Part the Second, How Can I Say The Bible Is Inspired?
This is a very good question. Since it is apparent that Spencer does not affirm inspiration in the same way that most evangelicals would, I come away confused by his desire to use the word to describe his view of Scripture. Let’s see what he has to say.
Let’s pause and take stock. I’ve said the Bible is a thoroughly human book in which human beings, involved in an experience they identify as God, select a “canon” of literature that contains a conversation about this experience of God. It is important, however, that I put forward some idea of inspiration, since orthodox Christianity requires some way to understand how God speaks in the Bible.-M. S.
Spencer’s summary of what the Bible is precludes any understanding that it is actually the words of God. He says the Bible is a thoroughly human book. With that part of the statement I can agree, and would fight for if I had read it out of context. The Bible is thoroughly human. Every one of the author’s were humans. They all wrote with their own style and used their own words, yet every on of those words are God’s words. But continuing on in Spencer’s essay, he clarifies what he means when he says that the Bible is a thoroughly human book. Essentially, he says the Bible is man’s attempt to find God. They were involved in an experience (‘God’) and they desired to express their own experience. This subjective view of Scripture cannot logically produce any objective truth. Which is going to lead Spencer down another dark road later in this section.
He states his reasoning for including a doctrine of inspiration, ‘orthodox Christianity requires some way to understand how God speaks in the Bible.’ I have two problems with this. First, Spenser appeals to an outside source for how we should view the Bible, namely, orthodox Christianity. In reality, our view of Scripture is shaped by Scripture itself, and this view produces orthodoxy.
Read any book. The way to understand the book lies in the book itself, not any outside source. Any outside source (discussion, essay, book report) about the book is based upon the book itself and not upon any other source (although other sources may be cited). As more people read the book and write about the book, more resources for better understanding are available and should be used, but these do not change the fact that the sources themselves are based upon the book. (On a side note: I doubt that Spencer would accept this illustration. His view of literature of all kinds is that it meaning in the literature is open for interpretation by the reader, and the readers interpretation may not be the author’s meaning.)
Scripture produces orthodoxy precisely by requiring a certain view of itself. In this case, Scripture claims to be ‘breathed out by God’. (2 Tim. 3:16) We must view Scripture as if it is the breath, or words, of God, even if it we do not believe that it is (I do). There is no other way to understand Scripture. If we do not seek to understand Scripture on it’s own terms, then there is no way to fully understand it.
From the beginning of the essay, Spencer has compared a collection of books called, the Great Books of the Western World, with the Bible. In both, he says, a conversation can be heard. He now contrasts the conversation in these books with the Biblical conversation…
The original Great Books essays stated that the conversation occurs without any set dogma or point of view. The student of the Great Books is free to listen to the conversation and come to any number of conclusions about God, government, reality or human nature.
The Biblical conversation is different. While the reader is free to draw conclusions, the conversation itself is compelling in its conclusions. Because this conversation continues to a point of hearing a unique Word from God, there are limits to what we may legitimately say is being said. The proper understanding of language, culture, history and text is part of this limitation. The Biblical conversation allows great freedom, but there is also agreement that when this conversation is heard honestly, it has a common stream and focus at its center. A stream and focus that reveals a particular God, his ways, his character, his message and ultimately, his Son.
Spencer, to his credit, seems to imply that he believes that there are certain non-negotiables, or’ dogmas’, in Scripture that are not open for interpretation. But to his discredit, it is only those parts which he believes point us to Christ. So his view of Scripture is a little different than his post-modern view of other books. For Spencer, while meaning is normally found in the eyes of the beholder, sometimes this is not the case. This inconsistent view is just another one of the problems with Spencer’s method. Who discerns the difference between the dogma and the non-essential? Spencer will answer this later.
Of course, we should have modest expectations of agreement on this kind of unity in the Bible, and any community of believers that claims to hear a detailed scheme of belief in the Bible is probably listening to some parts of the conversation differently than other communities. Still, even with the diversity of conclusions we will find in listening, the Christian communities that lay hold of this conversation as “their own,” have considerable broad agreement in what the conversation communicates. On the focus of that conversation, there is no contention.
At this point I want to separate myself from any kind of Christianity that sees the Bible as teaching a highly sectarian view of Christianity at the exclusion of other views. I am not shocked that Catholics and Lutherans find the words “This is my body” to mean something different than Baptists do. I am distraught that any of these parties would fail to see that we are all listening to the same texts, and disagreement isn’t because some of us are all that much smarter or better listeners. It’s because we listen to different parts of the conversation, in different ways, and we are allowed to do so.
I love confessionalism. But I despise confessionalism that doesn’t understand and respect what other confessional communities are doing in listening to the conversation. This is why, for instance, I am not personally torn up by the infant baptism debate. Listening to the Biblical conversation, there appear to be two completely plausible conclusions on the subject. I have convictions on which is right, but I have no conviction that the other fellow is so wrong that I can treat him as if he isn’t approaching the same text as I am, with the same amount of worthy respect and reverence. M. S.
