Friday, June 15, 2007

Posturing about the Bible

Chris Tilling has graced the world with yet another miniseries on the inerrancy of Scripture.

http://www.christilling.de/blog/2007/06/new-statement-of-biblical-inerrancy.html

http://www.christilling.de/blog/2007/06/new-statement-of-biblical-inerrancy_15.html

He says that he “would love to hear any thoughts about this approach,” and “appreciate feedback as to test his thoughts here.”

Being the kind, caring guy that I am, who am I to refuse a brother in need?

He prefaces his remarks by saying that “At the risk of more personal abuse from certain conservative quarters, in two posts I want to suggest a new statement of inerrancy.”

Tilling lacks a capacity for self-criticism. He’s an emotional child.

He was the one who, in his original series, made abusive comments about the intellectual capacity of Christians who affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. But when you repay him in his own coin, he plays the victim.

And he continues his abusive rhetoric in his new series. Consider this gem:

“If you confess the Chicago Statement of inerrancy, this is no promise that you actually have a high view of scripture. It may simply mean that one is wallowing in self-righteous anti-intellectualism, and loveless, close-minded, aggressive, needlessly defensive dogmatism.”

This might strike some readers as a loveless, aggressive, self-righteous, and dogmatic attack on Christians who affirm inerrancy. But Tilling is too pleased with himself to see in himself what he is quick to see in others.

Continuing:

“One model for scripture, one title, whether it be 'Word of God', 'Witness', 'Inerrant', 'Infallible', or whatever, cannot capture or adequately signify the variety and importance of God's gift of scripture to us.

And that’s because, for Tilling, the word of man, errancy, and fallibility best capture God’s gift of scripture to us.

Continuing:

“Believing that inerrancy simply affirms all in scripture necessary for salvation is without error also doesn't guarantee orthodoxy, or an appropriate posture towards scripture, nor healthy scripture reading habits.”

Actually, this would be a statement of so-called limited inerrancy. Where inerrancy only applies to whatever “in scripture necessary for salvation.”

Incidentally, does Tilling believe that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation? Or does he believe that someone can be saved apart from faith in Christ?

If so, then nothing in Scripture is necessary for salvation, in which case, nothing in Scripture is inerrant.

Continuing:

“Believing the flood 'actually happened', for example, as posited in the Chicago Statement, doesn't guarantee orthodoxy, or an appropriate posture towards scripture, nor healthy scripture reading habits.”

Suppose we substitute a few other Biblical events for the flood, and see how the same statement reads:

Believing the call of Abraham 'actually happened', for example, doesn't guarantee orthodoxy, or an appropriate posture towards scripture, nor healthy scripture reading habits.

Believing the Exodus 'actually happened', for example, doesn't guarantee orthodoxy, or an appropriate posture towards scripture, nor healthy scripture reading habits.

Believing the Incarnation 'actually happened', for example, doesn't guarantee orthodoxy, or an appropriate posture towards scripture, nor healthy scripture reading habits.

Believing the Crucifixion 'actually happened', for example, doesn't guarantee orthodoxy, or an appropriate posture towards scripture, nor healthy scripture reading habits.

Believing the Resurrection 'actually happened', for example, doesn't guarantee orthodoxy, or an appropriate posture towards scripture, nor healthy scripture reading habits.

Believing the Parousia will 'actually happen', for example, doesn't guarantee orthodoxy, or an appropriate posture towards scripture, nor healthy scripture reading habits.

Or, to vary the formula a bit more:

Being a doctoral candidate at Tübingen, for example, doesn't guarantee orthodoxy, or an appropriate posture towards scripture, nor healthy scripture reading habits.

As you can see, Tilling is very concerned that we adopt the appropriate “posture” towards Scripture. To judge by both his series, his conception of the appropriate posture involves the liberal use of the middle finger towards whatever portions of Scripture he can’t bring himself to believe.

Continuing:

“The proclamation of a strict definition of inerrancy – such as the Chicago Statement – is meaningless if one does not live life in such a way that reflects a high view of scripture, by which it is meant that one doesn't maintain and pursue certain practices, nor come with expectancy and faith that God will speak in scripture.”

This is another dumb assertion. In the nature of the case, a standard of conduct must be prior to personal conduct, for the standard is the yardstick by which one measures moral conformity.

It is therefore quite meaningful to begin with a high view of Scripture. And it is because Scripture is inerrant that Scripture can stand in judgment of unscriptural conduct.

“Such a definition doesn't affirm the important and the worthwhile, that which inerrancy does at its best, namely encouraging a daily practice and an internal and communal posture that treats scripture as if God speaks through it.”

Notice the caveat: “as if” God speaks through it.

So is this Tilling’s position? Scripture is really just another uninspired book, but we play a game of make-believe? We pretend that Scripture is the word of God? Pious play-acting?

