Competing Methodologies

Carl Trueman’s piece on the Pete Enns controversy, in my mind, has at least one thing pegged (this is distinct from what Darryl Hart has challenged). The fragmentation of knowledge is a key factor in the Pete Enns controversy.

It is well known in theology these days that biblical studies departments are often suspicious of the systematic departments (indeed, of all the other departments). The dangers of proof-texting, as in taking Scripture out of context, are real dangers (this is distinct from the kind of proof-texting that the Westminster Assembly used, for instance), and these mistakes have occurred not only in systematic theology, but also in other fields. This can make biblical studies departments so suspicious of the other departments that they won’t allow other departments in the door. The abuse of exegesis in the support of non-exegetical concerns is then interpreted to be the normal use of exegesis to build other non-exegetical concerns. When abuse is confused for use, then we have serious trouble. Upon what can systematic theology build but exegesis? Where else can it find its lifeblood?

What is really happening, I think, is that exegetes are starting to deny the validity of systematic theology entirely. They would rather see biblical theology take the place of systematic theology, because it is supposedly closer to exegesis, and more controllable. This is, of course, one entire step removed from the theological encyclopedias of the 19th century. By the way, theological encyclopedia is not what we normally think of as encyclopedia today. Rather it is a description of the theological enterprise, focussing on the interdependence and interconnectedness of the various branches of theology.

Edward Farley, who wrote a book entitled Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theology, opined that the 4 branch system (exegesis, systematics, church history, and practical) is itself the result of the Enlightenment fragmentation of knowledge, and should therefore be abandoned. I’m not sure that this is a practical solution to the problem. There does need to be some specialization, since there does not seem to be any other way for people to keep up in their own field. What does need to happen is quite a bit more summary of developments in the fields so that the non-specialists can also keep up, even if only second hand. And the attempt to be a master of more than one field is also important. Theology is different than other branches of knowledge in that the original data does not change or expand. The Bible is a finished canon. Therein lies the only hope we have for the return of the generalist theologian (one who is a master in more than one field, indeed, all the fields). Yes, church history has an unmasterable mass of data. But I do not believe that exegesis or systematics, or apologetics or practical theology is unmasterable. They are all based directly on the Bible. Church history is based on Scripture as well. However, the primary sources for church history include more than the Bible. That is what makes church history, in my opinion, by far and away the most difficult of the fields to master, since there is an enormously greater amount of material.

Dr. Vern Poythress wrote an article on biblical theologies in the Spring 2008 volume of the WTJ. I heartily recommend this article to anyone interested in this debate. Also necessary is Richard Muller’s book The Study of Theology. Further research into this almost abandoned field is necessary. Gerhard Ebeling addressed the matter, as did Wolfhart Pannenberg. Beyond this, however, one must go to the 19th century encyclopedias to garner any information about the field of theological encyclopedia. Westminster Theological Seminary did not teach encyclopedia when I was there. As far as I know, they still do not. Muller’s book needs to be required reading at the beginning and at the end of the curriculum. What is happening right now is that students are graduating with an “I favor Enns, I favor Gaffin, I favor Oliphint, I favor Tipton, I favor Trueman, I favor Jue” mentality. Not so pleasant and just a tad unbiblical. Westminster needs to return to a study of the theological encyclopedia and find a way to address the unity of theological discourse. The study of Scripture  in Prolegomena does not accomplish this, since every discipline claims Scripture.

The problem here is competing methodologies. At this point in time, I see exegetical methodology as the problem, since most modern exegetes will not allow systematic theology to bound their exegesis. To them that seems like forcing exegesis onto a Procrustean bed. But right here is the nub of the issue. Is there such a thing as the analogy of faith? If Scripture can interpret other Scripture, then why can’t Scripture as a whole interpret individual Scripture? If this question be granted, then there is no reason to exclude systematic theology from exegesis. They mutually inform each other. If this is a true two-way street, then exegesis will not force systematic theology out of the Bible, and systematic theology will not misinterpret Scripture for its own ends. This is devoutly to be desired.



  1. Darryl Hart said,

    August 9, 2008 at 9:00 am

    One qualification to consider: the fragmentation of knowledge has been with us since the late 19th c. Old PTS and WTS both had to address it. The way they kept things integrated was through the unity supplied by training pastors. Such callings require mastery of the various disciplines, but all are pursued in service of word, sacrament and discipline.

    In this way the seminary is not appreciably different from Law and Med Schools. All are training professionals who need a smattering of proficiency in a variety of specializations. If lawyers and doctors can cope with the fragmentation of knowledge in the host of fields they work in, sure ministers can. (But then, turning a seminary into a Ph.D. granting institution muddies the waters considerably.)

  2. jeffhutchinson said,

    August 9, 2008 at 9:36 am


    You write (VERY helpfully): “But right here is the nub of the issue. Is there such a thing as the analogy of faith? If Scripture can interpret other Scripture, then why can’t Scripture as a whole interpret individual Scripture? If this question be granted, then there is no reason to exclude systematic theology from exegesis. They mutually inform each other. If this is a true two-way street, then exegesis will not force systematic theology out of the Bible, and systematic theology will not misinterpret Scripture for its own ends. This is devoutly to be desired.”

    My question (for you and others): How have you seen this basic and wonderful principle (of the whole corpus of Scripture interpreting each text of Scripture) undermined from within the Westminster community? What sort of arguments have been made that have seemed persuasive to folks (thus increasing the fragmentation)?

    I’m not looking for a long treatise, just some off-the-top-of-the-head bullet points. The one that I have regularly heard is the argument that we must let each human author speak “on his own terms,” implying (or even explicitely claiming!) that his “own terms” contradict and are mutually exclusive with the terms of other biblical authors.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    August 9, 2008 at 9:36 am

    Darryl, don’t you think that fragmentation started with Schleiermacher’s Kurze Darstellung?

    My experience at WTS was that they were trying to train ministers, but still failed explicitly to address the fragmentation of knowledge. I think that simply training ministers is not sufficient. It needs to be addressed explicitly.

  4. rfwhite said,

    August 9, 2008 at 10:28 am

    It seems to me that the fragmentation of knowledge is unavoidable in ministerial educational institutions if or when departmental specializations are openly competing (read: at war, at odds) with one another for the devotion of students. In other words, if there is no consensus as to that or how the specializations support one another in the goals of the institution, it is a combustible combination at best.

  5. rfwhite said,

    August 9, 2008 at 10:39 am

    To #4, I might add one more thought: historically, isn’t it the case that an institution’s confession of faith, whatever it is, has served as the point of consensus around which the institution’s specializations are supposed to rally? That consensus changes, however, when the specializations no longer agree on how the confession is to function, much less on what the confession is.

  6. Darryl Hart said,

    August 9, 2008 at 10:42 am

    GB: sure, Farley is right about Schleiermacher moving things in that direction. But the history of American higher education and the role of religion in it is much different for the United States. The seminary was a novel institution for Protestants, neither fish (college) nor fowl (university). That has contributed to a church-vs.-academy tension in American religious studies (i.e., AAR) that does not exist as strongly in Europe where faculties of theology are still normal at European universities. This explains why so many American students are attracted to study theology or HT in Europe. You can pursue those specialized studies there that in the U.S. you need to study in the context of “religious studies.”

    RFWhite: departmental specializations need not be so explicitly hostile if all the faculty are church officers, under the oversight of sessions and presybteries, and are pursuing their scholarly vocations in the context of serving the church (whether through training ministers or through serving in local congregations, presbytery and General Assembly committees).

  7. Ron Henzel said,

    August 9, 2008 at 11:08 am

    I’ve always assumed that the fragmentation started with J.P. Gabler’s 1787 Oratio de justo discrimine theologiae biblicae et dogmaticae regundisque recte utriusque finibus (“Discourse on the proper distinction between biblical and dogmatic theology and the correct definition of their boundaries”). And I wonder if the real issue is not fragmentation, but rather hegemony.

    It seems to me that Gabler rebelled against the hegemony of systematic (dogmatic) theology, and was convinced from the start that his proposed biblical theology project would produce something superior to it. While there have been evangelicals who have produced biblical theologies without setting them in opposition to systematics, I think the pervasive tendency in the field as a whole reflects the attitude of its founder, and this can feed into the corrosive competition to which Dr. White refers.

  8. Ron Henzel said,

    August 9, 2008 at 11:11 am

    I should have added to my previous comment that in the field of theological studies as a whole, Gabler’s project seems to have turned the tables by achieving the hegemony he resented dogmatics having in his day.

  9. rfwhite said,

    August 9, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Darryl, I agree with you that departments don’t have to be explicitly hostile. My interest was to analyze the extent to which it is true that institutions can keep things integrated through the unity supplied by training pastors for service of word, sacrament, and discipline. If I understand you correctly, integration comes around a shared vocational goal. I agree, and I was attempting to add that vocation is defined by confession, the latter of which has both individual and corporate expression. Whether that confession has historical antecedents or not is not my point. Rather, my point is how confession functions relative to vocation. As I understand it, confession provides the disciplinary matrix, the network of shared assumptions, methods, standards, sources, and sanctions, within which the individuals of the institution have agreed to work and by which they have agreed to define the vocation for which they are training their students. The threats to that unity are basically two: authoritarianism and individualism vis-a-vis the institution’s confession.

    Ron, Gabler, as I remember it, also decried that the dogmaticians of his day had robbed the church of the passion and intimacy of the Biblical faith. He was determined to rescue the church from the hands of its philosophers (systemic theologians) by and into the hands of its poets (biblical theologians).

  10. ReformedSinner said,

    August 9, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    This is a problem I think that’s many folded.

    1) The academic battlefield. As said many times Biblical Theology has taken a form of its own, they are like the prodigal son that got sick and tire of always being under the guidance of the father (ST, CH, AP, and in a way PT) and wants out. BT wants independence and their slogan is “let the Bible speak.” I suspect just like the prodigal son they will soon find out the world without ST/CH/AP/PT cannot survive. BT will have to keep giving-in giving-in giving-in giving-in until they wake up and realize the truth and love belongs back home with ST/CH/AP/PT, but the time is not yet.

    2) Practicality. Seminarians nowadays are less and less prepared for rigurous trainings of WTS. In the past you are expected to know Greek before you even enrolled. A seminary can raise the bar and expect students to be experts in everything: exegetics, systematics, CH, PT, AP, now Counseling. Is WTS willing to go back to the old days when the student body is 20-30 students?

    3) Ability of the Faculty. Trueman mentioned that as late as BB Warfield you have someone that is a great exegete, systematician, church historian, and can also write for the Church. Is there anyone like that anymore? I personally think the best imprint into students minds about integration is for professors to teach inter-departmentally. Dr. Gaffin’s doing that (ST and BT) but if it can be proliferated I think this will effect the students greatly.

  11. cbovell said,

    August 10, 2008 at 1:35 am

    “Theology is different than other branches of knowledge in that the original data does not change or expand. The Bible is a finished canon. Therein lies the only hope…”

    That’s quite a gambit, asking people to put all their eggs in that basket. Of all things to say, don’t go around telling people that the Bible is our only hope!

    BTW, Darryl, for my part, I did happen to write myself a memo about not commenting on these blogs for a long while. But I feel compelled to make an exception here because if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a believer it’s that telling young people things like “The Bible’s our only hope” actually contributes to setting them up for a big existential fall. (Cf. my book.)

  12. Ron Henzel said,

    August 10, 2008 at 5:23 am


    You wrote:

    That’s quite a gambit, asking people to put all their eggs in that basket. Of all things to say, don’t go around telling people that the Bible is our only hope!

    Lane did not write that “the Bible is our only hope.” Even the unfair manner in which you quoted him demonstrates that. Your partial citation, “Therein lies the only hope…” obviously refers back to the sentence, “The Bible is a finished canon.” Thus, the word “therein” must refer not to the Bible itself, but to the fact that it is a finished canon, which signifies, based on the previous sentence, that the data of God’s revelation is stable. But even this does not demonstrate the full extent of your misquotation of Lane, for the complete third sentence above reads:

    Therein lies the only hope we have for the return of the generalist theologian (one who is a master in more than one field, indeed, all the fields).

