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Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy: Al Mohler Says "When The Bible Speaks, God Speaks"
Last week we introduced to you a new timely resource for discussions on biblical truth and interpretation, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. It represents some of the finest, cogent work on evangelical reflection on inerrancy, facilitating understanding of these perspectives, particularly where and why they diverge.
For the next three weeks we are going to take some time to interact with the five views, allowing the essayists to give voice to their view and hear from the other respondents. We begin with Al Mohler, president and theology professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, whose view can be summarized as: When the Bible speaks, God speaks.
Mohler insists that "An affirmation of the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible has stood at the center of evangelical faith as long as there have been Christians known as evangelicals." (29) And he launches his essay touring history's countryside to prove his case. From the "thirty years' war" over inerrancy, as J.I. Packer puts it, to the 1966 Wenham Conference, and final the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) approved at the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978, Mohler traces the doctrine's incorporation into the evangelical DNA.
Unsurprisingly, Mohler takes the five definitional points of the CSBI as establishing the classical doctrine of biblical inerrancy, remaining "the quintessential statement of biblical inerrancy" and "essential to the health of evangelicalism and the integrity of the Christian church." (36) It is this document that seems to hold the most weight for Mohler in his quest for authentic evangelicalism, even though he goes on to say the argument for biblical inerrancy flows from three major sources: the Bible, Christian tradition, and the function of Scripture within the Church.
First, Mohler insists that "the Bible consistently and relentlessly claims to be nothing less than the perfect Word of the perfect God who breathed its very word." (37) He says it is "pervasively concerned with truth" and "the affirmation of the Bible's inerrancy comes from the history of the church." Finally, Mohler points to the pastoral needs of the church as one of the most important reasons for inerrancy. Faithful preaching, for instance, requires that every word of the Bible be truthful and trustworthy. "Any adequate understanding of the Christian faith," Mohler writes, "requires a confidence that the Bible is nothing less than the living Word of the living God."
Which also requires that God himself be truthful and trustworthy. That "God's trustworthiness underlies the personal nature of God's gift of his own self-revelation" requires the Bible to be without error; "our trust in the Scriptures is entirely dependent upon our trust in God." (44) Thus, an a priori view of God sits at the base of Mohler's view of the Bible.
So what of the case study texts? I will only address the first case, Joshua 6, which represents his method for the other two. Mohler's argument seems to be this: "The text makes an unambiguous historical claim. [It] is situated within a book that consistently makes historical claims and is included within the canon as revealed sacred history." (49) Thus, and according to article 18 of the CSBI, "texts making historical claims are to be believed as historically true, and no effort to dehistoricize or to deny the full truthfulness of the text is legitimate." (50) Therefore Mohler doesn't "allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and claims." (emph. original, 51)
In the end, Mohler argues "not only that the inerrancy of the Bible is true but also that it is necessary. Without it, we are left with the unavoidable admission that it is something less than, or other than inerrant. And that concession would mean that the Bible contains at least some texts that are not fully trustworthy and authoritative." (46)
Responses to Mohler's View
Peter Enns believes Mohler's essay is "deeply problematic" because he doesn't substantively deal with the nature of Scripture. Instead Enns says he wields his view as a rhetorical sword against those who disagree, which is designed to insulate himself from criticism and dealing with the complexities of the serious study of Scripture. He also chides Mohler for a weak engagement with archaeological evidence, particularly Joshua 6.
Michael Bird is "astounded" that Mohler would remark that the CSBI is "the quintessential statement" of biblical inerrancy for evangelicalism, insisting that statement is false for two reasons: 1) Historically there were evangelicals before the CSBI; and 2) Geographically there are churches around the world that have never heard of the CSBI and inerrancy, yet have a vibrant evangelical faith. Bird's biggest problems is that the CSBI lacks catholicity and Mohler treats it as an infallible evangelical magisterium.
While Kevin Vanhoozer agrees with much of Mohler's position on divine trustworthiness, biblical authority, God and biblical truth, he thinks Mohler's arguments on the "Classic Doctrine of Inerrancy" lack classical roots. Meaning his essay largely focuses on 20th century developments without regard to the affirmations of the early church, of which the CSBI is not the same thing. For Vanhoozer Mohler's "classic" rubric doesn't adequately deal with the differences between "original" and "modernist/rational" versions of inerrancy.
Finally, John Franke's major issue is that Mohler's position takes a particular notion of inerrancy and biblical authority (i.e. the CSBI) and asserts it as a universal that must be embraced by all Bible-believing Christians; Mohler asserts the specific hermeneutic of the CSBI as the confessional standard for inerrancy. It is precisely because Franke believes Scripture is the Word of God that he is concerned with attempts to tie the confession of inerrancy to a particular cultural and hermeneutical outlook.
This overview only scratches the surface! As you can see there is a spirited debated encased within this important book, one that you'd be wise to take notice of and engage in yourself. This afternoon we'll pick up the discussion with Peter Enns, and then next week we'll feature Michael Bird.
In the meantime What say you? How have you reconciled for yourself the nature of Scripture, particularly with modern history and science?
Jeremy Bouma (Th.M.) is a pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA, a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith; holds a Master of Theology in historical theology; and writes about faith and life at www.jeremybouma.com.
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