John Walton’s “Lost Worlds” And God’s Loosed Word: Implications For Inerrancy, Canon, And Creation -- By: E. Jerome Van Kuiken

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 58:4 (Dec 2015)
Article: John Walton’s “Lost Worlds” And God’s Loosed Word: Implications For Inerrancy, Canon, And Creation
Author: E. Jerome Van Kuiken


John Walton’s “Lost Worlds” And God’s Loosed Word: Implications For Inerrancy, Canon, And Creation

E. Jerome Van Kuiken*

* Jerome Van Kuiken is associate professor of ministry and Christian thought at Oklahoma Wesleyan University, 2201 Silver Lake Road, Bartlesville, OK 74006.

For some time now, John Walton has been challenging fellow evangelicals to interpret the Bible’s trustworthy message in light of its ancient context. His 2013 book The Lost World of Scripture, co-authored with colleague Brent Sandy,1 applies insights from speech-act theory and oral cultural studies to the question of biblical authority. Walton and Sandy’s conclusions have significant ecumenical implications. This essay first summarizes some of Walton and Sandy’s key conclusions and then looks at the implications for bridging two divides in the church: the debate over biblical inerrancy and the debate over the contents of the biblical canon. I will relate my findings to the doctrine of creation in dialogue with Walton’s newest release, The Lost World of Adam and Eve.

At the end of their book, Walton and Sandy voice their concern: “For many evangelicals, inerrancy may be tied too closely to exact words in written forms of revelation, to original autographs and to standards of accuracy based on modern historiography” (p. 306). By contrast, The Lost World of Scripture offers us the loosed Word of God: biblical authority that is loosed from being “tied too closely” to autographs or strict wording or modern standards of science and historiography. The authors also invite further exploration based on their proposals (pp. 307, 309). This essay takes them up on their offer. First, however, we must survey the proposals themselves.

I. A Tour Of The Lost World Of Scripture

Walton and Sandy grant that divine revelation in Scripture is accommodated to ancient assumptions about the physical world and premodern practices of historiography, both of which may fall short of modern standards of scientific and historical accuracy. The authors, though, deny that it is appropriate to measure Scripture by modern standards. Here speech-act theory comes into play: the Bible’s inerrancy is properly located not in its locutions (the words used) but in its illocutions (the truths that the human and divine communicators intended to convey by means of the words used). For instance, the Israelites who produced the OT likely believed in geocentrism and the presence of celestial waters behind the solid vault of

the sky. But so long as they and God did not intend to teach cosmograph...

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