Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Frame on necessary inerrancy

When God speaks to us, we dare not criticize what he says. Our only recourse is to believe and to obey. Now, what of inerrancy? Well, the inerrancy of Scripture is certainly implied in what I have said already, if we are permitted to take "inerrancy" in its normal, dictionary meaning. "Inerrant" simply means "without error," or "true" in the sense that we normally speak of true sentences, true doctrines, true accounts, true principles. Were God to speak to us in person, "directly," none of us would dare to charge him with error. Errors arise from ignorance or deceit; and our God is neither ignorant, nor is he a deceiver. Similarly, we dare not charge his written Word with error.

This is not a mere "modern" position...it is the position of Scripture itself. Augustine in the fifth century declared, "None of these (scriptural) authors has erred in any respect of writing." Shall we speak today of biblical "inerrancy?" The term does, to be sure, produce confusion in some circles. Some theologians have gone far astray from the dictionary meaning of "inerrant." James Orr, for example, defined "inerrant" as "hard and fast literality in minute matters of historical, geographical, and scientific detail." Well, if "inerrancy" requires literalism, then we should renounce inerrancy; for the Bible is not always to be interpreted literally. Certainly there are important questions of Bible interpretation that one bypasses if he accepts biblical inerrancy in this sense.

But we should remember that Orr's use of the term, and the similar uses of contemporary theologians, are distortions of its meaning. Perhaps those distortions have become so frequent today as to inhibit the usefulness of the term. For the time being, however, I would like to keep the term, and explain to people who question me that I am not using it in Orr's sense, but rather to confess the historic faith of the church.

From an article published in 2002. Read the whole thing here.

The End of the Law? Affinity Theological Study Conference 2009

A brief update on the previous post. The talks will be:

Paper 1: The concept of Covenant in the history of theology

Speaker: Bob Letham

Paper 2: The validity of the three-fold division of the Mosaic Law in Scripture

Speaker: Iain D Campbell

Paper 3: One Covenant or two – the relationship between the Old and the New

Speaker: Douglas Moo

Paper 4: The use of the Mosaic Law in the New Testament church

Speaker: Chris Bennett

Paper 5: The use of the Mosaic Law in society today

Speaker: Paul Helm

Paper 6: Where do we go from here?

Speaker: Michael Horton

Sunday, April 27, 2008

From infallibility to inerrancy

Strange as it may seem, we do not know why some Christians began to use the word inerrancy rather than the traditional word infallibility in the late nineteenth century. Did they do so to distance themselves from the declarations of Vatican I (1870-1871) concerning the Pope's infallibility? We do not know. We recall that A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield still used the expression absolute infallibility in their celebrated 1881 "Inspiration" article. We do know that contemporaries apparently viewed the words as interchangeable ones.

Footnote 104, from Chapter VII "Biblical Infallibility in the Nineteenth Century: The Princetonians" in John D. Woodbridge Biblical Authority: A critique of the Rogers/McKim proposal

Friday, April 25, 2008

The End of the Law? Affinity Theological Study Conference 2009

The End* Of The Law?

- to bring to an end or conclusion
- to terminate
- to reach a goal

The 2009 Affinity Theological Study Conference

4th - 6th February 2009

Examining the role of the law in the Bible, the Church and Society.

Since New Testament times (and even within the New Testament Church) the nature of the relationship of the Christian to God’s law has been the subject of considerable disagreement and confusion. On the one hand the New Testament warns Christians against those who twist God’s grace into a justification for licence. On the other hand the New Testament is no less insistent that legalism is a form of bondage from which believers have been set free. So much is clear. Problems surface when what one regards as holiness of life is viewed by another as legalism, and what some consider to be gospel liberty is branded by others as shameful licence.

As traditional understandings are increasingly being questioned, even by reformed Christians, the 2009 Affinity Theological Study Conference will address the overall theme of law and covenant. In addition to a historical overview, speakers of different persuasions will address issues such as the threefold division of the law, whether there is one covenant or two and the place of the Mosaic law in the Church and society.

Speakers include:

Chris Bennett (Wilton Community Church, Muswell Hill)
Iain D. Campbell (Back Free Church, Isle of Lewis)
Paul Helm (Regent College, Vancouver and London University)
Michael Horton (Westminster Seminary, California)
Bob Letham (Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST), Bridgend)
Douglas J. Moo (Wheaton College, Illinois)

To reserve your place contact Philip Grubb on 01656 646152 or send an e-mail to admin@affinity.org.uk. Early booking is advisable.

Vanhoozer on Inerrancy

My friend Guy Davies sent me this excellent quote from Kevin Vanhoozer on inerrancy:

The basis for the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is located both in the nature of God and in the Bible's teaching about itself. First, if God is perfect – all knowing, all wise, all-good – it follows that God speaks the truth. God does not tell lies; God is not ignorant. God's Word is thus free from all error arising either from conscious deceit or unconscious ignorance.

Such is the unanimous confession of the Psalmist, the prophets, the Lord Jesus and the apostles. Second, the Bible presents itself as the Word of God written. Thus, in addition to its humanity (which is never denied), the Bible also enjoys the privileges and prerogatives of its status as God's Word. God's Word is thus wholly reliable, a trustworthy guide to reality, a light unto our path.

