Monday, December 26, 2016

Book Note: Inspiration and Interpretation

John F. Walvoord, Ed.,  Inspiration and Interpretation (Eerdmans, 1957):  280 pp.

This collection of essays is described in the book’s front matter as “An Evangelical Theological Society Publication.”  Indeed, it was one of the early efforts of that society (founded in 1949) to provide an academic defense of traditional views of the Bible.

The work consists of ten essays.   The opening nine are studies of various theologians focused on their understanding of Scripture.  These are arranged chronologically.  The first five concern men from the pre-critical era (Irenaeus, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley).  The next four focus on modern figures (Sanday, Rowley, Brunner, Niebuhr).  The final essay by Carl Henry provides a summary on the doctrine of revelation.

The essays:

J. Barton Payne, “The Biblical Interpretation of Irenaeus” (pp. 11-66).

David W. Kerr, “Augustine of Hippo,” (pp. 67-86).

Theodore Mueller, “Luther and the Bible” (pp. 87-114).

Kenneth S. Kantzer, “Calvin and the Holy Scriptures” (pp. 115-155).

George A. Turner, “John Wesley as an Interpreter of Scripture” (pp. 156-178)

R. Laird Harris, “Sanday and the Scriptures” (pp. 179-188).

Merrill F. Unger, “H. H. Rowley and the New Trend in Biblical Studies” (pp. 189-209).

Paul King Jewett, “Emil Brunner’s Doctrine of Scripture” (pp. 210-238).

Edward John Carnell, “Reinhold Niebuhr’s View of Scripture” (pp. 239-252).

Carl F. H. Henry, “Divine Revelation and the Bible” (pp. 253-278).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I find the opening five essays to be the best. Each illustrates a historically high view of the Christian Scriptures, which collectively argues for this as the historic Christian position. So, Payne can say, for example, that Irenaeus’s “doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is that of the Reformation” (p. 46).  Kantzer’s essay particularly stands out. He notes, in particular, Calvin’s dictation view of inspiration (pp. 137 ff.).  His insistence that Calvin held to the modern construal of the inerrancy of the autographa (see p. 144), a la modern evangelicalism, however, appears anachronistic. With the sketch of Wesley, the homo unius libri [man of one book], one picks up on a shift in this trajectory, that from the confessional view of the Reformation to the more pragmatic view of evangelicalism.

The final essays are perhaps less interesting, because they are more dated in content. They reflect the concerns of evangelicals at the mid-twentieth century to defend (and, in at least one case, even, perhaps, to accommodate) the faith against the dialectic theology of neo-orthodoxy and the skepticism and relativism of modern historical-critical Biblical studies. These essays are also chronological and reveal a trajectory of evangelical encounters with modernism. In the sketch of Sanday one see the efforts at mediation between tradition and modern criticism. Unger’s essay stands out for its forthright challenge to the acceptance of higher criticism by Rowley and others. As Unger puts it, those who embrace higher criticism eventuate “in religious irrelevance and spiritual barrenness” (p. 207). Jewett likewise disavows Brunner’s view of the Bible’s authority, noting that in his thought this authority is “dwarfed to the vanishing point” (p. 238). Carnell, however, oddly ends his essay on Niebuhr with this conclusion: “Therefore, he defends the Bible as the Word of God” (p. 252). Again, these later articles appear less relevant than the earlier ones.  Though interest remains high in the views of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin on Scripture few today take much interest in Brunner or Niebuhr.

Henry’s final essay offers insights into evangelical efforts to defend traditional views of the Bible as special revelation against liberal nineteenth century attacks, including in areas related to the text, transmission, and translation of the Bible. Viewed in hindsight, it also provides some indications of why that defense has not always been effective. Henry can affirm, for example, “The present text is essentially continuous with the original” (p. 273). He has embraced the notion of the inerrant original but is aware of the liberal challenge that this argument is useless if no such original has been preserved. The best modern evangelicalism can offer apologetically is an approximate or “essentially” accurate text.


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