Wednesday, January 14, 2009

'The Divine Spiration of Scripture' - Review. Part 3

We saw in part two of this review that McGowan's book has a number of troubling points. In this article I shall show how McGowan's rejection of the doctrine of inerrancy is unnecessary and deeply troubling.

3. Should we get rid of Inerrancy?

In this book Mcgowan's main challenge to the Evangelical doctrine of Scripture is that we should not only stop using the term 'Inerrancy', but that we should also reject the doctrine that it describes.
"Inerrancy is not a biblical doctrine but rather an implication of 'inspiration', based on an unsubstantiated (and somewhat presumptuous) view of what God could and could not do." (p. 209)
To summarise, McGowan says that the evangelical doctrine of inerrancy is rationalistic, unbiblical and presumptuous. It is putting God in a box, if you like. Inerrancy, in his opinion, “underestimates God and undermines the significance of the human authors of Scripture” (p. 114)

This is not to say that McGowan is arguing for the view of Rogers and McKim, that the Bible definitely contains errors, rather he argues for an agnosticism on this point. His position is that we cannot know a priori that there are no errors in the Bible, all we can say is that we have not found any. He prefers the term 'infallibility' to 'inerrancy', and time and again he echoes James Denney by applying this infallibility to the purposes, rather than the text, of Scripture. For example, on page 20 he writes:
"The Scriptures do not deceive us and infallibly achieve the purpose for which God has given them."

There is precious little exegesis offered in support of this, but that is understandable, as McGowan is aguing for an agnosticism, not a decided position either way. Nor is there any historical survey of exegesis. Instead McGowan gives a survey of what he calls 'Fundamentalism and Inerrancy' (Chapter 4). Now perhaps working in an office dealing with complaints has made me a little cynical, but is there an ulterior motive in using the term 'Fundamentalism'? It has never really been a term that British Christians have been comfortable with, and has American overtones, as such it can very easily give a British or European reader the image of obscurantist American Independent Baptists meeting down South with a pastor who thinks that if the King James Version was good enough for the Apostles, it's good enough for me. On P. 91 McGowan seems to confirm my suspicions by giving as characteristics of Fundamentalism pre-millennial dispensationalism, separatism, and a right-wing political stance. In giving various Inerrancy positions, McGowan spends a lot of time dealing with eccentric positions, namely the King James Only and Textus Receptus only positions. Now why is this? Neither of these are connected to historic inerrancy, and B.B. Warfield, one of the foremost defenders of Inerrancy, often credited as one of the framers of the doctrine, wrote an introduction to textual criticism and supported Westcott and Hort, who are demonised by the TR-only and KJV-only crowd.

This is beside the point. The mainstream position, as articulated by Warfield, is that the autographa of Scripture are inerrant, not the copies. To the followers of Peter Ruckman (not 'Rackman', as given in the text), the autographa are irrelevant, the King James Bible was re-inspired, and that is where they place the seat of inerrancy. To many of the TR-only group 'inerrancy' refers to the transmission of the Textus Receptus, never mind that the TR most of them appeal to is as much an artificial text as the UBS and Nestle-Aland text, or that no ancient Greek manuscript reads exactly like the TR. As both of these groups actually have eccentric and differing definitions of inerrancy, it is unfair to lump them in with those who acknowledge the existence of textual problems in the transmission of the Bible.

McGowan claims that holding to inerrancy undermines the need for textual criticism. I would argue that the exact opposite is the case, provided that inerrancy is located in the right place, i.e. in the autographa, the original manuscripts. If they alone are inerrant, then the textual critic's work to discover as far as possible the original readings is a great service to the Church. On the other hand, McGowan's position does undermine textual criticism. He writes:
"My argument is that Scripture, having been divinely spirated, is as God intended it to be. Having freely chosen to use human beings, God knew what he was doing. He did not [what happened to the agnosticism there?] give us an inerrant autographic text because he did not intend to do so. He gave us a text that reflects the humanity of its authors but that, at the same time, clearly evidences its origin in the divine speaking. Through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, God is perfectly able to use these scriptures to accomplish his purpose." P. 124
Since what we have is sufficient, why try for a more accurate text? Any answer other than 'we shouldn't' reveals that McGowan's argument against inerrancy on this point is quite beside the point!

More next time, God willing.



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