Inspiration And Criticism: The Nineteenth-Century Crisis -- By: Nigel M. de S. Cameron

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 035:1 (NA 1984)
Article: Inspiration And Criticism: The Nineteenth-Century Crisis
Author: Nigel M. de S. Cameron

Inspiration And Criticism: The Nineteenth-Century Crisis

Nigel M. de S. Cameron


Van Austin Harvey, in his discussion of the nature of history and its implications for the Christian faith, has remarked that ‘the entire history of Christian theology may be regarded as the history of Biblical interpretation. This is especially true’, he adds, ‘of Protestant theology, because it has been characterized from the outset by appeal to the Bible as the sole norm of faith and practice (sola scriptura). It is just for this reason that Biblical criticism poses such a fateful problem for the Protestant community.’1

And a fateful problem it has proved to be. The intellectual character of modern evangelicalism has, for better or worse, been decisively shaped by the nineteenth-century debates about the handling of the Bible. Moreover, arguably the most significant debate current within the evangelical movement today is that which has focussed upon the word ‘inerrancy’, in effect a re-opening of the debate of a century ago between those believers who essentially accepted what they called ‘Criticism’, and those who sought to repudiate it.2 The ‘rejectionist’ character of most evangelical

thought since then, though it has had its problems in the coherent statement of an alternative position, is evident - from, for example, the assumptions which have been allowed to undergird the policy of publishers such as IVP. And the influence of American evangelicalism of the Princeton-Westminster type on recent developments in Britain has re-affirmed this posture as, at least, the ‘majority report’ of the post-war movement.

We shall confine our comments to the British scene, which differed of course from debates on the Continent and in North America, but in form and period rather than content. We shall begin by taking some soundings in the doctrine of Scripture which was the orthodox and traditional in the first part of the century, and which, indeed, until long after the Essays and Reviews debate began to shake the foundations, remained the consensus doctrine. We then proceed to a suggested analysis of the debate which has implications for more recent discussion.


The nineteenth century opened with British Christianity little ruffled by the debates about Biblical Criticism in which continental scholars were already engaged. Generally speaking, little was known of them. There was no lack of awareness of the challenges that had been levelled at orthodoxy during the Deist controversy of the century preceding, but only comf...

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