    So it’s obvious that Lane was not declaring that the Bible itself is the only hope for people, or even for anything in particular. He very clearly and plainly wrote that the stability of the closed canon of biblical data is “the only hope we have for the return of the generalist theologian.” Perhaps you do not approve of this statement, but it’s no excuse for completely twisting it into something you believe is easier to attack.

    You also wrote:

    …if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a believer it’s that telling young people things like “The Bible’s our only hope” actually contributes to setting them up for a big existential fall. (Cf. my book.)

    And if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a reader, it’s not to buy books from authors who don’t know how to fairly represent their sources.

  13. cbovell said,

    August 10, 2008 at 7:33 am

    With apologies, Ron. To be more mindful of readers here and their sensitive regard for scripture I should tread more carefully. Let me try again:

    That’s quite a gambit, asking people to put all their eggs in that basket. Of all things to say, don’t go around telling people that “The Bible is a finished canon. Therein lies the only hope we have for the return of the generalist theologian (one who is a master in more than one field, indeed, all the fields)”!

    And to me, to say that the Bible is the only hope for anything at all is exposing people to a vulnerability that has proven quite costly for a number of people (myself included).

  14. its.reed said,

    August 10, 2008 at 7:43 am


    I appreciate your transparency. Humbly brother, you continue to expose, not your understanding of the Truth, but your experience of aspects of the Curse. It sounds as if you continue to confuse your experience and its failures and hurts, with the Truth.

    The Bible IS the only hope for it is the Only place where we find the words of life and the Word Himself. I’m not seeking to argue or be harsh, but your comment is a curse to any who would contemplate it as possibly true.

  15. greenbaggins said,

    August 10, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Carlos, the Bible is the only repository of a revealed truth that tells us about Jesus, who is our only hope. Or is Jesus not your only hope in life and in death? If it is thought that I am narrow because I believe the Bible is the only place that contains God’s revealed truth as it bears on salvation in Christ (very important qualifier, since I do not deny the book of natural revelation), then I will not only rejoice to be thought narrow, but revel in it! Carlos, on what basis, then, will you say that Jesus Christ is our only hope in life and in death, if the Bible is not the only source for the word of life? Now you are going one full step beyond Enns even, who never said that the canon was open, and that we can find out about salvation outside the Bible. I thought you said you had had an epiphany as to why people were reacting against Enns. If you had one, you are now running pell-mell beyond Enns.

  16. cbovell said,

    August 10, 2008 at 8:43 am

    “The Bible IS the only hope for it is the Only place where we find the words of life and the Word Himself.”

    That’s exactly NOT the way that I think our trust in the Bible should be expressed. But to be fair, I’m still on a search for a better way.

    “I thought you said you had had an epiphany as to why people were reacting against Enns.”

    By interacting with you guys, I realized that if Enns’ work is right, then sola scriptura is false and that you guys have every right to raise a stink over that. That’s the epiphany I had, not that Enns is wrong (or even that he is right for that matter).

    We’re actually going to make it to service today! I thought you might be happy to hear it.

  17. GLW Johnson said,

    August 10, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Here in Mesa, AZ. ?

  18. its.reed said,

    August 10, 2008 at 12:01 pm


    Just to reiterate, I’m grateful for your transparency and sincerity. It does not make disagreeing with you any easier. Yet it does make interacting.

  19. August 10, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Some have thought that systematics has fallen on hard times, that it has lost its nerve, so to speak. But several excellent STs have been published over the last 20 years or so – culminating in Reymond’s fabulous book (in my humble opinion). I still believe that systematics is THE most important discipline – not that any of the others are unimportant, but that they all support systematics in their various ways. So, it’s good to see that the systematicians are doing good work these days.

  20. Rick Phillips said,

    August 11, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Jeff Hutchinson asked way back in #2 about the analogy of faith and fragmentation of disciplines at WTS. One of the big things I learned at WTS was a canonical approach to interpretation. When considering a passage, I was taught to ask, first, what this meant in its immediate historical context; second, what it meant in light of the canon up to that point; and third, what it means in light of the completed revelation of the canon. In other words, this is how systematic theology impacts exegesis, not via the ST textbooks but via the completed revelation of the canon on a given matter. To this day, when preparing a sermon, I ask myself, “What did this mean to the original audience?” but I also ask, “How does the completed canon speak to this?” This is one way of respecting both the human element in Scripture — “what did the human writer say to his human audience” (superintended by the Holy Spirit, of course) — while also respecting the divine authorship of Scripture — since God is the author of the whole Bible, what does the whole Bible say about this matter?). This approach was drilled into me during my student days at WTS, especially in the BT classes.

    But it seemed to me that by the late ’90’s, there were professors at WTS who were reluctant to allow any methodology that accounted for the divine authorship of Scripture. I am not saying that they confessionally denied the divine authorship of Scripture, but that their interpretive method did not provide for it. Let me give an example. In a doctoral class dealing with Paul’s theology, I tried to bring light to a matter from the Gospel of Luke. (The issue was justification, the professor was arguing for covenantal nomism, and I was arguing from the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.) The professor’s reply: “You cannot use Luke to interpret Paul’s thought.” I might have argued that Luke was of course under a high degree of Pauline influence, having been his apostolic companion, etc. Instead, I argued that our doctrine of inspiration teaches that there is a divine author who speaks in all the books, hence the unity and integrity of the Bible’s teaching, amid the Bible’s diversity, so that one of the best ways to understand what Paul means is to consult what the Bible says elsewhere (especially when referring to one of Paul’s own apostolic associates). This methodology – the analogy of faith – was ruled out completely. To say the least, I knew there were big problems at that point (actually, I already knew it). Later (this would have been around 1999), I was invited, along with my ministerial colleague in Philadelphia, to meet with the biblical studies faculty to express these concerns. When I asserted that it seemed that at least some of the BT faculty had no place for divine authorship in their method of interpretation (having previously addressed this with them personally), the persons in question responded indignantly that they affirmed the doctrine of divine authorship. But I was not asserting that they denied the doctrine itself, but merely that their interpretive approach left no room for its application. This is, of course, one of the very issues addressed so thoroughly by the WTS faculty that have opposed Pete Enns and his cohorts.

    Now, where did this come from? It seemed to me at the time that somewhere along the way (perhaps in their doctoral programs?) these men had become accustomed to higher critical methods of interpretation. So at the level of confession they argued for divine authorship. But at the level of method, the higher critical approach (even a limited application of it) required them to jetison the analogy of faith in any really meaningful sense. At least back in the mid- to late- 90’s, it seemed to me that the tension between method and confession was unresolved even among the more “progressive” faculty. But there could be little doubt that the higher critical methods required of the academic guild were squeezing out an exegetical approach consistent with the Westminster Standards.

    This is why I believe it essential that we hold fast to the emphasis of WCF I:5 that “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.” In other words, as I believe Van Til emphasized, we must start our reasoning with faith in the teaching of Scripture and that our exegetical method must therefore be consistent with the self-attestation of Scripture. I realize that some will argue that this does not help, since there is disagreement over the self-attestation of Scripture itself. But I reply that there are essential teachings of Scripture that are so unambiguous as to be reasonably uncontested, at least from within the canon. An example would be the divine authorship of the Bible. “God spoke through the prophets,” (Heb. 1:1), etc. Now, as one who receives in faith the Bible’s plain teaching because of the Spirit’s testimony to it in my spirit, I must now employ a method that fully incorporates divine authorship, the unity of the Bible, and the analogy of faith. To this we need to add the perspicuity of Scripture, since I do indeed assert that the Bible speaks with clarity on essential matters of doctrine like the divine authorship of Scripture. Higher critical methods begin with the assumption that WCF I:5 is wrong; any approach to interpretation that reflects the WCF will say that higher critical methods are wrong (that is, in conflict with the internal witness of Scripture regarding its own character).

    Now, I realize that many post-modern eyebrows will be raised by this, accompanied by smirks. But in my view we must not back away from this, and to do so is to enter the very morasse that is causing so many of our young theological students to profess confusion and a lack of confidence in the kind of hermeneutics that was once taught (and I trust will be taught again) by the entire faculty of WTS. In short, we must have a methodology that arises from confidence that God speaks clearly and effectually in the Bible about the character of the Bible. Or, to put it more bluntly, our methodology must meaningfully affirm, “Because the Bible tells me so.” Thus, when Lane states that the completed canon of the Scripture is our only hope for a confident faith, he means that the Holy Spirit’s witness to my spirit as to the truthfulness and clarity of Scripture is my only hope of a confident faith. Either we whole-heartedly affirm this or we admit that we have departed from the WCF (I appreciate Carlos’ admission that this is the case) and, more importantly, we will find ourselves tossed back and forth by every kind of confusion and doubt, not least those that arise from higher critical methods of interpretation.

  21. GLW Johnson said,

    August 11, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Steven Baugh, professor of NT at WSCAL has posted a review of Kenton Sparks’ recent book ‘God’sWord in Human Words’ over at Ref 21 that echoes Rich Phillips’ concerns.

  22. cbovell said,

    August 11, 2008 at 11:25 am

    “[Lane] means that the Holy Spirit’s witness to my spirit as to the truthfulness and clarity of Scripture is my only hope of a confident faith.”

    This is exactly what I understood Lane to mean when I first chimed in. The Holy Spirit’s witness to my spirit that …. the Bible??? This is precisely what I think should NOT be taught. The Bible cannot bear all of the responsibility/hope that we are placing on it. Only God can. I, for one, can no longer treat scripture as if it is God.

    The Holy Spirit’s witness to my spirit that THE GOSPEL IS TRUE is what I think should be taught. How does scripture play into this picture? And what might “true” mean here? As far as I can see, those are the million dollar questions that everyone is racing to answer. One very serious ecclesial problem (again, as far as I can see) is that conservatives aren’t even willing to beginning asking questions in this way.

  23. its.reed said,

    August 11, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Ref. 22:

    Or rather, some of us are comfortable that such explanations as that found in the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 1 are sufficient expressions to answer such questions. Don’t assume that “conservatives” are unquestioning.

  24. cbovell said,

    August 11, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Exactly. I was thinking to myself when I wrote about an ecclesial problem in #22: “For some reason conservatives are still content believing that the WCF has already answered these questions for them.”

  25. itsreed said,

    August 11, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Ref. #25:

    Sorry, but no Carlos. You said, “One very serious ecclesial problem (again, as far as I can see) is that conservatives aren’t even willing to beginning asking questions in this way.” (emphasis added).

    To reach such a conclusion you just assume that “conservatives” are:

    1. Unaware,
    2. Uninformed,
    3. Ignorant,
    4. Disregard, or
    4. Apathetic

    To the kinds of concerns that lead you to conclude opposite the doctrine found in WCF 1.

    Respectfully, while I sense you do not intend it, such a conviction is judgmental (personal opinion masquerading as truth). In your interaction with “conservatives,” starting from this faulty point, it may very well be you who disregards ( what may be the very reasonable insight that would answer your question and resolve your dilemma.

    You are disdaining the “traditional” answers (e.g., WCF 1) not because they are insufficient for your concerns, but because you have stereo-typed those answers and those who hold to them.

  26. greenbaggins said,

    August 11, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Rick, thanks for a very thoughtful comment. You should post it on Ref21 as a complete post (maybe you have already). I did get a very helpful clarifying email from a faculty member at WTS. What he said was that the current confusion at WTS is not the consensus, but is an aberration from the normal methods at WTS. i am quite willing to admit this. However, when Shepherd was there at WTS, I think the same confusion prevailed. Rick has very helpfully outlined what that confusion is.

  27. Rick Phillips said,

    August 11, 2008 at 5:32 pm


    Carlos writes:

    “The Holy Spirit’s witness to my spirit that …. the Bible??? This is precisely what I think should NOT be taught. The Bible cannot bear all of the responsibility/hope that we are placing on it. Only God can. I, for one, can no longer treat scripture as if it is God.”

    “The Holy Spirit’s witness to my spirit that THE GOSPEL IS TRUE is what I think should be taught.”

