Monday, January 24, 2011

Hinlicky and Inerrancy, Again.

Some of you might have seen the latest piece on Lutheran Forum. In it Paul Hinlicky discusses a new book on the Seminex crisis. In discussing the book and the current state of the LCMS, Hinlicky uses Paul McCain and myself as examples of the fact that the LCMS is a kooky Fundamentalist organization. According to Hinlicky, when we started the debate with him we "immediately brought up whether or not there was a historical Adam and Eve." Our belief in Scripture authority and inerrancy apparently shows us how backward we are, thereby vindicating his point.

A couple of observations. First, I didn't immediately bring up the existence of Adam and Eve (though I do believe in them).  In any case, whether or not Adam and Eve existed was not the main issue. In actuality, the article was a piece on the Logia website that I had written concerning the relationship between Scripture and Tradition in Lutheran thought. I was arguing that Hinlicky deviated from the Lutheran "tradition 1" model (to use Oberman's terminology) because he needed Churchly tradition to make up for the fact that he doesn't believe that the Word of God's efficacy and inerrancy. My argument was about as non-Fundamentalist as one could make. In a word, my point was that the Scriptures are a "charter of Christian freedom" (Forde) or "the wedding certificate of the Bride of Christ" (Gerhard, quoting Augustine). If God's promises are true and I have Christian freedom through the blood of the Lamb, then I must believe in the historical facts that make those promises possible. If I say that they are as true and knowable as any other mere historical fact and aren't inerrantly preserved in the Scriptures, then I am saying they are merely "probable." All secular history is merely probable. Hence, if God's promises stand on the foundation of the merely probable, then they too are only probable, and so is my Christian freedom.

Again, Hinlicky doesn't want to engage in this sort of debate because he can't overcome this objection. In fact, I suspect he feels he doesn't have to do so. In a word, no one in his circles would make this objection, so who needs to respond to it? People who claim the Bible is inerrant are Fundamentalists and therefore not worth listening to. So, he simply screams "Fundamentalist" and then claims that he's making a convincing argument.

Another comment that Hinlicky made that I found irksome was his statement that he "read the Bible all the way through" several times in college and then realize how many errors and contradictions there are in it and how his teachers and pastors were just engaging in childish harmnonizations of the text. Then he went to Seminex and dreamed of reconciling Marx with Luther through Tillich. Yeah!

But if he thinks that inerrancy is falsified by our perceiving errors in Scripture, then he is gravely mistaken about the concept. He somehow thinks that inerrancy means that we can just go through the text and then when we find no errors, then it is declared inerrant. Hence, when every discrepancy isn't capable of being worked out by human reason, then you've got to say that the text is errant. This is why he treats his opponents as if they are ignorant. Apparently they haven't gone through the text as thoroughly and discovered how many errors there are!

But this isn't really what the Lutheran scholastics or any of the newer orthodox Lutheran theologians mean by inerrancy (actually as Robert Preus shows in one of his pieces, they were very aware of perceived discrepancies in the text and developed a number of intellectual rigorous ways of dealing with them). Rather, inerrancy is a methodological principle, that because God is trustworthy, his Word is also. This doesn't mean that I can work out every apparent discrepancy out myself. In fact, even if I could, it would not be the basis of me declaring the Word of God inerrant. I am a fallible human being and therefore my own preception of whether or not a thing is inerrant is not a proper basis to declare it as such. Rather I trust God that it is trustworthy and inerrant because God through the Holy Spirit convicts me that it is. Therefore I trust it is, even if I perceive errors.

This is not just fideism, but rather the text understood as trust worthy in light of God's own trust worthiness. I can't know everything, so anything I perceive as a mistake is error in me and not the text. There are many examples in Scripture of things that many generations of earlier scholars thought was an error (Abraham having Camels, etc.) and later evidence vindicated the truth and trustworthiness of the text (Camels were domesticated by that time, just not in super wide use).


  1. "I was arguing that Hinlicky deviated from the Lutheran "tradition 1" model (to use Oberman's terminology) because he needed Churchly tradition to make up for the fact that he doesn't believe that the Word of God's efficacy and inerrancy."

    No inerrancy, no efficacy--and efficacy and inerrancy aren't founded on what *I* find in the text, but upon the One who Authored, gives, and fulfills the promises of it. Too often the discussion singles out inerrancy (or the package of inerrancy and inspiration) and leaves off efficacy. Efficacy is what separates us from downright fundamentalism. A fundamentalist will argue for creationism, but deny the efficacy of Christ's Word in the Sacraments. Yet is was the same efficacious word that spoke in the beginning at creation. Go figger.

    Nice piece.

  2. Paul Hinlicky starts his review draping himself in the robe of "victimhood" by proclaiming,

    "I am a wounded veteran... It took place as I was entering into adulthood; along with many others of my generation, it robbed me of my church and the future that I planned. Like a repressed trauma, I submit, that conflict continues to condition all of us, some more directly than others, in debilitating ways to this very day."

    Continuing, after I waded through Hinlicky's angst and ad hominems in the review to see the inevitable reference to the third use of the law (as well as inerrancy) placed in obligatory quotes, I felt comforted and reassured - the review is simply the usual ???A bovine scatology.