The Word of God and Inerrancy

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Gabe Fluhrer joins the panel to speak about inerrancy. The subject continues to be an issue of perennial importance. Gabe has edited a wonderful book on the subject with contributions from many well-recognized scholars and pastors. The contributions are taken from addresses at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, organized each year by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

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17 Responses to “The Word of God and Inerrancy”

  1. Stephen says:

    So let me recap the basic dynamic of the positions and arguments here…

    The panelists’ view of the Bible is presupposed to be correct. Either you accept their view, which they simply presume to be identical with God’s view, or you’re ultimately just holding to a Kantian construct or some other basically non Christian position.

    They presume throughout that holding to (their modulation[s] of) inerrancy represents the faithful view, whereas anything else is a lack of faith position. Thus they monopolize all pious labels and categorizations for their position: responding in faith, trust, and so on. Everyone who disagrees by definition approaches the Bible apart from that stance of faith.

    All the above are strong moves if their purpose is to persuade and reassure people who already agree with them and/or who don’t know enough about the issues to assess their points.

    Let’s see, when it comes to the possibility of God inspiring errors in the Bible for whatever good purpose of his, Fluhrer counters with the assertion, “I’m not sure how that gives us a God worthy of our worship.” Fine, but that’s not a Biblical argument, a theological argument…or even an argument, for that matter. Since when does asserting that one just doesn’t think X God is worthy of our worship constitute a legitimate theological argument? It’s revealing…of what kind of God s/he is willing to accept. But last I checked we don’t get to pick and choose our God or what we do and do not allow him to do. Presumably the panelists wouldn’t approve of this kind of “argument” from someone rejecting Calvinism because, “I’m not sure how that gives us a God worthy of our worship…since that God would have fore-ordained all the sin, death, and misery in the world.”

    Here I agree with the panelists on at least one point, their doctrine of inerrancy turns on their doctrine of God. They’re unwilling to have a God who could, for example, work in ways that involve him inspiring errors in the Bible or even giving us a Bible that differs from their doctrine of Scripture. They then use their unwillingness, or rather their doctrine of God, as a club against interpretive options for biblical texts that would result in the Bible behaving contrary to their doctrine of Scripture; more than that, they use it as a club against interpretive methodologies that could even possibly result in a reading of the Bible with it behaving contrary to their doctrine of Scripture.

    If someone tries to point out any of the almost innumerable ways the Bible behaves contrary to their claims, they will efficiently close off the possibility of that discussion by talking about his or her basically non-Christian and un-trusting presuppositions, Kantian framework, Heideggerian or Wittgensteinian path, Barthian view of revelation (just to pick some of the marginalizing labels from this episode), and so on.

    Lost in all this is their basic unwillingness to let the Bible itself challenge their own views about it and God. This seems like a bizarre move for Reformed people who constantly claim, for example, that exegesis is the lifeblood of their systematic theology or that they count on faithfulness to Scripture to protect them and their doctrine from error, captivity to the latest fads, and/or refraction through our contaminated “sight” that Calvin writes of in Institutes 1.1.1-2.

    In sum, and please tolerate a bit of sarcasm here, bravo. This episode demonstrates very well the panelists’ grasp of Van Til 101: a “we’re right because we’re right” argumentative dynamic and, alongside that, “engagement” with contrary positions by busting out the prolegomena stick and their favorite marginalizing labels (Kantian, Barthian, etc.).

    • Nate says:

      Stephen,

      You do not understand the issues. It would be too convenient if your characterization of the views expressed here and of Van Til’s point of view were accurate. Frankly, you owe it to yourself to do a little private reflection, and maybe you should revisit some Van Til texts as well, if you ever read them in the first place. You wouldn’t have to admit it to anyone that you did so, but you might learn something. It’s just that you can’t possibly (1) believe that the views expressed here and in Van Til are so patently incoherent, while (2) also believing that educated, non-idiots take them seriously, like these gents here and others, and (3) at the same as (1) and (2) bother to listen to the program and comment (if it were really so asinine, why bother? The implication is that you don’t consider your own time worth all that much). Something’s got to give. So I suggest: either give these views some serious consideration or stop embarrassing yourself. I think it’s a matter of integrity.

  2. Jonathan Brack says:

    Great episode guys!!!

  3. Stephen says:

    Nate,

    Not sure if you’re the Nate I knew at WTS or not.

