Review of Challenges to Inerrancy: A Theological Response

edited by Gordon Lewis & Bruce Demarest, 414 pp., (paperback).1

Solomon had it right when he recorded the following thoughts in the pages of Holy Writ:

All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, "See, this is new"? It has already been in ancient times before us.2

This observation – which also constitutes a warning – should be carefully considered by all who seek to be among the stewards of God who “keep the words” of Holy Scripture (Rev. 1:3; 22:7,9). For numerous disturbing developments manifesting in our own time, which seek to unseat the authority of the Bible, find their basis in older ideas and philosophies which predate our own experience. We may be distracted by the specifics of recent departures from a sound view of the Bible, but the underlying motivation and thought process behind such “new teachings” is usually not so new (Acts 17:21). This was a theme which occupied my mind when I read this series of essays from nearly 30 years ago which assess individuals and movements which contributed to the demise of a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible which was formerly, if not always explicitly, assumed.

The self-stated purpose of the book is (ix):

to disclose some of the most influential of modern theological presuppositions leading to belief in an errant Bible and to assess them in their contexts by standard criteria of truth. In various respects the assumptions undermining normative scriptural authority are found to be logically inconsistent, factually inadequate, or existentially irrelevant to the purposes for which God gave the Scriptures.

As the title suggests, each of the contributors responds to a development in theology which—from our subsequent perspective—has contributed to the sad situation we now find ourselves in where many (most?) mainline Christian denominations and ministries have a low view of the inspiration as it pertains to the reliability of the Scriptures.

Thirteen chapters cover the following topics:

  1. The Bible in the Enlightenment Era, Bruce Demarest (36 pages)
  2. Romanticism and the Bible, Harold O. J. Brown (17 pages)
  3. Liberalism: The Challenge of Progress, Clair Davis (21 pages)
  4. The Bible in Twentieth-Century British Theology, H. D. McDonald (30 pages)
  5. The Neo-orthodox Reduction, Roger Nicole (23 pages)
  6. The Niebuhrs’ Relativism, Relationalism, Contextualization, and Revelation, Gordon R. Lewis (28 pages)
  7. Revelation and Scripture in Existentialist Theology, Fred H. Klooster (39 pages)
  8. Recent Roman Catholic Theology, Robert L. Saucy (31 pages)
  9. Process Theology and Inerrancy, Norman L. Geisler (37 pages)
  10. The Functional Theology of G. C. Berkouwer, Hendrik Krabbendam (31 pages)
  11. Scripture in Liberation Theology: An Eviscerated Authority, Vernon C. Grounds (29 pages)
  12. The Contributions of Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, and J. Gresham Machen to the Doctrine of Inspiration, John H. Gerstner (34 pages)
  13. The Arian Connection: Presuppositions of Errancy, Harold O. J. Brown (18 pages)

Although I found the chapters uneven in quality and value, the overall collection provides great insight into the oh-so-many ways in which interpreters can wind up straying in their view concerning the nature of the Scriptures and their proper function in guiding the Church. Two themes which frequently came to mind as I worked through the material: 1) how careful we interpreters of God’s Word must be to check our own assumptions and tendencies lest we use the Scriptures in ways which lead in erroneous directions; 2) how much of what seems new by way of departure from a sound view of Scripture (e.g., Emergent interpretation) is merely a repackaging of an earlier error (e.g., Liberalism). The cause for departure from a sound view of Bibliology is usually subtle but hardly ever novel. The breadth and depth of the material touched upon by the different contributions is somewhat daunting. To truly review (critique) the material requires background which this reviewer simply does not have. Instead, I'll give the gist of each chapter along with occasional remarks. It also bears mentioning that the views held by some of the persons treated within the text are not so-easily pinned down since their theological presuppositions tend toward the mystical and vague (read subjective).

The Bible in the Enlightenment Era, Bruce Demarest, pp. 11-47.

Demarest lays the foundation for the presentations which follow by discussing the contribution of the Enlightenment toward the rise and domination of rationalism which vaunted man’s investigative capabilities over God’s revelatory communication (15):

The Enlightenment emphases . . . the primacy of nature, low view of sin, absolutism of reason, ascendancy of natural religion, antisupernatural bias, and revolt against authority -- represent the building blocks of nineteenth and twentieth-century liberal theology. In terms of theology in general and Scripture in particular it is entirely true that “the period of the Enlightenment specifically so-called is long since over, but the world is still living under the control of some of its ideals.” The modern assault on the authority and integrity of the Bible proves to be but a refinement of the old Enlightenment attack on the same inspired Word of God.

