Saturday, May 31, 2008

Would you carbon credit it?

I wonder how much carbon would be used up by attempts to monitor, police and reduce the amount of carbon people are using? How much carbon would it take to calculate that? (And so on!) Not to mention how much time, money and effort would go into the whole thing.

If the government want to reduce our carbon footprint, why not abolish government departments, QANGOS and agencies and plant trees where they used to be?

"We omitt verses..."

I attended morning prayer at Durham Cathedral on Thursday which was supposed to be according to Common Worship, but the Dean and Chapter had decided (apparently after much discussion and despite differences of opinion) that as the Psalms were being prayed as part of the liturgy and not merely read, those verses which call down God’s curse would be omitted, contrary to the BCP lectionary which was used and the Common Worship books with which we had been provided.

If I remember rightly the Psalms appointed for Thursday in the BCP were 139 – 141 and verses had to be missed out from each one, sometimes bleeding great chunks. My father-in-law (a Baptist Bishop) pointed out that in some cases this badly affected the sense not only of the whole but also of what was actually read. One of the verses we did read began with a “but” that referred back to the omitted lines.

It is also quite tricky if you’re reading a long Psalm alternately to remember that you (or the leader) have to miss out vv3-7, 10 and 21-30.

One of the Cathedral clergy claimed that these omissions were a jolly good thing and had a long and noble Anglican history. Apparently the 1928 Prayer Book and the ASB (both of which are illegal) but the offening verses in brackets or something or other.

They seemed to be concerned that if they read the Bible out people might go out of Mattins and dash babies heads against rocks. This seemed extremely unlikely to me as everyone there was a clergyman (or woman) or the verger or a sensitive looking young man, but I suppose you never know. If they are that worried, maybe a brief sermon is called for? Anything can be misunderstood and if we start trimming out cloth in that way we will soon be starkers.

I know its not up to him but I wonder what the Good Bishop makes of all this?

It seems to me pretty shocking to doctor the Word of God because you do not believe that we should pray as the Psalmist, the people of God, the Lord Jesus Christ and Christians (including Anglicans) for a millennium and more have done.

I resisted calling down a curse on the Dean and Chapter but I do pray that they would change their minds.

A sorry business.

GBH is excellent

(Bishop) George Bell House (GBH!), situated in Canon Lane in the centre of Chichester, in which I sit, is exceptional. It is some kind of Cathedral study / conference centre where we are having our Initial Ministerial Education 4-7 residential conference, but it is lovely and is kitted out so that people can come and stay here for wedding receptions and so on.

I believe there are 8 twin en suite rooms, a dinning room, sitting room, conference room, conservatry and garden. Wireless internet access, TVs in lounge and rooms, good service. Spacious, comfortable and tastefully decorated.

It does need: a gong for summoning people to dinner and Bibles in the rooms. The temperature gague on our shower seems to be the wrong way round (just as ours is at home) and the clock in room 2 has stopped. But other than that...

Apparently all the cash came from some people-strapped religious community.

If you are a nunnery with too much dough, Holy Trinity Eastbourne would be delighted to put it to good use, by the way.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Manchester Report Women Bishops Petition


A number of petitions are available online for those taking varying positions on women bishops, following the production of a letter, signed by over 700 serving women clergy, urging the bishops to take a minimalist 'Single Clause, Code of Practice' approach, which would marginalize those who take the traditional view of Church leadership.

An alternative petition (1) for those who endorse the historic Evangelical view, adopted at the National Evangelical Anglican Congress in 1977, is available
on the Anglican mainstream site:

A petition (2) for all those who support the consecration of women as bishops but who nevertheless reject the Single Clause approach in favour of one of the other options in the Manchester Report can also be found there

Please consider signing one of these petitions and forwarding this e-mail to friends.

I'm not sure I'm 100% convinced that ultimate responsibility should usually be signular not plural / mixed but I don't want to quibble.

