September 15, 2019

We Need Both

christ-scripture-l.jpgHere’s a thought I never had before, and maybe it will bring a bit of clarity to this debate over what I’ve written about the Bible.

Cent’s good pastor, Tad Thompson, points out a typical conservative SBC criticism of Barth….or to be more precise, what SBC liberals did with a Barthian turn of theology. He notes the change in the Baptist Faith and Message from 1963 to 2000. Changes in brackets and bold:

1963 (Key Phrase in Brackets)
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. It reveals the principles by which God judges us; and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. [The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.]

2000:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. [All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.]

Now, what I say in “Conversations in God’s Kitchen” amounts to saying BOTH PHRASES ARE NECESSARY. What I believe looks like this:

All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation and, THEREFORE, the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.

This seems so absolutely obvious to me from reading the way the New Testament uses the Old that I cannot imagine I’ve spent a week being told I don’t believe in the inspiration of the Bible. In analogy after analogy, post after post, sermon after sermon, year after year, I say that the Bible brings us to Jesus, and then we go back through the Bible with Jesus as the illumination of all that is there.

I stand by this as not only not liberal, but radically Biblical. It’s not a defense of Barth or Barthianism. I have no interest in Barth compared to what the Bible says about itself. I do have an interest in keeping Christ central in anything we say about the Bible and anything we hear in the Bible.

As I said in “Conversations in God’s Kitchen,” the Bible brings us to Christ, and Christ takes us back into the scriptures. (Luke 24) What we see there isn’t “inspired information.” What we see there is Christ and the Gospel.

Comments

  1. Bill MacKinnon says

    Sorry, but if it doesn’t have the “I” word in there somewhere, your statement won’t fly. Inerrancy has become the fundamentalist’s version of “uncle.” When the bully has your arm twisted behind your back, you can yell stop, don’t, please, I give, help, etc, etc. The pressure doesn’t let up until you say uncle.

    This debate is the theological equivalent. The self proclaimed keepers of orthodoxy don’t want to hear the words “trustworthy, reliable, infallible, or inspired.” They don’t want to hear the words scripture uses of itself. They want to hear uncle, er, inerrant. It doesn’t matter if you mean it. It doesn’t matter what you mean by it. As long as you say the word, you’re in.

  2. Bill,

    The history of the debate over the authority of the Bible should be considered when discussing the present state of inerrancy. My understanding of the nature of the debate, from my bibliology professor (Rod Rosenbladt, Christ College Irvine and a veteran of these actual events) is this:

    In the years after WW II, Barthian theology gained a foothold in many evangelical seminaries precisely because Barthian professors would, in their interviews, assent to calling the Bible authoritative, infallible and inspired. They simply meant something different from their questioners when they affirmed such things, and were accepted into the faculties despite teaching things that were very different from what the leaders of these seminaries expected. This led many evangelical leaders to suspicion of Barthians, feeling there was a bait and switch going on.

    So the traditional fundamentalist and evangelical leaders started to use the term innerancy, and began using it to determine the meaning of these words being affirmed by Barthian academics. The word became very effective in helping to clarify latent disagreements. Historically, it was a healthy tool to distinguish Barthian views of authority from views defended by say, Old Princeton theologians. That helps explain why inerrantists still wield this as their divining rod of choice when entering into discussion with people. Barthian theology seems to be having a renaissance among evangelicals, which may be raising anxieties in the inerrantist camp.

    Barthians have traditionally scoffed at the use of the word inerrancy becasue the Bible never describes itself that way, but this is not really a strong argument. The Bible never uses ‘redemptive-historical,’ ‘missional,”, incarnational, trinitarian, and on and on – but they remain helpful expressions of biblical truth, to my mind. Modern language has evolved and present contexts and uses should be paramount, not whether the word actualy arises in scripture – and since the scriptures are in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, who are we kidding anyways?

    I think the Barthians have a right to say to the inerrantists – ‘define what you mean by inerrancy.’ Because it seems to me a thoughtful and biblical view of inerrancy must take into account the varying genres, the literary purposes of each book, and so on. The inerrancy I was taught by Rosenbladt, Packer, Waltke, Pratt and others is careful and qualified. It looks a lot more like C.S. Lewis than some might think – although I do not think Lewis was an inerrantist.

    But I also think that the inerrantist have the right to ask the Barthians – ‘define what you mean by authoritative, or inspired.’ There are no uninterpreted facts, and no uninterpreted terms. Some Barthians have sometimes taught that Christ is the only Word of God, and there is no inscripturated word – only the incarnate word. We ENCOUNTER the incarnate word chiefly in the written scriptures, but the kerygmatic encounter is what is trustworthy, not the texts. To be fair, that is a far cry from Old Princeton, or the Chicago Statement on Biblical inerrancy, or much of mainstream evangelicalism. That form of Barthianism, perhaps long dead but perhaps still alive, is so different from traditional understandings of inspiration and authority that integrity demands we admit the difference and then agree to disagree or argue, in love, the merits of each case.

    I love the Christ-centered focus of barthian theology, to the degree I understand it. I am attracted to its intellectually sophisticated hermeneutic. But I remain wary of it because too many strands of Barthian theology, at least as I have understood it historically, dissolved into subjective kerygmatic encounters with the living Christ as the basis of our faith. I remain too convinced of the objective, timeless, inspired infallible authority of the Word of God, rightly understood (it is infallible in all that it claims to assert, given its literary varieties)
    to be convinced of Barthianism.

    Thanks for having the courage to start a big conversation, Michael.

  3. So who is Cent’s bad pastor? And how does he rate having two?

  4. I heard some higher ups one time in the SBC who said the change in wording was more owing to the fact that many people would take the OT and neuter the meaning of the text by saying “Jesus would never have killed sinners.” They would practice a blind hermeneutic of using Jesus against His own word. Since all Scripture had to be interpreted by Christ, anything He didn’t “Do” in the Gospels, they wouldn’t believe in the rest of the Bible. Of course they wouldn’t use Jesus in Revelation coming back to pour wrath on certain people as a window for interpretation…just gospel Jesus who they could twist and fit into a mold similar to the social interaction of a 1970s free-love hippie.