And now, my take…
Based on what I read in that essay, and what you will read if you click over, Spencer seems to affirm inspiration while rejecting inerrancy.
Let’s take a closer look at he essay, beginning with Spencer’s stated purpose.
First, what is the Bible? How can I think about the Bible in a way that makes some sense to me, and can be described to other people meaningfully?
Second, what do we mean when we say the Bible is inspired?
Third, I want to suggest how we might interpret the Bible in a way that clearly communicates its message.-Michael Spencer
Let me say first of all, that I have no problem with what I-Monk sets out to do here. Christians across the world need to know how to read their Bibles. However, many simply give up trying to read with any kind of understanding. They either give up reading altogether, or just keep reading because this is what they were told to do in order to grow spiritually. So I think this kind of essay could be very helpful, provided we get the right answers.
Part the First, What is the Bible?
The great conversation model has allowed me to jettison any defense of the Bible as single book whose human origins and methodologies present significant difficulties that must be explained. For instance, I view the Bible as a selection of purely human literary creations. I may lay aside my faith, as many critics do, and study the Biblical material purely in their historical and cultural settings. This eliminates the need to force the Bible to be divine in origin, and gives me the freedom to hear each Biblical writer saying what he/she had to say in the way he/she chose to say it.
Or I may read the Bible with my eyes, mind and heart alive to the faith that is at the center of the Biblical conversation. The humanity of the conversation is not an obstacle, but an invitation to understand the Bible even as we understand ourselves and our histories, experiences and cultures.-M. S.
I’ll be honest, I read that first sentence over and over again, because I was afraid that it said what I thought it said the first time I read it. It does. Apparently, Spencer believes that if we have to explain that the Bible is authored in such a way that God speaks every single word, and yet uses humans to write down those words without turning them into robots, then we have a faulty view of what the Bible actually is!
But it only gets worse, folks. Spencer goes on to say, “I view the Bible as a selection of purely human literary creations.” For Spencer, this does away with problem of Scripture being ‘God-breathed’ presents for the serious student. Compare this with what Peter tells us, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”(2Pe 1:21)
If you take away the divine element of the authorship of the Bible, the book you are left with has no meaning. So, Abraham circumcised his household, thought he heard God’s voice, Ezekiel laid on his side…so what? Then there are these four biographical books about the life of Jesus whose life ended in tragedy, because if we eliminate the divine origin of Scripture, we have effectively eliminated all the accounts of all the miracles, ergo, the resurrection is eliminated.
Now follow me here, if the Gospel is the point of Scripture, then how can we have any freedom to ‘hear’ what the writers are saying, if we have eliminated the the miraculous (prophecy, miracles, and the resurrection)? We cannot hear with understanding each individual writer without the divine perspective.
Genesis isn’t twentieth century science. Leviticus is primitive, brutal and middle eastern. The Old Testament histories are not scholarly documentaries, but religious and tribal understandings of God and events. Proverbs comes from a mongrel wisdom tradition throughout the middle east. Song of Solomon is erotic poetry, and not much else. The prophets spoke to their own times, and not to our own. The scholars who help me understand these books as they are, are not enemies of truth, but friends. Call it criticism, paint it as hostile, but I want to know what the texts in front of me are saying!-M. S.
I agree…to a point. The books of the Bible are different. They have different styles. They differ according to genre. Genesis was not written to be a science textbook. But if there are scientific statements found within Genesis which disagree with Professor Van Snooten’s Science book, which takes primacy? To the modern reader Leviticus may appear to be brutal and Middle Eastern (as is the whole Bible!), but are those God’s laws concerning the sacrifices? The historical books are religious understandings of events, but are those understandings from God’s or man’s perspective? And is not God the Author of all wisdom? Didn’t he give Solomon wisdom? Should the Song of Solomon be included in the Canon then, since it doesn’t speak of Christ, or is Christ a liar?
As for the schaolars, I’m not sure if he means liberals, or scholars who believe the Bible to be divine in origin, if the former, I strongly disagree, if the latter, I strongly agree.
The Old Testament and New Testament Canon are the selection of those parts of our spiritual literary heritage that make up the Great Conversation about the Judeo-Christian God. The Bible itself is a human book, created and complied by human choices. There may be other writings that contribute to the conversation, but those who know and experience the God of Jesus Christ hear the conversation most plainly in these writings. Canon is that human choice of what to listen to. Inspiration- the next section- is the validation and expounding of that choice.-M. S.