By the way, is it:

(1) Women bishops would not be bishops since bishops are men and women cannot become bishops

(2) Women should not be bishops but they could be, though they ought not to be.

Is somekind of subjective / objective distinction needed here?

Would the speech act of ordaining a woman a bishop merely be defective or would it completely misfire and be void?

(The same questions would apply to Elders, of course, Oh, Indie friends).

Right, sounds like I should head off to sign petition (1). Is it for reason (1) or (2)?

Jim Packer at Holy Trinity Eastbourne

Revd Dr J I Packer will be speaking at Holy Trinity, Eastbourne on "Lessons to be learned from the Canadian Church Experience", I imagine focusing on the current difficulties in Anglicanism over Biblical authority, morality and church order. Tues 24th June, 7:45-9:15pm. All are welcome.

Details of how to find / contact the church can of course be found at

I promise (fingers crossed)

According to Common Worship page xi, the following declaration of assent is made by deacons, priests and bishops of the Church of England when they are ordained and on each occasion when they take up a new appointment (Canon C15).

I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the saraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.
I've no problem with the first bit, even if some people seem to think it gives them rather more wriggle room than I'd like.

And I could minister only using the forms authorized or allowed. But I think the use of only authorised or allowed forms is limiting. Though the minister has some discretion, it would seem that when there is an authorised or allowed service of public prayer or administration of the sacraments that form must normally be used without ammendments unless there are very special circumstances. It should not be a permenant change without special arrangements. Lots and lots of churches are not sticking to the rules.

It is a myth put around by some Evangelical Anglicans that any change the in direction of the BCP (or even the Bible) is acceptable. You have to use a CW or BCP service as is. No mucking about.

And you can't just declare everything a service of the Word. And even if you could that gives you less freedom than you may want. Even in a service of the word you must have authorised prayers of penitence, the collect, an authorized creed / declaration, the Lord's Prayer.

How many of our services are legal?

And loads of other non-Evangelicals seem to be happily and openly doing what is right in their own eyes, some even using Roman Catholic forms, which are not allowed. But our case for legal services would be much stronger if ours were!

I have lost count of the number of people who have encouraged us in more or less public settings not to bother too much about keeping that promise from college tutors, Archdeacons, Bishops, training incumbants, rural deans, ministry advisors / tariners. Very few people seem to stick to the rules or to the vows they made.

I think this is a serious problem and I would urge the powers that be to revise the oath into one that can be kept strictly and exactly by someone who interprets it according to the letter of the law.

Surely the church of England could find some form of words? It is famous for its powers of fudge and verbal dexterity.

Maybe, "I will minister with reference to the forms of service which are authorised", or "guided by", or "inspired by", or "and in faithfulness to the Scriptures, the creeds and the Articles and the Prayer Book" etc.?

A court could then decide what was unfaithful to Scripture, the creeds, the formularies and the Anglican inheritence if the need arose.

Can we expect God's blessing on our ministry if we begin them with solemn oaths in his presence that we do not seek to keep?

In the mean time, it seems to me that we have to include exactly what it says in the services unless there is some special pressing occassional reason to do otherwise (such as it is unhealthily hot and people are fainting or 10 toddlers have unexpectedly arrived, there is no creche and they are screeming). As I say, that would be okay, but I don't think its best.

For example, I would like to see a Lord's Supper service authorised that more closely and explicitly follows a Covanant Renewal pattern.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Chesterton on Aquinas

I had very high hopes of G. K. Chesterton’s little book (180pp) on Saint Thomas Aquinas, sometimes known as The Dumb Ox (Orig. Sheed and Ward, New York, 1923) – perhaps foolishly so. I was somewhat disappointed.

The prose is sometimes dazzelling, often amusing and usually engaging. Sometimes I find Chesterton’s non-fiction a bit hard to grasp on a quick-ish reading, though. I suspect he’s saying something clever, but I’m not exactly sure what it is! In places the references are a bit dated but in my edition (Ignatius Press, 2002) there were some useful editor’s footnotes.

