What Is An Evangelical? Part 4.1: Inspiration
First, a shout out to J Hearne for doing what I hoped might happen among the more serious readers–interact! Raise questions! Dialogue! The biggest point of this particular series (which I’m probably at fault for not making clear at the outset) was to flesh out what exactly an “evangelical” is as well as what evangelical “distinctives” are. This is all being done for both generous and selfish reasons: generously, to inform and educate others, and selfishly, to educate myself and form a theological perspective consistent with Scripture and what I believe. Hopefully what I believe is consistent with Scripture! To see Mr. Hearne’s comment on Part 4, mosey over to the sidebar and click on “Part 4: Scripture.” It’s at the end of the post.
Mr. Hearne correctly implies to me by the depth of his comment that this particular post is pretty superficial. Yeah, it is. It’s not meant to be indepth but superficial, expressly because I want this to be basic and explanatory. But he is correct in making me feel as if I could have explained it better. So let’s take a post here to work on that from his remarks.
For this installment, let’s start with different views of inspiration.
Plenary View. This view, I understand it, is what is held by the majority of evangelicals today, especially Southern Baptists. What this view means is that the influence of the Holy Spirit over the writers of Scripture extended beyond the thoughts to the selection of the very words which the authors chose. Yet this influence of the Holy Spirit did not amount to a verbal dictation. The term often adopted is that of “concursus,” or confluent authorship, i.e. That every word is both fully divine and fully human. This is likely where Southern Baptists in particular glean the concept of inerrancy. I would venture to guess this is also a Calvinistic view of inspiration as well, as it holds to the absolute sovereignty of God.
If I am understanding Mr. Hearne correctly, the dynamic view to which he alludes holds that inspiration is not simply a natural but a supernatural fact, and it is the immediate work of a personal God in the soul of man. It is an attempt to balance the role of God and humans in the writing of Scripture. It holds that inspiration belongs, not only to the men who wrote the Scriptures, but to the Scriptures they wrote, so that these Scriptures, when taken together, constitute a sufficient record of divine revelation. The Scriptures contain a human as well as a divine element, so that while they present a body of divinely revealed truth, this truth is shaped into human molds and adapted to human intelligence. In short it is neither natural, partial, nor mechanical, but supernatural, plenary and dynamic.
The mechanical view, unless I miss my guess, is the belief that the writers of Scripture were nothing more than secretaries, taking down Scripture as the Holy Spirit (or as is said by many, God) dictated it to them. Thus is is also more commonly called the dictation theory of inspiration. What this view seeks to safeguard is the absolute divinity of the Scriptures. Proponents deny that the biblical authors engaged in historical research, utilized documents or oral tradition. All Scripture is seen as having come directly from God to the human writers. This view is commonly held by fundamentalists.
Now, the dictation (or mechanical) view is easily dismissed by a look at the introduction to Luke/Acts found in Luke 1:1-4:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
As a friend of mine and I have been discussing, one verse or text does not establish a doctrine, but this text by itself demolishes the mechanical view. So I do not think evangelicals subscribe to a mechanical view of inspiration. Granted, there are places where Scripture is in fact dictated (the letters to the seven churches of Revelation comes to mind), but this is not true for Scripture as a whole, as Luke makes clear. Paul also passes on what might be an early Christian creed (see
Part 2: The Gospel), further illustrating that a mechanical view is not how Scripture was inspired.
So that leaves us with the dynamic and plenary views. I will be the first to confess that I know very little about the dynamic view of inspiration, and I invite readers (especially Mr. Hearne) to post on their own blogs an explanation to which I will link or to send me an email explaining it which I will post here.
I would say that at this time I hold to a plenary view of inspiration, since I am a believer in the full sovereignty of God. God through the working of the Holy Spirit moved the writers of Scripture to write the things they did, to accomplish His purposes in revelation. That these things are revealed in human terms illustrates nothing more than the means by which God has revealed Himself. While He does not dictate (letters to the seven churches aside, of course), He does move humans as He wills to accomplish His purposes, and this is seen throughout Scripture.
Next time (part 4.2) we’ll discuss how this view interacts with the concept of inerrancy.