This is the dark road that I mentioned earlier. For Spencer, everybody is right. Lutherans, Catholics, and Protestants are all right about body and blood of Christ in Communion. Baptists and Presbyterians are both right about Baptism. Never mind that these all contradict one another. They are all right because that is how each tradition interprets them differently. This is the most confusing part of Spencer’s essay for me. On the one hand, he loves confessionalism, but on the other, he despises the fact that the confessions are adhered to. So, while I adhere to the LCBF as the confession of choice, I must also view the WCF as equally valid. Granted, the two are very similar, but if I hold the WCF to be as equally valid as the LBCF, I am what James calls a double-minded man, unstable in all my ways. (James 1:8)
This road leads to an ecumenical understanding of Scripture, where we are all free to believe what we want, and at the same time, we can all be right. Contrary to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21, everyone who says, “Lord, Lord”, does get to enter heaven!
Next, Spencer makes a few claims. He put these in bold and they pretty well summarize his view of Scripture.
Scripture is inspired if God has, on some level and in some way, directed its production so that it says what he wants it to say.-M. S.
Yes, he has directed its production and it does say what he wants it to say. My difference with Spencer on this point is that I say every word is exactly what he wanted to say. He wanted to tell about how he created the world in six days, and he did. He wanted to tell about how Adam and Eve sinned, how he destroyed the earth with a flood, confused the languages, called Abraham out of Ur, promised a Messiah, delivered Israel out of Egypt, gave Israel the promised land, and sent his Son into the world to be the sacrifice for sinners, and he did. He wanted to reveal himself by his own words and he did. Every word is his word, every promise his promise, and every book his book.
Only the activity of God in bringing a final Word into history and into the conversation can cause this conversation to have divine implications totally beyond the human realm of origin and explanation.-M. S.
Agreed. And I also agree that Christ is that final word and the interpretive principle by which we must understand the Scriptures.
Scripture is INSPIRED BY the PRESENCE OF CHRIST throughout the conversation.-M. S.
Disagreed. Scripture is inspired because it is the words of God. And since it is the words of God it must necessarily be about what he intended it to be about, and that is Christ.
I’m wondering, where does the Holy Spirit fit into Spencer’s view of inspiration? Unless I missed it, Spencer has written an entire essay about the Bible and has not once mentioned the Holy Spirit. If holy men were moved to speak and write God’s words by the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t this merit some discussion? (2 Peter 1:21, Acts 4:25, 1 Cor. 2:13) Not if you deny inerrancy.
But if we start seeing content in that Old Testament removed and separated from Christ, we are looking at texts apart from anything that will save us. They may inform or motivate, but they will not save. And this conversation is about the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.-M. S.
So some of the Old Testament is not about Christ. What about Christ’s words,
“And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luk 24:25-27)
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?“ (Joh 5:39-47)
And Paul’s words to Timothy,
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2Ti 3:14-15)
And finally, Peter’s words,
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” (1Pe 1:10-12)
Everything in the Old Testament is about Christ. Not some of the texts, or most of the texts, but all of the texts. They reveal Christ to us. They tell us of our need for Christ, the promise of Christ, the mission of Christ, how Christ came to us, what Christ will be, when Christ will come, and how to live in the expectation of Christ’s rule.
Spencer concludes this section by finally answering the question he started with.
My entire Christian experience, I’ve been reading attempts to defend the inspiration of the Bible logically, and apologetically. Christians fear the question “How do you know the Bible is inspired by God?” more than almost any question. I do not fear that question anymore, because I have a simple answer.
“I don’t know what you mean by inspired. If you mean, how do I know it’s right and true in everything it says, then I don’t believe in that kind of inspiration. But if you mean how do I know that the Bible is God’s true communication to me, it’s simple. The Bible shows me Jesus. The reason I believe the Bible is inspired is that it shows me who Jesus is and what Jesus means. That’s the answer to all the questions that matter to me.”- M. S.
What an answer! The Bible is fallibly inspired by God. God speaks to me to reveal Christ to me, but he doesn’t use truth to do it. This is absurdity. God cannot lie, an yet his word isn’t trustworthy! (Titus 1:2)
One quick word about the truthfulness of Scripture. There are lies in Scripture. But where those lies are recorded we are sure that they are recorded with accuracy. When Job’s friends speak, we are sure that their words are accurately recorded, but God comes at the end of the book and tells Job that they are wrong. The Scriptures will always differentiate between truth and falsehood. Does this mean that parts of Job are not inspired then? That they are not the words of God? Absolutely not! The Holy Spirit inspired the writer to include those words just as he inspired the rest of the words in the Bible. They are true records of actual events that God uses to reveal himself to us.
I know this is hard to understand, but unlike Spencer, I don’t want to jettison truth just because it is hard to understand. (2 Peter 3:15-16)
Next, Part The Third, How Do I Interpret The Bible?