Ancient Word, Changing Worlds
- Friday, May 01, 2009
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Ancient Word, Changing Worlds: The Doctrine of Scripture in a Modern Age by Stephen J. Nichols and Eric T. Brandt (Crossway).
SACRED WORD IN THE MODERN WORLD: THE INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE
We believers in the full inspiration of the Bible do not merely admit that, we insist upon it. - J. GRESHAM MACHEN
I've often thought the Bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying this is fiction. - IAN MCKELLAN
No less than the famed "Lion of Princeton," B. B. Warfield, nearly built a whole career on two words: inspiration and inerrancy. And from the late nineteenth on into the twentieth centuries, these were fighting words. Some have claimed that Warfield spent so much time with these words because he was a contentious man, that he was always up for a good fight. This portrayal has Warfield on the prowl for some argument that he could win, scouring for some controversy through which he could showcase his theological talents. No doubt, Warfield could handle himself, he could win arguments, and he had plenty of theological ability and mettle to display if he wanted to. But he took up this challenge not because he was a pugilist by nature and not because he belonged to some theological persuasion that relished controversy. Instead, if we take him at his word, he engaged the discussion over these words because they are so crucial to Christianity. Warfield indeed fought for these doctrines, but he fought for them because he knew how important they are to the "doctrine and duty," the thought and practice, of the church.
These two words that occupied so much of Warfield's time and energy, inspiration and inerrancy, are used by theologians to discuss the authority of Scripture, one of, if not the chief of, Scripture's attributes. One way to get at the nature of Scripture is to explore its attributes, which tend to be summed up in a list of four: authority, necessity, clarity, and sufficiency. It might be helpful, though, to add a fifth attribute: beauty. Scripture is beautiful. Think of the simple poetry of Psalm 23 or the compelling force of Paul's argument structures or the finely spun narratives in the Old Testament or in the Gospels. Scripture is remarkable as literature, as beautiful literature. Scripture is also sufficient, sufficient in relaying the message of redemption, sufficient in laying out all that we need for living the Christian life, and sufficient in proscribing the life and praxis of the church. The gospel message and the fundamental teachings of Scripture are also clear. Older works refer to this as the perspicuity of Scripture, perspicuous being a rather complicated word that simply means "clear." You don't need a decoder ring to get the message of Scripture; the message of Scripture is clear. Scripture is also necessary. Again, it is necessary in terms of the gospel message and in terms of what God would have us believe about the world he made, about his own self and nature, and even about our own selves and nature.
That brings us to the last attribute of Scripture: authority. You could likely make the case that this is the fundamental attribute from which the other four stem. Scripture as authority means that it speaks with solid credibility and legitimacy to all that it addresses. Scripture as authority means that it demands something of its readers, something that other books don't demand. Scripture insists that its readers submit to it. The reason Scripture makes such a unique demand is that it makes a unique claim in reference to its authorship. Scripture claims to be the word of God, to be an inspired text. Scripture's authority derives from its authorship, which leads you back to those two words that Warfield engaged and that dominate the discussion relating to Scripture in the modern world—inspiration and inerrancy. Chapters 3 and 4 take up the discussion of inerrancy; this chapter and the next concern inspiration.
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