Demarest traces the bifurcation of life into “religion” (subjective) and “science” (objective) through the teachings of J. S. Semler (d. 1791) who “was instrumental in creating a divorce between objectively held beliefs and subjectively lived faith.” This faulty dichotomy still plagues modern Christendom and forms the basis for much of today’s attempt to divorce religion from the public arena. (Religion is acceptable for personal belief, but seen as irrelevant as it pertains to “real life.”)

Having divided objective belief and subjective faith, the coup-de-grâce to Scriptural authority came with the denial of the noetic affect of sin (32):

Contemporary critical theologians, like their Enlightenment forebears, commonly postulate the autonomy of unaided reason. Likewise in the contemporary situation the debilitating effects of sin upon the human intellect are widely denied. According to many modern scholars reason serves as the dominant criterion of truth.

And so it remains today: it is commonly assumed that man’s ability to investigate the world around him is essentially objective and without flaw or severe bias. This assumption, of course, is at odds with Scripture (Rom. 1:18-22).

Romanticism and the Bible, Harold O. J. Brown, pp. 49-66.

Next up, Harold Brown discusses the role of Romanticism as it influenced the interpretation and application of the Scriptures. Perhaps the most influential of the romanticists was theologian Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768-1834). The concern of the romanticists was not with religion as an expression of truth, but with its warmth and mystery (53). As with many influences which result in a distortion of truth, romanticism contained elements which were valuable, but mixed with troublesome aspects (55):

Even a superficial acquaintance with the literature of Romanticism will make it apparent to us that the movement is both an asset and a liability in the struggle of biblical faith with scepticism. It is an asset in that it wakens and fosters a degree of emotional sensitivity and personal engagement that is highly compatible with the life of faith, and in that it affirms the significance of spiritual values, personal commitment, beauty, and love. But it is also a liability in that it considers those things largely as categories and as vehicles for artistic expression, rather than as concrete, objective realities related to objective and unique truths.

Modern readers should take note: this is precisely the trend we see at work today in the postmodern Emergent Church -- placing the objective truth of Scripture subservient to the requirement of a personal and emotional “encounter with the divine.” As with the Romanticists, this trend can be difficult to effectively root out because of its slippery nature and the fact that aspects of what is embraced are true and praiseworthy: a close walk with God does involve the use of our emotions.

Brown concludes with a summary of Schleiermacher’s legacy:

Schleiermacher accomplished three things of great, if baleful, significance for Christianity and for theological education: (1) in his spectacularly successful early work Lectures on Religion to Its Cultured Despisers (1799) he succeeded in making religion attractive, or at least socially acceptable, among people who no longer took the bible and its doctrines seriously, by showing how it could appeal to and fulfill man’s aesthetic sensitivities; (2) by so going he attracted to the study of theology countless young men who were interested in religion primarily as an expression of man’s imaginative spirit, and who without Schleiermacher’s stimulus might have studied comparative literature or art instead, areas of study in which they would have caused the church less harm; (3) perhaps most significant of Schleiermacher’s accomplishments was to change, at least for some time, biblical criticism from the historical analysis with which it had begun to a literary analysis similar to that which one would apply to Shakespeare or Goethe’s Faust.

Liberalism: The Challenge of Progress, Clair Davis, pp. 67-88.

On the heels of Brown’s discussion of the damage done by Romanticism, Davis explains a further erosion of a high view of Scripture contributed by the Protestant liberal approach to Scripture (67-68):

Romanticism had “saved Christianity” at the terrible cost of depriving it of its relevance to civilization. In particular the relegation of Christianity to the realm of aesthetic feeling and personal morality effectively removed it from the realm of history . . . Liberalism then was virtually the same thing as what has come to be more popularly known as “civil religion” . . . the casual blending of the Kingdom of God with human aspirations toward peace and progress.

Reader: are you seeing a trend? This too is a hallmark of the modern Emergent movement which seeks to “save mankind and the planet” by repositioning redemption from a matter of individual salvation to a cultural/social/environmental category to be addressed through social work. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun!

Within the liberal movement, an errant view of Scripture was assumed and those who clung to other ideas were considered simply out-of-step with time (69):

for liberalism the question was no longer one of whether or not there are errors in the Bible, that is, whether or not the teaching of Scripture and the newly discovered truths of modern thought could be harmonized. Such questions and their negative answers were considered long settled. The doctrine of verbal inspiration was simply regarded as a seventeenth-century viewpoint, understandable in its day but long since untenable.