Westminster Theological Seminary release official documents from their discussion of Peter Enn's Inspiration and Incarnation

Justin Taylor has provided this helpful link:

From Westminster Theological Seminary:
The attached PDF . . . provides some of the documents in the theological discussion brought forth by the book Inspiration and Incarnation.

The following items are included in the pdf document:

  • Statement from the Chairman of the Board
  • Preface to the Historical and Theological Field Committee
  • Historical and Theological Fied Committee Report (HTFC)
  • Preface to the Hermeneutics Field Committee's Reply
  • Hermeneutics Field Committee's Reply to the HTFC (HFC)
  • Edgar-Kelly Motion
  • Minority Report
  • "'The Infallible Rule of Interpretation of Scripture': The Hermeneutical Crisis and the Westminster Standards"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A. T. B. McGowan's proposal to reject necessary inerrancy

My four posts on Professor Andy McGowan's rejection of necessary inerrancy were from a draft version of a longer article that has now been posted at Reformation 21.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Heresy 101 (part 2)

Why would anyone embrace heresy?

You would think that someone would have to be out of their right mind to believe heresy. Who, after all, wants to believe something that isn't true? But, to quote Lucifer in Milton's Paradise Lost, the anthem of heresy is that “it is better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” Every heresy appeals to our sinful wishes and desires, the “way that we want things to be” and not the way that God has provided in the gospel, “which is infinitely better for us” as Bishop Allison put it. Consider all the major heresies and you will find that they appeal, directly or indirectly, to our sinful reason, affections and will. Heresy appears to be beneficial, posing as good news and proclaiming Jesus (2 Cor. 11:4), but in reality like gangrene it destroys spiritual life (2 Tim. 2:17).

Heresy always presents itself as an improvement on the biblical gospel. For the Colossians it promised to overcome their struggle with sin and bring them closer to God. For the Galatians it would keep them from persecution and fuel their desire to justify themselves before God by their works.

Heresy never appears in its true colours. In his monumental work Against Heresies Irenaeus wrote that “error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself.”

What are the effects of heresy?

Heresy brings confusion for unbelievers since they hear several different and contradictory voices all claiming to be telling them the authentic good news.

Heresy also brings trouble for the Church. Unless false teachers are silenced, as Paul tells Titus that they should be, they will ruin households and upset the faith of some (Titus 1:11). Genuine believers can be unsettled by the teaching of these men (2 Tim. 2:18). In addition to this damage, false teachers also drain the time, energy, and resources of churches when they are not dealt with. Drawn out conflicts with false teachers can divert and distract gospel churches from evangelism and the planting and nurturing of new congregations.

Heresy places those who embrace it, and refuse to be corrected, in danger of eternal condemnation. At the very least the salvation of those who are deceived by gospel denying error cannot be affirmed. There is hope that God may grant such people repentance. But the apostles did not shrink back from spelling out the danger of turning to a “different gospel.” Paul makes it clear that whether the “false brothers,” an angel from heaven, or even the apostles themselves preached another gospel than the one that Paul had preached then they should be accursed (Gal. 1:6-9).

Harold Brown summed up the consequences of truth and error by saying that “just as there are doctrines that are true, and that can bring salvation, there are those that are false, so false that they can spell eternal damnation for those who have the misfortune to be entrapped by them.”

Why do heresies persist?

Church history tells the story of the battle between truth and error. Heresies arise, gain a following, are opposed and refuted from Scripture, and then the Church moves on and advances in the truth. Because of this we have great statements like the Nicene Creed and the Definition of Chalcedon. But if these errors have been dealt with in the past why do they come back again and again? Why do people today believe old heresies? There are three reasons.

1. The devil still deceives people into believing heresies by using human instruments to promote attractive and plausible teaching. He will continue to do this until Christ returns in glory.

2. The warnings and lessons from history are ignored or unknown. If we are ignorant of the past we will fail to see that heresies that today appear new, innovative and interesting are as old as dirt. Many of the errors finding a home in evangelicalism today were tried and found wanting by our great-great-grandfathers in the faith at the bar of Scripture.

3. Throughout history those who deny the truth and choose a different gospel are limited in the options available to them. In his study of heresies Harold Brown concluded that “over and over again, in widely separated cultures, in different centuries, the same basic misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the person and work of Christ and his message reappear. The persistence of the same stimulus, so to speak, repeatedly produces the same or similar reactions.”

Heresy 101 (part 1)

What do you associate that word with? Torches and pitchforks? Burning someone at the stake? The incessant barking of theological watchdogs? “Health and wealth” preachers? Unbelieving bishops who deny the gospel but stay on the payroll of the church?

What is heresy?

Michael Horton helpfully defines it as “any teaching that directly contradicts the clear and direct witness of the Scriptures on a point of salvific importance.” Heresy is the kind of doctrinal error that is so serious that it redefines the gospel. Error is always costly. It dishonours God and damages the Church. But not all errors are heresies. A heretic is not someone who fails to explain adequately the doctrine of the Trinity, or that Jesus is both fully God and fully man, the nature of the atonement, or justification by faith alone. No, a heretic denies these truths and is fundamentally unsubmissive to apostolic doctrine and authority as it is given in Scripture.

