I’m pretty sure that by now I’ve heard all the major objections to Calvinism. Some of them deserve to be taken seriously, although none are weighty enough to overturn the balance (or rather imbalance) of biblical evidence. Others objections, however, I find hard to credit at all. An example of the latter is the claim that the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election undermines assurance of salvation. Only this week a student was telling me about a professor at a nearby liberal arts college who had wielded this objection in his theology class. The objection is rarely articulated with precision, but as best I can make out the idea is that a Calvinist can’t enjoy assurance of salvation because he’ll always be fretting about whether or not he’s really elect. What if he’s a reprobate after all? He longs to peer into the secret will of God, but all in vain — for as Deuteronomy 29:29 declares, the “secret things” belong to the Lord God alone.
A commenter (Keith) on my earlier post on the historicity of Adam poses a good question:
Can you comment on the broader theological/hermeneutical/epistemological issues here?
Let’s assume the following for the sake of discussion: (a) there are strong textual (referring to the whole Bible) reasons in favor of a historical Adam; (b) the textual evidence isn’t a “slam dunk” so it is possible that the text doesn’t necessitate a historical Adam; (c) there is a strong scientific consesus that the scientific evidence for evolution is a slam dunk; and (d) somehow evolution strongly undermines belief in a historical Adam. I leave (d) fuzzy because there are probably a number of ways one might think a belief in evolution would undermine belief in a historical Adam. (I can think of at least a couple quickly, but spelling it out isn’t necessary for the question I am asking.)
What should one do in this epistemic situation? The textual evidence is much stronger for a historical Adam (assuming the above assumptions) but it isn’t a slam dunk. Yet the scientific evidence for evolution, which per the illustration undermines belief in a historical Adam, is a slam dunk. Does one count all evidence of the epistemic situation equally or does one first resolve the interpretive issue based on textual reasons and then hold to a historical Adam over against the undermining scientific slam dunk?
I am asking, because I suspect that which side one takes often correlates with how one would resolve the epistemic situation in my illustration.
My earlier post on the historicity of Adam has received some critical discussion on another blog. I appreciate the thoughtful push-back from Nick and others, not least because this is one of those debates that can quickly degenerate into anathematizing partisanship. I tried to address the matter objectively, without personalizing the issue, and I hope we can maintain that level of respectful debate. Anyway, here are a few further remarks by way of response.
In a video clip that will no doubt stir up some discussion in the evangelical blogosphere, Professor Tremper Longman III has expressed doubts about whether the opening chapters of Genesis commit one to believing that Adam was a real historical individual (in the sense that Jesus, say, was a real historical individual). I’m not going to comment here on Longman’s particular views or his reasons for holding them, but merely offer twelve prima facie reasons why an evangelical view of the Bible commits one to the existence of Adam has a real historical individual.
[Continued from Part 3]
Inerrancy: Rationalistic or Just Plain Rational?
McGowan’s final salvo against the doctrine of the inerrancy is his charge that it is a “rationalist implication”. This is a rather surprising accusation, since inerrantists are more commonly accused of irrationalism than rationalism! At the heart of McGowan’s charge, however, is the idea that inerrantists have based their doctrine on an “unwarranted assumption about God”:
The basic error of the inerrantists is to insist that the inerrancy of the autographa is a direct implication of the biblical doctrine of inspiration (or divine spiration). In order to defend this implication, the inerrantists make an unwarranted assumption about God. The assumption is that, given the nature and character of God, the only kind of Scripture he could ‘breathe out’ was Scripture that is textually inerrant. If there was even one mistaken in the autographa, then God cannot have been the author, because he is incapable of error. (p. 113)
[Continued from Part 2]
McGowan’s Arguments against Inerrancy
I turn now to examine McGowan’s three arguments against the inerrantist view represented by the Chicago Statement, which he takes to be the most defensible version of the doctrine.
[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.
Challenges to the doctrine of inerrancy from within the evangelical tradition are nothing new. In that respect, Andrew McGowan’s recent book The Divine Spiration of Scripture is not especially noteworthy. It has, however, caused quite a stir in Reformed evangelical circles, mainly because confessional Reformed theologians (such as McGowan) are generally thought to be more firmly committed to inerrancy than other evangelicals precisely in virtue of their confessional commitments (e.g., to the Westminster Standards). The burden of McGowan’s book is to argue that the doctrine of inerrancy is actually a recent development within the Reformed tradition, forged by Old Princeton in response to the challenge of the Enlightenment, and, moreover, that its advocacy was — to be blunt — a big mistake.
In this series of posts, I want to examine McGowan’s main arguments against the doctrine of inerrancy, as that doctrine is articulated in the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I believe his arguments are weak and evidence a misunderstanding of both the core claim of inerrantists and the core argument for that claim. What follows is not intended to be a full book review of Divine Spiration. I happen to agree with much of what McGowan says in the book, but here I want to focus solely on his case against inerrancy.