Third Way and Scripture

A friend of mine recently said that theologians can say just about anything about anything about Jesus but to say something fresh or innovative or out of the ordinary about Scripture is to invite trouble. I suppose what is said in the chapter about “The Battle over the Bible” in Adam Hamilton’s  Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics will invite response and some reaction. Why? Most people have very firm views of how to talk about the Bible — whether they are right or not. Hamilton, a pastor of a church of 14,000 folks, has sketched here a view of Scripture that I suspect many of you will not agree with … I can’t say I agree with everything … but he gives us a good platform today for a conversation. I am going to ask you to behave, to state your view without tossing down your hat and stomping on it … and I’m going to ask that you avoid any hint of a slippery slope argument. So, here’s Hamilton’s “gray” approach to Scripture.


Thumbnail image for Hamilton.jpg The question pastor Adam Hamilton asks is “What is the Bible?” He begins to map the options right away: is it a collection of documents that describe the faith of ancient Israelites and the early Christians? Is it the Word of God, with every word chosen by God — with the implication at some level that the authors were God’s secretaries? Another question: Is all of the Bible marked by culture? Is only some of it marked by culture? Is it all marked by culture but still capable to rendering God’s will for us today? One of my own ways of putting this is to ask if it is best to talk about the Bible as “timeless” truth or “timely” truth?

Hamilton sketches the American history with the Bible — marked as it is by the huge fight between the modernists and their use of “higher criticism” and the fundamentalists and their appeal to inspiration and inerrancy (or infallibility). Today’s culture wars is marked by this debate to this day. Fundamentalists constantly worry about a slippery slope into liberalism and liberals worry constantly that if they start preaching about the need for personal salvation and the authority of the Bible that they’ll end up losing credibility with culture. (It’s more complex than this, yes, but these factors are at work to this day.)

Hamilton speaks of conservatives for whom the authorship of the books of the Bible — even when not in the text (like Matthew — the text itself does not say Matthew wrote the Gospel) — is worth going to the mat for. They will also defend Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch as if it is central to Christian orthodoxy. On the other hand, I’m personally astonished how easily many are convinced that a biblical author, say James, didn’t write James when the evidence for this kind of conclusion is so flimsy. Far better, I say to myself often, to admit that there’s not enough evidence to draw a firm conclusion. Anyway, this stuff gets caught up in rigid debates and folks take sides — and it has become political.

Liberals, Hamilton observes, focus on the humanity of Scripture; conservatives on the divine authorship.

Hamilton comes to this conclusion: The Bible “is a book written by people who lived in ancient times, with their own biases and limitations in knowledge, who had great insights and experiences of God … And it is a book through which God has spoken and still speaks, one that is ‘living and active’ and through which God comforts, challenges, and inspires, the very reading of which has the power to change lives” (68).

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler (Man of Depravity)

    From his definition I would describe Hamilton as a conservative when it comes to the Scriptures but he could take to a higher level I think.

  • http://schooleyfiles.com Keith Schooley

    We should “avoid any hint of a slippery slope argument”… because it may lead to slipperier and slopeier arguments? :-)

  • Your Name

    i’m so tired of ‘black and white’ and grey… Shouldn’t life as a christian be colored?

  • http://www.communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Even though I have no trouble calling Scripture the word of God based on the fact that the New Testament seems to handle the Old Testament (our terms of course) as God’s word, as well as some of Jesus’ saying, my definition or description of Scripture might not be that much different than Hamilton’s.
    Inerrancy if such a term is good at all, certainly is different when viewed in olden days than it is now. And there is certainly a place to begin to take the higher criticism of the Bible to task. It seems that such is oblivious to all else than to trying to explain the Bible in ways that offer little real help and a lot of questions. But the reaction against that is usually not helpful, as the Bible is a book written by humans, but somehow it comes across to us as from God at the same time. Surely there’s mystery there that we would do best to underscore and somehow include in our definition or description of Scripture.

  • MattR

    Hamilton does a good job I think…
    The trick is to maintain the mystery of the Bible in way similar to the Incarnation: Scripture is fully human, and at the same time fully divine… go too far in either direction, at the expense of the other, and you’re missing something.

  • MattR

    should say ‘the origin of the WORDS of Scripture are both…’

  • Jeremiah Daniels

    I like it.
    The first time I read that Jezebel was thrown out of the window by “two OR three eunuchs” (2 Kings 9:32) told me that inerrancy was not quite what I would imagine it being.
    I am hardly ready to throw the whole Bible out because of things (and various other scriptures) like that.
    I can see and feel God in the Scriptures in though I know they reflect the perceptions and experiences of the people who wrote them.
    The third way is indeed _much_ harder if you are firmly indoctrinated in the first or second ways.
    Scot, is there any part of the third way that you feel necessarily makes itself harder for the average believer to accept it?