Heresy is not a matter of opinion. We have an objective standard when we want to find out which theological view is correct or orthodox (meaning “right belief”), as Paul shows in 1 Corinthians 15, and which ones are wrong . In the end the fight against heresy is always won by the clear, patient, and thorough exposition of Scripture. Perversely, successful heretics themselves often claim to be truly orthodox and biblical.

Heresy is, however, a matter of choice. It is the choice to believe a different gospel. Augustine said that heretics are men “who were altogether broken off and alienated in matters relating to the actual faith.”

A heretic chooses to tell lies about the God of the Bible because he doesn't want to tell the truth. And a heretic is someone who refuses admonition and is divisive (Titus 3:10-11). Putting it mathematically, heretics take away from the truth of the gospel (and adding to the truth always takes away from it), they divide true churches and aim to multiply new disciples.

Where do heresies come from?

It is vitally important to realise that heresies do not originate in the minds of men and women. Ultimately heresy originates with the devil. When the apostle Paul takes the Corinthian church to task for tolerating false teachers he compares their approach to the deception of Eve by the serpent (2 Cor. 11:3). But the deception in the Garden is more than a useful illustration. The super-apostles at Corinth are the servants of the devil disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.

Similarly Paul warned Timothy about “deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1), and of false teachers who are caught in the snare of the devil (2 Tim. 2:24-25). After all the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44). The connection between other gospels and the demonic, which is integral to a biblical world view, has been largely lost. If it were regained it would keep us from ever thinking that heresies are interesting, intellectually stimulating, tolerable, or in any way benign. Cyprian of Carthage, in the third century, made this insightful comment about heresy and the devil:

There is more need to fear and beware of the Enemy when he creeps up secretly, when he beguiles us by a show of peace and steals forward by those hidden approaches which have earned him the name of the 'Serpent'...He invented heresies and schisms so as to undermine the faith, to corrupt the truth, to sunder our unity. Those whom he failed to keep in the blindness of their old ways he beguiles, and leads them up a new road of illusion.

Or as the late Jaroslav Pelikan put it “renouncing the devil means denouncing heresy.”

Furthermore, it is vitally important to understand that heresy is the takeover of Christianity by an alien worldview. Paul warned the Colossians about “plausible arguments” and those who were trying to take them captive by “philosophy and empty deceit according to human tradition,” (Col. 2:4, 8). Heretics often use the words of the Bible, change their meaning, and hide false ideas under them. The label may still say “Christ,” “salvation,” or “atonement” but the meaning of these words have been radically altered. The early church fathers were alert to this danger. They wrote books to expose the fact that heretics were really saying the same thing as pagan philosophers, only the heretics were dressing up these ideas in Christian language. This deceitfulness makes heresy morally as well as doctrinally wrong.

Scripture keeps reason in its proper place

From Bavinck:
If Christian revelation, which presupposes the darkness and error of unspiritual humanity, submitted in advance to the judgments of reason, it would by that token contradict itself. It would thereby place itself before a tribunal whose jurisdiction it had first denied. And having once recognized the authority of reason on the level of first principles, it could no longer oppose that authority in the articles of faith.
Reformed Dogmatics Volume One: Prolegomena, p. 516

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The use and abuse of authors

I found this question from the 19th century Welsh preacher Richard Jones helpful with regard to the use of dead authors in living controversies. The use of written historical sources in support of contemporary causes begs some important questions about accuracy and integrity:
But who can ever speak so wisely and so accurately that some of their words, here and there, may not be used by a spirit of perversity and aberration to support error, whereas if the sentence or the reasoning as a whole were considered, the idea conveyed would be seen to be quite the reverse?

Friday, April 18, 2008

T4G Sermons

Thought provoking, stimulating, edifying, God glorifying and free.

The Together for the Gospel sessions are available here.

A God who uses no words cannot make any promises

If we cannot be sure that what Scripture says, God says, we cannot be sure that He has actually made any of the promises which Scripture ascribes to Him. (Indeed if we deny that revelation is propositional, we make it quite certain that He has not. A God who uses no words cannot make any promises).

J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken, p. 117

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Is Inerrancy Unbiblical, Rationalistic and Presumptuous? Examining McGowan's proposal (part 4)


McGowan's reasons for rejecting inerrancy are bound up with his doctrine of God. Ultimately the burden of his argument does not rest upon the textual details that errantists and inerrantists seek to account for in formulating their respective views of Scripture. It is the relationship between the divine spiration of Scripture and the character and will of God that differentiates McGowan's approach from that of the Hodges, Warfield, and Packer. McGowan operates from the basis that the truthfulness of the autographs should not be inferred from God's unchangeable nature and attribute of truthfulness. Rather he is “free to act according to his will” and must not be assumed to be bound to breathing out only inerrant autographs. Furthermore McGowan builds his case by forbidding inerrancy to be arrived at as an implication of inspiration, and by treating inerrancy as a deduction based on the character of God as if this were not part of the data of Scripture from which we inductively build the doctrine. As we have indicated, this move is questionable hermeneutically and theologically.

