.

          “Thus Mormonism is a fourth major monotheistic religion in its infancy, alongside Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.”

          As is Bahá’í, for an interesting comparison. I was briefly interested in Bahá’í in college, but mostly because of the really cute Bahá’í girl the next floor over in the dorm.

          “The Latter-Day Saints are trying to seem more like a version of evangelicalism recently, but I think that is more of an evangelistic decision, and unless they fundamentally change character from having a new prophet, Scripture, and sacred history, they’re bound to function as a new religion.”

          Every new religion is scandalous. It could hardly be otherwise. No one is going to be tempted by “Join my new religion: it is just like your old one.” Part of the maturation of a religion is dumping some scandalous aspects while embracing others. So we can see with early Christianity that the scandals of economic communism, female leadership, and anti-Romanism were abandoned, while the Scandal of the Cross was embraced as central to the religion.

          Mormonism has shown itself perfectly ready to abandoned scandalous aspects as they became impediments. Polygamy is the most obvious example. Another is the doctrine about African-Americans, abandoned within my lifetime, as American culture changed such that the old doctrine was not longer an asset. What is not so clear is what scandal do they consider fundamental to Mormonism?

          Nowadays they present themselves like Southern Baptists, but with different vocabulary and a hierarchical church structure. All the doctrine that strikes most Americans as weird is carefully obfuscated. How much is the public face a real shift, and how much a marketing ploy? I think it is purely opportunistic, but if church growth continues, there could be a generation of church members for whom this is normal. It could stick, and a century from now scholars will be studying those weird things 20th century Mormons believed. Or growth could stall and there could be a backlash within the church. Or perhaps the whole thing is a cynical ploy to get new members, who are carefully indoctrinated once they are in the door. It could go many different directions. The beauty of having a prophet with a direct telephone line to a God who is flexible about such things is that it is comparatively easy to change with the times.

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            What do you mean by “major”? Baha’i-ism is obviously not on a par with any of the mainstream Abrahamic religions. Mormonism is about half the size of Judaism, but has much less impact on the world. We might as well talk about adding Crowleyanity.

      • In the BOM, Alma 7:10 says, “And behold, He shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem”. Scriptures like that make the BOM a non Christian source.

        • Clearly this is just a case of urban sprawl swallowing up another suburb.

          • Actually its only 5 miles. A short trip by car. Longer by donkey
            . That’s probably the response the Mormons use. Of course, many of the Old Testament cities were close, but when God uses a name of a city it means that city, not the region. So that response won’t fly

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            The whole Bethlehem tradition might have been concocted to associate Jesus with King David. The gospels make him sound like a native of the Galilee and/or Nazareth.

  3. Only the activity of God in bringing a final Word into history and into the conversation can cause this conversation to have divine implications totally beyond the human realm of origin and explanation.

    This is how it works with me on a personal level. He does it with me through the experiences and through my mind. Not your mind in my way. Your mind in your way. The scriptures He has highlighted in my life have become part of me through my experiences and I know them to be true. When you testify about yours I can take that testimony to be true out of love unless…….. Maybe I can’t understand. My faith is that He is doing the same and no matter where you are or at what point in the road love is the most important and the Author of it is still writing upon hearts.

    Love never makes sense to me. I can’t explain it in a complete way by words. I know some of it depths but not completely yet. I will when I look face to face in those eyes and then I wonder if there will be words to say. I will be complete. I can’t tell you why I love the little kitten from the mountain. Why I cried for days when I thought I lost her. How I woke up screaming her name in the middle of the night sobbing. How my heart rejoiced when I got her back. God speaks to me through these things so I can understand Him and what He did on that Cross for me and you and how we are loved.

    Without that how could we know. This is the King of love stories based in a Bible and still be written within us today. Through our experiences when we turn and listen and see. Everything here is crying out to us to take our place and love like the one we profess to follow.

    Jesus exhibited radical love to give us light to the words on the page.

