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)


Thursday, January 29, 2009

'The Divine Spiration of Scripture' - Review. Part 5

McGowan accuses inerrantists of a form of rationalism. One part of his charge is that he says that, whatever authors such as Warfield may say (and we have already seen that the KinG James Only and Textus Receptus Only crowds are out of this discussion as they place the locus of inerrancy in either one stream of textual transmission or in an English translation), to affirm that the autographa (the original manuscripts) of the Bible are inerrant is to make the human authors mere ciphers (see P. 118). We 'limit God', he says, by affirming what God can and cannot do. But do we? If what we affirm about what God can and cannot do is founded on the Scriptures, then we do not limit God at all, but affirm his righteous character. "He cannot deny Himself", the Scripture says, and He "cannot lie". Now if I affirm what God has explicitly revealed about Himself, am i limiting God? I can see how liberal who believes that the Bible is not God's self-revelation, but is instead the record of human religious experience, could make this accusation, but not a self-described evangelical who taught at a Reformed and Evangelical institution. What is more, it is notorious that one of the main objections to inerrancy used by the liberals of the 19th century was the rationalist assumption that God could not produce an inerrant book by means of human writers.

Again, if we were affirming that God so over-rode the personalities of the authors of Scripture that the words are merely dictated by God, that would be a rationalistic assumption that God must have worked in a particular way, but we do not. Instead we affirm that in a mysterious way, beyond our human understanding, the authors of the Inspired Word were 'carried along by the Holy Spirit', so that what they wrote may properly be called 'the Word of God'. But we affirm that it is inerrant, that is without errors in fact or teaching, because it is the Word of God, who cannot lie.

One possible misconception must be cleared out of the way, and that is the meaning of the word 'error'. I do not mean by that a modern scientific standard of accuracy. That is to say, the standard of accuracy that we apply to the Scriptures must be that of the world in which they were written, and that of the men who wrote it. Now this is NOT to say that in the ancient world things that were in fact false were affirmed to be true, rather it is to say that the standard of accuracy was necessarily less than in a world of digital recorders and laser measuring tools. Distances and other measurements are routinely rounded off, just as we do in everyday life today, and many events are described in a phenomenological, rather than a strictly scientific, way. The sun is said to rise and set - just as we speak today, even though we know that in fact the earth is rotating! The idea of exact quotations, such as we expect today, is also something that was not expected in the ancient world. Rather a historian sought to give a reasonably accurate summary of what was said. Remember that there are no quotation marks in the originals! It would be unreasonable to demand of the Bible a standard of accuracy that would have been unthinkable at the time it was written, and this has on the one hand been the source of some claims of error in the Bible, and on the other hand the source of some of the more farcical attempts to defend inerrancy. It is important to realise that to demand or expect such a standard in Scripture is essentially rationalistic and modernistic - and yes, I do mean to use those two 'boo words'.

Having cleared this out of the way, it is important to affirm that we can speak of God being in some sense 'limited', not by anything outside of Himself, but by His character. God is good, He is holy and He is faithful, and He cannot be anything other than what He is, because he does not change, and he is faithful. 'He cannot deny Himself'. Thus is is perfectly right to affirm that the Bible, if it is the Word of God, must be without error according to its own standards (and not some artificially imposed standard).

God willing, next time we shall consider McGowan's first historical example, James Orr.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

'The Divine Spiration of Scripture' - Review. Part 4

McGowan argues that the doctrine of inerrancy is rationalistic and presumptuous, as well as unbiblical. He claims that his position retains a high view of Scripture, and is authentically and historically evangelical. But is it?

