Sunday, January 04, 2015

Why freewill theism logically denies the verbal inspiration of Scripture

Arminian theologian Roger Olson gives us yet another reason to reject freewill theism:

I believe Calvinism is riddled with such distinctions without differences. But such pop up all over the place in theology; it’s not a problem confined to Calvinism. One that never ceases to befuddle me is that made by many conservative evangelicals—between “dictation” and “plenary verbal inspiration” of the Bible. Many conservative evangelicals (such as Millard Erickson) go to great lengths to attempt to demonstrate that “plenary verbal inspiration” is not the same as dictation inspiration. At the end of their explanations I’m left scratching my head because this appears to be a distinction without a difference no matter what they say. They say, for example, that in the process we call “divine inspiration of Scripture” God directed the human authors to the very words he wanted them to use without over riding their personalities or using them mechanically. Millard Erickson, for example, in Christian Theology, appeals to a form of compatibilism to explain how plenary verbal inspiration is different from dictation. God, he says, prepared Paul (for example) to be the kind of person who would freely choose to write the very words he wanted Paul to use in writing his inspired epistles. To me, the typical conservative evangelical explanation of the “difference” between verbal plenary inspiration and dictation inspiration disappears once inspected closely. It’s a distinction without a difference. 
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  1. I'm not sure why Olson would be troubled by such definitions since he denies, subverts, and/or outright rejects huge swaths of Scripture at the outset.

    It's like listening to theological liberals quibble over whether or not this or that saying can be attributed to the "historical Jesus" while a priori denying the basic reliability of the Gospels.

  2. What do you consider the substantive differences between dictation and verbal plenary inspiration?

    1. Since dictation is presumably a metaphor in this context, you'd need to begin by explaining what process you think that literally stands for before we'd be in a position to compare and contrast it to verbal plenary inspiration. Since Olson is the one who says it's a distinction without a difference, it's incumbent on him to state what he means by the dictation theory.

      The standard conservative paradigm is the organic theory of inspiration, classically expounded by Warfield. For instance:

      these books were not produced suddenly, by some miraculous act — handed down complete out of heaven, as the phrase goes; but, like all other products of time, are the ultimate effect of many processes cooperating through long periods. There is to be considered, for instance, the preparation of the material which forms the subject-matter of these books: in a sacred history, say, for example, to be narrated; or in a religious experience which may serve as a norm for record; or in a logical elaboration of the contents of revelation which may be placed at the service of God’s people; or in the progressive revelation of Divine truth itself, supplying their culminating contents. And there is the preparation of the men to write these books to be considered, a preparation physical, intellectual, spiritual, which must have attended them throughout their whole lives, and, indeed, must have had its beginning in their remote ancestors, and the effect of which was to bring the right men to the right places at the right times, with the right endowments, impulses, acquirements, to write just the books which were designed for them. When “inspiration,” technically so called, is superinduced on lines of preparation like these, it takes on quite a different aspect from that which it bears when it is thought of as an isolated action of the Divine Spirit operating out of all relation to historical processes.

      What if this personality has itself been formed by God into precisely the personality it is, for the express purpose of communicating to the word given through it just the coloring which it gives it? What if the colors of the stained-glass window have been designed by the architect for the express purpose of giving to the light that floods the cathedral precisely the tone and quality it receives from them? What if the word of God that comes to His people is framed by God into the word of God it is, precisely by means of the qualities of the men formed by Him for the purpose, through which it is given? When we think of God the Lord giving by His Spirit a body of authoritative Scriptures to His people, we must remember that He is the God of providence and of grace as well as of revelation and inspiration, and that He holds all the lines of preparation as fully under His direction as He does the specific operation which we call technically, in the narrow sense, by the name of “inspiration.” The production of the Scriptures is, in point of fact, a long process, in the course of which numerous and very varied Divine activities are involved, providential, gracious, miraculous, all of which must be taken into account in any attempt to explain the relation of God to the production of Scripture.