Having thrown in the towel on issues of the reliability of Scripture, liberalism sought to answer the question: How could the Bible with its assumed inaccuracy be productively utilized? Liberalism’s greatest concern was that of cultural progress. Again, there is some Scriptural truth to such an emphasis -- the Bible is not a theoretical text detached from the issues of human need in our fallen world. But the idea that man, and with a low-view of Scripture at that, will ultimately prove himself as the agent of cultural redemption misses the mark of inscripturated revelation, not least in areas of anthropology and eschatology, by a very wide margin.

Davis surveys the theological presuppositions of various German liberals (Albrecht Ritschl, Wilhelm Herrmann, Adolf Van Harnack) and American counterparts (Washington Gladden, Walter Rauschenbusch) before discussing what should be an evangelical response to liberalism. He acknowledges the valid concern which liberalism attempts to address: Christian living should reflect God’s heart in relation to societal concerns. Davis mentions developments in biblically-based counseling and mutual encouragement within small-group ministry as examples of the application of Biblical truth at the individual level which ultimately, when extended to the family and ultimately society, are God’s chosen means for cultural renewal without jettisoning the authority of Scripture.

The Bible in Twentieth-Century British Theology, H. D. McDonald, pp. 89-119.

McDonald begins by identifying factors which set the stage for theological developments in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century (91):

It was a well accredited fact that prior to about the middle of the nineteenth century there was virtual unanimity in the church that the Scriptures were to be taken as the divinely inspired documentation of God’s own self-disclosure and consequently the one authoritative source and only absolute norm for the totality of Christian faith and doctrine. About the year 1860, due mainly to the influence of the Enlightenment, the impact of Deism, and the imperialism of evolutionism, this history valuation of the Bible was called into question. Therefore, when the twentieth century began, the division between those who continued to emphasize the divinity of Scripture and those who came to regard it as at most a spiritually inspiring production of religiously-minded authors had widened.

Note that Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, was a British production and went on to have world-wide implications for Christian faith, fueling an avalanche of attempts to recast the early chapters of Genesis as anything other than the plain historic record of what actually transpired. More than that, the entire evolutionary framework of incremental gradual development by successive refinement came to be applied in widely disparate fields of inquiry, including Christian theology. Thus, it was only a matter of time before the historic “and God said” of the Old Testament came to be seen as “and man concocted” (92):

It is accordingly proclaimed that the history of the Old Testament is to be read as a gradual process in which the prophets stand out as key figures marking advances in religious and theological understanding. . . . Revelation is consequently to be conceived, not as a divinely communicated message of which God Himself is both the source and object, but subjectively as the numinous awareness of the divine presence. Not primarily is revelation a matter of God’s own disclosure, but essentially that of man’s own discovery.

Such revelation cannot be identified with the words of Scripture, but rather as an account of man’s religious development (92). As a result, “the Bible, it was proclaimed, must be read and treated as any other volume of ancient religious literature. Approached in that way, it was held to reflect the theological ideas of eras past and of peoples unsophisticated” (95). (It is within such an interpretive framework that a German by the name of Julius Wellhausen [1844-1918] developed his now famous documentary hypothesis.)

Of course one doesn’t have to think too hard to see a multitude of problems with such a view, not the least of which is the New Testament record of Jesus Himself (100):

Right from its beginning the leaders of criticism were bothered by the claim that the testimony of Jesus prohibited acceptance of their radical views of the Old Testament. The acknowledgement in Christian faith of the lordship of Christ was held to carry with it His regard for the Old Testament as the document of God’s revelation. Again and again, with it in context, Jesus had rung out the challenge “It is written” and “Have you not read?” He quoted from all its parts as being divinely authoritative . . .

Some critics of inerrancy responded by discounting the testimony of Christ by appeal to the “accommodationist theory” which sought to explain away Christ’s remarks as implicitly endorsing the assumptions of His audience (e.g., in the authenticity of the OT record, in the existence of demons) in order to communicate truth within their conceptual limitations.3 Other critics sought to appeal to the incarnate Christ’s limited knowledge in asserting that He reflected the intellectual standpoint of his day and country and didn’t need to know, for the purposes of His mission, whether or not they were accurate (103).

Another aspect which these theologians sought to undermine was the propositional nature of God’s Word. By down-playing the objective, doctrinal content of Scripture, they sought to have their cake (Scripture as an evolutionary human production) and eat it to (retain its spiritual relevance for relational and devotional use). Yet Scripture is not either propositional or relational, but both/and (110):

For although Christian faith is certainly not mere assent to a set of propositions, yet it is not, nor can it ever be, belief apart from propositions. Donal MacKinnon, therefore, is right to insist that “there is more in faith than assent to propositions, but to allow that there is more is not to disallow that assent to propositions has a place in it.” . . . There is no ultimate conflict between the idea of revelation as propositional and as person. If Christian knowledge of God is not belief in a set of propositions, nor yet is it belief apart from propositions. It is, as we have argued elsewhere, a knowledge of God mediated through propositions.