  • James Petticrew

    I am a bit disappointed that he didn’t mention the Holy Spirit and His role in making the written text “living and active” it seems to me that 1 Thess 1:5:6 “our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” has some serious implications for how Scripture intersects with our lives remembering that for most in the Early Church Scripture was listened to rather than read.
    In some ways Hamilton’s Third Way on Scripture sounds a lot like NeoOrthodoxy of Barth and ohers

  • RJS

    I can’t tell from this synopsis what Hamilton’s gray view is – except that it isn’t literal inerrancy in the normal conservative sense.
    As to what I think, more later — when I have a chance to organize thoughts. But I agree with James, any view of scripture that does not incorporate Spirit is faulty.

  • Bob Young

    I was raised very fundamentalist, migrated to what I call Bapticostaltyrianism (ha!) and in the last year have become definitely missional, probably emerging, with a good deal of emergent. In other words, I’m looking for that Third Way.
    Recently I’ve been viewing scripture as a series of writings between each original author and the audience to whom that person was writing (Moses to post-Egypt Israel, David’s songs to/for God, Mark to 1st century Romans, Paul to specific churches, etc). Knowing the “back story” adds depth and clearer understanding of what it was actually about, though there are some accessible things on the surface.
    As I “listen in” on this conversation between these ancient peoples, another conversation can occur between God and I about the implications of their story on my life. Sometimes it’s a clear connection, sometimes unrelated. Kind of like watching a movie with a friend and then discussing it in depth afterward.
    The “inspiration” part reminds me of how God breathed into dust and man became alive and capable/powerful, and the author of Hebrews said that God in essence did the same thing with the Hebrew scriptures (and we assume with the New Testament as well). Somehow these writings are “alive” and “powerful” in a special way as we “listen in” WITH God.
    Some theologian may have already said this more eloquently (or thoroughly debunked such a stupid notion), but it’s what I’ve been thinking lately.

  • http://www.rhymeswithplague.blogspot.com Bob Brague

    So “The Third Way” is not either/or, it’s both/and. Big deal. Let’s all give ourselves “Theologian of the Year” awards.

  • Scot McKnight

    Bob Brague,
    I can’t see why you insist on being so sarcastic when online … most people who don’t know you have no context to understand you. Sarcasm is anger displayed in indirection. I see no need for it.

  • Bob Brague

    I should never comment before having had my morning coffee! Apologies…

  • Bob Brague

    Every saddle needs a burr under it from time to time. Maybe I’m the burr…. ):
    A man in our church in Florida (I hope this is not too off the wall) used to say his wife was the rectum on the body of Christ….

  • Bob Brague

    Sarcasm is what made Don Rickles rich….

  • qb

    Scot, the NT writers (whoever they were) have Jesus and Paul making ample – and sometimes devastating – use of sarcasm. Do you conclude that the Jesus and Paul presented to us were just angry men posing behind a rhetorical skirt, and do you reject what they were saying when they used sarcasm?
    To say that “sarcasm is anger displayed in indirection” is a simplistic, dull-edged way of preemptively emasculating vigorous, concise, and metaphorical speech. You are, of course, free to do that on your own blog. But Brague’s post would be an unfortunate place to do it…it was, all things considered, harmless. And it contributed pithily to the discussion; there is no mistaking what he was saying.
    qb

  • RJS

    qb,
    There is a time and a place for many forms. But do you really think that in the format of a blog, sarcasm ever moves the conversation forward?
    Rhetoric is usually a show stopper, an exclamation point.
    It seems to me that the only value of a blog such as this is conversation – and for the conversation to work it must remain civil and respectful.
    This doesn’t mean that we all agree ever – but it does mean agreeing to treat (or to try to treat) ideas with respect.

  • RJS

    Scot,
    This post and the fundamentalist flip-flopping post are both worth pondering. I was thinking about these two posts (too bad advent gets shoved out of mind) on my drive in this morning – and listening to your sermon at North Point (available on their web site).
    I dislike the term third way and the idea of gray vs black and white – because both give the impression that the Christian ideal should be governed by compromise and tolerance. But I do think that we see two extremes in our culture – and both are wrong.
    I think that the key issue for the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian is the issue of scripture. What is the Bible?
    For the liberal Christian, I think that the most important question is different. The key question is – Who is God?
    And now I am totally off topic but thinking. Interesting.

  • RJS

    Let me be a bit more specific – I think that the key question that a liberal Christian must ponder to begin to move to the “Third Way” is – who is God?
    The key question that a conservative Christian must ponder to move to the “Third Way” is – what is the Bible?

