There seems to be a growing kind of scholarship that is seeping into the minds of our students at Bible College. This is the kind of scholarship that sees the biblical text primarily as a story. Seeing the Old Testament as story is a good thing in some respects because it helps us see the whole story of the Bible and not see the Bible as a collection of little stories that we can atomize. Also, seeing the Bible as story is that helps us see the wonderful literary geniuses that wrote the books of the Old and New Testaments.
But one of the things that is sometimes pushed in reading the OT as story is a “historyless” reading of the OT. That is that the OT narratives themselves are contain truth but their connection to history is somewhat vague at best or at worst they shouldn’t be considered as history because that is an error of genre. We need to see the texts as story and therefore the writer of the narrative may have embellished facts or added in narratives that may not have happened but contain “truth” in the sense that the narrative is saying something that is true i.e. that God is powerful. To hold onto this “historyless” reading of the story of the Old Testament one must in the end jettison any idea of Biblical inerrancy.
This sounds like theological liberalism as described by the Liberal theologian Stephen Sykes:
Liberalism in theology is that mood or cast of mind which is prepared to accept that some discovery of reason may count against the authority of that traditional affirmation in the body of Christian Theology….. For many protestant Christians the most momentous step of theological liberalism is taken when they deny the traditionally accepted belief in the inerrancy of scripture.
Stephen Sykes, Christian Theology Today, 12
But the proponents of reading the Old Testament as a “historyless” story say that Sykes has got it wrong and we who hold to the inerrancy of scripture of have got it wrong. They aren’t denying the historicity of scripture they are merely seeing that God accomodates himself to us as he speaks through the scriptures by sometimes using human errors or establishments or myth to help us get at what is true. To do anything else would be to have an Apollinarian or a Docetic view of scripture.
Apollinarianism and Doceticism are both early church heresies about the nature of Jesus They both denied that he was fully man and said in some fashion that he was only God. If we don’t read the Bible in the way our interlocutors have outlined above we are accused denying the humanity of Scripture. Now for a bible college student the last thing you want to be is a heretic so when an lecturer says something like this you quickly jump to his position because the last thing you want to be is a heretic even if they get to wear cool glasses like Rob Bell.
But this whole idea that if you hold to a traditional doctrine of scripture where you affirm innerancy you are an Apollinarian or Docetic heretic is just plain stupid. Firstly, the Apollinarian or Docetic heresies are about the person of Jesus and to use them to talk about scripture is a bad category mistake Secondly, to my knowledge those who held to the Apollinariius and Docetic heresies never spoke to the doctrine of scripture because the early church (except for the heretic Marcion) held to the full authority and the inerrancy (even if using that word is a bit anachronistic) of the scriptures. Therefore, to my knowledge, even the heretics who held to apollinarianism or doctism would have problems with the view of reading the Old Testament outlined above. And finally, this view is stupid because in the end it is not an argument but a bullying tactic. It is akin to calling someone a name where the content of that name is totally unsubstantiated. is it right to call people names and put them in boxes? Yes as long as the name fits but in this case it clearly doesn’t and therefore it is just bullying.
But what about the argument that God accommodates himself to us in scripture? Hans are you denying that? No way am I denying that! There is a good way of talking about God accommodating himself to us. I can find no better example of good accommodation than Calvin:
“Indeed, that they dared abuse certain testimonies of Scripture was due to base ignorance; just as the error itself sprang from execrable madness. The Anthropomorphites, also, who imagined a corporeal God from the fact that Scripture often ascribes to him a mouth, ears, eyes, hands, and feet, are easily refuted. For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to “lisp” in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness.”
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, , 1.13.1.
Most doctrines have an ugly sister (or brother if you want) and the doctrine of accommodation has one too. This is the Socinian view of accommodation The Socinian view of accommodation is where God stoops to use erroneous conceptions of humans as vehicles for divine communication. Or in other words God uses human errors or establishments or myth to help us get at what is true. What is the difference in the Socinus’ view of accommodation and Calvin’s view? Calvin appealed to accommodation to reconcile apparent contradictions in scripture, Socinus accepted the contradictions and used accommodation to explain why and how they happened. These two men we see two ways of using the historical doctrine of accommodation. Calvin’s orthodox view uses accommodation to hold to the integrity of the scriptures. Socnius’ view uses accomodation to undermine the scriptures. (This section is heavily indebted to ““The Peril of a ‘Historyless’ Systematic Theology” By Graham Cole in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?)
If you are being taught to see the Scriptures as story in a way that is undercutting the historicity of the scriptures by saying things didn’t happen as they are in scripture or something similar to this be wary. This kind of teaching comes about every few decades and ultimately it is not the generation that hears this teaching that suffers but the ensuing generations that suffer as the line of what is correct gets moved further and further to the left of biblical orthodoxy. (On this point see “‘Intellectual Respectability’ and Scripture” in Iain Murray’s book Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000.)
The view of scripture I have confronted in this blog is taught by Godly men who think they are doing the right thing. They are kind, fun to be around and some of the guys who teach this I would consider my friends. But ultimately their view of the scriptures is out of line with traditional orthodoxy and should be rejected. The future of the preaching of the gospel is at stake.
If you want to read further on these issues read the book that I think should be required reading by everyone at Bible College called Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary.
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