Thursday, April 17, 2008

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.

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