Saturday, July 07, 2007

Today, a pastor told me that I might have to leave the Evangelical church.

A couple of days ago, a reformed presbyterian seminarian asked me 'are you going to become Catholic?'

My wife weighed in and said, "I don't want to become an Anglican."

And so begins a series on denominationalism...

14 comments:

Ben said...

Is evangelical even a denomination?

jason said...

Dude, reformed presbyterian seminarian? Don't we have a flair for striking language.

P.S. Don't be become a catholic. :)

-Dave said...

I wanted to justify it first - that "The Evangelical Church" is just a euphamistic way of saying "the arm of the Church that follows an Evangelical view."

Then, I wanted to defend it as a reasonable way for people of like mind to encourage each other.

Then, I remembered Paul talking about how much he disliked those that were "of Peter," "of Apollos," and "of Paul." And I wondered if those who are today "of Calivin" are any different.

Kenny said...

Good comments, Dave.

Just to clarify:

Basically, I'm roughly coming around to the opinion that 1) the primary source for knowledge in the Christian's life is God ordained authority; 2) the doctrine of inerrancy is false.

This is NOT to say that the Bible is false. The Bible is one of the central 'God ordained authorities,' in this view I'm considering.

But, several people have commented that this view sounds pretty close to the Catholic view, and that among Evangelical churches I'm not going to find many like-minded people on these issues.

To the credit of my Evangelicals, none have gone so far as to question my faith or integrity. However, they have commented to the effect that these beliefs are decidedly not Evangelical.

Fair enough.

If Evangelical means believing the Bible is inerrant, then I'm not Evangelical.

If Evangelical means I am a Christian who, for practical purposes, uses the Bible as my primary authority, then I am still an Evangelical.

-Dave said...

I'm interested in seeing you flesh out your thoughts on inerrancy.

To say you don't believe in inerrancy would seem to say that you think the Bible is open to some sort of error - that's what I take the word to mean, at least. But there's various directions one can go with that. Some would run close to my own thoughts. Some run far off in other directions.

I'm interested to know what other God-ordained authorities you count as reliable, and by what standard you judge them to be so.

Kenny said...

Thanks for giving me a chance to flesh this out, Dave. It's nearly my favorite topic.

(by the way, I'm in Reno for July, so we should get together sometime)

This will be a long blog exchange, I'm sure you're aware. So I'll take it in segments.

First: the Doctrine of Inerrancy is unsupported by the proof texts, the general content of the Bible, and the history of the Bible.

1 - While I don't perceive that the Bible is full of errors, I think the doctrine of inerrancy is a false standard.

Let's define innerrancy:

We believe in the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testaments. By this we understand that the Holy Spirit not only inspired the thoughts of the writers, but also formulated the very word structure into which the thoughts were cast with the result that the original documents were inerrant as to fact and infallible as to truth (1 Cor. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21).

http://www.mbireno.org/about/doctrine.html

Another statement on the Doctrine of Inerrancy that's common is that the Bible is literally true as to all facts, scientific, historic, etc.

My first argument is that the Bible does not clearly testify to this about itself.

Evangelicals generally fail to admit that it is a major interpretive step to go from "God breathed" to believing that the word structures themselves were specifically selected by God. And the same goes for historic and scientific fact.

So, I'll just start with that very basic, but fundamental, point - that the Doctrine of Inerrancy is a major intepretive step from the verses on which it is based. The Bible itself does not say that 'the very word structures' are specifically selected by God.

Further, the content of the Bible suggests otherwise. For example, many of the NT epistles start with a personal greeting from the writer, sometimes explaining the reason for writing, or the circumstances surrounding the writing. This is a very odd practice if what is really happening is that God is sending a telegram (in which case, the letter should begin, 'thus sayeth the Lord'). This is very commonplace if what is happening is a human being is himself writing a letter.

The history of canonization suggests the books of the Bible were thought of by early Christians as letters from their church leaders, not telegrams from God. There was meaningful disagreement about what books were to go into the Bible. Hebrews and Ecclesiastes barely made it. The letters of Clement, almost made it. For some the Apocrypha did make it; for others it didn't. My point is that the people who gave us the Bible don't seem to have thought of the books/letters as telegrams from God.

My favorite anecdote on this is that Martin Luther thought James should be ripped out of the Bible. My guess is that the contemporary idea about inerrancy comes from Luther's 'sola scriptura.' (that's speculation, but I bet it's true). Now, if the guy who gave us 'sola scriptura' thought that it was a reasonable thing to say that one of the books of the Bible should be deleted, then I don't think he believed in the Doctrine of Inerrancy.

So, my point: the Doctrine of Inerrancy is unsupported by the proof-texts themselves, history, and the content of the Bible.

So, if I were debating, I'd want to turn the tables around, and say, 'where do Evangelicals even get this doctrine of inerrancy?'

-Dave said...

Far be it from me to deny you the chance to elaborate on such a serious topic.

I'd have to agree that the text itself doesn't call itself a telegram, which would be difficult insofar as there wasn't a complete text until some years after it was all written.

I think the primary reason (with all else being a reverse-engineered justification) is this:

"5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church."