There were some revelations about Aquinas’ life and character, although the book is intentionally very sketchy and somewhat impressionistic. I suspect little is actually known and I occasionally felt Chesterton was speculating in a kind of religio-literary riff. Aquinas comes across as a big, thoughtful, committed, gracious aristocrat with a quiet dogged and brilliant intelligence that was easily underestimated. Being dead he yet speaks, and once or twice the Dumb Ox roared.

Chesterton focuses on Aquinas’ philosophy (especially his baptism of Aristotle) where as I would have liked more on his theology. Chesterton is pretty persuasive that Aquinas didn’t sell out to rationalism and I suspect something of Chesterton’s defence of reason and general revelation could be usefully applied to types of Protestant Scholasticism.

Theologically, Chesterton seems to think of the Incarnation as the centre of Aquinas’ thought, and of the Christian faith. I reckon it needs to be thought of rather more in connection with the plan of salvation and the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ than the book stresses. Whilst Chesterton sees the Incarnation as the vindication of nature and creation, perhaps the resurrection better fulfils that role since it also points more fully to the transformation of nature / creation by grace and is more prototypical of the whole cosmos than the unique hypostatic union of God and Man in the Incarnation. Maybe I quibble.

Chesterton also slags off “Calvinists” (which is a bit of a misnomer) and even if I think some of his criticisms might perhaps be on target for some dangers of some people sometimes, I don’t really want someone else criticising my mother even if I feel free to do so with caution and respect in private myself!

So, in short, if you find this book lying around, it’s worth a browse, but I wouldn’t rush out and get it nor feel bound to read every word, nor assume it’s a hugely reliable guide.

I did read every word but the only bits that got a pencil mark in the margin:

In the common phrase, fond as he [St Francis of Assisi] was of the green fields, he did not let the grass grow under his feet. He was what American millionaires and gangsters call a live wire. It is typical of the mechanistic moderns that, even when they try to imagine a live thing, they can only think of a mechanical metaphor from a dead thing. There is such a thing as a live worm; but there is no such thing as a live wire. St. Francis would have heartily agreed that he was a worm; but he was a very live worm. Greatest of all foes to the go-getting ideal, he had certainly abandoned getting, but he was still going (p21)

About this medieval movement there are two facts that must be emphasised. They are not, of course, contrary facts, but they perhaps answer to contrary fallacies. First, in spite of all that was once said about superstition, the Dark Ages and the sterility of Scholasticism, it was in every sense a movement of enlargement, always moving towards greater light and even greater liberty. Second, in spite of all that was said later on about progress and the Renaissance and forerunners of modern thought, it was almost entirely a movement of orthodox theological enthusiasm, unfolded from within. It was not a compromise with the world, or a surrender to heathens or heretics, or even a mere borrowing of external aids, even when it did borrow them. In so far as it did reach out to the light of common day, it was like the action of a plant which be its own force thrusts out its leaves into the sun; not like the action of one who merely lets daylight into a prison. (p26)

We might call it a plundering of the Egyptians or a claiming back of borrowed capital.

Good paragraph on page 26 about proper Doctrinal Development as more like evolution than adaptation and not like evasion; growth to maturity, a puppy turning into a dog; the drawing out of implications and distinctions; the development of internal resources; theology understanding itself.

I think I'll give the companion essay on Francis of Assisi a go, but I don't promise not to flick!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cult & Culture

Too often culture (our whole way of life) determines cult (churchly worship). We become like the surrounding nations and worship their gods, sometimes without giving up on a type of Yahwistic lip-service. Consciously or unconsciously the minister tries to make himself (or in our culture, herself) attractive, or at least inoffensive to his audience, customers or pay-masters. She tries to be one of the guys and a nice chap, not quite a game show host or a Red Coat entertainer. Even if his chinos and open-necked shirt are a bit dressy compared to most of his clients, its good that he makes an effort – and some of the older folk who have remained in the church wouldn’t like flip flops and shorts, though that’s what the committed core wear for they understand the theology that they’re not doing anything really very special here on a Sunday (and it needn’t be here or on a Sunday, of course). Sometimes this is driven by the mistaken belief that the Sunday morning service is all about being seeker sensitive and then trying to be sensitive to a particular type of seeker. There are times and places and degrees of being all things to all men and the secondary goal of evangelism in worship mustn’t turn us into Cannanites.