But the important thing, for Tilling, is that we are engaged in “communal” make-believe. A communal “posture” of make-believe—with appropriate digital gestures.

“While propositional statements are important, an obsession with precise and strict formulations of inerrancy can simply foster the playing of meaningless metaphysical word games.”

i) One wonders if he feels the same way about Christology. Does he apply this disclaimer to the Nicene Creed or Chalcedonian Creed or Athanasian Creed?

ii) More to the point, Tilling is guilty of the very thing which he fallaciously imputes to the opposing side. The faithful are not obsessed with “precise and strict formulations of inerrancy.” For the faithful can simply affirm whatever the Bible teaches.

The faithful only feel the need to define their position in more precise terms when it comes under attack by faithless demagogues like Tilling. Because the silly Tillings like to raise specious objections to the inerrancy of Scripture, the faithful have to formulate their position to address the specious objections.

By contrast, it’s the silly Tillings who have to demarcate the residual kernels of Scripture they still believe in from all the surrounding chaff.

“One can no more define, for example, 'childhood' in a proposition than 'inerrancy'; it needs to be lived and experienced or it is meaningless.”

A self-refuting claim since he is making a propositional statement about “childhood” in the very course of his denial.

“Inerrancy cannot be boiled down to propositional truth claims without violence being done.”

Yet another self-refuting denial since he is having to make a propositional statement about inerrancy in order to negate it.

It’s a pity that a doctoral candidate in NT studies at a prestigious European university is so deficient in mental discipline.

“Don’t want it to remain the sole possession of those who feel they must believe the historicity of the flood, for example.”

Why doesn’t he show the reader a complete list of what Biblical events he still believes in, and what Biblical events he denies ever happened? Maybe in parallel columns.

Tilling draws the boundaries of inerrancy to coincide with what he is willing to believe. It has nothing to do with the witness of Scripture, and everything to do with Tilling.

If Tilling wakes up on Monday morning believing that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, then the raising of Lazarus will fall within the bounds of inerrancy.

If Tilling wakes up next Monday morning disbelieving that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, then the raising of Lazarus will fall outside the bounds of inerrancy.

The outer limits of inerrancy expand or contract to match what Tilling is in the mood to believe from one day to the next, one week to the next, one month or year to the next. Whether or not Lazarus is still rotting in the grave depends on whether Tilling woke up with a hangover.

8 comments:

  1. Funny, it's the posturing of American evangelicals such as yourself that alienates most Christians around the world such as myself. Humility is not your strong point is it?

    And yes, being Aussie, bluntness is one of ours.

    js

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  2. I'm curious Steve, do you think only the original manuscripts are inerrant, or do you actually think the text we buy at the local Christian bookshop is inerrant?

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  3. Steven Harris6/18/2007 1:38 AM

    I think that's just about one of the most graceless things I've ever read in a blog.

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  4. Since this is my first visit to your blog, I read your "Rules of Engagement" and found this:

    Triablogue is a ministry, not a shooting-gallery. It is necessary that we preserve the pastoral character of the blog.

    After reading "Posturing about the Bible", It seems a shooting gallery has been started and I can't say I recognize any pastoral character.

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  5. Two quick points: First, saying that propositions are not sufficient to define something does not entail that no propositions may be made about it. By way of analogy, there are lot of true propositions I could make about my love for my wife, yet all the propositions in the world could never capture the essence of love.

    Second, you write 'as if' you care nothing about "encouraging a daily practice and an internal and communal posture that treats scripture as if God speaks through it". The real danger is the play-acting on the part of those who do not act as iff God will speak through the scriptures.

    I heard Tony Campolo recount speaking to the SBC about their debates over inerrancy. What difference does it make what they decide about the Bible, he asked, because once they figured it out they weren't going to do what it says anyway!

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  6. I'm personally grieved at the heartlessness with which a child of God can treat another, whether he considers him a 'brother' or not.
    Do the people who who share your point of view share your ad hominem polemic?

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  7. I'm only an occasional reader of this blog, normally dipping into it via links from here and there on other conservative / Reformed / apologetics blogs which I may be passing.

    Anyway, this is the first time I've actually seen the conservative / Reformed / apologetics blogosphere interacting with the theology blogosphere - rather than with sceptics. I always wondered what people here would make of academics like Chris Tilling, Ben Myers and co.

    My question is answered! It's fascinating that theological scholars are treated with as much combative disdain here as unbelievers. Only to be expected I guess.

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  8. I'm an American evangelical living in Germany, and I know Chris Tilling personally. I don't always agree with him ... but I do know that he loves Jesus passionately and seeks to live for God's glory. This blog posting is one of the most uncharitable interpretations of someone's person and work that I've nearly ever read. I'm not sure which is more offensive: your patent misrepresentation of Tilling's position or your groundless assault on his character.

    hlm

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