Did God Really Say? Affirming the Truthfulness
and Trustworthiness of Scripture
Edited by David B. Garner
181 pp, Bibliography and Subject & Name Index
P&R Publishing: Phillipburg, 2012
I became a Christian back in 1983 when Evangelical discussions about biblical inerrancy were in high gear. Not only had Evangelical pastors and scholars hammered out a solid statement about inerrancy in the so-called Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, but further work had been done on hermeneutics as well. I was steeped in this literature and still count it a privilege to have been immersed in this discussion. Much of this work stemmed from the “battle for the Bible” in the 1970s and further thought was fostered by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. ICBI sponsored many conferences and scholarly and popular publications and it appeared that the matter had been nailed down by the late 80s. I remember reading my copy of Christianity Today when ICBI announced (through Kenneth Kantzer if memory serves me right) that it was closing its doors because it had achieved its purpose. Biblical inerrancy had been adequately affirmed and articulated.
Or so we thought…
Then a generation arose that knew not Joseph.
Perhaps not everyone was quite convinced that the Scriptures were free from error in matters of faith, practice, science, and history. Or was it the rise of the postmodern ethos (or is it the most modern ethos?)? Whatever the cause a younger generation of Evangelicals has arisen that either redefines inerrancy, questions it, or denies it altogether. Scholars such as Pete Enns, Kenton Sparks, Craig Allert, and Carlos Bovell (among others) have taken up the task of rescuing young believers, who are beleaguered by the culture around them, from outmoded Enlightenment-oriented thinking about the Bible. God can speak truth through error-riddled Bibles. Even Scripture itself needs to be redeemed, so we are told.
This trend is, of course, not new. Readers familiar with church history ought to see familiar patterns in this “new” rejection of biblical inerrancy. For instance, similar positions were adopted by Crawford Toy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Charles Briggs at Union Theological Seminary in the late 19th century. This is not to suggest that the current questioning and rejection of inerrancy is a complete repristination of these earlier crises. There are differences for sure. But much of it appears to be a repeat performance.
In light of this new challenge to biblical inerrancy, I am pleased that ICBI has been reconstituted. One suspects that since each new generation needs to wrestle with and embrace the Scriptures and its doctrinal heritage, the need for an organization like ICBI will be perennial. Out of this context has come this excellent and accessible little volume, Did God Really Say? Arising out of the 2011pre- PCA GA seminar on inerrancy, the book presents seven chapters by professors from Covenant, Reformed, and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
K. Scott Oliphint addresses the self-authenticating nature of Scripture in the context of the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1-22). The Christian faith, we are reminded, stems from two foundational principles or principia: God and his revelation. God is the foundation of being (principium essendi) and revelation is the foundation of knowing (principium cognoscendi). Simply put, Scripture is true and trustworthy because it is God’s Word and God himself is trustworthy and true. I should note as an ancillary benefit of Oliphint’s presentation we can see the benefit of rediscovering the riches of the post-Reformation Reformed Scholastics. The more things change the more they stay the same.
In the second chapter Michael Williams reminds us that B. B. Warfield’s articulation of inerrancy is not the dry, arid, unfeeling doctrine it is often depicted as being (23-47). Selective cherry-picking allows one to turn a solid, well-rounded formulation into a wax nose. Warfield’s articulation of inerrancy stressed the covenantal context of inerrancy and not only the objective truthfulness of the Word of God but also the corresponding need for a faith-filled reading of the Word on the part of the covenant community. In other words, Warfield was echoing the insights (once again, harkening back to the first presentation) of the Reformed scholastics who distinguished between the principium cognoscendi externum (the Scriptures) and the principium cognoscendi internum (regeneration and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit).
