Saturday, February 05, 2005

Why I Am an Inerrantist - Part I

Well I’ve been frolicking so much on Theofragen with Jake and the gang that I haven’t spent any time on my own blog. But enough. As you may have observed in the list of “coming posts,” I’ve been wanting to tackle the subject of inerrancy for a while now, particularly in light of post-evangelical theology. But rather than approaching this issue from a strictly academic/cognitive direction, I want to address this issue in light of praxis, and continue a discussion that Jake began awhile back. His comments regarding inerrancy present a perspective that I have never interacted with before and, I believe, are worth noting. As you will observe from his lengthy quote below, Jake seems to be suggesting (at least in this post) that the differences between evangelicals and (some) post-evangelicals such as himself can be relegated more to the realm of semantics rather than substance. Note in particular his last sentence.

“The term, "inerrancy" is no longer helpful--even though some scholars, laypersons and clergy insist that this is the "hill on which to die."

I have a pastor friend who insists that biblical inerrancy is the only "faithful" position to take in regard to the Bible. Not long ago he preached about the mustard seed and I pressed him to clarify Jesus' statement that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds. Scientifically, this is a false statement. Other seeds are known to be anatomically smaller than the mustard seed (actually epiphytic orchids of the tropical rain forest produce the world's smallest seeds, weighing only 35 millionths of an ounce). I asked my friend to explain this to me and he told me that it is not a false statement because Jesus' audience would not have known about Brazilian orchids. The point of this statement is to use everyday language of the people in order to help them understand the nature of God's rule. I wholeheartedly agree. The point is not biological, but theological.

Follow my logic. If a) Jesus is God and b) God created the world and c) Jesus makes a statement that contradicts the created order, we are left with three options. 1) Concluding that Jesus is not fully God; 2) Concluding that Jesus is one with God and is knowledgeable about creation but was merely confused; or 3) Jesus Christ is more concerned with communicating something profound about God's rule than he is about agricultural veracity.

It seems that we need to abandon the term "inerrancy" for the dogmatism and bifurcation it creates. Essentially, its use forces believers who share a similar view of the inspiration of Scripture into conflict over semantics…” (italics Gerald's).
Jake’s comments here reflect a view of inerrancy that I have not had much exposure to. Traditionally, I tended to view only two primary camps regarding inerrancy (I have not interacted sufficiently with Barth and neo-orthodoxy to categorize this perspective).
1. Evangelicals who maintain that the Bible is free of error in the original languages when understood in light of it’s natural, cultural, linguistical and grammatical context.

2. Far left liberal (and sometimes atheistic) theologians/scholars who deny inerrancy and largely reject the bible as a unique and authoritative guide regarding God’s revelation of himself.

But now Jake seems to be suggesting a third camp.
3. Post evangelicals who maintain the basic substance of the evangelical position, but reject the label “inerrancy,” arguing that it is misleading, bifurcating and unhelpful in presenting the true nature of the scriptures.

I want to interact with this third option in as much as it might accurately reflect the paradigm of at least much of post-evangelicalism. But before charging ahead, I invite any post-evangelicals out there to weigh in on how accurately this third position reflects the emergent view of inspiration/inerrancy.

15 comments:

mark said...

nice post!

For post-evangelicals such as myself, I dont think that we are rejecting only the label "inerrancy" but in fact the foundationalist structures upon which a doctrine of inerrancy can be built. That is, we are asserting that the claims of postmodernism undercut the very assumptions and presuppositions needed to argue for an inerrant scripture..

On a praxis level, I think we are saying that the term has been used, whether conciously or not, to reduce the text to a set of guidelines or a blueprint for life. In order to open up the text to more creative interpretations and readings, including those of liberation theologians, we need to rethink the terminology of inerrancy.

On a personal level, the question of innerrancy has been posed to me as kind of a litmus test for my "evangelical" faith. Is this really the issue we're willing to exclude people for?

just a short intro..this should be a good conversation..

mark

Gerald said...

Thanks Mark. I'll wait and see if I get anymore bites and then I'll respond to your comment. Thanks for reading.

Jake said...

