Review: From Inspiration to Understanding: Reading the Bible Seriously and Faithfully @energion

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Having struggled with the issue of inerrancy for several years before moving into a more secure belief of inspiration, I have found that this recent work by Dr. Edward W.H. Vick is an enlightening plea to read the bible of Christian Tradition seriously, even if we no longer take it as inerrant. Reading the bible, however, is not the mere act of digesting the words on the paper. As he says in one area, the bible is a dead letter without the live interpreter.

That word, inerrancy, is a flash point. It is usually thrown about to deny that people can take seriously the Scriptures without believing that they are infallible. Inerrancy is simply not the historic position of the Christian Church and not easily philosophically attainable, but it is nevertheless the dividing line for many. Inspiration has come to mean, ironically, a liberal belief that Scripture is a human witness to God’s dialogic revelation. Vick takes both of these concepts and shows how one can actually take the bible faithfully, without having to rely upon created concepts of authority. That is the profit of this book, that those who struggle with inerrancy can find a better foundation in Tradition and not in Chicago, and those who struggle with the idea that if the bible is not infallible, does it still matter will find that their boat is better anchored with a clear and concise argument about what Scripture is actually supposed to be.

Vick is a prolific writer. This book is over 340 pages in length, but divided into short, accessible sections with solid points constructed easily enough. As with his other books, the pen of the critical thinker is present. He doesn’t mince words, nor does he embellish with floral patterns to somehow soften the effect of what he has to say. In other words, Edward Vick is no N.T. Wright, and for that, while one may struggle with the matter-of-fact language of his, they will be eternally grateful. The book as eleven chapters that tackle the tough issues. He begins with what may almost be considered a (proper) introduction to the bible as a book. How do we approach it, he asks. Do we consider the bible as devotional or doctrinal, analytically or exegetical? This is a major concept, and he shows why considering Scripture as doctrinal, and this is important, is not preferred or even rightfully allowed. He next engages us in the canon. The only issue I have here is that Vick is writing to Protestants and their canon instead of including the (my preferred) canon of Catholic Church. In the next two chapters, Vick takes several questions on authority followed by two chapters on inspiration. Chapters seven and eight deal with what revelation actually means. Chapter nine tackles Tradition and Scripture and sees Vick discussing several Protestant view points here, including trying to straighten out what sola scriptura does and does not mean. The last two chapters deal with interpretation.

Usually, books written on this topic from a Protestant viewpoint is almost polemical against the Catholic Church, but Vick seems to make almost the clearest case I know of, from the viewpoint of a Protestant, of why Rome’s views on Tradition and Scripture are correct, and without the agitprop usually associated with this material. Trent, Vatican I and other major Catholic statements are taken in their historical context and portrayed rightly. No worries for those of you who are Protestant though, he is still Protestant with no likely change of conversion. But I am left as to wonder why? Regardless, his take on this particular issue is one – I’m saying this too much – one of the profits of this book. He repositions Scripture and Tradition so that we can understand one another better, and in doing so, help us out of our idolatry of either Scripture or Tradition.

The arguments are concise, philosophical, theological, and well supported. There is nothing in this book that cannot be used by the Church universal, either in community or individually. Vick is, in my opinion, one of the most profitable minds for our current era in the Western Church. He is restoring faith in the workings of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. This book is not just recommended to you, dear readers, but I would demand that you get a copy. Read it. Make it dog-eared. Read it that first year so thoroughly that you must get another copy the second year. But, read it.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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