SCRIPTURE, TRADITION AND INFALLIBILITY, by Dewey M. Beegle; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973; 332 pp., $4.95 (paper).
The controversy concerning the doctrine of Scripture goes on, and many books, articles and pamphlets continue to stream from the presses as the debate continues. The debate is not so much between conservative scholars and liberals — as it was up until fifty or so years ago; it is now a debate which is carried on within conservative and evangelical circles. This is not to say that the higher critical attacks against Scripture no longer have any influence on the debate; quite the contrary is the case. But in many conservative and evangelical circles, concessions of critical importance have been made to liberal higher critics, and there has been a certain attempt made to preserve the historic views concerning inspiration and infallibility while accepting the findings and conclusions of higher critical studies. This is to be deplored because, in the long run, it means that the doctrine of Scripture is lost.
What has happened in conservative circles that so many concessions have been made to higher criticism? What has brought about this rather radical change from the historic and traditional view of Scripture to one in which the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture is denied within conservative circles. It seems to me, as I read the literature, that the trouble is that conservative scholars have made a fatal error in methodology. I mean to say that conservative scholars have taken an entirely wrong approach in the defense of these truths and have adopted a method of defense which is guaranteed to lead them, step by step, into the liberal camp. I refer to the fact that the debate has become an argument which makes use of rationalistic methods. The critics of Scripture, beginning already in the 17th century, have attacked Scripture onrationalistic grounds. Those who have risen to the defense of the truth of Scripture have, especially in recent years, done so at times in a rationalistic way. Perhaps they have been stung by the criticism that their arguments lack scholarship — a charge not infrequently leveled against those who have defended the truth of Scripture on the grounds of faith. Perhaps they have been enamored with the detailed and involved lines of argumentation which the liberal critics employed. Whatever may have been the reason, they have adopted the liberal methodology of rationalistic defense of this truth. They have in effect, allowed the liberals to choose the battlefield. They have capitulated on the all-important question of what weapons will be used in the battle. They have forgotten that the doctrine of the Scriptures is an article of faith, that it is a part of the confession of the child of God, and that, therefore, this truth (as well as all the truths of the believer’s confession) must be defended on the basis of Scripture alone.
By allowing the critical opponents of Scripture to choose the battlefield and determine the weapons to be used in the conflict, they have themselves approached the defense of Scripture with the weapons of rationalistic argument. This is a serious fault. It is a serious fault, in the first place, because the basic assumption is that the truth of God is a matter of human reason and can be gained by the exercise of reason. This immediately removes the truth of Scripture from the area of faith and, almost inevitably, removes it from the area of the miraculous. Scripture is a “natural” phenomenon, and, as such, can be defended by scientific investigation and rationalistic defense. In the second place, this is so serious because of the fact that it obliterates the fundamental antithesis between faith and unbelief. The defense of the truth of Scripture is not, in the final analysis, a matter of mere argumentation. It is not a matter of who constructs the best argument, the most logical and reasonable apologetic; it is not a matter of who employs most accurately scientific investigation and faces the scientifically discovered evidence the most honestly. It is not a matter of overwhelming weight in a formal debate. The defense of the truth of Scripture is a matter of the defense of the faith. It is part of the battle of faith. And the antithesis between faith and unbelief is sharp and absolute. Those who do not come to Scripture with faith cannot see the things of the kingdom of God. For unbelief is a spiritual blindness which makes it impossible for the man devoid of faith to receive the truth of Scripture. Only the God-given power of faith enables a man to see and understand the truth as it is given in God.
This is not to say, of course, that the defense of the faith does not have an intellectual dimension. Scripture, in several places, emphasizes this. Peter, inI Peter 2:1, calls the preaching the “wordy” milk which we need to nourish us; and one of the implications of his statement is that we appropriate that truth which God has revealed with our minds. Later on in the same epistle (3:15) Peter speaks of the fact that we must be ready always to give an answer (an apology) to those who ask us a reason for the hope that is within us.