Gerald, I appreciate that you have taken such an interest in my thoughts on inerrancy. I regret that my academic, work and personal life has not afforded me sufficient time to interact with your questions on my blog. Given that you are in an "in-between" time as you await PhD decisions, I suggest that you read some books that I have found helpful. I would read Nancy Murphey's "Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism", Dave Tomlinson's "The Postevangelical" and Brian McLaren's "A Generous Orthodoxy". These books will help you understand why emergent is beginning to take shape and what Todd and I mean when we say that we are post-evangelicals.

The issue of inerrancy goes far deeper than pure semantics and I appologize if I made it seem that semantics was the only thing at play. My attempt at laying out the history of interpretation as clearly as I know how is to show how conservatives have uncritically wedded the spirit of the age in affirming the doctrine of inerrancy. It is not biblical, it is extra-biblical and is only serving to alienate people who really do share many of the same core beliefs. Although it may seem that my efforts are purely deconstructive--they are in the service of re-construction. I want to free my brothers and sisters in Christ from the yoke of inerrancy so that they can separate it from Scripture itself. For the record, I see nothing wrong with a conservative mode of interpretation. If you believe that Jonah was historically in a fish for three days...fine. If you maintain that the world was created in six days...okay. I only wish to point out how dependant conservative evangelical Christians have become on categories of meaning that come strait out of the modern age and, when forced upon the Bible, do injustice to the beauty and truth of the text.

Gerald said...

Mark and Jake,

Thanks for your comments. I thought for one brief fleeting moment that a driving force behind the emergent rejection of inerrancy was simply semantics. But enough of the illusions and back to the hard work of dialog.

I know that both of you appeal to the whole foundationalism issue, but I can't help but feel like this is actually an ancillary issue that has unhelpfully been tied to the whole inerrancy discussion. Language may not be able to convey absolute meaning, but it does convey reasonable/functional meaning, otherwise we couldn't even be having this dialog. So I want to tackle that issue in another post, but for now would simply like to establish some clarity regarding definition and motivation.

In light of Mark's comments, I would be curious to know what "creative interpretations" of scripture the inerrancy position curtails. Both of you seem to be suggesting in your comments that the inerrancy position necessitates a literal/historical interpretation of every passage. I am aware of many evangelicals that view the first 3 chapters of genesis as literary myth, as well as the story of Jonah as allegory (I don't happen to agree incidentally - it seems that the desire to take these passages mythically or allegorically is driven by modern presuppositions which suppose such things are not scientifically possible - but that's a different subject). But for these evangelicals, interpreting such passages as mythical or allegory does not undermine the inerrancy stance because for them, such passages were originally intended to be interpreted as such (similar to interpreting Jesus' parables as parables rather than historical narrative). Thus for these evangelicals, such a hermeneutic is consistent with authorial intent. (I am aware that the term authorial intent is a loaded statement for post-foundationalists, but I only ask that you grant it the same meaning in regard to the authors of scripture that you grant to me as I attempt to communicate in this post. I am intending to say something – as were they).

Assuming you are aware of this evangelical hermeneutic, I can't help but wonder if your movement away from inerrancy is motivated in part by a desire to disagree with what is most reasonably the authorial intent. In other words, do you hold that though the author of Genesis supposed the world to be created in six days, and intended his readers to understand him to be saying as much, that he was actually mistaken?

If this is in fact your interpretive grid (and I just don't know) what limits would you place on such an approach? Were the writer(s) of the Pentateuch, unaware of the advances of modern science, simply mistaken in their condemnation of homosexuality? Was Paul unduly influenced by his Hebraic culture, and thus chauvinistically and immorally inclined against women? How does such an interpretive approach refrain from turning into an excuse to edit out the portions of scripture that one finds unsuitable to his/her postmodern sensitivities?

Look forward to hearing your replies. This discussion is very helpful for me as I do not fully understand what drives the post-evangelical movement away from inerrancy. And Jake – I know the pressure of school, family, ministry and work. Don’t feel like you have to respond at length or at all. I like having you as a dialog partner, but some things come first. Peace to you both.

Gerald

Jake said...

