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THE INERRANCY OF SCRIPTURE AND THE FREEWILL THEORY
By R. K. McGregor Wright, Ph.D.
This two-part article is continued from:
The Inerrancy of Scripture and Freewill Theory - Part One.
V. THE CASE OF JOHN'S WRITINGS
When John in his later life finally got out the last edition of his Gospel in its simple and elegant Greek, with its beautiful chiasmic literary structures and story-telling style, he was working under totally different circumstances from those he confronted later on Patmos. There he was often alone, exiled as a political prisoner, isolated from his normal pastoral surroundings. Suddenly he was inundated with weird and extravagant visions of supernatural power and phantasmagoric dimensions. He was told to write what he saw. The visions must have had a truly bizarre effect on his normally imperturbable mind. They were very stark and disturbing, and the result of these experiences was the apocalyptic "Book of Revelation," so different from the serene Gospel, yet full of Johannine connections.
The strange visions were clearly in the same category as those of Ezekiel, Zechariah and Daniel, but they produced an astounding effect on John. All sorts of grammatical curiosities, strange verbal conjunctions, odd Hebraic Greek expressions and rare words were dredged up from his subconscious by the process of inspiration; if anybody was ever "born along by the Holy Spirit," it was John when he received the Book of Revelation! Yet the result was still the inerrant text which finally got to the seven original recipient churches of chapters 1-3.
The Holy Spirit utilized between 300 and 400 verbal connections to the Old Testament to produce the Revelation of John, and we have spent the last 2000 years exploring and unraveling these connections, to understand all the details. Yet the central message is actually quite clear enough to preach, and every believer gets valuable truth from it for the path of life. The personal blessings from studying this book are enormous and lasting!
Our conclusion must be that if ever there was a case for the idea that the experience of producing an inspired text involves the overriding of one's usual modes of expression, the Book of Revelation would be such a case. The Calvinistic point however, is that every choice John made while writing down his visions, was under God's sovereign control so that he freely, and out of his own unique nature as an Apostle, wrote exactly what God caused him to write. Yet the whole of John's history and character and experience and unique makeup as a person was taken up into the experience and became part of the process except his sin. The result therefore, was exactly and inerrantly what God wanted it to be, grammatical blunders and Hebraistic Greek sentences and weird vocabulary and all.
At no point did John not write what he wanted to write, but he always wanted just what God wanted him to write. This is what is meant by "free" when Calvinists use the term "freewill." The text resulting was "inspired" and therefore inerrant, being God-breathed, as Paul puts it. God was its ultimate source and it therefore was inerrant as God is inerrant. Further, it no more follows from God's controlling the entire process that John was "dehumanized" by a "mechanical" dictation than it follows that he owned a cat. If anybody is "dehumanized" it would be the person who is not free in reality ("free indeed") because the Son has not freed him (John 8:36) by regenerating his will, thereby giving him the "right to become a son of God" (John 1:11-12).
VI. PRESUPPOSITIONS AGAIN
The reasoned arguments we use as believers are only as true to reality as the axioms, assumptions, or presuppositions on which the arguments are based. Our presuppositions control our reasoning much like the rules of the game of Chess control what counts as a valid move on the board; they predetermine the limits of possibility. But presuppositions, particularly after they are brought out into the open and clearly identified, are "thoughts" which must be "brought into captivity to Christ" (2Cor. 10:5). If the presumption of human autonomy or "freewill" does not come from the Bible by the normal canons of exegesis, it must be classified as an extra-biblical dogma and therefore of no authority once it is shown to be incompatible with what the Bible says on related subjects.
I suppose this is really a plea for consistency in the way we as Evangelicals should reason about theology and about the idea of a verbal inspiration. We simply cannot rationally maintain an inerrant result for the process of inspiration if we continue to agree with the Liberals about their basic presupposition, that a direct verbal revelation from God, inspired immediately by him and therefore inerrant is necessarily impossible (whatever the Bible claims for itself) if man is "truly free" in the Arminian sense, i.e., if he is capable of autonomous choice. The Liberals can hardly be blamed for seeing the inconsistency, and we should see it too, and give up the unbiblical presupposition which grounds the argument.
There is a sense in which every religious position is a form of "dogmatism," simply because everyone has unprovable axioms or assumptions at the start of the reasoning process. The assumption of human autonomy is likewise a dogma, and the Christian has every right to question it. This is especially the case if it conflicts with a doctrine such as God's creatorial sovereignty, which is writ so large in the Bible from Genesis 1:1 onwards, and without which the whole framework of the Scripture's testimony collapses into nonsense.
VII. A DOCTRINAL VIRUS?
An inerrant (errorless) text can only exist if God actively causes it to exist by overriding those fallible choices which a fallen, although redeemed, Apostle would be capable of during his Christian life. To do this, God must necessarily control or alter the decision-making capability of the human author whenever he is likely to make a mistake of ignorance or inadvertence. After all, even an unintentional mistake in the Bible might be just as erroneous as an intentional alteration would be.
The nature of Scripture reflects necessarily the attributes of the sovereign God who gave it as his Word. When we say that God is infallible, we mean precisely that he is at the very least inerrant in his interpretation of reality. But this could only be known in an inerrant verbal revelation. Thus the Bible must be inerrant in the sense that God, being infallible (incapable of error), is necessarily also inerrant in all he says. That is, it actually contains no errors. He must also necessarily preserve the text in the existing manuscripts so that they are available to each age for the purpose intended.
