Tuesday, November 01, 2011
Inerrancy and the 2LBCF (1689)
Bob Gonzales of the Reformed Baptist Seminary recently wrote a post [update 2/22/14: the link to the original post by Bob Gonzales has been broken and I could not find it on the archive of his current blog; thus, readers will not have access to the post to which this article responds] suggesting that chapter one in the 2LBCF (1689) might be updated to include a reference to “inerrancy.” Reformed theologian-pastor Richard Barcellos offered several responses in the comments suggesting that the confession should not be altered. RB, in particular, calls attention to the fact that though several WCF affirming pastors championed the inerrancy movement of the 70s (e.g., J. M. Boice) they did not suggest altering their historic confession, the WCF. RB implies we should do the same. That is, affirm inerrancy but not alter the confession.
Here are some thoughts on this debate:
1. I agree with RB that the 2LBCF (1689) should not be altered to include the term “inerrancy,” but differ from him regarding the reason.
2. I believe the confession already affirms the concept of “inerrancy,” when that term is taken to mean an affirmation of the complete and total trustworthiness of the Scriptures and their freedom from error in all matters they address (including in the fields of history and science and not just in doctrinal or spiritual issues). This, in my view, is fully encompassed in the confession’s current use of the term “infallibility.”
3. In my view, however, the confession does not affirm “inerrancy” in the modern sense in which it is defined by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This statement, following the lead of B. B. Warfield, affirms the inerrancy of the original autographs of Scripture and does not address the providential preservation of the apographs, as in the confession. For a critique of Warfield’s construal of the inerrant autographs, see Theodore P. Letis’ The Ecclesiastical Text (The Institute for Renaissance and Reformation Biblical Studies, 1997). For a guide to how the framers of the WCF and the 2LBCF likely saw the nature of Scripture, see John Owen’s “Of the Divine Original of the Scripture” and “Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text” in vol. 16 of his Collected Works.
4. In addition, one might well argue that the neo-evangelical emphasis on the inerrancy of the original autographs, a la the Chicago Statement, has been a failure. For illustrations of this, see wrangling in recent years in the scholarly Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), which uses “inerrancy” as a litmus test for membership, over Clark Pinnock and Openness Theology (i.e., Pinnock claimed to affirm “inerrancy” while denying an orthodox doctrine of God and survived an attempt to remove him from ETS membership). Along these lines, Francis Beckwith was elected to the Presidency of ETS but had to abdicate after he announced he had decided to convert to Roman Catholicism. In his memoir, he stated, “I did not believe that the ETS doctrinal statement was inconsistent with my Catholic beliefs” (Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic [Brazos Press, 2009]: p. 118). We might add a note here about the more recent row over Peter Enns of Westiminster Seminary who could belong to ETS and affirm its inerrancy statement while, at the same time, denying the historical reliability of the OT (see Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the OT [Baker Academic, 2005] and the response by Greg Beale in The Erosion of Innerancy in Evangelicalism [Crossway, 2008]). Given the failure of “innerancy” to safeguard orthodoxy in evangelicalism (as illustrated by the ETS), why should this term be added to a reformed confession that is more than adequate as it is?