Sunday, February 28, 2010

Inerrancy as a necessary presupposition to proclamation.

Inerrancy is a necessary presupposition of the Church's activity of proclamation.  This one of the major contradictions I find in the theology of people like Elert and Forde and in the conservatives in the ELCA.
Namely, if Forde is correct and proclamation of the Word gives absolute certainty of salvation, how is it that someone can claim that it’s not inerrant? In other words, I’m only saved because of certain historical events. To allow Scriptural history to be on the same level as all other history is to place it into the realm of probability. All history that we know, is in fact, merely probable. We have sources, we weigh evidence. But the Word and the Sacraments tells us that these things absolutely happened Pro me. So, if we believe that we are justified, Christ’s own history and therefore that of the whole Bible must be absolutely unquestionable. If not, then we are forced to say that Christ “probably” “died for our sins” and “probably rose for our justification.” Similarly, with the law, we “probably” “have all sinned” and “probably” “fallen short of the glory of God.”


  1. For myself, I would agree that all scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, etc., and none of it is false. I wouldn't call it inerrancy, because it seems to imply, as it does in this post, that God's saving work is contingent on the truth of the Bible. Soon you are behind Kent Hovind's podium, trying to prove that yes it is possible to live for three days in the belly of a big fish, because you've conceded to your smirking skeptic antagonist that if you can't make it plausible, then you have no possible basis to claim that Jesus died for your sins. Conversely, I continue to be mystified at the witnessing strategy of trying to prove that (for example) the universe is 6000 years old, therefore Jesus died for your sins. How does that follow?

    Christ did not die and rise again to illustrate problems in evolutionary theory or to vindicate the historicity of a strong Davidic monarchy. He did it to free us from sin so that we may have eternal life. And even though you seem to make the claim above, I can't believe that you think we need proof texts to know for sure that we are sinners in need of salvation.

  2. Jack, you are spot on with this post.Our absolute confidence in the promises of the external Word of God is more consistent with an afirmation of biblical inerrancy then its denial. This is made even more clear when the text of Scriptures which contain this Gospel and these promises present Christ as believeing and afirming the full trustworthiness and truthfullness of Scripture. It seems grossly inconsitent to confess the Christ of Scripture as Savior and then deny the view of Scripture the gospels attribute to Christ.

  3. Mike- True, Christ did not die to demonstrate that there was a Davidic monarchy (though my earlier post on archaeology suggests that we have the evidence of that anyways) or the problems with evolutionary theory (though if God brings about new creation one way, why would have brought about old creation the other way?).

    I guess my question to you would be, how does one overcome the problem of the mere probability of all historical events?

    The fact remains that the articles of the faith, to be true depend on historical events having happened. We can accept historical events of the NT and OT as having happened through historical research. There's actually alot of historical evidence of that. But again, this isn't infallible. It's merely probable and therefore if we accept them on that basis the articles of the faith which we accept are also merely probable. If that's true, then the alternatives are inerrancy or mere probability. Perhaps like Pannenberg you can accept mere probability- but that I think is detrimental to Christian freedom.

    Also, how does one over come the problem of the narrative framework of Scripture?

    In other words, the facts of redemption only make sense within a framework that accepts the Biblical narrative as a whole. As NT Wright famously pointed out, a learned Roman untutored in the Hebrew scriptures would have understood Jesus' resurrection to make him something like a Nero redivivus. It's not like you can isolate the crucifixion out from everything else and say "hey this means redemption."

    Redemption as it is presented to in the NT only makes sense if assume the whole historical narrative of Israel and its story of creation as being true. All the ambiguities associated with that, I'm willing to accept, since I'm willing to accept the Word pro me. Inerrancy is not something you are able to prove, it is an article of the faith and a natural corollary of the Word pro me.

    Not only have I come to the point where I understand the relativity of humanly devised knowledge, but I've also seen the horrible alternative in the situation in the present ELCA. When the Bible is negotiable, then the confessions are negotiable and in the end, everything is negotiable.

  4. Mike,
    I would have to agree that Christ did not die and rise to vindicate a strong Davidic monarchy and that God's saving work is not contingent on the truth of the Bible. But I think (maybe I'm wrong) that Jack's point is that the truth of the Bible is contingent on God's saving work, not the other way around. First comes God's actions in history, then comes proclamation of those acts. Trust that those proclaimed historical events are for me creates certitude that they did, in fact happen. With any other historical events we can only have probable knowledge (even of what you ate for breakfast). So faith created by the proclamation of God's saving action also creates faith that his Word as we have it is "profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, etc., and none of it is false" as a corollary. "Profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, etc., and none of it is false" seems like a fine definition of inerrancy to me. In any case, belief in the total trustworthiness of God's Word comes from initial faith that the proclaimed acts really happened for me, not the other way around, I think. Really, this makes the inerrancy issue for a matter of faith (as trust, not as irrational belief in something objectively improvable). Also, who on earth would think it is possible to live in the belly of a big fish for 3 days? I suppose some people do, but that's silly. Also, why people are so stuck on 6,000 years is beyond me too. I wonder is Ussher expected such an effect?
    PS – is that your Scottish hat in your picture? As Jack can attest, I think that hat is totally cool. I should get Jack one.

