Biblical Inerrancy, Bibliology, Evangelicalism, Evidentialism, Interview with Dan Wallace, Jesus Studies, Presuppositionalism

>CRMafia’s Interview with Dan Wallace, Part One

>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.


9 thoughts on “>CRMafia’s Interview with Dan Wallace, Part One

  1. >Dan:We ought to move this conversation to a place where there’s fresh, hot coffee… I think our slightly different approaches to this may stem from different Christian experiences. My Christian background is a bit different than yours, as I was not raised in a fundamentalist or even evangelical tradition. I was raised nominally Lutheran (ELCA) and spent some time in the New Age and Scientology before coming to Christ. I then spent a couple years in a fringe charismatic group (where both the Bible and Christ were far from the center), then eventually ended up at Philadelphia College of Bible. My first year of Bible College I began reading the Ante-Nicene fathers and by the time I had finished I had read everything up to Nicaea (at least everything available in the ANF series). This had a profound impact on my theology and theological method very early on. It also placed me in a position self-criticizing my developing evangelical tradition. Though I slowly embraced an identity as a Calvinist dispensational evangelical, it was something I slowly, consciously stepped into, always cognizant that my particular confessional identity was merely one branch of a very large tree of authentically Christian traditions—both past and present—whose common core was Jesus Christ. Our personal stories are a bit different, so I am coming at this with a bit of naiveté. And my youth and inexperience puts me in the position of never having known anybody personally who lost faith in Christ because they lost faith in an inerrant Bible. I can honestly say that I’ve never bought into a Christian tradition that placed an inerrant Bible at the center. For me personally, biblical inerrancy has always been a limb on the body of Christian truth, not the head or heart, which was always Christ.You are absolutely right that integrating theology and doctrine christologically is quite difficult when it comes to actually doing it. In many ways my approach is a bit theoretical and somewhat experimental. I’m not certain it’s been done consistently or well . . . or that it’s even completely possible. The extreme difficulty of this task has actually forced me to be less dogmatic about many things that are more tenuously or at least tentatively related to Christology. I hold views on almost every theological issue (I’ve thought through many of them), but I am aware that some of my views are not as clearly taught in Scripture nor clearly christologically-oriented than others. But my approach to these things is not to assign them to a lesser value in a taxonomy, but to simply keep my focus on Christ, his person, and his work. When I do that, the issues that are farther from this center are automatically put in their proper place at least with regard to my attitude toward them. I simply think about, talk about, argue about, and write about them less and less while I think, talk, argue, and write about Christ more and more. And when I do turn to these other issues, I find myself approaching them from and angle oriented toward Christ. Now how do we implement a christocentric evangelical theology? Wow. I plan to dedicate my life to trying to answer that one quite practically. I’ve begun taking stabs at it, and as I teach through systematic theology, it is my consistent and conscious orientation. I do, however, intentionally approach various doctrinal/theological questions from this angle. For example, my christocentricity has made me a Calvinist in my soteriology. Regarding the doctrine of the human condition, I think people need to realize that we are so bad off that GOD has to be come MAN and DIE for us. The Bible’s wisdom, the Spirit’s convicting, self-reform . . . nothing was adequate to cure our condition. In my mind, only an Augustinian/Calvinist perspective on the doctrine of depravity can explain “cur deus homo.” Of course, I integrate Scripture (and in this case experience sure helps!), but for me the most weighty argument is that the radical solution (Christ) implies a radical condition (absolute depravity). That’s just one example of how to think through particular doctrines christologically. Now, when we get to other issues like the Rapture, things get a bit more complicated, unclear, and thus more tentative. My solution is that I simply don’t start there. In fact, it’s one of the last questions that is answered after first asking and answering a series of other far more christologically significant questions. First, the question of the millennium must be addressed. As I approach this issue with Christ at the center, I have a hard time arriving at a non-premillennial position. In my mind a robust and consistent incarnational Christology favors a premillennial over an amillennial position. As I think about the various ways to read Revelation as well as both Old Testament and New Testament kingdom passages, and understand