Four primary topics are treated in this multi-view book: (1) God and his relationship to his creatures, (2) the doctrine of inspiration, (3) the nature of Scripture, and (4) the nature of truth.
Instead of allowing the author’s to simply give a defense of their positions – each scholar tackles the same outline and passages from their own perspective with reference to the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (ISBI). Therefore, specific scriptures are handled to demonstrate each view along the lines of three specific categories: (1) The factuality of Scripture, (2) canonical coherence, and (3) theological coherence.
The scholars therefore all interact with the following texts: Joshua 6, Acts 9:9 compared with Acts 22:9, and Deuteronomy 20 in relation to Matthew 5. Joshua 6 was chosen since current details of historical and archaeological evidence have called into question the accuracy of the text’s account of the destruction of of Jericho. The Acts passage which describes Paul’s conversion was chosen due to the apparent discrepancy between what the witnesses saw and heard during this event. For theological coherence the author’s grapple with the question “How is it that Deuteronomy 20 instructs Israel that the complete extermination of Yahweh’s enemies is a matter of Israel’s purity before and obedience to Yaweh, while Jesus subsequently says faithfulness to God requires nonretaliation and sacrificial love of enemeies (Matthew 5:38-48)?”
The scholars addressing these biblical, theological, and historical concerns are two biblical scholars (Michael Bird and Peter Enns), two systematic theologians (John Franke and Kevin Vanhoozer), and one historical theologian (Albert Mohler). Part one consists of Mohler’s and Enns’ essays in a section entitled “Perspectives on Inerrancy and the Past.” In part 2 Michael Bird (hailing from Australia) addresses “Inerrancy from an International Perspective.” In part 3 Kevin Vanhoozer and John Franke represent “Perspectives on Renewing and Recasting Inerrancy Today.” Each essay is then responded to by the other four scholars.
Albert Mohler’s essay was disappointing in that his argumentation was circular and sophomoric. Of all the essays in the book I was looking forward to his the most. It seems that he didn’t put the time into the essay that was necessary. He simply wholeheartedly agreed with ISBI and did a poor job with the biblical material. His historical study of inerrancy was limited to the mid-late 1900’s. Mohler’s essay was answered in broad strokes and an a priori apologetic that was redundant and unconvincing. Mohler does a much better job in his essays of response – especially in his response to Enns. I wish that the editors would have chosen a biblical scholar in place of Mohler (with his same postion) – because his handling of the biblical material was particularly simplistic and weak. It just seemed like Mohler’s schedule was too busy to put the necessary scholarship into his essay. However, I wholeheartedly agree with Mohler’s assessment of biblical inerancy when he says, “I do not believe that evangelicalism can survive without the explicit and complete assertion of biblical inerrancy…The afirmation of biblical inerrancy means nothing more, and nothing less, than this: When the Bible speaks, God speaks.”
Peter Enns came across as just plain “ticked off” at the whole idea of biblical inerrancy. He gave a plethora of reasons why he doesn’t think ISBI is a fair or accurate document. He does not adhere to inerrancy (as defined by ISBI) and calls it “erroneous.” The closest he comes to arriving at any position on the Bible is when he writes: “Scripture is a collection of a variety of writings that necessarily and unashamedly reflects the worlds in which those writings were produced. The implication of this metaphor is that an understanding of those historical settings can and should affect interpretive conclusions.”
Enns handling of the biblical material was influenced primarily by liberal scholarship. He believes the Jericho episode didn’t happen due to the archaeological evidence. He believes Paul’s conversion reports are blatant contradictions. Lastly, he thinks that the God of the Old Testament as described in Deuteronomy is different than the God portrayed in the New Testament. He writes, “Israel’s depiction of God vis-a-vis the nations unmistakably, and understandably, reflects the ubiquitous tribal culture at the time.”
