Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Eclipse of Inspiration

Flipping through John Nolland’s new commentary on Matthew today reminded me once again of something I’ve observed in a lot of contemporary “Evangelical” scholarship. Nowadays, many Evangelicals will make allowance for “minor” errors in the record of Scripture while defending its “basic” historicity or “reliability.”

Let’s call this the Neoevangelical view of Scripture. And we need to be clear on what this amounts to. Neoevangelicals have simply ditched the doctrine of inspiration. This never figures in their deliberations. They may allow for a supernatural element in the events recorded, but not in record of the events.

So the only difference between the liberal and the Neoevangelical is that the Neoevangelical regards the Bible as historical, but uninspired—while the liberal regards the Bible as both uninspired and unhistorical.

The Neoevangelical approaches the Bible in the same way he’d approach Tacitus or Josephus. The Bible writers are to be treated as serious historians who are faithful to their sources. Nevertheless, like any uninspired historian, they are fallible. Although they’re generally reliable, they make honest mistakes.

I’m not aware that there’s has been any conscious attempt to deny the doctrine of inspiration. It seems, rather, to have dropped out of sight due to the intellectual milieu in which Neoevangelicals circulate.

What this means is that there is no longer any presuppositional difference between the liberal and the Neoevangelical in terms of the process of inscripturation—only the quality of the end-product.

Now, there is an apologetic strategy, popularized by J. W. Montgomery and his spiritual protégés, in which you bootstrap from the “basic reliability” of Scripture to inerrancy via Christology. But what I’m observing is not apologetic strategy.

It is possible that Neoevangelicals would cling to some theory of partial inspiration, but not only would this be illogical, I just don’t see it in evidence. The very idea of inspiration seems to be irrelevant to the way in which Neoevangelicals approach Scripture.

To the extent that they still affirm certain miraculous events in Scripture, what we end up with is a naturalistic doctrine of Scripture grafted onto a supernaturalistic philosophy of history. God still intervenes in history, but not in the historical record.

So they have an activist theology underwritten by a deistic Bibliology. And it is only a matter of time before this unstable compromise degenerates into a more consistent Deism or atheism.