According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Carlos Bovell - The Culture of Biblical Inerrantism (or, Problems of Inerrancy for the ETS)

Guest Post: The Culture of Biblical Inerrantism
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2012/03/guest-post-the-culture-of-biblical-inerrantism/

by Peter Enns
March 1, 2012

Today and tomorrow we have guest posts by Carlos Bovell. Carlos is becoming a leading critic of the evangelical notion of biblical inerrancy, but unlike other such critiques, his is not the rant of an outsider, but the careful, nuanced, and compelling observations of one coming from within an evangelical paradigm, drawing on his own experience.

His main concern is not simply the intellectual difficulties of this theological position, but the spiritual destruction that occurs in the lives of young Christians when they are given no viable alternative.

Today’s post reflects a bit on Carlos’s own journey and gives the background to his recently published edited book Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture (Wipf & Stock, 2011).

Tomorrow’s post will be an edited excerpt from his most recent book, Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear (Wipf & Stock, 2012), a book where Carlos addresses head on the culture wars surrounding inerrancy.

Carlos is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and The Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto. He is also the author of Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals (Wipf & Stock, 2007) and By Good and Necessary Consequence: A Preliminary Genealogy of Biblical Foundationalism (Wipf & Stock, 2009).

- Peter

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Writing about inerrancy and evangelicalism has been part of my spiritual journey. I explored some of my thinking about this in my first book, Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals. Although I knew that these were only preliminary reflections, I felt that I had made a contribution to addressing the spiritual dangers of promoting inerrancy as essential to Christian belief.

Influential to me early on in my journey was reading some of Bart Ehrman’s accounts of his own struggles with the doctrine of inerrancy, which eventually led to his abandonment of Christianity. Despite my seminary training, I had never before read a firsthand account of someone grappling with inerrancy, and who, despite their best efforts, were not able to remain committed to it—at least not as it is presently articulated.

I resonated deeply with that struggle, even though I found his responses to be generally unsatisfactory.

About that same time I attended a meeting at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where various scholars gathered to talk about textual criticism and its implications for the Bible. Since one of the plenary speakers was Bart Ehrman, I knew I had to hear what he had to say.

During the Q&A, I was able to ask a question of evangelical text critic and Ehrman’s interlocutor, Dan Wallace.

“Why do believers have to wait for people like Ehrman to publish books before we find out about all these problems with scripture, problems that scholars have known about all along?”

Bart Ehrman grabbed his microphone and joked, “Yeah, I would like to know the answer to that!” Everyone laughed. Dan Wallace answered by chiding Christian publishers for not making more of the textual issues known to readers in the Bibles that they publish.

I am sympathetic, but it occurred to me that lack of notes in study Bibles was not the main problem. In fact, textual criticism—though a key factor—is not really the issue, either.

The issue is inerrancy as an ideology - and inerrantism as a culture.

This ideology suppresses, or minimizes, questions that threaten the paradigm, such as those raised by textual criticism.

As the crowd began to disperse, a gentleman approached me and said, “So you’re not a believer, eh?” I was taken aback. I explained that although I used to put a lot of stock in inerrancy, I was now thinking it through and am no longer so sure it is viable.

He hesitated for a moment before giving me his full diagnosis. He informed me that he was a pastor and had met several people like me. In fact, he even had some in his family. He concluded: “Because you have these doubts now, you are not a believer. And since you are not a believer, even though you think you once believed, you have never been a believer.”

I admit, this may be an extreme example—one does not often encounter such confident transparency. But, in my experience, the principle behind this pastor’s reaction to my question opens a window to a problem that goes beyond textual criticism, to the very foundations of evangelicalism: inerrancy.

What is distressing is not so much the doctrine itself, but the collateral spiritual damage that comes in the wake of its uncompromising defense, even against those from within who voice concerns.

If questioning inerrancy is linked to questioning one’s faith, those with legitimate reasons for questioning inerrancy will either live with unspoken cognitive dissonance or speak up and risk losing much.

The idea for the edited volume, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture, was born out of a concern to bring into open discussion the theological and spiritual problems of inerrantism. The essays collected in this volume are written by a number of specialists in different fields, all coming from various bibliological persuasions.

I thought it would be helpful to illustrate for students how the doctrine of inerrancy can be viewed from more than one perspective and that scripture’s divine authority can be investigated through more than one discipline.