the unfolding history of millennialism in the early church, I see several options. But once we start focusing on Christ and integrating an incarnational Christological narrative beyond merely answering the Anselmic “cur deus homo?”, I think a case can be made for the Christological appropriateness of an earthly kingdom in which the specific Davidic promises are fulfilled in a temporal, geo-political, historical setting with Christ physically on the throne reigning as an earthly King. Why? Because in my mind that view takes Christ’s particular humanity seriously. Prior to the incarnation the Son/Logos enjoyed a place of glory and honor and majesty with the Father, having been the one through whom all things were made, receiving the adulation of heaven. His dominion was universal. But by becoming human, and not just human—but by becoming the human heir of the Abrahamic promise, the Israelite blessing, and the Davidic kingship, the divine sovereignty subjectively took to himself the fulfillment of those promises. So, by placing the fulfillment of these in human history (as the premillennial position does), Christ’s humanity is taken completely seriously. No longer are his incarnation, death, and resurrection only for the sake of paying for sin. Instead, they have significant kingdom purposes. Not merely is he the de facto ruler of heaven and earth by divine right, but he is also the ruler over Israel and the world by human right. A heavenly, spiritual, universal, eternal reign may be absolutely appropriate to his divine nature, but my Christ is both divine and human, and in the latter he is the Davidic king. So, as I approach eschatology, my refusal to view Christ’s humanity as having been absorbed into the divine in either reality or relevance leads me to favor a premillennial position. Having arrived at this conclusion, new questions open up like the coming tribulation and the timing of the rapture. But as I focus on Christ, the nature of his reign as the God-man overshadows questions about how and when he saves me from what and for what purposes. . . . they are not unanswerable, but they are “less central.” Thus, it seems I end up with something like a taxonomy of doctrine, but I seem to arrive there in a slightly different way. You end by saying, “I hope this explains how I can agree with you about the necessity of an organic construct of a credo and yet disagree with you about the necessity of a doctrinal taxonomy. I think it’s important to construct such a taxonomy precisely because if we don’t we inadvertently diminish the glory and beauty of Christ.” I think I can isolate our slight divergence on this. I think the same effect can be had by simply focusing on the glory and beauty of Christ. When Christ is placed at the center consciously and consistently, the need for a taxonomy is diminished because everything should fall into its proper place. By focusing on Christ, everything non-Christ or semi-Christ pales in comparison. And keeping Christ at the center preserves and enhances those elements of various areas of theology that are most christocentric or christologically consistent. But by taxonomizing for the purpose of focusing on Christ, we might run the risk of taxonomizing out of theological reflection some of those very things God has given for us to reflect and magnify the glory of Christ.Once again, thanks for the stimulating thoughts. It has given me a rare opportunity to organize my own thoughts on this issue. Next time, however, we ought to engage in stimulating conversation under the influence of real stimulants, i.e., coffee.

    Posted by Michael J. Svigel | October 8, 2007, 5:17 am
  2. >Reply from Dan Wallace:Mike, well said! You and I fully agree that all of our theology must grow out of a christocentric core. And it’s not helpful to dissect theology into various parts that we can shove to the side when they no longer suit us. Your point is very well taken that if we do that on some truths, we may well be in danger of inadvertently shoving Christ to the side as well. However, I think when it gets to the various definitions of integrated doctrines–how they are integrated to Christology, how clear they are taught in scripture, whether even the apostolic witness was all on the same page regarding them, etc.–you and I probably do not see eye to eye. The theological background that I come from, what I essentially learned in seminary in the 70s, is that we should be dogmatic about all our beliefs because they are interrelated. Now, a careless reading of what you’ve written would make it seem that you are advocating just such an approach. I know you better than that (but I’m still confused as to what you do mean). One or two of my professors even believed that if they defected from even the most insignificant doctrinal point in Dallas Seminary’s credo that they had defected from the faith. To them, to be a Christian meant to be a soteriologically moderate-Reformed, ecclesiologically Presbyterian, eschatologically dispensational, Chicago-statement inerrantist. They could not imagine changing in any one of these areas, for to do so would be a betrayal of all they held