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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!
If you were following along last week, you saw most of the posts in the series review. Here is the entire table of contents:
- When The Bible Speaks, God Speak: The Classic Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy
- Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What The Bible Does
- Inerrancy is Not Necessary For Evangelicalism Outside The USA
- Augustinian Inerrancy: Literary Meaning, Literal Truth, and Literate Interpretation
- Recasting Inerrancy: The Bible as Witness to Missional Plurality
Several thoughts stick out to me in the editors’ summary of the book. In explaining lines of continuity and discontinuity between contributors, they first note that “participants converge on the notion that God graciously accommodates himself to human sensibilities, yet diverge when considering the manner, degree, and extent to which he does” (318). I think that’s fair to say.
Likewise, they point out that everyone sans Mohler seems to agree that inerrancy is a consequence of inspiration rather than a requirement of it (319). This is a tricky subject, but in the end, I’m not sure that a logical consequence and a requirement are that much different. You could say though that putting inerrancy into the language of requirement is less effective than explaining how it is a logical consequence.
That brings up what I think is the most important takeaway of the book. There are different ways of explaining the doctrine of inerrancy. But some are more effective than others, and all depend on the type of audience you are addressing. Younger evangelicals who are recognizing the challenges to inerrancy will probably not find Al Mohler’s essay that helpful. With some qualifications, I would agree with his perspective. But the manner in which he explained the doctrine didn’t interact in-depth with the two most pressing issues. He did however, do so in the responses to other contributors.
The two problems I mention are postmodern thought/theology and the Old Testament issues surrounding science and history. Looking at this book, it is clear that Enns has is steeped in Old Testament problems texts, and as a result, has discarded inerrancy. Likewise, Franke is steeped in postmodern thought and reconsidered theological foundations in that light. Though he doesn’t discard inerrancy, Mohler sees him moving in that direction. In any case, his version of inerrancy is very different from the other contributors who affirm it, and he gets the least criticism from Enns.
When it comes a “Bird’s eye view,” on inerrancy, the result is an affirmation, but a dispute with insisting that it be formulated along CSBI style lines. For Bird, it seems that CSBI style inerrancy is non-essential, but something like inerrancy is. This makes for an interesting contrast to Mohler, who sees CSBI style inerrancy as essential and as a faithful description of what Christians have always believed about Scripture. In this way, they agree that the doctrine is true, but disagree over how it must be formulated.
Then along comes Vanhoozer. The reason I felt like he “wins” is that he, more so than the other contributors, does a retrieval of a classical understanding of the doctrine to deal with a postmodern context. He seems just as aware of postmodernism and postmodern theology as Franke does, but doesn’t feel the need to recast Christian doctrine accordingly. Likewise, because he is much more nuanced in his presentation, he doesn’t alienate Enns the way Mohler does. Avoiding alienation is not a primary concern, but it should be part of the overall strategy. Enns represents someone with significant misgivings about the doctrine (to put it mildly), and in explaining the doctrine, we do well to do so in light of the challenges. I don’t think it is an effective defense to explain the historical evangelical way of formulating things. In the context of the work as a whole, Mohler’s essay does provide essential context. But in light of how to respond to the challenges, I don’t think it represents the best way forward in the discussion.
In the end, this book is an important read on an important doctrine. The range of perspectives covers those who wholeheartedly affirm traditional inerrancy CSBI style, to those who outright reject it on primarily textual grounds. We also see those who think the doctrine is important but don’t think it needs to be CSBI style. Then there are those who want more classical nuance, and those want to slant it all postmodernly. In thinking about a perspective that is missing, it would have to be someone affirming limited inerrancy. Enns kind of covers this, but he doesn’t present any kind of constructive proposal. If something important is missing, it’s that. But even in its absence, this is a well-rounded discussion that should receive a wide reading. There is much more to be discussed and more work to be done, but this book sets the dialogue in motion and will be an important resource in moving forward.