Science in Christian Perspective
Reply to Geisler
Clark B. Pinnock
McMaster Divinity College
Hamilton. Ontario Canada
From: JASA 32 (March1980): 58-59.
Much as I regret being the occasion of sadness to my friend Dr.
Geitler, I cannot
accept for a moment his depicting my essay as an attack on the proponents of
biblical inerraney, a view he says I formerly held. It was a description of
a discussion which is ongoing, not an attack on any view. In it I
in the camp of those who advocate inerraney in a nuanced sense, and expressed
sympathy for those who are trying to work out a high doctrine of
without using the term at all, Evidently Geisler feels absolutely no sympathy
in that direction himself, and this must explain why he distorts the nature
of both my essay and my convictions.
What disappoints me with Geisler is his obvious unwillingness to recognise that the concept of biblical inerraney is an extraordinarily tricky one, owing to the nature of the Bible. He complains that I do not endorse what he calls the "complete truthfulness" of Scripture, a phrase which he must suppose conveys some uncomplicated meaning. As a matter of fact it does not, since the manner in which the Bible chooses to be truthful in many places is in keeping with canons of truthfulness ancient rather than modern. A simple comparison of the synoptic gospels will reveal to any reader numerous examples where the authors have taken the liberty of rearranging their material in a way suitable to their didactic purpose, but hardly in the "correct" (by our standards) chronological order. So long as we think of inerraney as a timeless quantity, the Bible itself will resist our use of the term in relation to it. If on the other hand we allow that the term inerraney has to be understood in relation to cultural norms which are not perennial, then the term is certainly subtle, and to some evangelicals problematic. Geisler himself limits the inerraney of the Bible to that which the text affirms (surely a wise limitation), but does not seem to recognise what that limitation implies: that the Bible in those aspects of the text where affirmation is not made may well be errant. If he would only attempt to be more self-conscious within his own position, he would be compelled to look more charitably upon those who find the term less than satisfactory, and never be able to term those culturally conditioned aspects of the text "lies." The fact that he can do so here is proof that his militancy for inerraney is preventing his thought on this subject from rising to the ordinarily high scholarly level of his work. I must confess I was surprised to find him maintaining in his reproof of my essay that in the ease of a biblical difficulty any hypothesis however implausible would suffice to ease his anxiety about total inerraney. 1 had come to expect Mormons and Moonies to go to irrational lengths to save their religious assumptions, but not a first class Christian scholar. Geisler is comforted by the work of the late Barton Payne on the books of Chronicles and the long list of improbable statistics found in them. For my part I admire the stubborn commitment Payne always shows in his work, but find it impossible to endorse his special pleading. Far more likely in my judgment are the efforts of Harrison and Carnell to explain the data in terms of the secular sources employed there and the purpose lying behind the narrative.
Geisler goes to great lengths to defend perfect inerraney because he believes Jesus Christ taught it and requires adherence to it on the part of his followers. This conviction explains, I believe, why his tone is strident and his arguments reckless. He believes a great deal is at stake. For me to express in my essay a degree of hesitation about the suitability of the term inerrancy is enough to provoke a person of this theological temper to consternation and wrath.
The best way to answer his criticism and get at the heart of the issue is to point out the objectionable fact that Jesus did not teach the doctrine of inerrancy as Geisler understands it. Although he wishes to conceal it, Geisler's concept of inerrancy is complex indeed, difficult to define, and replete with qualifications. lncrrancy is relative so what the Bible affirms, and does not extend further. Is pertains to the nonexistent original autographs and not to any Bible today. Inerrancy is by no means a simple concept, and is not found in Jesus' teaching, neither the term nor she subtle theory. This is not to deny that the position could not be a good one for Christians to hold, given the alternatives, but only that it is a theory born out of the history of doctrine and not a concept explicitly taught by Christ and the apostles. The Princeton doctrine of inspiration is one that I personally admire and work from, but I do not make the mistake of equating it with biblical revelation, and therefore I do not accuse evangelicals, who find the concept defective, of bad faith as Geisler does. Sometimes I gel the feeling that people regard the Princeton theology as a kind of Protestant magisterium which one cannot criticise without being considered a little heretical. Is is not, and I fully expect evangelical thinking on the inspiration and authority of the Bible to advance far beyond Warfield's imperfect theory. There is certainly room for improvement.
Geisler is an apologist for Christianity of considerable ability, and one of the occupational hazzards of that profession is a tendency to prefer theological theories with reference to their serviceability in the task of verification. Such a person weighs such a question as biblical inerrancy not first of all in relation to its scriptural foundations (which in this case are flimsy), but in the context of debating the truth of the gospel. As a debater of humanists myself, I am sympathetic so and aware of this pressure. In this case the apologist of Dallas is on thin ice, committed as he is to a militant position on inerrancy which cannot withstand the test of the biblical text itself. Up so this point he cannot imagine defending Christianity apart from a strong inerrancy plank in the argument, and therefore he comes on very strong against my essay. But I venture so say that in the future even Geisler may come to understand why the majority of evangelical scholars today are less than enthusiastic about the term, and when he does that he will be able to rework his apologetic accordingly. After all the apologetic task is a process of continual revision and readjustment-at least that is my experience.
Geisler says that I am affected by a "peace at any price" mentality. I must admit I do seek to be a peacemaker, but not at any price. Indeed, as one teaching in a liberal setting theologically, I venture to say that I am more often on the front line battling for the truth of the Bible than some who take delight in criticising me. The fact of the matter is that I am chiefly motivated by honesty in this case. The term inerrancy seems to me to be a coin of uncertain value. There are many evangelicals wiser than myself who express their hesitation about using it. I do not believe they are motivated by evil impulses, but by the sincere desire to understand the gospel better. Geisler would place them outside the evangelical camp and cast doubt on their theological soundness. This is something I am not prepared to do. I suspect this is really what saddens Geisler.
In my essay I describe first "the militant advocates of biblical inerrancy." Geisler is obviously one of these. If 1 seemed to attack this view, I certainly did not intend to. I appreciate the force of their convictions. But what I refuse to do is to grant that only they are sound in the faith and evangelical in theology, and that only they deserve to be considered faithful to the Lord in this generation. There are many more besides who are running the race and following the Lord, without she benefit of the category of biblical inerrancy.