Monday, August 21, 2006

Across the Spectrum, Part 1:The Scripture Debate

I was visiting some students who graduated from our ministry who attend Northwestern University in Orange City Iowa over the weekend and I took some time to check out the Bible section in their bookstore (I am a Bible nerd!). I ended up buying a fascinating book entitled Across The Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology by Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy (for sale on the left). Boyd is rather famous and has written ten books, including Letters From a Skeptic. He was also interviewed by Lee Strobel in The Case for Christ. Both are from the Twin Cities and teach at Bethel Semenary.

Anyway, as the subtitle suggests, the authors tackle and discuss a number of the "hot" debates and interesting issues that are ubiquitous in Evangelicalism. I assure you that you have thought about many of these issues before. Their point is not to argue, but "to broaden students' minds by helping them empathetically understand a variety of perspectives while training them to think critically for themselves" (pg 6). That, too, is my goal of many of the discussions I lead as a youth pastor as well as the purpose of this blog. Thinking is good! Please don't get nervous at disagreement, but be open and willing to learn and understand both sides better.

What I have decided to do, is post a series of articles on topics from this book. I will summarize each view and offer support for each one, while commenting and offering opinion the whole way. It will take us through nearly all of the "hot" debates in Evangelicalism and give us a lot of fun things to talk about. Here we go! This first one has to do with one's view of scripture.

The Inspiration Debate: Without Error of any Kind vs Infallable in Matters of Faith and Practice

Without Error of any Kind (The Inerrantist View)

This view states that the Bible, in its original manuscripts was perfect in every way, including on issues like science, history, politics, and other and non-religious matters. The Bible is to generally be interpreted literally and all of it, every letter, is important and completely without error, or inerrant.

Biblical Evidence

The Bible certainly seems to teach that it is perfect (Isa 46:8-10, Ps 119:160 etc.). Jesus seemed to hold this view as well, using the phrases "God says..." and "Scripture says..." interchangably. Jesus also insisted that not even one letter would pass away from the law (Matt 5:18).

Supporting Arguments

1. Church Tradition

The Church (universal) over the years has typically assumed and held to the belief that the Bible is without error of any kind. Augustine and John Calvin certainly believed this, as did Martin Luther, who went as far as to say "Scripture cannot err." This has been the popular view throughout history.

2. A Logical Argument

The Logical argument goes as follows:

a. God is perfect and thus cannot err.
b. Scripture is God-breathed (inspired).
c. What God breathes retains his perfect character.
d. Scripture cannot err.

The argument makes sense logically. The only question is, are all of the premises valid?

3. An Argument from Epistemology (How do we know what we know?)

If we do not accept the Bible as inerrant, than the decision as to what is correct in the Bible and what is not is up to us, making us the ruling powers and not God. Who are we to decide what is and is not relevant and correct in God's Word?

4. A Historical Argument

"The Bible tells us that the heart is desperately wicked. There is a side of fallen humanity that consistently wants to run away from God. This is why it is so dangerous to deny the inerrency of scripture. We cannot trust our own fallen hearts and minds to decide what is true" (pg 13).

"The denial of inerrency has almost always led to some form of heresy if not total unbelief" i.e. Jahovah's Witnesses etc. (pg 14).

Infallable in Matters of Faith and Practice (The Infallibilist View)

This view states that the Bible is right and accurate on all of the issues that matter and apply to faith (i.e. Salvation, Resurection, the life of Jesus etc.), but may not be accurate in "minor matters of history and science." I would basically say that where the former view insists that every word and letter of scripture must be true, this view would not make that claim and force scripture into such a box.

Biblical Evidence

"An honest examination of Scripture leads to the conclusion that the Bible is thoroughly inspired but also thoroughly human" (pg 17).

The most convincing biblical evidence (in my opinion) can be summed up in 2 points"

1. The writers of Scripture for the most part did not necessarily know they were writing scripture, and therefore inerrency was not their concern. For example, if we try to force a letter of Paul to discuss matters of science, when his agenda is to discuss church polity, we misuse the text to do something it is not intended to do.

2. The biblical authors held a "premodern" view of the world. For example, the Hebrews, as well as all people in the ancient Near East, believed that the sky was "hard as a molten mirror" (Job 37:18), and that it was a dome that seperated waters above from waters below (Genesis 1:7), and that it was held up by pillars (Psalm 75:3, 104:2-3, Job 9:6, 26:11 etc.). We see this language as poetic, but history and archeology show us that this is the way people really understood the world. This is of course not true, and must weigh in on this argument.

Supporting Arguments

1. Church History

Both sides argue that church history is on their side. This camp points to the the time in the 16th century when Galileo was excomunicated for claiming that the sun was the center of the universe, rather than the earth, like the Church believed due to an inerrentist view of scripture. It was quite an emberrassing moment for the church that was brouth about by an inerrantist view.

2. Apologetic and evangelistic advantages

If one claims that the Bible must be inerrant to be inspired, the credability of the Bible hangs in the ability of a person to resolve every error or apparent conflict in the Bible.

3. Bibliolatry

The innerrency view "tends to shift the focus of faith away from Jesus Christ and toward the accuracy of the Bible" (pg 20).

Thoughts and Comments

This debate has been a very divisive one through the years. It seems that this is broken up into the fairly radical conservatives who hold to the Inerrantist view, and every one else who believe the other. I think that the mistake of the Inerrantist camp is that they assume the Infallibilist view is throwing scripture out all together. The Infallibilist still hold scripture as the highest authority in the Christian faith, as that which everything is to be tested against, and as the revelation of God to his people. The Infallibilist are not suggesting by their view that the Bible is a Christian version of Esoph's Fables. If you have ever diologued with an Inerrantist, that seems to be the perception. I hope that this write up has shown that it is not the case.

Personally, I fall into the 2nd camp with the Infallibilist. I am not completely there, but I would guess I'm about 90/10. I think that evidence like that presented in the 2nd point under biblical evidence about the "premodern" view of the world shows well enough that the Bible cannot be considered inerrant. I understand that I may be written off as a pagan liberal for saying that, but I guess that is the price I pay. I think that is a mistake, and it is not doing any good to the body of Christ to fail to dialogue about these issues. Let us continue to sharpen one another,continue to ask questions, and explore and seek the truth.

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