A helpful insight from C. S. Lewis:
Beware of the argument “the church gave the Bible (and therefore the Bible can never give us ground for criticizing the church).” It is perfectly possible to accept B on the authority of A and yet regard B as a higher authority than A. It happens when I recommend a book to a pupil. I first sent him to the book, but, having gone to it, he knows (for I’ve told him) that the author knows more about the subject than I.
Source: The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, vol. 3, ed. Walter Hopper (HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 1307-8.
This captures well the carefully nuanced position articulated in Chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:
4. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture…
10. The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
In sum, the testimony of the church counts for something; it serves as a lesser (fallible) authority pointing us to a greater (infallible) authority. And since the second is a higher authority, it can stand in judgment over the first, correcting it where necessary. There’s nothing incoherent about that position, as Lewis’s helpful analogy illustrates.
The following article was published in the Christian Research Journal 39:5 (2016). Thanks to CRI for permission to post it here.
How Do You Know That the Bible Is God’s Word?
If you’re a regular reader of the Christian Research Journal, I suspect that question immediately prompts you to think of arguments and evidences for the divine inspiration of the Bible. Take, for example, the fulfilled biblical prophecies, the astonishing consistency and unity of the Bible’s message despite having many human authors over hundreds of years, and the testimony of Jesus, who confirmed His claim to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead.
Those would be good thoughts, but there’s a problem with answering the question in that way. If a Christian’s knowledge that the Bible is God’s Word depends on being able to marshal various arguments and evidences, then surely only a small minority of Christians actually know that the Bible is God’s Word. The majority of Christians may believe it, but they don’t know it, simply because they’re not familiar with these apologetic evidences. They’ve never been asked to justify their beliefs in that way, and they wouldn’t know how to do it if they were asked.
Obviously it would be very unfortunate if it turned out that most Christians don’t actually know that Christianity is true. It also seems quite implausible. Take my late grandmother, for example. Her Christian faith towered over mine. Should I conclude that I knew something she didn’t — namely, that the Bible she built her life on is indeed God’s Word — because she wasn’t able to marshal arguments and evidences in the way that I can?
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.
[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.