April 08, 2009

A. T. B. McGowan, The Divine Authenticity of Scripture

I am way behind on my posting, and this one has been on my desk for well over a month now. I've been reading a lot of books lately that I have really appreciated. And this one is no different. In the very contested area that is the evangelical doctrine of Scripture, McGowan makes what I believe to be a very valuable and important contribution. First, he sets out to situate the current evangelical landscape with regard to Scripture, and particularly inerrancy, in its historical context, focusing especially on the rise of liberal theology and biblical criticism in the nineteenth century and on the conservative reaction in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His purpose is to show that the doctrine of inerrancy was formulated in a very particular landscape. He further asserts that while if pressed he would choose an "inerrantist" position over an "errantist" one, he presses the discussion in a different direction, proposing a reformulation of the doctrine and a retrieval of the term "infallible" as a robust alternative. He then concludes his study with studies of how the doctrine of Scripture should relate to confessions and also how it relates to preaching and the proclamation of the Word.

There are a number of reasons why I think McGowan's contribution is to be particularly commended. First, I think it lends a very important non–North American perspective to this debate, and firmly and repeatedly demonstrates how the errantist vs. inerrantist debate may be raising a false dichotomy, or at least asking the wrong question. And as he demonstrates, this isn't incompatible with many of the more nuanced inerrantist positions, in which the notion of "error" is carefully qualified to fit with the setting and intention of the Bible's authors. Second, I think McGowan's restatement of the doctrine helpfully emphasizes Scripture's role in the Trinitarian economy of communication, and emphasizes the need to move it from a prolegomenon to an item under the doctrine of God in theological statements and considerations of doctrine. (Incidentally, the new Evangelical Free Church in America Statement of Faith does just this, moving the statement on Scripture from first to second.) Another helpful facet of McGowan's book is that he proposes a constructive doctrine of Scripture based around the word infallibility, and is careful to mine the work of past evangelicals, especially Herman Bavnick, showing how others have approached the doctrine and how it fits into their larger theological program.

Much more could be said about this very interesting book. I need to continue digesting a number of his arguments, but I will certainly keep this book close at hand as I continue to reflect on these extremely important theological questions.

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