The Inerrancy Throwdown is Coming!

The Book: Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy

The Opponents: Mohler, Enns, Bird, Vanhoozer, and Franke

The Month: Nov 2013

The Size: 300 pp.

Here are the “views”

“When the Bible Speaks, God Speaks, The Classical Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy” (Mohler)

“Inerrancy However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does” (Enns)

“Inerrancy is Not Necessary for Evangelicalism Outside the USA” (Bird)

“Well-Versed Inerrancy–Literary Meaning, Literal Truth, and Literate Interpretation in the Economy of Biblical Discourse” (Vanhoozer)

“Recasting Inerrancy–The Bible as Witness to Missional Plurality”


In all seriousness, this is a very important subject right now, because it deals with how we understand the nature of Scripture itself, and how we learn from Scripture for our formation and mission. What you will notice (aside from the spirit of Mohler’s title) is that this is not a black & white issue. Its very complicated and we need patience and gentleness, something members of this debate in the past have had on only short supply. I suspect this book, while it will include some serious opposition between views, will quickly reveal the complexity.

My suspicion is that this book will TRY to help people see that these are all (attempting to be) evangelical perspectives, though I cannot say each contributor believes all the others are truly “evangelical.” This book could be very healthy for thinking Christians if it succeeds in bringing wisdom and understanding to the table (and respect), rather than stirring up more animosity and accusation. I know Mike and Pete quite well, and I have interacted with Kevin a bit – I expect very good essays and responses from each.

Genesis and Christian Theology (Short Review)

As I was working on some lectures on Genesis for a biblical theology course I am teaching, I remembered that Genesis and Christian Theology (Eerdmans, 2012) has sat collecting dust on my shelf for about a year. I picked it up last week and spent a good bit of time in it. Edited by Nathan MacDonald, Mark Elliott, and Grant Macaskill, this volume comes out of a yearly study at the Univ of St Andrews on Scripture and theology based on a particular Biblical book – in this case Genesis, but they have previously published volumes on Hebrews and the Gospel of John. I believe a volume on Galatians is slated for the near future.

This essay-collection is broken into four sections: Genesis and Salvation History, Genesis and Divine-Human Relations, Genesis and the Natural World, and Genesis and the People of God. Some contributors are Old Testament scholars (William P. Brown, Gary Anderson, Stephen Chapman), some are “theologians” (e.g., Trevor Hart, Ellen Charry), a few are New Testament folks (e.g., Mark Elliott), and some are very difficult to categorize (Richard Bauckham, Walter Moberly)!

Below I will only give a very brief glimpse at a couple of interesting essays, but let me say I highly value the work these scholars are doing. Two things to mention here. First, they are working together – there is real spirit of inter-disciplinarity at work, built into the foundations of the conference (and thus the book). We should be reminded that Genesis is not the property of Old Testament scholars! Secondly, each individual author is encouraged to engage the text historically and theologically. Not any old OT or NT person could do this. Each contributor had to have some substantial level of comfort reading Genesis from behind and in front of the text. This is stretching and challenging, but highly worthwhile, as evidenced in this book.

Now, many essays were interesting, but I will mention a couple that drew my interest. The first essay, by William Brown, is called “Manifest Diversity: The Presence of God in Genesis.” Brown points out that in books like Exodus you have theophanic accounts of “God’s dread-filled, self-disclosing presence” full of “pyrotechnics.” In contrast, in Genesis, we see a “distinct matter-of-factness that characterizes these accounts, a certain casualness, and in at least one striking example, a casualness with a vengeance. The Genesis theophanies are extraordinarily ordinary” (6). What does this mean? One lesson we should be reminded of is that there is “a surprising immanence at work” in these Genesis theophanies. “God takes on human form; God eats; God wrestles; God loses; God utters a self-curse. God appears in the darkest night and under the burning sun” (25). I will not soon forget Brown’s appeal to Sebastian Moore’s reflection about the Psalms: “God behaves in the psalms in ways he is not allowed to behave in systematic theology” — God behaves in Genesis in ways he is not allowed to behave in systematic theology! Right when we think we know how God behaves, he shocks us, in this case with a “manifest diversity” in his appearance. “And accompanying God’s presence is a voice filled with blessing and full of surprises” (p. 25).