dear. Again, I’m pretty darn sure that you don’t hold to that view. It was these professors who taught me the ‘domino view of doctrine’: one falls down, they all fall down. And it is that mentality that, I believe, has brought about more theological casualties than any other way of thinking. The problem is that some folks may have misunderstood me on one side, and now they may be misunderstanding you on the other. Here’s what I think you’re saying: ideally, all of our theological constructs need to be organically connected to Christology. They need to grow out of Christology and find their rationale, nurture, and direction from Christology. A hearty amen to all of that. The principle is great and is something that I can affirm right down to my toenails. The problem is how it is implemented. Take a Christocentric eschatology, for example. What does this look like? Would you say that we can determine the nature and timing of the millennium on the basis of Christology? Or, even more specifically, the time of the rapture based on Christology? The problem I see with such views is that, in practice, you create a huge construct that seems to be able to solve so many problems on a synthetic level, but in reality the welds are poorly done and the linkages are weaker than you might first have supposed. In the end, rather than elevating other doctrinal areas because of their association with Christology, you can inadvertently weaken your Christology because it’s being tethered to a self-destructive bomb. Pardon the imagery, but I really do see a real danger here that might not look much different from the old domino view of yesteryear. Now, to take this a step further. When a theologian works out his synthesis of all of theology, one of the biggest dangers he faces is the possibility that he has built a house of cards. He may be amazed at how he can integrate one area with another, leading him to the firm conclusion that viewpoint A is right and viewpoint B is wrong. But what if he’s wrong about those viewpoints? If he has linked his Christology to the one he thinks is right, but later finds out that it’s not correct, won’t that integrative approach begin to drag his Christology down with him on the less important doctrines? I hope I’m making myself clear. On the one hand, we definitely should think through how we construct our theology as that which is both personal and propositional, both based on a response to Christ’s call to salvation and a call to himself. But scripture simply isn’t equally clear on all things that it teaches. And if you integrate all your doctrines around one idea, thinking that the weakest link will break the chain, then you will inevitably have a theological construct that’s really a house of cards. And when that comes tumbling down, what do you have left? I submit that it is this sort of thinking that leads to theological defection on a widespread level more than any other approach. Let me put this another way. What exactly the integration of ecclesiology, eschatology, hamartiology, bibliology, etc. with Christology is supposed to look like in the kind of integration that you envision may well look quite different to one person than it does to another. Allow me to give a very concrete illustration out of my own life–and one which, by the way, is employing the Christocentric integration approach that you advocate, but not in the same way that you would approach it, I think. I lean on my Christology as that which affects all of my theology. When I think about an issue such as the Christian and the law, one of the things that comes to mind is this: Which view enhances Christ’s glory more, one which says that we are still under the law or one that says we are no longer under the law? As I reflect on the cross-work of Christ, and the several New Testament passages that speak about Christ fulfilling the law, about Christ being the end of the law, etc. it seems relatively clear to me that the cross-work of Christ not only saved us from the curse of the law but also saved us from trying to please God by obeying the law. I then couple this with my pneumatology and I see that the Holy Spirit is the gift of the new covenant, and that Jer 31 along with Ezek 37-38 paints a picture of freedom from the written code but not freedom from obedience to God. To me, the view that exalts Christ the most is thus the one that says that the cross accomplished the most. Not only did it remove the curse of sin, it also removed the burden of the law. This is one reason why I am a dispensationalist: dispensationalists and Lutherans have traditionally held down the fort of seeing that Christ’s fulfillment of the law means that we are no longer under it. But I have a problem on another front. Again, applying my christocentric grid to eschatology, this time more specifically to the prophetic passages of scripture, when it comes to the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem I have a very severe problem. That temple simply cannot be said to be a mere memorial, with the sacrifices of the animals as just one way that God reminds us that we are sinners who have been saved by grace. No, Ezekiel’s