From: Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Given that some of this exact wording appears in the Evangelical Churches of America's Statement of Beliefs, I consider this text representative of "Evangelical" beliefs. But I'm going to have to dig up notes on Biblical inerrancy to say how that doctrine is justified.

Kenny said...

The Chicago statement is helpful. I think it suffers under its own weight though - the only reason it believes the authority of Scripture is so damaged if inerrancy is denied is b/c Evangelicals have spent so long telling themselves that the Bible's particular hallmark is its inerrancy.

However, we treat texts as authoritative all the time without believing they are inerrant. From lawn mower manuals to history texts, we take them as authoritative for a variety of reasons besides their "inerrancy." We do it based on the authority of the authors, typically.

Leaving that aside, it's good to point out that whether the authority of Scripture is damaged by discarding inerrancy is not an argument for the truth of inerrancy. In law, we call this a "policy" argument - the argument is pragmatic and based on what results will follow, not whether the argument is true.

I basically agree with not making the Bible subject to a view of truth other than its own. However, I'm arguing the Bible doesn't call for inerrancy, which would mean it's the Doctrine of Inerrancy which is subjecting the Bible to a view of truth other than its own.

So, another policy/truth point is this: even if the Bible isn't inerrant, we have to reckon with its statements just like those of any other text.

But that's all just to deal with a symptom of inerrancy.

Jeff said...

Seems to me that the inerrancy/not inerrancy debate is a bit odd. Does the process of interpreting Biblical verses change if we believe one way or the other? How does the doctrine of inerrancy eliminate the possibility that God was being allegorical or that God was talking to people who lived in an era different from ours?

Of course, now I'm injecting myself into a debate about which I know nothing. Carry on.

Kenny said...

Well, the inerrancy point mostly matters because Evangelicals say it does. Most Evangelical institutions claim it's a fundamental point - not quite Nicene Creed material, but it usually makes their church doctrinal statement. So, I wonder about going to church where I disagree with a point it considers fundamental.

However, practically speaking it doesn't usually make a difference, in terms of how people read the Bible and try to understand it and apply it to their lives.

But, one practical effect is that many Evangelicals would actually consider renouncing their faith if you could convince them there is even 'one' error in their Bible.

Also, it leads to a very interesting interpretative style among Evangelicals, where they go looking for secret meanings in every nook and cranny of the Bible, on the rationale that "if God wrote this, then there must be magic levels of meaning everywhere!" I've seen strange points be sussed out of a verb tense on this theory - even when the plain meaning of the text doesn't match the new interpretation.

It goes on.

-Dave said...

Is it "pulling magic levels of meaning" out of a text when Jesus uses the present tense in "I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" to justify the resurrection of the dead (because He is God of the living, not the dead)?

Or for the phrase "The Lord said to my lord..." to be used as a proof for who Jesus is?

There are curious interpretive leaps in other parts of the Bible "Out of Egypt I called my son" = Messiah has to come out of Egypt?

I think such examples should give us a greater humility in interpretation of Scripture - both for the inerrantist, and for others. I can't help but think this is doubly required if you are to sit in judgement about where the Bible is or is not reliable (because if it is not without error, you have to discern whether any given passage is or isn't reliable).

-Dave said...

On a seperate note:

I'm not convinced by "the Bible doesnt explicitly claim it's own infallability, why then claim it?"
There are other doctrines not explicit, but at least implied in the Bible, such as the Trinity.

Further, inerrancy is more than just an Evangelical claim. Augustine an dLuther both claimed it. Augustine: "I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error." Luther: "But everyone, indeed, knows that at times they (the fathers) have erred as men will; therefore I am ready to trust them only when they prove their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred."

At the very least, the words of the prophets are repeatedly listed as being the words of God - not just God-breathed. Can we claim inerrancy for those words?

Kenny said...

Yes, the Bible itself has instances of drawing unexpected meaning out of the text:

1 - When Jesus does it, or an apostle does it, I'm willing to accept it. I'm more skeptical of others.

2 - You introduced an issue of questioning the reliability of Scripture, which I do not intend to do. However, my non-inerrancy does allow me to say that I'm not sure the numbers used in Numbers are all precise, that I'm not sure Genesis is literal, that maybe only one (or two) angels were at Jesus tomb, and that the Gospel of John does indeed seem to indicate the crucifixtion took place on a different day than the synoptic gospels. There may be some slight inaccuracy - but that's not a big deal to me. If there were a spelling error in the U.S. Constitution I still can be confident that it provides for three branches of government.

Kenny said...

1 - That's interesting that Luther and Augustine described the Bible as inerrant. I'd be interested to see more on that, given that it's hard to tell exactly what they thought from short quotes.

2 - Yes, we sometimes articulate doctrines which are inherent in Scripture, despite that doctrine not be listed by name in Scripture, the Trinity being the prime example. Are there many others? That said, I think there's a stronger case for the Trinity than for inerrancy.

3 - It would seem the passages beginning with "thus saith the Lord" require the inerrancy hermeneutic. However, just that fact calls into question the other passages. The writers of Scripture were perfect familiar with the phrase 'thus saith the Lord,' yet many times they chose not to write their letters with that as the opening salutation.