Friday, January 30, 2009

'the Divine Spiration of Scripture' - Review. Part 6

In order to bolster his case, McGowan refers to two evangelical stalwarts of the past, James Orr and Herman Bavinck. I leave Bavinck to those who know him _ I have read very little of his writings, and therefore I am not in a position to assess McGowan's representation and use of him. Orr is another matter

I am not a James Orr scholar. Those creatures are to be found with multiple higher degrees teaching in theological institutions. I have a Second Class scientific degree and I teach in a local church. I am however a student of Orr's writings, and so I can be said to be informed about him.

James Orr (1844-1913) was a Scottish theologian who taught first at the United Presbyterian College in edinburgh, and then at the United Free Church College, Glasgow. Both institutions have been dealt with in previous series' on this blog, and readers are referred there for further information. Suffice to say that these were both denominational seminaries intended for the training of the ministry. A conservative theologian, Orr is held up as an example of a theologian who held a high view of Scripture without holding to an innerantist position. He was a contemporary of B.B. Warfield (1851-1921), and associated with Warfield in the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (ISBE) project, so he is definitely relevant to the point. Unfortunately for McGowan, he is quite beside his point.

First of all, there are definite reasons why Orr rejected an a priori assertion of Biblical inerrancy. He was a colleague of James Denney, and he taught in an atmosphere where the most prominent New Testament and Old Testament scholars (Marcus Dods and George Adam Smith), loudly proclaimed the existence of errors ( and in Dods' case he added "and immoralities") in the Bible. The United Free Church College, Glasgow, was the home of the 'Apologetic School' founded by A.B. Bruce, who taught that the best way to win thinking men and women to the faith was to give up certain 'outworks' to gain a confession of faith from their rationalist perspective (see my series 'When Apologetics Goes Wrong' for details). Not affirming inerrancy meant that, should an error be found, one could still affirm, as James Denney (and Dr. McGowan), that the Bible was 'infallible' in that it infallibly achieved its purpose.

Secondly, Orr's view of inspiration was sub-Biblical. In Orr's view it was the writers, not the writing, that was inspired. But in 2 Timothy 3.16 it is 'all Scripture' (Greek: 'Graphe', that which is written) that is 'God-breathed'. McGowan acknowledges this (P. 135), but fails to see that this makes Orr as an example less than useful for him. Orr is operating with Inspiration strictly so-called as his category, and not the Biblical category of the Divine Spiration of Scripture. As a result, like other Scottish theologians before him, he taught that there were 'degrees of inspiration', which is fine if we are dealing with Inspiration, but quite pointless if we affirm the Biblical doctrine that it is that which is written that is 'Theopneustos'. Indeed, this is quite likely the reason why Orr and Warfield disagreed on the matter of inerrancy, that they were working with radically different theologies of inspiration. We cannot say what James Orr would have said if he had adopted a correct view of the nature of 'inspiration' as in fact Spiration, but it is certain that such a change would have modified considerably his position. Orr affirmed that:
"The Bible, impartially interpreted and judged, is free from demonstrable error (Quoted by McGowan, P. 155)
And the fact that he asked Warfield to write on the subject of Scripture for the ISBE surely demonstrates that the two were closer than is often realised on the subject of the nature of the Bible.

To sum up, McGowan's use of James Orr is compromised by two factors, firstly that Orr was writing out of an environment that was hostile to any affirmation that the Bible was to be regarded as a priori without error, and secondly that Orr was working with the inherited and unbiblical category of inspiration properly so-called, that is of persons, not of the writings.

God willing, next time we shall conclude this review. Those interested in James Orr should consult Glen Scorgie's study A call for Continuity (Regent College Publishing, 2004)



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