Michael Spencer has replied to something I wrote about him, which was, in turn, written in support of something over at Fide-0.
Here is the gist of his reply:
“Let me suggest to a number of bloggers that according to this article, Lewis was a ‘boilerplate liberal’ no different from ‘Fosdick,’ and logically, turning his back on Christianity.”
What Spencer has done here is to play a game of chicken. Like teenage drag racers, who will blink first? Who will swerve before hitting the oncoming car or slam on the brakes before careening over the cliff?
The way he’s set up his reply, this is an argument from analogy, based on a bluff:
“I dare you—I double-dare—you to call me a liberal, cuz if you call me a liberal, then you gotta call C. S. Lewis a liberal to!”
To begin with, this is an intellectually pitiful reply. A comparison between his position and Lewis’s, even if the parallel holds, does absolutely nothing to validate his own position.
And why does he think I would hesitate to criticize Lewis’s theory of inspiration? Indeed, I’ve done so in the past.
Apparently, he’s attempting to create a pragmatic dilemma. Lewis has a big following. If I force people to choose between my view and Lewis’s, then I will lose the popularity contest.
So, if I back down, he wins, and if I press the comparison, he also wins—wins by hiding behind the skirts of C. S. Lewis.
You could hardly come up with a better example of Spencer’s poor-little-me-centered theology. And it also illustrates his frivolity.
Instead of showing that the charge originally leveled by the Fide-0 boys is false, he turns this into a popularity contest and a game of chicken.
Instead of asking which theory of inspiration corresponds with reality, he indulges in sophomoric sophistries.
Spencer is way more concerned about his self-image, and public image, and massaging his wounded ego and hurt feelings and personal insecurities.
All of us have our share of fears and weaknesses, but not all of us erect kneeing-rails around the altar of our fears and weaknesses. Spencer is creating a customized religion—designed to insulate himself from outrageous slings and arrows to his persecution-complex. He’s beginning to erect a whole edifice around the Religion of Spencerism—to pad and pamper his felt needs and hurts. The time is past due for a grown man to grow up.
If this were a private affair, it would be no one’s business but his own immediate social circle. But when he goes public to justify himself, and to justify himself by assuming the role of a false teacher, then this needs to be publicly reproved.
In addition, Spencer as a rather revealing way of misquoting and misrepresenting his opponents. He attributes to me the claim that he is a boilerplate liberal, no different from Fosdick, that he has logically turned his back on Christianity, and that, by parity of argument, I should say the same thing about C. S. Lewis.
This is what I actually said:
“Jason reproduced part of an essay by Spencer to document his charge that Spencer has a liberal view of Scripture… The essay articulates boilerplate liberalism. It could have been penned by Fosdick.”
“If we can take him at his word, then it’s clear from what he wrote that Spencer has turned a corner on what he believes about Scripture (unless this is what he always believed, but kept mum about it in the past). He has given a series of reasons for his belief. There is no way for him to back down without retracting his arguments. On the face of it, he's crossed a line of no return.”
So, just to set the record straight, I made no sweeping claims about Spencer’s theology in general. Rather, my remarks were specifically targeting his view of Scripture, as articulated in his own essay on the subject.
Whether Spencer is liberal or conservative in other respects is not question on which I expressed myself. I have opinion one way or the other.
That said, if you have a liberal view of Scripture, then, at best, this makes you’re a theological moderate. And I’d say the same thing about Lewis.
Some professing believers have a way of compartmentalizing their faith, being more conservative on some doctrines, and more liberal in others.
In many respects, Lewis held traditionally orthodox positions, and his view of Scripture is well to the right of Bultmann—not that that’s hardly a very exalted standard of comparison.
But even though this is not what I originally said, yet, since Spencer chooses to frame the issue in these terms, it’s quite true that if you deny the inerrancy of Scripture, then, *logically* speaking, you’ve committed apostasy.
Now, there’s a difference between psychology and logicality. A mediating position represents an intellectually unstable compromise.
Yet some moderates, perhaps many, do not pursue their liberal views of Scripture to their logical conclusion. Often, though, their students or disciples do take their mentor’s position to its logical conclusion. So they are setting others up for the fall.
“Lewis’s statements may frustrate Christians who hold that Scripture is inerrant.”
Since Lewis is not my rule of faith, it doesn’t frustrate me. He did some things very well—mainly the fictional stuff. And his apologetic work was important at the time, although it’s be overtaken by more sophisticated treatments.
But he is not and was not a sound theological guide. For that you need to look elsewhere.
“One wishes that Lewis had taken more time to examine other apologetic responses to his objections against inerrancy, but the message of his writings remains clear. Lewis did not believe in an inerrant Bible, though he did believe that Scripture was in some sense inspired.”
Except that this is one of the areas in which the self-serving parallel between Lewis and Spencer breaks down. For there were mitigating circumstances in the case of Lewis. His culture dealt him a weak hand. His church was the church of Lux Mundi, Bishop Colenso, Pusey, and Fredrick Farrar. And we know from the Downgrade controversy that the dissenting tradition didn’t offer much of a counterballast.
Lewis was a layman, fighting on his own. Lewis improved on his circumstances. He parlayed a pair of deuces into, if not a royal flush, then at least a full house.
By contrast, Spencer has parlayed a royal flush into three of a kind on a way to deuces. Like a dissolute son of the peerage, he squanders his evangelical patrimony on the apologetics of self-pity.