Because the American Church is Losing Its Mind…

…here is a helpful reminder of what it means to be an Evangelical who believes in the inspiration of Scripture. What follows is Michael Horton’s introduction to this past Sunday’s White Horse Inn radio show. Too many so-called “Bible believing Christians” have forgotten this…or never knew it. Now’s your chance. Then listen to the entire program here.

According to Jesus, the words of Scripture simply are identical with the word of God. The apostle Paul said that, “the Scriptures are breathed out by God,” and Peter said that, “no prophecy ever came from human initiative, but men spoke from God.” For its first sixteen centuries the Christian church enjoyed unanimous consensus concerning the nature of Scripture. This view came to be known as “verbal-plenary inspiration.” This means that the Bible is breathed out by God not only in its intended meaning but in its very words. In spite of all the other differences the Protestant Reformers and Rome agreed on this essential point. But this consensus was challenged by radical Protestant movements. The Protestant Reformers themselves faced the challenge of the radical Anabaptists who valued a supposedly “inner word” in their hearts, a direct immediate, and private revelation over the external word conveyed through Scripture and preaching. The Reformers called this “enthusiasm” meaning literally, “God withinism.” Like Adam after the fall our natural tendency is to want to bring ultimate authority inside our own hearts and minds under our control, instead of hearing an external word of command and promise from our covenant Lord.

By the time of the Enlightenment a full assault on the reliability, authority, and inspiration of Scripture penetrated theological academies and churches. Sometimes it came in the form of denials of any need for special revelation since general revelation and reason were thought to be sufficient. But in the Romantic era, through liberal theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher, challenges came in the form of making anything and everything a medium of inspired utterance. Every impulse from the inner voice of the pious soul could be regarded as inspired. In Protestant Liberalism, then, we meet the convergence of radical Protestant enthusiasm and rationalistic criticism of God’s miraculous intervention. As a result the Bible came increasingly not as a written treasure of God’s communication to us, but as a record of our attempts to express in words that universal religious experience that is common to everyone. In this perspective inspiration doesn’t come to us from outside of ourselves as a characteristic of the Biblical texts, but from within individuals and communities and their spiritual experience.

Historically Evangelicals were known for defending a high view of Scripture against these challenges. The giants of old Princeton: Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, B.B. Warfield, helped to shape a new generation of conservative Protestants as mainline Protestantism became racked with debates over inspiration. Led by Carl Henry, John Stott, F.F. Bruce, and many other theologians and Biblical scholars, Evangelicalism provided a sustained defense of Scripture with two generations of fruitful successors. But today the old arguments against the classic Christian view of Scripture are being retro-fitted with new lingo and updated arguments. Even within Evangelical circles there is a growing tendency to treat the Bible more as a record of the evolving religious experience of the community rather than as a revelation from heaven through human agents. In this program we will unpack the meaning of Biblical inspiration and take a look at some of the challenges that we face today.

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3 responses

  1. Interesting post. Horton’s description of “enthusiasm” reminded me of Calvin’s famous insistence that the Scriptures qua Scriptures are self-authenticating:

    “Let this point therefore stand: those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning. And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork!”

    In proposing this method of determining the canonicity of a purported book of Scripture, Calvin seems little different from “the radical Anabaptists who valued a supposedly ‘inner word’ in their hearts, a direct immediate, and private revelation over the external word.”

    1. Would you happen to have gotten this quote of Calvin from the current issue of Modern Reformation magazine? The article “The Self-Attestation of Scripture” opens with this quote, and then goes on to explain that what Calvin meant is not what enthusiasts past or present mean when they emphasize the mystical, unmediated “word” of revelation that comes to them apart from Scripture.

      The point of the article is that Calvin’s point is not that our subjective experience determines that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, but that the Spirit who inspired it testifies to the believer that it is inspired, inerrant and infallible via the unity and consistency of Scripture. In other words, the Spirit in Calvin’s conception is not revealing this to them in an unmediated subjective experience but through the objective medium of the Word of God itself as they read it and hear it read and preached. As the writer explains: “It is not that when we begin to read the book of Job, we hear an inner voice whispering to us, “This is indeed the Word of God” or “The writer of this book was indeed inspired by the Spirit” or (as we read Matthew) “Matthew did indeed write the Gospel of Matthew.” When you think about it, such a voice would not be the self-attestation of Scripture; it would be an attestation of Scripture by something other than Scripture, namely, by the whispering voice. If we listened to the voice, we would be placing our confidence primarily in it and only secondarily in Scripture.”

  2. Now Zach…there you go again…

    Calvin’s view of Scripture and Canonicity or the Pope’s? That’s an easy choice for me…as I know you think it is for you.

    My friend did a nice little post posing the issue between me (a reformed Christian) and you (a Roman Catholic):

    http://www.mjaybennett.com/2010/04/miscellanies-23-on-sola-scriptura.html

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