Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Observations on the Doctrine of Scripture

Yesterday I (finally) laid out a covenantal understanding of the doctrine of scripture. Today I want to make a few observations that I think are entailed by the way I have approached things:

First, there is no need to jettison the term inerrancy. If God is inerrant, and the Bible is His covenant with us, it makes sense to view the Bible as inerrant also. It is important to define exactly what an error is. We do not hold the scriptures to a higher standard than they set for themselves. (See also my inerrancy post from a few months ago.)

Second, we should expect the Bible to give us information relating to the covenant and our response to the covenant. We should not expect the Bible to be giving us scientific information. If one can demonstrate that the purpose of a passage is to give scientific information, then a belief in inerrancy compels us to assume the passage is scientifically accurate. BUT given the covenantal purpose of the scriptures, I am doubtful that any passage does intend to convey scientific information.

Third, nothing about a covenantal view of scripture limits God’s self-revelation exclusively to the Bible. Even if we have been able to identify the way God has been dealing with us, we are given no authority to conclude how He has (or has not) been interacting with other peoples on the globe. Therefore we have no justification, for instance, for pronouncing all non-Christian religious traditions to be evil. Terrance L. Tiessen proposes that “formalized religions are ambiguous responses to divine revelation, and so are the religious commitments of individual members of those religions.” (Who Can Be Saved: Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions, 2004, p.358)

Fourth, our covenant with God is not logically necessary but rather historically contingent. That is to say, the covenant we have with God might have been entirely different than the one we have now, based entirely on the way different individuals in our now-distant past chose to respond to God. This might be self-evident were it not for popular gospel presentations like “The Four Spiritual Laws” which present the gospel as a set of timeless truths. The gospel is not like Buddhism's Four Noble Truths, which apply equally to all humans at all times, having always existed and were waiting only to be discovered by Buddha. Instead, the gospel is a call to accept that God has given Jesus, the real-flesh-and-blood-historical Jesus, authority to become the Lord of Heaven and Earth. There is no need to cross Lessing’s “ugly ditch” between the accidental truths of history and the necessary truths of history, for the gospel is firmly rooted on the side of history.

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