    The reply to this is: what is the gospel and how do we know what it is? Unless we place our confidence with respect to the gospel in God’s revelation to man in the Holy Scriptures, then we have no stable basis for even identifying the gospel. Thus we can have no strong confidence in the gospel. No wonder that he continues by saying that we lack the answers with respect to what “true” means. No answer will be found without an objective, fixed standard of truth in the revealed Word of God.

    How important is his statement: “The Bible cannot bear all of the responsibility/hope that we are placing on it. Only God can. I, for one, can no longer treat scripture as if it is God.” This necessarily assumes that the Bible is not the Word of God in a full sense. For if it is the Word of God, and if its self-description as “enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19) is true, then we trust God by trusting the Word He has given us that we might know the truth. We do not treat Scripture “as if it is God.” But we do treat it as the Word of the Godwe worship and trust, by which he tells us what to believe, how to live, and what to hope for. And if that Word is not trustworthy as a means of knowing God and His salvation, how will we ever know these things? Once the divine authority, clarity, and inerrancy of Scripture are abandoned, we are thrust onto some other authority which is needed to tell us what in the Scriptures is and is not true, clear, and authoritative. Inevitably, this will be man (i.e. the priesthood of the academics), and they will then be effectively God to us. No thank you. “The wise man… built his house on the rock” (Mt. 7:24). The so-called problems set forth by higher critics and more recently by Dr. Enns have not shaken our confidence in the rock that is God’s Word. The Scriptures are not God to us, but they are the rock on which God has called us to build and to stand.

    This is what I mean by a method of Bible interpretation that acknowledges divine authorship. If the Bible is God’s Word — as it abundantly attests regarding itself — then we must trust and worship God by believing and obeying the Bible. If God’s Word is a light given by God for our path, then we must trust Him and walk by that path. Any other approach to Scripture compromises or rejects the Bible’s self-attestation to be the Word of God. It is simple unbelief.

  28. G.C. Berkley said,

    August 11, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    Perhaps it was a myth that Jesus said, “Thy Word is truth.” We just can’t be sure what He meant, or if He ever really said it.

    Maybe we can just hone the Bible down to “the gospel story” and leave it at that. It’s only reliable enough to give us the gospel message, and even some of that is up for grabs. On second thought, let’s just say “Jesus died for sinners, and I’m a sinner” OK, that’s the bottom line. Boy, the Bible sure could have been a lot shorter (and easier to pass out for evangelistic purposes).

    Oh well.

  29. bret said,

    August 11, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    Problems In Academia

    Over at Green Baggins

    they are discussing this,

    As I had a friend send me the immediate above link, and as Green Baggins is hitting (but missing in my opinion) on some of the same issues I saw when I initially read the open letter I’ve decided to follow through on my initial instinct and write on what seems to be a glaring problem.

    The letter from the Academic Dean of Westminster East concerns the problem of that flagship Seminaries are having in keeping unity among the professorial staff. Trueman’s letter comes in the context of the recent Peter Enns imbroglio where Dr. Enns and Westminster Seminary parted and went their respective ways in the context of a great deal of tension.

    Here is the quote from the Dr. Carl Trueman letter that caught my attention;

  30. cbovell said,

    August 11, 2008 at 11:37 pm


    Thanks for taking the time to talk.

    You said: “If the Bible is God’s Word — as it abundantly attests regarding itself — then we must trust and worship God by believing and obeying the Bible. If God’s Word is a light given by God for our path, then we must trust Him and walk by that path. Any other approach to Scripture compromises or rejects the Bible’s self-attestation to be the Word of God. It is simple unbelief.”

    With all due respect, this indeed sounds very pious, but it seems to me that it’s actually this sentiment that is being qualified as an objective, fixed standard in your schema and not scripture. In other words, it is a full-blown theological tradition you are invoking, a complex hermeneutical maneuver that is now doing double duty for you: both as a post-hermeneutical attitude AND as a pre-critical, fixed and objective standard.

    My gesture is to urge the following: If the Bible is the Word of God, then we must inquire as thoroughly as possible into what it means for the Bible to be the Word of God. This is where we both stand actually, at least in my view. I proffer that the direction one takes from there does not break down so easily into matters of belief and unbelief as you suggest. That particular bifurcation (belief/unbelief) is a post-hermeneutical judgment, one that cannot somehow be wished back into the pre-exegetical moment, at least not in the way that you are insisting it be with respect to being indicative of believe and unbelief on the part of the Bible reader himself before he opens the book– at least that’s how I’m inclined to see things anyway.

  31. Ron Henzel said,

    August 12, 2008 at 6:03 am


    You wrote:

    My gesture is to urge the following: If the Bible is the Word of God, then we must inquire as thoroughly as possible into what it means for the Bible to be the Word of God.

    And what method do you propose for accomplishing such a thorough inquiry?

  32. its.reed said,

    August 12, 2008 at 7:17 am

    Ref. 31, 32:

    And I might add, why do you suppose that the methodology of our fathers in the faith is valueless?

    Have you ever read, to change the focus slightly, Van Til, Carlos? I understand a new edition of his Defense of the Faith has been released. In this edition Van Til’s original much more thorough and comprehensive interaction with his critics has not been edited out for readability. Consequently we are provided with a much more thorough picture of just how fully and sincerely confessional (Reformed) scholarship engages with the hard questions.

    Carlos, why not start from the beginnning? Why not go back to the patristics and work your way forward? Why not examine, say, Montanus’ challenge to inerrancy and learn why the Early Church rejected his position? Why not do the same throughout Church history?

    Then ask yourself this question, is the “traditional” answer on inerrancy the traditional one because God has kept His promise to protect His word in its ministry to his people, or because mere humans with the power in every generation squelched any challenges to the traditional answer?

    As Rick has rightly pointed out (and I observed in a previous exchange) you’ve set up a man-centered source of authority. You can never satisfactorily answer such a question. And if not, then you will never be able to come to a stable position in terms of how the Bible is the word of God. You’ve simply jettisoned on source of man-centered authority (confessional scholarship) for another (post-modern evangelical, neo-liberal?, scholarship).

    Using fickle man as your authority is resting yourself on (as Rick opined) the shifting sand.

  33. Rick Phillips said,

    August 12, 2008 at 12:17 pm


    Thanks for the reply. When I wrote that “to do other than this is simple unbelief,” I did not mean to suggest that to fail to accept my “post-hermeneutical position” is simple unbelief. I meant the when the Bible has so clearly set forth propositions regarding its own character, then we either make them the foundation of our exegetical method or we are proceeding from an unwillingness to believe the Bible’s teaching, i.e. unbelief.

    As I understand your reply, with the emphasis on pre- and post-hermeneutical positions, you are arguing that what I am demanding faith in is an understanding of the Bible’s teaching that is post-hermeneutical. In this approach, however, there really is nothing that is pre-hermeneutical (surely postmodernity has demonstrated that!), and if we cannot grant authority to anything that is post-hermeneutical, the inevitable result is that there is no authority. I fear this is the very position in which you are headed.

    But this posits an understanding of divine revelation that falls short of the biblical testimony, I am afraid. It sets forth the idea that God’s revelatory work concluded with the objective inspiration and preservation of the canon (indeed, perhaps even short of that). I would argue in response that God’s sovereign work of revelation consisted not only of the objective setting forth of Scripture (so that we have Bibles), but extends into the subjective communication of the truth of the Bible via the present ministry of the Holy Spirit. I am not saying that the authority of the text resides in my personal interpretation. I am rather saying that since 1) God has purposed to communicate vital truths to his people; and 2) this purpose requires both the objective setting forth the Scripture and the subjective communication of Scripture to his people; then 3) we can be sure of the truth revealed by God both by its objective clarity in the Scriptures and by the witness of the Holy Spirit to our spirits of the truth of the clear statements of Scripture.

    Moreover, clarity, not obscurity, is a characteristic of language. If my wife gives me a grocery list on a piece of paper and I go to the grocery store, it is amazing how often what I bring her is exactly what she wanted. (This in part reflects her outstanding training.) The words of the piece of paper do in fact clearly communicate to me the ideas in her mind. Likewise, the statement that “God spoke by the prophets” conveys a truth that cannot be relegated to a post-hermeneutical ghetto. Likewise the poetic assertion of Psalm 19 that “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart, the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes,” is a clear statement of truth. Either we grant these and other such statements of Scripture a foundational role in our exegetical method, or we are engaging in simple unbelief. Writing them off as “post-hermeneutical” simply will not do.

    Imagine my son using this approach to excuse his failure to obey my instructions. “Well, Dad, that is just your post-hermeneutical understanding of what I was supposed to do. It has no real authority for anyone but you.” Such an argument would not succeed in averting his punishment. Likewise, and I mean this quite seriously, and not in a way that is directed to any particular person, I fear that the postmodern strategies to avoid the divine authority of the clear teaching of Scripture will not stand up in the holy court of God’s perfect justice. “God spoke by the prophets, and in these last days he has spoken by his Son.” “Listen to him,” the Father says (referring us to the word of Christ in the Scriptures). And I do believe he means just that.

  34. Sam Sutter said,

    August 12, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    I think it’s fair to say that one of the hot issues of Enns book is his sections on multiple theologies in the OT. BUT, his question should be discussed for what he says… namely. (paraphrased) “What did God give us in the Bible? – If it looks like the Bible is saying different things, do we have to synthesize it because we humans think God’s Word should be consistent? Or do we let it be what it appears to be?”

    Asking that question is different from frowning on ST because there are certainly big topics without deviance in the Bible. But, it’s hard to maintain that imposing consistency on text is honoring the Word more than letting the text speak for itself.

  35. ReformedSinner said,

    August 12, 2008 at 3:29 pm


    We do let the text speak for itself. We believe the text is ultimately a unity, an organic unity to quote Vos. While isolated texts serve its purpose, ultimately the text is to be understood as a whole. Therefore while topics like “Paul’s theology”, “Ezekiel”, “Mosaic Covenant” serve a purpose, ultimately they need to be taken in relationship with one another, as part of “History of Revelation” that has a goal in mind (Christ/Salvation.)

    Enns asked a good question: what is the Bible. We provided an answer: an organic unity. Enns says no it’s not, we say yes it is. So let’s debate. But unfortunately Enns and pro-Enns group think anybody that doesn’t agree with them are already dead-orthodoxy, closed-minded, binded by systematics ignorant folks. Please don’t act like we didn’t hear him out, we did, we answered, but Enns (and his supporters) refused to hear us out. Please also don’t ignore the fact that there are also Evangelical Biblical Theologians that are also against Enns, not just systematicians.

    Related to this, I specifically don’t appreciate Enns when he cited the Temple Cleansing as an example, and made a not so friendly comment that anybody believed in two cleansings are basically ignorant and doing bad scholarship. Nevermind that throughout history many noteworthy churchmen also believed in two cleansings, and in modern time Don Carson also believed in two cleansings.

    In short I believed Enns book is poorly written, and while he preach compassion but at times he’s very hostile to people he doesn’t like or appreciate, which make his book hard to stomach for people disagreeing with him.

  36. Rick Phillips said,

    August 12, 2008 at 3:43 pm


    I think Sam makes an important statement: “If it looks like the Bible is saying different things, do we have to synthesize it because we humans think God’s Word should be consistent? Or do we let it be what it appears to be?”

    Now, I am no fan of poor and knee-jerk harmonization. And it is vitally important that we be clear on the principles by which we assess the “appearance” of Scripture. Sam argues that those who harmonize do so because “we humans think” God’s Word should be consistent. Well, what “we humans think” is not the principle I use. Rather, I start with humble submission to the clear teaching of Scripture. And since Scripture says to me that God is the One author speaking through the many human authors, I think approach the diversity of Scripture with a commitment to ultimate unity and coherence. Sam then suggests that we ” let it be what it appears to be?” But in whose appearance are we speaking of? Is it not what some “humans think” it appears to be? I do not argue that we should choose to follow conservative humans versus liberal humans, nor fundamentalist humans versus academic humans. I argue that we should place the grid of the Bible’s self-attestation upon the appearance of Scripture so that we can sort the data according to what God thinks and has revealed to us.