    Since you bring this issue up, I arrived as a student at WTS having already read many of Van Til’s books as well as much of the pro-Van Til Reformed secondary literature on him. I then re-read those assigned in WTS classes and, for added measure, got As in all my AP and ST classes. Apparently the WTS profs, with whom I now disagree, thought I understood Van Til and their theology quite well.

    I have given Van Til’s thought, the kind of theology expressed here, and so on, “serious consideration” – for years. As of now that “serious consideration” has me in a place of disagreeing with it and thinking the above (and other) kinds of redescriptive points accurately capture what’s going on. To head off one possible objection or response, I do not reject that we all approach everything with “presuppositions,” that all our knowledge and methods remain theory-laden, and so on. Among other things, I just do not think such basic insights (with which, by the way, almost every university educated person is familiar; certainly those educated in the “Humanities”) serve the Van Tilian “impossibility of the contrary” argument the way Van Tilians claim.

    Feel free to tell me what specifically I said that isn’t an accurate redescription of the views expressed in this episode. Do you not get that the argumentative dynamic of the panelists, and Van Tilians in general, is “we’re right because we’re right”? Well, “we’re right because God is right (and we just identify our views’ with Gods’).”

    I’m happy for you to demonstrate the inaccuracy of such a redescription. Just show me where and how the panelists would be open to any kind of critical engagement of their own views by people holding contrary positions, even just on inerrancy. You will have trouble doing so since the whole episode explains how inerrancy is beyond question, such that questioning it means one has abandoned Biblical epistemology, has a fundamentally non-Christian starting point, operates with a basic “Kantian construct,” etc. These aren’t my claims, but what the panelists say. Camden Bucey even acknowledges that they reduce the discussion down to such points.

    As for what “educated, non idiots” can think, scholars of cognition have demonstrated over and over and over again how we can “reason” our way into any number of bizarre, incoherent, and so on views. This is especially the case in various kinds of insular settings where contrary views cannot substantively participate in the group reasoning process. I do characterize WTS Van Tilians this way. Any number of other people and social formations of intellectuals fit this description too; myself not excluded on some issues.

    Why do you move from my redescription of the panelists’ views to an implicit accusation by me that they’re uneducated idiots? I do not think that, didn’t say that, and would argue otherwise. I also did not start my initial comment with a similar complaint about the panelists slighting people like me because they (at least implicitly) represent matters as though any faithful Christian with a brain would accept their views. Why do you choose this route? If you want to criticize my points, please do. I welcome it. If you think “[I] do not understand the issues,” explain how. If you refuse to engage in any mutually critical interaction on these issues, please also do everyone the favor of making that explicit and owning, proudly, a “we’re right because we’re right” argument.

  4. patrick says:

    I don’t have the sort of criticisms Stephen does, which seem motivated in part by the fact that this is a short interview covering a broad topic (i.e., , even if he doesn’t ultimately agree with them, Stephen probably knows there are better versions of all arguments mentioned in the show elsewhere, where they can be more fully developed). I do have a similar, general complaint though.

    Camden at one point said that some scoff at thinking that one’s epistemology and epistemology of history particularly either ends in revelation or “the later Wittgenstein or Heideggerian thought.” While agreeing with the general conclusions, I’d scoff at thinking those are the only options. Though you might think all non-biblical options lead to the same place, that’s different from the intellectual laziness that characterizes some Christian interaction with non-Christian views, where, say, you deal with Plato, Aristotle, and Kant at a level of sophistication below that of an intro level course and conclude you’ve proven, by the impossibility of the contrary, Reformed Christianity. All too often transcendental conclusions are treated as transcendental arguments by Reformed writers.

    Speaking as a TR Van Tillian, I’d think we all could be a little more critical of our own practices and tradition here. Also, Heidegger is an awful philosopher. Even if you like the “continental” tradition, you could do a lot better—Hegel and Husserl, even Adorno and Foucault. Just saying…

    • Camden Bucey says:

      Not to say that I disagree with the point being made in the episode, but was that me that said that? Can you please point me to the time in the recording?

      • patrick says:

        Starting at 19:00–it is actually Gabe that makes the distinction “you can opt for the relativism…” and then at 19:24 Camden adds the part about “you’re right that those are the two options, sometimes people will scoff at condensing it down to those options but that is really where it heads” or something like that.

