So when asked the street-level question, “Does the Bible contain mistakes?” I always answer, “When interpreted properly, no.” That first clause is important; after all, an awful lot of people in history have thought that the Bible says the earth is at the center of the universe, flat, and built on pillars. There is also a plethora of texts whose literal meaning cannot be their original meaning—ranging from the obviously poetic (“your breasts are clumps of dates”) to the obviously symbolic (“then I saw a beast coming out of the sea”) and the obviously hyperbolic (“cut your eye out and throw it away”)—as well as a group of other texts whose literal meaning may or may not be their original meaning (as anyone who has read Paul Copan on Joshua, Tom Wright on the Olivet Discourse, or Greg Beale on Revelation will know). Consequently, care is needed, particularly in a church context where declaring that “the Bible does not contain mistakes” may be taken as code for “the tribulation will last three-and-a-half calendar years, every single Amalekite was killed by Saul, the moon will literally turn into blood one day, the revelatory gifts have altogether ceased, and evolution is entirely bunk.” When the Bible is interpreted correctly, it is completely true in all that it affirms. When it is interpreted incorrectly, there is no limit to the nonsense we can assume it teaches.
On the same day last week, the ACLU both filed suit to protest NSA surveillance and filed suit to block abortion restrictions in Alabama: the dignity of phone users upheld, the dignity of womb dwellers denied. The passage of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday had Laura Murphy of the ACLU in a huff of moral indignation: “Today’s vote is part of a wave of ever-more extreme legislation in the states and in Congress that interferes with a woman’s ability to make personal and private medical decisions.” …
It’s easy to assert human dignity. It is, after all, a rather flattering complement to our species. Who but the most self-pitying soul would reject such a sincere compliment? Dignity? Yes, please. Rights? Certainly!
Humanism is easy, but to its devotees in the ACLU we might pose the following challenge: What happens when your assertion, your flattering compliment to our race, is asked to prove its conceptual credentials? As flattering as it may be, human dignity can become rather inconvenient, burdensome, and undesirable, because human beings, even innocent ones, can become inconvenient, burdensome, and undesirable. Can you demonstrate that human dignity is more than an emotivist flattery?
It is of course, but to make such a demonstration the ACLU will have to hear something of the rights of God. Our nature does not belong to Caesar, but neither does it belong to us as individuals. There is only one who exercises the owner’s right, the right to inscribe the order of justice into our very nature. If our nature is merely our own, if it is not a gift from our Creator, then justice, rights, and even “dignity” remain but artifacts, convenient creations of those possessed of political might. The only solid foundation for human dignity lies in this: “we come from God and must return to Him.” Apart from our belonging to God, human rights are as invented as unicorns, human dignity as fictitious as witches.
An ‘impersonal God’—well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads—better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap—best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband—that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God!’) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us!
– C. S. Lewis, Miracles (1947; repr. New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 150.
Wise words from Michael Horton:
Death puts life in perspective. It reminds of the things that matter most. In the prime of our life, we want to change the world. Too often, we lose big dreams and the zest for life precisely because we’ve figured out that we can’t change it. But freed up from impossible dreams and demands, we can finally love and serve our neighbors—not as abstract objects for our life project or instruments of our self-identity-creation, but as God’s gifts.
Godly wisdom is to be found in realizing that faithfulness is not ultimately about how well we’re doing, but how well our neighbor is doing—and what we can do to help. It’s not about changing the world—or even loving the world—but about changing the way we relate to actual people today and loving specific neighbors with whom we live, work, and whose paths we cross each day. More deeply—radically, even—it’s about accepting God’s condemnation and justification in Christ and being renewed each day by his Word. As we’re shaped by his gospel and guided by his law, we discover that godly wisdom is not finally about the sprint but about finishing the race. Death has a practical way of putting all of this in perspective.
Yes, at least according to Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary in California. In this excerpt from a round-table discussion posted at the Modern Reformation website, Horton offers a nuanced defense of inerrancy, arguing that the doctrine is still important for evangelicals today.
On the difference between inerrancy and literalism:
Inerrancy is a claim about the truth of the text and literalism is a way of misreading the Bible or any other text, inerrant or not. An audience of sharp, science-minded students should hopefully have had enough literature courses to be able to interpret genres other than science textbooks. Warfield labored the point that the Bible isn’t a science textbook. In fact, he favored theistic evolution! Scope, purpose, and genre have to be considered. Then you have to distinguish views that finite and fallen people might have assumed in their worldview from what they actually teach. To be sure, these are complicated issues, but they aren’t about inerrancy; they’re about interpretation–and with or without inerrancy, everyone has to do that. Yes, there are extreme views of inspiration (such as dictation, which is basically denying the humanity of Scripture), and there are inerrantists who think of the Bible as a catalog of propositional descriptions of astronomy, geology, and math. But, again, those are interpretative flaws that lead people either to deny inerrancy or to develop extreme views of literal accuracy. Calvin spoke of Scripture as without error. Yet he also reminded us that Moses spoke not as an astronomer but that God condescended to accommodate his revelation to the finite capacity of his covenant people. It seems to me that critics of inerrancy sometimes share with fundamentalists a naive and modernistic set of assumptions about the way to read a series of covenantal documents…
On the contextual nature of all theological development:
I’m sure you would agree that confessions are historically conditioned. From the earliest days, the church was implicitly trinitarian in its baptism, prayers, liturgies, and hymns. The heretics pushed the church to formulate the dogma of the Trinity in clearer terms. Same with the christological debates, the Pelagian heresy, and on we could go. Yet even heretics either quoted Scripture as authoritative or (as in the case of the Gnostics) appealed to their own secret texts.
