Positive statements about the usefulness of the Scriptures in instructing mankind for salvation affirm more about the Bible than a negative statement that it is without error. The Bible is not the ultimate end. Instead, it is a witness to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As John the Baptist pointed toward Christ, the Bible is a witness pointing toward God. A witness is not identical with that to which it attests. The Bible stands under the authority of God. By calling the Bible a witness, the emphasis is placed on God as the end, with the Bible as the means to that end. The Bible is revelatory as it points toward the will and nature of God. God is infallible and the word of God that we learn from the Bible will thus be infallible, but the two should not be confused. The Bible is our final court of appeal in this world, since it is the written document which records God’s historical revelation of his will to man, especially in Jesus Christ, but the Bible’s authority derives from God. In this context the truth claims of the Bible should be examined and accepted.
Yesterday, a question was posed in one of the UMC FB forums about inerrancy. Granted, this question was posed by a rather young, confused non-Methodist, but it sparked conversation. One of the people in the conversation brought up Bishop Willimon to his defense. Willimon is not an inerrantist.
As John Wesley began his search for a relationship with God, he began in Scripture. He said that he studied the Bible because it was “the one, the only standard of truth and the only model of pure religion” [Works, Jackson, 2:367). Toward the end of his life he could continue to claim, “My ground is the Bible. … I follow it in all things great and small” (ibid., 3:251), In speaking of a fourfold test for belief, it is clear that Wesley set Scripture above tradition, reason, and experience in terms of ultimate authority. (The quadrilateral is not equilateral.) United Methodists can therefore be said to have a “high” view of scripture. However, we cannot be accused of bibliolatry, inerrancy, literalism, or fundamentalism. Wesley could boast that he was “a man of one book.” However, he did not mean this in a naive, uninformed way. He also meant that he not only believed but attempted to live by this one book.
The quad tries to maintain this view, although many have made all of the sides equal while misunderstanding such things as “experience.” In my view, Scripture is the authority of the Church (much like the Constitution is for the United States), but Tradition, Reason and Experience are there to help us read and apply Scripture (much like case law — although Tradition produced Scripture (and legal issues produced the Constitution).
Even if the Pentateuch is not from Moses, and many Psalms attributed to David are not from David, and the second part of Isaiah is from another author than the first part, this does not detract from the divine inspiration and authority of Scripture. The inspiration is certain, but the authenticity is an open question. As a divine book the Bible is above all criticism, but as a human book it may, like all literature, be examined by historical-critical methods and standards.
I’ve seen this discussion taking place in the blogosphere (and wider social media venue) so I’ve had some time to think about it.
What would happen if the canon wasn’t closed?
That is usually the question. Some would add MLK’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail while others may wish to add something closer to the Apostles, such as GThomas or 1st Clement.
For me, I’m not sure our canon is closed, only our understanding of what the canon is. If the canon is limited to a set of books within what we call “the bible” then it is closed because of the theological necessity at one point or the other to ensure our Church is founded only upon the words of the Apostles (or, you know, their pseudonymous followers — I’m looking you, “Timothy”)
In my opinion, the “canon” includes Scripture, the Creeds, and the writings of the Church that do not contradict the previous two.1 This means even the writings of various Christians such as John Wesley. So, my canon is not necessary closed as it is open to progressive revelation based on two firm foundations.
This isn’t exactly the UCC version of “God is still speaking…” but something along the lines of John 16.13 where we are still being guided from something, along a path, to some place.
What are your thoughts?
Btw, if I were to issue a New New Testament, I would include Thomas, Barnabas, 1st and 2nd Clement, Ignatius’s letters (short form), and Diognetus. I would also include the creed from the Council of Sardica and tell the East to bite me.
“contradict” is understood as a highly nuanced term. ↩
My book on scripture’s authority, Scripture and the Authority of God, makes clear where I stand. I take the whole of scripture utterly seriously, and I regret that many who call themselves “inerrantists” manage to avoid the real challenge at its heart, that is, Jesus’ announcing that in and through his work God really was “becoming king” over the world in a whole new way. So I don’t call myself an “inerrantist” (a) because that word means what it means within a modernist rationalism, which I reject and (b) because it seems to me to have failed in delivering a full-blooded reading and living of what the Bible actually says. It may have had a limited usefulness as a label against certain types of “modernist” denial, but it buys into at least half of the rationalist worldview which was the real problem all along.
Mainline Protestants have a different perspective. They have a more modernist theology. So, for instance, they would read the Bible, not as the inerrant word of God, but as a historical document, which has God’s word in it and a lot of very important truths, but that needs to be interpreted in every age by individuals of that time and that place.
Mainline Protestants tend to also believe that Jesus is the way to salvation. But many mainline Protestants would believe that perhaps there are other ways to salvation as well. People in other religious traditions, even outside of Christianity, may have access to God’s grace and to salvation as well, on their own terms, and through their own means.
Mainline Protestants are much less concerned with personal conversion. Although they do talk about spiritual transformation, they’ll often discuss a spiritual journey from one’s youth to old age, leading on into eternity. So there is a sense of transformation, but there isn’t that emphasis on conversion — on that one moment or series of moments in which one’s life is dramatically changed.
Finally, mainline Protestants are somewhat less concerned with proselytizing than evangelicals. Certainly proselytizing is something they believe in. They believe in sharing their beliefs with others, but not for the purposes of conversion necessarily. The idea of spreading the word in the mainline tradition is much broader than simply preaching the good news. It also involves economic development. It involves personal assistance, charity, a whole number of other activities.
Theopedia suggests that Mainliners are basically liberal with little or no concern about doctrine. I don’t think that is fair. Indeed, as the discussion shows — there are several theologians that are active in the life of the Mainline Church. Of course, they may just mean the Mainline Protestants.
