Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy: John Franke and "The Bible as Witness to Missional Plurality"
For the past few weeks we have been engaging a new timely resource, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, that represents some of the finest, cogent work on evangelical reflection on inerrancy.
We've examined the views of Al Mohler and Peter Enns, an international perspective via Michael Bird, and earlier today Kevin Vanhoozer invited us to renew inerrancy in light of linguistics. We close with John Franke's view, who asks us to recast inerrancy in terms of plurality and missionality.
Franke says that he's always had mixed feelings about inerrancy. While he appreciates the idea that the Bible is characterized as “an inspired, faithful, and trustworthy witness to the being and actions of God,” he has “often been dismayed at how it has been commonly used in biblical interpretation, theology, and the life of the church…” (259)
In order to assuage his internal conflicts Franke wants to do three things with inerrancy: remove it from the confines of static biblicism; recast the term in a “dynamic direction” more in keeping with the being of God and His character; and embrace the essential “contextual plurality” of inerrancy.
A great bulk of his critique is tied to his critique of foundationalism. As a postfoundationalist he believes that inerrancy is “a second-order theological construct that is derived from the teaching of Scripture, rather than a direct assertion from the Bible.” (263) In light of this commitment, he asks two questions: Must we view Scripture as a foundation for human knowledge? Is it necessary to burden Scripture with the commitments of foundationalism? (264)
Though Franke does believe Scripture provides us with knowledge of God that is reliable and truthful, he doesn’t believe such knowledge is self-evident truth. (264) Which is why he offers an alternative model to the Chicago statement by wedding inerrancy to plurality.
Franke urges such a wedding to “ensure that orthodox, biblical faith will be understood not as an entirely coherent, single, universal, and systematic entity but rather as an open and flexible tradition that allows for the witness and testimony of plural perspectives, practices, and experiences of the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ as incarnated in the witness of communities from every tribe, nation, and ethnicity.” (277)
He insists that “plurality and diversity are woven into the very fabric of Scripture and, by extension, into the divine design of God.” (278) Key to Franke’s argument is that God Himself is diverse, God is plurality-in-unity and unity-in-plurality. “Difference and otherness is part of the divine life,” Franke argues, particularly with regards to the love of God which “is not an assimilating love.” (266)
That God’s love within the Godhead is not “assimilating” is important, because such love doesn’t seek to “make that which is different the same; rather it lives in harmonious fellowship with the other through the active relations of self-sacrificing, self-giving love. The Father, Son, and Spirit are indeed one God, but this unity does not make them the same. They are one in the very midst of their differences.” (266)
Thus Franke argues that it is out of this self-differentiating and self-pluralizing, yet harmonious, fellowship that the Word of God not only arises but is appropriated and interpreted.
While he believes “careful historical exegesis is a crucial component in attempting to understand the meaning of Scripture,” Franke insists that “the speaking of the Spirit is not bound up solely with the supposed original intent of the authors and editors of the biblical text.” (271) The Spirit “appropriates the biblical text for the purpose of speaking to us today,” particularly and especially in all of our “variegated circumstances of our particular contemporary settings.” (272)
Finally Franke insists that the inerrant plurality of Scripture “frustrates attempts to establish a single universal theology.” (278) He goes on: “[The inerrant plurality of Scripture] reminds us that our interpretations, theories, and theologies are always situated and perspectival; none simply rise above the social conditions and particular interests from which they emerge.” (278)
Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy provides us with yet an important chapter in an important discussion on biblical truth and interpretation. Be sure to order this new resource in order to engage the full arguments from this conversation yourself.
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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