  • http://www.covthinklings.blogspot.com/ josenmiami

    I have had my own struggles with sarcasm lately … and Scot is right about the anger. It ‘works’ among friends who are together face-to-face (preferably with a glass of wine) where one can see the facial expression and hear the tone of voice.
    Regarding the original post, this is an interesting approach and I think this is an area for fruitful conversation. I meet every Tuesday with a group of 20-somethings in a bar for spiritual conversation. Half of them are church droppouts who still have faith, and the other half are self described agnostics. Last night we had a heavily tattooed and pierced ‘christian’ with us who knew his Bible pretty well. Nevertheless, he kept insisting on a rigid demarcation between ‘saved’ and ‘unsaved’ and seemed unwilling to acknowledge any mystery or any ‘journey’ from unsaved to saved. For him, salvation was a clear issue of ‘believing’ two or three things, as in mental assent. It sounded like putting in your quarter, pusshing “A” and “3″ and getting your candy bar. Believe this, prayer this prayer and presto, you are saved.
    He has a very one-dimensional, black and white view of scripture, based on only a handfull of proof texts and literally was unable to engage other scriptures such as “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” or James: “true religion is to visit orphans and widows in their distress” … (I think I am going to hand him a copy of Blue Parakeet!)
    I said all of this to say, it is really important to talk through our paradigms about these things. I believe it was Alan Hirsch who said that every fresh move of God’s spirit in his church requires a new Christology … perhaps the same thing could be said for our view of scripture.

  • http://www.newwaystheology.blogspot.com/ Mason

    I really appreciate sarcasm, and use a good amount of it myself, but think that insofar as blogging goes, it might not always be the best move.
    I say this because the written word, with little context outside of a couple sentences, and no tone or body language, tends to not get sarcasm across all that well. Usually one is unsure if a person is being funny and sarcastic, or just a jerk. I tend to hope for the first, but often expect the second. So, all things considered sarcasm should at least be very cautiously used in such a format.
    And now we are officially off topic.

  • Your Name

    Scot – agree with your comments concerning sarcasm…often, I start such replies, only to delete them when I realize they have nothing to add.
    Bob – I believe you have something to add – and would love to hear it expressed completely, not just sarcastically.
    Josenmiami – think you are on to something. The questions of Hamilton seem to point to this very group you are meeting with. I don’t see Scripture as one-dimensional…otherwise, like a poorly written novel, one reading would be enough. Rather – every time I read a passage, combine it with surrounding passages, take it in whole with the totality of Scripture, and apply a little historical setting – an even deeper knowledge and view emerges!
    I would slightly disagree with Hirsch in this regard – I don’t think each fresh move requires a NEW Christology…but produces a closer and better understanding of TRUE Christology.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    Scot, I’m so glad you’re posting on this. This is something I personally find attractively fascinating and terrifying at the same time. I think I’ve read most of the recent books on the nature of scripture — it sounds like Hamilton is drinking from the same stream as Telford Work’s Living and Active: Scripture in the Economy of Salvation — a rich stream.
    Ok, so after lots of study and many emotional rollercoasters, here’s where I am: (a) any Christian formulation of what scripture is must acknowledge that all scripture is inspired by God; (b) any Christian
    formulation of what scripture is must be consistent with the completely truthful, loving, and gracious character of God as the one who inspired scripture; (c) if the God who inspired scripture is a God of truth, then any Chrisitan formulation of what scritpure is must be completely truthful and honest about the phenomena of scripture (meaning it must take scripture as we find it, with all of its marks of humanity, and not as we ideally would like it to be); (d) if the God who inspired scripture is a God of truth, then any Christian formulation of what scripture is must not stifle or react defensively to the search for truth in any discipline of study and must not cause Christians to fear any truth wherever it is found; (e) any Christian formulation of what scripture is must locate scripture in relation to God’s revelation in Christ and in connection with scripture’s overarching purposes in God’s plan of redemption (this implies the role of the Holy Spirit); and (f) and Christian formulation of what scripture is must locate scripture within a coherent and satisfying Christian epistemology. As an addendum to all this, I think we need to remember that any creedal / doctrinal statement about the nature of scripture is not scripture itself; scripture might be infallible, but our statements about scripture are never infallible. Also, we need to say something about the canon.
    Taking all these things into consideration, in my very humble opinion, the “conservative” evangelical approach to scripture, rooted in Warfield and summed up in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, misses the mark. However, “progressive” evangelical approaches to scritpure, in my view, sometimes seem weak on (b) and (e) — if “conservative” approaches can seem docetic, “progressive” approaches can seem adoptionist.
    So as a very tentative first cut at a summary: “Scripture is the true and trustworthy record of God’s plan of redemption in Christ. It is to be cherished, studied, and heard with reverent humility in the community of God’s people through the ages and under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Each follower of Jesus is responsible before God to seek to understand and live out the story of redemption revealed in the scriptures and summarized in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus.”