Nevertheless, the viewpoint is one of faith. And in our controversy with those who deny the truth, the viewpoint is one of faith over against unbelief. Jesus speaks of the fact that unto the disciples it was given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables.Mark 4:11. And in I Corinthians 2:12-14; Paul writes: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
The point is that the man who comes with rationalistic arguments adopts the methodology of unbelief. He makes concessions to unbelief. But this approach can never discover the truth which is found in Scripture, nor the truth of the Scriptures themselves. Only faith can know these truths. But faith is that power which God bestows upon His people by which they receive the Scriptures as the final and authoritative rule of all their faith and life. Faith clings to the Scriptures. Faith does not exalt human reason above the Scriptures; faith bows, as a little child, before God’s Word. Only in this way can the truth be discovered and maintained. This is true of all the truth; this is also true of the doctrine of Scripture. Scripture gives us the doctrine of Scripture. It cannot be found anywhere else.
Now what does all this have to do with the book, the title of which appears at the beginning of this article?
There have been many, even conservative and evangelical scholars, who have attempted to defend the Scriptures with rationalistic arguments. No matter what the results of these efforts were, already a major concession had been made to liberalism. Even though some of these conservative and evangelical scholars have come to conclusions which are in keeping with Scripture’s teaching concerning its own infallibility and authority, the very fact that they have used a wrong method has put them in an extremely precarious position. In fact, to the extent they have maintained Scripture’s inerrancy, they have abandoned their rationalistic approach and come to rest in the statements of their faith. But to the extent they have adopted rationalistic methods, they have made themselves vulnerable to increasingly fierce attacks from higher critics. The result of all this has been that there has risen a certain ambiguity in many conservative writings. There is a kind of double track. On the one hand, they claim to defend and believe in infallibility; but on the other hand, they modify this very doctrine at key points. As this trend becomes increasingly common, all attempts to maintain inerrancy are abandoned.
The book under review is a striking illustration of this very thing. The author, while considering himself a conservative and evangelical, no longer makes pretence of defending infallibility. In fact, he openly and forthrightly attacks this doctrine and pleads with the Church to abandon her position in this respect. He rather scornfully characterizes those who defend inerrancy as having a “Maginot-line mentality,” and claims it is high time to get rid of all these indefensible notions concerning inerrancy and authority.
How does he come to this position?
The answer to this question strikes, in my opinion, at the very heart of the argument of the book. Although this subject is not treated extensively until well on in the book, the author makes a strong plea o-f an inductive method of determining the whole doctrine concerning Scripture, as over against the so-called deductive method.
What does the author mean by this distinction? Although the matter is discussed in various parts of the book (and, by the way, this is evidence of one of the weaknesses of the book, i.e., that it is not well organized), in general, the inductive method means: 1) That there is no definite teaching in Scripture concerning the doctrine of Scripture. That is, he rejects the contention which has been historically the claim of the Church that Scripture itself gives us the doctrine of infallibility, inspiration, revelation, authority, etc. What the Church has believed concerning these things is inferences, not specific and explicit teaching of Scripture. 2) For this reason, we cannot go to Scripture to learn what Scripture teaches concerning itself, except in a very general way. Even the classic passages in II Timothy 3:15-16 and II Peter 1:20-21 do not give us any specific doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy — although Beegle very lightly and without any thorough discussion, brushes these passages aside. 3) Hence, in the author’s opinion, the approach which must be taken in determining the doctrine concerning Scripture is the scientific approach. That is, one must apply the scientific method by collecting all the available data and coming to certain conclusions on the basis of an evaluation of this data. 4) What is included in this data? Well, one must reckon with “extra-canonical” writings, for this is evidence. One must pay close attention to apocryphal writings, for they have evidence which must be considered. One must apply to Scripture itself literary and historical criticism so as to determine the worth and value of each individual writing. One must take into account the tradition of the Church and evaluate the “authority” of tradition. All these things and more are necessary for one to come to a “doctrine” concerning Scripture’s inspiration, inerrancy, authority, etc.
The author is conscious of the fact that this is the approach of reason, but he defends this. He writes, e.g., on pp. 217, 218:
The only way to break out of this circular reasoning (i.e., that Scripture is infallible because Scripture itself teaches this, H.H.) (with its implicit claim of inerrant interpretation) is to employ our reason objectively with respect to all the evidence, biblical and otherwise.
He rejects, therefore, the approach of faith, and adopts the rationalism of the higher critics.
The result of this is that he has no Scripture left. He would, of course; deny this. But it is true nonetheless.
We shall have to wait till next time to demonstrate this from the book itself; but let there be a warning in this that faith alone can be the position of the child of God in his defense of Scripture.
(to be continued)