  4. I absolutely love this post. . . Michael Spencer’s writing at its best.

    With these words, Michael zeroed in on the abuses generated by the ‘inerrancy’ crowd after they placed the interpretation of certain Scriptures outside of the lens of Christ:

    “The Law came through Moses, but grace and TRUTH came through Jesus Christ. The TRUTH of the Bible was not there without Jesus. Any discussion of inspiration that is not- eventually- about the relationship of Jesus to that part of the conversation, is useless.”

    Michael cut through the inerrancy baloney with a laser-like insight and made his case with a literary precision that marks him as a truly gifted theologian.

  5. An inerrant text only is Christ +.

    “Our church only” is also Christ +.

    A “3rd use of the law”…is also, Christ +.

    The requirement of making a decision (for Christ) is Christ +.

    Christ alone. He is enough.

  6. This is one of the most brilliant pieces I’ve ever read. Michael’s “argument” is sound. We miss you, Michael, and cherish the writings you left behind.

  7. Probably a non-sequitur , but someone mentioned “confessional” here. What IS a confessional Protestant church? Are the confessions made formally and to whom? What denominations participate and why? Naturally I do not mean our private confessions to Christ.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I think “confession” in this case is Protestant-speak for “creed”, a formal Statement of Faith.

      • That’s sort of how I see it, too. A “confession” aka “declaration.”

        • Faulty O-Ring says:

          Several “denominations” reject creeds as illegitimate man-made additions to holy scripture. You might want to say that they believe the same things., but that would overlook the significant non-Trinitarian tradition within the Churches/Disciples of Christ. (Are there non-Trinitarian Baptists too? Have to check.)

  8. When I was 19 attending a conservative (moderate fundy) Bible School, I realized that there was something fishy about the whole inerrancy thing. In my own mind, I labeled these people “Biblical Postivists,” playing off the label “logical positivists” The difference being that rather than accepting only the empirical quantifiable evidence of the senses as valid, the Biblical Positivist accepted ONLY a narrow view of the evidence provided by scripture. Anything spoken of outside of that narrow context simply cannot be discussed.

    And they seemed to do this without apparent regard to either the context in which that scripture was created, or to the context in which that scripture was to be interpreted and understood.

    I still find the term helpful in my own mind, although I don’t usually use it as I don’t think many people would understand my usage.

    • I think you were exactly right to use a term like ‘positivism.’ The method you were sensing came to evangelicalism out of particular strains of Enlightenment thinking, particularly Scottish Common Sense Realism. [See Mark Noll, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, or America’s God] The basic idea that emerged here was that the Bible was like a collection of evidence (all, the inerrantist insists, is completely reliable for all he’d like to do with it). You collect up the little bits of evidence. Then you apply inductive reasoning to it. Then you form conclusions. It’s a direct mirror of the inductive reasoning of the scientific method.

      “And they seemed to do this without apparent regard to either the context in which that scripture was created, or to the context in which that scripture was to be interpreted and understood.”

      I think once you have an eye on context and the narrative ‘flow’ scripture, and see it as testifying to Christ and continually reflecting on the same truths and unfolding divine-human drama, inerrancy becomes a lot less important as an idea. That defines the areas where we need it to be authoritative. Insisting on inerrancy looks a lot more important if you are trying to see the book as a great repository of information that is useful for deriving answers to any question.

  9. “Scripture is inspired if God has, on some level and in some way, directed its production so that it says what he wants it to say”

    This sentence might be my most favoritest of anything Michael ever wrote. I use it all the time. Although he is talking about inspiration directly, I have borrowed it to explain my view of inerrancy: To the extent that it says exactly what He wants it to say, there are no errors!

  10. A phrase came to mind a few days ago that seems to go with the theme of this post. Sometimes, people make the claim that a historical Adam is necessary for Christ’s sacrifice to mean anything–“if we’re monkeys, you might as well forget original sin,” as a certain Christian rap song I heard in my youth once put it. That question never really held to me, even as a YEC, and I think I can say why now. It doesn’t matter whether Adam was “real” or not, because Christ is.

    Thoughts?

  11. Just now checked back, thanks all for good replies to my ???about confessional churches. If I were’nt so stupid I would have thot of the CREEDS!