Posted By MSH on February 13, 2009
I really don’t like basketball (“ball in Mike’s court”), so the boxing metaphor is substituted!
Once again, I’m pleased to chat with John and the rest of you in regard to his latest post responding to my comments on his revision of my Bellingham Statement draft. Here goes!
JH: In reply to Mike’s most basic question: absolutely, I could sign off on his Bellingham Statement as I revised it without a single butterfly in my stomach.
MSH: Glad to hear this! I will take a whack at this again using a good bit of John’s helpful wordings. I’d really like to craft something (not only between myself and John) that could be put before other serious bibliobloggers who care about inspiration and inerrancy to see if they could “sign off” as well. Still needs a good bit of thought.
JH: I can’t say the same about the Chicago Statement, though I could also sign that statement, as do many ETSers, with qualms attached.
JH: I take back my suggestion that Mike has a lower view of Scripture than I do. I was just making conversation blogging-style, as I hope he guessed. I’m not sure Mike and I have differences of substance with respect to the particular aspects of a doctrine of Scripture under discussion, though we clearly have differences of rhetorical strategy. Mike says:
“What I back away from is the idea that God *gave* the writers each word.”
My instinctive response: no, you don’t. You just back away from the idea that God gave the writers each word *through dictation.*
MSH: This is fair (kind of), though I take issue below with John’s rationale for this nuancing. Read on!
JH: I don’t see Mike backing away from the idea that God gave the writers each word through a providential combination of factors he has identified with care: through the writers’ “abilities, education, styles, worldview, backgrounds, and idiosyncrasies,” in conjunction with, or not, a point-in-time divine encounter.
JH: I don’t see Mike backing away from the idea that God gave the writers each word and the writers each word to us as they edited, added to, deleted from, rearranged and repurposed what earlier writers had written – including writers whose work is also part of Scripture as we have received it in (relatively) unchanged form.
MSH: Agreed on the PROCESS view of inspiration John describes. The *giving* is still an issue with me for reasons that will become clearer below. John is marrying providence with a view of divine intention (causation) that I don’t share.
JH: In short, I think we both intend to affirm verbal inspiration, but we choose slightly different ways of expressing it.
JH: Speaking of intentions. When it comes to Scripture, the end textual product, how do the writers’ intentions and those of God line up? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it is standard and correct teaching that they are not identical.
JH: That is, Jewish and Christian believers hold that God intended that the words of Scripture have fulfillments and repurposings that were beyond the intent of the writers themselves.
MSH: Yes, this is standard; in evangelical circles (conservative ones especially) this is usually referred to (and summarily “solved”) as “the progress of revelation.”
JH: However, it does appear that Mike backs away from the language of divine intention with respect to the wording and therefore the content of Scripture.
I have reservations about the move – though I am absolutely fine with his alternative wording: the words of Scripture “met with God’s final approval,” even if God did not (per Mike) intend those words. (Perhaps I have misunderstood here.)
MSH: No, you got it. My view is that, in most cases, God left it up to the writers to decide what to write. I do think that God had certain revelational goals in mind that He wanted to accomplish. He was the one who decided when those goals were met (what he wanted to teach the believing community – immediate and for posterity). That is, he decided if what his human agents had written was adequate and accurate (every word, mind you) with respect to the teaching points and salvation history (not using that as a technical term necessarily) that He deemed necessary for the life and perpetuation of the believing community. God molded the writers throughout their lives through providential means, preparing them for the task, but he didn’t need to “intend” words for them. Their providential preparation was sufficient for that.
JH: I remain convinced that it is standard and correct teaching that:
Instilling truth about Himself and His works into the hearts and minds of the scriptural writers prepared them to write the very words God intended they write, those words and no others.
MSH: I like it.
JH: It gets worse. I would locate God’s intentions in history and in eternity in the sense that God determined from all eternity to live out the relationships he would have with his creatures in history and in sovereign freedom nonetheless. In my view, the making of Scripture is part and parcel of those relationships, and follows that script as well. Which makes me a Calvinist, albeit a reconstructed one, whatever Mike may say.