Perhaps the most devastating challenge to McGowan's thesis is his relocation of divine veracity from God's nature to his will. I conclude that the strongest point of his argument (from his perspective) against the inerrantists, that they assume that God's character leads to the divine spiration of error free autographa, is at the same time the weakest point of his own theological position. And although inerrantists are faulted for their appeal to God's character as the guarantor of the inerrant autographa, McGowan posits an approach to truth based on the freedom of the divine will. Let us be clear, he is doing this without providing any exegetical evidence. In fact the evidence in Scripture is contrary to his proposal. His argument, ironically, is an unbiblical, rationalistic, presumption. God cannot lie. This is his nature, not an effect of his will. McGowan argues that it is an effect of his will and is not secured by his nature. For this reason, above all, his proposal ought to be firmly rejected.

Is Inerrancy Unbiblical, Rationalistic and Presumptuous? Examining McGowan's proposal (part 3)

Is inerrancy a rationalist implication drawn from other doctrines?

There is considerable overlap between this point and the previous one if implications drawn from Scripture are treated with suspicion for being unbiblical. McGowan states his case as follows:

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 mistake in the autographa, then God cannot have been the author, because he is incapable of error.

Notice, the argument is not that God, being all powerful, is able to deliver a perfectly autographic text. On that matter there is no disagreement between us, since I am happy to affirm God's sovereign power. Rather the argument of the inerrantists is that God is unable to produce anything other than an inerrant autographic text. In other words, I agree with the inerrantists that God could have brought into being inerrant autographic texts, had he chosen to do so, but I reject their argument that he must have acted in this way. (p. 113-4, emphasis original)

For some reason McGowan obscures the point at issue in the second paragraph by introducing God's sovereign power into the discussion. The issue at hand, however, is not one of divine omnipotence but of divine veracity. It is not over what God is able or not able to do with regard to his power, but over what he is able or not able to do with regard to speaking the truth. Is McGowan really saying that he rejects the argument that God must have breathed out Scriptures free from error? Given that the veracity of God is part of the data of Scripture (“Every word of God proves true” Proverbs 30:4; “it is impossible for God to lie” Hebrews 6:18; “God who never lies” Titus 1:2) why would it be a rationalist implication to conclude that when God speaks, and when he breathed out Scripture in its totality, that he speaks only the truth? Indeed, it is hard to reconcile his argument that God was not bound by his own nature to breathe out an inerrant Word, and that we should not assert that he did so a priori, with his later claims that God does not deceive or mislead (p. 210, 212). Veracity is not an effect of God's will but of his nature. Could God have chosen to breathe out verbal revelation that may have contained even a small amount of error? If he could do that are we still able to speak of him as being infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his truth (WSC Q. 4)? In its most basic and simple form the question is: must God always speak the truth or is he free to breathe out truth and error? The following statement, already referred to above but worth repeating, is not a reassuring answer on this point:

In other words, I agree with the inerrantists that God could have brought into being inerrant autographic texts, had he chosen to do so, but I reject their argument that he must have acted in this way. (p. 113-4)

In the concluding chapter this point is repeated:

In other words, to argue that the only kind of Bible God was able to give us was one with inerrant autographa is untenable. (p. 209)

These words clearly indicate that McGowan's proposal to reject inerrancy is every bit as much a proposal to separate God's veracity from his nature and to view it as a function of his will. We are being asked here to accept a change in our doctrine of the divine nature. The most remarkable statement about inerrancy and the character of God is the following:

Perhaps the most striking problem with the rationalistic implication concerning inerrancy is that it limits God. It assumes that God can only act in a way that conforms to our expectations, based on our human assessment of his character. It assumes that whatever God does must conform to the canons of human reason...In opposition to these inerrantist assumptions, we must surely argue that God is free to act according to his will. (p. 118)

Whatever Professor McGowan thinks that he may have gained by this statement is lost by the admission that total truthfulness in speech is not guaranteed by God's nature but is variable according to his will. Perhaps stated so baldly such a thought would be horrifying to him, but I cannot see how it can be disallowed by the way that he has constructed his argument.

Furthermore he writes:

If God can effectively communicate and act savingly through the imperfect human beings who are called to preach his gospel, why is it necessary to argue that the authors of Scripture were supernaturally kept from even the slightest discrepancy? In other words we must not tell God what the Bible ought to be like, based on our views of what God could and could not do. (p. 118-9)

What a curious question to ask. Of course God can use imperfect men to preach the gospel, but those men do not stand in relation to God's Word in the same way as the prophets and apostles did. This is surely to confuse preaching what God has revealed with the production of God's Word written. There is a divine intentionality in delivering the latter that we would not seek to claim for the former. Are we to suppose that “God the Holy Spirit caused men to write books and his supervisory action was such that although these books are truly the work of human beings, they are also the Word of God” (p. 43) and yet that supervisory activity does not make it necessary to “argue that the authors of Scripture were supernaturally kept from even the slightest discrepancy”?

A few pages later McGowan confidently asserts that God did not intend to give us inerrant autographs:

My argument is that Scripture, having been divinely spirated, is as God intended it to be. Having freely chosen to use human beings, God knew what he was doing. He did not give us an inerrant autographical text, because he did not intend to do so. He gave us a text that reflects the humanity of its authors but that, at the same time, clearly evidences its origin in the divine speaking. Through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, God is perfectly able to use these Scriptures to accomplish his purposes. (p. 124).

