Friday, May 13, 2011

The follies of Roger Olson

When I read the qualifications of inerrancy being made by signers of the Chicago Declaration (both in it and in their own writings) I was appalled and shocked.  For example, one leading advocate of inerrancy wrote in his systematic theology that “inerrancy” is compatible with “inerrant use of errant sources” by biblical authors.  In other words, the Bible is inerrant even if it contains blatant errors so long as the biblical writer who erred didn’t err in his use of sources.  How ludicrous!  Why not just give up on the word inerrancy once you’ve come to that point?

One wonders if Roger Olson is really that bone-headed. Let’s take quotations. We quote people for more than one reason.

i) On the one hand, we may quote someone because we agree with him, because what he said bolsters our own position. In that case we quote him with the understanding that what he said is right.

ii) On the other hand, we may quote someone else because we disagree with him, to illustrate what is wrong with his thinking, or use his statement as a representative statement of more widely held error. In that case we quote him with the understanding that what he said is wrong.

It all depends on the intention of the writer. When using a source, is a Bible writer commending that material to the reader as a true account? Or is he using that source subversively?

For instance, from time to time the Bible quotes false prophets and apostate kings. In that case, there’s no intention of vouching for the veracity of the statement. Just the opposite: the Bible writer is quoting the speaker to document his corrupt character, or to illustrate how the speaker sadly reflects of a corrupt institution, or corrupt society.

That’s entirely different than using an erroneous source as if the source were true. Is Olson too dimwitted to absorb that elementary distinction?

iii) In addition, it’s quote possible to use a fallible source, but correct whatever you use. In that case the process of inspiration is, in part, an editorial process.

For instance, Luke may well have used uninspired eyewitness accounts as raw material in composing his gospel. But that doesn’t mean he reproduced their errors.

Even secular historians, when they consult primary source material in writing the history of an event, will sift the material and correct for any mistakes they detect in the primary sources when they produce their own account.

Unfortunately, Olson is a man who makes imbecility a virtue. 


  1. You're on a roll, Steve.

    In this same vein I've heard gratuitous swipes taken at the Apostle Paul for quoting heathen poets in his address at the Areopagus.

    Similarly this same address is often cited as justification for all sorts of "contextualizations".

    Have you addressed this topic anywhere? I'd be interested to see your take.

    In Christ,

  2. 'inerrant use of errant sources'

    I just assumed that meant the writer only used the true parts of the errant sources - I don't think there are very many sources that are 100% errant.

  3. Note also this tacit admission:

    Fred Leo says:
    May 12, 2011 at 4:12 am

    I think that people are concerned about the repercussions if the Bible is not inerrant. If the Bible is not inerrant, what stops humans from dismissing any part of the Bible that they don’t feel is right?

    Roger says:
    May 12, 2011 at 9:48 pm
    But with all the qualifications inerrantists have to make–they kill it anyway...

    So he accepts the bible is killed, and there is nothing to stop humans from 'dismissing any part of the Bible they don't feel is right?'.