    I do not post this as a “gotcha” — this is a vitally important issue. I believe in inerrancy not because I can answer all the questions. I believe in inerrancy because God tells us that He is the author of His Word, and, being perfect, He cannot err. To say that we must start with “the appearance” of the data is to say that we must start with what some “humans think.” I am not qualified on my own — either intellectually or morally — to make judgements about the appearance of Scripture. I must humble follow in the path — the exegetical method — laid down by God’s Word.

    This is why perspicuity is at the very heart of today’s hermeneutical debates. The postmoderns (and the academic guild for the most part) think perspicuity is a joke. But others of us believe that perspicuity is a good and a necessary consequence of the character and purpose of God in revelation as declared to us in the Scriptures.

  37. rfwhite said,

    August 12, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    If I understand Rick’s point, unity (consistency) in Scripture, or the lack thereof, is a consequence of authorship. Shall we deny that God is the author of the Bible as a whole even as we affirm that He is author of the Bible in its parts? Does each inspired document of the Scriptures have its authority or its overall intelligibility in isolation from the others or in relation to the others, within the context provided by the Bible as a whole?

  38. Sam Sutter said,

    August 13, 2008 at 8:53 am

    I need to point out that I’m not arguing Enns points per se. I’m just saying that a discussion about his points should revolve around his points and if you want to branch out to problems in “evangelicalism” (always a fun topic), it’s unfair to lump everyone who appreciates their WTS teachers in that mix.

    The initial post argues that the Enns issue is a fight between ST and “exegesis” methods. (or in sum – “exegetes are starting to deny the validity of systematic theology entirely”)

    I frankly think that while part of the disagreement is the difference between academic guilds, Enns pointing out that there seems to be theological differences in the Bible is something other than “denying the validity of ST entirely”. I think we need to have a doctrine of scripture that isn’t afraid to point out that say – Leviticus heavily focuses on cultic practice, where the DT has different priorities (unity, single worship, etc) . And to whitewash those difference by saying (shema) God is one… therefore the Bible is unified, therefore, it all has the same view/focus is creating a problem that is really tough to solve.

    Example: We’re teaching through Hebrews in Church. Another local pastor was going to teach through it but withdrew because he didn’t want to read the Bible outloud and deal with possibility of questioning eternal security and questioning the unity of scripture. I think having a ST and a definition of the unity of scripture that won’t let you read the Bible outloud is bad.

  39. Sam Sutter said,

    August 13, 2008 at 9:26 am

    (ok, missed the chance to interact with Rick and RFWhite at least to affirm that.) Yeah, I think that any doctrine of Scripture has to believe in the “diversity of Scripture with a commitment to ultimate unity and coherence.”

    My real question (the human word i guess) was what does “ultimate unity and coherence” look like given the obviously diversity in Scripture? I want to suggest that pointing that there is diversity is something than other denying inerancy. I’m not sure if I enjoy the analogy you (Rick) make between the unity of God to the unity of his Word, if only because I don’t always get a great grasp myself on the diversity of the Trinity… but if you’re going to get to the unity of scripture from a Theology Proper analogy, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t want to take it from a Christology instead(?)

  40. GLW Johnson said,

    August 13, 2008 at 9:28 am

    That is absurd. John Owen produced a massive multi-volume commentary of Hebrews.To that list can be added the likes of Philip Hughes and the techincal studies of Roger Nicole. Their ST was a boon in their exegesis.

  41. GLW Johnson said,

    August 13, 2008 at 9:31 am

    … I should have also mention Rick Phillips’ excellent volume in the Reformed Expository Commentary series as well.

  42. Sam Sutter said,

    August 13, 2008 at 9:31 am

    (yeah, I’ll knew I’d get in trouble for that example…. I personally think that local pastor is absurd and silly. But, it’s a real life church problem.)

  43. Sam Sutter said,

    August 13, 2008 at 9:35 am

    Oh wait… I’m talking to that Rick Phillips? I’m going to stop right now… except to thank you (Rick) for your books… they’ve been a blessing in my ministry, I keep giving away the one on evangelism.

  44. Rick Phillips said,

    August 13, 2008 at 12:55 pm


    Well, you can still interact with me — and thank you for your kind words. You address another important matter when you write, “I think we need to have a doctrine of scripture that isn’t afraid to point out that say – Leviticus heavily focuses on cultic practice, where the DT has different priorities (unity, single worship, etc).”

    I would agree completely, and say that an emphasis on biblical unity in no way conflicts with this. In fact, this was one of the main issues in which I benefited from WTS and from the OT department in particular (I think Doug Green was especially helpful in this regard, along with Al Groves). We can and should give serious considerations to matters like genre and theological selectivity. The theological agenda of Kings is quite different from that of Chronicles, while covering the same events — this is clear from the texts themselves. Moreover, I think there is value to considering matters like the way that John presents adoption versus the way that Paul does. But we must do so within a rubric of fundamental unity. So the Bible does not have two doctrines of adoption, but it does present this doctrine from two complementary angles via John and Paul.

    It is true that your use of a horrific example of non-biblical Calvinism is not very helpful. But we should note that this kind of thing — refusing to preach certain passages because they are thought to challenge our doctrine — is to be strongly condemned. This is what Arminians do! I want my Calvinist doctrine to be increasingly shaped by the contours of the biblical text (yet another benefit of a long-term commitment to expository preaching). I did not fear Hebrews 6:4-6 at all when I preached through that book. Of course, one of my considerations in exegeting that passage was the analogy of faith: my conclusion could not contradict the clear teaching of Scripture elsewhere. Morevoer, it was specifically the homiletical approach unique to Hebrews that helped me to see what is really being taught there. My Reformed commitment to perseverance was not only strengthened by preaching that passage but I think it was also given more depth. Here is the BT-ST interplay as I think it should be. When I am exegeting a given passage, I consult the Bible’s witness to the matter in other places (i.e. I consider what ST has to say about the matter.) But that passage then makes its own contribution to my ST understanding of the doctrine, so that the text itself is understood in light of the whole canon and makes its own contribution to the canonical witness regarding the doctrine.

  45. greenbaggins said,

    August 13, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Yes, Sam, you never know when you may be entertaining angels unawares… watch what you say around Rick Phillips, Gary Johnson, Darryl Hart and R. Fowler White, all of them well-respected and published many times.:-)

  46. August 13, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    […] a faculty member of WTS explaining some clarifications, I do feel it incumbent on me to clarify my preceding post. I certainly do not mean to imply that all faculty members of WTS are ignorant of the problem […]

  47. cbovell said,

    August 13, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    #37 and #38:

    I have been trying to phase out of blogging and commenting on blogs so that in September I will have all my time to devote to my work. But I think with your help I may be able to get nearer to the bottom of what it is that irks me about conservative views about scripture. I ask your patience and welcome criticism as I try to express that irksomeness in this rather lengthy comment.

    God does not give an intro or summative chapter instructing us as to this unity you speak of. We are the ones who attempt to do that. It’s us believers who do it, and then we say that we are under the guidance of the Spirit when we do it. Yet we are met with a contemporary theological pluralism: we have come up with as many unities to scripture as there are denominations. This sounds like when biblical theologians were trying to find the “center” of the OT. No one could agree. And so soon enough they gave up the quest. This is what I’m afraid that young believers will start doing. At some point one has to wonder whether believers are not searching for something that is not really there, like when Kant begins asking whether metaphysics is even possible– so many people doing the same thing and no consensus in sight, and arguably little to no progress ever being made. (cf. my chapter against worldview philosophy in my book)

    I am compelled to say again that we have most definitely asked too much of the Bible. Reed has advised me that my limited experience is too limited to go on so I won’t appeal to that again (although it may be all I have). I ask that you consider with me the following analysis, if you will, as I attempt again to communicate what it is that (I think) I am trying to say:

    The act of reading scripture is a first-order activity. Asking about what scripture is is a second order activity. Asking whether and how we can ask what scripture is is a third order activity. And asking what authority can tell us whether and how we can ask what scripture is is a fourth order activity. If I understand Mr. Phillips and Mr. White correctly, you guys are suggesting that we have to go to the scriptures to get the answers to all of these questions, irrespective of their order. With all due respect, that strikes me as absolute nonsense. The scriptures somehow transcend themselves and can answer all our n-order questions regarding it. That’s what I hear you guys saying. I have tried to show in chapters five and six in my book that, Word of God or no, this is *practically speaking* impossible.

    You don’t get answers to second, third, and fourth order questions by engaging in a first order activity. Answering a second order question is a second order activity and reading scripture cannot do the trick. Answering a third order question is a third order activity, and so on. That’s why I say that you and I are in the same boat heading in two different directions, both engaged in second and third order activities. We shouldn’t go about saying that one direction is belief and the other is its opposite. This seems to me egregiously insensitive to the various orders of activity in which we’re all engaged. That’s why I say that if Enns is right then sola scriptura is wrong. I read Pete as saying that scripture’s teachings do not even begin to touch upon our most important n-order questions. So he begins looking at scripture from an n-order vantage, so to speak, in order to be able to say somehow that scripture is the one answering his questions. I think that is nonsense too. Scripture can’t answer those questions. Sola scriptura must be false. Some other domain of theorizing is necessary, tradition, from which we draw as when engage in the n-order activities.

    Postmodernism may have shown that there is no absolutely original pre-exegetical moment (that our n-order activities are unaffected by m-order considerations), but we can still work toward being as objective as possible when approaching scripture exegetically and one can still distinguish between orders of activity and try the best we can to conduct ourselves accordingly.

    My point is that the more objective we are the better, at least when performing higher order activities. In the present context, that means the act of answering n-order questions will rely upon us (and not scripture!) for their working answers. This is why I took such pains to illustrate in my book how, in a non-trivial way, it is really us in our respective traditions trying to legitimize our various views using the rhetoric of scriptural warrant. THE BIBLE CANNOT BE OUR ONLY HOPE. Who, then, can transcend every order of theoretical activity in order to give us solace? God can, and only he (not scripture).

    And thus I raise my protest: Inerrancy is not healthy for the spiritual formation of younger evangelicals!

  48. Ron Henzel said,

    August 14, 2008 at 4:29 am


    You wrote:

    The act of reading scripture is a first-order activity. Asking about what scripture is is a second order activity. Asking whether and how we can ask what scripture is is a third order activity. And asking what authority can tell us whether and how we can ask what scripture is is a fourth order activity. If I understand Mr. Phillips and Mr. White correctly, you guys are suggesting that we have to go to the scriptures to get the answers to all of these questions, irrespective of their order. With all due respect, that strikes me as absolute nonsense. […]

    You don’t get answers to second, third, and fourth order questions by engaging in a first order activity.

    So, what you seem to be saying here is that Scripture cannot tell us what it is, that it cannot inform or guide us in the matter of “how we can ask what scripture is,” and it cannot give us any answers to the question of “what authority can tell us whether and how we can ask what scripture is.” And the reason you provide for Scripture’s impotence to accomplish these three things is that “You don’t get answers to second, third, and fourth order questions by engaging in a first order activity.”

    Setting aside for the moment that both your conclusions here and your rationale for justifying them strike me as absolute nonsense, please explain why, if I come across texts in the Bible that indicate that everything in it is God’s word, I cannot consider my question about what the Bible is to be answered by simply reading it. And what does the fact that my question in this case was “a second order activity” have to do with the validity of my method for obtaining an answer to it?

    And please explain why, if Scripture actually does contain information about “whether and how we can ask what scripture is,” I cannot consider it an answer to my question about that specific point, and what the fact that such a question may have been “a third order activity” has to do with anything.

    And I would also like you to explain why, if Scripture actually answers my question of “what authority can tell us whether and how we can ask what scripture is,” I nevertheless cannot use the information I find in Scripture to answer that question because, as you put it, “You don’t get answers to second, third, and fourth order questions by engaging in a first order activity.”

    And please explain how your guiding assumption, viz., “You don’t get answers to second, third, and fourth order questions by engaging in a first order activity,” enhances objectivity rather than completely destroys it.