One wonders what to make of this. Is this not a presumption that God has in fact given us a less than inerrant verbal revelation? There is certainly some ambiguity in the last two sentences. This comment raises more questions than it answers. Given that in an earlier section of the book he dismisses appeals to the inerrant autographa as special pleading since we do not possess them, how can he be so confident that they were not in fact inerrant? How does he know that God's intentions were not to give us error free originals? Has he arrived at this conclusion from the explicit teaching of Scripture or by inference? And given that he is unwilling to make the veracity of God the guarantor of error free verbal revelation on what does his argument that God does not deceive rest? If the autographs were not inerrant, and God did not intend them to be so, why does McGowan want to prohibit us from drawing the obvious conclusion that the limitations adopted by God in using human authors involved the admixture of error?

Is Inerrancy Unbiblical, Rationalistic and Presumptuous? Examining McGowan's proposal (part 2)

Is inerrancy unbiblical?

McGowan points out that inerrancy is not a biblical word (p. 106) and that “nowhere in Scripture itself is there a claim to the kind of autographic inerrancy Warfield taught” (p. 114). Moreover, “Those who advocate inerrancy might well (and do) argue that it is a legitimate and natural implication of the doctrine of divine spiration, but they cannot argue that inerrancy is itself taught in Scripture” (p. 114). From this McGowan draws a conclusion:

If we accept this argument that inerrancy, properly understood, is not a biblical doctrine but rather an implication from another doctrine, then it is reasonable to ask if it is a legitimate implication. (p. 115).

It will be immediately obvious from these quotations that in order to qualify as a biblical doctrine inerrancy must be taught directly from Scripture and, presumably, in a form of words where that doctrine is “expressly set down in Scripture” rather than “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (WCF I:VI). Are we to suppose that Professor McGowan will only allow the epithet “biblical doctrine” to be given to expressly stated doctrines? If so then we wonder whether his own commitment to paedo-baptism would qualify. It is surprising to find this kind of theological method being advocated in the case of this particular doctrine, since I would have reservations as to McGowan's willingness to apply it consistently to other doctrines. Is it not the case also that the argument for allowing biblical doctrines to be established as such only if they are expressly taught, and not established using inference, is actually undermined in Scripture? Where does Scripture limit us to explicit statements as the only ones to be counted as constituting biblical teaching? Can this be shown to be taught directly in Scripture? Does it really matter that inerrancy is an unbiblical word? Is that even relevant to point out? The gravest issue with this approach is that it is itself both unbiblical and rationalist, having more in common with the theological methods of the opponents of the Reformation than Reformed theology.

A final extract on the unbiblical nature of inerrancy is worth pondering as it concerns the perceived tension between the data of Scripture and our presuppositions about the nature of Scripture:

Like Orr, I think it is wrong to prejudge the nature of the Scriptures through some deductivist approach, based on what we believe Scripture must mean, given God's character. That is to say, it is inappropriate, before we have even considered inductively the nature of the Scriptures, to assume that they must be inerrant because God cannot lie. It is important to stress, however, that Orr did not argue that there were errors in Scripture, simply that one could not rule this out as an a priori impossibility. It is possible to say that one does not know of any errors in Scripture, to affirm plenary (even verbal) inspiration and yet to deny the Warfieldian doctrine of inerrancy. (p. 136-7, emphasis original).

The problem with dismissing as inappropriate the assertion that “God cannot lie” from our formation of the doctrine of Scripture in general, and inerrancy in particular, is that it is in fact part of the Scriptural data from which we inductively form our doctrine. The veracity of God and the purity of his speech are part of the data of Scripture every bit as much as the problem passages that may appear to truncate our ability to affirm inerrancy. The nature of God and his relationship to his inspired Word are not a priori philosophical principles that we impose on the text. If we consider inductively the doctrine of Scripture we will be confronted by the total truthfulness of God's verbal revelation. Not to include this data and bring it to bear on our doctrine of Scripture is surely to be guilty of a narrow inductive approach, too narrow in fact to be sufficiently biblical. To describe inerrancy as unbiblical on these grounds is far too hasty a judgement, resting as it does on a hermeneutic that can be faulted at more than one point.

Is Inerrancy Unbiblical, Rationalistic and Presumptuous? Examining McGowan's proposal (part 1)

A. T. B. McGowan's major item for evangelicals to reconsider, in his book The Divine Spiration of Scripture: Challenging evangelical perspectives, concerns the termination of the doctrine of inerrancy. Not only does he argue for the use of the word infallibility in place of inerrancy but he also rejects the thing itself. He specifically rejects the claim that the autographs breathed out by God must have been free from error. He argues that this is too great a claim for evangelicals to make because it rests upon inferences drawn from other doctrines rather than being something taught by Scripture itself. Inerrancy is not only an unwarranted inference, but inerrantists are also decidedly rationalistic in their assumptions. Furthermore, inerrancy “underestimates God and undermines the significance of the human authors of Scripture” (p. 114). Inerrancy then, according to McGowan, is unbiblical, rationalistic and presumptuous. Although it is possible to distinguish these three strands they are intertwined. McGowan groups them together in his concluding chapter:

I made the point that inerrancy is not a biblical doctrine but rather an implication of 'inspiration', based on an unsubstantiated (and somewhat presumptuous) view of what God could and could not do. (p. 209)

It is stating the obvious to say that such rationalism is unbiblical presumption since it claims something to be true and worthy of all acceptance that has not come from the mouth of the Lord. These claims need careful examination if his proposal is to be accepted and inerrancy (name and thing) discarded by evangelicals. It is possible to engage with McGowan's proposals on a number of levels. For a book on Scripture it is remarkably short on exegesis of the relevant texts, and of surveys of the history of exegesis on those passages. Readers looking for a book that adequately covers the relevant texts on the self-attestation of Scripture will need to look elsewhere. Likewise, one would wish for greater interaction with the Reformed tradition, and a fairer representation of the views of Warfield. This article, however, will not deal with these matters, nor will be it a full scale review; rather I wish to examine the claim put forward that inerrancy is unbiblical, rationalistic and presumptuous.

Throughout the relevant sections of the book McGowan is keen to assert that he is neither an “inerrantist” nor an “errantist.” Indeed he explicitly distances himself from the limited inerrancy views of Rogers and McKim. He says:

my rejection of the term 'inerrancy' does not mean that I am arguing for 'errancy'. I am simply saying that to speak of inerrant autographa is not the way to present and defend a 'high' view of Scripture. We can believe what the Bible says because God gave us the Scriptures and he does not deceive. What we must not do is rest its reliability on inerrant autographic text. (p. 210)

Indeed he states that “to speak of the Scriptures as inerrant or errant is to apply an inappropriate classification to them”; rather “We must simply accept the Scriptures as they are and trust that what they teach us is for our good...because they have come from God” (p. 125). Although he emphasizes the truth that “The Scriptures are God's Word and God does not mislead us” (p. 212), McGowan is more comfortable in connecting infallibility with the purpose of Scripture rather than with the nature of the original text.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New Book: The Courage to be Protestant

One rainy afternoon in the summer of 1997 I picked up a book by David Wells. It was his No Place For Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? I was hooked and eagerly read through the next three volumes in the series.

Here's the blurb for his latest book from the Westminster Bookstore:

"A stinging indictment of evangelicalism's theological corruption."
- Time

"It takes no courage to sign up as a Protestant." These words open this bold new text - the summa of David Wells's critique of the evangelical landscape—leaving no doubt that Wells is issuing a challenge to the modern church.

This book is a broadside against "new" versions of evangelicalism as well as a call to return to the historic faith, one defined by Reformation solas (grace, faith, and scripture alone), and to a reverence for doctrine.

Wells argues that the historic, classical evangelicalism is one marked by doctrinal seriousness, as opposed to the new movements of the marketing church and the emergent church. He energetically confronts the marketing communities and what he terms their "sermons-from-a-barstool and parking lots and apres-worship Starbucks stands."

He also takes issue with the most popular evangelical movement in recent years - the emergent church. Emergents are postmodern and postconservative and postfoundational, embracing a less absolute, understanding of the authority of Scripture than Wells maintains is required.

The Courage to be Protestant is a dynamic argument for the courage to be faithful to what biblical Christianity has always stood for, thereby securing hope for the church's future.

Tim Challies has some extracts and comments here. Including the following:

Emergents—at least those who read theology—seem to have stumbled on the postliberals, and this is what is now driving this new understanding of the function of Scripture. They have taken up this fad as if it were the most current, cutting-edge expression in contemporary thought, though in the academic world it has already disappeared.

And again:

Plain language and clear communication are not in vogue in postmodern circles. They reveal the speaker as being too much of a realist, too obviously rational, too modern, too unchic. No, we can’t have that! The required alternative speech is subtle parody, contradiction, being indeterminate, being ironic, being playful. This, however, is not as easy to do as it seems and many postmoderns, lacking the skills, settle simply for being obscure.

There are tricks to this. A plain speaker might write of someone else’s “view.” A “view”? How flat-footed and prosaic! How about that person’s “voice” or, better yet, their different “vocality”? And prefixes are a treasure trove for those in search of depths beyond the grasp of the reader, prefixes such as pre-, hyper-, post-, de-, ex-, and counter- - as in words like de-confusing and re-constructing. These all open up new possibilities as do a new constellation of suffixes to go with them. We today, you see, are living in a moment when the multivocalities of post-colonial others are entering our intra/post/spacialities and are exposing the anti-sociality concealed in the hegemony of our discourse and sensibilities.

Listen to the emergent church and this kind of empty obfuscation is what we hear all too often, though usually without this kind of veneer of intellectual sophistication. In its place (and usually on the internet), we hear the confidence of those who have a sense of being on the edge of What-is-Happening-Now but who, for that very reason, are diffident, unsure, tentative and, more often than not, simply confused.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A. T. B. McGowan The Divine Spiration of Scripture: Should we kiss inerrancy goodbye?

In an earlier post I looked at Andy McGowan's proposal to relocate the doctrine of Scripture under the doctrine of the Spirit. In the grand scheme of the book this is a minor proposal. By far the most serious proposal is that "we should cease to use the word 'inerrancy' in relation to our doctrine of Scripture" (p. 13).