Such diverse collaboration is necessary. When inerrantist scholars gather to discuss the doctrine of scripture, they often walk away with a familiar set of pre-packaged answers. When inerrantists and non-inerrantists alike convene to talk about inerrancy’s problems, then there is potential to walk away with a fresh understanding entirely.

This is the opportunity I hoped to provide for students studying in inerrantist colleges and seminaries who may not be aware of the pitfalls of inerrancy, and who might benefit from knowing that the evangelical playing field is actually much, much bigger than what they’ve been shown.

- Carlos

* * * * * * * * *


Guest Post: We Believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2012/03/guest-post-we-believe-in-god-the-father-god-the-son-and-god-the-holy-scriptures/

by Peter Enns
March 2, 2012


Today we have a second guest post from Carlos Bovell. Carlos is becoming a leading critic of the evangelical notion of biblical inerrancy, but unlike other such critiques, his is not the rant of an outsider, but the careful, nuanced, and compelling observations of one coming from within an evangelical paradigm, drawing on his own experience.

His main concern is not simply the intellectual difficulties of this theological position, but the spiritual destruction that occurs in the lives of young Christians when they are given no viable alternative.

Yesterday’s post reflected a bit on his own journey and gave the background to his edited work, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture (Wipf & Stock, 2011). Today’s post is an edited excerpt from his most recent book,Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear, a book where Carlos addresses head on the culture wars surrounding inerrancy.

Carlos is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and The Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto. He is also the author of Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals (Wipf & Stock, 2007) and By Good and Necessary Consequence: A Preliminary Genealogy of Biblical Foundationalism (Wipf & Stock, 2009).

- Peter

---

Everywhere I turn, I hear evangelical leaders speak out about how vital it is to have a Bible that’s inerrant.

Well-intentioned or not, so long as institutions and denominations identify and advertise inerrancy as a component essential to evangelicalism (by listing it, for example, as a first or second tenet in their statements of faith), the popular perception will be that inerrancy is central to Christianity itself.

Is it any wonder, then, that in conservative circles a believer’s willingness to submit to inerrantism is seen as the flip side of submitting to Christ himself [ideologically]?

Conversely, being critical of inerrancy—or even bringing up the question—is seen as a slide down the slippery slope to apostasy, or that the slide has already been completed.

What one believes about the Bible is taken to be the foundation for the faith itself. And such a foundation can only be guaranteed by believing in inerrancy.

Hence, the inerrantist expectation is that those serious about their faith will—indeed, must—gravitate toward inerrantism. In conservative American evangelicalism and fundamentalism, inerrancy is an important symbol of social and spiritual belonging to God’s inner circle.

Some inerrantists claim even further that the Holy Spirit is actually guiding true believers to accept the inerrancy of scripture. To wit, the Spirit actively disciplines believers toward the result that they can learn to “take God at his word.”

If inerrant scripture is believed to be impugned in any way, the integrity of the entire faith construct becomes irreversibly compromised. Hence, the persistent need to defend scripture from outside “attacks” by those who question or deny inerrancy.

So, as I argued in an earlier book, inerrancy has become part of evangelicalism’s salvation equation. An inerrant Bible has become a cultural symbol for that person’s salvation. How often have I heard from proponents of inerrancy that I am being disobedient and “grieving” the Holy Spirit because I am critical of inerrancy.

Scripture is a core element in the life of the church, but we must ask whether conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists are asking of it what it is not designed to do–be an article of faith.

Fundamentalism’s and conservative evangelicalism’s social identities have become wholly intertwined with this one doctrine. When inerrancy comes under serious scrutiny—even if in healthy and constructive ways—preserving its truth begins to take on a grandiose, all-consuming significance.

Inerrancy simply cannot be found wanting; everything (with respect to faith) literally depends on it.

“We believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures [(sic, bibliotry)].” When this starts sounding right among inerrantists, it’s time to do some rethinking.

- Carlos

* * * * * * * * *


Guest Post: Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2012/03/guest-post-rehabilitating-inerrancy-in-a-culture-of-fear/

by Peter Enns
March 5, 2012

Today’s guest post by Carlos Bovell, his third, is an edited excerpt from chapter 4 of his upcoming book Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear (Wipf & Stock, 2012).