Again we encounter yet another hallmark of the Emergent Church (and postmodernism in general): a dislike for objective propositional (dare we even say logical?) truth in favor of a relativistic vague belief. It appears that by familiarizing ourselves to errors from the past we can more easily come up-to-speed on modern errors and the well-worn trajectories which they are also likely to travel.

The Neo-orthodox Reduction, Roger Nicole, pp. 121-144.

Roger Nicole discusses the neo-orthodox movement which originated with German theologians after the First World War. The seeds of neo-orthodoxy were planted primarily by Karl Barth and then watered by his influential follower, Emil Brunner. Barth began the neo-orthodox drift by replacing the authority of Scripture obtained from any objective interpretation of the text itself and with a semi-mystical encounter between the believer and text wherein the Bible “becomes” the Word of God (127):

Barth evinces a strong reluctance to view the bible as intrinsically and statically the Word of God. The Bible is God’s Word to the extent that God causes it to be His Word, to the extent that He speaks through it. . . . The statement that the bible is God’s Word is a confession of faith, a statement of the faith which hears God Himself speak through the biblical word of man. . . . The Bible . . . becomes God’s Word in this event, and in the statement that the bible is God’s Word the little word “is” refers to its being in this becoming. It does not become God’s Word because we accord it faith but in the fact that it becomes revelation to us. . . . It takes place as an event when and where the biblical word becomes God’s Word. . . . [Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, p. 530.]

Barth held that, although Scripture contained errors, these errors did not detract from its ability to serve as revelation in subsequent encounters by believers. For Barth (123-124):

{Q The inscripturated Word, comprising the whole canon of Scripture is a witness to revelation. It embodies the record of the prophets and apostles who communicated with God by a super-natural encounter. The written Word is not in itself revelation: to view it like that, Barth thinks, is bibliolatry. It is written by men in the words of men and is in itself fallible at every point. Yet, as a witness to revelation it may be used by God if and when it pleases Him to encounter individuals (who are therefore confronted by the living Word of God).

Unlike others before him, Barth refused to accept the formulation “The Bible contains the Word of God” because for him this suggests the possibility of a sorting out of the genuine from the spurious (126). Instead, God uses the plenary text -- even those areas which are thought to contain errors -- as revelation in His encounter with individuals. Thus, the text is God’s Word not because of an accurate objective verbal content, but because (and when) God uses it as a vehicle for communicating with men and women.

As with many who introduce errors in a more mild form, Barth did not take the logic of his approach to its full distance--that was left for subsequent students who were strongly influenced by his teaching, such as Emil Brunner. In the case of Brunner (136):

Brunner’s approach is dominated primarily by the basic outlook that revelation, and indeed truth in the religious realm, is personal in nature. It cannot, therefore, be expressed through propositions but has to find expression in an “I-Thou” encounter of persons. An encounter by the reader is necessary as much as, and perhaps even more than, in the original disclosure.

Readers will immediately recognize another modern virus that was spawned from such an idea: the relocation of the locus of authority of the text from the intention of the author to the “what does it mean to me?” of the reader. This, when taken to an extreme, perverts the Scripture from embodying authorial intent (the ultimate author being the Holy Spirit) and relegates it to service as a Ouija board of sorts confirming whatever the reader wants to find therein.

For Brunner, the truth content of Scripture is overshadowed by the personal encounter and what derives from it. For him, historical facts such as the resurrection are unimportant (markedly unlike the apostle Paul, 1Cor. 15:14-16). Of course, one doesn’t have to look far to find Scripture itself undermining such a stance (131):

The objective nature of the Scripture’s authority is exemplified in a notable way in the account of Christ’s temptation in the desert (Matt. 4 and Luke 4). Here our Lord makes no reference to any encounter that either He or Satan would have had with certain passages so that they would have “become the Word of God”! Rather the Word of God Incarnate three times pointed to a text in Deuteronomy with the simple introduction “It is written.” And each time Satan desisted, without further argument. Surely that makes plain that Christ did not operate with the Barthian concept of Scripture, and that, in the presence of our Lord, Satan knew better than to attempt a Barthian kind of evasion from the impregnable authority of the written Word.

The Niebuhrs’ Relativism, Relationalism, Contextualization, and Revelation, Gordon R. Lewis, pp. 145-173.