McGowan seeks to present a third view as an alternative to the "inerrancy" doctrine of Warfield and the "errancy" doctrine in matters of history, science and geography championed by Rogers and McKim. I haven't had time to complete my review and critique of this proposal. I hope to post something on this in the next few days.

New Book: Lloyd-Jones Messenger of Grace

In May/June Iain Murray's new book Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace will be published by the Banner of Truth Trust. They have kindly let me see a pre-release copy and I will be reviewing sections over the next few months. I won't be posting any extracts from the book but I hope that I will be able to give a flavour of what looks like an important volume on the preaching and significance of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

The chapter titles are:
Part 1

1. The Lloyd-Jones legacies

2. Preaching and the Holy Spirit

3. The Evangelistic use of the Old Testament

4. Skeletons in the cupboard

5. Raising the Standard of Preaching:

Notes of a Memorable Address

6. Lloyd-Jones and Spurgeon Compared

7. A Controversial Book:

Joy Unspeakable: The Baptism With The Holy Spirit

8. 'The Lost Leader' or 'A Prophetic Voice'?

Part 2

9. The End of the Puritan Conference:
Lloyd-Jones to Packer

10. Some Convictions of Lloyd-Jones in Miniature

11. Inventory of the Lloyd-Jones Sermons

12. An Analysis of the Sermons on Ephesians

13. Is the Reformation Over? A Review
Iain Murray was Dr. Lloyd-Jones' assistant at Westminster Chapel and has written a brilliant two volume biography of "the Doctor." They are a must read if you wish to understand evangelicalism in the 20th century.

Al Mohler considers these two volumes to be among the ten most important Christian biographies from recent decades. Sean Lucas lists them as No. 4 in his list of most influential biographies and Michael Haykin also includes them in his list of nine biographies that have had a profound influence on his life.

They are available from the Banner of Truth. Volume one is out of stock but will be shipped when available and can ordered here, and volume two is available here . If you live in the US or Canada vol. 2 is available here.

New Book: Reforming or Conforming?

Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church is due out for release in September.

The book has been edited by Ron Gleason and Gary Johnson. David Wells has written the foreword.

Contributors include Paul Helm, Paul Wells, Scott Clark, John Bolt, Jeffrey Waddington, and Paul Kjoss Helseth. I have a chapter in the book on the Emerging Church and cultural captivity.

You can pre-order here or here.

On avoiding collateral damage

Andrew Fuller made a very insightful observation on the difference between the logical consequences of an opponent's position, and whether those consequences are perceived and embraced. The two may not coincide. The great danger, as he saw it, was in allowing these inferences to shape our estimate of the person we are in disagreement with. Fuller is dealing with two opponents clashing over a particular point. Here's how he put it:
The greater part of those things wherein you seem to differ may be owing either to a difference in the manner of expressing yourselves, or to the affixing of consequences to a principle which are yet unperceived by him that holds it.

I do not accuse either of you with doing so intentionally; but principles and their consequences are so suddenly associated in the mind, that when we hear a person avow the former, we can scarcely forbear immediately attributing to him the latter.

If a principle be proposed to us for acceptance, it is right to weigh the consequences; but when forming our judgement of the person who holds it, we should attach nothing to him but when he perceives and avows.
Quoted in the introduction to The Atonement Controversy, p. xxiv

Or as Scott Clark once put it:
My teacher Derke Bergsma always says, "Gentleman, when you go heresy hunting, be sure to use a rifle, not a shotgun."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Swept away by the tide of unbelief

Theological decline can be traced by following the interwoven threads of scholarship and spirituality.

Scholarship is indispensible in the defense of the gospel, but scholarship is not enough and cannot be relied upon. Men of great learning and ability have often been the gateway of error into the pulpits and pews of confessional churches. It is possible to have a misplaced confidence in scholarship, the kind that tolerates unbelief because it comes clothed in academic recognition. Yet when such unbelief begins to make inroads into gospel believing churches it must be met and refuted by being outthought. To do anything less than this would be to foolishly capitulate ground to error. The next generation is then made to count the cost. Piety is no refuge from the remorseless arguments that seek to take up residence in the Christian mind and drive out the knowledge of God in the gospel.

In my own country of Wales in the 1850s no less than 50% of the population attended churches, and the dominant influence was biblical, prayerful, evangelistic Reformed theology. By the turn of the twentieth century the majority of ministers in Wales were considered to have become liberal in their theology. Today 0.8% of the Welsh population attend churches where a recognisably biblical gospel is preached. Things today would have been far, far worse were it no for the influence of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the post-war Calvinistic renaissance in Welsh churches. Something of this story is told by Iain Murray in his second volume on the life of Lloyd-Jones.

The bottom line is that the church needs scholars who are found to be faithful in bending the knee before the authority of the Word of God, who count faithfulness to God of more value than the admiration of the academy, men who know that they are sinners and that Jesus Christ is a great Saviour. In short, men who know and feel themselves to be debtors to grace alone, and in whose hearts, minds, prayers, church life, home life, and academic work the glory of God in the gospel of his grace is paramount. Only then will their scholarship be of service to the church and a blessing rather than a curse. We need men like Warfield, Machen, and Owen. Men not prepared to be blown about by winds of doctrine because they are anchored to the rock. Men who will refute error in their writings but whose confidence is not in their God given intelligence, skills or wisdom, but in God himself.

