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Cornelius Plantinga Jr. Reading for Preaching: The Preacher In Conversation With Storyteller, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, November, 2013. 136 pp. Paperback, $14.00.

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Cornelius Plantinga Jr. is president emeritus of Calvin Theological Seminary, as well as senior research fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. The lectures that underlie this particular book were delivered as the Warfield Lectures at Princeton in 2012. They grew out of seminars in Reading for Preaching Plantinga led at Calvin.

This book is a brief read, but an important one, if you regularly teach/preach the Bible. In the span of 6 chapters and just over 120 pages, Plantinga makes a convincing case for the type of reading that a preacher should add to his schedule in order to add depth to his illustrative sermon material. As he explains in the preface:

In this book I want to present the advantages to the preacher of a program of general reading. Good reading generates delight, and the preacher should enjoy it without guilt. Delight is a part of God’s shalom and the preacher who enters the world of delight goes with God.

But storytellers, biographers, poets, and journalists can do so much more for the preacher. Good reading can tune the preacher’s ear for language, which is her first tool. A preacher who absorbs one poem a day (perhaps from Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac) will tune his ear, strengthen his diction, and stock his pond with fresh, fresh images. That’s before breakfast: after it, there’s a day’s worth of rumination on whatever the poet has seen of the human condition (x).

You may have noticed that Plantinga often uses the pronoun “her” when referring to “the preacher.” He also utilizes examples from preachers who are women. I found this somewhat oft-putting, but it did not detract from the overall purpose and aims of the book. Plantinga clearly doesn’t have an issue with women in the pulpit, and even finds them beneficial to his own preaching style. Those who don’t should at least be aware that this is a feature of the book, but note that he doesn’t argue for women to preach. He just kind of assumes everyone is on the same page with him.

He goes on to further extol the illustrative benefits of general reading. By “general reading,” Plantinga is referring to reading short stories, biographies, journalism, poetry, web and visual media, and many other sources. Ultimately, he sees this kind of reading leading to wisdom. This is a wisdom gathered over time, and will help preachers digs up their own stuff for illustrations. What he is really arguing for is well-developed illustrations, rather than simply pulling off anecdotes from a sermon website. A wise preacher is one who develops a storehouse of potential illustrations that can be pulled from later when the right time comes.

Beyond mere having a better stock of images and illustrations, reading the types of sources mentioned above improves your diction. Specifically, it develops your ear for how everyday people actually speak, something a systematic theology will not shed light on (usually). The preacher’s task often means converting valuable gold nuggets from study in the commentaries into a currency that will actually add value to the listeners. This is not easy. But, Plantinga makes a concise case for how steeping yourself in the sources of a general reading program can lead to be better communication patterns.

A shortcoming of this book, and probably related to its origin in lectures, is that there is not a depth of practical application. Plantinga makes a rather convincing case for general reading, and even offers a suggested reading list based on the books they’ve used in the Calvin seminars. I think it would have been helpful to add an additional chapter giving in-depth advice on how to implement a program into a preacher’s already busy schedule. There is a short note to readers at the end of the book toward this end, but it is barely 3 pages long. He does thankfully mentioned the importance of storing your findings into a database, but doesn’t go into detail about how a daily or weekly rhythm of doing this might work.

Because of that, this book is primarily best for readers who are convinced of the need to be keeping up with biblical and theological studies, but maybe not regarding stories, journalism, and poetry. For readers already on board with the need to have a general reading program, and are perhaps already doing so, there is not as much offered in this book. The value for those readers is probably the specific resources that Plantinga uses as examples and recommends at the end. As far as actually setting up a reading plan and implementing a illustration curating program, Plantinga only hints at directions, rather than giving a full blown map. Since this is something I’ve been doing regularly for a while now, I might offer some posts in the future about how I go about it myself. I would have liked for Plantinga to speak to this more, but perhaps it just wasn’t within the scope of the book.

In the end, this could be a good resource for a pastor who needs to start a general reading program. It will underscore the value of such a program and its potential for enriching the wisdom of the pastor’s messages. Further resources will be needed to think through how to implement a program, but this book makes a compelling case for the program’s existence in the first place.

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Yesterday, I wrapped up a look at Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. It’s not the only review series I’ve got going, and it’s not the first I’ve done involving a multiview book. Previously, I did Five Views on Justification. I’ve also done single reviews of Biblical Hermeneutics: Five ViewsFour Views On The Apostle PaulGod and Morality: Four ViewsUnderstanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views, and Four Views on The Role of Works At The Final Judgment. Next month, I’m starting a similar series on Four Views on The Historical Adam.

Recently, I sent a request to IVP Academic to get some older titles from their Spectrum Multiview series. Though I shouldn’t have been surprised, they were kind enough to send along all five that I asked for:

At this point, I’ve finished most of the reading for Four Views on The Historical Adam and am going to spread it out over the month of April, along some other related reviews. It’s kind of a themed month, but only because my reading has matched up well.