  49. its.reed said,

    August 14, 2008 at 5:48 am


    Please validate, objectively, that your methodology is more objective than ytheone Rick laid out (illumined by RFWhite).

    Obviously, you can’t. And if you’re going to be consistent you know that. But post-modernism has an arrongance about it that it ignore it’ Achilles backside, so glaringly obvious to us old stuck in the mud modernists. Post-modernism champions the accusation that modernism has no source of objecivity other than itself, and then blithly goes about ignoring that it can only do so by setting itself up as the source of authority.

    Carlos, in all these comments you’ve yet to deal with this problem of authority. On the one hand you seem content to make authoritative statements sweeping away conservatives’ n-order conclusions. On the other hand you fail to acknowledge that the only basis on which you do so is because you are not satisfied with those conclusions. Your claim to objectivity is an illusion. Its just your personal opinion that the insights of such as Enns and yourself “make more sense.” You can’t objectively validate that anymore than I can objectively validate the WCF view of innerancy.

    At the same time you fail to acknowledge that us conservatives are not doing what you are doing. We are not claiming the Bible is the word of God because we can objectively prove it to be so. With our fathers we recognize that such man-oriented considerations can encourage us to conclude that the Bible is the word of God:

    WCF 1:5 We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture,(1 Tim. 3:15 ) and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole, (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God;

    Yet ultimately, and immediately we know that the only reason we are persuaded that the Bible is the word of God is because He has confirmed this to us:

    yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.(1 John 2:20,27; John 16:13,14; 1 Cor. 2:10,11,12; Isa. 59:21)

    I.O.W., our source of authority rests not on some frail assumptions of human ojectivity (post-modernity or modernity). Using such, there is no way to maintain the Bible over the Koran, or even over the ravings of the Unabomber.

    Since the subject matter transcends us, the answer must too. The reason I believe the Bible is what it says it is, including the WCF view of inerrancy, is because God in his mercy has convinced me of the same. He’s freed me from the objectivity idol and given me himself as my authority. Thus, with Rick ( I can read what the Bible declares about itself (diversity in the context of unity) and say amen.

    This Carlos, is why I keep expressing such deep concern about the sincerity of your belief. Such conviction is fundamental to the Spirit’s work in a believer’s life. You do not evidence it – in fact you’ve put a lot of energy into denying it (to wit, writing your book).

    Please, stop being frustrated with us conservatives. Please too stop assuming we’re unassuming, ignorant, apathetic, unwilling to honestly ask the hard questions, pig-headed sticks in the mud that just do not get it. You are arguing against the wrong thing. If you want to disprove the traditional view of inerrancy, then disprove our claim to authority.

  50. cbovell said,

    August 14, 2008 at 7:10 am

    Ron and Reed:
    I’ll try my best to get back to you guys soon. Today is very busy. What I want to reiterate for now is that I think the emphasis has to shift.

    Reed says: “This Carlos, is why I keep expressing such deep concern about the sincerity of your belief. Such conviction is fundamental to the Spirit’s work in a believer’s life. ”

    In my view, this is the wrong measuring stick. The fundamental conviction that the Spirit works in a believer is that Christ is Lord, not that scripture is to believed and trusted to the effect that it is inerrant. This is where I think conservatives have gotten totally confused (myself included in times past). For example, I read 1 Thessalonians last night and felt the Holy Spirit testifying to me that God is real, that the gospel is true, that there is something fundamentally right about the story.

    In 2.13, I read online the American Standard Version, “And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when ye received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also worketh in you that believe.”

    It was fortuitous for me to read this, being precisely my point in my remarks here. The word of God is the gospel story, the proclamation, not scripture itself– at least in that they must somehow be inerrant. I really do believe that somehow scripture brings us the gospel story in a way that is authentic and “true” and in a way that really “works”. I’m just searching for a better way to articulate this.

  51. Rick Phillips said,

    August 14, 2008 at 7:53 am


    I cannot help but observe that your elaborate argument ends in simple obsurdity. With all your n-order levels, what you end up saying is that the content of a document is unable to give us any information about its character. Do we read any other book this way? Take Caesar’s Commentaries. Are we to say that the n-order question, “Did Caesar write this all himself?” cannot be answered, at least in part, by considering what the text says? Now, in Caesar’s case, we rightly apply at least some of the canons of higher criticism (since even Caesar does not claim to deity and super-natural authority). But still, no one would rule out consulting the text of the Commentaries to answer questions regarding the character of the Commentaries.

    Both critical scholars and confessionalists treat the Bible as a different kind of book than Caesar’s commentaries. Critical scholars believe that radical skepticism must be applied to the Bible. Confessionalists believe that faith must be applied to the Bible. The Bible makes claims that no other book makes, at least not in the same way, namely, that it was written by men who were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God, so that it may be simply stated that “God spoke” through the Scriptures. Now, the question is, what do we make of this claim? It seems to me that we can respond in three ways. We can be radically skeptical, so that we proceed with the conviction that divine authorship is false (higher critical liberal scholarship). We can be moderately skeptical, so that we withhold judgment until we can validate this claim by other means (this seems to be the position of post-evangelicalism). Or we can believe the Bible’s claims and apply them to our interpretive methodology (the Reformed confessional approach). Now, I do not see how any of these approaches is more or less objective than the others. The issue is the premise from which we proceed. The question is which premise is correct. As we have stated over and again in this thread, the reason why believers in the Bible’s claims do so is that its truth has been immediately conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit. I realize that this is not an objective claim, but rather subjective. But the other premises can only be defended subjectively. It cannot be objectively proven that it is better to be radically skeptical about the Bible’s truth claims or moderately skeptical.

    This, by the way, is how the Bible itself says it works. It searches the attitude of the heart. What God wants to know (according to Heb. 4:12-13) is “With what attitude will you receive my Word?” In this sense, what is really happening in our approach to the Bible is that God is interpreting us. The only objectivity lies with him. We are the objects; God is the subject. As we exegete Scripture, we do not have an objective vantage point but only a subjective one. God objectively assesses our hearts by means of our subjective response.

  52. GLW Johnson said,

    August 14, 2008 at 8:51 am

    This will probably offend you, but nonetheless I will tell you anyway . Having read your book and interacted with you in blog discussions ,I have yet to see anything from you that wasn’t rooted in your own disgruntlement. Your arguments are, for the most part, emotive and reflect your own vicissitudes and personal disappointments. The warning in Hebrews 3:12 is addressed to people just like you-“Take care,brothers,lest there be in any of you an evil,unbelieving heart,leading you to fall away from the Living God.”

  53. rfwhite said,

    August 14, 2008 at 9:23 am

    Does 1 Thess 2.13 confirm the claim that the fundamental conviction that the Spirit works in a believer is that Christ is Lord? To the contrary, the fundamental conviction about which Paul writes in 1 Thess 2.13 concerns the authoritative nature and divine origin of the apostolic word, doesn’t it?

  54. cbovell said,

    August 14, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I certainly don’t have the time to give a full-blown defense of my various orders of discourse argument. I’ll have to try to get back to Ron’s and Reed’s observations regarding authority. Or perhaps address it in an article or something in the future.

    Rick says that the argument regarding orders of discourse ends in absurdity. Then perhaps it would be better expressed that as the n-order of inquiry increases the degree to which a document can supply answers to those questions diminishes and one is forced to depend on other sources of knowledge at the appropriate level of inquiry (which is not a bad thing, it’s just how things go). I regret that I don’t have time right now to take it up in more detail right, but I will continue to think about it and am open to any criticisms.

    Mr. White, I do not think that any apostle would equate the apostolic word with scripture for the simple reason that the NT did not yet exist. We are the ones who are doing that retrospectively and trying to argue that the Bible somehow warrants that we do so. This is what I am trying to get at with my n-order questions argument. We would like the Bible to extend beyond itself (or transcend itself as I say in an earlier comment) and address both its subsequent features and its developmental features, yet that is precisely what it can’t do. Something “outside” is required, something that transcends it, namely us, the believers. Scripture helps proclaim the apostolic word but our NT is a much later developement. It rather incorporates the church and its various traditions into considerations of authority and contributes dialecticially to the apostolic word, which is the message of Christ being God’s anointed one, our Lord, who gave his life for us.

    I see the complex of authoritative sources to be composite both then when the canon was developing and now that the canon has been completed. The same dynamics are at work, even if we wish it were otherwise (the whole discussion about avoiding relativism). Tradition plays a big role, as does philosophy, history and the rest of the disciplines. This is not Bible only, it’s us contributing to what we believe and then calling it inerrant. That’s something that I have a problem with. Again, inerrancy is post-hermeneutical.

    GLW: Sure there is a lot of emotion behind what I write. As a matter of fact, I have a second book on the way and if I did not feel so strongly about this, I would never have bothered to do any of it. But I don’t think that it’s ALL emotion, there are some points I make in these books that I think need to be addressed, all emotions aside. What’s more, that first book is a pragmatic argument, remember. Look at what’s happening to some believers! That’s the strategy I opted to take. I was hoping that people who are sensitive to these kinds of believers may begin to take more care when dealing with them. If people take that much away from the book, then I feel I’ve accomplished the task I had set for myself.

  55. GLW Johnson said,

    August 14, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Alan Lenzi.

  56. rfwhite said,

    August 14, 2008 at 4:37 pm


    You need to exegete the claims of Paul in 1 Thess 2.13 to help us see how they agree with yours. Paul asserts that the word of the apostle was received as divine in origin and binding on the audience. If not those assertions, then help us out: what assertions of Paul’s in 1 Thess 2.13 support your claim?

  57. cbovell said,

    August 14, 2008 at 10:30 pm


    You wrote: “the reason why believers in the Bible’s claims do so is that its truth has been immediately conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit.” Anybody can take this way out, can’t they? Although I appreciate the tenor of that kind of reply, I note that a response like that effectively ends the discussion. How do you continue the conversation after that? Not only that, but anybody can invoke the said argumentative strategy:

    The reason why we doubt the Bible’s claims is that its falsity has been immediately conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit;

    The reason why we withold judgment on the Bible’s claims is that its uncertainty has been immediately conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit.

    The reason why we think inerrancy is the wrong way of understanding scripture’s authority is that its impropriety has been immediately conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit.

    The reason why we have to critically inquire into precisely what the Bible’s claims actually are is that a need to do so has been conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit.

    and so on…

    I additionally vigorously contend that we do not simply ask ourselves what do we do with the claim that the Bible says that God speaks through it, we rather must first ask ourselves what does it mean that God speaks through scripture. AFTER answering that question THEN we decide what to do with that answer. But then there is a sense in which we are responding to our own answers to the question and not to scripture directly or, perhaps better, not to scripture only. The gesture of faithful obeisance is post-hermeneutical.

    Mr. White:
    Please excuse me but I do not understand your question. You mention that “Paul asserts that the word of the apostle was received as divine in origin and binding on the audience.” In my mind that is what I tried to state abovec and then I began to inquire into whether “the word of the apostle” can be said to be tantamount to scripture. To that question I answered in the negative. The word of the apostle was likely some bare bones summary of the Christian gospel, not too unlike what has been called the “rule of faith”. Could you please rephrase your question so I can better understand how my previous comment misses the point of your exegetical question?

    Ron and Reed: I’ve been asking myself all day what you guys mean by “What authority?” when you repeatedly ask me that question. Is this an epistemological question: e.g., “How do you know what you know?” If so, why is it framed in terms of authority? Do you mean “authority” as in “warrant”?

  58. its.reed said,

    August 15, 2008 at 6:52 am

    Ref. 58:


    You assert hermeneutical principles for which the only proof that they are true is mere human conjecture. In effect your argument boils dow to, “this principle is true, it is a valid measuring stick, because it makes sense to me (and a lot of other smart people I think are right). Therefore I can use it to declare the WCF view of inerrancy false.”

    Yet how do you know the principle you use (principles) is true? On what objective basis?

    In point of fact, your basis is nothing more than man. Thus your authority is man. You believe or disbelieve what you do simply because it either makes sense or does not make sense to you. Sure you load up all sorts of man-oriented arguments to support you conviction. Yet in the end its just about what you believe to be true, not what you can prove to be true.