language is very clear: the temple cult is in full force and the sacrifices are necessary to procure forgiveness. Now, when I read Hebrews, I see that that interpretation simply will not do. My christocentric approach–again, just as yours–governs my whole theological approach. In this case, it requires me to read the new temple as other than a wholly literal thing. I cannot subscribe to a literal rebuilt temple that is functioning in the way that Ezekiek says it will function because to do so would, in my mind, betray my Lord. And frankly, if this is what dispensationalism teaches, I’m no dispensationalist. A literal interpretation of Ezekiel is to slay Christ on a second time. Then, on top of this, I think about how dispensationalism is often taught. This, of course, may well be due to the teacher, but the forms that I learned often speak of three great periods of dispensations, though there were also lesser dispensations. Nevertheless, what is not taught is that the cross is the pinnacle, the high point of God’s revelatory work among his people, and the final means by which we are saved. If each succeeding dispensation requires more of us than the previous one, but gives us grace to face it, then the cross simply gets lots in the shuffle too much. Whether that form of dispensationalism is a caricature or not, I don’t know. But I do know that Christ is far more important to me than to be simply a high point on one of seven hills of God’s unfolding plan! So, where does this make me stand eschatologically? Conflicted. It’s not that I want to be a dispensationalist but have exegetical problems with it; it’s rather than I want to be fully christocentric in my views, but this inevitably means that I’m doing a theological smorgasbord with the rest in order to maintain that perspective. It is exactly the christocentric, organic approach that has brought me to a place where I am playing around the edges of theological framework, trying to harmonize the various views but having a difficult time doing so. Now, if you’ve got some advice for me, I’m all ears. In the meantime, I’m not at all stressed out by this because whatever I need to do to patch up the walls will not affect the core. The same applies to other areas. It is possible to construct one’s bibliology so that Christ becomes the handmaiden to the Bible. I’ve given examples elsewhere, but the real danger that evangelicals have is that they have not thought through the implications of a high bibliology for Christology. And I do believe that if we construct our bibliology without regard to genre, historical writing in the ancient world, the frailties of human communication, bad grammar, etc., our bibliology will swallow our Christology whole and spit out the bones! So, no, I can’t possibly put bibliology on the same level as Christology, and I think it is very important to our thinking process to construct a doctrinal taxonomy that distinguishes between the more important doctrines and the less. But NOT by dissecting doctrines into small pieces; rather, we distinguish the importance of doctrines by examining their connection to Christology. Any constructs that diminish the glory and majesty of Christ are false. An appropriate bibliology, an appropriate eschatology, ecclesiology, etc. would honor Christ above all. And as he increases, they decrease. By definition, they no longer take center stage and an appropriate doctrinal taxonomy is thereby constructed, with Christ alone occupying the place of our affections, hopes, and deepest thoughts. I hope this explains how I can agree with you about the necessity of an organic construct of a credo and yet disagree with you about the necessity of a doctrinal taxonomy. I think it’s important to construct such a taxonomy precisely because if we don’t we inadvertently diminish the glory and beauty of Christ. Sincerely, Daniel B. Wallace

    Posted by Jeff Wright | October 7, 2007, 4:00 pm
  3. >Just wanted to thank you guys for this discussion. The question of what is the core of Christianity and why has been dominating my thoughts this week. Thanks again.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | October 4, 2007, 11:24 am
  4. >”My comments were merely questions for all of us to consider as we think through these things.”No problem. They’re good questions and a helpful way to expand the discussion to include these broader concerns. Thanks for the interaction.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | October 1, 2007, 11:53 pm