  • Leo

    Scot – really coming to dislike Beliefnet as host…and the above is one of the reasons, along with constantly popping up adds…
    #22 is posted by Leo…but screen refreshed and did not keep the name…and I did not catch it…
    Leo

  • Rick

    N.T. Wright:
    “We have allowed our debates to be polarized within the false either/or of post-enlightenment categories, so that we either see the Bible as a holy book, almost a magic book, in which we can simply look up detached answers to troubling questions, or see it within its historical context and therefore claim the right to relativize anything and everything we don’t immediately like about it. These categories are themselves mistaken; the Bible itself helps us to challenge them; and when we probe deeper into the question, ‘what does it mean to say that the Bible is authoritative’, we discover a new and richer framework which simultaneously enables us to be deeply faithful to scripture and energizes and shapes us, corporately and individually, for our urgent mission into tomorrow’s world….
    …we must always remind ourselves that the Bible is most truly itself when it is being, through the work of God’s praying people and not least their wise shepherds, the vehicle of God’s saving, new-creational love going out, not to tell the world it is more or less all right as it is, but to do for the whole creation, and every man, woman and child within it, what God did for the children of Israel in Egypt, and what God did for the world in the death and resurrection of Jesus: to say ‘I have heard your crying, and I have come to the rescue.”
    http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/page.cfm?ID=334

  • jayson

    RJS,
    Thank you for your post…”Let me be a bit more specific – I think that the key question that a liberal Christian must ponder to begin to move to the “Third Way” is – who is God?The key question that a conservative Christian must ponder to move to the “Third Way” is – what is the Bible?”
    I have in the past and still struggle with both questions. I am just thankful for platforms like Scot’s Blog that truly make me think and allow me to wrestle and work out my salvation with trembling and fear.
    I used to believe struggling with doubt or having less clarity on either of those key questions put me on the oustide looking in. Now I am finding peace in carrying on the lifelong conversation with my creator about my questions. Funny, my doubt has led me to truly live out Paul’s admonishment to pray without ceasing.

  • RJS

    Leo,
    If you are on a PC (I know nothing of Macs) and use Firefox or Safari browsers the screen refresh will retain your name (and it will retain it day-to-day, post-to-post). As far as I can tell only Internet Explorer 7 has trouble retaining names. I’ve switched to Firefox for use with this blog, as IE7 also misses several features of the sidebar.
    (Sorry for the sidetrack…)

  • http://www.soulsticecommunity.com Soulstice Community Church

    What is the Bible?
    I think a couple of key thoughts help me navigate this question taking into account the reality of the people, context and culture in which the scriptures were actually written and the divine nature of the scriptures.
    1. A quasi Barthian view of Revelation. What I love about Barth is the Christocentric nature the whole of his Dogmatics is based upon. The God of the universe has REVEALED himself to us in Jesus Christ the man. It is by this and through this act of grace on God’s part that any knowledge of God is possible. In this way, he is “wholly other” and unknowable to us without Christ. The Scriptures are the attestation of the God-Man Jesus Christ and the story of the people of God (Israel) into which He enters.
    2. Speech Act Theory. Every communicative act intends to “do” something to the hearer. The Bible is the collection of God’s Word to humanity which revealed Himself to those who heard it first and “did” something to them to instruct and guide them into life and living with Him. They are such because they tell us that God has taken up these Words and invested Himself into them. And still, the Bible is God’s Word to us, as much as we believe in the promise of God that He has invested Himself into the words of Scripture to teach and guide us to live as the people of God.
    This of course does not negate the hermenuetical work that we need to participate in to try to understand what it meant in it’s original context, but to answer what is the Bible? I would say the attestation to the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ that God is still revealing Himself to the world through as much as He takes up the words of scripture and speaks to his church and humanity.

  • http://julieclawson.com Julie Clawson

    So to start off really shallow (pre-coffee here) when I first glanced at this post and saw the picture I thought “why is Scot writing about HRG from Heroes?”
    Anyway… I have my issues with both the conservative and liberal takes on scripture, neither seem fully satisfactory. I feel like I have to abandon all intellectual credulity to say affirm Mosaic authorship for conservatives, but I feel ridiculed if I challenge the liberal assumption that the miraculous can’t happen. I enjoy understanding cultural influences on the bible, but I see how uncomfortable that can be. As I’ve chosen to study not just the conservative approaches to scripture I grew up with, I’ve had to examine what my faith is truly in. Do I believe in God no matter what, or do I believe in a particular interpretation of scripture telling what I should think about God? It’s unsettling, but it’s important to me to attempt to make that distinction when i can.

  • http://www.mysticallimpet.blogspot.com Travis Greene

    For me it’s instructive that the most commonly used verse about Scripture is this:
    2 Timothy 3:16-17
    “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”
    Scripture is “useful”. God uses it. It’s to be used for teaching and correcting. It gets us ready to do what God wants us to do. We need it to be formed into the kind of people God wants us to become.
    Is that going to require that it has a whole heckuva lot of truth? Absolutely. But truth isn’t the starting point. Usefulness (for mission) is.

  • Leo

    RJS,
    Thanks…am IE7, but will have to look at firefox.

  • joanne

    i think that so many times we fixate on things that do not really matter. I keep asking, what does the story mean, when I approach the bible. like the story of Mary and the bith of Christ. If we fight about the virgin birth we miss the nuance that in the image of conception, God is joining himself with humanity to reconcile the world to himself. what does it mean has way more value to me than is it actually true. What if the truth that God is joining with humans to reconcile to world to himself is a greater truth than did a virgin actually conceive?