  5. Bethany, I entirely agree. Also, In the picture it's a balmoral bonnet that someone on eBay made for me.

    Jack, I'm encouraged to see you affirm the "pro me" as prior to the teaching on scripture (even though scripture proclaims and teaches it). I'm concerned with popular apologetics, so I'm extra-sensitive to how inerrancy "preaches" so to speak, where instead of presenting a unified narrative, the Bible is reduced to a vast pile of propositions, the positive truth value of each having to be accepted before the proclamation of Christ can be considered.

  6. Jack,

    I am currently reading Forde's Theology Is For Proclamation and want to second your "how is it that someone can claim..." heartily. I have a lot of trouble understanding how Forde cannot see that the child of God is bound to believe his God's Word. Forde can have a great section on the bondage of the will and then waffle on the historical reality of the Fall, even while admitting that the Fall has to be historical. With your having gone to Luther and studied under some of Forde's students, could you explain why they hold on higher criticism, women's ordination, etc., even while vehemently affirming the power of God's Word for sinners' sake?

  7. Jennifer and Adam- They would say that the Word of forgiveness is simply self-authenticating and that inerrancy is simply a kind of crutch that one uses to make the Word more trustworthy. Of course, this doesn't really answer a series of questions like, how do you simply accept the Word of forgiveness but be shaky on the other aspects of the Scriptural witness that make that Word make sense, like the fall, like creation, the events of Israel's history etc. They don't answer this, but it's part of their Kantianism and Pietism that they think that faith is only minimally cognitive and it's more existential experience.

    With the Fall, I mean, again, there is a strong existentializing tendency. In other words, the narrative of Adam and Eve is symbolic or even unnecessary, because, through proclamation, you already know that you're a sinner. Of course, this does not explain why humans are sinful. If sin was created as part of the world order (evolutionary worldview would seem to suggest as such) then how is it that sin is considered blameworthy? Also, when God redeems the world from sin and death, isn't he just redeeming creation from being what its always been? Aren't you in the end saying that creation is really bad and that we need to escape from it? Sounds very Gnostic to me.

  8. Jack,

    It's just Adam; we do have a joint account, but Jen doesn't spend her time wondering about Gerhard Forde.

    I've recently ordered a volume published by Luther in the '70's where Forde talks about the old Norwegian Synod in which he grew up, where I know that there was much sympathy with Missouri, esp. on the question of the election of grace, which is easy to see as an emphasis in Forde or his teacher, Herman Preus. The tension between Norwegian confessionalism and Norwegian Pietism is something that has defined Luther as a seminary, and I'm wondering if it's also more present in Forde & Co. than I'd thought.

    Your explanation has really helped. Having read Walther before I'd heard of Forde, I find wonderful commonalities on the distinction between Law and Gospel and the comfort of election, but it seems that Forde's ambiguity about how creation happened makes him unable to answer the questions about the order of creation, e.g. women's roles in the family and church, that didn't trouble Missouri until the St. Louis faculty began to teach the higher critical views of Scripture that Forde and Jenson also accepted early on in their careers despite the ALC's official position at the time.

  9. Adam,

    I would be inclined to see Pietism as the actual source of women's ordination. In other words, the existentializing tendency makes religion something interior, so bodies don't matter that much. Also, this leads to a denigration of the pastoral office and little distinction between it and the priesthood of all believers. This is why the ELCA quotes "there is neither male nor female, etc." as a proof text for women's ordination. That quotation from Paul has nothing to do with the pastoral office, but with the priesthood of all believers- but if you don't distinguish them, then you see how they could use it that way.

    Forde and Luther Seminary (at least when I was there) are prime example of the sort of synthesis between the repristination theology of Walther/U.V. Koren, and Pietism that existed in the "Old Synod." On the one hand, there is this existentilzing tendency of their theology and therefore an openness to alot of 19th century quasi-Pietist theology (von Hofmann) and higher criticism (the Bible's literal nature doesn't matter, the "essence" of its message, that is the spiritual experience is what matters!), while at the same time being pretty hardcore on the doctrine of election. This is part of the reason why Jenson and Forde were so attracted to Barth, and why Forde seems to have read the Bondage of the Will more than any other theological text.