  5. >To use a Tolkien image, I think Dan and I are combatting the same troll, but coming at it from different directions. Regarding Dan’s very specific question, I agree with him completely. I would much prefer a person embrace Christ as central than inerrancy. But I would be disappointed if he or she did not apply a christological theological method to bibliology as well. I have friends who are genuine Christians, but who have a different view of the Bible than I do. I count them among orthodox brethren, because, as Dan says, orthodoxy vs. heresy originally centered on the person and work of Christ. I maintain this in all my teaching. “Heretics” are those who explicitly reject the incarnation, death, or resurrection of Jesus. So, I am comfortable placing Christ and “christology” at the core. My comments were merely questions for all of us to consider as we think through these things. I would not be happy if a student embraced Christ but rejected inerrancy, simply because I want to try to start thinking of theology and doctrinal “ologies” as they are related to Christology. (I think in this, Dan and I agree). If Christ is the trunk, I want to think of various other doctrines (Bible, Church, Salvation, etc.) as branches that are inseparably linked to Christ. Thus, there may not be an orthodox bibliology per se (making its rejection “heresy” in the classic sense), but there is an orthodox, christocentric way to viewing God’s revelation in general and in Scripture in particular. What I want to prevent is the fragmented thinking that often occurs when we categorize things. My guess is Dan would rather regard these areas of doctrine as convenient distinctions for the purpose of discussion and pedagogy, but not categories that can and ought to be treated separately. I think less-sensitive and less-nuanced readings of Dan’s work can lead to the impression that we can focus on what’s essential for salvation and just forget the rest… or that inerrancy isn’t an important doctrine. Again, I know this isn’t what Dan’s saying, but I know people could take it this way—not just those who want to defend “orthodox fundamentalism” at all costs, but also those who would mis-use Dan’s distinctions as a way to escape a “fundy” background.What I hope to encourage is a christocentric bibliology, a christocentric ecclesiology (we have a looooonnnngggg way to go on that one!), a christocentric anthropology, a christocentric soteriology, a christocentric eschatology, etc. In my approach, I personally am finding taxonomies ultimatley unhelpful for this particular persuit. “Core” is helpful, but I would rather see other issues as inextricably tied to the core in a truly Christian treatment of theology as a whole rather than peripheral. Perhaps the term “peripheral” is troubling me. I rather think of things as revolving around the gravitational center of Christ, and thus part of the matrix of a Christian theology and worldview. I don’t regard western, modernist, evangelical things to be inherently bad. I’m all of these! But I am trying to stretch my ways of thinking about christocentric theology, hopefully finding better paradigms and concepts within which to operate. In short, I’m trying to find a non-categorical, non-taxonomical way of saying the same things! I’m just getting a headache trying to do it, and I’m hoping other people will help me out… In the end, this may be an impossibility, and something like Dan’s treatment may simply be the best way we can approach this given the categories we have available. But as H. Richard Niebuhr said regarding the equally-vexing problem of Christ and Culture, “If we cannot say anything adequately, we can say some things inadequately.” And there I find myself there most of the time. Again, I appreciate the discussion, and Dan’s willingness to read me with charity. I can assure him that I’m reading him the same way!

    Posted by Michael J. Svigel | October 1, 2007, 5:20 pm
  6. >THESE COMMENTS ARE DAN WALLACE’S, NOT MINE. I am posting them for him until he has a Google Blogger account. ===========================Mike, I appreciate your own stimulating thoughts. I am tempted to say, “you know me better than that!” but I won’t. But I’ll try to clarify some things now. My views are actually opposed to modernist tendencies, with their emphasis on certainty of all things. And my view is consciously, organically christocentric. When I read your comments, I thought, “Is he talking about ME?” And since we know each other so well, I am very puzzled as to how you could read me the way you have. As for the doctrinal core being the doctrines that one must embrace to be saved, I put forth this because it is highly personal, central to the message of scripture (of a holy God calling a people for himself), fits in with Paul’s deepest groanings (Rom 9-11, where his soteriological burden leads him to his articulation of doxology), and draws the line of demarcation by very organic connections (e.g., those who are saved have the Spirit and know Christ; those who do not, do not). Thus, it relates to the whole person, as opposed to some other doctrines which may relate more to one’s head than heart (e.g., views on how long it took God to create the universe, various approaches to eschatology, etc.). I would have thought that it was self-evident that beliefs that affect one’s eternal destiny must surely belong to the core beliefs. It is on the basis of defining those beliefs that we can even have fellowship with each other. If they are not in the core, then theoretically a person could be an unbeliever and have proper beliefs. In one respect, that is quite right (so Jas 2.19!), but this also raises a significant issue: If demons can have right beliefs about the nature of God, but are themselves not saved, then doesn’t that in