    Thus you reject Rick’s point (an appliication of the section of WCF 1 I quoted for you). You are right in your criticism – anyone can use such an argument to say anything. Yet you are missing that Rick is not giving you an opinion. He is giving you the declared teaching of the Bible itself. Further, the proof is not objective, but ultimately subjective.

    This is a part of the curse – man apart from God has no source of objectivity – there is no infallible measuring stick by which we can say “this is true,” or “this is not.”

    This is where authority comes in. Who has, not simply the right, but even more importantly the infallible ability to say what is true and what is not? I assume based on your profession of faith that you agree only God does. Well then, where and how does he say it?

    I agree this question has been answered in many confusing and contradictory ways. Yet there is a consistent answer in Scripture – God speaks through Scripture, He provides sufficient human-oriented evidence to demonstrate this, and He infallibly confirms this to the individual via the immediate illuminating witness of the Third Person of the Trinity.

    I.e., our conviction that the Bible is the word of God ala WCF 1 ultimately rests on the Spirit’s subjective witness to the individual. Human reason applied to Scripture says, “yes it is the word of God.” Only God himself can speak with an authority that necessarily convinces us that this is true.

    Your arguments consistently ignore this point. That you express confusion at so basic a concept as authority is alarming.

    Of course, and not to disrespect you Carlos but to serious challenge, this is consistent with a post-modern, post-evangelical (PM-PE, I like that label Rick) thought process. PE easily says of the traditional position, “the Emperor has no clothes.” Then with blinders on PE goes into the same clothing store it believes the Emperor must have got his clothes from and buys a different non-existent suit. All the while PE didn’t stop to think that maybe the traditional position really got his clothes from a different Source, One who actually does clothe His people with the Truth.

    You assume your opponents are giving mere man-sourced opinions about the nature of inerrancy. Those do not match up with your convictions. Therefore you reject your opponents’ arguments. You say to them in effect, that’s just your opinion; it is not objective enough for me. Then in your search for better/more objectivity you rely on nothing more than the opinions of other men. When Rick and Fowler give you an exegetical based argument – you offer more opinion (your response to Fowler is just mere opinion; his point was you need to demonstrate this from Scripture.).

    You insist that Scripture and its nature must be validated by a source outside of itself. O.k. I agree. Now what authority are we going to give ear to? Your authority ultimately is yourself, as you assess that the arguments of PE scholars are more sound that the arguments of those offering the traditional confessional position.

    You will find that you are a fickle authority. Do not be surprised as your opinion changes over time. Then consider what it means to be one tossed about on the waves – and pray God will trump your authority and make himself your Authority.

  59. Rick Phillips said,

    August 15, 2008 at 7:00 am


    You write: “You wrote: “the reason why believers in the Bible’s claims do so is that its truth has been immediately conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit.” Anybody can take this way out, can’t they?”… etc.

    Admittedly. But it is what it is. Jesus said, “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). Now how is an unregenerate person to take that? But one of the essential characteristics of true Christianity is that it does not attempt to “prove” itself to outsiders by oobjective standards. Why? Because to do that is to enthrone the “objective” standards over God. And God is not willing to do that. So while we may defend the faith and give reasons for the hope that we have, we do not “prove” either the gospel or the Bible. We proclaim them. And the Holy Spirit takes that general proclamation and does what Paul witnessed in his ministry to Lydia: “The Lord opened her heart” (Acts 16:14).

    “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God… For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:1-2, 6).

  60. cbovell said,

    August 15, 2008 at 9:55 am

    I think you might be missing my point, Rick. REGENERATE people might take these lines of thought with regard to in *how* scripture is “true”.

    I’ll read your comment again a little later on. You had much more to say than Rick, a response will take more time. Thanks for your patience.

  61. rfwhite said,

    August 15, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Carlos, you assert, “The word of the apostle was likely some bare bones summary of the Christian gospel, not too unlike what has been called the ‘rule of faith.'” 1 Thess 2.13 makes no assertaion about the content of the word of the apostle. Tthe text’s assertions involve Paul’s claim that the word of the apostle is the word of God and was received as such. God is thanked because the Thessalonians received the word of the apostle for what it in truth is: the word of God. Where does the text provide confirmation for your claim that the fundamental conviction that the Spirit works in a believer is that Christ is Lord?

  62. cbovell said,

    August 15, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Mr. White:
    All I am saying is that the word that Paul brought was not scripture, it was something else, like the story of Christ, the good news. I say this confidently on account of the fact that the NT was not in existence yet so it is not possible that scripture as we understand it was the word that Paul brought.

    There’s some proclamation that Paul brought that was appropriately received as the word of God and this proclamation is not an inerrant scripture. That’s all I am trying to say. Now, as an aside, I think any fundamental conviction that the Spirit may bring to a believer is with respect to that core proclamation, whatever it may be. But whatever the proclamation is, it certainly does not involve an inerrantist view of scripture. The Holy Spirit doesn’t testify to inerrancy as a fundamental part of being a Christian. (A point I’m in the process of disputing here in our discussion.) I see the 1 Thessalonians text contributing to our discussion by talking about a word that the apostle brought that wasn’t inerrant scripture that was still to be received as the word of God. This suggests to me that scripture cannot be said to be the only hope, the apostle’s word can be, since the apostle’s word can be received without scripture. The proclamation, presumably, is basicallly about Christ. I think I can say with confidence that the apostolic word mentioned here was not about scripture. It was likely something similar to the rule of faith.

    Is this explanation better? Am I still missing what you are saying?

  63. GLW Johnson said,

    August 15, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    You sound like the old liberal canard that wants to very much celebrate Christ while denegrating the Scriptures that tell us about Him! Tell me, do you follow Christ’s teaching ABOUT Scripture? If you could be shown that Christ taught that the Scriptures-particularly the OT were inerrant, would you whistle a different tune?

  64. rfwhite said,

    August 15, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Carlos, I believe I understand what you are asserting. I, however, have seen and still see little or no argumentation to support your assertions on this thread. Perhaps it is in your book.

    As for your aside, you seem to be laboring under some key but errant (pun intended!) assumptions about a distinctly Reformed approach to biblical canonics. Among others (e.g., Herman Ridderbos, Meredith Kline), Richard Gaffin and I, together and separately, have published on that topic.

    Essential to this particular consideration, which has been argued elsewhere but can only be summarized here, is that the apostolic (and, for that matter, prophetic) activity described in the Bible takes place, by the nature of the case, in an “open canon” situation (relative to our canon); that is, the communication of the OT prophets and NT apostles and prophets occurs at a time when the Biblical documents were still in the process of being written. To put it another way, with special reference to the NT, the “canon” for the church during its foundational, apostolic period was a fluid, evolving entity, made up of three factors: 1) the Jewish Scriptures (the “Old Testament”), more or less recognized as completed; 2) the New Testament documents and other inspired documents no longer extant (e.g., the “previous letter” that Paul mentions in 1 Cor 5:9), as each of these documents was written and then circulated; and–importantly for the comments you have made–3) living, oral apostolic and prophetic voices. Provocatively stated, the church at the time the New Testament was being written, was not and could not yet be committed, as a formal principle, to the sola Scriptura of the Reformation; it lived by a “Scripture plus” principle of authority. It is against the backdrop of the consideration just cited that I have pressed you on the points that I have. 1 Thess 2.13 points to the fact that the NT church lived by a “Scripture plus” principle of authority, precisely and only because the word of the apostles and prophets, spoken as well as written, was the word of God and received as such.

    Returning briefly to your concern in #63, you’ll notice that I haven’t urged here that the word of the apostles in 1 Thess 2.13 was scripture or was about scripture. The point I tried to make was that the word of the apostles–presumably, at least spoken–was the word of God and was received by the Thessalonians for what it was. Thus the connection to the consideration rehearsed above.

  65. ReformedSinner said,

    August 15, 2008 at 2:13 pm


    GWL, you hit it right on the head. Maybe seminary should emphasize Church History more. It’s amazing how every generation the more “open-minded conservatives” (AKA liberals) think they are doing Reformed orthodoxy a favor by bringing our faith on par with current “scholarship”, or else we will be a bunch of dead ducks that won’t survive another generation or two. Yet history proves again and again God’s faithful words survive and these “open-minded conservatives” will be proven wrong… until the next generation that will sing the same songs with different lyrics that is.

    People *should* read your BBWarfield book more and realize how today’s arguments are really not that much different than the old Charles Briggs vs. BB Warfield arguments.

  66. cbovell said,

    August 15, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    “Your arguments consistently ignore this point. That you express confusion at so basic a concept as authority is alarming.”

    Yes, I can hear the urgency in your comments, but– I must be muddle-headed or something because I simply don’t see where the urgency comes in. So we don’t have an infallible measuring stick, so what? I don’t see the crisis.

    I don’t have an infallible authority telling me that the real world exists. I don’t have an infallible authority telling me that the law of non-contradiction is valid. I don’t have an infallible authority telling me that the Pythagorean Theorem is true. I don’t have an infallible authority telling me that time exists or that universals are real or that we have free will. Why do I need an infallible authority? Why can’t I simply be grateful for what’s available to me in everyday life and in the several disciplines (including biblical studies and theology), standards that are good enough to get by in more or less fruitful ways?

    I believe God gives new life in Christ. I might be wrong. I think I’m right. I have philosophical reasons for belief and I have irrational, experiential grounds for belief. I don’t see the crisis about not being infallibly right. Maybe the faith is totally bogus. That’s totally possible. There’s a chance, at least in my view, that the faith is a cognitive and cultural evolutionary development. So what? The doubts are around, sometimes near, sometimes far. I don’t see the crisis that demands that an infallible standard be found and invoked for every single claim we make.

    Could you help me a bit Reed see why I need an infallible standard for everything I say to you?

  67. cbovell said,

    August 15, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    RF White:
    In chapters 5 and 6 in my book I try to argue more extensively that the closing of canon by no means brings an end to the “scripture-plus” (as you put it) character of thinking about the faith. The closing of canon merely gives that dynamic a particular direction and a more forceful impetus to the scripture-plus dialectic already inaugurated during the church’s foundational era.

    Mr. White, I am very happy you mention Ridderbos in an approving way because I very much enjoy reading him when he talks about scripture:

    “From the standpoint of faith, the nature of the Scripture and its authority can surely be more sharply, clearly, and precisely distinguished when we see the Bible against the background and in the light of the time in which it was written. Then we come to see on the one hand the incomparable otherness of Scripture, and on the other that which is bound up with and limited to the time.”

    “…[R]emember that just those who have occasion to come to a more historical approach to the Bible and its authority will be able along the way to understand the unique and incomparable significance of Scripture. The world of the ancient Near East is being increasingly opened to us. We are discovering very ancient ‘literature’ in which the religious feelings of people who were contemporaries of the biblical writers are expressed. There is increasing Jewish background through the Talmud and through insights into the radical movements in the Judaism of Jesus’ time through the discover of the Qumran writings…All of this teaches us more strongly than ever to be mindful of the relationship between Scripture and the world out of which it arose..there is nothing that more clearly brings to the light the unique character of the Scriptures than the qualitiatve comparison between that which here and that which there steps out to meet us…

    …in light of *this* authority authority, we can overcome the fear that we may be on a dangerous pathway if we view the ways of the Spirit in recording the word of God more historically, more critically, as more shaded, than along the way of an exclusively dogmatic reasoning.”
    (Ridderbos, Studies in Scripture and Its Authority, 10, 35, 36)

    I have faith that scripture is the word of God. What that means and what that might entail is to be discerned historically, not dogmatically, and I think as believer pursue these kinds of things further, and scholarship will only continue to do this for them whether they are ready or not, we will see more and more that scripture is going to show itself quite a different thing than what many conservatives understand it to be. This is where I am especially afraid that young believers will begin to lose faith. I don’t want that to happen. That’s why I’m writing my books.

  68. GLW Johnson said,

    August 15, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    would you respond to my questions in # 64?