        My post sounds more critical than it was meant to be. After all, I agree…!

  5. Nick Batzig says:

    Gabe is absolutely right at 14:51 when he says, “The big question is this, ‘Do we let historical particulars–in other words, historical events and the cultures surrounding them–determine our view of God’s transcendant word? Or do we let God’s self-attesting authority deliver our view to us of His word?” It truly is an either/or. If you opt for the former–even under some kind of first-reading/second/reading non-sense, or under some absolute dependence upon extra-biblical sources (e.g. ANE literature and Second Temple Judaic literature)–then you inevitably end up making the Bible a merely human, fallible book that is no different from the sources you are using to interpret it. If you opt for the latter with Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, the guy who wrote Hebrews, et al then you will humbly submit to the self-attestation of the Divinely authored Scriptures. It’s interesting that the apostle Paul actually teaches this very thing explicitly in 2 Cor. 2:6-16 and concludes that people that don’t understand that don’t have the Spirit of God and can’t understand the things that have been taught to the apostles and delivered by them to us from God. This is not to say, “we’re right because we’re right;” it’s to say God is right because He has revealed Himself in His inerrant word and attests to His rightness in Scripture. BTW, If you think Van Til was teaching ‘we’re right because we’re right,” then you have grossly misunderstood Van Til.

    • Mark G says:

      I am all for understanding the cultures and extra-biblical documents and how they can help us to better understand how the original readers might have understood revelation. For example, Kline’s work on ancient covenants is interesting and informative. However, it seems that if revelation is not culturally transcendant, and we must give top priority to discerning what it meant originally, we might as well all go home. How certain can one be that we ever adequately understand ANY ancient culture, much less a modern one, so that we can know what it meant, and then translate it into our cultural context so that we know what God is saying to us today? How adequately can we even define our own culture? Is Tim Keller’s description of New Yorker culture adequate or do we need a special one for each region of a country? city? church? Do we assume that our own cultural bias is transcendant and objective when it comes to interpreting ancient cultures? How many ancient cultures are there in the OT? Culture changes over time, sometimes rapidly. How many OT cultures do we need to understand in order to appropriately interpret OT revelation? How we understand scripture today will not be the same in 50 years. How can the NT writers interpret the OT? Did they do it “scientifically”? Just sayin’, if a transcendant God has not revealed himself in his transcendant work, although that may generate a lot of research for academics but there doesn’t seem to be much ground left for believing God.

  6. John Stebbe says:

    On another note — here’s a question from a layman who has listened for few years to your podcasts, and have found them very edifying and useful.

    I have never been to seminary. But I gather that in many seminaries, there are two departments called “Biblical Studies” and “Systematic Theology.” The panelists seem to be saying that the professors in these two departments sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye. I have heard about these two departments on several of your podcasts.

    Why are these two departments separate from one another? If you are into “Biblical Studies,” wouldn’t you also be concerned about systematic theology? And vice versa, if you are a student of systematic theology, wouldn’t that include a lot of “Biblical Studies?”

    Maybe the names of these departments aren’t descriptive enough to reveal what they actually do or study.

  7. Stephen says:

    Nick (or anyone here who approves of the panelists’ views),

    Glad someone brought up the comment by Fluhrer you mention. Could you please unpack for me how it actually means anything substantive? What does it mean for people to let historical particulars “determine our view of God’s transcendent word” versus allowing “God’s self-attesting authority deliver our view to us of His word”?

    Let me make this a bit easier. Can you give me examples of the former in comparison with the latter, explaining exactly how the specifics of someone doing the former constitute allowing particulars to “determine” his/her view of God’s Word versus how you think someone who allows God’s self-attesting authority to determine things would handle the same biblical and exegetical situation?

    If I can clarify a bit more, I request specific examples and your analysis of the particulars of them. Thus everyone here can assess what this analytical rubric you champion (e.g., historical particulars “determining” one’s view of God’s Word versus letting God’s self-attesting authority do that) actually means. As such, people who may not even agree with its usefulness can still adjudicate whether it accurately describes what’s going on in different people’s treatment of the Bible. This helps us all get a better handle on the actual argumentative content, if you will, of this polemical claim.

    As for my having “grossly misunderstood Van Til,” I refer you back to my response to “Nate,” where I offer suggestions as to how you and others can show me the error of my ways…rather than simply assert them.

    Thanks.