Michael Kruger offers a thoughtful response to popular critiques (for instance, as seen in the works of Bart Ehrman) of the formation of the NT canon in the third chapter (49-70). Building off his lengthier and more detailed work, Canon Revisited, Kruger responds to criticisms of the canon formation process and exhumes common presuppositions of the critics of the NT canon. Kruger states and challenges five theses of contemporary criticism of NT canon formation: (1) a NT canon did not exist until the fourth century; (2) the idea of a NT canon was not innate to early Christianity but was an idea anachronistically imposed upon the text of the NT from the late 2nd century on; (3) the NT authors did not think they were writing Scripture; (4) early Christianity was wildly diverse and so the NT canon reflects the views of the theological winners (known as the Bauer hypothesis); and (5) the authority of the canon is dependent upon the authority of the church. As with the fuller treatment in Canon Revisited, Kruger offers solid answers to each of these theses and at the same time builds the confidence of the Christian. Kruger’s work is not just about NT canon formation but also provides a massive apologetic tool.
In the fourth chapter Robert Yarbrough revisits the historical and theological context of the 1978 Chicago Statement on Inerrancy (71-92). He reminds us that a proper articulation of inerrancy ought not be divorced from the life of the church in general, nor from the growth of the church in other parts of the world. Inerrancy cannot be hermetically sealed off from the vicissitudes of the church. The church is growing at monumental rates outside of the West and the church is in need of understanding the whole of God’s Word, including what Scripture teaches about itself. The church faces scenes of hope and scenes of concern and we ought to take hope from the God of Scripture and the Scriptures of this God.
Vern Sheridan Poythress builds on his In the Beginning Was the Word in the fifth chapter to address the nature of human language (93-106). Seeking to address postmodern skepticism about the functionality of language, Poythress offers a Scriptural apologetic for human language as a gift from God that is based in the triune nature of God himself. Human language is not the product of evolution but a divinely intentional part of God’s good creation reflective of God’s own nature. Poythress specifically addresses the use of metaphor, the legitimacy of historical description, the stability of meaning, and concludes with a consideration of the perennially favorite philosophical conundrum of the relation of the one and the many. Human language, although affected by the fall, is a more than adequate medium for God’s revelation.
In the sixth chapter John Frame interacts with the views of N. T. Wright on the authority of Scripture (107-127). As is typical of Frame’s method, he seeks to find points of agreement as well as areas of disagreement. While noting Wright’s contribution to the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” movement and his extremely problematic formulation of a doctrine of justification, Frame skirts any assessment of Wright on this point to keep to the point: what exactly are Wright’s views on biblical authority? Frame interacts at length with Wright’s stress on narrative, but is correct to note that the Bible is not a narrative simpliciter (the Scriptures encompass historical narrative, law, proverbs, poetry, etc) although it is correct to note that revelation is an integral part of the drama of redemption (embracing creation, fall, redemption, and consummation). Frame believes that Wright affirms something close to or like biblical infallibility but strangely avoids being perspicuous about his views. Additionally, Frame notes Wright’s problematic notion that the Christian is dependent on the biblical scholar for his confidence in Scripture as God’s Word. Historiography, like other sciences, experiences the ebb and flow, the rising and falling, of various paradigms (kudos to Thomas Kuhn!) and so it is unwise-not to mention unbiblical-to subject the Bible’s authority to the shifting winds of scholarly consensus.
In the seventh and final chapter David Garner addresses the shift in the understanding of Scriptural perspicuity (129-161). Garner notes that Scriptural perspicacity is the basis for, and not the result of, a proper handling (interpretation) of God’s Word. Claritas Scripturae is an attribute of the Bible itself. It is objective. To return to the terminology of Reformed Scholasticism (you’ve got to love Richard Muller…), the clarity of Scripture is a matter of the principium cognoscendi externum not the principium cognoscendi internum. Some, such as Pete Enns, have treated the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit as if it was a corrective to an otherwise defective Bible. This is not at all what the doctrine affirms. The testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum enables the otherwise recalcitrant and sinful human heart and mind to see and embrace what is already objectively present in the Word of God. It is not a theological stop-gap.
If anything good can be said to come out of the current debates about biblical inerrancy it is that our new generation can own for its own this essential truth that Scripture asserts of itself. After all, the truthfulness and the trustworthiness of the Bible reflect the truthfulness and trustworthiness of God himself. I for one am glad to have this book at my disposal.