Gerald, the "inerrantist" hermeneutic that does not insist on the factuality--historiographically speaking--of the Jonah and creation narratives is NOT an inerrantist hermeneutic. This is a post-liberal/evangelical hermeneutic which is what many Emergent folks adhere to. I believe that the Bible is inspired and true, if this makes me an inerrantist...fine. But you must conceed that for many evanglicals who claim inerrancy as the only mode of interpreting Scripture they do not share your wide definition of inerrancy. One of the reasons that Christians such as Mark and I call ourselves "post-evangelical" is because of the rejection of the rigid conceptualization of truth advocated by defenders of biblical inerrancy. However, if your definition of inerrancy is that wide I understand how you could view my comments as pertaining only to semantics. You are the first inerrantist that I have ever heard who would allow for a non-historiographic understanding of the biblical narratives.

Also, I don't think you appreciate the difficulties of presumming "authorial intent". There is a marked difference between the biblical authors and your "intentions" on this blog. 1) Culture: you, Mark and I are middle-class, white, heterosexual (I presume), American, Christian, males. So, from a cultural-linguistic perspective, your "functional" use of language is also at least "quasi-functional" in my context because we share a similar culture. 2) Availability: you, Mark and I are in dialogue. If you say something with which I disagree or don't understand we have the unique relationship and opportunity such that you can clarify and confirm/disconfirm my interpretation of what you write. Again, we don't have that luxury with the biblical writers. I could go on and on about the limits of "getting behind the text". This does not mean that we have no grounds for engaging in historical-critical analysis and speculation. However, all our reconstructions of historical situations that might inform authorial intent are inherently limited.

Another problem that flows from an inerrantist propositional understanding of truth is that it tends to favor a white, Euro-American, male interpretation. That tends not to bother most inerrantists because they are predominantly white-Euro-American, males. When Mark talks about "more creative interpretations" he is referring to interpretations that do not emerge from a white, Euro-American, male cultural perspective. This tends to scare many evangelicals because they operate from a power-positions and want to preserve "their" interpretation as the only legitimate one. So such thinkers have taken a semitic text and forced it into a modern worldview constructed by scared white men in order to preserve their position of dominance within the Christian tradition. Ask yourself, when a homosexual challenges the cultural presuppositions of the BCE Jewish context do you bristle? Do you charge them with "isegesis"? When we priveledge our culture above all others we are operating in a school of thought that substantiates a heritage of emperialist domination. This is sinful in my opinion and is why I am fighting this fight.

Gerald, you seem to be a really smart guy. I suggest you do some heavy reading about hermeneutics and the problems of interpretation. Check out Brian Blount's "Cultural Interpretation", Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza's, "Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation", Hans Georg Gadamer's, "Truth and Method", Ernst Kasemann's, "Jesus means Victory", and Rudolph Bultmann, "Essays: Philosophical and Theological" (esp. his essay "The Problem of Hermeneutics"). There is no substitute for putting in the hours or reading to really enter into dialogue with others. I am reading through Carl F.H. Henry right now so that I can better understand your perspective. Peace.

Gerald said...

Jake,

Thanks for the thoughtful response. (I gotta say, I kind of feel like I’ve been spanked and sent to my room to think about what I’ve done). Sorry this post is so long, but you came pretty hard and I felt a need to respond to your comments. No hard feelings though, and I mean that.

First of all, sorry for so cavalierly asserting my understanding of inerrancy as normative. You asserted your opposition with such conviction that I even began to doubt it myself. I agree that many evangelicals do not care for such a view (I being one of them) but I still stand by my contention that such a view is not outside the pale of contemporary evangelical orthodoxy. I think you are right that the mythological hermeneutic was developed by post-evangelicals, but I think you are wrong if you are asserting that many evangelicals have not adopted it and utilized it within an inerrantist interpretive grid. I had class last night and was able to briefly check my statements with my OT prof. He confirmed my assertion that some evangelical/inerrantist OT scholars do in fact prefer to view the creation account as mythological (rather than historical), and appeal to authorial intent as their safe guard against an errancy position. Walt Kaiser, in his chapter on hermeneutics in Inerrancy (Zondervan, 1979) acknowledges the mythological interpretation’s presence within evangelicalism and decries it as a poor hermeneutic. He essentially argues that such a hermeneutical approach, though technically adhering to the inerrancy position, incorporates too much of a liberal hermeneutic. (I agree.) He laments, “It is possible that a strong confessional stand on Scripture and its inerrancy could remain orthodox, even long after the practice and method of interpreting Scripture had turned neoorthodox or liberal” (147). In other words, Kaiser rejects the mythological approach, not because it is inherently anti-inerrantist, but because it adopts a liberal/neoorthodox hermeneutic. (This is what I was trying to establish in my last post). Gordon Wenham would be an example of just such an evangelical OT scholar. See his comments in The Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis (Word Books, 1987) 39-40. I think that it might also be safe to say that perhaps contemporary evangelicalism is a bit more receptive to such a hermeneutic than past evangelicalism. Reading Henry is a good place to start (I haven’t read him) but maybe he doesn’t reflect the recent movement of the last 20 years or so. I’m not sure. I want to check this whole thing out some more, just to be sure I indeed do know what I am talking about. If I come across any more specifics I’ll shoot you an e-mail. Anyway, if that was the only thing holding you back, feel free to join our club.

