Over the summer Arthur and I are trying to get our doctrine of Scripture sorted. It’s one of the questions we brought with us into college and being at such close proximity to the library, we figure now’s the time to do some reading! Over Christmas I finished R.C. Sproul’s Scripture Alone: The evangelical doctrine where he gets all excited about the Chicago Statement.
Basically, the Chicago Statement is a whole lot of evangelicals who got together in 1978 to defend the inerrancy (and infallibility, apparently they can’t be separated) of Scripture. But my big question remains: what is the inerrancy of Scripture? You see, Sproul denies that it means that the Bible has to be a textbook of physics (p.21). Instead, he says that “what the Bible teaches, it teaches infallibly.” In which case, you could make the argument that if a point of history, maths or science is not the main point of a text, it’s OK if it’s not ‘inerrant’ to our Western post-Enlightenment minds (though it may well have seemed ‘inerrant’ its time and culture).
However, Article XII of the Chicago Statement says:
We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud or deceit.
We deny that biblical infallibility or inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science.
OK, I’ll go along with this one. I can see how they’re trying to defend that the Bible isn’t just metaphor or religious guidance but has historical basis (for example, in the history of the Israelite people or the resurrection of Jesus). But wait for it, the second half of the ‘we deny’ statement:
We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.
It’s at this point that I get a little uncomfortable. Because the term ‘teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood’ is just a little ambiguous for my liking. Yet, it’s in the context of affirming biblical scientific authority (not just spiritual authority) that this is mentioned, which implies that Gen 1 must have something scientific to say. All this sounds like there’s some sort of creation science agenda being pushed here. Which is only OK if the main point of Gen 1 is to outline a scientific theory (but I would argue otherwise). If this is the case, Sproul’s point about the Bible being infallible in terms of what it teaches is completely moot.
All this brings up the question of where the infallibility of the Bible meets interpretation. It’s all very well to say the ‘teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood’ is infallible, but what exactly is that teaching? Sproul doesn’t provide any hermeneutical pointers which is disappointing, and I suspect, highlights the weakness of his position.
Next up: James Dunn on intention and interpretation and therefore what we understand the word of God to be.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.