Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

A Critical Appraisal: Clark Pinnock
Richard J. Coleman 
31 McKinley Terrace 
Pittsfield, Massachusetts 01201

From: JASA 27 (September 1975): 141-142.                     Response by Pinnock

In the past few years Clark Pinnock, presently professor of theology at Regent College in Vancouver, has been the most articulate defender of Biblical inerrancy. His book, Biblical Revelation (Moody, 1971). was a major contribution to the long history of this debate. Dr. Pinnock has also distinguished himself not only as an exponent of full inerrancy, but as an exponent in the mold of Benjamin B. Warfield who is cognizant of the difficulties inherent in that position. Pinnock is in fact a notable representative of a more open approach to plenary inspiration and thus his position merits careful consideration. In the recently published God's Inerrant Word (ed. John W. Montgomery; Bethany, 1974), Clark Pinnock's critical appraisal of limited inerrancy raises again the question whether his position is consistent. I intend to argue that Pinnock tries unsuccessfully to straddle two horses with one saddle.

On the one hand Mr. Pinnock is willing to go along with J. I. Packer or Richard Bube1 in considering the context and the intention of each passage before making a decision concerning truth it teaches. In addition Pinnock says it is legitimate to differentiate between soteric and non-soteric truth, as well as between formal error (lack of conformity with reality) and material error (figures of speech). We are led to believe, and Pinnock even states it, that he is willing to accept the modified proposition that Scriptural inerrancy is limited by the "sense intended by the inspired writer."2

On the other hand Pinnock lets it be known that restricting inerrancy in this manner is no reason to call his position limited inerrancy. We are told that the apostles (I presume apostles are also being identified with the Gospel writers) received all Scripture, including secondary details, in total trust as the Word of God. Each declarative statement of the Bible is accepted as reliable and true. The attitude of Christ and his apostles toward Scripture (the OT) is to be given priority over any unresolved difficulties, because the authority of Jesus cannot be pitted against "a yet-to-be solved and usually trivial detail" (italics mine).

The question before us then is whether Dr. Pinnock as a representative of a more tolerant approach to plenary inerrancy is consistent. In direct contrast to Pinnock, I do not see how one can say that his position is one of full inerrancy when the above concessions are made. I must wonder if Pinnock has really thought through the implications of his first two limitations. If anyone is willing to admit that "the question of authorial intentionality is critical," the border line between full and limited inerrancy is crossed. Once it is legitimate to inquire about the particular purpose of each passage, then the Biblical interpreter is automatically engaged in the hermeneutical task of determining the original historical meaning. In many instances his exegesis will involve him in laying hare a number of overlapping and concurrent meanings. All kinds of additional difficulties must be faced when one searches for the original meaning, such as when a redactor's hand is involved, or when an OT text is adapted to suit the author's immediate purpose, or why some material is eliminated and some expanded in one of the Synoptic gospels, or when symbolism, analogy, and historical fact are closely meshed together.

It has always been evident that strict inerrancy became so attractive to many because it could avoid all of these hermenautical questions by reducing its exegesis to the "plain-sense meaning." But Pinnock certainly does not avoid drawing lines by distinguishing those truths which are "more heavily soteric." The interpreter encounters many passages where a soteric truth is expressed in mythological literary images, or pre-Copernican scientific terms. The creation account is a perfect example of the difficulties that arise in deciding the literalness of the author's intention and what elements he considered essential for salvation.

In defense of Pinnock I must agree with him that there is a danger in correlating inerrancy with only soteric or revealed knowledge, as it is done by Daniel Fuller, Vatican II, or Richard Bube.3 According to this position Scripture contains material that is non-revelational or non-soteric. In many eases this is material which is taken over from another source which is not corrected by the Holy Spirit: for example, cultural references, historical data, or variant textual readings. This distinction, for instance, allows Bube to claim that the Bible is inerrant when "error is judged in respect to the criterion of the author's revelational purpose." The danger is not that I find fault with Fuller, Bube, and Vatican 11 in this regard, but in the ambiguity in separating non-revelational from revelational matters. Too many Christian jump to the conclusion that this separation implies that non-revelations matters are incidental or not inspired; or they conclude that inerrancy is being limited to those matters of faith that cannot be tested by an outside criteria. We have all learned, I hope, that neo-orthodoxy made a fatal mistake in artificially separating Historic from Geschichte, faith and morals from facts and history. The Biblical authors for the most part make no such distinction-faith and history, past and present are bound together in a pattern of Heilsgeschichte. The historical-critical method frequently ends up separating what the Biblical authors so carefully knit together. We are reminded again how different our "mind sets" are.

