Saturday, April 24, 2010

Inerrancy - the real issue

Several times on this blog I have had cause to refer to King James Onlyism, particularly as represented by the lunatic fringe, Gail Riplinger (whose latest book has drawn forth a rebuttal from one of the very sources quoted in it). Mrs. Riplinger has grown progressively more and more extreme in her views, to the point where her latest tome explicitly rejects the authority of the original languages, which she now holds God has finished with.

But all of this arguing over the identity of the text (and here it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the differences are far more than they are, and far more important) is distracting from the real issue - which is whether or not the Bible is true in what it claims. Traditionally it has been this claim that has set apart Evangelicalism from liberalism in its view of Scripture. The liberal holds that the Bible may and does contain errors of fact, mythological accounts, and other non-factual passages. In particular the liberal teaches at least the first twelve chapters of the book of Genesis to be purely mythological, and influenced by the myths of the surrounding nations. Liberals hold to late dates for the Old Testament, danying the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible), and the unity of the book of Isaiah. This needs re-stating in the light of the claims by Gail Riplinger and her ilk that anyone who disagrees with them, including B.B. Warfield, a contributor to The Fundamentals, is a liberal.

Yet this consensus no longer exists. In the latter part of the 20th century, evangelicalism as a whole has followed the same path as did the mixed denominations in the earlier part of the century. Instead of holding to the high view of Scripture found in the Princeton men, in Spurgeon, and in other Evangelical leaders, evangelicals have become 'wobbly'. Before I ever dealt with Riplinger, I reviewed here a book by A.T.B. McGowan The Divine Spiration of Scripture, and noted its defficiencies in not affirming a robust doctrine of inerrancy. Perhaps ironically, the flaw at the root of McGowan's argument was to reject (if only implicitly) the bistoric Reformed position that what is derived by good and necessary consequence from Scripture is also Biblical.

Another attack has come from America, from Peter Enns, former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. An Old Testament scholar, Peter Enns has argued for an "Incarnational" understanding of Scripture (interestingly Dr. McGowan rejects this terminology for an entirely different reason), holding the Bible to be both a fully human document as well as a divine document. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with the terminology - Jesus is fully human and fully divine, yet without sin or error. Yet historically the call to recognise the "human" in the Bible has often been a cover for arguing against inerrancy! The fact of the matter is that it is only ignorant fanatics like Gail Riplinger who argue that there is no "human element" in the Bible, and they are not going to be reading Peter Enns! Like B.B. Warfield, the historic Reformed christian holds the Bible to have been produced by God in such a way that the authors wrote in their own style, with their own words - there is the human element - but that the Holy Spirit so moved them that what they wrote is also the very words of God, and therefore without error or mistake in the orginal manuscripts.

Yet Peter Enns claims that some of the Genesis narratives are mythological in nature, and that the Biblical narrators naively did not know this as they made use of pagan sources. He claims that since Biblical history is not objective, the presuppositions of the narrators have led them to distort history. He claims that modern definitions of truth and error cannot be applied necessarily to the Biblical text - but never actually explains what the ancient criteria for truth and error were. Unhelfully he does not mention which model of the incarnation his "incarnational" model of Scripture follows. This is important, as some models (e.g. kenotic models) actually predicate fallibility of Jesus.

Peter Enns pleads that his aim is apologetic. While at Seminary, I engaged in an in-depth study of the down-grade in the Free Church of Scotland, and I noted that it was an apologetic method that contributed to much of it. This false view of apologetics is that its aim is to make Christianity more palatable to the academic sceptic by abandoning certain positions that are viewed as simply "outworks" of the citadel of the faith. It was this that led Marcus Dods to argue that the Old Testament contained "errors and immoralities", and will lead no doubt (and has led in some cases) modern evangelical scholars to the same conclusions.

Enns also contends that the New Testament use of the Old is not as straightforward as it seems, that passages are taken out of context to apply to things that the original text was never intended to apply to. In a fascinating case of strange bedfellows, this argument has also been used by some dispensationalists to maintain their case where the New Testament seems to work against it.