Gordon Lewis discusses the influential ideas of H. Richard (1894-1962) and Reinhold (1892-1971) Niebuhr. He begins with Richard (148):

[Richard] Niebuhr infers that the spatio-temporal point of view of an observer enters into his knowledge of reality, so that “no universal knowledge of things as they are in themselves is possible,” and “all knowledge is conditioned by the standpoint of the knower” . . . With Schleiermacher and many others after Kant, Nieburh argues that we have no knowledge of God as He is in Himself, but only in changing human experience. Truth about God, then, even in inspired Scripture, is impossible. The best that Bible students can attain is truth about people’s thinking about God at their respective times and places.

An immediate result of such a view is that the truth of God within the Scripture is “trapped” within the time and culture within which it was revealed -- and its application to other cultures or points in history is greatly undermined (151): “The great sin for relativists [like Neibuhr] becomes defense of the faith as objectively true for all people of all times and all places”. Of course if an understanding of the faith revealed within Scripture is entirely dependent upon the reading of a particular confessional community (trapped in time and space), then the question immediately arises as to which confessional community’s interpretation should be appealed to--especially when they differ at many points?

Reinhold shared a similar relativistic view of Scripture as his brother Richard, but was particularly concerned about social application of the gospel such that he was labelled as the “father of contextual ethics”--frequently stating that we can never know the truth, but only our truth. His relativism was also founded upon the notion that the interpreter is so influenced by the limitations of his cultural, geographical, and historical vantage point, that any meaningful objectivity is unreachable. Here, the reader will note aspects of deconstructionism so foundational to postmodernism today -- also employed by Emergent Church leaders to disclaim any ability to state authoritatively on matters revealed in Scripture (e.g., God’s views concerning homosexuality).

Lewis concludes (172):

a doctrine of human creation in God’s image means that there are limits to relativism’s emphasis upon the differences among cultures and historical periods. All people of all times and all places have been able to communicate with God and others. The initial problems of understanding may be great indeed, but some common categories of thought enable people eventually to grasp one another’s meanings. The Niebuhrs and other relativists have failed to recognize that the Scriptures may be addressing propositionally and with finality matters in one culture that are not essentially different in other cultures.

To this I might add the problem which arises when God holds man responsible, at great eternal risk, for properly interpreting and responding to His revelation. If the Scriptures are so bound up with the cultural expression and time within which they were given and our standpoint is so remote that we cannot apprehend the truths therein in any objective sense, how could a just God grant eternal life or eternal death based on our response?

Revelation and Scripture in Existentialist Theology, Fred H. Klooster, pp. 175-214.

Fred Klooster discusses the views of several existential theologians (Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, and John Macquarrie) who developed their views in relation to the teachings of the existential philosopher Martin Heidegger (who himself had once studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood). Prior to getting into the particulars, Klooster offers up a multi-page summary of existential philosophy and introduces Macquarrie’s view of revelation as representative of the movement (182):

{Q Macquarrie explains: “Scripture is not itself revelation, but it is one important way (not the only one) by which the community of faith keeps open its access to the primordial revelation on which the community has been founded. . . . The scriptures do not indeed automatically lay this revelation before us but, in condjunction with a present experience of the holy in the community of faith, the scriptures come alive, so to speak, and renew for us the disclosure of the holy which was the content of the primordial revelation.”

What Macquarrie means by scriptural inspiration is (182-183)

this power of bringing again or re-presenting the disclosure of the primordial revelation so that it speaks to us in our present experience. . . . such inspiration does not lie in the words (it is not ‘verbal inspiration’), but belongs to the scriptures only as they are set in the context of the whole life of faith in the community.

Reader may recognize hints of Barth’s encounter in the experiential emphasis above.

Klooster than turns to discuss Bultmann’s views, and especially the by-now famous idea concerning the need to demythologize the text because, in his view, the Bible represents the cosmology of a pre-scientific age (189). “The kernel of truth in the New Testament message has to be removed from the husk of its mythical setting.” Of course this essentially removes everything miraculous from the Scriptures since by definition, miracles are rare and therefore are held to be within the mythic portion of the text.

After discussing Tillich’s (similar) views, Klooster evaluates and critiques the existential view of revelation (210):

At least two basic features of existentialism disqualify it for use in Christian theology. The claim that existence precedes essence conflicts directly with the biblical doctrine of creation. . . . God’s creation of Adam and Eve in His own image indicates that created essence precedes historical existence. Furthermore, existentialism operates with a Pelagian view of man. The results are twofold: the existentialist theologians do not acknowledge the radical effects of sin . . . at the same time they exaggerate the capacity of men and women to make the decisions that really lead to authentic being. Thus they have emasculated the gospel and restricted it to the horizontal dimension of psychologically well-adjusted personhood.

Recent Roman Catholic Theology, Robert L. Saucy, pp. 215-246.