McGowan says that inerrancy is not a Biblical word, but then neither is 'Trinity'; nor is the doctrine of the Trinity laid out in any one passage, rather it is the legitimate result of a consideration of the Biblical data. So the fact that there is no one passage that says that the Bible is without error does not of itself mean that inerrancy is unbiblical unless one has in fact redefined the category of 'Biblical doctrine' to mean 'doctrine explicitly taught in so many words in Scripture.' As a Presbyterian minister, McGowan ought ot be familiar with the Westminster Confession statement that:
"The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture."
Now we know that he is an advocate of the frequent revision of creeds and confessions, so maybe he would revise this passage out of the Confession? The fact remains that this is part of the way that Christians have always done theology.

But then it seems that McGowan is uncomfortable with this as well, for on P. 116 he writes:
"In the inerrantist argument, truth is largely viewed in presuppositional terms and theological method is conceived of in scientific terms. Thus the impression is often given that the whole Bible can be reduced to a set of propositions that can then be demonstrated to be 'true'... This explanation of theological method is founded on the notion that Scripture can be reduced to a set of 'facts' or 'propositions', which are then collected and arranged into a systematic theology. This rationalist approach, however well-intentioned, actually undermines the authority of the Scriptures. Rather, we must insist that the Scriptures are the Word of the living God who uses them to address us, save us, challenge us, teach us, encourage us, feed us, and much more."
Now it seems to me that we have a false dichotomy being set up here, and a McGowan who seems to be leaning towards postmodernism. The term 'rationalism', particularly in the sort of Evangelical circles where a book published by IVP might reasonably be expected to be read, is what has been termed a 'boo word', that is a word that tells the reader at once that the person or idea described by it is bad, much as the appearance of the pantomime villain is the cue for the audience to boo him. But what we have here is in fact false. No inerrantist that I am aware of holds that the Bible only contains propositional truth. We are all aware that it contains the Psalms, which are expressions of devotion and emotion in many cases, that there are narratives in the Bible, and that it is not a book of systematic theology. But what McGowan here is undermining is the idea that the Bible contains propositional truth! I use the word 'undermine' advisedly. This is a stealth attack, under cover of darkness. What he has done is to spike the guns (so he thinks) of his opponents, for if you cannot extract propositional truth from the bible, then you cannot show, by good and necessary inference, that the Scriptures must be inerrant.

God willing, next time we shall deal further with McGowan's denial of the Inerrancy of Scripture.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at Bethel Chapel, the Bars, Guildford. Services are at 11.00 in the morning and 6.00 in the evening. Bethel Chapel is an historic Strict Baptist chapel, and one of the open buildings in Guildford's Heritage Week. It retains all its original fittings. The church meeting at Bethel Chapel is committed to historic Reformed doctrine, and worship.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at Pollard Evangelical Church, London road, Kettering, Northamptonshire. Pollard currently has only one Lord's Day meeting, at 11AM. Pollard is an independent Reformed Baptist Church located close to the town centre.

Kettering ought to be familiar to those of a Reformed Baptist disposition, as it was the birthplace of Dr. John Gill, probably the greatest Baptist scholar of his age, and the scene of much of the ministry of Andrew Fuller. I intend to take my new camera to Kettering, and hopefully I shall have some interesting historic Kettering pictures, such as the Parish Church where Dr Gill did not go. These will be posted on the Strict and Particular blog. Or an apology for their not being there may be, as I shall be traveling there by train, and you never know with the trains. Or maybe this paranoia about delayed trains is the result of my current job dealing with compensation for train delays.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

'I Climb the Rainbow Through the Rain'. George Matheson -XIV

So far we have seen George Matheson as a writer of serious theology, a man appreciated by academics. But that is not how most know him. We know him as the blind poet=preacher who wrote 'O Love that will not Let me go', and other poems. And so he was, for like all men, he was a complex character. About the same time that he delivered his Baird lectures, with their complex theme and academic tinge, he began to write what would become a long series of devotional books that would be far more influential and popular than his Aids to the Study of German Theology, or his Natural Elements of Revealed Religion.