  69. cbovell said,

    August 15, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    That’s a good question. I think inerrancy in the modern sense only makes sense in an era when there is contrary evidence against something that appears to be “taught” by scripture. For example, if scripture recounts an exodus and then archaeology comes along and is unable to furnish any evidence for such an event, then inerrancy kicks in and decides what aspect of truth scripture is trying to teach when it recounts an exodus and investigates how does that truth compare with the evidence. Then the inerrantist says, I believe scripture’s teaching is not in error and that other source of contrary information is. As far as I know, Jesus did not live in such a time when such contrary information was available to him. Therefore, it does not make sense (to me at least) to try to determine whether Jesus (who lived in a time where inerrancy wasn’t a “problem”) held to inerrancy.

  70. cbovell said,

    August 15, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    I had a parital answer on my computer, GLW, but then my kids wanted me to read some books to them. After that, they wanted to hear the cd version of the story. But they’re eating a snack now, so I was just now able to finish it up. I wasn’t slighting you.

  71. cbovell said,

    August 15, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Reformed Sinner:

    FYI, I have read GLW’s chapter in the Warfield book. On July 11, 2008, I posted my thoughts on the piece on my site. The post was entitled, “Here a Briggs, there a Briggs, everywhere a Briggs.”

  72. rfwhite said,

    August 15, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Carlos, I’m glad we both find Ridderbos helpful. Perhaps you have studied his Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures too. His work in that book sheds light on your desire that we discern the meaning and implications of Scripture’s identity as God’s word historically. In my judgment, your citation of 1 Thess 2.13 did not show an awareness of redemptive-historical factors.

    That matter aside, if, as you suggest, the church has a “scripture plus” principle of authority today, what would you identify for us as the authority source(s) for the church today, and how do they compare to those of open-canon era?

  73. cbovell said,

    August 15, 2008 at 4:24 pm

    I’ve tried to think a bit about how to address your concerns. I haven’t forgotten. By way of response, I guess I’d have to say that normally, books don’t address n-order questions about themselves. But scripture has the uncanny property of giving hints that it wants to do so. But it doesn’t (and can’t, or so I claimed above) give a full-fledged answer to our n-order questions. Something outside it has to do that for us. That’s where our own theological anticipations and historical traditions come in.

    So I’ll grant that scripture gives hints of obliquely addressing certain n-order concerns. But I would also stress that because of the urgency with which believers have begun asking n-order questions believers have begun blowing out of proportion the statments in scripture that appear to want to address some n-order-type questions. In my view, believers who insist on trying to draw scripture out beyond its reach to the realm of giving a full-fledged answer to our n-order questions are giving their own answers to their questions and then coming back and claiming that scripture has given them their answers. This, I say, is not really the case (that scripture has given them the answer). The believers in question have drawn their own conclusions by engaging in an order of inquiry that scripture simply does not and cannot address (at least not the scripture we have anyway).

    Does this help clarify what I am trying to say?

  74. cbovell said,

    August 15, 2008 at 4:31 pm

    RF White:
    I have an article on how difficult it is to get from a historical reading of scripture to a redemptive historical reading: “Historical ‘Retrojection’ and the Prospect of a Pan-Biblical Theology,” Expository Times 115 (2004): 397-401. The enterprise comes off as not a little contrived. I have a real problem that I’d like to confess to you guys: Once aware of diachronic developments in scripture I can’t just wish them away, even as much as I want the redemptive historical developments to be true.

  75. its.reed said,

    August 15, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Ref. 67:

    Carlos: two comments as an aside here. 1) thanks for your time and engagement with us here. Having to respond to 5 (or 6) different conversations, all with the immediacy only available via digital means, is time consuming. I do apprecfiate your pressing needs.

    2) Your response to my urgent queries about authority demonstrates a consistency in you that I appreciate. Post-modernism indeed looks at such modernistic concerns as the question of authority and says, “so what, what’s the big deal?” In this sense, your lack of connection here makes sense.

    While I do appreciate your recognition and your question, let me stress again that this is an Achilles backside for you. Consider:

    > On a different thread we began interacting after my response to your comment in which I believed you unfairly (without justice) dissed all those holding to the confessional view of inerrancy. We went round about but never really got to a conclusion point. My main objection was and is that you made a judgement of a categorical and universal nature about something that is of foundational importance, to the disparagement of your opponents, and offered that judgement as a factually based conclusion. Whereas, given that it is merely your opinion, it is nothing of the sort. I’m not so concerned about the offense as I am by the apparent ignorance you demonstrate in offering it.

    > On this thread (I believe) in response to someone esle (Rick?) you introduced the idea of objectivity, using it as a standard of measurement to deny your opponent’s argument. Yet the very notion of objectivity rests upon the assumption of an infallible authority. You deny the very tool you use against your opponent and do so with an ease that appears blissfully ignorant of the fact that you contradict yourself.

    Apply your conviction that authority does not matter, is a “so what” issue, that we can live with absolute doubt (not relative doubt, the doctrine of Scripture). Apply it in a few select situations:

    > Your daughter comes to you one day and says she wants to marry a radical muslim and raise your grandchildren in that faith. “After all dad, you yourself taught me there is no way we can really know for sure what the truth is. My fiance’s faith has as good a claim to truth as yours.” Now tell me Carlos that this will not be a life altering moment for you and I will be praying that your wife does not take a frying pan to your head :-)

    > A family member comes to you and says they are divorcing their spouse, abandoning the whole family, and sees nothing wrong with it, and still maintains they are perfectly o.k. with Christ. “After all brother, you yourself said that the Scripture is dynamic, Scirpture + in some manner. Modern sociology has proven that monogamy is not good for the psyche. We need to find out how Scripture adjusts itself tp this new insight.” Now tell me Carlos that you will advise this family member to follow through with their plans and I will pray that God does not judge you according to the double measure of which James speaks.

    > As an elder of your church, a member comes to you and informs you that he is planning to secure a sex-change operation and wants your help in coordinating the transition in relationships in the congregation. E.g., they want your help making sure that there will be no objections when they start using the ladies bathroom, among other things. “After all elder/pastor, you yourself have taught me that the Bible is evolving in some manner. Thanks to modern science we now know that sometimes God makes a mistake and gives birth to a female soul in a male body. Thanks to modern medicine we can fix that mistake. Even if you think I’m wrong, it’s just one more doubt to live with.”

    Now tell me you don’t see the problem with your position, it’s fundamentally flawed character and the inevitable deadly results, and gently I’ll pray for God to be merciful with your foolishness and deliver you from it.

    Carlos, you have no reason to profess Christ, other than it seems like a good idea to you at the present time. This is not the gospel that Christ taught. Gary’a challenge about Christ and the nature of Scripture is one you should take. Rick’s approach of presenting you with Scripture’s own argument is one you should consider.

    As it is I wonder whether or not your ‘sincerity of searching” is merely a mask for an unbelieving heart. I do sympathisze with the things that seem most important to you, to wit the (apparent) problems with the traditional view of inerrancy presented by modern critical scholarship. You’re looking for solutions in the wrong place though and you seem to have rejected The Source in that you will not take at face value even the simplest statement of God via Scripture in which He says, “thus saith the Lord.”

    It is increasingly more humous that a politician hid behind the post-modern excuse, “what does ‘is’ mean?” It is scary that you seem to want to ask yet God, “yeah, but what do you really mean ‘thus saith the Lord’?” and then refuse to consider any of his answers simply because they are in Scripture itself. You’ve placed God in a no win situation.

    Seriously, and with all warmth and good intentions, let me suggest you give yourself the next three to four years studying more foundational issues. Particularly your own consistency with a post-modern hermeneutic and your dramatic unawareness of contradictory nature of such a hermeneutic suggests you should give yourself to a study of these issues much more fully than you evidence.

    One other suggestion: don’t be so quick to think that the kinds of issues you are facing are all that new. Rather, they are rather old and common. To be sure the context, language, and even thought constructions are different (consistent with their own cultural-historical context). Yet they are the common problems of trying to determine if God talks to us and how so.

    I do wish you well.

  76. rfwhite said,

    August 15, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Re: 75

    So Ridderbos, or at least his thesis regarding Scripture and redemptive history, is not that helpful after all. So be it.

  77. GLW Johnson said,

    August 15, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    You are begging the question- and I think you know it. Did Christ affirm the the Scriptures are without error in what they teach? Show me otherwise,i.e. that Christ did not believe that the OT was inerrant. You are in a pickle and you know it .So I ask you again, if it can be shown that Christ emphatically taught the absolute inerrancy of Scripture- will you change your position?

  78. Vern Crisler said,

    August 15, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    Carlos, if you are having difficulty with the relationship between the Exodus and archaeology, I would suggest reading the following:



  79. cbovell said,

    August 16, 2008 at 7:57 am

    I like Ridderbos. I only think that there is a very real limit to the way redemptive history can be construed in such a way that it does not artificially flatten the diachronic process. I cited Ridderbos with approval. Why do you say that I do not find him helpful?

    It’s just the part of his writing that you are looking to stress is one that I think receives an overemphasis in conservative circles. I think the diachronic history is often forgotten in conservative circles and I don’t think it can be– or at least I can’t just forget about it, just like that. I quote Ridderbos at length with approval from the Redemptive History volume:

    “Still, there can be no doubt that though Christians are bound to Scripture by authority that proceeds from it as God’s Word, this does not provide an exact *concept* of its canonicity or of the extent of its authority. The self-attestation of Scripture as understood by Christians through the witness of the Holy Spirit is related above all to the divine character of the central content of Scripture. Scripture’s self-attestation does not provide direct and infallible certainty about all the facts and data in the New Tesament…”

    “Apart from the issue of the limits of the canon, the *nature* of canonical authority cannot be decided by a simple appeal to the authoritative impact Scripture makes or to the witness of the Holy Spirit. The witness of the Spirit teaches us that such authority exists and that it is a divine authority. But the way in which the New Testament canon embodies this authority and the qualitative and quantitative extent of such authority in the New Testament are questions that cannot be decded in terms of the impact that Scripture makes on the church and the individual believer. These questions must be dealt with in a broader context.” (10)

    I have no problem with scripture being part of the redemptive package. But I’m not sure how trying to honestly acknowledge the diachronic history of scripture and trying to honestly determine what scripture is by comparing it with contemporary literatures means I don’t find Ridderbos useful.

    Ridderobs ends his book by saying: “the New Testament bear that authority as the one gospel whose authority derives from one central point– the activity of God that encompasses the world and history in the coming and the work of His Son, Jesus Christ.” I am on totally on board with this.

    The problems you raise are very profound and very perplexing. As I’ve said before, I am on a journey and will continue pondering these issues as deeply as my circumstances permit. You’re right, at my next stage in the journey I might have different opinions, but I consider that as part of the growth process and not automatically a deficiency in epistemology.

    Thanks for the engagement. I would be upset if I were in most of the situations you describe, but I don’t think that because I don’t have an infallibile authority to invoke that I can’t say anything at all and that with lesser and greater amounts of validity.

    One last thing, objective and infallible are not the same thing. You can have one without the other, I think. But I will surely ponder your points more deeply. If any great insight hits me over the next few days, I’ll try to communicate them to you here on this thread. I hope the lines of communication between us are still open.

    I hope to get back to you later today. I have to work this morning and have to arrange a few things here before I go.

  80. cbovell said,

    August 16, 2008 at 7:58 am

    To clarify: #75 above refers to RFWhite’s comments on #75 (#77) and not my own #75

  81. rfwhite said,

    August 16, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Re: 79, Carlos, I need to move on to other things.

  82. rfwhite said,

    August 16, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Sorry for the error.

    Re: #80 (not #79) — Carlos, I need to move on to other things.

  83. cbovell said,

    August 16, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Ok, Mr. White. Thanks for the talk.

  84. cbovell said,

    August 17, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I was through on this thread (and hopefully from commenting for a while) when I realized that I never responded to your last comment, GLW.

    I don’t think I’m *begging* the question. Perhaps you meant I’m *dodging* the question, but I was responding honestly. I don’t appreciate where it is you think you have me. But I can try for a more head-on reply.

