Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Response to Michael Bird and His Issue with American Inerrancy

I don't do book reviews as there are many who do a much better and thorough job than I would.  But I am going to respond to a section in a book, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, which is contains a section by Michael Bird.  Yes, that Michael Bird, the author of Evangelical Theology, which is a systematic theology based upon the gospel.

My reason to respond to Michael's section in this book is twofold.  One, because I am working my way through his systematic theology, and enjoying it; and two, to offer some corrective insight to his "global" perspective.

His assertions seem to be that inerrancy is a particular American issue, it draws an unnecessary fence around the Bible, and that the word inerrancy is not needed in the global south as they accept the Bible as true and authoritative with out all the muss and fuss of having to call it inerrant; and, therefore, are able to get on with their business of spreading and preaching the gospel.

Kind of an aside here, but he also seems to have a bit of an Aussie/Kiwi chip on his shoulder toward what he views as American theological colonialism/imperialism; and somehow connects this with Rugby verses American football.

What has struck me in reading his response is his naivete, and this naivete is mixed with a bit of smugness; and I think together they have blinded him to the pattern of the church in its history, and to the reality of the church at this time. As good a student of church history as he appears to be, he should understand, maybe more than many, the proclivity of human nature toward liberalism, toward doubt, and aware that the church has always been filled with tares. In the history of the church there have always been threats to an orthodox understanding of the bible.  The attack on the inerrancy of the Bible, at least to the degree we have seen in North America and Europe is a more recent threat, but it is also one that has hung around for the last 150 years, it is not going away anytime soon, and it will soon come to a church near you...maybe even your own.

Here in the global North we have seen first hand the damage done to the church by higher criticism and liberal textual criticism.  It has destroyed the church in Europe and damaged the church in America.  The Anglicans in the North have the same 39 Articles of the Faith as the Anglicans of the South, the Presbyterians of the North have the same Westminster Confession of Faith as the Presbyterians of the South, and that did not keep them from abandoning the Bible as truthful and authoritative. What is to keep it from happening in the South?  As the global South becomes more mature and sophisticated theologically, there will be those who will begin to teach in its seminaries and academies who will be smuggled in on the Trojan Horse of "the Bible is true for faith and practice, authoritative for faith and practice, and the standard for faith and practice" (See Michael's section on An International View of Scripture, pgs 160-162).  This is where it began in the Southern Baptist Convention and its Baptist Faith and Message statement, and once the wolves are in the door, they open the door to other wolves, who are much more savage.

As one who was involved, at the local church level, in the Southern Baptist inerrancy controversy and battle for the Bible in the 90s (and still have some scars), I have seen first hand the damage done by those who did not believe all the Bible was true, but hid behind the statement "it is the standard for faith and practice."  I have seen first hand the necessity of drawing a fence around the Bible using the term inerrant.  Yes, it does keep some good people out, but it keeps many many more wolves in sheep's clothing from getting in and ravaging the flock and destroying the faith of some.  In contending for the faith, having the term inerrant and using it as a fence, yes even as a sword, is a necessity.

Yes, inerrancy has been a particular American issue, because the battle was fought here.  The European church, with few exceptions, capitulated to the attacks on the Bible without firing a shot.  We Americans might not have fought a World War on our soil, but we indeed have fought a spiritual war on our soil (a war that does indeed affect the entire world) over the truthfulness, veracity, and reliability of the Bible, not just as it applies to faith and practice, but about whatever it touches on.  And I dare say that Michael would do the same if the battle came to his soil, his church, his school.  It just happened to come to us first, but it will eventually come to the church in the South.

Finally, after reading his section in the book, and going through his Evangelical Theology, I would say that Michael is a closet inerrantist.  He really is an inerrantist at heart, although he calls himself an infalliblist...even Peter Enns thinks so.  

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