MSH: I don’t mind what kind of Calvinist you are, John! Though I have to wonder how a Methodist preacher makes that work! You must have a wonderful congregation.
JH: I realize that calling oneself a Calvinist is like comparing oneself to the Grinch who stole Christmas, but there it is.
In short, whereas I wish to describe God as the Alpha and Omega of Scripture no less than of everything else that comes to pass in history, I realize that the notion of divine intention goes to determination which goes to predetermination. (Digression alert)
And that is a problem. Can an all-powerful, all-knowing God intend anything without predetermining everything?
No he cannot, unless he ties one hand behind his back and does not allow what he knows will happen in the future to predetermine everything he does in the present. I have no idea why this point of logic is not brought up more often.
MSH: This (as “original” Naked Bible readers will know), is where I disagree with John. I see no necessary connection in Scripture between foreknowledge and predestination. God does not need to predetermine things that happen, though he can. God can *intend* the end and not the means, though he can. All of this is hashed out in a series of other posts on the Naked Bible blog (and you thought inspiration was the only thing that rankled readers!).
[Digression alert] My view stems from my understanding of the status of humans as divine imagers REQUIRES genuine human freedom. We image God. If we do not have true freedom, we cannot image him. If God takes away genuine freedom, we no longer image him. We would actually cease to be human, since imaging and humanity are inextricably bound up together. This idea in turn dovetails with (but does not completely overlap) with the fact that humans and other divine beings are imagers of God (the plurals in Gen 1:26 figure in here – when is the last time you heard someone try to tackle the issue of human free will while INCLUDING the co-imaging status of “angels”)? It’s quite necessary to get it right, but almost no one even considers it, since they wrongly think the plurals in Genesis are about the Trinity. The plurals = a plural exhortation by the singular Yahweh to his heavenly host, the divine council. And this all in turn relates to my “life work focus” of the divine council. I can’t belabor the ins-and-outs here, but I’ve probably spent more time thinking about the imaging status and the divine council than anything I’ve thought about in what could be loosely be called my academic career. But that’s all another subject. Just as God can “decree” something like Ahab’s death (1 Kings 22) and then let free agents in his divine council “get the job done” without specifying (“intending”) all the details (the end is decreed, not the detailed means), so it is with His human imagers, which included the Scripture writers. [End of digression].
JH: With respect to Scripture, however, I think it is adequate to the realia of the text to affirm that its contents and wording conform to God’s intentions in an undiluted sense. I admit such an affirmation has the smell of macho bravado about it. I stand by it just the same.
MSH: I would agree that the original thing produced (the end product of inspiration) was acceptable to God in every word since it accomplished what he wanted it to accomplish (and of course the writers didn’t know all that God wanted to accomplish). He deemed their efforts acceptable for the believing community. This actually is part of why I don’t think things like a pre-scientific worldview (an example of the realia) count as errors – they are incidental to the doctrine and record of salvation history that God intended. This is different than saying (with some in the seventies and eighties) that “the Bible makes errors in science, but we should disregard those errors in our doctrine of Scripture.” I’m saying they aren’t errors at all, since they aren’t statements or declarations that the writers put to their audience as things to be believed as truth. They are a part of a writer’s worldview, that he may or may not use in some argument trajectory, but they aren’t the object of the argument trajectory. I’m thinking that one can only commit an error when what one says is rightly understood to be a declaration of fact (in this case, for the believing community for “all time and eternity”). I don’t see the writer of Genesis telling his audience to believe that there was a solid dome over the earth. He just assumes it in the course of telling us about creation (and I view the creation passage as a polemic against the fallen gods; limiting it to six solar days limits God too much, though I won’t care if the Lord tells me some day that the “day” language was meant to be taken that way as well). The fact that the solid dome was an assumption argues that the author didn’t need to make that a proposition – which (providentially!) is a good thing, since we’d have to reject it if that was a doctrinal statement for the whole believing community.
JH: Now the ball is back in Mike’s court. In any case, I’m happy to subscribe to the Bellingham Statement as I revised it with or without the language of divine intention.
MSH: Good thing, since I think you’re wrong there, John! But seriously, I can’t see where an explanation of intention is needed for the statement.