Evangelicals And Biblical Authority: A Review Article -- By: Carl F. H. Henry
JETS 23:2 (June 1980) p. 139
Evangelicals And Biblical Authority: A Review Article
Evangelicals at an Impasse: Biblical Authority in Practice. By Robert K. Johnston. Atlanta: John Knox, 1979, 178 pp., $6.95 paper.
Johnston, associate professor of religion at Western Kentucky University, reminds fellow evangelicals that despite their common profession of Biblical authority their divisions over key issues seem to be deepening. He insists that the conservative crisis is really one of hermeneutics and that only community consen-sus-building can cope with conflicting views. This collective strategy must keep in view not only Biblical authority, he holds, but traditional formulations and contemporary cultural judgments also.
Johnston presents a pithy and orderly summary of evangelical concord and conflict on several controversial issues. He focuses on inspiration and social ethics, particularly the issues of women in Church and society, and homosexuality. He reflects divergent views with objectivity and with high accuracy.
He pursues an objectively sharable meaning in the Biblical texts. He has no brief for experiential Christianity that glosses over doctrinal concerns. He stresses the Bible’s forefront emphasis on Scriptural authority rather than inerrancy and holds that the issue of interpretation precedes that of inerrancy or erfancy (p. 35). But, we would ask, if the text is inherently errant, what transcendent import has even the right interpretation? Johnston seems uneasy because “outsiders have often regarded evangelicals as holding… to a belief in Biblical inerrancy” (p. 15). He thinks this commitment post-Reformation and peculiarly American, but not the Church’s historical position. He opposes hinging the credibility of Christianity on Biblical inerrancy (p. 41).
Johnston distinguishes detailed inerrantists (Lindsell and Schaeffer: autographic inerrancy the watershed of true and false evangelicals; errancy a conduit to apostasy), irenic inerrantists (Pinnock and Fuller: the Bible must define its inerrancy by genre and purpose), complete infallibilists (Hubbard, who alters traditional meanings), and partial infallibilists (Beegle and Davis: external criteria decide Scripture’s trustworthiness). Johnston’s criticisms are penetrating. The terms inerrant, infallible and trustworthy, he notes, have become pawns in a theological chess game involving institutions and image.
Johnston seeks to limit the scope of Biblical error. He protests “premature judgment that there is ‘error’ in the intended message” (n. b.) of Biblical writers (p. 148). Scripture cannot be scientifically precise, he says, because it was written prior to modern science. But suppose next century’s scientists co...
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