And it is this down-grade in the very conception of what the Bible is that is the great threat, not a question of which English translation we ought to use, or even, dare I say it, relatively minor textual issues. My fear is that we will allow a minor issue to distract us from the main thing - which is the question of whether or not the Bible is true. Is Genesis a myth? Or is it history? Was there only one Isaiah? Does the Biblical history record facts and then interpret them, or have the authors allowed the interpretation to distort the facts? It seems to me that these are matters of infinitely greater importance than which English Bible we prefer! Take any honestly translated English Bible, even the most hopelessly flawed one-man translation, and you will not get a different Jesus or a different God from it. But once allow that Genesis contains myth that the author did not realise was not factual, and you are not far off saying that Jesus himself repeated such myths, thinking they were true - and then you have the errancy, not only of Scripture, but also of Jesus Himself!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Free Election advice

Not long now until the General Election in this country. What should Christians do about it?

1. Vote! If we Christians do not vote, we are deliberately handing over control of politics in this country to Satan. On the other hand, if we do vote, then our voice will be heard.

2. Get informed. Christians need to know what the candidates standing in their area actually stand for. It may be that one of them is a Christian, it may be that none of them are. We need to know what people actually stand for and what they believe. If possible, contact your local parliamentary candidates. Note that if you can't contact one now, when he or she needs your vote, you probably won't be able to when he or she is your MP! So don't vote for someone who can't find the time to answer questions from a voter! Also find out about the past voting record of your sitting MP. Such information can be obtained from the Christian Institute, for example. Do not assume that because an MP is a Christian, he or she will take a Christian stand. Firstly, there are liberals in the churches (that's small 'l', not Liberal Democrats, this is a theological, not a party political point), and secondly, there are those who leave their convictions at the door of the House.

3. Think carefully. It may well be that you have to choose between the lesser of two evils in the election, between two candidates you disagree with! In which case you have to vote for the person you disagree with least. I am in complete agreement with none of my local candidates, and so will have to vote for the one I disagree with least!

4. Vote as a Christian. That means that the first question we must all consider at the ballot box is that of free speech. If I have free speech, then I can proclaim the Gospel. There are other desirable points, but this must come first.

5. Don't vote for the BNP. The bald statement may shock, and in some sense perhaps it ought to. As a pastor, I have to be non-partisan, but I simply cannot countenance the BNP in any way, shape or form, owing to the policies of the party. The BNP are a racist body that promotes hatred against non-white people in this country. The BNP leader has publically said that black churches will be robbed of the right to worship and refused grants if they operate in a 'historically white' area (Source: Evangelical Times May 2010). Of course, that could very well mean all of the UK, for mass immigration to this country is a relatively recent phenomenon. A BNP candidate in Norfolk has stated that, "I realised long ago that the BNP is the British equivalent of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whom I admire and respect and who have great courage. That is why I joined." [Source]
In the 2009 Norwich North by-election the BNP fielded a man who calls himself "Rev." Robert West, and wore the garb of an Anglican clergyman - he is in fact a former Elder in the Apostolic Church, a Pentecostal denomination. Despite recent attempts by the BNP to portray themselves as defenders of our Christian heritage, in fact many of the BNP are neo-pagans. The BNP's Legal Director Lee Barnes has said: "Christianity is a semitic religion, it is creature of the deserts of the Middle East not the forests of the Northern Europe and its symbol the cross is an instrument of torture not of living redemption.…The icons of death are what the West once worshipped – Moses, Christ, saints, popes etc etc Now all these icons of death must be replaced by a living, organic religion which allows our people to reconnect once more with nature, the earth and the divine unfolding of the spiritual within the material and within Man. " [Source] He is of course a neo-pagan who worships Odin.