    1) If Jesus simply told me flat out that the scriptures were inerrant, I don’t know if it would have the affect you think, unless his act of telling me somehow zapped my brain at the same time and caused what appears to me to be errant scriptures to suddenly appear inerrant. Without that, my response would be, “I believe. Lord, help my unbelief.”

    2) If Jesus told me himself that the scriptures were inerrant, I’d ask him what he meant by “inerrant” and in what domains of knowledge does the quality of not having errors apply? I’d also ask what type of authority is scripture supposed to assert? The same types of questions that Enns and others are trying to ask.

    3) If Jesus told me that the scriptures were inerrant, I’d ask him why is contemporary knowledge in contradiction to scripture?

    3) If you, GLW, Warfield or whomever, were to show me that Jesus actually believed that the Bible was inerrant (which I do not see to be an appropriate undertaking given my reason in #70 above), I would respond that Jesus was accommodating the beliefs of his audience in a way that would facilitate the delivery of his mission and message. It would be very similar as to when people are trained to do evangelism, they are told not to let the discussion get sidetracked. Jesus didn’t want to let discussions get sidetracked by explaining to everyone that Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch, etc. Whatever benefited the mission and message is what he did.

    I want to say, though, that the entire scriptures do not contain a single error in any domain of knowledge is not something Jesus says, it’s an inference we draw. And I don’t think we are right in doing so. That’s why I no longer do it. And I especially don’t think that young believers should be taught that belief in inerrancy is what separates the real believers from the spiritual flip-flops!

  85. cbovell said,

    August 17, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    “I don’t appreciate where it is you think you have me” means that I don’t see the pickle that you think I’m hopelessly in.

  86. GLW Johnson said,

    August 17, 2008 at 3:34 pm


  87. cbovell said,

    August 17, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    “?!” meaning that wasn’t at all clear or “?!” meaning that isn’t acceptable?…

  88. Ron Henzel said,

    August 18, 2008 at 4:17 am


    You wrote:

    If you, GLW, Warfield or whomever, were to show me that Jesus actually believed that the Bible was inerrant…I would respond that Jesus was accommodating the beliefs of his audience in a way that would facilitate the delivery of his mission and message.

    [Emphasis mine.]

    So then, Jesus believed (your word) whatever He thought He had to believe in order to get his message across, even if it wasn’t true? Was He able to distinguish between which of His own beliefs were true and which were not? How? And if not, How did even He know His message was true?

  89. cbovell said,

    August 18, 2008 at 6:52 am

    I am torn between wanting to say that Jesus had most of the same beliefs that every other Jewish believer believed during the early first century C.E. and saying that Jesus was the son of God and somehow knew all things. To help navigate through this, some say that Jesus relinquished his omniscience when he became man in some self-emptying way. Either way, I think it might have been more helpful for me to say above in #85 that Jesus *said and taught* in a way that was accomodating the beliefs of his audience and that he did so in such a way that would maximally facilitate the delivery of his mission and message. What he actually believed and how he actually comes to believe this or that are not questions I can easily answer, but my answer presently leans toward saying that Jesus was as much a product of his culture as any other human, at least insofar as he was human, and given that he is not in our culture where we now have good amounts of contravening knowledge that is in acute tension with scripture, it is inappropriate for us, in our context (with contravening knowledge), to inquire into what Jesus, in his context (without contravening knowledge), taught about scripture being inerrant.

    But that was not a satisfying response (GLW said I was begging the question) so I am trying to say something more in order to keep you guys as conversation partners. So I proffer: Jesus had to learn what he had come to believe and he had yet a great deal to learn at the time he died. He was human and he had to learn things just as we, how to eat, how to write, how to play games by the rules, etc. I think the same would have been true in matters of religious belief. His particular belief regarding his own message and mission was vindicated by his resurrection. I offer these musings in an attempt to answer your questions, but these these types of considerations do not centrally bear (as far as I can see) upon my views on scripture and Jesus’ views on scripture. They are not crucial to what I am trying to say, which is: If Jesus can be said to have known all truth, the truth about the authorship of the Pentateuch, for example (a possibility that I really have no problem with), I still say that he “wisely conformed his speech to the views of his human audience.” (paraphrasing a sentence in Kent Sparks’ new book [p. 245] where he is discussing the various views on divine accomodation).

  90. GLW Johnson said,

    August 18, 2008 at 7:53 am

    Let me see if I correctly understand where you are coming from. You seek to evade the inerrancy question in the teaching of Christ by claiming Jesus ‘accomodated’ Himself to the ‘erronous’ beliefs of first century Judaism-and the Apostles followed suit. Thus when Jesus rebuked the Sadducees in Matt.22:29, “You do err not knowing the Scripture, nor the power of God.” You would say that He really did not mean to imply that the Bible was indeed free from error-He was simply ‘accomodating’ Himself to the times .So it is foolhardy to follow Christ and the Apostles in developing our understanding of the doctrine of Scripture’s inerrancy. In other words ,what the Bible teaches about itself does not factor into the question at all. Thus you would strongly disagree with John Murray in his chapter, ” The Attestation of Scripture” ( in the book ‘ The Infallible Word: A Symposium By Members of the Faculty of Westminster Theoloical Seminary’) declared ” The doctrine of Scripture must be elicited from the Scriture just as any other doctrine should be”. (p.9) and ” The premise of our whole thesis, indeed our thesis itself,is that the doctrine of Scripture must be based upon the witness of Scripture just as any other doctrine in the whole realm of Christian confession.” (p.17) and ” It is indeed strange prejudice that professes adherence to the infallibility of Christ and yet rejects the clear implications of His teaching.” (p.23). By the way, did you see S.M. Baugh review of Sparks positively dreadful book over at Ref 21?

  91. its.reed said,

    August 18, 2008 at 8:00 am


    I think we need to recognize that the nascent post-evangelical view of inerrancy has as its core root a radical view of accomodation, of God’s condescension to communicate to man. If you will, it appears that a conviction that post-modern oriented challenges to the modernist explanation of inerrancy are valid, has resulted in a belief among some that the idea of accomodation must be radically accomodated.

    Carlos has helpful highlighted this for us in this thread (and a few others). I might add that there seems to be a sincerity in these folk that suggests they truly are seeking to honor God while accomodating man. (Very much like first generation higher critical scholars).

    It seems to me one helpful thing to do would be to explore the Biblical principle of the condescension of God.

    (I do not like the phrase “accomodate” – men accomodate each other; God’s “accomodation” of me involves a far greater movement than can be adequately comprehended by such a word as “accomodate”. But just my quibble).

    Back to my pojnt. It might be helpful to Carlos and others if we were to document the focus, details, parameters, limits, etc. of this biblical doctrine. I’m beginning to suspect that there has been an invalid cross utilization of this concept by such as Enns, Sparks,, and that we are facing yet another circumstance which led the early church to issue the “not this, nor that” creeds. I.O.W. it seems that with reference to this post-evangelical view of inerrancy we need to begin an effort of establishing what inerrancy is not, of documenting the boundaries.

    A suggestion for our thinking and future discussion.

  92. cbovell said,

    August 18, 2008 at 8:02 am

    I have to go to work, GLW, but I’ll get back to you when I can. In the meantime and as I’ve said before, it’s not all or nothing. Just because I invoke accomodation in certain places doesn’t mean I have to do so in every instance. How I determine where accomodation is present is a hermeneutical venture. The entire thing with determining the authority of scripture is a complicated, hermeneutical enterprise and the stamp of inerrancy comes afterward. That’s what I’ve been trying to say above as I engage Mr. Phillips’ remarks. I’ll also try to get to the review of Sparks’ book that you mention.

  93. GLW Johnson said,

    August 18, 2008 at 8:08 am

    This has been around long before postmodernism made its appears. Oh, it taps into PoMo to further enhance its attractiveness,but this notion of Jesus ‘accomodating’ his views on a wide range of subjects ( not just the doctrine of Scripture) goes back atleast to the early part of the 19th century.

  94. GLW Johnson said,

    August 18, 2008 at 8:13 am

    You are swimming in brine.

  95. G.C. Berkley said,

    August 18, 2008 at 8:50 am

    With all respect to Carlos, and though the effort be valiant, it appears you guys are wasting your time.

    I have never seen a professing Christian fight so hard NOT to believe the Bible.

    If Jesus Himself told Carlos the Scriptures were inerrant he wouldn’t necessarily believe Him, without follow up questions and qualifications about what “inerrancy” means. I think this also reveals something of what Carlos believes about Jesus as well.

    Truly sad. Carlos, you are an apt illustration of 2 Tim. 3:7 “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” May the Lord open the eyes of your heart….

  96. its.reed said,

    August 18, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Gary, ref. 94:

    Indeed. My post was intended to be very much of a summary. I offered the one reference to the first generation of higher critical scholars in hopes of jump starting other connections (I had lot’s others in mind).

    It may very well be that the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (circa 1979?) may be the most helpful place to start.

    My concern however, is with others of Carlos’ generation. To an even greater degree that he is concerned that they be freed from the trap of the traditional view, I am concerned that they be freed from yet another snare of Satan; one which with respect to Carlos I know he professes to not be ensnared in, but which is patently obvious to the rest of us here.

    I.O.W. I find myself in need of brushing up my understanding of how post-modernism is playing itself out in this generation. Carlos seems so very typical in his response the kinds of issues and challenges: completely oblivious, not understanding what we’re talking about, and then before he really has grasped our points, concluding with a “well I don’t see why that’s so important, so I’m just going to ignore it.” Very typical post-modern; even his professions to not intending to so behave smack with the sincere obliviousness that only a post-modern perspective can come up with. He really means it and at the same time he really is blind to his own errors.

    Carlos is very gracious and somewhat willing to engage. Indeed he seems concerned to some degree that he not blow us off, as it appears that we are of some help to him in his thinking (at least to serve as the counter-point with againsnt he argues).

    Yet I am even more concerned with all those of his generation who do not exhibit such willingness to listen and interact. The next generation seems to me to evidence a degree of disrespect for the 5th commandment that is startling. “So what, that doesn’t interest me, I’m not even going to pretend to be polite,” seems far too easily the attitude of such if what we are saying doesn’t make any sense to them.

    Of course we could wait until their lives are in utter ruins, say when they all hit the mid-life crisis (40 to 50 years old). Yet I’m thinking that as a minister of the word it is imperative for me to not only be able to understand how a given person thinks but to express the inerrant, infallible answers of Scripture in a clear and compelling manner.

    I’m not calling for any degree of accomodation :) Better, I’m suggesting we may need to work on our translation.

  97. ReformedSinner said,

    August 18, 2008 at 11:05 am


    With no disrespect to Carlos, the problem is not convincing, but paradigm shift. He has already made up his mind, and no amount of apologetics in any form will change it. That is the danger of post-modernism, it’s no longer a grand argument, but to each his own points.

  98. its.reed said,

    August 18, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Ref. 98:

    Yes, exactly. In such situations I want to make sure I speak the same old truths in the language they will hear. I’m not arguing for clarity for persuasiveness’ sake. Such grows out of a man-centered understanding of conversion.

    Rather I’m arguing for the same thing we find in Scripture – speaking the eternal changeless word in the language of the hearer that the Spirit might use it to convince-convict-convert as the case may be.

    Carlos,, needs to hear the same message that Christ preached – repent of your self-autonomy. All I’m suggesting is we find out what words, etc. are understandable to the post-modern mindset. Given that the notion of self-autonomy is in some respects inconsequential to a post-modern mindset (they perceive it as a “no duh,” a non-sequitor kind of concept), I think there is some value in finding out in what ways this is translatable to a post-modern mindset – we will still be saying the same thing but using constructs that at least the PM can understand and acknowledge, regardless of whether or not the Spirit brings conviction.

  99. rfwhite said,

    August 18, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Let’s see. Methinks that some are alleging that we, being enlightened, are forcing upon others a choice between two “evils”: the arrogance of the (post-) modern or the bleeding edge of seventeenth-century pre-critical Protestantism.

  100. its.reed said,

    August 18, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    ref. 100:

    chuckling on this end.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: