February 11, 2010

John Stott on Inerrancy

My post, “Why I am not an fundamentalist“, resulted in the consternation of one of the bloggers at Palabre; I happily took it down from there and have started writing here on my personal blog instead, where my views can’t taint Palabre.  Of course this will make it more difficult to have serious discussions there in the future, but I don’t want to set the agenda at Palabre, as it is supposed to be a place to discuss African issues.

I was told that most Evangelicals believe in inerrancy too.  But I’ve pointed out that it is an American over-reaction to liberalism, and it is not particularly strong amongst English Evangelicals.  E.g., Wycliffe College, Toronto, our evangelical college which we support, does not have a position on inerrancy, but rather this statement of principle, “The sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture as the rule of faith.”

Furthermore, I wondered if John Stott, who has been a leading Anglican evangelical, has taken a position.  I found the following answer by Michael Marlowe:

In a book published in 1999, Stott says that “the word inerrancy makes me uncomfortable” for several reasons. He says it “sends out the wrong signals and develops the wrong attitudes,” and it is “unwise and unfair to use inerrancy as a shibboleth by which to identify who is evangelical and who is not.” In Stott’s view, “it is impossible to prove that the Bible contains no errors,” and the important thing is “not whether we subscribe to an impeccable formula about the Bible but whether we live in practical submission to what the Bible teaches.” (Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea for Unity, Integrity, and Faithfulness [InterVarsity Press, 1999], pp. 61-62.) Regarding this “practical submission” to the teachings of the Bible, Stott has elsewhere explained that “although biblical truth is eternal and normative in its substance, it is often expressed in changeable cultural terms.” He notes that the Lausanne Covenant described Scripture as “without error in all that it affirms,” and says it is our task “to determine what it does affirm” in substance. And after that, “we have the further task of reclothing this unchanging revelation in appropriate modern cultural dress.” What all this may mean for Christian faith and life is not clear, but an idea of the practical consequences of this line of thinking may be seen in Stott’s opinion that, despite the clear prohibitions in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, he and his like-minded colleagues have rightly “expressed the view that a woman could be ordained and so could teach men.” He suggests that an appropriate “contemporary expression” of the biblical teachings would be for an ordained female to teach men while being part of “a local pastoral team, of which a man would be the head.” (Roy McCloughry, “Basic Stott,” an interview with John Stott published in Christianity Today, 8 Jan 1996.) Here we have come a long way from traditional views of biblical truth and authority, and it is not surprising that Stott and other neoevangelicals who agree with him do not like to use the word inerrancy.

Well, I for one don’t have a problem with the views of Stott as presented by Marlowe.  Now I am a “neoevangelical”?  Perhaps the neoevangelicals are the ones who hold to inerrancy.  As for Anglicans, there is no statement of inerrancy in the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) either, but this:

Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scripture for Salvation

In the name of Holy Scripture, we do understand those Canonical books of the Old and New testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

Stott is correct to say: (1) “it is impossible to prove that the Bible contains no errors”; actually, it is also impossible to have a Bible without errors because of the multiple transmission errors in the texts of both the Old and New Testaments; (2) “unwise and unfair to use inerrancy as a shibboleth by which to identify who is evangelical and who is not”; but this is exactly what many “neoevangelicals” and all fundamentalists do with their doctrinal statements.  (3) The essential thing is “not whether we subscribe to an impeccable formula about the Bible but whether we live in practical submission to what the Bible teaches”; I think this is an important point.  I recite a creed every Sunday–either the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. Neither of these creeds affirm “inerrancy” nor belief in the Scriptures.  They affirm belief in the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Belief in the Bible is conspicuously missing in our confessions.  Moreover, faith that saves is not based upon a particular view of the Bible or even believing in the Bible.  It is in obeying what the Bible commands us, to believe in the Word of God,  Jesus Christ (the λόγος of God, John 1.1).  The Bible bears witness to Jesus Christ, who is our object of belief and the author of our Faith.

If there is such a thing as a “neoevangelical”, it should refer to those who hold to the new doctrine of inerrancy, as it has been formulated against 19th and 20th century liberalism.  Those of us resistant to it, such as Stott and myself, are holding to an older more traditional form of evangelicalism Christianity.


February 1, 2010

Why I am not a fundamentalist

Filed under: St. Paul — Petros @ 6:37 pm

Christian fundamentalism is a movement in Christianity which in opposition to Christian liberalism insists upon the inerrancy of the Scriptures.  While I have sometimes worked, worshiped and prayed with fundamentalists, and I do consider them in most cases to be true Christians and brothers in the Lord, I do not identify with them.  I am rather pentecostal, evangelical and charismatic in my tendencies, and this can be seen in the schools I’ve attended Northwest College (now University) of the Assemblies of God (pentecostal); Regent College (evangelical); while at University of Cambridge I was associated with Tyndale House (evangelical) and currently I attend a charismatic church (Emmanual Anglican, Richvale).  Thus, the following critiques stand as one clearly outside fundamentalism.  But I hereby offer some points which can explain why I am not a fundamentalist.