And regarding authorial intent, I know you think I don’t appreciate the difficulty of establishing authorial intent, but perhaps you don’t properly appreciate my appreciation of the difficulty of establishing authorial intent. Having spent time learning the original languages, I am aware of the difficulties of transcending the language barrier, let alone all of the cultural, social, gender, and ethnic hurdles. But at the end of the day, we both are going to have to ascribe to your statements that 1) we do “have grounds for engaging in historical – critical analysis and speculation” regarding the probable meaning of a text, and 2) that “all our reconstructions of historical situations that might inform authorial intent are inherently limited.” Certainly both of us agree with both of your assertions. Obviously you agree that it is possible to arrive at probable/reasonable certainty regarding the authorial intent of most of scripture or you wouldn’t even bother reading the bible. And obviously I must agree that no exegetical conclusion should be maintained with such certainty and tenacity that the interpreter refuses to acknowledge new evidence that might bear on the meaning of the text. I do think, by the way, that evangelicals have not demonstrated enough epistemic humility (thanks JB), and that the emergent emphasis upon the difficulty of establishing authorial intent is a necessary corrective. But it is not helpful for dialog if post-evangelicalism’s only response to evangelical exegesis is a sweeping dismissal based upon our supposed lack of appreciation for how difficult it is to establish authorial intent. If you’re interested in a contemporary evangelical response to this issue, I would recommend David Clark’s book To Know and Love God (Crossway, 2003). This is a very fine evangelical/scholarly discussion of the debate, in which Clark argues for a soft foundationalism and deals with the subject of authorial intent. This work will probably give you a better feel for contemporary evangelicalism than much of what was being written 15-20 years ago.

And though this post is way too long already, I conclude with these final thoughts. First, you still haven’t answered my question regarding the limits you would place upon a hermeneutical approach that feels free to disagree with the presumed authorial intent (but then you haven’t pointedly stated that this is in fact your approach). This is a very important issue for me (and evangelicals) and if you could provide a satisfactory answer here, I would be a lot more open to your position. I know you want the text to be able to communicate some new things, but I also know you don’t want the text to communicate simply anything the interpreter desires. Secondly, I don’t think it is helpful to impugn the motives of evangelicals. Certainly some of us are motivated by power and the desire to dominate, but I do not think this reflects the heart of the best of evangelicalism, nor do I think that such generalizing facilitates good discussion (and I would guess that the motivation behind emergent theology is not wholly altruistic either). Thirdly, I have to admit that you are right when you imply that I “bristle” when my presuppositions are threatened, but I think no more than you. Both of us care very deeply about the issues we are discussing. We each have a great deal of time, energy, (perhaps$?) invested in our respective paradigms. It matters to each of us a great deal that we be on the right side of these issues, so it is perhaps natural that we do so. But I try very hard to follow the truth wherever it takes me. I’m sure that you do the same. And finally, thanks for the suggested reading. I have copied them down and will add them to my list. Unfortunately, Todd was a bit optimistic regarding the amount of free time I have. My “in-between time” consists of a full time job, a pregnant wife, a two year old, Hebrew grammar, Greek exegesis, comp exams and a 150+ page thesis still in process.

Jake, thanks for the dialog. I appreciate the opportunity to interact with you and though I don’t have time right now to do “serious” study regarding post-evangelical theology (I’ve only read some of McLaren), I am very much grateful for this primer. You have a bright mind and it pushes me to keep up with you. Peace my brother.