Carlos is becoming a leading critic of the evangelical notion of biblical inerrancy, but unlike other such critiques, his is not the rant of an outsider, but the careful, nuanced, and compelling observations of one coming from within an evangelical paradigm, drawing on his own experience.

His main concern is not simply the intellectual difficulties of biblical inerrancy but the spiritual destruction that occurs in the lives of young Christians when they are given no viable alternative.

Carlos is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and The Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto. He is also the author of Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals (Wipf & Stock, 2007), By Good and Necessary Consequence: A Preliminary Genealogy of Biblical Foundationalism (Wipf & Stock, 2009), and an edited volume, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture (Wipf & Stock, 2011).

- Peter

---

Students often approach the academic study of the Bible, in seminary or graduate school, confident that they already possess a more or less accurate idea of what the overall intent of scripture is; their focus is deepening that knowledge.

Early confidence and enthusiasm all too often gives way to cognitive dissonance, even a sense of betrayal, when they begin to encounter what I call the “academic-apologetic dilemma.”

During their studies, evangelical students in research universities and divinity schools are presented with alternate models explaining how scripture works. In these settings, no explicit attention is given to how these new models are compatible with the students’ inerrantist models–which, of course, is perfectly understandable.

As students mature in their knowledge of the disciplines and begin seeing why the critical models are so widely accepted, cognitive dissonance can develop. This leads to an academic-apologetic dilemma: the academic model is intellectually compelling but thoroughly challenges and undermines the picture of the Bible presented to them by the evangelical inerrantist apologists of their earlier training.

My target audience for Rehabilitating Inerrancy is these “post-inerrantist” students caught on the horns of this dilemma. My main concern is to begin a discussion around the question, “How can students maintain a deep respect for scripture despite everything they have come to know about scripture?” In other words, how can their new and old worlds be in conversation.

The recent spate of inerrantist apologetics books is a theological sign of the times (e.g.,1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). This certainly speaks to the tensions among evangelicals on this topic, but it may also signal that God is calling the present generation of bibliologists to work together to find a plausible, salient way of neutralizing the academic-apologetic dilemma.

Such discussions are unavoidable and absolutely necessary. In almost every imaginable way, the Bible we know today is simply not the Bible of the early, medieval, or Reformation churches. A lot has happened in our understanding of antiquity, that has invariably affected how we see the Bible.

This is particularly acute in Protestant traditions. Great stress was placed on the centrality of the Bible understood according to ways of thinking that were wholly appropriate in earlier times. It should come as no surprise, then, that those Protestant traditions that place a heavy emphases on inviolability of older paradigms of scripture will be precisely the ones positioned to experience the most profound changes.

The threat of such changes is prompting inerrantist leaders to voice publicly the fears of their representative traditions concerning ”attacks” on inerrancy. After all, few people like being told to change their ways. But when it comes to inerrancy, the run-of-the-mill, human resistance to change seems to morph into something like an eschatological intransigence.

The main fear appears is that any change in bibliological outlook quickly leads to heterodoxy. Even genuinely constructive attempts to re-conceptualize inerrancy are presented to laypeople and students as immodest and subversive moves towards apostasy.

Whenever inerrantist institutions try publically to respond to such concerns, they often adopt the rhetoric of fear. The cultural climate they precipitate stymies imagination and forestalls much needed conversation over conceptual developments in bibliology.

This culture of fear discourages evangelical leaders to move the conversation forward, since the backlash can be severe; they are not sociologically poised to offer guidance.

Thus the onus to foster the conversation is awkwardly placed on students or young faculty members, those living in the tensions between the academic and apologetic worlds and who feel the most pressure and enthusiasm for synthetic thinking.

Yet in order to be effective, students require the intellectual freedom to carry out their work. The same sociological forces that prevent evangelical leaders from joining the conversation also exert tremendous pressure on younger evangelicals.

There is a cycle of fear, and the question is how to break it.

What students decide to do with inerrancy now is bound to influence inerrantism’s future as a viable cultural force. And what inerrantism needs more than anything else is help conceptually transitioning from outdated bibliological assumptions, born in segments of Christian history that were not privy to the information that we have today.

There is a great need for evangelical schools and churches to begin genuine conversations surrounding inerrancy. Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear is aimed at describing some of the unhelpful dynamics at work within inerrantism in order to help move the conversation forward in constructive ways.

