Thursday, April 17, 2008

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.

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