Hobbins on inerrancy
John Hobbins has written a terrific response to my post on 'Fundamentalism, inerrancy and Jim West' here. It appears that he wants to affirm inerrancy because of its rich tradition in church tradition, because superlative descriptions of scripture should not be hindered by certain ‘imperfections’ in the text.
Just a few points before it gets too late here in England. First, let us not forget what Goldingay has called ‘the nineteenth-century elaboration’ of inerrancy. Today’s versions are equivalent, but not the same. I would add, in the same breath, that these modern varieties certainly are a matter of deductive logic (cf. Warfield, Geisler, Grudem etc.).
In an interesting section Hobbins writes:
“There is nothing innovative at all about speaking of scripture in language that overlooks its imperfections (‘let it pass,’ says Luther, rightly) and concentrates, in superlative terms, on its perfections. Those who wish to praise Scripture with triter language – (moderately) useful; (all other things being equal) profitable; teachable (so long as it is transposed into the categories of later tradition or the latest ideology) – have nothing in common with Gregory of Nyssa or Martin Luther”A terrific point, and one those of us who critique inerrancy would do well to remember. I hope I take it to heart. But six responses: 1) Today, should we be happy with these ‘superlative’ inerrancy terms when they are laden with deductively prescribed and exact statements, as in the Chicago Statement – something that was not clearly on the horizon of Gregory of Nyssa, Luther etc.? 2) The ‘triter language’, as he puts it, would certainly have plenty in common with one of the most famous biblical witnesses to the nature of scripture’s inspiration, namely that in 2 Tim 3:16 (‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful ...’). 3) My own language concerning scripture in the so-called ‘Tilling Statement’, I suggest, is appropriately and deeply superlative, yet is not formulated in such a way that contradicts bare fact. 4) In light of modern formulations, such as the Chicago Statement that further define what one must consider historical (e.g. the flood), this tradition needs reformation (semper reformandum), and for the sake of the churches witness, the nature of truth in relation to scripture needs to be re-formulated. At least, I would argue so! Love always rejoices in the truth, after all. 5) The Chicago Statement, for example, has little to do with doxology, and more to do with precise definitions. I hope that my own statement, proffered on my blog a while ago, recaptures the superlative aspect Hobbins so rightly draws attention to, while avoiding the promotion of belief in a, for want of a more pertinent word, lie. My own understanding of scripture, which rejects inerrancy, does so precisely to provoke doxology (it was penned for confession by the gathered church, in worship), and not to succumb to the restraints of logical propositions. It is the modern formulation of inerrancy that is weighed down by a deductively logical weariness, not the freedom that only comes via truth. 6) Hobbins mentions ‘imperfections’. But let us be honest what they are, though. Errors. Thanks, Lord, for an inerrant text, despite these errors? Unless we today reframe these ‘truth’ matters, as I have suggested elsewhere, we will get some rather bewildered ‘Amens’!
A little later he adds:
‘“Scripture is without error in all that it affirms” (Lausanne Covenant), well, you don’t say? I can’t find “God in three persons, blessed Trinity” in the Bible either’As noted in the comments by Drew, a fundamental difference between the Lausanne Covenant claim and the ‘God in three persons’ claim, is that the Lausanne statement is factually false. ‘Blessed Trinity’ is to be gladly worshipped as Truth.
“Should someone object that the verses cited do not in the first instance refer to the inscripturated word of God, but to some unknown subset thereof, or to an ephemeral word of which we now have nothing: know this: you have the entire interpretive tradition of synagogue and church against you. The great tradition applied these verses to the entire sweep of scripture”This is precisely what I have attempted to do in my own formulation (which I now consider best to concern the trustworthiness of scripture), but certainly not in the service of modern formulations of inerrancy. I think I'll re-post my now re-worked formulation here when I return to Germany.
Finally, he writes: “It’s time to engage in multi-tiered thinking, like this: the Bible affirms that God leads into error (1 Kings 22; Isa 6 [and NT actualizations thereof]; 63:17), and at the same time, that God did not err in so doing”. I applaud John’s spirit here. However, I don’t think he goes far enough. This faint strand is not enough on which to hang the nature of scripture in relation to truth. Rather than let such inerrancy concerns win such a small square of theological rational, why not recover all the masses of scriptures gathered in my own formulation, and reframe them in light of a more biblical understanding of truth?
Do give Hobbins' articulate and helpful response a read.