Thursday, January 08, 2009

'The Divine Spiration of Scripture' - Review. Part 1

A.T.B. Mc Gowan, Apollos, 2007, £14.99
This book by A. T. B. McGowan is not a new book, but one recently brought to my attention, and not in a good way. I was told that McGowan denies inerrancy, and that I ought to review the book. Well, I agreed, and so here is the review.

The subtitle of this book is 'Challenging Evangelical Perspectives', and so the reader is instantly alerted to the probability that this books contains controversial ideas. You don't challenge someone's perspective by agreeing with them. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, in an evangelicalism that has no history, no past, modern 'evangelical perspectives' may be warped by the solipsism of modern evangelicalism. Perhaps we need a challenge!

The subject is the doctrine of Scripture. This is of course utterly vital to the Church, because it is in the Bible that we have our authority. The Church is built on the Bible, and our whole message is derived from Scripture. To properly preach Scripture we need to know what the Bible is, and our doctrine of Scripture will impact everything else. If we are wrong here, it is extremely likely that we will go wrong elsewhere. For example, if the Bible is just a human book, then we cannot trust what it has to say about God because other human books contradict it. A low view of Scripture may lead to preaching from other books, either the classics or Dr. Seuss (I wish I was making that up). So a book by a thoughtful evangelical addressing the doctrine of Scripture is certainly not to be deplored automatically

Unfortunately, despite some excellencies, this book is not the challenge that we need. It is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book, and can be read with great profit if it is read with discernment. There is much that I can agree with and a great deal for thoughtful Christians. This is not a book that the 'relevant' crowd who put on roller-skating functions in churches and have 'praise concerts' will be lapping up. But ultimately I find McGowan's central proposals to be inadequate and incorrect.

Good points
It is always best to start with the good points of a book, and this volume has many. The first is the cover. It is an attractive cover, featuring a genuine Old Master painting. How glad we ought to be that the old multi-coloured abstract covers have gone the way of all flesh. There are some really good old Banner of truth titles that I have been repulsed from by the covers alone! But this book has a cover that communicates that this is a thoughtful book with a historic spirit.
Secondly, the title is a good one: 'the Divine Spiration of Scripture'. The unusual word conveys one of McGowan's points in the book, that the traditional term (inherited from the Latin Vulgate) is somewhat misleading, and that the vocabulary of Bibliology (the doctrine of Scripture) needs to be re-cast. The best modern Bible versions, such as the ESV, replace the word 'inspired' in 2 Timothy 3.16v with 'God-breathed', an English translation of the Greek, for this very reason.

The trouble with the term 'inspiration' is that it can be rather misleading. It literally means 'to breath in', and so it can convey the idea (which is often repeated) that it is the writers who are the proper subjects of inspiration, whereas 2 Timothy 3.16 tells us that it is the Scriptures themselves. For this reason McGowan argues that the term 'Divine Spiration' should replace 'Inspiration', as being more accurate (or why not just go with Gaussen and transliterate the Greek Theopneustos).
Another problem with the term 'inspiration' is that we use the word 'inspired' in a loose way of literary works, referring to a merely human height of genius and ability, and this has allowed liberals to claim to believe the Bible to be 'inspired', while they really mean that it is 'inspired' in the same sense as Shakespeare, and that some of it is really far below the Bard of Stratford.

McGowan freely admits that there are some evangelicals (p.23) who have, in an attempt to be accepted by an unbelieving academy, adopted, in effect if not in words, an anti-supernaturalistic position. This is ruinous, it is in effect capitulating and then claiming to have won a victory - and in fact it is a useless strategy.

God willing, nect time we shall continue to look at this interesting, if rather disturbing book.



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