In describing Mainline, I would start with our view of Scripture. Believe it or not, but George W. Bush, even though he was described as an Evangelical president, probably put it best when asked if the “bible was literally true:”
You know. Probably not … No, I’m not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it, but I do think that the New Testament, for example is … has got … You know, the important lesson is “God sent a son.”
Bush is, of course, a United Methodist Christian. His statement of faith, I would suggest, begins not with some reliance upon the “truth of Scripture” as “infallible” but with Christ.
The question of the errancy or inerrancy of the Scripture is one which is strange to the Westminster Divines.…To contend that the Westminster Confession teaches the inerrancy of the Scripture because it does not assert that there are errors in the Scripture is to impose a modern problem on a pre-scientific statement.…Thus in an ahistorical manner, the Westminster Confession is still drawn into a controversy to which its authors were not a party. Certainly the Westminster Divines believed, and the Confession states, that the Bible is true and infallible. But to equate these terms with the modern concept of inerrancy is to impose upon the Westminster Confession criteria for proof and apologetic implications which had no place in their thinking.
Granted, some do not take kindly to this interpretation of the WCF. Others, such as the well beloved Evangelical Presbyterian Church, while upholding the WCF, affirm the inerrancy of Scripture.
Modern Evangelicals place “inerrant and infallible” upon all things to which the bible speaks — history or some some deluded notion of science. Scripture is devoid of the human witness and becomes something God himself wrote. Thus, for them, Scripture is all-sufficient. Mainliners reject this notion. Mainliners should agree that Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation, but that Scripture is not all sufficient (as it states in the WCF, for example). Further, Mainliners will adopt some form of historical criticism (usually) in digging deep into Scripture to discover what the authors said, compared to what we have been told, and what we say, the authors say.
In Mainline Christianity, Tradition will play a part as well. This is clearly evident in Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy (reserving the notion that members of these two groups may object to such a label), the United Methodist Church, the various Anglican groups, and various Presbyterian groups. Thus, that which separates Evangelical from Mainline is the view of Scripture. Scripture is not infallible, inerrant, or all-sufficient.
So, I want to know — who are the mainliners you find inspirational. Unlike Rainer, I am not going to restrict the list to the United States. But, they should be mainline. While Evangelicals may lay claim to some of them (such as Bush and Wright (odd pairing) if you look at their statements and theology, they are Mainline).
Please note, I do not consider Catholics and Orthodox mainline. I am, however, collecting names and the such – as well as additions to the definition of what makes something mainline. Others will disagree.
I’ve updated the list – and will update the list. I’ve also had the benefit of discussing on various forums, from various angles. I think we done, I’m going to call the list “Top X Influential Non-Evangelical (i.e., inerrantists) Christians.”
I believe it is time for us to begin to think about these things! Period! Joel Watts last blog in this blog is excellent if one take seriously what he really believes about the Bible! I was going to publish this in there as a reply, but I decided to make my reply into a blog. It may be better for readers to understand what is my point on that, something that, before God I have been struggling since my pastoral days, and, after which, when I came to a firm position, not only I find peace and comfort in God, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of God, His Word and what His Word may represent to us. So, here it goes:
Admittedly, even as a proponent of Sola Scriptura, I cringe when I read tenets of faith that use the words you mentioned. I fail in accepting that the people who chose those words really have any sense of their meaning. In the other hand there are traditions that are in and of itself biblical traditions and should be respected and used authoritatively simply because they originated in Scripture; but there is also what I have called for many years “tr-addiction”; these are “traditions” that became “tr-additions” and later turned into “tr-addictions”, or, they are inventions that become additions to the faith, that later culminate with being so “ingrown” and ingrained that they are hard to dispel as an addiction to a drug. Maybe we (Joel and me) should start a “tr-addiction rehab!”.
Interestingly enough, most of these “tr-addictions” originated not from more moderate biblical thinkers, but from the very same people who claim that the Bible is what the Pure Life says it is! Oh, need examples? Easy: Organizations who say what Pure Life says about the Bible add to the Salvation “condition” (there is no condition for Salvation by the way, other than being not saved), to believe what they say about the Bible! Yes! This simple, and… this ridiculous! It is no longer the Cross alone, but also, the 66 Canon, word by word, letter by letter! I propose that the belief that believing the 66 Canon word by word is a good thing, but it turns into a bad thing when it is made into a condition for Salvation! Then it is an addition that becomes a tr-addition, that later turns into a tr-addiction! This is where flawed logic leads us: the place at which we wanted to avoid being…
BTW, this is not the purely fundamentalist and Pentecostal or even the Primitive Baptists fault alone! I have been shunned by Presbyterians (who unlike the Vegetarians who eat vegetables, they eat Presbyters) because I have some Lutheran views about the Canon; some of them don’t think I can be saved if I hold to Lutheran views about the Canon… I have to subscribe fully with the Westminster Confession of Faith (which I do in 98% at least) which says that the Bible is a 66 books Canon! Then they accuse Roman Catholics for elevating traditions to the level or over the Bible! Isn’t that something?
Even Jesus on his way to Emmaus (Luke 24) said that “Moses (the Law) The Prophets and the Psalms speak of Him…” So, allow me a bit of fun here, but even Jesus may not have been a 66 books Canon believer, huh? Well, I know that the N.T. had not been written yet… but, I hope you get my drift… even Jesus was Christocentric in His view of Scripture!
The idea of a Tr-addiction Rehab Center is growing…
(Oh, brother, there goes my opportunity to blog here exclusively as a “conservative”… unless it is added “non-conformist” to that)