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    I’ve been reading through *Exploring the Origins of the Bible: Canon Formation in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective* (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology) ed. Craig Evans, ed. Emmauel Tov.
    I can live with Hamilton’s view of the Bible. But “dopderbeck” (comment #23) makes a great caveat: “Also, we need to say something about the canon.”
    One of the reasons I think N.T. Wright lampoons conservatives holding to the Bible as a “magic book” is that conservatives are either ignorant of or resistant to the incredible fluidity and humanity of the *process of canon-formation.* Most of the conservative stuff offered about canonization in the 1970s has been undermined by continuing studies of biblical and extra-biblical materials. More evidence may demand a different verdict.

  • qb

    RJS (#17), there’s no obvious reason to suppose that sarcasm is intrinsically disrespectful. In fact, properly used, it actually gives the reader credit for having enough intelligence to read between the lines instead of patronizingly explaining every nuance. That’s why qb tries to use emoticons sparingly, for example; I just assume, unless persuaded otherwise, that intelligent people normally detect irony, humor, or sarcasm…even in a medium such as this. qb is no rocket scientist, but even qb could tell that Brague was being sarcastic, and his piont came across five-by-five.
    *****
    In any event, qb finds much to commend in Hamilton’s thesis. Accepting his thesis in any form – modified, economized, or whatever – the problem becomes a pastoral one: how do we infuse our evolving sensitivity to the human dimension of Scripture into our faith-community’s corporate exercises in exegesis and hermeneutics? It’s sticky and prickly and fraught with pitfalls and danger, not least to the sense of unity.
    I’ve been experimenting quite a lot with our Sunday evening couple’s Bible study since I read _The Blue Parakeet_…subliminally injecting phrases like “attributed to Paul” for “written by Paul” when referring to (for example) the Pastorals, and raising questions of authorial agenda when dealing with interesting redaction-critical matters in the Gospels. It’s not easy, but one lady thrilled me the other night by being brave enough to say that the Bible seemed to be more of “a diary of God’s people” than a textbook. Whatever criticism one might validly make of such a broad-brushed piont of view, it represents real progress in group cohesion that someone can pipe up with such a provocative statement and not be run out of town on a greased rail. But it’s not always like that.
    qb

  • qb

    BTW, qb’s not sure why “slippery-slope arguments” get such a bad rap. Sure, it’s possible to use them indiscriminately and thoughtlessly…
    …but at the core, they’re really just a way of asking what we’re all interested in knowing from time to time: if I accept a certain argument, how far down does the rabbit-hole go? Am I willing to accept the implications of the reasoning, and if not, wherein lieth the rub?
    populist qb

  • http://darrenbrett.wordpress.com/ Darren King

    Surely we must begin with the acknowledgment that even the writers of scripture worked from within a worldview. So… because they were human, and because God did not freeze their humanity to turn them into textual zombies, the limitations of those worldviews are going to end up on the printed page.
    While some keep wanting to make this about the Bible, its much more about people – and more specifically the nature of the human being – it its single and plural gathering. Human beings always have worldviews – always. And, as such, we’re going to have to account for that when we read scripture. Now, that said, worldviews are not static. They do change. And, clearly the writers of scripture did change as a result of revelation and experience with Jesus.
    However, this did not separate them form their worldviews the way you can separate an egg from its shell.
    So, today, we need to read the Bible with a lens for both the revelation, and the worldview. I know this is not nearly as clean-cut as assuming that the Bible is simply a word-for-word dictation from God. But, reality is good for us. And reality suggests the situation is more complicated than this.

  • http://darrenbrett.wordpress.com/ Darren King

    I guess a quick summary of what I’m saying is this:
    Just as RJS and others would argue that we cannot accurately consider Creation apart from what science tells us about evolution and geology, neither can we talk accurately about scripture apart from a firm understanding of the nature of the human beings – via biology, sociology, psychology, etc.

