Andrew McGowan on Inerrancy (Part 1)

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

Delivered From and Unto Death

Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death. (Psalms 68:20, ESV)

For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:10, KJV)

The Christian life is a series of deliverances: a succession of temporary, partial deliverances preparing us for a permanent, decisive deliverance.

How Would a Spiritual Resurrection Play in Athens?

Critics of orthodox Christianity sometimes argue that the apostle Paul (perhaps with many other early Christians) didn’t believe in a physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus, but held instead to a “spiritual” resurrection. (Richard Carrier and Antony Flew would be two prominent examples of such critics.) This “spiritual” resurrection would have been understood not as a disembodied persistence of Jesus’ immaterial soul, but rather as the post-crucifixion Jesus receiving a brand new, ethereal, super-powered body that transcended physical limitations. Whatever this view involves, at a minimum it has to be compatible with the suggestion that Jesus’ corpse remained buried and eventually decomposed. The cash-value of such a claim is obvious enough: if one of the most significant figures in the early Church didn’t believe that Jesus was raised bodily from the grave, then modern believers in a physical resurrection are barking up the wrong tree entirely. Furthermore, one of the central planks in the traditional evidentialist case for orthodox Christianity is undermined.

Pride and Prejudice

There’s no doubt that the election of a biracial man to the US presidency is a historic event. Insofar as it symbolises the success of the civil rights movement against racial injustice, it should be celebrated (and I join with my American friends on that count).

Still, I have to confess that I’m left somewhat confused by the countless expressions of pride I’ve witnessed over the last two days. “Today, I’m proud of America!” “Americans can take pride in this historic election result!” And so on.

But what exactly is there to be proud about, I ask?

Should Americans be proud that a biracial man has been elected US president? Surely that’s no reason to be proud. A man’s ethnicity or skin colour ought to be strictly irrelevant to whether he’s the right man to serve as president. Wasn’t that the point all along? So to take pride in his election on that basis is just another form of racism.

Should Americans be proud that a biracial man could be elected US president? Well, we all knew that months ago. How did the events of Tuesday add anything to that?

In any case, how would that give grounds for pride? Race should never have been an issue in the first place — not now, not in the 60s, not at any time. At best, the election result illustrates that a past injustice is no longer present. Suggesting that the election (or electability) of a non-white president is praiseworthy or prideworthy is to confuse the obligatory with the supererogatory. There should never have been any barrier in the first place. There’s no basis for pride in finally doing (or allowing) one what always ought to have done (or allowed).

Imagine if for 40 years my church had forced women to sit on the floor during its worship services. Should I feel pride on the day that the first woman is allowed to sit in a pew? Gladness, yes. Relief, yes. But pride?

America is a truly great country and Americans have much to feel justly proud about. Yet in all honesty, I fail to see that the election of a biracial president should be one of them. Gladness, yes. Relief, yes. But pride?

Perhaps I’m still bitter about the historic event of July 4th, 1776. :)

The Collected Works of John M. Frame, Volume 1

“The Collected Works of John M. Frame, Volume 1: Theology” is as descriptive and accurate a title as one could want for an electronic library. The first of three volumes to be released, it contains all six of Frame’s books on theological topics:

  • The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God is the first book in Frame’s ‘Theology of Lordship’ series. It’s essentially a detailed exploration of what Scripture has to say on the subject of epistemology: what knowledge is, what we can and do know, and how we know it.
  • The Doctrine of God, the second in the ‘Lordship’ series, is an exposition of the attributes and character of the God of Scripture, centred on His self-designation as ‘Lord’ (Yahweh). Among other things, it contains lengthy discussions of the problem of evil and the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • Salvation Belongs to the Lord is an introductory systematic theology, based on a survey course Frame was invited to teach in 2004. As modern evangelical STs go, it isn’t a competitor to the weighty volumes by, e.g., Wayne Grudem and Robert Reymond, but neither is it intended to be. In keeping with Frame’s other writings, it’s clear, concise, reliable, readable, and edifying.
  • No Other God is Frame’s critique of Open Theism, the revisionist view of God promoted by Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Greg Boyd, and others. One of the features that distinguishes it from other classical theist responses to openness theology is that it is explicitly and unashamedly Reformed. A large part of the book is devoted to refuting one of the driving presuppositions of Open Theism, namely, libertarian human freedom.
  • The Amsterdam Philosophy is one of Frame’s earliest publications: a short but penetrating critical assessment of the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd and his followers. It isn’t as relevant today as it was in 1972, but it remains instructive as a critique of an influential movement that tended to put philosophy rather than Scripture in the driving seat.
  • Perspectives on the Word of God contains the text of three lectures delivered at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1988, applying (with relative brevity) Frame’s triperspectivalism to the subjects of divine revelation and ethics. As such, it offers a preview of the final two volumes in the ‘Lordship’ series: The Doctrine of the Word of God and The Doctrine of the Christian Life.

Holy Hyperlinks

The hyperlink has to be one of the great inventions of the 20th century. Like most great inventions, we now take it almost completely for granted — a paradoxical consequence of its success. Apparently the word ‘hyperlink’ was coined in 1965, but the now-familiar sight of blue underlined text didn’t become ubiquitous until the advent of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s. In essence, the hyperlink is a labelled wormhole from one point in the information universe to another. One of its greatest benefits is its time-saving potential (just as one of its greatest drawbacks is its time-wasting potential, as anyone who has been sucked into a Wikipedia rabbit hole will know).

Logic 101

A friend who read the Fallacy Files posts asked me to recommend an introductory logic textbook. The classic textbook is Introduction to Logic by Copi and Cohen. The fact that it’s now in its 13th edition is an indicator of its popularity and success. One of its best features is its extensive use of real-life illustrations of arguments and fallacies. It’s on the expensive side, admittedly, but it’s worth the investment if you’re serious about learning logic. You can probably pick up a second-hand copy for a tolerable price. It’s not crucial to have the latest edition unless you’ll be using it alongside others in a logic class.

Fallacy Files #2: Dawkins on Religion and Evil

Logicians routinely distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions. If X is a necessary condition for Y, then wherever there is Y there is also X; but the reverse may not be true (there may be X without Y). If X is a sufficient condition for Y, then wherever there is X there is also Y; but the reverse may not be true (there may be Y without X). Clearly it’s important to distinguish necessary conditions and sufficient conditions, since the one does not imply the other, and failure to distinguish them leads to fallacious inferences.

In a previous post, I remarked that Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion is a rich source of examples of logical fallacies. I pointed out a rather blatant instance of petitio principii (begging the question) in chapter 3. It seems to me, however, that the prolific professor doesn’t even make it past the first page of the book without committing an error in reasoning.

RTS-Charlotte on YouTube

My future employer, Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, recently posted three short promotional videos on YouTube. If you’re considering a seminary education that is at once biblical, confessional, scholarly, and practical, please take a look at these promos (embedded below the fold). If you’d like to chat about what RTS-Charlotte offers, please don’t hesitate to contact me or the campus president, Dr Michael Milton.