Gerald

Anonymous said...

One thing I would want to point out is that for me the significance of the move to post-evangelicalism is to place the resurrection of Jesus christ as more central to christian life and doctrine than any doctrine of scripture. Christ is the Lord of hte church, not the Bible. I explain my high regard for scripture as an inference from (and subsequent to) my belief in the resurrection of christ, whereas evangelicals have traditionally attempted to draw the inferential connection in the exact opposite direction. The difference is of huge significance.

Anonymous said...

Above post signed:
Steve B.
http://harbinger.blogs.com

David Nebraska said...

Jake,

You made a comment in one of your response posts..."Is this really the issue we're willing to exclude people for?" I believe it is. When looking at the big picture of inerrancy we must realize that the foundational basis from which we have knowledge of our salvation in Christ is based upon the bedrock of this very fact. If we allow the praxis of a hermenuetic that is sympethetic to a cultural majority we are no better than secular humanists who declare there is no absolute authority. I fear the inevitable result of the Emergent movement would be to loose the inerrency of Scripture and relagate the Bible to a "useful commentary on life." I disagree with your assertion that evangelicals interpret from a position and desire to ursurp power as a general rule. Instead I would propose evangelical's stalwart defense of inerrancy stems from the desire to promote an absolute instead of a lukewarm presentation of God and His desire for Mankind. Without the inerrancy of Scripture as a foundational truth we loose any ability to say with a certainty that any of Scripture is applicable or useful. This is exactly what those who would like to see Christianity fall (not that it could) would like to happen. All of this from a humble Bible school student nowhere on par with the likes of you or Gerald.

Gerald said...

Steve,

I think you are right. The scriptures cannot be an end, but only a means. Jesus and his resurrection must be the end. I had an Australian prof who studied in England and his comment was that North American evangelicals tend to view scripture like British evangelicals view Jesus. Something seems amiss there.

And I agree that the scriptures gain their significance from what they attest to, rather than the other way around. I haven't chased this thought all the way down to its end, but it seems to me that I don't have to give up inerrancy to agree with your thoughts here. I do have sympathies, though, with those who view the doctrine as a distraction from the central element of the scriptures. I remember being given an assignment where I was to "solve" problem passages in relation to inerrancy. One of the passages involved rabbits and chewing their cud (can't remember off hand exactly what difficulty this presents). It seemed to me that such an endeavor was a colossal waste of time. For me, the authority of scripture doesn't hang on rabbits, but on the resurrection. I'm sure there is a satisfactory solution to the rabbit problem, but I don't feel a need to solve it.

I peek in on your blog occasionally and enjoy your posts, even though some of them do get my dander up (being a "crazy ass Calvinist" and all).

Jake said...

I agree with Steve implicitly regarding the centrality of Christ. Steve and I are both working with the work of Hans Frei this semester and I suggest that Gerald and David Nebraska take some time working with post-liberal theology. Oh and David, please think very carefully about the modernist propositions that undergird this statement: "Without the inerrancy of Scripture as a foundational truth we loose any ability to say with a certainty that any of Scripture is applicable or useful." The Bible can be true and not inerrant at the same time. David I reject your slippery-slope fallacy. Frei helps us from being forced into this conclusion. The two matters of historical-critical methodology that really matter are that 1) we know that Jesus walked the earth and 2) historical-critical methodology cannot disprove the resurrection. We must divorce ourselves from a purly cognitive (prove-it-and-I-will-believe-it) epistemology and instead move towards a realization that our faith is FAITH. We cannot prove anything by purely historical-critical propositional "truths"!

Gerald, I am working with Carl Henry because he is the main architect behind the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy". I want to get to the core of this belief and I can think of no better place than with the writings of Henry. Check out the things coming out of the Southern Baptist Journal theology and Westminster Theological Journal and you will see how much contemporary scholars draw from Henry. Moreover, as a Baptist, I engage with the (I believe) harmful theology espoused by the president of Southern Seminary, Al Mohler. He is vehemently opposed to any idea of a "soft foundationalism". In fact, you are the first evangelical I have met who is committed to inerrancy and yet makes room for a non-inerrantist position. Nevertheless, I appreciate your spirit and your willingness to dialogue.

mark said...

