Round Two with John Hobbins and the Bellingham Statement

Posted By 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.

MSH: ditto

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.

MSH: Agreed

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.

MSH: yep

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.

MSH: depends

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.


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3 Responses to “Round Two with John Hobbins and the Bellingham Statement”

  1. Jonnathan Molina says:

    I do think the question we’re trying to answer here is,
    essentially, how do we understand and apply both the
    mystical and the practical traits of the Bible. In the past, I gave alot of credence to the belief that every jot and tittle was set in by God for a reason and that each had some kind of deep meaning behind it. I’ve seen people try to give the meaning behind each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, for example, and how they somehow held clues to the coming Messiah for the very discerning and it was all very theologically sound. I’m also used to the method of many preachers of focusing on the greek meaning of a word and spiritualizing it to death in order to give themselves more credibility in the eyes of the flock or to emphasize that their message is truly from God. Having been exposed to this site and many other books I can see how this can be damaging to a solid and worthy view of Scripture and how it can encourage excess (which thing I hate). But, now the new view poses its own problems because I don’t believe it’s possible to truly separate the supernatural/mystical side of the Word from the “pure data” as it were without distorting my view of God and His word. So in an effort to reconcile this here’s a statement of my own to roughly summarize where I stand as of now and to see if I’m truly getting all of this discussion (please indulge me and forgive my awkward writing–this is not meant to add to Dr. Heisers elegant work so far, I am simply seeking verification, correction and assistance thank you!).

    (start of my statement)

    I believe that God intended to deliver specific, direct
    revelation at certain times, to certain people both to
    provide information and as a way to preserve (and for us to glorify) what He would accomplish through His Son for all time.
    This revelation was strictly, by nature, spiritual and moral, not scientific. He allowed holy (therefore receptive and discerning) men the freedom of expressing it while exercising Providential Sovereignty in the curtailing of such expression. I believe that God’s Spirit must ignite within us–the receptors and beneficiaries of these endeavors–the faith and spiritual insight to grasp the message conveyed by the words on paper, so that we can, not only apply the direct logic of them as we need them, but learn about His attributes from the larger message that inspired them–the hidden context that isn’t so obvious at first glance to the rational faculties.

    I understand that although it was both necessary and
    ordained for the Jewish nation to be the keepers of the
    oracles they were not able to discern the larger message
    they pointed to in the coming of Jesus, His Redemptive work, and the mystery of the Chruch; therefore, Jesus is portrayed as bringing correction to the mentality that is birthed from living only by the letter and not the spirit of the letter even as He fulfilled the letter. Though they preserved for all peoples the archetypes, symbols, doctrines, prophecies and commands that God inspired–directly and indirectly–and which encompass the revelation of God before Christ, the Jewish Nation could go no further until Jesus began to open the Scriptures to them.

    (end of my statement)

    From which I take two things: It is important to preserve the word of God as much as it is possible; however, we cannot understand it strictly from a logical point of view (even the Jews got in trouble this way missing whole swaths of Messianic revelation by blindly adhering to sacrifices that, in the end, could not truly help them) no matter how hard we try because it does take some Divine Assistance to unlock the truths within it…now I don’t believe that post the Ascension every human being is somehow able to read the Bible and automatically “get it” because Christianity is mainstream enough that many non-believers can accurately describe its tenets, yet it does nothing for the unregenerate mind–God is still needed to “light the spark”…therefore, how far can one look at the Scriptures from a purely academic perspective until one loses the focus of its true intent and therefore miss the forest for the trees? I mean, clearly I’m a bit disillusioned here (sad smile) as many things one holds dear do slowly begin to crumble under the weight of stark-naked fact (Hey blog–missioned accomplished!) yet, I am not in despair or any such thing…I just simply want to know how one does reconcile the obvious…that God is Supernatural and we are not and His approach at direct revelation (the Bible) reflects both truths? (I understand this is a whole separate topic and that I may be out of turn, or sort of late in the race to bring it up now, but I think the point underpins Dr. Heiser’s entire exercise)

    So…so far I’ve learned you cannot separate the realia of the mistake-laden and contradictory scrolls that exist from the actual work of the Spirit of God…He obviously did not demand perfection of the text copies through time but He did ensure the message within them remained intact. I doubt, however, if we miraculously were given the original autographs our problems would disappear entirely…because they would still be words given to a pre-scientific audience with intent to solve their problems first and not, directly, our own…so where does that leave those conservative Christians who believe that every jot and tittle have to mean something?
    I think they’d be forced to admit that the intent of God was superior to the means He used to deliver them and that the words on paper, themselves, (as always) weren’t to be worshipped in any peculiar way but were just tools to direct our faith to the God they revealed; to see the Spirit in the Letter…even if the letter is spelled with one “t” instead of two or even when we discovered that the sky was gaseous and not solid!