Rather, cult is to determine culture. In fact, that’s inevitable. We become like what or whom we worship. The Sunday morning service of covenant renewal is a new start to a new week, even the remaking of a new world. The waters of life flow out from the Garden Sanctuary to renew the land, and their effects are felt even in the far off corners of the world, though most of those who drink them no not whence they came. In God’s temple his people are fed and trained and equipped. We are washed and patched up and after we enjoy fellowship and celebration with our loving heavenly Father. At last we are given our marching orders. As we bring the Eucharistic elements and our tithes and offerings, unworthy as we are, we offer up our ordinary feeble damnation-deserving efforts, done soley by the grace of God alone, to God and he graciously accepts them, and gives them back to us as something he alone can use for his purposes. Here we offer all of our cultural work to God. Our ordinary, daily, individual / family / nation endeavours of worship join with our special corporate public Sabbath sanctuary worship and are transformed as a result.

The whole of life is worship, but not in the same way as special worship and only because it is an outflow of it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Son: Equal but Different

This ought to be at the front of my mind, of course, and Mike Ovey would be ashamed of my need to ask, but given that I never studied Christian Doctrine properly (!), I wonder if you could give this the once over for orthodoxy. I'm thinking of preaching this kind of thing on Sunday morning with as few big words as possible.

(1) The Son is ontologically and essentially equal to the Father

(2) The Son is enternally relationally subordinate to the Father. This relational subordination is both according to his nature as Son and voluntary.

(3) According to his human nature, the Incarnate Son is inferior to the Father.

This "equality but difference" provides a model for the submission of wives to husbands in marriage and of members to elders in the church.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Elohim - "the gods is"

With a nervous feeling about my lack of Hebrew…

I don’t remember ever coming across this before:

Donald Macleod points out that the name most commonly used of God in the Old Testament, Elohim, is plural, although when used of God it is always used with singular verbs and adjectives. Macleod says it is as if we were to say, “The gods is”. Macleod argues that God had good reason for calling himself Elohim and that it “fits beautifully with the fact that in him there is a fullness of fellowship. The New Testament disclosure of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is the best, and possibly the only, explanation of God giving himself a plural name.” (p13)

Shared Life: The Trinity and the Fellowship of God’s People (Christian Focus, 1994)

Monday, May 12, 2008


I found myself telling Baby Jono (a.k.a. Jonathan) today that it was very kind of "Goddy" to give him so many toys.

I'm not sure "Goddy" is an appropriately reverentail title for the Almighty but with all the Mummy and Daddy-ing and so on it seemed to trip off the tongue rather easily.

I guess some might see so kind of justification for the term in Jesus' called the Father "Abba", which is sometimes said to be something akin to "Daddy," although my New Testament tutor at Oxford claimed "Dad" is perhaps closer to the feel of the Aramaic?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Calvin on lay precidency

I guess everyone knows this, for what its worth, but since lay presidency is fashionable in some circles it may just be worth noting that we can be pretty certain Calvin would have been against it, at least as a rule.

Moreover, since God has placed the sacraments as a sacred deposit in his Church, we believe that individuals are not to use them apart, but that the use of them ought to be common to the assembly of the faithful, and that they ought to be administered by the pastors to whom the charge and dispensation of them has been committed.

Confession of Faith of the Reformed Churches of France 1562, section 24

I think lay presidency is certainly possible (you don't need a priest to do his magic) but not the most appropriate. Whilst I can see there could be practical circumstances where it could be helpful, I think its in danger of being a reactionary departure from the tradition of the church (including the Reformed tradition). I reckon there are more important things for us to campaign on! For example, it would be great if the C of E sought to prevent people bowing down to the reserved sacrament before it introduced lay presidency.