In Richard Bauckham’s essay, “Humans, Animals, and the Environment in Genesis 1-3,” we learn much about the purpose and nature of humanity. The call from God to “subdue,” Bauckham argues, is not a heavy-handed overpowering, but the prompting to begin agriculture: “the only way humans are able to fill the land is to cultivate it and so to make it yield more food than it would of its own accord” (p. 180). Humans are also called to “rule.” Ruling, though, is not about the freedom to use and abuse the land and animals. In fact, Bauckham argues that “ruling” should naturally involve protection – he wisely points to Noah’s deliverance of the animals through the ark. A third key point I found in this essay is about humans being made from soil and told to work it: “The man from the soil must work the soil in order to live from the soil’s produce” (p. 187). Bauckham concludes:

The sumptuous availability of [technology for food production] in the affluent West means that we do not have to think much about their source, though uneasiness with the artificiality of modern farming methods has led to some such thinking and to the movement back to organic food. But in the face of the looming world shortage of food, likely to be disastrously intensified by climate change, a movement back to a degree of local self-sufficiency, entailing urban people’s reconnection with the soil, begins to seem desirable (189).

Much richness of theological insight pervades the rest of the essays and I look forward to other volumes in the series!

Encouragement to Young Pastors from Willimon

I am still enjoying Willimon’s Pastor. I loved this particular anecdote so much!

The clergy’s representative burden can also be a great blessing, a source of pastoral wisdom and power. A parishioner emerged from a little church on a Sunday, muttering to her pastor, ‘You are not even thirty, what could you know?’

Her pastor drew himself up to his full height, clutched the stole around his neck, and said, ‘Madame, when I wear this and I climb into that pulpit, I am over two thousand years old, and speak from two millennia of experience’ (p. 21)

Would that our pastors, young and old, have the wisdom of the ages under their belt. Seminary helps!

Called to Rule and Subdue: A Helpful Analogy

In Genesis 1:26-28, we are presented with language of rulership and subduing of nature in relation to the role of humankind in the world. This idea of the crowning of humans with divine governorship has sometimes led to abuse of creation, as authority means authorization to subjugate, weaken, and destroy. In a very good article by Raph Klein entitled “Liberated Leadership,” (Currents in Theol and Mission, 1982: 282-290), this analogy is given.

“An ancient cylinder seal…shows a man with his foot resting gently on the neck of a deer, a posture that connotes rulership. But the man depicted on the seal is at the same time arm-wrestling with a lion, which was trying to prey the deer. Such benevolent, protective rule over the animals exemplifies what the sacred writers in Gen 1 and Ps 8 were trying to say about the human assignment to rule the world.” (288)
When I read this I am reminded of Jesus “with the wild beasts” in Mark 1:13 when he went out into the wilderness. Because he has come as the image of God restored, he can be “at peace” with nature in a way previously impossible for humans in this present evil age.

Pastors – live in the text (Willimon)

I am enjoying reading William Willimon’s Pastor in preparation for the leadership and Scripture course I am teaching this fall (class begins tonight, actually!).

Here is a truly inspiring and challenging word from Willimon about the pastor’s role as Biblical interpreter

We must live in the text, keeping it constantly before us. This is not so difficult for pastors who preach on the text each week. However, we must read Scripture as more than a source for sermons, something to be explined and delivered to the congregation. We must read, allowing Scripture to have its way with us, to change us, to remake us, call us, embarrass us. Regular, prayerful, playfully meditative reading of Scripture is perhaps the most important pastoral spiritual discipline.

Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation (Review)

When I went to seminary, one of the most popular courses at that time was exegesis of Revelation, taught by Dr. Sean McDonough (who studied Revelation at St Andrews under Richard Bauckham). When I finished seminary, I was sometimes asked, what is your view on the end times and the millennium debate? My reply: I don’t know, we didn’t talk much about that? You might wonder, how could you study Revelation and not get into the nitty-gritty of the end times? Simple: we were interested in the theology of the text, not irrelevant timeline debates.

In the last few decades, Revelation has come back in vogue for a number of reasons. First, we have taken the time to look at Jewish apocalyptic literature (and there is a good amount of it), and it has helped us gain perspective on what Revelation is and what it isn’t. Secondly, we can understand Revelation, in its context, as a form of resistance literature – a way of expressing a counter-cultural and counter-imperial identity for Christians under threat. The “relevance” of this text has been redefined, and it has to do, not so much with what happens next, but how we respond faithfully to God now in view of how his character shines forth through what he has done (in the cross) and what he plans to do (with new creation).

So, with this context in mind, I was very eager to read the 2012 Baylor University Press volume entitled, Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation, edited by Stefan Alkier and Richard Hays. The essays of the book come from a “collaborative interdisciplinary conference of leading scholars to deliberate about the interpretation of the book of Revelation,” and particularly related to “intertextual interpretation” (see p. 5). The conference was held at Duke Divinity School in 2010. Here is the TOC

“What Has the Spirit Been Saying? Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on the Reception/Impact History of the Book of Revelation” (Michael J. Gorman)

“Models for Intertextual Interpretation of Revelation” (Steve Moyise)

“The Reception of Daniel 7 in the Revelation of John” (Thomas Hieke)

“Faithful Witness, Alpha and Omega: The Identity of Jesus in the Apocalypse of John” (Richard B Hays)

“God, Israel, and Ecclesia in the Apocalypse” (Joseph Mangina)

“Revelation and Christian Hope: Political Implications of the Revelation of John” (N.T. Wright)

“Witness or Warrior? How the Book of Revelation Can Help Christians Live Their Political Lives” (Stefan Alkier)

“The Apocalypse in the Framework of the Canon” (Tobias Nicklas)

“Reading What is Written in the Book of Life: Theological Interpretation of the Book of Revelation Today” (Marianne Meye Thompson)

I was especially appreciative of the essays by Gorman, Hays, Mangina, Alkier, and Thompson. While each contributor pitches in on their own subject in relation to Revelation, much unites their perspectives. The common assumptions about Revelation are spelled out in the introduction.

(1) Revelation’s visions are to be read as poetic symbolism rather than literal description or prediction; literalistic interpretation can lead to disastrous misinterpretation.

(2) The book’s symbolism must be understood through understanding its intertextual relation to Israel’s Scriptures.

(3) The book’s message is centered christologically on the symbolic depiction of Jesus as crucified and triumphant Lord.

(4) The book summons its readers to follow the pattern of Jesus through countercultural, suffering witness to the one God, rather than through acts of violence.

(5) In the theological world of the Apocalypse, there can be no separation of the spiritual and political spheres.

(6) The book points to the future hope of God’s triumphant justice and God’s healing of the created world-not its destruction.

If you go into the study of Revelation with these six in place, you will be deeply transformed by this powerful, even volatile book of Scripture!

Here is a choice quote from Hays:

…those who proclaim the message of the Apocalypse to challenge the injustice of the prevailing political powers are ‘confronting a false political order with the foundation of a true one’ [quoting O’Donovan]. Those who ‘follow the Lamb wherever he goes’ (14:4) will find that the Christology of this mysterious visionary Apocalypse leads us ultimately to justice and life. The slaughtered Lamb, the Faithful Witness, is also the One who stands, as Alpha and Omega, at the beginning and end of history. For that reason–and only for that reason–we can join John the Seer in patient endurance while we live, act, and bear witness in light of his apocalyptic vision of the healing of the nations (p. 83).