When The Bible Speaks, God Speaks: The Classic Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy

February 13, 2014 — Leave a comment

9780310331360Coming up on a month ago, I told you we were doing a series review of Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Now we’re ready for the first monthly installment, and the essay by Albert “From A Christian Worldview Perspective” Mohler is up. 1

Just from the title, you can guess the direction Mohler takes. Not one to mince words, Mohler makes his position clear on the first page:

In affirming that the Bible, as a whole and in its parts, contains nothing but God-breathed truth, evangelicals have simply affirmed what the church universal had affirmed for well over a millennium – when the Bible speaks, God speaks (29).

For Mohler, much is at stake in defending this claim. Perhaps more so than any other contributor (except maybe Enns from the other direction), Mohler is concerned with the implications of a denial of inerrancy. This is not to say the others are not concerned, just that Mohler is all the more. In his own words,

I will make my position plain. I do not believe that evangelicalism can survive without the explicit and complete assertion of biblical inerrancy. Given the pressures of late modernity, growing ever more hostile to theological truth claims, there is little basis for any hope that evangelicals will remain distinctively evangelical without the principled and explicit commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible (31).

If you’re familiar with Al Mohler, none of what I’ve said so far is surprising. Indeed, I wasn’t particularly surprised by anything he said in his essay. It was a mainly historical defense of inerrancy centered Scripture’s own testimony and unpacking the Chicago Statement for Biblical Inerrancy (something all contributors had to address). I think it’s fair to say Mohler is doing historical theology, and of the contributors, makes the most historical/traditional argument. His exegesis of the problems texts was a little superficial (in comparison to the biblical scholars in the mix), but it was consistent with his position. I would agree with Mohler’s position on the whole, but I probably wouldn’t articulate a defense in the way he did.

It has the feel of someone sketching out a presupposition they bring to interpreting the Bible, which is why is at least one reason I imagine Enns reacts so strongly against it. For Enns, what Mohler actually thinks is not so concerning. Rather, the issue (to Enns) is that he is using his position of power and influence to wield the axe of inerrancy as if it were the Acts of the Apostles. Enns sees this as “alarmist” and a position that will “not bear up under the scrutiny of the biblical data or biblical scholarship” (59).

Bird and Vanhoozer are more appreciative of Mohler’s take. But since the point of the response is to highlight disagreement, they both offer their dissent. For Bird, it centers on taking away Mohler’s argument that the CSBI more or less encapsulates what Christians have always thought. Bird sees it as a retrieval of what Christians have confessed, but also a reaction to modern crises in the primarily the American church (66). Bird then objects to Mohler’s use of the CSBI when it comes to defending inerrancy, not the doctrine itself. In a literary reference I imagine many people reading the book miss, Bird suggests “Mohler has turned the CSBI into a type of horcrux upon which Scripture’s own life depends” (69). 2 In the end, Bird objects to Mohler’s particular way of formulating a defense of the basic doctrine, but is happy to agree with the doctrine itself.

Vanhoozer found himself “affirming virtually all of the positive things Mohler says about God and the importance of biblical truth” (72). However, his impression is that “Mohler is a better storyteller than conceptual analyst.” Since Vanhoozer goes to the trouble to summarize his response with “three cheers (minus one),” I doubt I can do little better than reproduce it here (76):

  • As to the Bible’s being the wholly true and trustworthy word of God: hooray!
  • As to the necessity of evangelical theology’s maintaining the above: huzzah!
  • As to the “classic” doctrine of inerrancy: say what?

From Vanhoozer’s point of view, “When the Bible speaks, God speaks” is the classic view. But as it is articulated in CSBI, it is more of a modern classic the way that say, Coke is “classic.” Mohler is therefore not classic enough. Vanhoozer wants to go really old school on this classic stuff, but we’ll get to him a few posts down the road.

As for Franke, his main difficulty is that Mohler’s position “takes a particular notion of inerrancy and biblical authority, that of CSBI, and asserts that it is a universal ideal that must be affirmed by all who would seek to be faithful to the Bible” (77). This is more than likely an implication of Franke’s more postmodern leanings when it comes to philosophical and theological foundations. Later he says that “with appropriate nuances, I share Mohler’s basic outlook: the Bible is divinely inspired and, as such, is a form of the Word of God. Hence, when the Bible speaks, God speaks” (79). However, once you read Franke’s essay, you realize he doesn’t necessarily mean the same things Mohler does and it is questionable whether they really share the same basic outlook.

Because of Mohler’s significance in this discussion, I’m glad he had the opening essay and I’m glad he articulated it the way he did. In giving a modern traditional evangelical defense, Mohler lays out what he thinks is at stake and why he is taking the stand where he is. His co-contributors have interesting pushback, some more insightful than others. The discussion then moves to Mohler’s polar opposite in the discussion, and you can read my thoughts on that next month.

Notes:

  1. That nickname is from the constant refrain I hear every morning on The Briefing. If you don’t podcast it, you should.
  2. If you don’t know what a “horcrux” is, you need to read Harry Potter. The short explanation is that the villain in the series, Voldemort, creates horcruxes out of valuable objects and animals. It becomes a horcrux because he invests part of his soul into it. To kill him, you must also destroy all the horcruxes he has hidden part of his soul within. This was Rowling’s way of illustrating “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” which for Voldemort was quite literally true. Not to spoil it, but he dies in the end. And hopefully now, you can understand what Bird is saying.

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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