Wright, Wrong, and Inerrancy
Posted on June 5, 2014
Andrew, I’m curious what you think of Wright’s critique of inerrantism (if that’s a word) as a product of “modernist rationalism”? I do believe that American evangelicalism is very strongly formed by the philosophical foundations of modernist thought in Descartes and others, so in trying to disentangle our theology from these not-so-biblical ways of thinking, I see the problems. Is our advocacy of the bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God predicated on Cartesian thinking that requires indubitable propositions for certainty, lest we fall into subjective skepticism? Is it really “all or nothing”? I honestly can’t conceive of an alternative. It seems to me that if I can’t trust one part of the Bible, I’m not sure I can trust the rest. I’m trying to grapple with this problem in a way that enables me to distance myself from the unGodly aspects of Cartesian rationalism, but I honestly don’t know how to do that without allowing every man to interpret the Bible in his own way (i.e. total subjectivism). Thoughts? Regards, —-
—-, your instincts are entirely correct. While I’ll need to read his impending book on the topic, Wright is wrong on this point, and the fact that he is broadly conservative on other topics (but not every one, by any means) makes his unnecessary bibliological qualifications especially mischievous. I’m glad that Tom doesn’t boldly declare himself an errantist, but the fact that he believes the category of inerrancy is some sort of enlightenment construct is so historically untenable as to give his assertions an air of unreality. That the term inerrancy is a post-Enlightenment term is precisely irrelevant. The church in every sector, East and West, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Radical Reformation, held well into the 19th century that the Bible teaches no error of any kind. Quotes from Luther and Calvin trotted out to refute this nearly self-evident notion (such as that the apparent discrepancies in the numerics in Kings and Chronicles are no big deal) are to no avail. The Bible contains round numbers, approximations, and differing (“multi-perspectival”) accounts of the same event, and pre-Enlightenment theologians knew this as well as moderns. The question is not and never has been whether the Bible conforms to a certain era’s notion of accuracy, but simply whether it is entirely truthful book.
John M. Frame is entirely correct in his recent essay in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (not yet online) that inerrancy is not merely a theological truth or even a worldview but a way of life. People who really affirm biblical inerrancy aren’t obsessed with numerical approximations. They’re assessed with obeying and loving and hearing the very living word of the living God in every detail. Tom is anxious that people who affirm inerrancy don’t understand the “story” of the Bible (his interpretation of the “story”). Of course, the capacity to misinterpret the Bible isn’t limited to inerrantists. Indeed, if the Bible isn’t true, even in detail, it’s not clear how we, as our Lord, can live by every word that proceeds from God’s mouth (Mt. 4:4), just as it is not clear why we should listen to a story that is not true, even if its errors are the errors of detail, if that story claims to originate from the very mouth of the living God.