  8. Stephen says:

    I guess there’s no point in my attempting interaction here.

  9. Jon Orcutt says:

    Gentlemen,
    I listened to the webcast but have not read the book. (I am familiar with the contributors.) I am surprised that Stephen did not press the matter of inerrancy and “historical details” in the Bible concerning Genesis 1-11 (verbal fiat creation, the authenticity of the Biblical Adam, the age of the Earth, the global flood, the tower of Babel and the origin of languages). This area of discussion is a great “Achilles heel” for the modern, Reformed and Evangelical construct of inerrancy as found in the Chicago Statements on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics. A laymen listening to the webcast would almost certainly conclude that inerrancy demands an historical Adam as he is described in Genesis 1ff, a young earth, a global flood, no death before the fall, etc., and that the contributors by and large were young-earthers. Yet, how many of the authors in the book, Solid Ground, hold/held to AND defend Genesis 1-11 as actual, authentic history? Many Reformed theologians-past and present-, including Warfield and Machen, seem to re-calibrate/redefine inerrancy when they perceive that modern science and the Bible contradict each other. By the way, what about the “findings” of modern creation scientists? Do their “findings” somehow not count?

    Many contemporary Reformed theologians employ a “double speak” when it comes to origins and the early history in Genesis 1-11. It’s only when they are pressed that this inconsistency is revealed. It boils down to epistemology. Special revelation is supreme.

    We, in the Reformed camp, can continue to avoid or talk around the matter of Gen. 1-11 and its relationship to inerrancy. But, I guarantee that as long as we do so, it will come back to bite us, and we will have egg on our face every time a “Stephen” brings it up. Harold Lindsell got it right in his book, The Battle for the Bible. Many of us in the Reformed camp need to repent of our sub-biblical epistemology and watered-down version of inerrancy and believe in the full sufficiency, authority and supremacy of the Word of God as outlined in WCF chapter 1. Until we do, we are very vulnerable and are living precariously on a dangerous, slippery slope.

  10. Stephen says:

    “…and we will have egg on our face every time a “Stephen” brings it up.”

    Ok, this made me laugh. Good to know that I am a category now too! ; )

    FWIW, Jon, I am a member of a Reformed church (PCA) and even under care of our Presbytery. Just letting you know since it sounds as though you’re talking about me like I’m an “outsider.”

    Back to grading…

  11. Jon Orcutt says:

    Stephen,
    Thanks for the interaction. No personal slight is intended. I’ll be the first to admit that we who claim to hold to a “high view” of inerrancy must more accurately and consistently and without hypocrisy articulate and apply our position. Right now there seems to be confusion and division over what “we” believe and teach about inerrancy and epistemology. (unless someone has synthesized Van Til and Classical apologetics and received a revelation about the age of the earth, Adam’s family tree, the historicity of Noah’s flood, the formation of the fossil record, etc. :)

    Do you see your views on inerrancy and the doctrine of Scripture as consistent with WCF, Chapter 1?
    Have you made your views on inerrancy known to your presbytery?
    Very many modern Reformed theologians, even some of the book contributors, claim(ed) to hold to a “high view” of the Bible and to “inerrancy” and then find(found) it necessary to dismiss much of the historical detail in Genesis 1-11. (e.g. verbal fiat creation, Biblical Adam, young earth, no death before the fall, global flood, etc.). How are you fundamentally at odds with, say Boice, who held to an old-earth cosmology even though a plain reading of the Genesis text would lead to another conclusion? Dr. Dever seems to do the same unless he has changed his position since I listened to his sermons on Genesis. By their own admission, they (many Reformed theologians) are bowing to the supposed “findings of modern science” and adjusting their interpretations accordingly. Aren’t they, therefore, in practice, doing as you suggested above, though not explicitly admitting there are errors in the Bible? What do you think about Tim Keller’s position? (If both Gen. 1 & 2 are literal, then the Bible contradicts itself. Therefore, one of them–Gen. 1, must be non-literal.) Or, should we simply admit that God inspired errors in the Bible, e.g., Genesis 1-11 entailing cosmological errors?

    Also, Gabe, you cogently argued above the importance of the historical detail and its relationship to inerrancy. Yet, do not some/most of the contributors to the book you edited dismiss very much of the historical detail in Genesis 1-11 in light of the “findings of modern science”? If you were arguing for the “historical detail” of a young earth, a Biblical Adam, no death before the fall, early human culture as described in Genesis, the unity of the genealogies, a global flood, a common language until Babel, many of the book contributors would take you to task. Help me to understand this glaring inconsistency?
    For the glory of Christ and the Truth of His Word.

