any of you who know me, or who have been reading this blog for some time, know that I often struggle with just accepting the “party line” explanations about things. For me, it’s not good enough to say that “So-and-so stated it this way”, regardless of the reputation of said So-and-so. Their testimony might (and probably will) bear weight on the topic, if it is corroborated by others, but on its own, it doesn’t carry enough weight to convince me.
This has been part of my frustration with many theological topics. There seems (to my mind) to be a lot of just quoting other theologians out there. Theologian A quotes Theologian B in support of some point. Theologian B is actually just parroting Theologian C, however. So when Theologian A then turns to Theologian C as additional “evidence”, I get skeptical. Sometimes, it can even turn out that Theologian C quotes Theologian A, and the circle is complete.
One such topic that frustrates me is the topic of inerrancy. Now, please understand that I’m not bashing the idea of inerrancy. I think there may, indeed, be quite a bit of merit to it. However, I’m struggling with understanding the importance of that particular doctrine. More importantly, I’m struggling with the fact that both inerrancy and inspiration almost always carry a disclaimer with them that says that those characteristics are only certain “in the original manuscripts”. In other words, documents that appear to no longer exist. So what does it really buy us? If we leave that loophole open, how important is the doctrine, and of what use is it?
What frustrates me, as well, is the fact that the doctrine seems to not really be defended very clearly. A lot of presuppositions are brought to the table. Now, I realize that we all have presuppositions. But what frustrates me is when those presuppositions are 1) not recognized as such, and 2) treated as if they were already proven. Sometimes the presuppositions are so strong that “evidence” given is not evidence at all, or might even contradict the conclusion.
Recently, another blogger linked to a book edited by Norman L. Geisler called simply Inerrancy. It is actually a compilation of 14 papers written by different theologians. In the chapter entitled “The Early Church Through Luther”, Robert D. Preus begins with the following statement (pp. 357-358):
That the Bible is the Word of God, inerrant and of supreme divine authority, was a conviction held by all Christians and Christian teachers through the first 1,700 years of church history. Except in the case of certain free-thinking scholastics, such as Abelard, this fact has not really been contested by many scholars. Of course, many of the early church fathers and an even greater proportion of the medieval theologians did not directly address themselves to the subject of biblical authority. The former simply assumed the doctrine of biblical authority on the basis of an understanding of Scripture that was shared by both Tannaite Judaism and the early Christians. The latter developed a notable lack of interest in biblical studies and in seeking answers directly from Scripture for questions and concerns of the day….
But just as we can establish Scripture’s teaching of its own divine origin and authority on the basis of what is assumed rather than what is explicitly articulated there, we can clearly delineate the doctrine concerning Scripture held by the Christian church and its theological leaders from postapostolic times through the Reformation era…. On no other point do we notice such unanimity….
Here is a chapter that purports to give evidence that the church has always believed in inerrancy. For additional weight, the author also throws in “supreme divine authority” as something that was supposedly believed.
But does anyone else see the problem with the “evidence”? Here’s the premise again:
That the Bible is the Word of God, inerrant and of supreme divine authority, was a conviction held by all Christians and Christian teachers through the first 1,700 years of church history.
Now, one would expect this to be backed up with a plethora of evidence. This is a bold statement, and one which apparently warranted its own complete chapter in this book. But right after making this claim, the author then states:
Of course, many of the early church fathers and an even greater proportion of the medieval theologians did not directly address themselves to the subject of biblical authority.
Huh? This “conviction” was “held by all Christians”, and yet many of the writings we have don’t even directly address it? How can we know that it was held, then? Furthermore, with regard to the early church fathers, he goes on to say:
The [early church fathers] simply assumed the doctrine of biblical authority….
How can we know this? If a collation of writings from various authors in a particular period of time do not address a particular issue, how can we know that they “assumed” anything?? Oh, but it gets better! Don’t forget the medieval theologians who supposedly believed in the divine authority of Scripture unanimously as well.
[They] developed a notable lack of interest in biblical studies and in seeking answers directly from Scripture for questions and concerns of the day….
I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sound like biblical authority at all to me! How can one claim that a group of theologians believed a certain point when 1) they didn’t address it, and 2) they actually demonstrated evidence of moving in the opposite direction?!? A “notable lack of interest” in actually studying the Bible and/or seeking answers from it hardly indicates a profound belief in its inerrancy or divine authority.
The author appears to recognize that a lack of actual evidence might cause one to doubt his conclusion. So, he then uses an analogy that is supposed to make us feel better about his lack of evidence:
[J]ust as we can establish Scripture’s teaching of its own divine origin and authority on the basis of what is assumed rather than what is explicitly articulated there, we can clearly delineate the doctrine concerning Scripture held by the Christian church and its theological leaders from postapostolic times through the Reformation era….
I’m not even sure where to start with this paragraph. How can we “establish Scripture’s teaching” about anything if it’s not stated? We can do this “on the basis of what is assumed”? Assumed by whom? And what are the parameters on these assumptions? This is “argument from silence” at its worst and in awful proportions — and is the primary evidence given in support of a thesis!
Further, the notion that we can “clearly delineate the doctrine concerning Scripture” from people who, by the author’s own admission, didn’t even address the topic is ludicrous. Again, this is argument from silence. “They didn’t address it, so we can assume that they must have believed a certain way about it.”
Am I missing something? Does this make sense to anyone else??
And finally, the author concludes with this preposterous statement:
On no other point do we notice such unanimity….
I am speechless. Unanimity?? On an issue that is not addressed? Sadly, this is what seems to pass in evangelical circles as “proof” for something. It appears to be nothing more than coming to the table with one’s mind already made up about the conclusion, no matter what the evidence — or lack of evidence — might show. Surely we can do better than this, can’t we?
Until next time,