Reflections on Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God – Part 2

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For the start of the series, start here.

He’s right. When inerrancy is taken to its logical level  there is a lack of pure claimants; however, Stark is wrong in assuming that inerrancy is acted out only by biblical literalists (Although he attempts to correct this view, too late in my opinion, on page 40. Of course, since most inerrantists rely on the Chicago Statement which stresses literalism, he has evidence for his assumption.) Today, modern inerrancy is taking on the notion that the bible was delivered correctly, not that everything in it is correct. For example, in discussing inerrancy with others, I use the example of Job’s friends. My friends counter that not everything in the bible is correct, good and true, but it was delivered inerrantly. I think that Stark falls into the same trap with demanding that inerrantists must be biblical literalists, although he does note that new get-arounds are developed from among the community. What inerrantists falter at, he is correct,  is that they have created within the canon a smaller canon, and even in that a smaller one than that! Christians no longer listen to the laws proscribed by Leviticus or some of the uglier points in the Prophets. Could I entice you to beg God to destroy the infants of your enemies as the Psalmist did in 137? On the surface, and at the climax of the doctrine, inerrancy leaves you answering only yes. And this is where inspirationists divide from inerrantists, even if they do not know it yet. And here again, he is correct that to counter the growing suspicion that inerrancy is not of the historical faith, and that it creates more problems than it solves, many inerrantists attempt to use other devices to solve their self-created riddles. If, as Stark notes, the same method of producing inerrancy (see his discussion on p18) was used by the Church Fathers, I would imagine that many of them could not have seen Christ so poignantly in the Hebrew Scripture. Inerrancy is not interpretation, but the lack thereof.

There is much to say about interpretation and those who practice the craft, such as biblical mention doesn’t mean divide allowance, but I suspect that this conversation is for another post.

I suspect that if inerrantists who were pastors would remove themselves from the debate, and step back to look at their own sermons, they would fully understand what Stark covers in his discussion on Ancient Jewish Hermeneutics, finding themselves well in line with the interpretative tradition. Interpretation generally didn’t involve what ‘really happened’ but examined what was happening in the now by what happened then. For an example, the Gospel of Matthew. By taking the eleventh chapter of Hosea and comparing it to the life of the young Holy Family, he could see the connection of the two. It was not that Hosea was speaking about Christ or that the Evangelist was examining the story of Exodus through Hosea’s interpretation, but that he saw in Christ and the flight to and from Egypt the events of the now mirrored in the words of the ancient prophet. Stark is right in pointing out that,

Interpretation was not a careful process of historical-grammatical exegesis, but an inspired identification of a “hidden meaning” in the text with a present-day reality or concern. (p20)

Further, I believe that he does well to show Daniel’s less than literal reinterpretation of Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy wouldn’t make it if examined under the light of the Chicago statement. As I stated before, neither would Matthew’s (a particular prophecy is pointed out by Stark on p28-29), the author of Hebrews, Paul (as the author points on on p30-31) or many of the early Church Fathers’. As he moves into extra-canonical sources, namely the Qumran sect(s), we see the act of subjective interpretation developing full steam, with all too familiar associations with our modern sects. Of course, much to the disconcerting effects of inerrantists, Stark goes and ruins his section here with pointing out the very real fact that the Qumran sect(s) and the New Testament writers have a similar interpretative style (p26-27). While he is correct, it is still going to be disconcerting for those who believe that the New Testament was written in a vacuum.

Moving into the Patristic writers, Stark shows that he is able to confront with mainstream church history the doctrine of inerrancy. While I would caution that his reading of Marcion is too simplistic, I believe that he handles Origen and Augustine and their view of literalism well. In doing so, the author shows that the early Church wrestled with Scripture, and in the end, authoritative didn’t always mean inerrant. I do think that the lines of inerrancy and literalism are mangled in their mingling, but not necessary by Stark are others, but by such groups as the signers of the Chicago Statement; Stark simply resolves to answer them on their terms.

After discussing the ‘evidence’ of the Text and Patristic authors, Stark moves on to modern fundamentalists. I hate to use that word in a disparaging sense because I know a few that I couldn’t disparage, which is I why I try to separate the belligerent from the non-belligerent with the word extreme. I note that the author doesn’t fully disparage the idea that Scripture interprets Scripture but roundly takes to task those who use this method while attempting to hold to a historical-grammatical approach. Further, he notes fully the corner which those who are attempting to profess to only one right way of interpretation which they feel must necessary beget inerrancy but aren’t afraid of using others in a pinch are pushed into. Inerrancy is a redaction of the divine inspiration of Scripture, and thus a human face of God, as Stark might would put it.

Regarding his interpretation of 1st Timothy 2.12-14, I do believe that in attempting to showcase the problem here of inerrancy, he inadvertently dismisses the culture context of the passage and what the author may have been saying, which would still upset inerrantists.  It seems that he is almost grinding an ax with Mark Driscoll.

For me, my faith is Christ and Scripture is more secure of these facts, not less. The fact is, I try to use Scripture as it said of itself to be used, as the inspired instrument for the person of God (2nd Timothy 3.16). This is a great book, by the way, whether I agree or disagree with some of the points.

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9 Replies to “Reflections on Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God – Part 2”

  1. Joel, I am not at all certain I understood everything you wrote, but I am somewhat certain that there are many pastors who subscribe to the Chicago Statement would say that they are literalists, but when questions about the interpretation of a book or passage of the Bible would not be so literal. That is my experience.

    1. Right. I made a case in my preface for the continuing relevance of the Chicago Statement in contemporary Evangelicalism, and I know plenty of literalist-inerrantists too. The object of my critique in the book is primarily the Chicago Statement and that brand of inerrancy; it’s a limited but I think necessary project.

    2. Doug, I cannot say anything else about Thom’s point than he has. I do think that he is showing that to hold to such an exclusive view which the Chicago Statement has is to do real damage to Scripture and history. Further, especially in this last chapter he shows wells the corner that they are in. I mean, reading the earliest writers and theologians, they weren’t concerned with inerrancy of scripture, only really with authority of Scripture. Plus, if we interpreted Scripture according to Chicago, we would be left without Christ.

  2. Let me add, that this is not really a review – yet – but a sorta interaction with the text. You know, an argument.

    I would recommend this book, however, has it does address the fallacy in the notion of inerrancy as an interpretation method.

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