Friday, December 05, 2008

Holy Scripture and Authority in the Church

Sometimes I'm asked about where I stand on the doctrine of the "inerrancy" of Scripture. As a Catholic Christian - specifically an Anglican, I have philosophical problems when I try to interact with the 1977 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Here's what I can say.

I read and meditate daily upon the Bible, usually in the context of the Daily Office, and often in a practice of Lectio. My reading of the Scriptures continually guides me in understanding my own life within the larger story of God's salvation of the world and ongoing creation of his Church. In reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting the Scriptures, I am challenged and directed to grow more deeply into the likeness of Jesus Christ, and to give glory to the Father, empowered by the Spirit.

A discussion of the authority of Scripture is essentially shorthand for how God exercises his authority in the Church through Sacred Scripture.* The canonical Scriptures represent the theological basis for all development in the Church's teaching and piety, and as a "norming norm," it also critiques the faithfulness of those developments in terms of their fidelity to the person and work of Jesus Christ, the head of the Church. The biblical narrative offers the story of the triune God who created and loves the world, and seeks to save it through the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the sending of the Church which began at Pentecost. This narrative guides the Church in its faithfulness to this mission. The authority of the New Testament is expressed wonderfully in a statement from the bishops gathered at Lambeth in 1958:
"The church is not over the holy scriptures, but under them, in the sense that the process of canonization was not one whereby the church conferred authority on the books, but one whereby the church acknowledged them to possess authority. And why? The books were recognized as giving the witness of the apostles to the life, teaching, death and resurrection of the Lord, and the interpretation by the apostles of these events. To that apostolic authority the church must ever bow. 
Jesus Christ himself is the mediator and fullness of all revelation, and the New Testament authoritatively offers the apostolic witness to that revelation, from which we may never deviate. The Scriptures teach faithfully and without error that truth which God wished them to contain. As God sends his Church into the the world on mission, he continually calls us to receive afresh that apostolic testimony.

*See N.T. Wright's little book, Scripture and the Authority of God, or in the US, The Last Word.


byron smith said...

Nice work. I like your answer.

Jason said...

Kyle, new here. I'm a friend of Ryan Gabbard's.

N.T. Wright's view of the Bible as an incomplete play has helped me quite a bit. The story has been told in the first four acts (Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus). Now it's up to us to "write" the fifth act.

Garrett said...

But But But Seven Days! :0)

This is obviously a beautifully crafted answer. It makes me happy that their is a religious bureaucracy that might accept an answer of this question without requiring ridiculous statements about how the Bible is really a science textbook and organic chemistry is the devil.

Anonymous said...

That works for me.

The Chicago Statement has some nice nuancing, too. It's been awhile since I read through it but I remember feeling surprised and pleased when I read it a couple years ago.

Chris Larimer said...

Holy Scripture must be understood incarnationally. Just as Christ – the Living Word – is both God and Man, yet one person… so the Scriptures – the Written Word – are both human and divine, yet one revelation. The Scriptures (as acknowledged universally) are free from error in their autographs, and are correct in everything to which they speak – including matters of history. We can have great confidence in the texts handed down to us. However, because they were written in a specific time and place, among a specific people group, in specific literary forms, it is necessary to study both the languages and the historical situatedness of the Scriptures in order to let them fully speak to our day with the same power they prophetically bore when first uttered.

None of this scholarship, however, should move us from the foundations laid by the Reformers of the English Church - especially in their unremitting confidence that God Almighty had spoken therein. "If there were any word of God beside the Scripture, we could never be certain of God's Word; and if we be uncertain of God's Word, the devil might bring in among us a new word, a new doctrine, a new faith, a new church, a new god, yea himself to be a god. If the Church and the Christian faith did not stay itself upon the Word of God certain, as upon a sure and strong foundation, no man could know whether he had a right faith, and whether he were in the true Church of Christ, or a synagogue of Satan." - ++THOMAS CRANMER, ON HOLY SCRIPTURE

Kyle said...

Thank you for your kind words, friends. Jason, I also appreciate Wright's "unfinished play" conception, and I think it's really helpful for talking about the way God actually works his authority through the Scriptures.

Katie and Chris, thanks for dropping by. As you might infer from my response, I do reject the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (did you see what shibboleth was missing from my statement?), and do not believe myself competent to speak of autographs, as I have not yet seen them myself. But I'll keep giving money to those archeological digs in the meantime.

Chris, I would be interested in hearing from Scripture and/or the teaching of the undivided Church what warrant we would have to understand the authority of Scripture through the lens of the Incarnation.

byron smith said...

Chris - have you seen John Webster's little book Holy Scripture? He makes what I think is quite an important argument against seeing Scripture as a type of incarnation. He thinks this approach undermines the uniqueness of the Incarnation, turning it into a principle theoretically able to be applied in other situations too. If Scripture is itself divine (not simply divinely sanctified), then we also have the real danger of a fourth member of the trinity (or of the loss of pneumatology).

Jody Howard said...

The language of inerrancy, as much as it accomplishes anything, reveals the fact that the fundamentalist/modernist split was not a matter of faithfully orthodox separating themselves from those with liberal leanings, but rather that they are simply two sides of the same rationalistic reductionist modernist coin. It's a shame to see it playing such a prominent role in the question and you did well in your response to shift away from this language and the trajectory of thought it encourages and to instead focus on the scriptures as the narrative of God's revelation and interaction with his people, culminating in God made flesh, Jesus Christ. The citation from the 1958 Lambeth conference statement on scripture was a very good touch as well--if one is going to use the name Anglican, then it is important to be immersed in the tradition and to be primarily, though not exclusively, in dialogue with the Anglican tradition and the broader tradition of the Church Catholic. It is, I think, a mistake of some of my fellow conservative Anglicans/Episcopalians, to get far too caught up in the sectarian protestantism that defines the contemporary American scene. Part of this is, of course, because there has been no significant evangelical presence in TEC since the 1870's, and it is difficult to know what an Anglican Evangelical is unless one has been to England or perhaps Australia.

At any rate, good answer to what I can only see as a question that could have been asked in a much better way.

SaintSimon said...

Jody is spot on in saying the question could have been worded better.

I suppose it's really asking "are you one of us [AMiA] or one of them [TEC]?"

Kyle's response is excellent in bringing us back to what the real issue is.

Byron is right to be cautious of over-playing incarnationalism in this context. And where the high church has been perhaps too strong on this, Evangelicals make the same mistake in different language by making the Bible THE WORD OF GOD - a title reserved for Christ, and when they say "THE BIBLE SAYS" they frequently make it into an idol in its own right.

Personally, I am very strong on Biblical inerrancy, and equally strong on it's interpreters' ERRANCY. As Paul says - We who teach make many mistakes.

Chris Larimer said...


You might want to check John 10:35 and Matthew 15:6 to see Jesus' opinion about what constituted the word of God.


Anonymous said...

I've started reading N.T. Wright here recently. What a help in opening up a new understanding of Scripture!

Anonymous said...

where has kyle gone?