Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Problems of More than Just Inerrancy

Al Mohler has a good article here on inerrancy and the new battle that is a-brewing. Without commenting on what I think somewhat of a progression in Pete Enns' view from when I had him as a Professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, I've noted that there are some good things about the incarnational analogy. In fact, rightly understood, it has some good pedigree in Bavinck and Warfield. 

If by it, we mean that Scripture was God breathed but we give deference to its "humanity" in the sense that aspects of the human writer come across such as: vocabulary, cultural situation, situatedness, etc. then I find that there is a sense were this is good. Warfield, for example, expressed the humanness of Scripture without for a second minimizing it's divine origin. God has breathed out Scripture and humans were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Commenting on Kenton Sparks, Mohler writes:
Sparks, however, takes the argument further. He understands that the incarnational model implicates Jesus. He does not resist this. Jesus, he suggests, “was a finite person who grew up in Palestine.” While asserting that he affirms the historic Christian creeds and “traditional Christian orthodoxy,” Sparks proposes that Jesus made routine errors of fact
I will let the reader decide if Mohler has misrepresented Sparks. The point I want to make is about Christology.

The incarnation entails the divine taking on the fulness of humanity. The two natures unite in one person. At this point, the analogy to Scripture breaks down: words don't have natures. Scripture was written by human beings so that it is in every word equally a word from God as much as it is a "word from man". Human words are entirely appropriate as mediums for the divine word since God can condescend and accommodate himself to our level. Every point of Scripture was not given by dictation (although some of it was) but every point of Scripture is equally something written by man and at the same time spoken by God Himself. 

God does not just superintend what was written. God does not merely providential guide that the right things will be said. God actually breathes out the words written in the text so that as we read say what Paul wrote we are reading God's Word itself.

Here's the rub: the union of the divine and the human in the incarnation also entails that Jesus was "just like us in all things and yet without sin." Being finite is a category of ontology while being sinful is a category of morality. Humanity is finite from it's creation. But it is sinful from it's fall. It associate incarnation: Christ taking on finitude with being able to make errors/sins is a category error of the gravest kind.

To appeal to the human situatedness of Jesus: that he was God in the flesh--a Jew in 1st century Palestine and then argue the logical entailment means error falls prey to basic Chalcedonian Orthodoxy Christology.

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

I suppose one could argue that errors are a product of finitudeness but that does not really fly. To be in error is to be wrong about something. It is, whether intentionally or unitentionally, a false witness against the truth. A lie is not measure by the intent of the speaker--as if just because I meant well and didn't know any better when I said 2+2=5 it is somehow less of false statement. A lie is measure by its lack of truth content... dare I say correspondence to the way a thing is or is not.

To say Jesus (and Scripture) does not say all that is could on a certain subject--say quantum physics is not the same to say that Jesus made a routine error in fact. Part of the finitude of human language means that someone in one sentence cannot say all there is to say on a particular topic. A statement like: "God created the universe" will not contain all the divine knows about that statement. It is nevertheless a true statement. Limited knowledge is not the same as erroneous knowledge.

Setting aside the thorny issue of the incarnation for a moment with respect to neither divinity or humanity being reduced, the Son of God's omniscience, and the incarnate Son growing in wisdom (Luke 2:40), it is simply erroneous to say that the finitude of Scripture (that it doesn't speak exhaustively on something, or even reveal all God knows about something) is in no way an argument for error. In fact, if I might dare use a slanderous term: such logic seems to be rather "modernistic" of one.

The major point I wish to make though is that this whole argument actually then undercuts the nature of the incarnation has it has been understood both Biblically and historically. The humanity of Christ does not take away in any was from the perfection of the eternal son--perfection in both an ontological sense and a moral sense. 

It is true, as Reformed Orthodox held, "the finite cannot contain the infinite" --this is true of Scripture as revelation and Christ as the supreme revelation to us. Yet a revelation in the finite does not take away from the infinite. This entails taking away it's perfection or causing it to marred by sin. Scripture is without error because it is impossible for God to life. Christ is without error because even in his humanity where he bears a true human nature He is still truly God and His divinity cannot be marred, reduced, comingled, or robbed. The problem with the idea that Mohler represents in Sparks is that it effectually fails to preserve the divine nature in Christ if Christ could indeed "err."

The problem Mohler represents in the errancy/inerrancy debate is great indeed. The inerrancy problem is superseded by the even greater problem of Christology. If a false Christology props up the inerrancy debate the issues attack not merely the authority of our Lord's written Word, they attack the very Word made flesh.

1 comment:

Jared O. said...

Great post, Tim. Hope you and your church are doing well out there!

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...