I never thought I’d ever see a debate on the subject of the inerrancy of Scriptures in an Anglican context. But one Dr. Scot McKnight, Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary and (I think) in the C4SO (the usual source of trouble in the ACNA these days) has put himself front and centre with a piece on the inerrancy of the Scriptures. This is an important topic, but the way he sets things forth shows me that Evangelicals are too deep into their own stuff, even when they try to escape into places like the ACNA.
My first exposure to the term was an article in the original Jerome Biblical Commentary, and needless to say they weren’t too hot on the idea. They also got into the hermeneutical issues surrounding this, which I’ll come back to. Later on I read Harold Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible, which really was the call to arms (not WO) for the Southern Baptist Resurgence in the 1970’s.
I think that the Scriptures are God’s authoritative revelation, period. I used the term “unBiblical” regularly on this site to characterise positions which are either sub-Christian or completely non-Christian; the fact that we have this revelation makes this job possible. The whole push for the inerrancy of the Scriptures a half century ago was the result of conditions which have changed.
The undermining of the basic concept of the truth content of the Scriptures came from the advent of German Higher Criticism. A good case can be made that the whole shipwreck of the Episcopal Church had its genesis in the acceptance of this in the seminaries. Once this is done the Scriptures lose both their claim to truth and their relevance to Christians now. This underpinned the modernist attack on traditional Christianity.
Higher Criticism represented an attempt to beat the Biblical narrative, and how it came into being, into the form of German philosophy. That may have made it possible to think that our seminaries had assumed the mantle of science, but it was pseudo-science, for many reasons. One place where the deconstruction of that narrative has taken place is Biblical archeology. McKnight speaks disparagingly of that, but the process has been going on since at least the days of Roland de Vaux and continues to the present.
All of this created the shipwreck that hit the rocks after World War II. The Episcopal Church bled members during the late 1960’s and 1970’s in the aftermath of this. Evangelical churches picked up some of these pieces, fuelled not only by their affirmation of the truth content of the Scriptures but, in the case of the Pentecostals and Charismatics, the manifested belief that God did the same things to day that he did in the Scriptures. It’s a lot easier to believe the former when you hold to the latter.
Liberals, when surveying the wreckage they wrought, realised (if not admitted) the error of their technique. So they came up with a new approach: postmodernism, where the idea shifts from “the Scriptures say it, but they’re not reliable,” to “the Scriptures say one thing, but really mean another.” They’ve shifted the debate from an textual reliability issue to a hermeneutical one. That, I think, is where the real conflict is, but McKnight and others are still deep into the stuff they started with.
So what is to be done? In one place McKnight gives a clue by saying that “we can talk about “inerrancies”: Origenist, Augustinian, Protestant, Princetonian, and even postmodern!” I give an example of this in my piece Why Evangelicals Don’t Read Philo Judaeus. Philo very much believed in the inerrancy of the Scriptures but had no problem denying, for example, New Earth Creationism. I have discussed Origen himself in my piece The Significance of the Literal Meaning of Scripture: An Example from Origen. Getting rid of the term “inerrancy” really doesn’t accomplish anything except perhaps making him and other refugees from Evangelicalism feel better about themselves.
We need more than that. What we need is some kind of agreement on a hermeneutic. I left out the term “authority” from the discussion because I don’t think that any Protestant church has or can claim authority to interpret the scriptures and make same interpretation stick. Given Anglicanism’s rootedness in the Apostolic tradition, a Patristic-based hermeneutic would make sense, but getting most seminaries and seminary academics to go along with that will be an uphill battle.
So in the meanwhile: McKnight and others like him would do well to leave their qualms about things like inerrancy in their Baptistic past and move forward with what they really believe the Bible says and means.