  2. MSH says:

    @Jonnathan Molina: Thanks for this, Jonathan. I need to give it a careful read and respond. Off the cuff, I should add something to the statement about the fact that I have no problem retaining “mystery” in the process. But to me, the mystery isn’t the process of how gave the writers the words; it’s the mysterious operation of providence that was at throughout the writers’ entire lives, preparing them and molding them to produce something God would find acceptable as written revelation once He prompted them to be part of that enterprise. I can’t pretend to know that, and there is no 1-2-3 step process — it would have been different for each writer.

  3. Jonnathan Molina says:

    Thank you Dr. Heiser, I am humbly grateful..especially as my 1st posts are usually so convoluted. Here’s one more and I’ll relax for a bit. What if the whole idea of the imperfect text goes hand in hand with God’s own nature, the fact He exists outside of time (and I read your post about how some dispute that but bear with me).

    Could this be about how God sees/relates to history?

    He knows the end from the beginning, doesn’t this put Him then at an advantage (obviously, but bear with me) to “pull the strings” as it were of history, events and time, so that what seems like mistakes, errors, or mysteries to us will be completely vindicated, explained or mean more in the future? It definitely seems to mirror what has been happening since the revelation was written. We know more now than we did back then; knowledge will only increase, yet God stays the same and so does His message and truth even as it continues to educate and aid our faith and as it increases our knowledge and fear of Him…so, at the risk of sounding sci-fi, I can’t help but think that this is exactly what God wanted…each generation gets what it needs from the scriptures, no more no less. And He makes sure that each generation both preserve the revelation so far and understand much more of it for the next generation and so on until we all have come to the “fulness of Christ” to borrow the term…and I believe He does/will do this without so much changing the letter as our understanding of how the letters came together and what is and is not critical (which is the atmosphere the Bible finds itself in presently in history I think). We know from O.T. that God does ordain and carry out his plans in spite of men (nations/kingdoms rising and falling at his command). So, though we can never truly know the mind of God, I think we have a vantage point in time where we can discern a pattern of His priorities and intentions by what has been made clear and is not clear for each generation of humans post-text; ultimately, that He retrains our faith and teaches us who He is every time the bible is tested and found true in spite of our errors or its–and our–limited scope at present…and perhaps that is the main purpose of the exercise..not perfection (wholeness of the text) but perfect devotion (wholeness of our faith). If you subscribe to immutability (which after reading a post here I guess there are those who don’t…not throwing stones here) then God can remain wholly Himself (therefore holding all humanity equally guilty for sin) while at the same time holding each generation culpable for what it does understand from the written word…I think the sayings of Jesus on how Sodom and Gomorrah would be held in lighter judgment than the Jews He preached to for denying Him bears this out…meaning, that God doesn’t intend for any one generation to be the possessor of ALL sides of the truth at once at any given time (save what pertains to Salvation) and any attempt at this would be arrogant on our part (to assume this) but that we should use our energy and available resources to understand what God wants us to know today in light of what He has already spoken (sounds redundant, I know, this is the aim of all Bible publishers) while still Providentially guiding history so that the Bible continues to solve the problems of not- yet-born peoples…until He appears…(even the 1st generation who ever held the “true autographs” of the OT could not have known that Jesus was its fulfillment as that revelation was not yet given) it would be unbearable in the Judgment and unnecessary for salvation. I’m not trying to come up with a “cop out” theology, just trying to reconcile what we know from what we don’t know…I mean, if one of the first people who ever laid eyes on scripture came to life now I bet His understanding of it would be completely different and this in no way devalues the importance, worthiness, veracity or relevance of that scripture he learned and grasped!

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