Andrew McGowan on Inerrancy (Part 2)

[Continued from Part 1]

The Case of the Missing Argument

Two things surprised me about McGowan’s case against inerrancy. The first is that (unless I’ve missed it) he nowhere provides a definition of the doctrine of inerrancy. It seems to me that anyone who wants to argue against a doctrine ought first to specify clearly what he understands that doctrine to claim. Still, since McGowan expresses his view that the “most significant argument for inerrancy … comes from the Chicago inerrantists” (p. 104), it’s reasonable to assume that his working definition aligns with the one provided by the Chicago Statement.

The second (and greater) surprise is that McGowan doesn’t at any point explain why he thinks the core inerrantist argument is mistaken. In fact, the argument isn’t even accurately represented in the first place. Here’s how McGowan characterizes it in chapter 4 of Divine Spiration (the chapter in which he argues directly against inerrancy):

Above all, [the Chicago inerrantists] argue that, since Scripture has its origin in God and since God’s character is such that he cannot lie, Scripture must be inerrant. (pp. 104-5)

Is it not the case, however, that [Greg Bahnsen's] own case for inerrancy depends upon an a priori commitment, namely that if God ‘inspired’ Scripture, therefore it must be inerrant because of his character? (p. 111)

Let me begin by noting the core argument of the inerrantists: God chose to give us the Scriptures through the writers he chose. They spoke directly from him, being under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. This ensured that the resultant text could be said to be ‘God-breathed’. Since God is perfect and does not mislead us and since God is all-powerful and able to do all things, it is inconceivable that he would allow mistakes in this process of Scripture-production. In short, since God is God, we must assume that the Scriptures he gave us are inerrant in every respect. (p. 114)

It is telling, perhaps, that McGowan doesn’t directly quote any inerrantists as to their “core argument” or otherwise support his characterization with documentation. The problem with the way he presents the inerrantist argument is this: although he clearly recognises the role of the second premise in the argument, he doesn’t recognise the work done by the first premise. There’s no acknowledgement of the role that Scripture’s self-characterization plays in the argument, which may well explain why McGowan never deals directly with (say) Warfield’s presentation of the data in support of that premise.

Because of this oversight, it’s natural for McGowan to think that inerrantists like Bahnsen are dependent on “an a priori commitment” as to how God would or wouldn’t inspire Scripture. But the underlying claim that what Scripture says, God says (i.e., the functional identity of Scripture’s speech acts and God’s speech acts) isn’t based on theological speculation. As Warfield’s meticulous study demonstrates, it’s based on nothing less than what Scripture says!

I have tried to explain why McGowan’s characterisation of the core inerrantist argument is inadequate. There is, however, a further oversight on McGowan’s part. Not only does he neglect to explain why the inerrantist argument is flawed as it ought to be characterized, he doesn’t even explain why the inerrantist argument is flawed as he himself characterizes it. In other words, although he offers arguments against the inerrantist conclusion (which I address below), he doesn’t attempt to explain why the argument for inerrancy is mistaken.

On the topic of logical reasoning in the service of theology, John Frame writes:

Note therefore that when you seek to refute someone’s position, it is never sufficient merely to set forth arguments for an alternative (and incompatible) view. Many modern theologians, for example, argue against the orthodox view of Scripture by presenting arguments for liberal constructions, without even considering the biblical evidence that motivated the orthodox view in the first place. Many pro-abortionists talk on and on about women’s rights, the tragedy of rape, and so forth, without giving any serious attention to the nature of the fetus, the most crucial datum in the anti-abortion case. A prolifer might be unable to refute the pro-abortion arguments, but he will not on that account abandon his position. He may rightly suspect that something may be wrong in the abortionist’s case, for he is so certain of the arguments that produced his own view. In such situations it is best, then, not only to argue an alternative view but also to refute the arguments that produced the view you are seeking to overthrow. Even then, of course, an opponent convinced of the rightness of his cause may take refuge in the possibility of your being wrong. But the more you cast doubt on those considerations that weigh most heavily with your opponent, the more adequate your argument will be.[1]

I quote Frame not because he uses “liberal” views of Scripture as an illustration (it would be quite unfair to describe McGowan’s position as “liberal”) but because he expresses well an important point about responsible argumentation. It’s not enough to give positive arguments for your own view (in McGowan’s case, infallibility without inerrancy). You must also refute the arguments that have been given in support of the opposing view. McGowan doesn’t do that — not least because he doesn’t get the core inerrantist argument right in the first place.

[Continued in Part 3]

[1] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1987), p. 258, emphasis added.

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