Steve,

"Without the inerrancy of Scripture as a foundational truth we loose any ability to say with a certainty that any of Scripture is applicable or useful."

I think the key word here in certainity. What is certainty? What degree of certainity do we have to have that scripture is applicable or useful? How much certainity is enough to still be orthodox in this worldview? Who gets to decide how much is enough?

I would like to propose that there is no certainity. There is only testimony that cannot be scientifically verified or proven. While we can choose to accept this testimony of Scripture as adequate or inadequate, we can never be certain. If we could indeed be certain, there is no risk, no faith. The mystery of the gospel is reduced and the world is again divided into those who are certain and those who are not. Those who are certain have little room for dialouge about their certainity and continually marginalize any claim that would challenge their positions.

And thus inerrancy has provided a long line of those who stand at a dam, plugging holes over and over. If we have reached certainity, there can be no holes.

As a sidenote, the idea of certainity has led to the rise of propositional preaching; that is the extracting from scripture various truths to give to a congregation. There is little room for mystery and ambiguity in this type of preaching. It also tends, though not always, to be very authoratarian in sturcture. Usually, the preacher does not realize that there is no unbiased way to "get at" the "truths" of scripture. So we get propositions of scripture filtered through the preacher's biases, etc.. (The same happens with all preaching, but other traditions have done better at acknowledging it)



Mark

the forester said...

Since I'm not even a humble Bible school student, I'm not even on a par with the likes of little ol' David Nebraska. However, I enjoyed reading the dialogue and felt like chipping in a thought or two. Feel free to ignore this as sophomoric. (I certainly won't attempt a theological approach.)

Jake disputed the slippery-slope argument by arguing that historical-critical methodology gives some credence to the resurrection of Jesus, and that whatever credence gap still remains must be o'erleaped through faith.

But I live in a very secular world with people who brew up all manner of faith coctails, then peddle them to others as if they're computer operating systems for the human soul ("My system of beliefs will make you happier AND free you up for sexual licentiousness!"). So I have trouble seeing a difference between their worldview peddling, and the type of evangelism Christianity would be reduced to if all we had to give people was the fact that historical-critical methodology can't disprove that Jesus was resurrected.

A constant phrase in the Gospels is that Jesus taught with authority. Well, of course He did -- He was God Incarnate. But it seems to me that His apostles also taught with authority -- with the certainty of what they knew, rather than suspected through faith. Granted, they also healed and cast out demons ... a nice stamp of approval that I lack. But in a pluralistic world with many gods, can no one proclaim, as Paul proclaimed at Athens, who the unknown God above all gods is? Must we approach others with such humble uncertainty?

Mark hit the nail squarely with his questioning of the very possibility of certainty in the applicability or usefulness of Scripture: "I think the key word here in certainity. What is certainty? What degree of certainity do we have to have that scripture is applicable or useful? How much certainity is enough to still be orthodox in this worldview? Who gets to decide how much is enough?"

I hear these questions; I appreciate them. And yet I have a hard time distinguishing between this line of questioning and Pontius Pilate's own perfect encapsulation of the post-modernist croon, "What is truth?"

I would go back to Steve's statement, "I explain my high regard for scripture as an inference from (and subsequent to) my belief in the resurrection of christ, whereas evangelicals have traditionally attempted to draw the inferential connection in the exact opposite direction." I certainly agree with Steve that Christ is the Lord of the Church, not the Bible. I also respect Steve's testimony of belief. But I can't help suspecting this statement is backwards. None of us would even know about the resurrection of Christ were it not for the Bible. So didn't our high regard for the Bible come first, as a message with authority?

Sure, that sounds chicken-or-egg, but it gets into the heart of the Bible's trustworthiness and authority.

I go back to Romans 10: "How, then, can they call on the one they have not belived in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?"

That preaching came to me in the Scriptures. I have a feeling that, in the context of this discussion, the following statement will provoke a heartened rebuke from everyone: if it were not for the Bible, I would not believe that Jesus was resurrected.

There are many faiths with beautiful stories. It's not the beauty of the Gospel that attracts me. Satan himself can appear as an angel of light. It's the veracity of the Bible, the hard-core, history-proven, nuts-and-bolts truth of God's Words, that has pulled me through the times of my thickest, deepest doubts.