These books had their genesis in Matheson's pulpit-work. Since he had to memorise the Scripture-reading perfectly in order to give it out in the pulpit, George Matheson replaced one of the Scripture readings in his services with a short meditation on a part of Scripture. These meditations were a popular part of Matheson's ministry, and some of his hearers preferred them to his sermons. As a result, since his congregation included many of the great and the good, it was almost inevitable that these meditations should be published. Indeed the first request for this came in 1872. But it was not until 1882 that Matheson finally gave in and issued the first of his devotional books, My Aspirations. It was an immediate success, and what was more, it went on selling for years. It was no flash in the pan popular Christian book. Those interested may find the text here. Not only did My Aspirations sell well in the United Kingdom, but it was translated into German and other languages.

This unexpected success led him to prepare more of these short meditations for the press, and between 1883 and his death in 1906, George Matheson published seven of these small devotional books. They were always secondary to his main work as a minister, but they were probably his most popular books. The meditations are all based on Scripture texts, and they deal with every facet of the Christian life. The opening meditation of My Aspirations is typical in this respect. It deals with the text 'And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good." Matheson draws from this the message to the Christian that all the ways of providence are 'very good' even though we cannot understand how at the moment. Again, let us recall that Matheson was blind, a terrible handicap for a scholar and a pastor, as it meant that books had to be read to him. He writes for the Christian who has to live in the real world, where there is suffering and loss, where life is difficult.

This book was published at the same time as Matheson's most enduring monument, his hymn 'O Love that Wilt not let me go'. The words are famous:
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Matheson describes the circumstances of his writing thus:
"My hymn was composed in the manse of Innellan on the evening of 6th June 1882. I was at that time alone. It was the day of my sister's marriage, and the rest of the family were staying over night in Glasgow. Something had happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression rather of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction. The Hymnal Committee of the Church of Scotland desired the change of one word. I had written originally 'I climbed the rainbow in the rain.' They objected to the word 'climb' and I put 'trace.'"

Next time, God willing, we shall have more to say about Matheson the hymn-writer.


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.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

'The Divine Spiration of Scripture' - Review. Part 2

In part one of this series, I noted that Principal McGowan has some good things to say. Unfortunately he also has some downright worrying things to say. It has been rumored that these led, directly or indirectly, to his departure from the Highland Theological College and his return to parish ministry. I trust that the contact with the common people in pastoral ministry will serve to mitigate the effects of his teaching on Scripture.


There are two, maybe two and a half, main issues with this book. They have been addressed by others more able than myself, which is why I did not review the book when it first came out, but having been asked to do so, I will address them here.

1. Should we relocate the doctrine of Scripture?

McGowan proposes that Bibliology, the doctrine of Scripture, should be moved in our creeds and systematic theologies from its customary place at the beginning of the system to be a subset of pneumatology. He argues that placing the Bible at the opening of the theological system takes the focus away from God (P.28). This sounds very much to me like an echo of the old and hackneyed charge of 'Bibliolatry' often hurled at evangelicals. When I meet a person who bows down before the bible and worships it, I will take some notice of this accusation, but until that date I regard the charge as a mere straw man argument. No-one worships the Bible, if we have a high view of the Bible it is because it is the Word of God, in other words, it is because of the author. But McGowan, in his discussion of errors that the placing of the doctrine of Scripture first in the confessions may result in, writes:
"The most serious of these errors is to imply that the Scriptures can stand alone as a source of epistemological certainty, quite apart from the work of God the Holy Spirit. This error results in the Scriptures taking on a life of their own, whereby men and women sometimes imagine (even if they would not express it this way) that they hold in their hands the final written revelation of God that can be read, understood and applied, without any further involvement of God." (p. 29).
It is true that some people imagine this. But the error is just as possible among those who claim 'no creed but the Bible', and can be found among Christians of all confessions and none. All doctrines can be abused, and the doctrine of Inspiration is not free from this abuse. I would argue, in fact, that wherever the doctrine of Inspiration is located in a theological system, this error can creep in. For example, it can be found among Lutherans, whose Augsburg Confession begins with the article 'of God', and Anglicans, whose Thirty-Nine Articles (and therefore theological textbooks based on the Articles) begin with the Trinity.