Pinnock, however, does not want to face the inevitable problem that arises when he says "we freely grant that it is possible to distinguish soteric truth from non-soteric truth in the Bible." Even if we grant, as we should, that Scripture is inspired throughout and that even non-soteric truths are still Biblical truths (i.e., necessary for the pattern of Heilsgeschichte but not for salvation), we are forced to make value decisions about theological matters. We are thus engaged again in establishing certain hermeneutical principles-the very thing defenders of full inerrancy have wanted to avoid.

The avoidance of hermeneutical principles is the delusion of Biblical inerrancy. I have yet to find an advocate of full inerrancy, with the possible exception of Van Til, who does not at some point admit a few hermeneutical principles to account for those unsolved difficulties. I could cite numerous examples but a few will suffice. A favorite principle states that where an author used extra-Biblical sources that are in error (i.e., they are in conflict with our understanding of reality), they did so knowingly. Thus Stephen in Acts 7 knew that Abraham left his father before his father died, but refers to a commonly known version of Genesis 11:31 that spoke of Abraham's departure after his father died. Clark Pinnock is often found depending upon one of two principles: either, he says, all the evidence is not accounted for (evolution, biology) or that any supposed inconsistency or unresolved conflict is spurious. Russel Maatman comes up with a convenient principle to cover a discrepancy between a Biblical text and "secular history." "No part of secular history-political, economic, social, geological, biological, or any other kind-can be used to prove that certain events referred to in the Bible cannot have occurred, and that the account containing them is therefore non-historical." Thus there are no errors, ipso facto, because the extra-Biblical source is in error or the Biblical passage is non-historical. What these scholars seem to forget is that each principle of interpretation will be applied with different results, and the history of denominational confessions confirms it.

Pinnock gives the strong impression that he wants to give the inductive method its due and allow the phenomena of the Bible to speak for themselves. Thus he consents to limiting inerrancy in specific ways in order to account for certain unavoidable evidence. But as Daniel Fuller has called to our attention, Pinnock does not really trust the inductive method whenever it does not coincide with a particular predisposed definition of Biblical inspiration. Scientists are fully aware that the inductive method does not produce infallible results, but that does not shake our confidence in the method (only our confidence in man's application of it). We have reason to trust the critical-historical method not because it has or will be infallible, but because it is the best method we have to understand the written records of man. We also trust the inductive method because we have reason to believe there is no ultimate conflict between God and his creation. When historical and literary criticism discovers differences in details or contrasting (or even conflicting) parallel traditions to Scripture, I do not feel compelled to postulate an intricate and artificial harmonization or compose some catch-all hermeneutieal principle, I am not troubled, because my confidence rests in God's promise to give mankind a written word of all that is necessary for salvation (John 20:30).

So which side of the fence is Pinnock on? I really am not sure. It does seem obvious that he wants his cake (recognition of certain justified limitation) and eat it too (to call his position full inerrancy). While I completely sympathize with his intentions, I find that his final position is inconsistent and hedges on crucial issues. If I am not mistaken, conservatives and liberals will be less than content with the position as presented by Clark Pinnock; in part because the question of full inerrancy vs. limited inerrancy does not lend itself to fence sitting. That does not mean, however, that limited inerrancy properly defined is not a legitimate middle course. The Journal ASA should be commended for its concern
to let the whole issue be aired openly in the hope that evangelicals who are unsatisfied with strict either-or positions can develop an alternative one.

1. J. 1. Packer, Fundamentalism" and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 96-98; Richard H. Bube, Journal ASA, June 1972, p. 81.
2. Clark Pinnock, "Limited Inerraney: A Critical Appraisal and Constructive Alternative." in God's Inerrant Word, pp. 148-149.
3. Daniel P. Fuller, "Warfield's View of Faith and History,". Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society, Xl (1968), 75-38; Dei Verbumn, art. II; Bube, ob, cit., pp. 81 ff.
4. Russet W. Maatman, Journal ASA, June 1972, p. 84.
5. Daniel P. Fuller, "On Revelation and Biblical Authority," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, XVI (Spring, 1973), 67-69. Reprinted from Christian Scholar's Review, II, 40973).