(1) I do not agree with the doctrine of inerrancy.  I do not agree that it should the first line of a creed, since we worship God not the Bible.  I do believe that God inspired the biblical writers, that it constitutes reliable and authoritative Scripture.  I believe that it can be read in Church and it should be the “text” of sermons.  I believe it is worthy of lifelong study and have thus devoted myself to understanding its text.

But my hesitancy with the doctrine of inerrancy is this:  (1) the Bible is in human language which is an imperfect vehicle of communication. Thus, an inerrant text is not even a possibility.  (2) The Bible is read by imperfect interpreters, so even if an inerrant text existed, there are no inerrant readers.  So inerrancy is an irrelevant doctrine because it has no practical application.  (3) Even if there was an inerrant autograph, we do not have that the autographs, but rather a manuscript tradition.  So we are not dealing with a text that we even have, but one which we believe to have been magically preserved (King James only people) or one which is reconstructed by flawed scholars (NA27; UBS3) who are themselves not inerrant.  I am no liberal.  On the other hand, I do not believe the doctrine of inerrancy to be a good way to counter liberalism.

(2) A rigid view of the Bible leads to Pharisaical legalism in practice.  Too often the fundamentalist tendency leads to rigid legalism that confuses the Christian faith with a set of rules about drinking, dancing, wearing make-up, and going to movies.  One contemporary issue is the frequent ban of women pastors , based upon a rigid reading of Paul which I think even Paul himself would not be able to accept.

(3) In fundamentalism, a rigid understanding of the Bible often ursurps the role of the Holy Spirit.  As I heard once, there is often a very solid confession amongst many Christians in the holy trinity:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Bible.

Take the ban on women pastors for example, which is based upon 1 Cor 14.34-35 and 1 Tim 2.11-15.  If in the first century Paul was confronted with problems in his churches and he found contemporary culturally sensitive solutions to those problems by following the direction of the Holy Spirit and then implementing certain directives in the church, I say we have today the same freedom today, using Paul’s advice to the Corinthians or to Timothy as a model.  There is thus no excuse us for using the NT as the new nomos (law) when it comes to contemporary practice.  Paul’s own impetus is advancement of the gospel and thus of the Kingdom of God.  When it comes to the role of woman, for example, I think it is appropriate to take all the biblical passages about women into consideration, to pray, and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in the community in making a decision which will help the gospel to thrive the best in any given culture.  Our goal as Christians should not be first and foremost promotion of women’s rights.  Nor should it be to follow rigidly rules in the Bible.  Our highest goal and our priority is to promote the Kingdom of God.  Even when you consider Paul’s recommendations in the context of 1 Tim for example, his priority is not that women should behave, but to correct women’s behaviour because of how it is negatively affecting the image of the gospel.

(4) Fundamentalism too easily confuses culture with Christianity.  In Africa I once saw a painting of a pastor teaching sunday school;  while the children wore African-style clothing, the pastor was wearing a suit and tie.  The imposition of Western culture in the African context by fundamentalist missionaries can still be felt today.  This is something that needs to be overcome.  I agree today with those who wish to contextualize Christianity in the African context, to find appropriate African expressions of what it means to be a Christian, over against those who apply a rigid Western understanding of the Christian faith and practice in an African setting.  Fundamentlists are often unable to distinguish legitimate contextualization from syncretism and therefore condemn too readily people who try to find culturally appropriate expressions of the Christian faith.

(5) Fundamentalism tends to be extremely sectarian and divisive.  Once one is so sure of their own position on a biblical text, they can easily dismiss others as non-Christian or heretical.  As a charismatic Anglican or a pentecostal, I personally would not say that fundamentalists are not Christian brothers or sisters, but they might too easily say that I am of the devil because I speak in tongues; and this is some what contradictory because the Bible which they hold in such high esteem says, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues.”  But this is because sometimes in fundamentalism, we will find the next point.  Yet the point is not that they have a inerrant text:  fundamentalist often act as though they have an inerrant hermeneutic.

(6) In fundamentlism, a priori systematic theology often usurps the Bible as the final authority.  This is especially true of the doctrine of Dispensationalism as first invented by Darby.  The teaching that speaking in tongues is no longer valid comes from Dispensationalism.  The dispensation for the gifts died out with the age of the apostles and thus, all speaking tongues or prophecies, even healings and miracles, are invalid today.  Thus, my experiences with speaking in tongues, miracles and prophecy, as a charismatic/pentecostal Christian, have all been either demonically inspired or psychologically induced.



March 24, 2009

Oral Tradition, the Bible and the Inerrancy Debate

In Acta Pauli, I have written a post called “Oral tradition units and the Acts of Paul“.  We have not yet discussed the question of biblical inerrancy on this blog, but I have now made suggestions to which a strict inerrantist might take umbrage.  While I don’t know for certain the answer, I assume that there may be oral tradition doublets in the Bible (e.g., Mark 6.35-44 and 8.1-9; Gen. 12.10-13; 20:1-18; 26:6-10).  A doublet would be tradition unit which gets told in oral tradition in different ways to the point that it could be recognized as two different stories.  The biblical writer then records them as though they were different stories.

I would think that the gut reaction of an inerrantist would be to say that this is wrong, and that Bible faithfully records each story as true.  Jesus therefore fed both the 5000 and the 4000 in two separate historical incidents.

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