Wednesday, December 28, 2016

James Orr: Inerrancy as "a most suicidal position"?

I had an earlier post on James Orr’s Revelation and Inspiration (Scribner’s, 1910), reflecting on seeming inconsistencies in his views (e. g., rejecting higher criticism but embracing evolution). At the close of the same book the Scottish theologian who contributed to The Fundamentals offers a surprising critique of the Hodges/Warfield construal of inerrancy. He writes:

It is urged, e.g., that unless we can demonstrate what is called ‘inerrancy’ of the Biblical record, down even to the minutest details, the whole edifice of belief in revealed religion falls to the ground. This, on the face of it, is a most suicidal position for any defender of revelation to take up (p. 198).

So, Orr does not think it necessary to affirm inerrancy in order to uphold the authority of the Bible. Though this sounds like the same view disastrously adopted in liberal Protestantism, perhaps Orr was intuiting some of the flaws in the defense of the Bible based in the hypothetical reconstruction of inerrant, non-extant autographs.

Along these lines, he has some interesting points to make with regard to the doctrine of preservation, noting, “it is reasonable to expect that provision will be made for the preservation of the knowledge of revelation in some permanent and authoritative form.  Otherwise, the object in giving revelation would be frustrated” (p. 155).

Though Orr’s unwillingness to defend the uniform truthfulness of Biblical content is distressing, could he have been on target in other ways? Is it that Orr saw a fundamental disconnect between the Westminster construal of the infallibility of Scripture stressing immediate inspiration and divine preservation and the new construal of inerrancy by Hodges/Warfield?


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