Recasting Inerrancy: The Bible As Witness to Missional Plurality

March 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

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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.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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