In fact falling into this error is a result of detaching the doctrine of Scripture from the rest of the system, which can be done wherever a doctrine is placed, beginning, middle or end. This may be a result of unbalanced reading, or a reaction against false doctrine.

The confessions and systematicians are not responsible for this error, any more than God is responsible for it. Sinful man is responsible for his abuse of God's truth. We do not need to relocate the doctrine of Scripture, though we are free to do so if we want to.

2. New Confessions?

McGowan suggests that we should be in the business of revising the Confessions regularly (unfortunately I no longer have the book and neglected to take note of a page reference for this point). This is a proposal that has to be rejected. The purpose of a Confession is to reflect the teaching of the Bible. Now I agree that there are times when confessions have to be added to, and new statements written. Thomas Chalmers described confessions as 'Landmarks of old heresies'. By this he meant that they were established to state the truth against the heretics. If heretics had not arisen to attack the truth, creeds and confessions would not be needed. Thus Confessions may need to be added to as new errors, not dealt with by the framers, arise. But for a Confession to be looked at as a thing in flux means that in reality it cannot function as a standard at all. It is also a confession that a church is 'ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth', which is not a good thing!

God willing, next time I shall come to the crux of the matter, the doctrine of inerrancy.


Monday, January 12, 2009


As of 1st February 2009, I shall, God willing, be taking up a post as a ministry trainee at Tabor Baptist Church, Llantrisant, South Wales. This will be for about six months, after which I shall be available to pastor any Church that is interested in having me, and where the Lord is willing to put me.

Free St George's and Strict and Particular will continue, God willing, but you may well find that the Welsh flavour begins to predominate here once again.


Friday, January 09, 2009

An excellent Christmas gift

A new year for many Christians means a new daily devotional. For the last year I have used Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. This year, however, I have taken up a volume that my mother gave me as a Christmas present, namely the Sabbath Scripture Readings of Thomas Chalmers. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am quite an admirer of Chalmers. From my first encounter with him though the four small volumes of his Lectures on Romans, I have found Thomas Chalmers stimulating, thought-provoking and informative. My greatest complaint was that his books were out of print and difficult to find.

Of late, though, we have seen something of a revival of interest in Thomas Chalmers, beginning with the republication of his Letters by the Banner of Truth Trust in 2007. Sadly the authoritative biography by William Hanna has not seen a new edition, although Kessinger Publishing do offer a reprint of the 4-volume edition of this excellent book. The Michigan historical reprints series covers some of Chalmers' writings, and between them and Kessinger, more of Chalmers is in print than has been the case for many decades.

Which brings me back to the Christmas present. Both volumes of Chalmers' Sabbath Scripture Readings. It is my practice to read two chapters of the Scriptures devotionally, morning and evening (that's two in the morning and two in the evening, or just one if it's Psalm 119). These Sabbath Scripture Readings are short (usually about a page and a bit) meditations on each chapter, in which Chalmers takes up the themes of the chapter and considers them, often in the form of a prayer. The first volume covers the whole of the New Testament, while the second covers the Old Testament through to 2 Kings 11, its completion having been prevented by Chalmers' death. These are two precious volumes that are well worth every Christian's time. Chalmers was a man who had come from the wastes of Moderatism to the fruitful pastures of the Gospel, and the Bible was his guide and comfort. In these pages we can share his devotions. This is one Christmas gift that will still be in use long after Christmas.

The two volumes of Sabbath Scripture Readings are published by Solid Ground Christian Books, Volume 1 and Volume 2.

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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.


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Preaching this Coming Lord's Day

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at Salhouse Baptist Church, Chapel Loke, Salhouse, Norfolk. Services are at 11.00 AM and 2.30 PM.