By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – July 20, 2016) — There are conversations that are always difficult to have with one’s family. The “birds and the bees” are one. Talking about sickness and death is another. Or maybe a move to another state, taking the family away from friends and loved ones. You get the point; you can fill in the blank with your own tough discussion.
Well, the family of God is no different; there are difficult conversations that must be had among brothers and sisters in Christ. Some revolve around theology (the old Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate); others revolve around polity — the practice of the faith (contemporary vs. traditional worship as an example).
One conversation that is essential, however, is the role of the Bible. And more specifically, how God’s family is to approach the Bible, our view of its authority and place within the church and theology. It’s interesting to note that the conversation has been going on for hundreds of years.
In the 18th century, the discussion was between those following an “enlightened” view of the Bible versus those that adhered to a “traditional,” or orthodox, view. The end result, was the promotion and propagation of deism (think Thomas Jefferson: there is a God, but he is uninvolved in the affairs of humanity and the Bible is not to be believed in its entirety) and the convictional Christian on the other hand (think Phillip Spencer in Germany, Jonathan Edwards in America, or John Wesley in England).
In the 19th century, the debate continued. By this time, the words “modernism/liberal” versus “fundamental/conservative” were used. On the liberal side were men such as Friedrich Schleiermacher—an architect of higher criticism (later developed into a movement that placed the Bible on unsure footing). On the evangelical side were a host of stalwarts—J.C. Ryle and Charles Spurgeon in England, William Griffith Thomas and D.L. Moody in America, and F.C.D. Wyneken in Germany (he later moved to the US, founding the Lutheran Missouri-Synod).
By the 20th century, the debate over the Bible was in full swing. On the evangelical side, authors of the two-volume work, The Fundamentals, edited by R.A. Torrey and A.C. Dixon, led the way. These Christian leaders were the main proponents of a historical-grammatical approach to scripture, seeing the Bible as authoritative, inspired, and inerrant (though “inerrant” not a term used frequently). On the liberal side were men such as A.T. Robinson, Rudolf Bultmann, and Albert Schweitzer, all of whom questioned the full authority of the Bible. And toward the end of the 20th century, men such as Francis Schaeffer and Harold Lindsell led the charge for the authority of the Bible.
And now in the 21st century, the conversation continues. Men such as John Warwick Montgomery, J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and Norman Geisler have fought hard to defend the authority and inspiration of scripture. A host of folks on the progressive side have done their part in promoting their viewpoint, men such as Marcus Borg, Robert Funk, Bart Ehrman, and John Dominic Crossman.
With the recent publication of Wiph & Stock’s Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate, the examination of the role of the Bible endures. Yet therein lies the problem with the current debate: it’s not so much about a “liberal” versus “conservative” conversation. When it was that, it was much easier. One could easily say a particular position is the viewpoint of the opposing camp; the perspective represented an easily defined group. No longer. Now, the conversation is occurring with people from within the very camp they are part of. In the case of Vital Issues, the conversation is among evangelicals and how they approach the Bible.
Without getting into all the specific details of the various arguments (I encourage you to read the books given below), the conversation revolves around the role of inerrancy and how the evangelical church is to define, perceive, and apply the Bible’s authority. On one side, you have men like Norman Geisler still leading the charge for inerrancy. Newer leaders such as Veritas Evangelical Seminary’s president, Joseph Holden, stand firm on the groundwork laid by Geisler, Sproul, Packer, and Montgomery (as spelled out in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy). On the other side of the conversation, men such as Craig Bloomberg, Darrel Bock, and Michael Bird are questioning not the authority of the Bible, per se, but how to interpret inerrancy in light of modern scholarship and various differing approaches to biblical hermeneutics (the science and art of interpretation).
As one can imagine when members of a household are in disagreement, the argument can become heated.
I’m not here to add any significant points to the conversation. Rather, I’d like you—the reader — to know that there is a conversation occurring within the evangelical camp, and the conversation is important. So, in the spirit of good sportsmanship, I’m offering a list of books from both sides of the debate. Though I have a particular bias (I was a student of both John Warwick Montgomery and Norman Geisler, but of Anglican teachers as well), I’ll stay neutral enough to allow thinking men and women to make choices based upon the authority and historic witness of the Bible.
Key books for historic inerrancy:
* God’s Inerrant Word, John Warwick Montgomery, editor
* Inerrancy, Norman Geisler
* Fundamentalism and the Word of God, J.I. Packer
* The Foundation of Biblical Authority, J.M. Boice
And here are some key books discussing a changing view of inerrancy and the authority of the Bible (some define this group as “limited inerrancy,” but some of the authors listed below would disagree with the designation):
* Can We Still Believe the Bible?, Craig Blomberg
* Five Views on Inerrancy, various authors, including Michael Bird
* Pictures at a Theological Exhibition, Kevin Vanhoozer
* Scripture and the Authority of God, NT Wright
And for a more detailed look at the history and importance of the topic (with various book recommendations), I’d encourage you to read Mark Dever’s article found here:
For information on the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, and its signers, click here:
Pictures: 1) Can We Still Believe The Bible?. 2) Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. 3) Fundamentalism and the Word of God. 4) God’s Inerrant Word. 5) Brian Nixon
About the writer:BrianNixonis a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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