A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Character of God and the Nature of Scripture: Reading the Bible Incarnationally #3-- Inerrancy or Errancy-- Are Those the Only Options?

In the last post, I suggested that the doctrine of inerrancy imposes an unwarranted grid upon the biblical text that too often leads to a kind of hermeneutical gymnastics which distorts at worst, or at best misses the point of difficult biblical texts.

So, if inerrancy is not a good option in reading the Bible, do we then simply decide that the Bible is errant and therefore we can decide which texts are authoritative and which are to be discarded (to be decided by the intellectually enlightened, of course) as something bound to a previous time and place, and therefore not binding upon us in some way? I think Scot McKnight is correct when he writes,
The term itself [inerrancy], not a big idea behind it, has become a distraction as the chps in Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy themselves clearly show: instead of pointing the church toward how to sit before the Bible and listen to the Bible, the term itself generates a debate about how best to define the term and about how to read Joshua 6 and Genesis 1-2; and many things besides. This is what inerrancy term does every time it enters the room, and in so doing deserves a good thrashing. Read the chapters and then ask yourself this question: Will this book generate light for Sunday School classes on how to read the Bible or a fight on how to assess who stands where? Does it bring light or a fight? The latter is what happens.
The term, so it seems from a book like this, may have lost its value for church life. The word we ought to be fastening onto is the word truth. The Bible is true and God calls us to listen and to learn and to live what God speaks to us from the true Word of God. This posture of listen-to-the-truth before the Bible does not determine a hermeneutic but invites us to listen until we discern the hermeneutic needed for the various texts.
If Scot is correct, words like inerrancy, and by default, errancy are unhelpful. Both force us into a kind of exercise in trivial minutiae that is focused on difficult texts, in which the grand narrative of the Bible is lost. Of course, the big picture of biblical history-- the story of Israel and Jesus is of huge importance, but not all history is created equal and not all texts are nor need be historical. I think it is critical that our four canonical Gospels are reliable and trustworthy accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, but one does not need to fall into the inerrancy/errancy conundrum to make that case (and it matters not if the four evangelists do not agree on every single point). Indeed, to get lost in such a discussion is a distraction. At the same time it makes no difference for the integrity of Christian faith whether or not Jonah was an actual historical character or if the book was written as satire, as I think likely. As I said, not all history is created equal. If Jonah is an extended parable, nothing changes; if the Gospels cannot be trusted to give us a reliable portrait of the life and ministry of Jesus, Christianity is a waste of our time. Scot states,
Inerrancy is a disruptive child in the theological classroom. He or she gets all the attention of teacher and students. A biblical view of inerrancy demotes it under the word true, all as part of God's choice to communicate efficiently and sufficiently. When the word "true" governs the game it’s a brand new, healthy game. Good teachers know how to handle disruptive children.
But it's not just the "inerrantists" who are the disruptive children in the theological classroom. More so-called "progressive" readings of Scripture are just as disruptive. If those who insist on inerrancy do so in an obsessive attempt to protect the character of Scripture, turning the biblical text itself into an idol, more progressive hermeneutics are obsessed with protecting the character of God, which like the "bibliolaters," end up with their own form of idol worship, by creating a god that is acceptable to the twenty-first century cultured despisers of Christianity.

I address that in the next post.
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