>In light of some of the recent discussion here at CRMafia I thought it would be a good idea to check in with Dan Wallace to get his perspective on inerrancy, Christ-centered theology, the current state of evangelicalism and more. For those unfamiliar with Dan Wallace and his work, here is a brief biographical sketch from the blog he contributes to, Parchment & Pen:
“Dan has taught Greek and New Testament courses on a graduate school level since 1979. He has a Ph.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is currently professor of New Testament Studies at his alma mater. Dan also serves at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, TX as an instructor to The Theology Program teaching elective courses in New Testaments studies. His Greek textbook Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics is a standard text in seminaries and colleges. Dan is also an advisor and instructor at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries. Visit Dan’s website.”
Jeff Wright: We’ve been having a little discussion about biblical inerrancy at our blog after I mentioned that I consider inerrancy to be a “secondary matter.” Since misery loves company, I threw you under the bus too and recommended that people read “My Take on Inerrancy” since that has helped me in my thinking on the subject. Without asking you to repeat everything you said there, could summarize your view of inerrancy and why you prefer an inductive approach to this doctrine?
Dan Wallace: Jeff, this won’t be much of a summary, but it will be a different angle on things to help clarify my views. I want to thank you for the opportunity to do so.
When I was in seminary in the late 70s, inerrancy was all the rage. At that time, what emerged in the many volumes on bibliology were two quite different ways to frame the discussion. One view, the deductive view, championed especially by E. J. Young, was simply that since God is perfect, and since the Bible is God’s Word, the Bible must be inerrant. The problem I saw with that syllogism was that it was both circular and didn’t work across the board with other products of God. For example, consider this syllogism: God is perfect, and since I am God’s child, I cannot sin. Not too many folks would agree with that view—especially any who are married and whose flaws could be easily and constantly pointed out by their spouse!
The other approach was an inductive approach, championed by B. B. Warfield. He argued that there is solid historical and exegetical evidence to show that the biblical writers were trustworthy as doctrinal guides. And if they taught that the Bible was inerrant in the original, then either they needed to be shown to be untrustworthy as doctrinal guides in other areas, or inerrancy was true. What Warfield did was to show that inerrancy was not just a matter of the phenomena of the text (what most people would think as an adequate inductive approach) but was linked to the doctrines that the biblical authors embraced. Thus, to deny inerrancy (according to Warfield) was to deny that the biblical authors were trustworthy as doctrinal guides. This syllogism is the sort that can be attacked at one of two points: (1) The biblical authors are not trustworthy as doctrinal guides. If one argues that, he not only denies inerrancy (viz., the Bible is true in what it touches) but also denies infallibility (viz., the Bible is true in what it teaches). Those who hold to infallibility but not inerrancy are either inconsistent in their views or need to attack the syllogism at the second point. Thus, (2) the biblical authors did not teach anything that resembled inerrancy. A scholar the stature of Bruce Metzger recognized the inconsistency with the first view; he opted for the second line of attack, arguing that the Bible does not teach its own inerrancy.
What is significant is that both Young and Warfield were noted Reformed scholars. Yet, one approach was presuppositional while the other was evidential. Even though I started out as a strong presuppositionalist, I came to believe that all doctrines were not created equal. Hence, I began to ask the question about what beliefs should be a part of the presuppositional arsenal of Christians and what beliefs should be built on those presuppositions but with solid evidence to back them. When I worked through a doctrinal taxonomy, in which core doctrines are distinguished from more peripheral doctrines, I soon linked that to the reasons for certainty. I also started asking the hard questions about what beliefs are essential for salvation and which ones were not. And these two foci led me to conclude that the witness of the Spirit—a witness that is suprarational, but not subrational—operated in relation to the presuppositional and core beliefs but not necessarily or to the same degree as the more peripheral beliefs. This led me to come back to a Warfield-like approach to inerrancy because I did not see it as a doctrine that operated on the core level. In other words, if inerrancy could be denied because of lack of evidence in the text for it (as Metzger held), then it hardly would function on the level of an essential doctrine.
My own construction of inerrancy is thus decidedly inductive, but I’ll take this opportunity to articulate that it is not strictly Warfieldian. Although I got my methodological cues from him, I develop it differently. At bottom, I would argue that my view of the Bible needs to be shaped by Christ’s view of the Bible. I won’t get into the details of that argument right now; suffice it to say that it looks circular without further nuancing, but if your readers would take the time to read “My Take on Inerrancy,” they will see that I offer such nuancing there. My syllogism is thus: Jesus Christ held to a high view of the text, one that could in some sense be labeled ‘inerrant’; since Jesus Christ’s teaching grows out of his person and since I believe that he is the theanthropic person, his view of the Bible should be my view of the Bible. Now, since there are surely many teachings of the Lord that Christians do not follow without endangering their immortal souls (although they certainly affect the spiritual health of believers), it seems likely that even the Lord’s view of scripture could fit in that category. Further, one could attack the syllogism at two points: first, one could reject that Jesus’ teaching are in any way normative for the church today (normally, we call such people heretics; they used to be called dispensationalists!); second, one could reject the idea that Jesus actually held to a high bibliology that could effectively be called ‘inerrant.’
Without going into a discussion of these two points of attack, I simply want to note one thing: What I have done in my own epistemological approach to inerrancy is to ground it in the person of Christ rather than in the teaching of the apostles. And ultimately, this has freed me to take a very Christocentric approach to my beliefs in which the Bible is the handmaiden to Christ rather than the other way around. And that, in effect, has brought me to worship my Lord with my whole person much more, rather than simply (or at least mostly) have a cognitive experience with the Bible.
Another way to put this is the following: When I think about bibliology, my starting point, my foundation, is that the Bible is the revelation of God’s great acts in history. On top of that foundation, and precisely because God’s greatest act in history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is infallibility. As the pyramid goes higher, the capstone is inerrancy. The problem for much of evangelicalism is that the pyramid is inverted. But like a spinning top, at some point it will run out of steam and topple. When we invert the pyramid of doctrinal taxonomy, that’s when we are in danger of throwing out the whole thing over less crucial issues. When we invert the pyramid and make inerrancy the foundation, we are in danger of chucking not only the Bible but Christ. This is one reason why many theological liberals are theological liberals: They began with a brittle fundamentalism, an inverted pyramid of doctrinal priorities and allegiances. And when inerrancy (or at least their understanding of inerrancy) was chipped away, the whole edifice collapsed. One of my deepest concerns in teaching at a seminary is to do all that I can to make sure that this does not happen to my students. If some end up rejecting inerrancy but continue to embrace Christ, I rejoice. But if they start with an inverted pyramid, and toss out the whole of the Christian faith, it grieves me deeply. Those whose core beliefs, whose very life and breath, begin and end with Christ, rarely succumb to the temptation to toss the baby out with the bathwater. Thus, the notion of a ‘slippery slope’ is actually true for those whose doctrinal constructs are inverted from what they should be instead of founded on Christ. Evangelicals whose foundation is inerrancy often charge others with sliding down this inevitable slope into heresy; ironically, such a slippery slope is far more often true of those whose pyramid is inverted than for those who have a solid foundation.
To be continued in CRMafia’s Interview with Dan Wallace, Part 2.