- Carlos

* * * * * * * * *


Carlos Bovell - Inerrancy at the Evangelical Theological Society
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2012/03/guest-post-inerrancy-at-the-evangelical-theological-society/

by Peter Enns

March 6, 2012
Comments

Carlos Bovell has writen three previous posts here over the last week (1, 2, 3–click any of these for his bio and publications). Today’s post recounts his recent experience at the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) which holds yearly national academic conferences in November and regional conferences in March.

Just in case any of you thought I was just making all this up….

- Peter

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This past Friday (March 2, 2012), I gave a talk at the meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society—Eastern Region. My paper was a précis of the chapter on Old Princeton[*] in my new book Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear.

B. B. Warfield, "Old Princeton" Theologian
In it, I addressed Old Princeton’s twofold defense of the inerrancy of Scripture: 1) Inerrancy is a church doctrine; 2) Inerrancy is a biblical doctrine. My conclusion is that inerrancy is neither.

During the Q & A, one of the first questions I was asked was whether, in view of my comments, I thought Christianity should exist at all. Behind this question is the dynamic I’ve been talking about in my recent posts here:

"If inerrancy falls, then the whole of Christianity will fall with it. Without an inerrant Bible, there is no intellectual reason to be Christian."

The questioner was apparently concerned about my comment that Old Princeton’s defense of inerrancy was not “timeless” but obviously shaped by the historical context and intellectual climate of the nineteenth century.

We then observed how inerrancy today is also historically conditioned. This led to the consideration of whether Christianity itself is logically also merely historically conditioned – in other words, whether one could ever speak of a “Christianity” to be believed by all churches everywhere.

This is precisely how the inerrantist slippery slope works. In an academic conference, mind you, a constructive critique of Old Princeton’s defense of inerrancy leads to the question of whether Christianity should exist at all. (Incidentally, Old Princeton also taught something like this: Christianity’s fate is inextricably tied to the fortunes of inerrancy.)

Another question that I was asked was whether I believed in any truth at all that could be affirmed in any time and any place during the course of human history – in other words, is there truth of any sort that transcends any particular historical context?

In another setting, this would make for an interesting discussion. But keep in mind the slippery slope lurking behind this question.

What led to this question was my comment that inerrancy is not an adequate concept for describing the “trustworthiness” of scripture. I was questioned in response whether, if this is true, any truths can be held absolutely: “If you’re so skeptical about inerrancy, how can you be sure about anything ever?” The doctrine of inerrancy often acts within inerrantist culture as a gateway for knowing anything.

It is this kind of thinking that I have in my mind when I say over-and-over again that (i) the Bible is not an article of faith, or that (ii) inerrancy should not act as the foundation of faith, or (with New Testament scholar Dan Wallace) (iii) that inerrancy is not a [fourth] person of the Trinity.

Did everyone in the audience think as these questioners did? Probably not, but in my experience the views expressed represent the dominant culture of inerrancy in evangelicalism. It also represents the default line of argument when the inerrantist culture is seen to be undermined.

Certainly plenty of pastors and teachers treat inerrancy as if it were the be-all, end-all, of the Christian faith. But inerrancy is not a theological issue or even a spiritual issue; it is a cultural issue, a culture wracked with fear, I might add.

Those who heard my talk at ETS ended up asking me directly whether I could sign the Society’s statement of faith, which includes a clear statement of the Bible’s inerrancy. I responded that there may have been a time when I could do so in good conscience, but now I cannot. The response was tacit but unmistakable: “Well, there you go. You are asking me to go where I cannot.”

Inerrancy is a human theoretical construct and as such is both culturally conditioned and historically contingent. For too many evangelicals, including those academically trained, even raising this observation for discussion is only a few precious steps removed from undermining the entire Christian faith [in their way of thinking].

The intention behind the defense of inerrancy may be to protect the faith, but insisting that evangelicals take an uncompromising stance on a questionable position is spiritually crippling.

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[*] ”Old Princeton” refers to the theological climate of Princeton Theological Seminary (Calvinist) from its founding in 1812 until about 1920, when the school took a liberal turn and from which Westminster Theological Seminary was founded in 1929 to continue the “Old Princeton” legacy. Best known among the Old Princeton theologians is B. B. Warfield, who remains among conservative Calvinists and evangelicals the nearly unimpeachable standard of a rigorous, intellectual, defense of inerrancy.



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