Ought we to need Supper?

Calvin is in the habit of saying that the Word of God ought to be sufficient for us for full assurance and confidence, but that because of our ignorance and frailty, God has added the sacraments as helps for us.

Now of course, we ought to believe the Word of God!

But I’m a bit uncomfortable with saying that the sacraments are simply given because we weak and ignorant and somehow ought to be unnecessary. Maybe I’m being uncharitable to Calvin but its almost as if he thinks the Word alone would be better if that were enough for us.

If we take the trees in the Garden of Eden as sacramental, then it would seem that sacraments were always God’s design for man even apart from sin, though I would grant that Adam was weak and ignorant (and “immature”) even before the fall.

Sacraments are appropriate to us as creatures and not just as sinners.

Maybe we need to consider what else the sacraments are intended to be and do apart from teach us and give us assurance to better understand their role alongside the Word.

For example, a wider biblical view of the importance of meals as fellowship-enjoying and covenant-making events might be helpful in understanding why we need to Supper and what its for.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Patterns in Ruth

Barry Webb (Five Festal Garments, pp38-39) draws on the work of Stephen Bertman ('Symmetrical design in the book of Ruth' JBL 84:165-168 (1965)) to point out parallels between Ruth 2 and 3.

In both chapters, Ruth discusses with Naomi, goes to Boaz, who asks who she is, asks her to stay, says she is worthy of blessing and gives her food. Ruth reports back to Naomi and receives her advice.

Further, in the first 3 chapters there is a going out and a returning. In the final chapter, Boaz goes out to the town gate and then goes to Ruth and takes her as his husband. She finds rest in the home of her husband (1:9; 3:1).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Camp Teaching Scheme

On our camp this year we're planning to do some edited highlights of John's gospel, going sequentially through the book (with an introductory talk from the last page first), alternating between main talks in the evenings and dorm group Bible studies in the mornings.

There are lots of ways of skinning this cat and some of my choices are a bit random, but it migt go something like this:

(1) Sat

Talk: 20:24-31, The Purpose of John’s Gospel

(2) Sun

Study: 1:1-14, The incarnation

Talk: 1:15-34, John the Baptist’s Witness

(3) Mon

Study: 1:35-51, The first disciples

Talk: 2:1-11, The first sign

(4) Tues

Study: 3:1-15, You must be born again

Talk: 3:16-21, Why did Jesus come?

(5) Wed

Study: 6:1-24, Feeding 5000 and walking on water

Talk: 6:25-59, The Bread of Life

(6) Thurs

Study: 12:20-36, Jesus predicts his death

Talk: 18:28-19:16a, Jesus & Pilate

(7) Fri

Study: 19:16b-27, The crucifixion

Talk: 19:28-37, The death of Jesus

(8) Sat

Talk: 19:38-20:23
, The resurrection

I’ve included some quite long passages. Speakers and Bible study leaders should use their discretion and cut parts of the reading if that seems the best way to focus on the main thing(s) / thrust.

Preaching the Trinity

God willing, I'll be preaching on the doctrine of the Trinity on Trinity Sunday morning (18/5/08).

Any tips or pointers to resources / sermons, esp. free ones on line, gratefully received.

What do you think the most important things to say are?

What are the leading practical applications of the doctrine of the Trinity?

I've chosen John 17:1-26 as the reading, but I guess that isn't immutable.

In the evening the vicar is planning to preach on 'Why the Trinity?' using 1 Peter 1:1-2 but I don't know in detail what he intends to say.

I've got hold of Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity in Scripture, History, Theology and Worship (P&R, 2004) and I'm hoping to spend some time with that in my preparation. His part 4 deals with some "Critical Issues":

The Trinity and the Incarnation

The Trinity, Worship, and Prayer

The Trinity, Creation, and Missions

The Trinity and Persons

Monday, May 05, 2008

Water into Wine

Some jottings for my sermon (in my series in John) on Water into Wine (2:1-11).