Only with the advent of Socinianism and the Enlightenment did professing Christians begin to question whether divine inspiration preserved the scriptural canon from error. Clement of Rome, who died toward the end of the first century, wrote that in “the Holy Scriptures which are given through the Holy Spirit nothing iniquitous or falsified is written.” Augustine added, “The evangelists are free from all falsehood, both from that which proceeds from deliberate deceit and that which is the result of forgetfulness.” Luther declared, “I am profoundly convinced that none of the writers have erred.” Same with Calvin, although he noted in detail apparent discrepancies, difficulties, and open questions concerning textual criticism. In modern times, papal encyclicals have insisted upon inerrancy, sometimes even falling into the exaggerated position of a dictation theory (which evangelical statements like the Chicago Statement reject), and both Vatican I and Vatican II affirm that the Bible is inerrant. So, further reflection on the nature of Scripture was precipitated by modernist criticism–and by a concern to distinguish the view from fundamentalism. To say, however, that inerrancy arose Phoenix-like from the ooze of modern epistemology is wide of the mark.
While I affirm the Westminster Confession‘s statement on Scripture (viz., that it is “the only infallible rule for faith and life”), I also affirm inerrancy as a tragically necessary “further report.” Infallible used to mean not only inerrant but incapable of erring. It was a stronger word than inerrancy. As we know, however, in the 1970s “infallible” became a weaker alternative to “inerrant.” Sadly, we need to clarify what would in other centuries have been a perfectly obvious confession for believers. I wish we didn’t need inerrancy, but we do. I wish we didn’t need to qualify what we mean and don’t mean by affirming the trustworthiness of Scripture, but we do. Things are a lot more complicated now, but it is not because inerrantists have too much time on their hands. It is because we are more aware than ever both of the challenges to scriptural authority and the necessity of defending it. With Warfield, I don’t believe that denying inerrancy is a heresy, but I don’t see how we can adjudicate truth and error at all when it is up to us to determine what in Scripture we will receive as divinely revealed canon.
A fascinating discovery that raises interesting questions:
As of this month, we’ve discovered 884 planets, 692 planetary systems, 132 of them with more than one planet and, strange to tell, almost none of them look like us.
“We are now beginning to understand that nature seems to overwhelmingly prefer [planetary] systems that have multiple planets with orbits of less than 100 days,” says Steve Vogt, astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “This is quite unlike our own solar system, where there is nothing with an orbit inside that of Mercury. So our solar system is, in some sense, a bit of a freak and not the most typical kind of system that Nature cooks up.” …
As the discoveries roll in, Mike [Brown, an astronomer at Caltech,] is getting more and more uncomfortable. Though it will take a while to discover smaller planets, right now there’s only one planetary system that looks a lot like our own, he says. “HD 13931 b is nearly perfect. What I would desperately like to know is whether or not it has the small rocky bodies on the inside too. But it’ll be a long time before we can find that.”
Meantime, he is trying to get used to the idea that we live on an unusual planet in an unusual solar system. That’s two “unusuals.” One more than he’s used to. To live doubly-unusual, is to be luckier — and perhaps rarer — than we knew.
“It really is something that I find deeply weird,” he writes. “What does it all mean? I don’t know. I am certain that this single-minded emphasis on planets-in-habitable-zones is making people forget that there is still a lot of weird stuff happening out there and that we still don’t even understand the basics of how we ourselves got here.”
Once again, Mohler’s astute analysis cuts through the rhetoric, penetrating to the heart of the issue:
What the pro-abortion movement fears most is that Americans will pause to consider what this trial [of Dr. Kermit Gosnell] really means. It means that Dr. Gosnell would not be on trial for murder if he had killed those three babies while inside their mother’s body. His murder convictions have everything to do with the fact that the abortions were “botched” and the baies were accidentally born alive. Had the abortions been “successful” — even up to the last hours of pregnancy — Dr. Gosnell might have been charged with performing a late-term abortion, but not of murder.
And, speaking of late-term abortions, the abortion rights movement is against all legal restrictions on those as well. They insist on a woman’s unfettered right to an abortion up to the moment of birth.
Even more chillingly, a Planned Parenthood representative recently told a committee of the Florida legislature that even a baby born alive after a failed abortion should have its life or death decided only by its mother and her doctor.
This is America. A nation that has legalized murder in the womb and that now finds itself staring at what abortion really represents. Human dignity cannot survive in a society that insists that a baby inside the womb has no right to live while that same baby, just seconds later, is a murder victim. Respect for human life cannot endure when a baby inside the womb is just a fetus, but when moved only a few centimeters is a full citizen.