What I’m offering you is a bit of say in what I read during April in order to do a review week during May (or June). I’ve got this stack of books on my desk and want to dig in, but I don’t have a preference which one I get after first. So, if you do, and would like to see a series review of one of these sooner rather than later, let me know in the comments. I would say first comment wins, but we’ll just see how things go and maybe who makes the best case.

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J. Merrick & Stephen J. Garrett eds. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, December, 2013. 336 pp. Paperback, $19.99

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If you were following along last week, you saw most of the posts in the series review. Here is the entire table of contents:

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.

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Over the weekend, I went to the Southeast Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. It was my second regional meeting, as I was able to go the Southwest Regional meeting at Dallas my last year there. Unfortunately I’ve failed to make the national meeting, which is more of a big deal. Hopefully this year I’ll make it, especially since it is in San Diego.

I was able to make it up to Knoxville first on Wednesday to see my parents and friends. It was probably my shortest trip to Knoxville, but it was good to be there if even for a little while. Then, I headed down to Birmingham. Usually, driving from Knoxville to Birmingham is just the first leg to Dallas. As much as I’d like to go back and visit, that was just a bit too much driving. Instead, I’ll holed up in a nearby Starbucks, got some writing done, and then headed over to Beeson Divinity School on Samford University’s campus. It was a very picturesque campus, nestled on the side of a hill. The picture above doesn’t really do it justice, and the inside of the chapel was amazing. I should have taken pictures, or taken a tour, but I had other things I had to get done. The evening I was in town, I was able to connect with a friend of mine (and my wife’s) Cliff, who is a hip-hop artist working as a youth pastor in the area. Check him out on Noise Trade.

The conference was enjoyable. I was able to sit in on a few good papers, and then presented my own on Saturday morning. I’ve linked to that here. It was refined adaptation of my thesis that included an example of reading a film (Inception) theologically. Much to my surprise, Peter Leithart was both at the conference, and came to my paper. I had introduced myself to him the day before, and he said my name sounded familiar. I guess it was because he saw my paper on the schedule and was coming to hear it. He told me afterwards that he really appreciated it, and we were able to chat briefly.

Then, I spent the rest of the day Saturday driving back to Orlando. Having listened to many papers and podcasts on previous drives, I opted to listen to the archives in my iTunes library. 7 straight hours of listening to old favorite albums on a sunny afternoon does wonders for the soul. It’s probably a second best to spending the day reading. Yesterday, my friend Todd and his wife Megan were in town on the back end of a cruise, so we were able to hang out again. In two weeks, I’ll be back up in Louisville for some conferences, so I’m on a pretty good every 2 weeks with Todd schedule.

In the mean time, spring break is over, and now it’s back to work.

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At one point in time, I think we’ve all experienced it. Particularly common in college, you end up in a class that was nothing like you expected. What was supposed to be a fluff class to fill elective space turned into a nightmare. Or, maybe it was a class you were really looking forward to, and the professor had to go and ruin it with boring lectures and excessive homework. No matter which scenario resonates with you, we’ve all probably at one point thought, “This isn’t what I signed up for.”

Exodus 5:1-9

I don’t know how you would say that in Hebrews, but I am guessing that is what Moses is thinking in Exodus 5. He had just met with the elders, teamed up with Aaron, and was coming into Pharaoh’s court to tell him what’s up:

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” (5:1)

Pharaoh was caught off guard at first, but after thinking for a moment, he said, “You know what, that’s a great idea. Go for it.”

Sorry, that was Moses’ dream scenario.

Instead, Pharaoh immediately balked:

“Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (5:2)

Not very promising, but Moses and Aaron give it another go:

“The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” (5:3)

Pharaoh is nonplussed:

“Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.”

“Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” (5:4-5)

And then makes a classic dictator move:

The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.” (5:6-9)

Imagine the dejection Moses and Aaron must have felt. Not only did Pharaoh totally shut them down, he made things worse for the Israelite workforce. Not just worse, basically impossible:

Straw is preserved plant stalks from the more rigid long-stalk grains and vegetables. Straw comes from those plants that are harvested but whose stalks are inedible to humans and/or animals. Stubble is the very short remaining stalks of plants after harvesting: the bit between the root and where the reaping scythe or sickle cut the plant. It was only a relatively poor substitute for straw, making the process of producing suitable bricks much harder, but it also was much harder to gather from harvested fields even when the season is right (requiring careful, tedious hand pulling and cutting) as compared to the purposely preserved (and usually bundled) straw and was almost hopelessly difficult to gather in the off season. As Job said, referring to a fruitless endeavor, ‘Will you frighten a windblown leaf and pursue dry chaff?’ (Job 13:25 nrsv). The fact that the Israelites under the new rules simply could not meet their brick quotas is not surprising: Pharaoh had made the task virtually impossible. When the foremen, even under the penalty of being beaten, could not get the people to produce any more bricks (vv. 13–14), the situation was obviously intolerable. It is not surprising that an anguished appeal to Pharaoh for relief followed (vv. 15–16), even though such an appeal was essentially an act of desperation, presumably having little chance of success. 1

Once this news got out, Moses’ name was going to be mud throughout all the land of Egypt. He’s basically back where he was when we fled Egypt. The Israelites aren’t keen on him. At least Pharaoh doesn’t want to kill him (yet).