The audio version should appear on the Holy Trinity, Eastbourne sermon page in due course.

The text of my handout went like this:

Jesus at a party (10:10)

--> Christians should be cheerful & fun-loving

The significance of the sign (v11)

Our resources fail (v3) but Jesus satisfies (4:13-14)

Jesus the perfect Bridegroom (3:29), the Second Adam

Jesus’ amazing transforming power

generous, extravagant, abundant provision (v6)

“you have saved the best till now” (v10; 1:16-17)

An act of (New) Creation – transformation / resurrection (v1)

Jesus’ hour (v4; 7:6; 8:20; 12:23-24; 32-33; 13:1; 17:1) and glory (v11) – the cross

Jesus’ blood cleanses us from sin (v6)

The Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9)

Our response?

--> Invite Jesus

--> Accept Jesus’ invitation

--> his disciples put their faith in him” (v11) - trust

--> “Do whatever he tells you” (v5) – obedience

--> What do you want to drink? Water or wine?

A Beginner's Guide To Parenting

Here are some notes for a sermon from Dt 6 on Christian nurture of our children.

An audio version is also available on the Holy Trinity Eastbourne Sermon page. Unfortunately we were having some trouble with the sound system and the first few mins. were missed off due to the poor quality. At least on my computer the sermon is too quiet (!) but hopefully that'll be rectified with the new MP3 recorder which is now installed.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

As originally given

There's a lot of fuss in McGowan's book (The Divine Spiration of Scripture) about the inspiration of the Bible about "hypothetical" lost autographa, the original documents of Scripture. He seems to think of the claim to inerrancy applying only to them and this being a rather bothersome blind alley of pointless speculation.

I was just wondering if a claim that the Scriptures are inerrant "as originally given" would strictly necessarily require inerrant autographa? For example, in the case of a spoken prophetic oracle, would an error in recording the message in writing be excluded by the claim that the Scriptures as originally given are inerrent? If Paul dictated his letters, is it Paul's dictation or the amanuesnsis' scribing that is without error?

I guess so, actually, as terms like Scripture and Bible require a written document. Worth being accurate about that. You could still say the Scriptures were not originally given in written form but I reckon that's stretching it a bit.

Is The Bible God?

No. But Herman Bavinck says that, in 1714, according to A. Tholuck, Nitzsche in Gotha wrote a dissertation on the question of whether Holy Scripture itself was God. Sadly Bavinck doesn't tell us what Nitzsche's answer was.

(Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Prolegomena, vol 1, p416 cited in McGowan, Divine Spiration, p120. )

Scripture and Incarnation

McGowan argues against Peter Enns but along with John Webster and also quoting Thomas F. Torrance, that it is dangerous to use an analogy drawn from the divine and human natures of Christ in the incarnation to speak about the divine and human aspects of Scripture.

McGowan says, “How can the Scriptures have a divine nature, since only God is divine? ... Scripture can share certain divine attributes but it cannot have a divine nature, because it is not God.” (Divine Spiration, pp120-121)

Of course we do not want to say that the Bible is God. The Bible is not a fourth member of the Trinity. Quite right. It’s hard to think that anyone would think that someone would want to say that! What are the names of these bibolators we are all supposed to be concerned about?

But we do want to say the Bible is the Words of God. The Bible is God speaking. Since God also created language and is sovereign over it, God’s words thoroughly reflect his character. God accommodates himself to human beings in his revelation (he speaks baby-language, slowly and loudly) but he does not have a speech impediment. God’s words are true because God is true.

No doubt it is possible to press the analogy between the incarnation and Scripture too far or to do silly things with it, but I still find it helpful.