Is my faith in Christ? Of course it is. But I have a healthy enough skepticism about my ability to delude myself into trusting a fine-sounding message (beit Christianity or Buddhism or Islam or transcendentalism or my brother's unique a la carte blend of most of the above) that I know I need something deeper rooted than beauty. So I trust the Bible first.

All right, I said it. Rip away.

the forester said...

One more thought: Hebrews 11 describes faith in terms such as sureness and certainty -- not humility.

Gerald said...

Everyone,

This conversation is moving away from inerrancy and into epistemology. I know that many think these two issues are intrinsically connected, but I tend to view them as only loosely connected. But since we're here, I'll throw in my two cents. But I want to tidy up a bit of our previous conversation.

First, Jake, I hope you don't take my comments to mean that I find the non-inerrantist position to be an acceptable hermeneutical approach or to be within the pale of evangelical orthodoxy. My point was only that there are some evangelical inerrantists that maintain a soft-foundatinalism (I being one) and some maintain a mythological approach to the creation account. I just wonder if the evangelical tent is a little bigger than Mohler let's on or perhaps you have been led to believe. And I very much affirm your working with Henry. He is the godfather of modern evangelicalism and this is certainly a good place to begin for anyone wanting to understand it. Just don't stop there is all I'm saying.

Now on to epistemology... Mark, I would challenge two of your assertions. First you believe that certainty cannot be achieved (you spoke in reference to theology, but perhaps you would apply this to all knowledge). Even as a soft foundationalist I would want to maintain that reasonable certainty can be achieved in some areas. For instance, I have no meaningful existential doubt regarding the existence of Chicago. Nor do I have any meaningful existential doubt regarding my own gender. In both cases, I suppose it is possible that I could living in my own "Trueman Show" or plugged into the matrix, but such possibilities are so ridiculous that I don't even entertain them with any kind of seriousness. I think you would agree here. So then, is it possible to arrive at this level of certainty regarding the reality of Christ's resurrection? I think so, but unlike Forester, I do not think that such existential certainty comes from the bible directly - it comes from my own spiritual apprehension of the risen Lord. In other words, I believe in the reality of the resurrected Christ, not simply because of the apostolic witness, but because I have met the resurrected Christ myself. This does not render the apostolic witness unnecessary. Indeed, as Forester pointed out "How can they believe if they have not heard". But I want to argue that it is not the apostolic witness alone that saves, it is our own existential apprehension of Christ that leads to the "certainty and assurance" of Hebrews 11. The Scriptures then serve as a pointer toward the risen Christ. I know to seek him because of their testimony. But like Paul, just hearing the apostolic witness did not suffice to save- it was necessary that he met Christ for himself. Having met Christ himself, he became existentially certain of the reality of Christ's resurrection. In regeneration then, I believe we encounter this Risen Lord, and we become “assured of the things hoped for.”

Secondly, you (and I think Jake and other emergent theologians) tend to wrongly assume that certainty leads to oppression. On a moral plane then, it seems that the desire to instill a bit of uncertainty into the church is a desire to instill a bit more humility and generosity. But I don’t think that this is a good way to get humility. Why don’t we try love? I doubt that Jesus had any doubt regarding the reality of God, and yet his certainty did not lead to abuse. I think the evangelical church is grossly lacking in this area (love). We are addicted to our materialism, and so many of us are so absorbed in our own pursuits that we have no real compassion for the hurting. I think that evangelicalism is the best expression of Christianity in North America, but I still think it’s pretty weak. As you noted, we have largely reduced faith to a set of propositions. Believe these things and get eternal life. I hate it as much as you, I suspect. This is why I am pursuing my studies in Augustine. For Augustine, salvation is regeneration, it is the love of Christ poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Propositions may be necessary to communicate this gospel, but we aren’t saved by believing, we are saved by being born again. I think that if more evangelicals were actually saved, you wouldn’t see such a need to wed uncertainty and humility/love. In Christ, certainty and love can co-exist. God have mercy on the church, that we have moved so far from love. We are moving closer to the Pharisees – committed to truth but devoid of the supernatural means to communicate this truth in a spirit of love.

But my lunch break is over. Back to work. I would really enjoy hearing a post-evangelical response to these thoughts. You too Forester and Dave.