itself tell us that soteriology ought to be placed on a higher plane in our doctrinal taxonomy? Jas 2.14-26 certainly seems to suggest this, in agreement with Paul. or consider Jesus’ teaching. The lead parable, found in all the synoptics (and perhaps, in a different form, in John) is the parable of the soil. The focus is on one’s faith and whether it is productive. Is that not related to salvation? But I would also question how you have viewed my arguments in relation to church history. From the most ancient times, orthodoxy was defined in terms of what one must believe to be saved. Much of it focused on Christology, and rightly so. And those who had a defective Christology were pronounced heterodox. Would you say that the Gospel of Thomas may be iffy on soteriology, but it’s got some good teaching on the glory of God? I would rather say that we need to know where to draw the line. And the ancient church decidedly drew it at the bodily resurrection of the theanthropic person. If one did not believe that much, the person was a heretic. To be sure, the ancient church also drew it along other lines, but this was always in the core. Now, I am sure I am misreading you here, so I’d appreciate a clarification from you. It seems to me that you don’t want to differentiate among the importance of various beliefs. When you said that you would not rejoice over a student who continued to embrace Christ but rejected inerrancy, just as you would not rejoice over one who embraced inerrancy but rejected Christ, that to me sounded like old school, modernistic, almost fundamentalistic Dallas Seminary teaching. I’m sure I misunderstood you, but it seemed to me that you weren’t distinguishing between two kinds of grief. So, I’ll give you a chance to respond. Here’s the question: Would your grief be the same whether a person rejected Christ but kept inerrancy or whether he rejected inerrancy but kept Christ? At bottom, here’s what I find ironic: your language sounds postmodern, but it looks as though you are using such language to argue for a modernist understanding of doctrine; my language sounds modern, but I am using it to argue for a premodern and postmodern understanding of doctrine. Not that I’m against modernism, but I do believe that neither modernism, premodernism, or postmodernism has all the answers. Dan Wallace

    Posted by Jeff Wright | October 1, 2007, 11:52 am
  7. >Mike, I think you raise some good questions. What we’ve been discussing here thus far naturally leads to questions such as “is this really best way to describe the core of Christianity” and “to what degree is a westernized, modernistist approach to theology influencing this process?” When you use “western evangelical modernist mindset” is sounds like you’re implying negative connotations to this mindset. I would agree that modernism, for instance, has helped to create some negative results within theology. But its not all negative. A western mindset may not be the only option for us but its not all bad (not that this is what you were trying to say). For one thing, I’m not sure how we avoid our situatedness when it comes to our “mindset.” In other words, I hear people talk about returning to pre-modern understandings of Christianity but is this really possible? How does a post-Enlightenment, post-20th century, etc. become pre-modern in their thinking? I don’t see how this is possible or even necessary. All that to say, I think understanding our how we are situated so that we are better able to deal with the plusses and minuses of our systems of thought is key. Some elements of a way of thinking may need to be abandoned, others embraced. Elements from other ways of thinking should be incorporated. We can use western, modernist, evangelical ways of thought as our starting point, embrace what is good about it, and expand our way of thinking as we critque this mindset and what is good from other ways of thinking to enrich us. You mentioned that you are trying “to stop thinking about theology organizationally and start thinking about it organically.” I think this is a good thing. I don’t know if see it is either/or but I agree that this is a good way to start thinking about it and we should begin to direct our thoughts in this manner. Not that we should abandon organizational approaches. They are useful as long as we provide some helpful qualifiers such as explaining that this is not the manner in which Scripture presents these ideas. After you mentioned thinking organically, you said “…start thinking about it organically, with the Person of Jesus Christ as the center and source of revelation, salvation, sanctification, creation, etc. This would prevent me from placing “saving doctrines” in the center with other doctrines emanating from the pure core with decreasing degrees of brilliancy, or from placing “saving doctrines” at the top of a taxonomy with less important doctrines in a descending ladder of importance.” It seems that it may prevent your from placing saving doctrines in the center. But if you place Jesus Christ as the center of all doctrine, does this not necessarily create a doctrinal taxonomy? Would the doctrines that