Saucy analyzes Roman Catholic trends which have paralleled the rejection of inerrancy found within mainstream Protestantism and finds Roman Catholic interpreters utilizing the authority of the Magisterium to fill the gap left by an assumed errant Scripture (233):

Rahner admits that such a view of Scripture with its denial of an inerrant inspiration removes the Scripture from being the sole authority. He correctly notes that “one cannot abandon the principle of an absolute verbal inspiration of Scripture, as in fact has happened, and still maintain the principle of Scripture alone in the sense which it had at the time of the Reformation.” In light of that departure from an inerrant inspiration, two alternatives for authority remain: “man’s . . . ultimate, inescapable and existential experience of the Spirit,” or the authoritative teaching office of the church. As a Catholic, Rahner opts for the second and finds in Christ’s promise of the perpetuity of the church ground for believing in the infallibility of the church’s voice as it explicates its normative tradition. Thus for Rahner the church can provide that authority that his view of errant inspiration takes away from Scripture.

Having transferred authority away from the assumed errant text and to the Magisterium doesn’t fully solve the problem because, much like squishing one part of a water balloon only to find another portion expanding, the problem becomes the obviously errant nature of the Magisterium itself. Similar footwork once applied to try an uphold an assumed errant Scripture is now employed in regard to the Magisterium (243-244):

We have seen how for both Küng and Rahner the authority of Scripture is bound up with the teaching voice of the living church. Although they refer to Scripture as the norm of divine truth by placing their infallible or, in the case of Küng, their indefectible interpretation in the hands of the church, they effectively transfer the final authority to the church. The traditional concept of the infallibility of the church has been modified by both theologians. As noted, Küng prefers to speak of an indefectible rather than an infallible church. The church, he insists, has made obvious errors throughout the course of history. But the promise of the Spirit guarantees that it will not ultimately defect from the truth. There is “a fundamental remaining in the truth in spite of all ever possible errors.” Rahner, on the other hand, argues for the infallibility of the church, but interprets it in an evolutionary, relativistic sense. Statements of dogma must be interpreted in their historical context and only in such contexts are they true. Different times and conditions call for different interpretations. For both Küng and Rahner, therefore, the authority of the church is reduced to pronouncements of relative truth. Nevertheless, the authority of the church assumes new utilitarian import with the defection from an inerrantly infallible Bible.

Process Theology and Inerrancy, Norman L. Geisler, pp. 247-284.

Norman Geisler begins by contrasting the tradition view of God with those who espouse process theology. He spends significant time examining the views of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and particularly his view of God (249-250):

God is not being but is becoming. He is not immutable but changing. . . . He is a combination of actuality and potentiality. . . . He is not actually infinite but is limited. . . . neither omniscient nor omnipotent in the traditional sense of those attributes. In fact, God is not really in sovereign control of the world: He is working more in cooperation with it.

Readers will recognize here the roots of modern “Openness Theology” which views an omniscient omnipotent God as too detached and uncaring about the affairs of His creatures and posits instead an interactive God who works with various contingencies to “steer” the destiny of history -- to the degree possible given the sinful responses of His creatures.

Process theologians have a variety of views concerning the nature of inspiration as it applies to revelation and the Scriptures, but many follow closely those of neo-orthodoxy with its focus on a revelatory event between the Scripture and the reader wherein that which is communicated “becomes” revelation. This is to be expected since process theology is all about lowering God and elevating man so as to emphasize the interactive nature (and uncertainty) involved between God and His creatures. Thus, the encounter between the two is of utmost concern.

Geisler’s evaluation of the process view of Scripture concludes (277):

process theologians have not shown any incoherence in traditional theism. On the contrary, their arguments, if anything, have shown an inferiority in process theism. For they have insisted that God must be imperfect, dependent, and human in order to be God. In other words, God must be like man in order to be God. In that regard the saying has come true of process theologians -- God has made men in His image, and they have returned the complement!

The Functional Theology of G. C. Berkouwer, Hendrik Krabbendam, pp. 285-316.

This chapter is of particular interest because it chronicles the transformation of G. C. Berkouwer, formerly a champion of the high view of Scripture but who eventually became an ardent opponent of his earlier views in favor of endorsing errancy.

Berkouwer’s increasingly outspoken opposition to the inerrantist position reflects a shift in his thinking. That shift, which dates back to the late 1940s or early 1950s, is nothing short of dramatic -- a reversal of positions. . . . In the early stage of his thinking he engaged in a strong apologetic for the absolute authority of Scripture, including its inerrancy; analyzed the presuppositions of the opponents; and rejected their approach as a dead-end street. In the later stage of his thought he capitulated completely to one strand of opposition and promulgates that view with great persuasiveness.