I refer to the BNP because they like to claim that they are chapions of traditional Christian values. Unless of course you regard love as a traditional Christian value... While Paul says that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentle, the BNP insists that black and white, in or out of Christ, is an important question. With this, the fact that one of their Prospective Parliamentary Candidates admires Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the fact of the "Reverend" Robert West, I can only conclude that the BNP is using Christianity for its own ends. They are courting Christian votes, but do not stand for Christian values. BNP members have been linked to racial violence and neo-Nazi thuggery.

6. Don't vote for any other party like the BNP. The Church is not well-served by Christians voting for such things. We must be very careful not to confuse Christianity with an idealised view of the British past. Nor should Christians vote for those who claim to support Christian values while in fact supporting nothing of the kind.

In short, engage your brain, think as a Christian and vote as a Christian.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Liberalism is not the answer

When the Emergent Church first came on the British horizon, I read some of their material. My immediate thought was that they had good questions. They seemed to be dissatisfied with the shallowness of much of contemporary evangelicalism, something that I could very much identify with. Thus one Emergent writer wittily characterised Contemporary Worship as "Worship that is 30 years behind the culture." On the other hand they also rejected the narrow legalism of much of contemporary fundamentalism, with its anti-intellectual bias. Unusually for American evangelicals (witness British prejudice emerging) they seemed to be interested in the Church before the 19th century. A desire for more seriousness in worship is to be commended.

Sadly, even then it was obvious that not all was well. To the Emergents it seemed that there were only two options in terms of conservative evangelicalism, vacuous big-box megachurches where the 'sermon' is a self-help lecture, and shallow fundamentalism, where the sermon is libale to be a tirade against women wearing trousers and people using the New King James Bible. Now this is blatantly not the case. I was saved out of liberalism in a medium-sized (for the UK) Reformed Baptist Church where the minister used the NIV, and women wore trousers, while the pastor preached expository series' through books of the Bible. But it seems that in the US in particular, such churches were discounted because of their size (less than 100 in the congregation).

Thus Emergents, who even at the beginning seemed to me to have missed the right answer (namely that a Church should be a community, which probably does mean that most Churches should be under 150 members), and to have wandered off into the wilderness of theological liberalism. Liberalism is not the answer. I was brought up in a liberal Church (of a mild type, mind you) in the Church of England. The Emergents are more advanced liberals, and the effect of advanced liberalism is this - it tells people that God accepts them just the way they are. The end result of this is that people wonder why on earth they should give up Sunday like this when it's a lovely day, and the beach/golf-course/cinema is beckoning. Now, some preachers can hold a congregation whatever they say. Most can't, and that is why liberalism has a long record of closing Churches.

Protestant (and for that matter Roman Catholic) liberalism has already been tried and found wanting. I suggest that it is the Gospel, not liberalism, that is the answer.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool's Day Special

In honour of April Fool's Day, I feature a link to one of the sillier atheist claims about Jesus.

The first problem with this article is the tone - it is obviously addressed to fellow atheists, not to Christians. Becaue of this, it stretches things, and engages in nit-picking fault-finding. Every single claim here is secondhand, and has been refuted dozens of times. Undoubtedly the silliest bit is the claim about angels. Biblically, angels are presented as spiritual beings that are in consequence able to adopt a variety of physical shapes, often indistinguishable from humans (such as the angels in Sodom). No-where are they presented as winged humanoids. So, while we may have proven that the X-Man called Angel is unable to fly (which I hope we all realised is just fantasy, this proves nothing but ignorance on the part of the atheist writer.

The scepticism displayed about the Gospels is in radical contrast to the attitude displayed by historian Martin Goodman in his 2007 book Rome and Jerusalem. There Goodman treats the New Testament as a reliable source on a par with Josephus.

A word to the wise: Mockery is not the same as argument. You can assert all you like that you find the New Testament unconvincing, that does not make it unreliable!

As for the oft-repeated claim about paralells between Jesus and other ancient religious figures, one must actually demonstrate them, not just say they exist. Those of us who heard Dan Barker's debate with James White will recall how laughable some of them were when actually stated (most notably the "getting into a boat and sitting down" paralell).

"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'"