Exodus 5:10-21

When word got to the Israelites about the new workflow procedures, they weren’t thrilled to say the least:

So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’ ” So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?” (5:10-14)

I don’t know if you’ve ever been stuck with a job that is an exercise in futility, but at least if you were, you weren’t beaten for failing to complete it. Yelled at perhaps, but probably not beaten on the job. The foreman were kind of caught in the middle and tried to make their case to Pharaoh, but to no avail:

“Why do you treat your servants like this? No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, ‘Make bricks!’ And behold, your servants are beaten; but the fault is in your own people.” (5:15-16a)

Pharaoh responds with typical compassion for a middle Eastern dictator:

 “You are idle, you are idle; that is why you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Go now and work. No straw will be given you, but you must still deliver the same number of bricks.” (5:16b-18)

The foreman, experience the feeling of total rejection, thought they should at least pass the buck to Moses:

They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (5:20-21)

Looking at this statement, it seems the foremen think Moses and Aaron have botched the job. They would like God to execute some judgment on those two when he gets a chance. At the same time though, the foremen were really disregarding God’s proper channels of communication. He had appointed Moses and Aaron to deal with things, and the foremen decided to subvert that because it didn’t work out so well the first time. We often do this very thing when we jump the chain of command to try to get things done on our own. We would do well to learn from this scenario that when we do that in the spiritual realm, it is dishonoring to God. I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past, and wish I had learned this lesson sooner.

Exodus 5:22-23

The chapter ends with Moses going to God with his problems. This is important I think. It shows that even as far as the events in this chapter spiraled downward, Moses took it to the Lord:

O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”  (5:22-23)

We don’t get God’s answer until the next chapter, but it is a good one. Here at least we see that Moses is questioning God, and importantly, he is doing so on the basis of God’s own words. Often, when we question God, it is based on something we wanted and didn’t get, or as a result of something tragic that we can’t explain. In this case, Moses is questioning God on the basis of what God had just promised he would do for the nation of Israel. It seems that God is not keeping his explicit words, and Moses wants to know why. God is certainly not obligated to give a detailed explanation, but at least Moses is asking the question with the right posture.

When we would like to question God, we do well to follow the pattern of Moses and do so on the basis of what God has promised us in his word. That incidentally is not a suffering free life, but God promises to meet us in our suffering, and we can certainly ask why when he does. When things go from bad to worse, we should feel the freedom to go to God in prayer and ask why. We also do well to search the Scriptures for the wisdom to endure well what comes our way. One place we find that wisdom is in the next chapter, and we’ll examine that next Saturday.

Notes:

  1. Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus. Vol. 2. NAC. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006, 165

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We come now too John Franke’s contribution to Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. If you’ve missed any posts, see the introduction. I just got into Birmingham and found an aesthetically pleasing Starbucks near Beeson Divinity School. I’m here for the Southeast Regional ETS meeting, and I’ll be presenting a paper tomorrow on the theological interpretation of cinema. It will probably turn into an April-May blog series, so stay tuned for that.

For now, back to Franke. He begins by noting his mixed feelings about inerrancy. On the one hand, he says, he deeply appreciates the core idea it affirms. On the other hand, he is “dismayed by many of the ways in which inerrancy has commonly been used in biblical interpretation, theology, and the life of the church” (259). Though he has “never thought the term inerrancy was a particularly helpful way of articulating the core idea of the authority of Scripture as a witness to the mission of God,” he still more or less affirms inerrancy:

I believe that the Bible is the Word of God in human words, and that as such its stories and teachings, taken as a whole, are true and not a lie. This belief is one of the central convictions of my Christian faith. Insofar as inerrancy functions to assist in the affirmation of this conviction about the Bible, I have been willing to endorse it. (259)

Be that as it may, Franke notes that up to this point, he has never used the word inerrancy in any publications, including several on the Bible and its role in theology (260). That should seem a bit odd.

With this foundation, Franke turns to examine the Chicago statement (CSBI). He notes that as a whole, “the Chicago statement is reflective of a particular form of epistemology know as classic or strong foundationalism” (261). This won’t do for Franke, and he proceeds to deconstruct foundationalism, and show how he sees the doctrine of inerrancy functioning “as just the sort of strong foundation envisioned by classical foundationalist” (262). Franke makes the strong claim that “this approach [classic foundationalism] has been thoroughly discredited in philosophical and theological circles” (262). He thinks many, or perhaps most philosophers in the Evangelical Theological Society would consider themselves modest foundationalists. What Franke finds most frustrating, is that many claim they are not classic foundationalists, but “then defend beliefs such as inerrancy as though they were” (263).

Franke is neither classic, nor modest, but postfoundationalist in his epistemology. From this perspective, he does not believe the CSBI can be the standard bearer for for inerrancy (264). To begin his constructive alternative proposal, Franke sketches out a doctrine of God:

  • God is God (and we are not)
  • God is living and active
  • God is love
  • God is missional
  • God is plurality-in-unity and unity-in-plurality

This leads to a discussion of how God accommodates in order to communicate with his creatures. What follows is a more or less postmodern theological account of language. For Franke, inerrancy functions within the limits of language alone (270). Ultimately for Franke, “Inerrancy is a technical theological term that serves to preserve the dynamic plurality contained in the texts of Scripture by ensuring that no portion of the biblical narrative can properly be disregarded or eclipsed because it is perceived as failing to conform to a larger pattern of systematic unity” (276). What he means is that “the inerrant plurality of Scripture frustrates attempts to establish a single universal theology. It reminds us that our interpretations, theories, and theologies are always situated and perspectival; none simply rise above the social conditions and particular interests from which they emerge” (278). From here, Franke examines the problem texts, and spends roughly 7 pages doing so (the shortest coverage of the contributors).

As always, Mohler is the first critique. He thinks Franke’s feelings are not so mixed, and that he proposes a fundamental transformation of how we think of truth itself (288). Because of this, and the whole revisionist slant of his theological project, Mohler feels Franke is headed beyond the boundaries of evangelicalism. Brilliant and creative though he is, Franke is revealing the destiny of evangelical theology if it surrenders inerrancy. (291)

Enns appreciates how Franke discusses inerrancy’s use as a means of asserting power and control (292). On the whole, Enns is more or less appreciative of Franke, which should strike you as interesting. Franke sees himself as affirming inerrancy. Enns adamantly does not. But Enns doesn’t have much to particularly critique in Franke’s account, which gives a bit of strength to Mohler’s claim that Franke’s feelings are not so mixed, and he’s more or less on the same road as Enns.

Bird echoes several agreements with Franke before registering his dissatisfaction. First, he doesn’t like how Franke moves from an “a priori conception of God” to how he then conceives of revelation and veracity. (298). Second, he re-expresses the same concern about the incarnational model that he voiced in his critique of Enns. Third, he doesn’t think it is a wise idea to distinguish between God’s Truth, and God’s truth, the latter of which is what we find in Scripture (299). Finally, he is no so sure that postfoundationalism as Franke articulates it, will really work. In the end, he thinks it yields a “fairly weak definition of inerrancy” (301).

Then along comes Vanhoozer. He suggests Franke has exaggerated the extent to which foundationalism has been discredited. Specifically, he says it is not enough to say something is discredited, you need to show where or how it has gone wrong. Also, sometimes discredited theories turn out to be true (304). He also believes it is a category mistake to tie inerrancy to any particular model of epistemology. Later he brings John Frame into the discussion to show how one can affirm the importance of multiple perspectives, and still affirm inerrancy in a CSBI sense. Lastly, he is concerned about the consequences of Franke’s revisionist account. He concludes, “I have an excellent idea of what kind of inerrancy Franke rejects, a good idea of what he thinks his recast concept of inerrancy does, but only a foggy idea of what he thinks his recast inerrancy is” (307).

As I was finishing up the perspectives with Franke, I thought he provided a nice bookend to Mohler/Enns. On the one hand, he wants to affirm inerrancy (like Mohler), but on the other hand, he recasts it so much it appeals to someone who doesn’t (Enns). I found his proposal the least satisfying, mainly because of his overall perspective on theology (and his underlying philosophical commitments). I had not had any sustained interactions with Franke other than his essays in Christianity and The Postmodern Turn. To me, Franke represents a less than promising approach to navigating postmodern concerns. That being the case, I didn’t find his constructive proposal satisfying or attractive.

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A few things happened yesterday. First, I drove from Orlando to Knoxville. Second, Kevin Vanhoozer was actually at RTS Orlando delivering the annual Kistemaker Lectures. Third, I accidentally auto-posted this installment of the review series with no content other than a book pic and bibliographic info. Today, I’ll actually tell you about Vanhoozer’s entry in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. But first a short story.

So, I realized on Tuesday Vanhoozer’s lectures started then, and not Wednesday as I had thought. There were things to do, but I decided to go for the lectures instead. After the second one, I introduced myself, asked about the lectures I was missing. He noticed I was carrying “a great pumpkin” as he called The Drama of Doctrine. He had said he needed to see more creases in the spine, and my response was to flip through and show him all the highlights within that matched the book cover. He was impressed (or at least surprised).

The reason I had the book was because there was supposed to be a book signing. However, no one announced it, so while Vanhoozer went to the book store, no one else did. Except for me (and a couple of other guys). Because there was no crowd, the book signing didn’t start, and he left. I then realized that if I had just been a bit more forward and walked up and asked, he would have signed my book. And, given that no one else was really there, we probably could have had a really good conversation. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. But that won’t stop me from e-mailing here in a few.

Before that, let’s talk about Vanhoozer talking about inerrancy. Vanhoozer is all for inerrancy, but wants it to be more classic. And by classic, he means more Augustinian. This entails it being a “literate” inerrancy. For Vanhoozer (and for Warfield), inerrancy is “not a doctrine of first dogmatic rank” similar to the Trinity (203). Further, he says it is going too far to say it is “essential,” but concedes that it is a natural outworking of what is essential (the authority of Scripture).

His constructive proposal is a “well-versed” account of inerrancy. He explain,

My primary concern about inerrancy today is that too many contemporary readers lack the literacy needed for understanding the way the words go, or for rightly handling the word of truth. Biblical inerrancy in the context of biblical illiteracy makes for a dangerous proposition. (204-205)

Vanhoozer wants to “probe further into the deep theological roots of the idea of inerrancy.” Taking cues from Luther, he wants to distinguish an “inerrancy of glory” from an “inerrancy of the cross.” The former is the natural theology of inerrancy derived from what we think perfection should be. The latter is the revealed theology of inerrancy derived from what Scripture actually says about itself. The result, Vanhoozer hopes, will be an account of inerrancy that is Augustinian (faith seeking understanding) and so sapiential in orientation (206).

He begins by asking if the Chicago statement (CSBI) is “well-versed.” This leads to explaining four major concerns:

  • Whether its definition of inerrancy is clear
  • Whether it gives primacy to a biblical-theological rather than a philosophical understanding of truth
  • Whether it is sufficiently attentive to the nature and function of language and literature
  • Whether it produced a theological novelty

As to the first concern, Vanhoozer regularly refuses to say whether he holds to inerrancy until the term is defined, or allows him to do so (206). He proposes the following definition:

To say that Scripture is inerrant is to confess faith that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers read rightly). (207)

He then deals with the language issue and how we understand truth. He employs a metaphor of maps, noting that “Truth is the ‘fit’ between text and reality, between what is written and what is written about, but one can speak about (map) the same terrain in many ways” (210). Vanhoozer is worried that “some theories of inerrancy imply there is only one way to map the world correctly.” Instead, the literate interpreter understands there are different true ways to map the terrain and that “biblical books are like different kinds of maps” (211). It follows that “to read a map correctly” one must have certain familiarity with its conventions.

As to whether CSBI introduces theological novelty, Vanhoozer says “while the term inerrant or the concept of inerrancy may be new, the underlying judgment is not” (213). Vanhoozer contends that saying Scripture is “inerrant” is nearly the same as what John is saying in Revelation 2:15 (it is trustworthy and true). He concludes,

The challenge, then, is to affirm the underlying judgment together with the concept of inerrancy, provided that we can free the latter from unhelpful cultural accretions in order to free it for ministering the whole counsel of God (213).

From this foundation, Vanhoozer presents his Augustinian account. He agrees with Carl Henry about linking biblical authority and propositional revelation, but wants to add more. He affirms the transfer of information but adds communication by God in general, and covenantal communication in particular. He touches briefly on the importance of testimony as a speech act, and then moves on to how to understand the “literal sense.” Helpfully, Vanhoozer suggests that we identify the “literal sense” with the illocutionary act the author is performing, rather than the bare sentence content apart from context (220). I could probably do an entire other post on this, and might in the future. The short summary is that Vanhoozer thinks to interpreting Scripture rightly involves “recognizing what kinds of things the biblical authors are doing with their words” (223). That is the insight into the literal sense that will keep interpreters from flattening out figurative and literary nuances.

I don’t really have any comments on Vanhoozer’s treatment of the test cases, so for space sake, I’m skipping to the responses. Mohler wishes Vanhoozer would affirm inerrancy first, and then explain his position (236). He also thinks inerrancy is more essential than Vanhoozer does (241). Ultimately though, he calls Vanhoozer’s account “a specific, clear, and sophisticated defense of biblical inerrnacy as a truth claim and as a theological principle” (236).

Enns says that Vanhoozer’s leitmotif of Scripture as speech-act communication “is a genuine contribution to evangelical theology” (242). But, he feels Vanhoozer’s assessment of the CSBI, even with his qualifications, is more positive than warranted (245). He, along with Mohler, likes Vanhoozer’s distinction between inerrancy of glory and inerrancy of the cross, but for different reasons (you can probably figure them out). It seems Vanhoozer’s account holds the most appeal to Enns, but since it is still a defense of inerrancy, it doesn’t ultimately work for him (nor does Vanhoozer’s treatment of the OT test cases).

Michael Bird calls Vanhoozer his “favorite American theologian” (249). He chides him briefly for a few things, but ultimately ends by saying that “Vanhoozer’s Augustinian model is one of the better ways to infuse some creedal theology and to retrieve some patristic voices to shape future discussions of inerrancy” (252). He hopes that any future revisions of popular and official statements of inerrancy will have the KJV perspective.

Likewise, Franke says that Vanhoozer’s account is the one he resonates with on many levels, “perhaps more than any of the others” (253). He finds Vanhoozer’s rhetorical flourishes a bit wearisome, and thinks he could communicate with a bit more brevity. His postmodern views of language are less optimistic than Vanhoozer’s when it comes to discussing inerrancy. You can read Vanhoozer’s response to that in Christianity and The Postmodern Turn: Six Views. In any case, Franke makes more of the same arguments he did there, and that he does with other contributors. I’ll talk about that in more detail tomorrow.

Overall, I felt that Vanhoozer’s essay was the strongest in the book. Judging from the other contributor’s praise, and the type of responses they offered, his account seems to hold the most promise for the conversation moving forward. He won’t necessarily win people like Enns, but less sparks tend to fly. Whether one takes Vanhoozer’s account in total, his proposal for a well-versed understanding of inerrancy is much needed, and will help interpretation stay on track.

9780310331360 Yesterday, we examined Peter Enns view in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Today, we start a new section in the book, although it only includes Michael Bird’s contribution. The section is titled “Inerrancy in International Perspective.” While Bird is international, he is still a white male academic (nothing wrong with that). But he has the added virtue of being Australian, and also has a much needed sense of humor.

In his perspective, the “America Inerrancy Tradition” is not necessary outside of the US. He is for inerrancy, just not quite the way the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) articulates it. Instead, he thinks the international view is best represented as a commitment to infallibility and authority (146). Bird thinks that churches round the globe get on just fine without CSBI. And they are able to do so all the while upholding the essential authority and infallibility of the Scriptures.

From this “center of gravity,” Bird reflects a bit on the CSBI. He mistakenly sees it as demanding a strict literal hermeneutic that necessitates young earth creationism (147). He also thinks it pushes a bit too much for harmonization. In a more extended section, he takes up historical considerations laying behind the formulation of the CSBI. In Bird’s estimation, “modern defenders of inerrancy have not given sufficient attention to the philosophical, theological, and hermeneutical paradigms that have often accompanied inerrancy-like affirmations in church history” (154). Finally, Bird feels that inerrancy, as articulated in the CSBI, lends itself to a kind of colonialism as the American church expands.

Rather than “inerrancy,” Bird thinks “veracity” better captures the claims Scripture makes for itself. He then makes a constructive case for the “infallibility” of Scripture in international perspective. Having done this, he then deals with the three biblical test cases. He wrestles with them to some extent, but does not not see any conflict with his understanding of an infallible Bible.

Mohler offers the first critique, seeing Bird as “a friendly critic” and says that we can learn from his approach (174). He sees Bird as a “man I can work with” because he wants to uphold a high view of Scripture (something you get the feel Enns has a hard time arguing for). Mohler points out that most of his critiques of the CSBI fall more on those who misuse it. They use the statement to support a certain hermeneutical stance, rather than the doctrine of inerrnacy itself. In the end, he sees Bird making a case for inerrancy rather than against it (177).

Enns picks up on this as well. He says, “for the most part, whereas I could see Mohler quite unhappy with Bird’s critique of inerrancy by which he began his essay, I am not so sure he would be as alarmed by Bird’s articulation of his own view of Scripture” (183). His strongest disagreement with Bird is how he handles the Canaanite extermination. Specifically, Enns thinks that Bird does not wrestle with what the text actually says (185).

Then Vanhoozer comes along. He too prefers “infallibility” (188). What’s more, he reminds readers that John Frame says that it is the stronger term (188n63). As Vanhoozer defines it, “inerrancy is a subset of infallibility: the Bible is inerrant because its assertions are infallible.” As I did above, he points out that many members of ETS who affirm CSBI (people like me) do not affirm a literal seven day creation (I’ll leave my position on that a mystery for now). In the end, Vanhoozer reminds us that Chicago is no Nicaea. But, it does try preserve that the Bible is wholly truthful and trustworthy in the way it articulates inerrancy (189-190).

Being the postmodernist that he is, Franke resonates with Bird’s concern about colonialism. He sees the idea of asserting that the global church must assent to CSBI in order to be faithful to Scripture as the height of cultural imperialism (194). Since Franke is big on plurality, he welcomes Bird’s invitation to consider alternative accounts of inerrancy. He says that “the plurality of Scripture leads to the conclusion that there will not be a single statement of biblical authority that will be able to do justice to the full scope of the biblical witness” (195).

On the whole, I found Bird engaging. Like everyone except for Enns, he is on-board with the concept of inerrnacy. He wants to uphold the truthfulness and authority of Scripture. He has some misgivings about the CSBI, and is concerned for how it is received in global contexts. At the end of the day, the other contributors (sans Enns) find much to agree with in Brid’s proposal. The general impression I have is that if someone competently explained the CSBI, what it implies and what it doesn’t, and isn’t intent on saying “everyone must subscribe to this statement or they have a low of Scripture,” many of his concerns would evaporate. I appreciated his contribution, and always, enjoyed reading it. In the end though, Vanhoozer has an edge, but Bird might be a bit more playful (which in this conversation, certainly helps lighten the mood). For that, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

9780310331360The last installment of Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy was Al Mohler’s essay. Mohler represents the traditional view, and presents his case as a historical theologian.

Today, we have the complete antithesis to his view in Peter Enns. While the other views in this book more or less support inerrancy, Enns does not. His view is made pretty clear with his title, “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What The Bible Does.” Coming on the heels of Mohler’s view, the result is a contrast just as stark as Bill Nye and Ken Ham.

For Enns, the core issue “is how inerrancy functions in contemporary evangelical theological discourse” (83). He sees inerrnacy functioning as “a theological boundary marker against faulty exegetical conclusions or misguided hermeneutical approaches” (84-85). At the heart of this is the the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) is used, or Enns account, misused.

In explaining how the CSBI preempts dialogue, Enns comments:

The implied premise of the CSBI is that God as God would necessarily produce an inerrant Bible, and this premise is the very point coming under increasing scrutiny within evangelicalism. To the minds of many, maintaining inerrancy requires that perennially nagging counterevidence from inside and outside of the Bible must be adjusted to support that premise rather than allowing that evidence to call the premise into question. In my opinion, the distance between what the Bible is and the theological hedge place around the Bible by the CSBI has been and continues to be a source of considerable cognitive dissonance. (85)
He concludes that inerrancy cannot be adjusted in such a way that it can account for the Bible’s actual behavior. (91).

In contrast to Mohler’s essay, Enns spends the majority of his time on the three biblical test cases. Mohler devoted almost 20 pages to explaining his position on inerrancy and less than 10 dealing with the test cases. This is exactly reversed in Enns, with 25 pages on the test cases, and less than 10 sketching out why inerrancy is a problem.

Enns is the only Old Testament scholar in the bunch, and he spends more space on Jericho than Bird does on all three test cases combined. In short, the fall of Jericho, at least as described in Joshua 6, is not historical. As far as reconciling Acts 9 and 22, this is more of a problem for Enns than any other contributor. Likewise, the conflict between Deuteronomy 20:16-17 and Matthew 5:43-48 is much more acute in Enns’ portrayal. In the ends, Enns feels that “inerrancy” as a term/concept has run its course we ought to jettison it (115).

Mohler offers the first critique. As he sees it, “inerrancy is the single issue that truly distinguishes evangelicalism from liberal Protestantism” (118). He points out that Enns seems to see this as well by his admission that inerrancy is part of evangelicalism’s DNA. From here, Mohler responds to many of Enns’ criticisms, and challenges his interpretation of the problem texts.

Bird disputes the claim that inerrancy is part of evangelicalism’s DNA (124). Instead, he sees it as a recovery, but also a reaction to the “biblical criticism resourced in the philosophical framework of modernity” (125). Bird also rejects Enns’ incarnational model of Scripture because it threatens the uniqueness of Christ’s incarnation. Further, Bird pushes back on Enns’ rejection of the Jericho account and his reduction of the Exodus story. As Bird puts it, “just because you have a theory about what was behind a certain biblical story does not therefore make that theory immediately more probable than the biblical account” (126). He adds, “A point of principle is that biblical criticism should be digested critically and its presuppositions, procedures, and finding made susceptible to the same scrutiny to which the biblical narratives are themselves made subject.”

Then along comes Vanhoozer. He gives Enns a charitable reading, but is also critical in a constructive manner. Like Enns, he too wants us to conform our doctrine of Scripture to the Bible we actually have (129). But, along with Bird, Vanhoozer wishes that Enns had been more constructive in his proposal rather than mainly deconstructive. And, in Vanhoozer’s account, Enns is primarily deconstructive of “perfect book theology,” which is basically a critique of “naive” inerrancy, rather than the critical inerrancy than most sophisticated evangelicals hold to. In the end, Vanhoozer sees Enns’ essay suffering from two confusions (130):

  1. A failure to distinguish the nature of inerrancy from its use
  2. A failure to distinguish inerrancy’s right use from various abuses

As a result, Enns primarily rejects not “a particular definition of inerrancy as much as a set of interpretive practices that have come to be associated with inerrancy” (131). This means that, “there is no room for literate, hemeneutically informed inerrantists in Enns’ inn” (132).

Finally, Franke adds his perspective. His concern is that Enns is still in reaction to his departure from Westminster (137). I’ve felt much the same way in reading his post WTS work. He acknowledges (and I would too) that in many ways we have mistreated Enns in his attempts to come to terms with how he sees the text of Scripture. We can certainly disagree sharply, but we shouldn’t treat Enns as a scapegoat or simply cast him aside as a betrayer of the tradition. That being said, Franke too picks up on the more deconstructive focus of Enns and wishes there was more constructive substance to his contribution (139). This makes for more or less unanimity among the other contributors on a short-coming of Enns work in this volume.

In the end, I am glad Enns is included here, even if he is primarily deconstructive. He offers by far the most attention to the biblical test cases. And although he sees far more issues there than I do (or for the most part the other contributors), his perspective is certainly a force to be reckoned with if you want to maintain a traditional account of inerrancy. Ultimately, I did not find his view very convincing, but it does help me to understand how to not formulate a doctrine of inerrancy. Likewise, Enns helps readers to see how inerrancy should not be misued in formulating interpretive principles. Though it might feel like straw men to some, Enns is certainly arguing based on how people actually use inerrancy, and we would do well to avoid the errors that he is reacting against.

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Mark W. Foreman & James K. Dew Jr., How Do We Know? An Introduction to Epistemology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, January 2014. 175 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

A couple of weeks back, I introduced you to Mark Foreman, who introduced me to philosophy. I told you about then his Prelude to Philosophy. Today, for philosophy Friday, I thought I’d tell you about his other new book. This time, he is co-authoring along with James K. Dew Jr., a philosophy and history of ideas prof at Southeastern. Together, they’ve written an accessible introduction to epistemology. Perhaps my favorite branch of philosophy, epistemology is the study of knowledge. It tests the limits and methods of knowing and is a powerful tool in apologetics.

The book takes its title from the key question in that study: How Do We Know? Since the authors are writing for people with no background in philosophy (9), the opening chapter tackles basic definitions. The authors want to make sure everyone is clear on what epistemology is and why it is important. As for the latter, everyone deals with epistemology whether they know or it not, so it is best to do so from an informed perspective. From this most basic foundation, the second chapter defines knowledge itself. In the main, knowledge is defined as “justified true belief” (JTB). In order for something to count as knowledge, it must be true, you must believe it is true, and you must have proper reasons for doing so. There have been recent challenges to this, most notably from Edmund Gettier. In keeping the discussion on the ground level, the authors manage to cover with clarity the issues with “Gettier problems.”

From here, the chapters that follow are each framed by a question. The first two were as well, so that makes for a nice unifying effect. Chapter 3 explains where knowledge comes from, and in doing so, discusses the difference between rationalism and empiricism. Further, they discuss the reliability of testimony, as well as the role revelation plays. Next, chapter 4 explains where truth comes from and how we find it. This requires a discussion of the three main theories of truth: correspondence, coherence, and pragmatic.

Chapter 5 is about the structure of arguments and how we draw inferences (either inductive or deductive). Chapter 6 explains how perception works, as well as how we understand our perceptions to correspond to reality. Chapter 7 focuses on justification. At first glance, the chapter title (Do we need justification?) might make some think we’ve suddenly started talking about salvation . However, the discussion comes back to a topic in chapter 2 (what is knowledge?) and explains the different understandings of how we give reasons for our beliefs. In answering this, the discussion covers the structure of knowledge itself. The primary distinction is whether one thinks of knowledge as a pyramid shape (foundationalism) or a web shape (coherentism).

The final three chapters focus on the virtues of our knowing, whether we have revelation (and its impact on our knowledge), and the question of certainty. This final chapter is especially helpful in its discussion of skepticism. Readers might be surprised to know the different varieties of skepticism. Also, surprising is fact that it is possible to be less than 100% certain about what we know and not be antsy about it. This is a good way to close out the book since it addresses postmodern concerns about what we can and can’t know.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a good refresher as I was studying to Ph.D entrance exams. Even if I wasn’t studying, I still would have read it rather quickly and enjoyed the clarity of the discussion. Epistemology has been my favorite philosophical subject for a quite a while and this is probably the first book I would give someone who wants to study it further.