'The Divine Spiration of Scripture' - Review. Conclusion
We have seen in this review that, while McGowan does have some useful things to say in this book, his central proposal, that we should discard the category of Inerrancy, is seriously flawed. His definition of a 'Biblical Doctrine' appears to be (at least as regards the doctrine of inerrancy), something that is expressly stated in the Bible, not a teaching that is derived by 'good and necessary consequence' from the full scope of Scriptural teaching.
Rather than explicitly answering the question as to whether or not the Bible is inerrant, McGowan hides behind a verbal smokescreen of apparent agnosticism. But in fact he has taken a position. While he says things like this:
"If God can effectively communicate and act savingly through the imperfect human beings who are called to preach his gospel, why is it necessary to argue that the authors of Scripture were supernaturally kept from even the slightest discrepancy? In other words we must not tell God what the Bible ought to be like, based on our views of what God could and could not do." (p. 118-9)obscuring the issue by referring to preaching as if it were in the same category as the Spiration of the Bible (something that only really makes sense from James Orr's inherited perspective of an inspiration of persons rather than writings), in fact his position is that the originals of the Scriptures are NOT inerrant.
"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 give us an inerrant autographical 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 purposes." (p. 124).Now, if it is presumptuous and rationalistic for the inerrantists to say that God must have produced an inerrant text, is it not presumptuous for McGowan to say that God has not produced one? He cannot have it both ways, either he must be consistently agnostic about the question of inerrancy, or he must abandon the charge of presumption.
By linking Inerrantists to the King James Only and Textus Receptus Only groups, McGowan seems to be trying to bring them into disrepute. This accusation will not work, however, because, as we have seen, these groups locate 'inerrancy' somewhere other than in the autographa. The King James Only group locate it in a 17th century English translation, while the TR-Only group locates it officially in a textual tradition, but in fact in the results of Reformation-era textual criticism. It is simply dishonest to put them in the same category as those who hold to the inerrancy of the original manuscripts because those manuscripts are Divinely Spirated (to use McGowan's language). Indeed, to the King James Only advocate, it is the Authorised Version that was Divinely Spirated!
We saw that McGowan's use of James Orr as an example is seriously flawed, because Orr's conclusion that we cannot a priori affirm the inerrancy of the Bible is based on an unbiblical understanding of Inspiration. To put it plainly, because Orr held to inspiration of persons, not of words, he held to a theory of differing 'levels' of inspiration, depending on the type of book. Therefore, for example, Hosea would be more Inspired than Chronicles. Thus it would have been possible, under this theory, for the author of Chronicles to make a mistake in chronology. Thus, if this view of inspiration is false, it follows that the conclusions are false too. As I like to say, accept the premises, and the conclusions follow. The problem is that the premise is false!
McGowan's language concerning Systematic Theology is harsh and unnecessarily derogatory, as if he would accuse those who tried to 'do' systematic theology of rationalism simply because they try to systematise the teaching of the Bible. His attack on those who hold that the Bible conveys propositional truth sounds to this reviewer as if it springs from a form of 'soft' Postmodernism. It is certainly contrary to centuries of teaching in the Church. Can we all have been wrong until the 20th century, when some smart Evangelical theologians came along to set us right?
The inerrancy claim is founded on the witness of Scripture to the unchanging character of God 'who cannot lie'. Thus, if God speaks, He speaks truth, not error. To say that the use of human writers necessarily introduces error is to limit God by something outside of Himself. This may be consistent (if wrong) for an Arminian, but not for a professed Calvinist like McGowan. If God is not limited in carrying out His will in Salvation, why must He be limited in His Spiration by imperfect man?
But it is here that McGowan's proposal shows its most worrying feature, for McGowan appears to favour the idea that it is God's will that determines His character, so that God's truthfulness is the result of His willing to be truthful, not a result of His being unable to lie. Such a theology belongs rather to Charles Finney and his Ilk than it does to the Bible, and they are quite welcome to a God who cannot be trusted.
In conclusion, then, this book cannot be seen as anything other than a sign of the increasing tendency among modern Evangelicals to compromise the teachings of the Bible in the interests of a sort of Postmodernism.