are not Christological be less important than Jesus Christ? I understand that you are saying we should relate all doctrine to Christ. But, inerrancy, for example, is not the center that all else must be related to so therefore it is not a core doctrine. It is a secondary one. Out of the different ways people have suggested describing the core of Christianity, I do not see one where inerrancy would actually be a core doctrine. On a side note, you said, “I would not rejoice if my students embraced Christ but rejected a traditional Christian approach to Scripture. Nor would I be happy if somebody embraced inerrancy but rejected Christ as the center.” Do you see the traditional Christian approach to Scripture as “embracing inerrancy”? This seems to be what you are saying here. Do you understand the traditional Christian approach to be inerrancy or infallibility? Thanks for replying Mike. Good discussion.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | October 1, 2007, 11:49 am
  8. >This is a great discussion, and, as usual, I find Dr. Wallace’s comments thought-provoking.I suppose my question in this issue is the methodological presupposition that doctrines can be (or ought to be) taxonomized. First, inerrancy as a function of bibliology presupposes a modern approach to doctrine: the categorization of disciplines of doctrine (in the form of distinct articles of a confession, chapters in a systematic theology, courses at a seminary, or areas of professional expertise). Second, having created distinct disciplines of theology that can be studied, developed, and analyzed as such (e.g., bibliology, christology, eschatology, etc.), the next step in creating a taxonomy also seems to be a rather western and modern approach to the matter. Further, the soteriological emphasis as the standard by which something is regarded as primary, secondary, etc. (or, core vs. peripheral) seems to be another presupposition that needs to be evaluated. Why is a primary doctrine one that leads to salvation? Why are doctrines that lead to a proper understanding of revelation regarded as less important? Or other doctrines that lead, say, to God’s glory (which is gotten apart from the salvation of the elect). Again, placing “saving doctrines” in the center and “non-saving doctrines” on the periphery seems to me to be a rather modern evangelical approach to the matter. I’m not questioning the explanatory value of this approach, but I would like to at least draw attention to the modern, western, and evangelical presuppositions involved here. However, I am enamored with Wallace’s christocentric approach to this matter and applaud his attempts to place Christ’s person and work as crucial. But I would rather take this in a different (not opposite) direction. Instead of placing christology at the center as the core doctrine and regarding other “less-core” doctrines as less significant (which depends on a soteriological standard anyway), what if we place christology at the center as both the beginning and end of theological reflection on the various doctrines. If we put christology in dialogue with bibliology, we begin to discern a christocentric bibliology—Christ as the center of Scripture; the incarnate Word as the personal analogy of Scripture, the inscribed word, etc. Wallace’s assertions move in this direction, but at the risk of isolating less important doctrines to remain focused on the core. I would not rejoice if my students embraced Christ but rejected a traditional Christian approach to Scripture. Nor would I be happy if somebody embraced inerrancy but rejected Christ as the center. Though my western evangelical modernist mindset struggles against it, I am trying desperately to stop thinking about theology organizationally and start thinking about it organically, with the Person of Jesus Christ as the center and source of revelation, salvation, sanctification, creation, etc. This would prevent me from placing “saving doctrines” in the center with other doctrines emanating from the pure core with decreasing degrees of brilliancy, or from placing “saving doctrines” at the top of a taxonomy with less important doctrines in a descending ladder of importance. Modernist evangelicalism has gotten away with this for a long time. But can postmodern Christianity afford to keep this up? I think the methodological problem in this discussion may be allowing the severance and fragmentation of christocentric theology and thought into distinct doctrinal disciplines, with Jesus standing in the center. Peeling layers off of christology and classifying them as secondary or tertiary in soteriological significance may be the modern thing to do, but is it true to a classic Christian approach to these matters?

    Posted by Michael J. Svigel | September 30, 2007, 7:39 pm
  9. >If anyone wants to ask Dan a question about what he’s had to say in the interview thus far, this is the place to do it. I can’t guaruntee that the will have time to interact much with the comments but you can take a shot.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | September 30, 2007, 3:36 am

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