Inspiration And Inerrancy: A New Departure -- By: John Warwick Montgomery

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 08:2 (Spring 1965)
Article: Inspiration And Inerrancy: A New Departure
Author: John Warwick Montgomery

Inspiration And Inerrancy: A New Departure

John Warwick Montgomery

If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? Jn. 3:12

In his classic work, The Progress of Dogma, James Orr contended that the Christian Church, in each great epoch of its history, has been forced to come to grips with one particular doctrine of crucial significance both for that day and for the subsequent history of the Church.1 In the Patristic era, the issue was the relation of the persons of the Godhead, and particularly the christological problem of Jesus’ character; the Ecumenical Creeds represent the success of Orthodox, Trinitarian theology over against numerous christological heresies, any one of which could have permanently destroyed the Christian faith. Medieval Christianity faced the issue of the meaning of Christ’s atonement, and Anselm’s “Latin doctrine,” in spite of its scholastic inadequacies, gave solid expression to biblical salvation-history as represented by the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the Reformation Era, the overarching doctrinal problem facing the Church was the application of redemption in justification; Luther’s stand for sola gratia, sola fide arrested an anthropocentric trend which could have turned the Christian faith into little more than pagan, religiosity.

And contemporary Christianity? What great doctrinal issue does the modern Church face? Writing just before the turn of the present century, Orr thought that he could see in Eschatology the unique doctrinal challenge for modern Christianity. Subsequent events, however, have proven this judgment wrong: the doctrinal problem which, above all others, demands resolution in the modern Church is that of the authority of Holy Scripture. All other issues of belief today pale before this issue, and indeed root in it; for example, ecumenical discussions, if they are doctrinal in nature, eventually and inevitably reach the question of religious authority— what is the final determinant of doctrinal truth, and how fully can the Bible be relied upon to establish truth in theological dialog? As the Patristic age faced a christological watershed, as the Medieval and Reformation churches confronted soteriological crises, so the contemporary Church finds itself grappling with the great epistemological question in Christian dogmatics.2

And, let it be noted with care: just as the Church in former times could have permanently crippled its posterity through superficial or misleading answers to the root-qu...

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