  • Karl

    I think qb makes a good point in #35 regarding slipppery slope arguments. They can be used poorly but I don’t think that means they are never relevant questions to ask.
    My question after reading this post was “what about authority?” Rather than worry too much about words like inerrancy, or get caught up too far in the divine vs. human roles in authorship, my concern is whether we treat the Bible as authoritative in what it affirms, prescribes and proscribes for us.
    Obviously there are challenges in determining what the Bible affirms, and which of the Bible’s affirmations are time and culture bound, vs. which are not. But that is the part of the liberal-conservative divide that really concerns me – whether we approach those challenges honestly and willing to submit to scripture when we’ve determined what it says (like NT Wright arguing that the best evidence points toward resurrection), rather than with an agenda to make it say what fits with what “must be true” based on current cultural mores or an anti-supernatural bias. At least within the Episcopal church where we live the divide was between those who believed scripture was authoritative and to be believed and obeyed, vs. those who believed it wasn’t. Of course some came up with tortured interpretations to say that scripture “really didn’t” affirm X, Y or Z so that in rejecting traditional understandings they could claim they weren’t really rejecting the authority of scripture but the more honest of them simply said “yes, the Bible clearly affirms X, Y and Z and let’s quit making fools of ourselves by claiming otherwise – but we now know that the Bible is wrong and not to be trusted in that area.”
    I recognize that most conservatives fall far short of affirming what the Bible affirms in relation to the poor and disenfranchised, in relation to loving one’s neighbor, in relation to materialism and the love of money, etc. But the answer to that should in my mind be “let’s follow all of scripture” rather than “let’s focus on what the conservatives have been ignoring, while ourselves ignoring scriptural authority in other major areas like Jesus’s divinity, sexual ethics, the possibility of the miraculous, etc.”

  • http://www.mysticallimpet.blogspot.com Travis Greene

    Karl @ 38,
    I think what you’re describing in your last paragraph is exactly what a third way would be.

  • Jason

    The Third Way . . . Emergent. . . I need another label like I need a whole in my head:)
    .
    .
    .
    That said something like this is exactly what I need. Having my beliefs in the standard definition of innerarcy from my fundie roots smashed against the rocks from multiple directions onto multiple rocks into multiple pieces…and yet not desiring to simply jump shift into liberalism, I hoping to find some meaningful middle ground. I just had the following reccommended to me, God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship
    by Kenton L., Sparks
    . Does anyone have any thoughts on it or was it discussed in an earlier thread?

  • http://www.life-and-faith.org Ernesto Tinajero

    We are still children of Descartes. I have been around believers that can only think of the Bible as literal history, so much so they bury it in the past, and don’t let it touch them. (They blame Adam for all their problems) I cannot comment on the book as I have not read it and to do so unfair, but I comment on the Bible reading as it now occurs in a post Cartesian world. As Michael Fishbane points out in Spiritual Attunement that Judaism is a faith of the text, so too is Christianity a faith of the text. Many times when the worldview is taken to account in Bible interpretation, it is directed at the writers, and we ignore our our cultural bias. We become busy defending or attacking Scripture that we are seldom form by it, regardless of stance toward it.

  • http://livingquietly.wordpress.com SteveT

    Karl (#38) makes precisely the thought that I had from reading Scot’s post. One’s understanding of inerrancy is certainly important, but I think the issue of authority is far more crucial.
    Scot – can you give us any idea of where Hamilton comes down on this question?

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    I’m convinced the inspiration of scripture (2 Tim 3:16) requires inerrancy. I’m just not sure what exactly that means.
    Apparently Warfield and Hodge thought inerrancy could leave room for human authors to make mistakes: http://scdc.library.ptsem.edu/mets/mets.aspx?src=BR188126&div=1
    I’m not at all sure what to do with that, but I’m reading the comments here with interest.

  • Scot McKnight

    SteveT,
    I’d say “authority — YES” but “inerrancy” — No. That’s my read. Adam may well join the conversation later today.

  • RJS

    Jason (#40)
    I’ve read Sparks’ book, I liked it – his book is more academic than Peter Enns’ book and has a somewhat different take on how to approach scripture – but it is good. We have not discussed it here, but we may have a post or two that derives from this book in the future.

  • http://www.matthewmorine.com Matthew

    I believe your friend is right about scholarship. To be published or become a well known scholar, it is like you have to discover a new truth. We are pushing people to the sidelines of the faith with that mindset.
    http://www.matthewmorine.com

  • Dianne P

    I’m in line with Julie in 29, not only because I thought the same thing about HRG. Thank you Julie, for speaking my thoughts.
    And also in agreement with this…
    “I feel like I have to abandon all intellectual credulity to say affirm Mosaic authorship for conservatives, but I feel ridiculed if I challenge the liberal assumption that the miraculous can’t happen.”
    Also liking Joanne in #32….
    -while I love discussing the possibilities of how the world came to be, the key thing is that God created.
    -and while I don’t much care if there was a virgin birth or not, the bigger truth that God became incarnate rocks my world.
    -and while I have a hard time wrapping my head around two each of every living creature on that ark, I do believe that the creator God who is the author of the laws of the universe, can and does suspend those laws and miracles do occur.
    I am greatly enjoying this book, and at the end of this chapter, I jotted…
    “not LESS, but MORE”

  • dopderbeck

    Jason (#40) — Sparks’ book is very interesting and might be helpful to you. One caveat — some of the information it presents can be very challenging if you haven’t been exposed to text and historical criticism before. In some places, I think Sparks is a little too harsh on evangelicals — for example, he disses Ian Provan, Tremper Longman and V. Phillips Long’s book “A Biblical History of Israel” –but all three of these guys are excellent scholars, and Provan in particular is actually something close to what I would see as an evangelical “third way” guy on scripture. But if you’ve been exposed to some of these issues and can read it somewhat critically, you’ll probably find Sparks’ book refreshing.
    Question to Scot and to all: recently a conservative scholar I respect told me “Don’t give up on inerrancy — the truthfulness of God is at stake.” How would y’all respond to that?