  12. Steve says:

    Gentleman,
    Don’t stop now! I, a new Calvinist, have been having an ongoing conversation on this issue with two men in my circles, one a Bob Jones grad and now a Calvinist and a former Fundmentalist/Dispensationalist also now a Calvinist. I eagerly await a response from Gabe to Jon’s final paragraph.

    We have not been to seminary. We differ over inerrancy. It seems that when one gives up a literal Genesis 1 account and a literal Noaic flood and tower of Babel such things as the feats of Samson have fallen into myth as well. If reason and science are the infallible interpreters of Scripture then all is no more than the old “heilsgeschichte”.

    Again I appeal to Stephen and Jon et all to respond to Jon’s last post.

    a student

  13. Jon Orcutt says:

    Steve,
    You said: “It seems that when one gives up a literal Genesis 1 account and a literal Noaic flood and tower of Babel such things as the feats of Samson have fallen into myth as well. If reason and science are the infallible interpreters of Scripture then all is no more than the old “heilsgeschichte”.

    It’s Genesis 1-11 and not simply the events you mentioned that is in view. I have been walking these paths for over 30 years. Too many of my acquaintances over the years who have given up Genesis 1-11 (or never really embraced it, in the first place) have gone on to give up more ground. “Reason” and “Science” tell us that a virgin birth, the recreation of a body part, resurrection from the dead after several days are logically and physically impossible. I’m holding out that the God who raised His Son from the dead did create in six literal days about 6000 years ago just as He communicated in Genesis. Many (most?) Reformed scholars argue that the findings of modern science demand a re-calibration of the interpretive endeavor in Genesis 1-11. There are quite a few creation scientists who would argue otherwise. Drs. Snelling, Reed, Faulkner, Brown, etc., etc., etc., just don’t count in the eyes of OECists. Are the scientists at ICR and who are involved with the Creation Research Society blind? Ignorant? Nuts? Deceived? Deceivers?

    I direct you to Chapter 1 of the WCF. It’s a much sounder statement of the doctrine of Scripture than the Chicago Statements. Read it. Outline it. Examine the proof texts. Read some commentaries on this chapter.
    Check out this link. It contains an appendix from the recent book, Coming to Grips with Genesis.
    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/affirmations-denials-christian-worldview
    It contains affirmations and denials that I think very few Reformed scholars in our main seminaries and colleges would be willing to endorse. I have examined the Chicago Statements on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics. The Affirmations and Denials ring hollow after
    reading the explanatory documents. Do your own research. Google away. Check out Explaining Inerrancy (Geisler & Sproul).
    I am of the mind that there were possibly two driving forces behind ICBI and the Chicago Statements. I think ICBI earnestly sought to address the assault on the Bible. Second, I think there was a fear among Evangelical scholars that in response to a.) Harold Lindsell’s book, The Battle for the Bible, and b.) the growing YECist movement, taking Genesis 1-11 as actual historical fact and a recent creation would become not just a test of inerrancy, but also a test of orthodoxy.

    At the AIG link, the only Presbyterians I recognize are David Hall and Joseph Pipa.

    Are you looking for an interesting Phd topic? Research the dynamics of the conflicted relationship between OECists and YECists during ICBI. Another project would be to identify the seemingly strong and clear statements in the Chicago Statements on creation and science(which seem to almost demand a literal, historical approach to Genesis 1-11) and then trace out how these strong statements are explained away with qualification upon qualification. Upon reading the ICBI Statements almost 30 years, I was encouraged and hopeful. Then I read the ancillary documents. There seemed to me to be too much equivocation.

    A real and present crisis persists in Evangelical and Reformed (especially Reformed) circles regarding the doctrine of Scripture (sufficiency, authority, supremacy). It is having a stultifying effect in Reformed campus ministries and Reformed colleges and seminaries. A crisis in the area of revelation is a crisis at the very foundation of Christianity. Pray that God would raise up a generation of prophetic voices to call the Church, especially the Reformed orbit, back to her grounding, a call that brings about repentance in the highest levels of Reformed Christendom.
    jo

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I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (Romans 16:17-18)

 
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