In analyzing the reasons for the shift in Berkouwer’s stance, Krabbendam points to a growing emphasis upon the function of Scripture in salvation verses as repository of objective truth (303):

The notion of absolute authority, inherent to an objectively present book, was replaced by the authority of the salvation content of scripture, which produces a personal faith relation as its correlative.

In other words, like Barth, the importance of Scripture for Berkouwer was increasingly seen to be in relation to its production of faith in the “encounter” between man and the Bible. The relevance of Scripture as an independent witness to objective truth was gradually replaced with a functional view of its application to bring about faith. With this shift came a distinction between the form of God’s Word (which could be errant) and its function as God’s intended witness (without error in its intended consequence). As the emphasis on the relational encounter between man and the Scriptures grows, Berkouwer predictably moves away from a deterministic position (307):

Much of Berkouwer’s ammunition is directed against the notion of causality. That notion cannot escape the charge of determinism, and therefore it should be dropped. Berkouwer removes it from his views of Scripture, providence, and election.

This aspect he shares with the process theologians of the previous chapter -- although to a lesser degree.

The chapter’s greatest value may be as an illustration and warning concerning the radical change in destination which a subtle drift in view point can achieve with time.

Scripture in Liberation Theology: An Eviscerated Authority, Vernon C. Grounds, pp. 317-346.

Vernon Grounds discusses what could only be called the abuse (my words) of Scriptural authority at the hands of liberation theology. Although sharing a similar starting point with liberal theology (a focus on employing the Scriptures to reform society here and now), liberation theology imposes a radical interpretive lens over the Bible in an attempt to justify its use in support of of egalitarianism and universal social justice. As anyone who has read the Bible at face value will recognize, some large adjustments are needed in order to get Scripture from here to there. As is often the case with movements which move far afield from the teachings of Scripture, they embrace some elements of truth (318):

And what is the message as the liberationists discern it? The God of freedom, justice, and love, the God of the Exodus, the God of the prophets and Jesus Christ, is acting in history to liberate the poor, oppressed, marginalized people of the earth.

In support of some of these ideas, one need look no further than the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount (especially Mat. 5:3-10). The main problem with liberation theology, of course, is that it runs roughshod over many other passages which do not support its view of social reform--and especially the manner by which ultimate social reform will be achieved (at the second coming ushering in the millennial reign of the Prince of Peace). A particularly disturbing aspect of some liberation theology teaching is its bias toward the oppressed which can, in the extreme, deny what is seen as an offensive excess in God’s offer of universal salvation regardless of past sins (321):

This new genre of the Christian faith is unapologetically biased. It spurns as impossible, no less than cowardly and immoral the ideal of a salvation offered to all men equally and indiscriminately, oppressed and oppressors alike. God in Jesus Christ identified Himself with the oppressed and took their side against their oppressors.

In relation to interpretation of the Scripture, the main failing of liberation theology is its insistence of interpreting all of Scripture from the single standpoint of liberation -- regardless of context (326):

To sum up, then, this new genre of the Christian faith is Latin American in origin, a theology “from below,” a theology of the poor and especially nonpersons, a committed theology that takes sides, a theology that stresses praxis, a theology heavily sociological and Marxist in orientation, and a theology that reinterprets all of Scripture from the standpoint of liberation.

Grounds describes the highly flexible purpose-driven interpretive tactics of liberation theology (337), “the liberationists adopt a hermeneutic that permits biblical events and doctrines to interpreted with an almost capricious flexibility.” One proponent of liberation theology goes so far as to state (329):

if the world is changed for the better, then to that extent God’s kingdom is being established: The hermeneutics of the Kingdom of God consists especially in making the world a better place. Only in this way will I be able to discover what the Kingdom of God means.

Reader, did you pick up on yet another element of Emergent theology here? Some Emergents share this same disregard for the determinative context within which Scripture is given, preferring its use as a tool to manipulate their social agenda which departs radically from the Scriptural mandate.

The Contributions of Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, and J. Gresham Machen to the Doctrine of Inspiration, John H. Gerstner, pp. 347-381.

John Gerstner contributes a chapter examining the contributions of the Princeton Divines to the doctrine of inspiration. He begins with a scathing evaluation of the new Princeton (347-348):

Princeton Theological Seminary of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries . . . has been ridiculed for that in which it gloried -- its absolute lack of novelty in bibliology. The modern Princeton faculty seems to find nothing more entertaining than the claim of Old Princeton that no new ideas had originated there. The current mockers, who are usually waiting to hear something new in Jerusalem, seem not to have noticed that the most original stance today is the Old Princeton effort not to be original at all. Fidelity to tradition is the novelty of our times.