  • RJS

    dopderbeck,
    How would I respond:
    The truthfulness of God is manifest in the fact that he speaks to us through His Word and through His Spirit. The truthfulness of God demands that we take His story seriously and that he did not err in giving us the scripture that we have. Scripture is a gift, given to us by God to tell his story.
    The truthfulness of God does not rest on our modern definition of inerrancy. Neither does the faith rest on this definition. I don’t think that we honor God or protect the faith by forcing scripture to conform to an external standard, our preconception of what the Bible should be. We honor the truthfulness of God by reading and living his story.

  • Scot McKnight

    dopderbeck,
    For me, the issue is the best way to frame what “truthfulness of God” means in the context of saying the Bible is true. Here are my problems with the doctrine and term “inerrancy”:
    1. The term says nothing positive; it says “not wrong.” The word “truth” says much more. It’s a simple profound, even if undefined, word.
    2. The doctrine has been understood as “historically verifiable truth” so that the term has gotten itself too tied into historical proofs and empirical demonstrations — as if we can demonstrate that the Bible is true independent of what the text says.
    3. Now here’s one: the most significant truths are not open to empirical verification. This is very important to me: I think historical type work can demonstrate the reasonability that Jesus was raised from the dead. No science can prove that he was raised “for my justification.” No one questions that we can demonstrate Jesus died; no one can prove he died “for my sins.” So, by framing “truth” by “inerrancy,” and having inerrancy get itself wrapped up in empirical proofs, we frame our view of Scripture in ways that are not helpful.
    4. On top of that, setting up what we believe about the truthfulness by such categories, and locking that down into “slippery slope arguments” (if you give in here, you give in everything — hooey), we set ourselves up for massive issues — like Exodus saying “no boil” on the lamb at Passover and Deuteronomy saying “can boil” on lamb.
    5. So, I say: frame the word “truthfulness” for the Bible the way the Bible does itself.
    Sorry for such a prolix answer.

  • RJS

    Scot,
    On your # 3 – the most significant truths are not open to empirical verification. But isn’t this the problem – inerrancy, the truthfulness of God in scripture, is the only “proof” that Jesus died for my sins, that he was raised for my justification. Thus defense of scripture as inerrant is a necessary prelude to defense of these core doctrines of the church? If we cannot trust that scripture truthfully records the day of the crucifixion (passover or the day before?) or the number of people at the tomb, or the circumstance of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus, or … or Job, Noah, Adam, Babel, or Jonah; How can we trust what the Bible says about the purpose and effect of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS,
    Fair enough.
    There is an interlocking nature to truth claims in the Bible. But the logic is not one of scientific induction: if we can prove Noah and Babel and Jonah and the resurrection then surely we can trust the truth that Jesus died for my sins. OK, there’s an intellectual and logical momentum at work here, and I grant that and I won’t dismiss it, but there is still a leap. And I’d hate to reverse that: if I can prove that Jonah was a parable then I can’t believe in the resurrection.

  • RJS

    Scot,
    Well, most here will know that I do not hold with the typical definition of inerrancy, certainly not a Chicago Statement type view. The Bible is not the apologetic for the faith, the foundation on which it stands. The truthfulness of God is not at stake when we accept the Bible as the collection of texts that we have.
    The truthfulness of God is at stake when we deny God and his story and his action in the world. I’ve got to think about how to say what I am thinking here – the truthfulness of God does not hinge on Exodus as a univocal eyewitness account, the truthfulness of God hinges on God leading and forming his people. The truthfulness of God doesn’t depend on Job or Jonah as history – but on the intent of the stories. The truthfulness of God does not depend on the circumstance of the three denials by Peter (the diversity here in the gospel accounts led Lindsell to propose 6 denials), the truthfulness of God depends on the story of the gospel, on the crucifixion and resurrection.
    I am still not able to get my meaning into words to my satisfaction.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com dopderbeck

    RJS and Scot (#51 and 52) — maybe its my experience as a lawyer in the courtroom, but the “false in one thing, false in all” fallacy never was convincing to me even in the days when I would have defended inerrancy tooth and nail. Even the most reliable human witness, on whose testimony we might convict a man of murder “beyond a reasonable doubt,” is never 100% correct. But, granted, if a witness is wrong about some big stuff, we will use that to impeach the witness’ credibility.
    Scot, what I hear you saying is very similar to what I hear many inerrantists saying, once they qualify what ‘error’ means in relation to genre. I mentioned “relevance theory” in hermeneutics to you — this same strong inerrantist gave me that lead. So if “boil” vs. “no boil” isn’t relevant to the communicative content (or my favorite — the cud-chewing rabbits in Lev. 11 — rabbits don’t chew cud) — then the apparent anomaly is not an “error.”
    In short — aren’t most sophisticated inerrantists really saying the same thing as you’re saying above? If so, as Rodney King famously said, “can’t we all just get along?”