Here is a brief explanation of how Welsh Calvinistic Methodism (the Presbyterian Church of Wales) was drawn to liberal scholarship like a moth to a flame:
Another factor in the decline of Calvinism, ironically and sadly, was the effect of the work of Lewis Edwards in setting up colleges from 1837 onwards, for the ministerial students of the Calvinistic Methodists. In this, of course, he was supported by...all the denominational leaders of the day.

The sense of the need for the highest education possible for these young men was right and good; the sadness was that the necessary establishments were being set up exactly when the prevailing tide in theology was the German spirit of Higher Criticism.

The enthusiasm of the times for education resulted in the embracing of modern developments all too uncritically. Wales had no native tradition of Reformed teaching, education and writing to stand as a bulwark against the Higher Critical invasion of the late nineteenth century and as the new ideas arrived they were accepted and propagated with very little consciousness of their novelty and their insidious nature. If, on occasion, they were viewed with suspicion, the likelihood is that there was no awareness of, nor any expertise in, the scholarly means by which they might be combatted.
From John Aaron's introduction to Owen Thomas, The Atonement Controversy in Welsh Theological Literature and Debate, 1707-1841 (Banner of Truth), p. xxxiv

Monday, April 07, 2008

All of Grace: The Banner of Truth Ministers' Conference 2008

I have come away from the Banner of Truth Ministers' Conference refreshed by the teaching and the tone of the conference. I was glad to have been reminded of the great cross work of Jesus Christ, and of the riches of grace found in him for a needy sinner like me. I was glad too to have been reminded of the sheer greatness of the unfathomable wisdom of God displayed in the plan of salvation. Thirdly, I was struck again by the way that the gospel of God's grace is the only foundation upon which preaching and pastoring can be built. The effect of this is not to drive one to guilt, despair and frustration at the thought of the enormity of the task, but to drive one to God. It was a blessing to spend time with friends old and new who share together in the privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and labouring in his kingdom.

As Spurgeon said "if I had a thousand lives I would live them all for Jesus Christ."

Sunday, April 06, 2008

If you are ever in North Wales you must visit this place

We have just had a few days away in Snowdonia...even if the architecture looks Italian. This is the village of Portmeirion where the 1960s TV series The Prisoner was filmed.

How to go into eternity with composure

Powerful words from Andrew Fuller (1754-1815):

I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace; but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire. I have no other hope than that from salvation by mere, sovereign and efficacious grace, through the atonement of my Lord and Saviour. With this hope I can go into eternity with composure.

Andrew Fuller

Quoted in Robert W. Oliver, History of the English Calvinistic Baptists 1771-1892, p. 89

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Covenant of Works, the Fall, and the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists

Here are some extracts from the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Confession of Faith (1823). You can read the whole thing here:

8. Of Man in his original state of Innocence.

The Lord God formed the first man, Adam, as to his body, of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, spiritual, rational, and immortal. He and in him all his offspring were made upright, in the image and after the likeness of God, endowed with knowledge, holiness, and righteousness.

The law of God was implanted as an instinct in his heart, and he was both endowed with power, and placed in advantageous circumstances, to keep it; yet capable of changing and falling. He stood only so long as he kept the commandment. He was perfectly happy, at peace with God, and enjoying his fellowship, and had dominion over all creatures on earth.

9. Of the Covenant of Works.

It pleased God to condescend to enter into covenant with the first man, Adam, adapted to his state of innocence, and consisting of a command, a threat, and a promise. The special command, which was the pledge of his obedience, was not to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree; the threat was that, if he ate thereof, he should die.

The nature of the command and the threat leads us to infer that this covenant contained a promise also of life and happiness, if man obeyed the command, in contradistinction to the death threatened as the penalty of disobedience. The law of our nature was all contained in this covenant, so that it was impossible to transgress the special command of the covenant without transgressing, at the same time, the entire law of our nature. Adam stood, in this covenant, not only as a natural root of all his offspring, but also as their covenant head and representative; so that their happiness or misery, as well as his own, depended upon his obedience or disobedience.

10. Of the Fall of Man and Original Sin.

Though man, when God made the covenant of works with him, had power to obey and fulfill the conditions of the covenant, yet he disobeyed God and broke the covenant.

The serpent deceived Eve, and Adam hearkened unto the voice of his wife and wilfully transgressed the commandment of his Creator by eating of the forbidden fruit; and by this means he broke God's covenant, forfeited his right to the promised life, became subject to the threatened death, lost his original uprightness and fellowship with God, and became totally corrupt in soul and body.

As he was the root and representative of mankind, his first sin is imputed to them, and his corruption flows into all his seed, who spring from him by natural generation. In consequence of this natural corruption, mankind are become incapable of goodness, yea, opposed to all goodness and prone to all evil; and from this depraved nature springs all actual sin. Original sin and all actual sins, in soul or body, are transgressions of God's holy law, bring the sinner under a curse, and expose him to the wrath of God, and to spiritual, temporal, and eternal misery.