One of the purposes of Scripture is to reveal and detail the character of God, and it is very hard to see how an errant Bible could require an inerrant God. We should not be surprised then, to discover that some Evangelicals (like Clark Pinnock) who have abandoned inerrancy, replacing it with a "general truthfulness" theory which can accommodate all sorts of mistakes in the Bible, have also given up not only God's control of the Bible's authors, but God's own omniscience and control of the future as well. This, of course, makes the Bible's prophecies just lucky guesses on the basis of God's present observation of how things may turn out.
But this is a god who is himself in process, still developing, and ever learning to cope with a universe which does not always pan out the way he hopes. In the meanwhile, lie is pleading with men and women to cooperate with him to get things done. Such a god is not the God of the Bible, but a finite god, and therefore an idol of the human mind.
Calvinists should not try to adjust their theology to fit the exigencies of a non-biblical presupposition. This will only result in an inconsistent testimony to God's sovereignty, which becomes less and less consistent with other Bible doctrines as it filters its way through our theology, and infects and takes over more and more areas.
The Evangelical who, under the pretext of "Calminianism," tries to believe in the Arminian freewill theory and an inerrant Bible, is in danger of becoming a "double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (Jas. 1:7). Sooner or later the instabilities and inconsistencies will appear elsewhere in one's theology; the fragile structure will splinter and the parts will fall with Clark Pinnock towards the "blooming buzzing confusion" of modern Process Theology, finally disappearing into the vortex of relativism.
The only thing Satan needs to do to take control of the future development of evangelical theology, is to convince today's Evangelicals to give up inerrancy in favor of a partial infallibility based on the humanistic presupposition of the autonomy of the human intellect, hidden as this is behind the popular "freewill" theory. The rest will follow quite naturally, as the disintegration of modern theology in this waning twentieth century demonstrates so clearly. Because most careful thinkers try to get rid of internal contradictions if they possibly can, it becomes just a matter of time, plus the natural drive for consistency.
This account of the issue must sound to some a bit like a "domino theory" of how theological opinions unfold. Since they can think of some otherwise quite orthodox teacher they know who is of the persuasion I have here criticized, they may be offended at the generalization. But the issue cannot be resolved in terms of personalities. The history of theological movements repeatedly shows that a teacher (like Karl Barth) may not he very willing to deal with serious holes in his system which his students later drive the truck of heresy through.
Perhaps no teacher is responsible for everything his followers might later come to think, but the time to block up the holes in the fence is now, and not after the horse is gone. Barth's doctrine of Election unavoidably suggests that everyone will be saved, and he left a legacy of universalism which has infected all of modern theology, long after his "neo-orthodoxy" has become passe. Yet Karl Barth never admitted that his theology required a universalistic conclusion.
The intellectual challenge of the Gospel requires at the very least, that the popular presupposition of freewill be brought to the bar of the internal consistency of inscripturated revelation the same as everything else must be, and not be given some kind of special protection from scrutiny, as if only a madman would question it.
Doctrinal error as far-reaching as the popular view of freewill has a habit of influencing everything else in turn, much like a computer "virus" comes to infect everything it contacts. It is very disturbing to belatedly discover that while we were not looking, a seemingly orthodox person or church has departed into serious error. At this point, we may be suddenly brought to realize that God in Christ has removed another lampstand from its place in history (Rev. 2:4-5), as he did that of those originally Calvinistic Congregational and Presbyterian churches on the east coast of the USA which drifted first into Arminianism, and then into Arianism, and then into Unitarianism, during the eighteenth century. The end result of this downgrade was that a few years ago, the Unitarian-Universalist denomination voted to be known as just an "association" and no longer to refer to themselves as a Christian "church." One must admire their honesty, however lately it might have come to be expressed.
The heart of humanism of all colors is its dogma of the autonomy of the human mind, popularly received by many Evangelicals as the freewill theory. The early believers had lions to contend with; today we have viruses.
The best book on the recent incursion of finite godism into the Church and elsewhere is Dr. Robert Morey's Battle of The Gods. It covers the full range of problems involved, including a large section on the Attributes of the God of the Bible. Strongly recommended!
Clark, Gordon H., Religion, Reason and Revelation has chapters on why "religion" is unintelligible without the Word of God to supply the basic categories, and on how faith relates to reason. It concludes with a fine discussion of why the freewill theory fails to handle the problem of evil.
The best studies of what happens to Christians who try to develop their theologies and apologetic arguments by compromising the Biblical content of revelation with the autonomy stance, remain those of Cornelius Van Til. See his Defense of the Faith, Introduction to Christian Epistemology, A Christian Theory of Knowledge, and Christian Theistic Evidences.
The most thorough study of the modern battle over inerrancy is Carl F. H. Henry's God, Revelation and Authority in six volumes. Don't let yourself be distracted by the daunting size of this set; Henry is no harder to read than anyone else, and you can dip into it at any point to read particular chapters of immediate interest. Almost all of it is wonderfully helpful, and the Contents pages identify the key subjects easily. The indices are good and full too.
Dr. Pinnock has also edited a collection of ambitious articles against historic Calvinism called The Grace of God and the Will of Man. It seems to contains nothing to indicate either that the authors are conscious of the problem presented to Arminians in this paper, or of the axiomatic nature of the dogma of the autonomy of the human will, or of the fact that the notion that human responsibility is based on the assumption of freewill has never been proved.
The Inerrancy of Scripture and Freewill Theory © January 1996 R. K. McGregor Wright, Ph.D. for Aquila and Priscilla Study Center.
The above article was posted on this website September 3, 1999.
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