While this may seem somewhat scathing, it does serve as a reminder of what happens when Biblical inerrancy is jettisoned: what was once a bastion in support of a high view of Scripture has become an influential promulgator of Christian apostasy. This underscores the importance of being aware of many of the issues treated in this volume.

We are treated to a summary of the teachings of Charles Hodge (1797-1878), Benjamin Warfield (1851-1921), and J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) in their respective terms of service at Princeton. Gerstner also responds to the oft-heard claim that inerrancy was a novel and relatively modern doctrine. Instead, it is the contemporary academic majority which are historically out-of-step (349-350):

It has been often and thoroughly demonstrated that the historical, orthodox view of inspiration has been plenary, infallible, inerrant, theopneustic, oftentimes even called “dictation” (although not normally considered “mechanical”) inspiration, repeatedly sloganized in the words “What the Bible says, God says.” This is not to deny the presence of dissent but merely to locate it as the exception to the rule; nor is it to deny that in this century among biblical scholars the exception may have become the rule. Looked at historically, however, the contemporary academic majority is a miniscule historical minority. . . . The history of the doctrine of inspiration has been repeatedly and thoroughly researched. In addition to extensive studies in encyclopedias and histories of doctrine, innumerable monographs have appeared on the subject in general as well as on details such as “alleged discrepancies”: . . . [then follows an extensive list which see]

Gerstner concludes (381):

the Old Princeton School in general, Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, and J. Gresham Machen especially (and Warfield most particularly), represent the ablest defense of the classical doctrine of biblical inerrancy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Arian Connection: Presuppositions of Errancy, Harold O. J. Brown, pp. 383-401.

Harold Brown closes out the volume by exploring the analogy between the hypostatic union of Christ’s divinity and humanity (yet without sin) and the production of the Scriptures by fallible human agents (yet without error). Those who espouse an errant Scripture are likened to Arian’s who deny the perfection of Christ (390):

The doctrine of errancy clearly implies that God cannot so interact with what is human in a way that he preserves it from all error without destroying its essential humanness. The Christological parallel would be the suggestion that God cannot assume a human nature in Christ without totally overwhelming His essential humanness -- in other words, that the doctrine of the incarnation produces a monophysite Christology: if Jesus is God, then His human nature has been absorbed and He is no longer fully man. One of the reasons errantists want to preserve the idea of errors in Scripture is because they want to preserve the bible as a human book, and they fear that to lose the errors would be to lose the humanity. The parallel in Christology, as we have noted, would be the suggest that to be human, Christ must have erred, quite possibly even sinned.

Although Brown does not touch on the issue, we have noted in our review of the topics covered by this volume how often a departure from a sound view of Scripture has been motivated, in part, by a desire for a more interactive, experiential, and intimate experience between believers and God. In common with Brown’s discussion, the problem is one of Scriptural balance: when we elevate any portion of Biblical truth over others, then we are headed for trouble. The desire to elevate the human experience in relationship with God and His Word has proven on numerous occasions to result in the denigration of the divine: in this case the denial of the authority of His Word.


The book is not a light read and, as such, I would only recommend it to those already familiar with many of the issues concerning the nature and extent of inspiration as applied to the Scriptures. The book does serve as an excellent introduction and survey of a wide range of thought which, on the whole, has been deleterious to the authority and function of the Bible within society and the Church. It also provides value in tracing modern trends which compromise the authority of Scripture back to earlier roots.

The theological presuppositions discussed within the book all pursue the same folly: having denied the authority of Scripture in one way they then attempt to champion the relevance of Scripture in another way. In the process, the appeal of the Bible and its challenge to man to be reconciled to God falls by the wayside as discerning sceptics see through this intellectual duplicity and respond by rejecting Scripture in-toto. Thus, those who believe they must rescue Scripture from certain demise at the hands of Biblical conservatives actually wind up as practical enemies of the very Scriptures they seek to rescue. The dwindling membership and growing irrelevance of many once great denominations is a testimony to the reality that one can’t jettison a high view of Scripture and effectively carry forward the work of God from generation-to-generation.

Reviewed by Tony Garlanda of SpiritAndTruth.orgb.


2.NKJV, Ecc. 1:8-10
3.The accommodation theory is still very much alive and well. The reviewer encountered a champion of this theory in head of the Seattle campus of Fuller Seminary when discussing the nature of the gospels while evaluating which seminary to consider attending. Needless to say, this was a helpful clue to avoid Fuller.


NKJVNew King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ref-1237Gordon Lewis, Bruce Demarest, Challenges to Inerrancy: A Theological Response (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1984). ISBN:0-8024-0237-2c.

Links Mentioned Above
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b - See
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