The incarnation reminds us that something can be fully human and fully divine. We do not have to parcel out the humanity and the divinity of Scripture. Romans can be fully Paul’s words and fully God’s. We don’t need to take 2 different colour highlighter pens to it to mark up God’s bits and the apostle’s bits.

The incarnation also reminds us that humanity does not necessarily imply sin and error since Jesus was a perfect man. Likewise, human language is always subject to limitations (just as Jesus’ humanity was always located in space and not omnipresent) but that does not mean that it is necessary for the Bible to err to be human.

If we're taking votes...

According to Mark Noll:

Most Christians in most churches since the founding of Christianity have believed in the inerrancy of the Bible. Or at least they have believed that the Scriptures are inspired by God, and so are the words of eternal life. The term inerrancy was not common until the nineteeth century. But the conviction that God communicates in Scripture a revelation of himself and of his deeds, and that this revelation is entirely truthful, has always been the common belief of most Catholics, most Protestants, most Orthodox, and even most of the sects of the fringe of Christianity.

Mark Noll, ‘A Brief History of Inerrancy, Mostly in America’, in The Proceedings of the Conference on Biblical Inerrancy 1987 (Nashville: Broadman, 1987), pp.9-10 quoted in McGowan, Divine Spiration, p85.

The Big Event

According to Hans Frei:

No more crucial event has taken place in modern Protestant theology than Karl Barth's break with liberalism. It was the most significant single impetus to the subsequent generation's conception of its task.

PhD Diss., Yale, 1965, p.iii quoted in McGowan, Divine Spiration p62

The error of abandoning inerrancy

I’m not sure this is really what I ought to be getting on with this morning if I want to get my PhD before I retire, but I’ve been browsing in McGowan, A. T. B., The Divine Spiration of Scripture: Challenging evangelical perspectives (Nottingham, Apollos, 2007) (which could be of some relevance to the Grand Project!).

One of his proposals is that we prefer the term “infallibility” to “inerrancy”.

He argues:

In recent years,… there has been a growing dominance of the use of the word ‘inerrancy’ (a word rarely used in Europe) and this, in some of its forms, has represented a turn towards a somewhat mechanical and even rationalistic approach to Scripture, basing its authority on a set of inerrant manuscripts. The argument for ‘infallibility’ is that the final authority for the Christian is the authority of God speaking in and through his Word and that the Holy Spirit infallibly uses God’s Word to achieve all he intends to achieve. It is, therefore, a more dynamic (or organic) and less mechanical view of authority. It also avoids a number of serious problems related to the word ‘inerrancy’… (pp48-49)

Well, perhaps. I’m not so sure.

The Europe / America point seems to get made a few time and I’m not sure its terribly valuable. There seems to be general agreement that originally the terms infallible and inerrant were used interchangeably.

I can’t see that the term inerrancy is necessarily inherently mechanistic.

It seems to me that there is a danger in McGowan’s shift (though perhaps some see it as a merit) of bypassing questions of truth and focussing on questions of effect. Sure, we need a doctrine of the efficacy of God’s word. We need to understand its purposes, but that’s not all the word inerrancy was meant to do. God’s Word is about more than stating true propositions, but it includes that. Surely one of God’s purposes in Scripture was to state truths and where the Bible attempts to do that it is infallible or inerrant in all that it affirms – the traditional doctrine!

I reckon it might be better to say that God speaks his Word or words, rather than that he speaks in and through it. God uses the Bible according to its nature so we shouldn’t expect strange private messages out of the Bible understood apart from the context of what the words mean. A mention of “the west” in Scripture that for some reason seems to stand out to me in my quiet time is not the Holy Spirit telling me to move to Bristol, as if God speaks “through” his word in an arbitrary or magical way.

Neither is the term inerrancy inimical to scholarship. It could be thought to helpfully flag up that it is Scripture as originally given that is inerrant. Strictly speaking the developed doctrine of inerrancy is a reminder that the claim of inerrancy is not being made of any extant version or translation and therefore emphasises the tasks of textual criticism and translation.