Thursday, December 01, 2005

Musings on the CSBI Part II

Continuing my series on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, I now turn to the Summary Statement.

1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God's witness to Himself.

I do like the Christocentrism of this first clause. The centrality of Christ to understanding the Bible is the critical issue - something Our Lord Himself taught.

2. Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: It is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.

It would be nice if they offered a definition of "infallible" up front, rather than assuming it. And the Scriptures "require" a lot of things - the OT law is a prime example, are Christians bound to any or all of *its* "requirements"? A blanket statement like #2 here makes cannot be made, without some hermeneutical qualifications.

3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture's divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.

A biblical truism (II Cor. 3; I Cor. 2). But as Paul Hazelden points out in his commentary on the CSBI, "I have had far too many nutters telling me they know something is true because the Holy Spirit gives them an 'inward witness' to its truth." I think the use of the plural here in this clause is the key - the Spirit works in and through the Church in all ages, and we ought to weigh our insights with theirs, especially in the core matters of the Faith (Trinity, Christ, the Cross). We do best if we do not read the Bible in a vacuum, by ourselves.

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.

Wholly and verbally? I don't think this is supportable even by Scripture itself. As the author of Hebrews says, God spoke to the prophets in many and diverse ways (Heb 1:1-2). Did God dictate the Psalms to David? There are certainly places where God dictated His word out - Sinai being a prime example. But that is not the only paradigm to understand where Scripture came from.

And again, the question of hermeneutics comes in. I will grant that God does not tell us lies about His works. He created the world, it did not arise spontaneously out of nothing. But what exactly *does* Scripture tell us about God's acts in creation? Ask Henry Morris, and Hugh Ross, and you'll get two diametrically opposed answers. Hermeneutics again raises its ugly head. The assumption of some sort of blanket perspecuity seems to be lurking in the background of this clause, and I think this will come back to the fore again as this goes on.

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited of disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible's own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

Ah, the dialectic of "either/or". Either "total divine inerrancy" (and again, inerrancy is not yet defined here), or "(t)he authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired". I'm familiar with this sort of thinking. I used to engage in it myself. Everything is black and white, logical, and if something is not totally one thing it is totally another.

Note the clause about "the Bible's view of truth". Again, a key part of the arguemt is left undefined. What *is* the Bible's view of truth? Cartesian rationalism? Correspondence Theory? Coherence Theory? Propositionalism? I don't think any of these categories completely contains the Biblical revelation.

We are into deep waters here. I am not convinced it is meaningful to talk about a 'view of truth contrary to the Bible's own' because it is at least possible that the Bible contains a number of views of truth. - Paul Hazelden, A Response to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

What I take away from this is that there are a lot of assumptions below the surface in this document that need critical attention.


Blogger pgepps said...

Doug, your approach here bothers me for several reasons:

1) you are engaging in a hermeneutic of suspicion, rather egregiously assuming that the sense of the text is what its worst proponents (or even its opponents) might construe it to be.

2) you are engaging in a contest of hermeneutics, while claiming without defense the privilege of opacity for your hermeneutic. That is, you are reading as if there is no range of meaning in the CSBI, itself--making a "blanket assumption of perspicuity."

3) you don't seem to be listening to the words of the statement in its own tradition. By the time of the CSBI, and certainly by the time of the revision and revival of the statement in the 70s, key terms in the debate were understood, and their affirmation in its context is informed by and forms an operational definition.

For example, "wholly and verbally inspired" or the more common and technical "verbal, plenary inspiration" refers to the *scope* of inspiration and not the method. You will find that nothing in the CSBI requires, as pretty much no one has ever affirmed (if you leave out the nutters) any kind of dictation theory.

I think you're getting caught up in an echo chamber of thought, here, and inadequately interrogating the new thoughts which inform your interrogation of old thoughts.

I affirm the foundationalist bankruptcy as firmly as any Derridean, and I also affirm the CSBI. You should carefully consider the understanding of the text by which I find that possible before you continue attacking the CSBI without construing it more carefully.

Nonetheless, I think the interrogation of this view, and the exposition of the relevant terms in a manner which does not assume the foundationalism which most Fundamentalists have affirmed, is a valuable project, and I hope with caution and revision as suggested above, you will continue.


4:52 AM  
Blogger burttd said...

1) Actually, I thought I was being charitable. (JN)

I will admit I'm trying to poke holes in it. But that's for the simple reason of demonstrating that *it is not the airtight canon of bibliological orthodoxy some of its contemporary proponents make it out to be*. As I noted in Part I, even the original writers never intended it to be used as such. The broad language and undefined categories used leave it open to abuse by its proponents, and critiques like mine

2) At the moment, I'm not claiming *any* heremeneutic. I'm simply pointing out that many questions arise out of a reading of the text cannot be answered by "inerrancy" discussions, but by "hermeneutics" discussions. People often conflate the two, especially in debate. IIRC, the original meetings for the Council on Biblical Inerrancy had to beat the YEC's off with a stick to prevent them from inserting a "literal six-day creation" clause in these documents...

3) You make a good point about it being a document of the 70's, and the theological setting of that time. Which is why, IMHO, the document hasn't "aged" well. The terms are being obscured, and the frame of reference of the whole debate is changing - at least for some. It's time for a serious revision, or for this document to be dropped.

6:31 AM  
Blogger pgepps said...

My bad on the wording about the 70s in (3), BTW. I mixed up the dates in my head--there are, of course, turn-of-the-century affirmations of this doctrine in similar terms, and the 78 statement revives and renews those affirmations. And, yes, the implication of the statement in the debates of the times does have relevance for its meaning and the heft we should give it. Since I take its assertion that it has no creedal weight at face value, I feel free to affirm it while knowing I might take a different tack in making my own such statement.

Oh, and "not claiming a hermeneutic" is what I mean by "claiming the privilege of opacity"--your hermeneutic is invisible and out-of-play, which gives you a rhetorical advantage over the text you're commenting on.


5:54 AM  
Blogger burttd said...

Weren't you and I supposed to be discussing how Protestants can *get together*? (JN)

The pedigree doesn't surprise me, but the CSBI is the most often used and referenced in Internet discussions. And as we both know, it *is* used as a sort of quasi-creed by some - hence my interest in critically examining it.

By "not claiming a hermeneutic", I meant that I was not (for the interests of this discussion) taking a position on any of the issues involved. I was just pointing out that they *are* issues that are left unadressed, and that they *will* have to be taken up by *some* sort of hermeneutic. Which of course leads to your question, which hermeneutic and how do we get it?

6:58 AM  

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