This is scary. Real scary. Compare Spencer’s statement to this Neo-orthodox statement;
How then, are we to regard those other books which claim to be God’s word also? There are two things to be said: first, are you a Mohammedan or a Hindu? If not, then these books do not apply to you. Second, if you still want to know how we are to regard those other books, I can tell you only one thing: a different voice is to be heard in them than that which we hear in the Bible. It is not the same God, not the Good Shepherd who comes to His sheep. It is the voice of a stranger. It may be that somehow it is God’s voice, too.-Emil Brunner, Our Faith, (Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1954) 11.
This is a direct assault on special revelation. Is there really another book in which we can hear the voice of God? Wouldn’t this mean that it is also inspired? Or is God’s voice in these books merely the product of knowledge gained through natural revelation? Still, doesn’t that make them equal in authority to the Bible, since they too are ‘purely human literary creations?’
At least Brunner takes the time to discourage the use of other texts for ‘hearing the conversation’. Not so with Spencer.
Spencer’s understanding of the ‘canon’ of Scripture is lacking as well.
Up until the Third Council of Carthage, while the 27 books of the New Testament were widely accepted, there had been no formal consensus regarding the complete canon. The importance of the canon itself is that these are the inspired words of God given to men. The Third Council of Carthage recognized that. They did not create the canon, but were created by it. And so they solidified the confidence that we as Christians should put upon these books, because they preserve for us God’s revelation of Himself, His words, the message of salvation, and instruction for the church.
And that’s not what ‘inspiration’ is. But that’s for the next section.
The conversational model allows for a number of helpful ways of approaching scripture. For instance, it allows a variety of viewpoints on a single subject, such as the problem of evil. Job argues with Proverbs. It encourages us to hear all sides of the conversation as contributing something, and doesn’t say only one voice can be heard as right. Leviticus has something important to say that Psalms may not say. This approach sees the development of understanding as a natural part of the conversation, and isn’t disturbed when a subject appears to evolve and change over time. This model allows some parts of the conversation to be wrong, so that others can be right, and the Bible isn’t diminished as a result.-M. S.
Call it my fundamentalist upbringing, or call it my status as ‘Truly Reformed’, but I cannot for the life of me understand how God contradicting Himself in Scripture does not diminish the Bible! See, Jason had it right. Scripture is not a ‘conversation’. Scripture is God speaking, and woe to humanity if we do not listen! We have nothing to contribute to God’s Word, either collectively (as the Church) or individually (as the writers of Scripture).
Let me be clear, God did most certainly use Moses, David, Ezra, the Apostles, etc. to write Scripture. And yes, there is a human element to Scripture, such as style, personality, historical setting, etc. But these cannot detract from the fact that the Bible is God’s revelation, God’s words, God’s own breath. (2 Tim. 3:16) As J. I. Packer stated very well in his great book,
Revelation is a divine activity: not, therefore, a human achievement. Revelation is not the same thing as discovery, or the dawning of insight, or the emerging of a bright idea. Revelation does not mean man finding God, but God finding man, God sharing His secrets with us, God showing us Himself. In revelation, God is the agent as well as the object. It is not just that men speak about God, or for God; God speaks for Himself, and talks to us in person. The New Testament message is that in Christ God has spoken a word for the world, a word to which all people in all ages are summoned to listen and respond.-J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken: Revelation And The Bible (Baker: Grand Rapids, 1979) 47.
And now Spencer’s concluding remark for this section;
Most importantly, this model says the Bible presents a conversation that continues until God himself speaks a final Word. In other words, I do not expect this conversation to go on endlessly. It has a point. A conclusion. And in that belief, the great Biblical conversation differs from the Great Books conversation. There is not an endless spiral of philosophical and experiential speculation. There is, as Hebrews 1 says, a final Word: Jesus.-M. S.
Amen! Christ is the final Word. He is the sum and goal of all Scripture. What human words could not reveal of the glory of God, Jesus has revealed as the Incarnate Logos. (John 1:1-18)
But sadly, in my best Columbo impersonation I must say as I wave my cigar with one hand and fumble around in my pockets with the other, “Oh…just one more thing, Bro. Spencer!” Do you believe all of Scripture up to the arrival of Jesus to be a, “spiral of philosophical and experiential speculation?” Please say, “No.”
Next, Part The Second, How Can I Say The Bible Is Inspired? Indeed, if the Bible is ‘purely human literary creations’, how can you?