Mohler writes of Enns, “So, taking Peter Enns at his word the Bible contains numerous passages that not only fail the test of historical accuracy (even to the point of questioning whether the exodus took place), but also present a false and dangerous misrepresentation of God’s very character and will.” The overall response of the other essayists was similar to my own own response. I felt that Enns was overly critical of Scripture, and didn’t really give a constructive or positive view of Scripture at all. It felt like his whole essay was reactionary and destructive. There was really no positive argument given. It was a lot like reading the “new atheists” – a lot of attack and very little evidence or support for their own view.
Michael Bird’s essay was perhaps the most interesting of the five. If he ever loses his job as a theologian he could become a night club comic. He provides humor in his essay and in his responses to the other essayists (especially humorous is his response to Enns). Bird has the difficult task of reflecting the idea of inerrancy outside of the USA. He covers a lot of ground and shares where he agrees and disagrees with ISBI. He provides a very balanced essay in his response to ISBI, his historical reflections on inerrancy around the globe, and his biblical argumentation – brief but very cogent and clear. One of the highlights of Bird’s essay was this gem, “The goal of revelation is not knowing facts about God but also enjoying fellowship with God.” Overall Bird’s essay is very witty, theologically insightful, and interesting.
Kevin Vanhoozer’s essay argues for what he terms “A Well-versed inerrancy.” He basis his definition largely on the historic tradition of Augustine. Vanhoozer proposes this definition of inerrancy, “to say that the Scripture is inerrant is to confess faith that the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers read rightly).” The bulk of Vanhoozer’s essay buttresses his definition of inerrancy with a particular interest in the terms “truth” and “language” and he ties these concepts to the writings and concepts developed by Augustine. His essay utilizes careful language and sophisticated theological and philosophical depth that one would expect of a top-notch systematic theologian. Vanhoozer handles the biblical passages with tremendous theological and exegetical skill.
Vanhoozer gives the practical importance of a well-versed inerrancy with these words: “Implicit in my definition of inerrancy is that we be not only literate readers who rightly see what proposition an author is proposing (the literal sense) and what kind of attention to this proposition is required (literary sensibility) but also right-minded and right-hearted readers who respond rightly to each and every communicative act of Scripture (Spirit-given literacy) Ultimately, a well-versed approach to inerrancy constitutes nothing less than a standing requirement that the community of Scripture’s interpreters become persons capable of understanding, loving, and participating in the truth.”
I love the conclusion to Vanhoozer’s essay where he quotes Augustine’s approach to the veracity of the Scriptures: “And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to the truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand.” Of all the essays, I found Vanhoozer’s to be the most theologically profound and exegetically sound.
John Franke does not believe that the ICBI should serve as the standard-bearer for inerrancy. He offers an alternative model – what he calls a fallibilist perspective, “inerrancy functions only within the limits of language alone. It applies to Scripture only in the context of the original settings in which the texts that we have were constructed, and its affirmations and teachings cannot be abstracted from those contexts and offered as absolute truth, because only God knows and is Truth…this means that the ultimate truth and inerrancy of the Bible are finally contained not in the particular narratives and teachings of individual texts but rather in relation to its intended purpose and function in the economy of God…the Bible is that language the Spirit appropriates and employs to effect the social construction of the Christian community.”
Therefore, for Franke, the Bible is essentially fallible because it was written by fallible human beings. He expects that the Scriptures will contain errors and in his discussion of the biblical passages he is not troubled in the slightest by the historicity of the conquest of Jericho, nor the historic details of Paul’s Damascus Road vision. He seems more concerned about the big picture than the little details of the Bible. In doing so – he never quite tells us what inerrancy is. He never tells us what truth is. I found his essay to be confusing, fragmented, and unconvincing in regards to his theology, epistemology, and exegesis.
On the whole this is a fascinating multi-view book. The terrain covered is theologically rich, historically insightful, and exegetically helpful. The final chapter written by Stephen M. Garrett and J. Merrick was just what the doctor ordered. It helped bring synthesis, clarification, as well as a much needed explanation of the continuity and discontinuity on the spectrum of issues presented throughout the book. I highly recommend this book for everyone who loves God’s Word and is seeking to know, love, and live out His truth as revealed in the Scriptures.