  • Scot McKnight

    dopderbeck,
    I don’t know if we are saying the same thing. What I do know is that when I say “inerrancy is a bad word” they don’t like it and when I say I affirm the Bible’s “truthfulness” they think it’s a weakness. You tell me, which word is better: truthfulness or inerrancy? Anyone who thinks the latter word is the word to hang their cap on for their view of Scripture needs a quick lesson in linguistics. Sorry, but that’s a bit strong. I believe the Bible is truth and I’ll let it decide what kind of truth is involved.

  • Scot McKnight

    One and all…
    Some are responding here to “Scott” (Lyons) and not to “One T” Scot (me, the blogger who hangs out here).

  • Adam Hamilton

    Great discussion on the nature of scripture. My essay (chapter) in Seeing Gray sought to offer a way of taking seriously the Bible’s humanity while continuing to assert that it is more than a collection of texts written by religious people. I asserted that it acts as a means of grace due to God’s involvement with its authors and the Spirit’s use of the text as we read it in faith and with open hearts. As some noted earlier, I do find Barth’s ideas helpful.
    I find the dogma of inerrancy unhelpful. It has been used as a kind of litmus test by a host of churches, denominations and para-church organizations to determine who is “in” and who is “out.” Most lay people who advocate it don’t seem to understand the nuances and qualifiers placed on the dogma by the old Princeton theologians nor even that included by the drafters of the Chicago Statement. By the time these qualifiers are placed on the dogma it seems dishonest to me to still use the word “inerrant.”
    What’s more, I believe inerrancy ultimately undermines the Christian faith for many. Some who have held inerrancy at one point in their lives, being taught that it is essential and that the Christian faith somehow rises or falls with this dogma, upon seriously studying the text find that the text of the scripture is not inerrant. Some of these have left the faith and become agnostics. In interviewing non-believers I find many who can easily point to the Bible’s disturbing passages and because their view of scripture made little allowance for the Bible’s humanity, they are left with a God that makes little sense to them.
    This week I posted an article on my blog in response to President Bush’s Nightline Interview in which he noted he was not a biblical literalist. Some of you may find it of interest. Here’s the link (scroll down to the post entitled, “President Bush, Evolution and the Bible): http://adamhamilton.cor.org/.
    Again, thanks Scott, for a meaningful discussion!

  • Kyle

    Jason,
    I have found Sparks book helpful. He’s a godly man and is trying to outline how evangelicalism needs to move forward in our understanding of how God speaks to us in the Bible, and what we can learn from scholarship in that regard. I agree with dopderbeck that he’s a little harsh at times, but I think it’s to make his point. At this years Society of Biblical Literature, Sparks talked about the book with Stephen Chapman, Pete Enns and Bill Arnold responding. If you can find the audio online (I had a friend record it for me), you might find the discussion helpful.
    On a side note, dopderdeck mentions Provan, Long and Longman book “Biblical History of Israel,” and I concur that it is a very good book by three fine scholars.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot (#55) – as I often say to my law students, aren’t we slicing the salami a little thin here?
    It all depends on definitions. If “truthful” means “completely true,” and “true” means “corresponds to reality,” then saying the Bible is “truthful” is the same thing as saying it is “inerrant.” If “truthful” means merely “having a general character or virtue of tending towards truth,” or if “truth” means something other than correspondence (a hotly contested issue, as we both know), then it’s a different story. If I say “Scot is a truthful guy,” I’m certainly not claiming Scot is “inerrant.” But is that all we want to say about the Bible?
    So offering a “softer” definition of “truthful” seems to me no different than offering a “softer” definition of “error” and pushing any tough questions into hermeneutics, which seems to be what most sophisticated inerrantists do.
    Don’t get me wrong: the word “inerrant” gives me agita (and moreover I think most popular correspondence theories of truth are naive). But we do have to admit — don’t we — that “inerrant” and “infallible” are terms that have been used regularly in the Tradition, well before the Enlightenment.

  • Duh-sciple

    Word of God… Jesus the Christ making the Father known through the power of the Spirit
    Word of God… the event of God breaking into the world
    Word of God… God speaking through God’s people
    Word of God… the written testimony to the above
    Inerrancy… a bad word because it distracts us from the Word of God… which can be traced to ancient Greek pagan philosophy
    Truthfulness… a better word
    Truth event… a Truth that happens, breaks into your life, shatters everything, rearranges everything… the Word as event is based on the more biblical, Hebrew understanding of Word
    The Word has power! Compare the power of these two words… Jonah was literally swallowed by a big fish… versus… will you marry me? The latter turns out to be more powerful than the former because the latter will change your life based on your response.
    Duh-sciple


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