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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Apologies (and a word on innerrancy)

Sorry for the gap in my posts. I have been away a fair bit and when I am around I'm so brain-dead by the time I am in a position to write anything I have nothing to say.

I'm currently reading Kenton Spark's controversial book God's Word in Human Words (Baker Academic). Nearly finished it. It is a thought-provoking text - one that evangelicals cannot ignore. I'm not where Sparks is at but I have some sympathy with him. He's arguing that evangelicals need to take historical-critical scholarship more seriously. One consequence of so-doing is that we need to abandon innerrancy. Inerrancy is, he believes, demonstrably false. He argues that such a non-innerrantism is compatible with accepting the inspiration and authority of the Bible.

To be honest I have never been sure what I thought about innerrancy. In part it depends on how much the term is defined and qualified. Inerrancy is compatible with far more than people often realize. Bob Gundry demonstrated years ago that one can believe in innerrancy at the same time as believing that some of the stories in Matthew's gospel are, strictly speaking, not historical events. It is also compatible with seeing non-historical myth in parts of Genesis, say.

So innerrancy never concerned me too much so long as I could qualify it as necessary. But three other comments

1) As I have mentioned before 'inerrancy' is a category that, strictly speaking, only applies to propositions and so it is not precise enough to apply to the whole Bible unless we stretch the term a bit and use it somewhat loosley. So long as we know we're doing that and how we are using the term then fair enough.

2) It has never struck me that inerrancy was an essential component of evangelicalism. Perhaps that is a British angle - we're always been less innerrancy-focused than US evangelicals. Lots of evangelicals have a high view of Scripture but one that rejects innerrancy. I'm open to that. Sparks does compel one to think very carefully about the notion.

3) For those who do embrace it I do think that innerrancy should not be such a central notion for organizing a doctrine of scripture. It needs de-centering even if we wish to continue to affirm it.

So I do recommend it along with Peter Enns' book as well as Greg Beale's response - all great books on the reopening of the innerrancy issue ion the USA.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes . . . didn't Bob Gundry also demonstrate that you could get kicked out of the ETS for holding to that definition of inerrancy?

James Goetz said...

Hi Robin,

I take a middle ground by holding to doctrinal innerrancy while objecting to hermeneutics that attempt to place modern standards of history and science on the ancient Mediterranean Bible writings. I strongly believe that all of the teachings in the Bible are true, but the ancient Mediterranean context can be far from modern standards of history and science.

I loosely hold to the "Chicago Statement" because it acknowledges the importance of the original context of the Bible manuscripts. However, the "Chicago Statement" includes irrelevant statements about historical innerrancy because the original context excludes modern standards of history in the Bible.

Brian LePort said...

Interested in contributing? You'd be a welcomed addition!

http://nearemmaus.blogspot.com/2009/09/call-for-papers-god-of-many.html

TN said...

Robin wrote:

"To be honest I have never been sure what I thought about innerrancy. In part it depends on how much the term is defined and qualified."

Dear Robin,

I've noticed a number of articles over the years which begin with a statement of innerrancy -- then go on to give all kinds of provisos and qualifications (death by a thousand cuts?) -- then the article finishes by repeating the statement of innerrancy. I just feel there's something odd about that. Having ones cake and eating it?

My favoutite "Bible Contradiction" is a comparison of Judges 4:21 (where Sisera was killed while he was lying fast asleep) and Judges 5:27 (where he's struck while standing, and sinks and falls to the ground dead).

The first account is prose and the second is poetry, but how much poetic licence should an innerrantist allow?

Anyway, this doesn't affect the fact that God is there in the background and challenges us with his loving forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

I think it's just that we need to be very honest about the text we have before us in the Bible.

T.N.

Dwight Swanson said...

This is not a problem for a Wesleyan understanding, which holds inerrancy 'in all things pertinent to salvation', and does not expect 8th C BC or 1st C AD people to receive revelation about science, geology, or medicine in 19th C form (which is where this idea arose).