S. T. Coleridge And The Attack On Inerrancy -- By: Daniel Hoffman

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 07:2 (Fall 1986)
Article: S. T. Coleridge And The Attack On Inerrancy
Author: Daniel Hoffman


S. T. Coleridge And The Attack On Inerrancy

Daniel Hoffman

Miami University

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) is often recognized today only as a great English romantic poet, but in the nineteenth century he was better known as a theologian.1 Indeed, he was a philosopher, literary critic, scholar, writer, and “talker” and several recent works have examined his influence on English thought in these areas.2 He earned his income largely as a lecturer: he was not an ordained minister (although he had considered becoming a Unitarian minister while a student at Cambridge), and his religious writings therefore reflect the views of an educated layman who did not have to fear that his opinions would offend his congregation or a religious superior. Nevertheless, after flirting with pantheism, Unitarianism, and German rationalistic philosophies, he became a champion of traditional Christian beliefs after about 1810.3 This is not meant to imply that he was ever thoroughly orthodox: his extensive borrowing from other writers,4 including people like Spinoza and Lessing,5 would never have

made him popular with ecclesiastical authorities.6 However, his effect on English thought should not be minimized: J. S. Mill, who was not in sympathy with Coleridge on many points, still called him one of “the two great seminal minds of England” (the other was Jeremy Bentham), and added that “there is hardly to be found in England an individual of any importance… who did not first learn to think from one of these two.”7

This essay will demonstrate that Coleridge helped develop and popularize in the English speaking world the notion that the Bible is infallible only in religious matters. By studying Coleridge, those who influenced him, and those whom he influenced, we can add historical context to the recent debate among evangelicals on biblical inerrancy.8 Indeed, the history of Christian thought about Scripture has become an important area of study (even beyond its significance for Western religious and cultural development) because of the modern attempt by those who deny the complete accuracy and truth of the Bible (and by those who uphold it) to claim that their own position is the view that has predominated throughout the history of Christianity.9

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