Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Response by Clark Pinnock
Clark H. Pinnock 
Regent College 
Vancouver, B.C., Canada

From: JASA 27 (September 1975): 142-143.

I have come to appreciate and admire the work of Richard I. Coleman. On several other occasions over the past years hr has intervened helpfully in the debates over biblical inspiration and authority. I have reference to his book Issues of Theological Warfare: Evangelicals and Liberals (Eerdmans, 1972) pp. 127135, and two articles, "Reconsidering 'Limited Inerrancy' " in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 17 (1974) pp. 207-214, and "Biblical inerrancy: Are We Going Anywhere?" in Theology Today 31 (1975) pp. 295-303.1 find him to be fair, accurate, and irenic, and interpret his intentions in the discussion to be the same as my own: to affirm the high doctrine of Scripture so essential to historic evangelical belief, and at the same time insisting that evangelical theologians say exactly what they mean and present the truth in the most coherent and intelligible manner possible. I welcome this opportunity to interact with him. In my response I will focus on two issues.

(1) In his Theology Today article, Coleman credits my book Biblical Revelation as being "one of the most consistent contemporary defenses of biblical inerrancy". Now he is not so sure of my consistency, for it seems I have crossed over the border between limited and unlimited inerraney in my more recent work. I do not believe either that my position has changed or that it is inconsistent as these quotations will show. In Biblical Revelation I stated: "The infallibility of Scripture is not, in one sense, absolute. Its field is restricted to the intended assertions of Scripture understood by an ordinary grammatical-historical exegesis of the text" (p. 71). Similarly I affirmed: "Inerraney, like infallibility, is relative to the intentionality of Scripture and an artificial standard must not be imposed" (p. 75). In the present hook, The Inerrant Word, I wrote "in order to be candid and fair, we must admit to limiting inerrancy ourselves, not to a macro-purpose elevated above the text, as in the view just described, but to the intended teaching of each passage of Scripture" (p. 148). If Coleman wishes to define "full inerraney" as a view that would deny that biblical revelation is in any sense culturally mediated and affirm that every detail of it is flawless according to modern standards, then I most certainly do not hold to it and never did. I have crossed no "border" and ride but one "horse". I contend for biblical inerraney in correlation with the authorial, or canonical intention of the biblical text, and do not wish as Coleman implies to evade the hermeneutical issues. Indeed, as I read Coleman, I find myself agreeing with him when he writes "Scripture is inerrant in whatever it intends to teach as essential for our salvation; whether it includes historical, scientific, biographical, and theological materials. Undoubtedly not everything in Scripture is necessary for our salvation, and those which are cannot be determined by assumption or a priori, but by their context and by the author's principal purpose." (JETS 1 7 (1974) p. 213). Though I can see the danger of some exegete using hermeneutics unfairly as a curtain to conceal his denial of Scripture (e.g., a denial of the event-character of the fall of Adam against the plain sense of several texts), I also feel compelled to speak out against those who refuse to distinguish the doctrine of full biblical authority and their interpretation of the Bible. There are some today who, in the name of biblical inerraney, wish to impose on the whole church their own peculiar views in areas of creation, eschatology, predestination and the like, and they must be resisted. Within the community of those who hold to plenary biblical authority, there is room for a vigorous discussion concerning a multitude of details which enter into the biblical teaching. Indeed our fellowship ought to be the principle place where an in depth searching of the meaning of Scripture goes on.

(2) The issue on which evangelicals must take a strong stand arises after the hermeneutical discussion has taken place and the decisions reached. The decisive question for us today is whether, having determined what the biblical text teaches, we are committed to believing it. The form of 'limited inerrancy' which I vigorously oppose, and which it seems Coleman also opposes, is the position which would limit the authority of the Bible to something less than the intended teaching of all the biblical passages. This occurs typically when the interpreter adopts a standpoint outside the text and imposes it on the text, employing it as a critical principle in shaping the meaning of the Bible. The 'historicist perspective' of Gordon D. Kaufman is a fine modern example of this, and his approach is perfectly illustrative of metnod in liberal systematic theology since Schleiermacher. We have no right to correct Scripture according to some extrabiblical principle which we have brought to it. Surely the vast majority of evangelicals can agree that this is the key issue, and that we are not divided over it. It would be a sad day indeed if at the very time when evangelical scholars have gained a measure of competence and respect, and are in a position to bear an effective witness to the full authority of the Bible, they should lose interest in doing so and opt instead for the bankrupt methodology of classical liberalism.

At this point I wish to correct Coleman's interpretation of the work of Daniel P. Fuller. From one or two phrases Fuller has chosen to characterise his own position, Coleman had deduced a radical implication Fuller does not in fact draw. In correcting Coleman I am at the same time admitting that my own estimation of Fuller's work has altered. Not that I would admit to any malicious intent or even to a careless exegesis of his writings on the part of Coleman or myself. I believe that Fuller has expressed himself in a less than ideal manner with the result that many readers have concluded that he too wishes to limit inerrancy to the vague entity known as 'revelatory material'. Such a limitation would of course be open to most kinds of manipulation of the Bible performed in liberal theological circles. But I am now convinced, as a result of talking with him, that this is not his meaning, and that he stands firmly for the inerrancy of biblical teaching in each passage once that teaching has been exegetically determined.

As far as I can tell, Coleman and I are on the same side of the fence in wanting to proportion inerrancy to the actual claims of the text. That seems to me a perfectly traditional and correct view. On the other and more weighty matter where we need to be very clear, I am not yet sure where Coleman stands. I can appreciate him not being 'troubled' by an inability to come up with a harmonization of each and every biblical statement which is perfectly satisfactory in every respect. Neither am I troubled by that. But I know what ought to trouble us evangelicals: namely, any and all critical conclusions which deny or dismiss some fact or doctrine which we know the Bible intended to teach. That is the limited inerrancy which I oppose, and the border over which I have not and will not pass.