Session 4 — Stephen Nichols
Note: Throughout the week, as we liveblog the general sessions, we will be using a time-stamp method. This will give readers an approximate sense of key statements that were made throughout the session, as well as allowing them to trace the flow of the argument. (Also, if readers want to listen to any key moments by downloading the audio, these time-stamps will make it easier to track down certain statements in the audio file.) However, what follows is not intended to be a full or exact transcript of what was said.
4:41 1 Thessalonians 2:13 — For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
4:44 This passage from Paul will offer us a frame for what I have been assigned to talk to you about: How did we get here?
4:45 How did we get here talking about inerrancy? We were already here back in 1978. We settled this with the ‘Chicago Statement.’ And yet, here we are, talking about the subject of inerrancy.
4:46 As Paul remembers his time with the Thessalonians, he remembers the way in which he poured out his life into these people. As a father with his children, Paul gave of himself. There was no end to his labor and toil. But more than just being relational, Paul also gave them words.
4:47 In John 17, Jesus notes in His high priestly prayer that He gave His disciples words. After His ascension, Jesus continues to make the Father known through the office of His apostles.
4:48 Paul preached the word because that was his apostolic commission. The Thessalonians received those words as if they were welcoming a special guest into their home. In Acts 17, Luke records that Paul went to the synagogue in Thessalonica where he gave them words.
4:49 Paul emphasizes that this word was not the word of men. In the first century context, the world of Greek philosophy, there was no shortage of the words of men.
4:50 After being in Thessalonica, Paul traveled to Athens where he encountered Greek philosophers.
4:51 The Athenians were given over to a fascination with new ideas–the words of men. But Paul gave the Thessalonians the Word of God. Thus, it is the only agent that is able to accomplish what Paul articulates in the next sentence: that it is at work in their hearts and lives.
4:52 Because it is the Word of God, it transforms people. It is at work. It is like a carpenter who works on a piece of wood. He shapes it, carves it, sands it, and conforms it to the image of the piece of furniture that he has in mind.
4:53 The word of man cannot do that.
4:54 If these are not the words of God, these words will fall away, fade, and be of no value. But, the Word of God is effective to accomplish its task.
4:55 The word of man will not transform us, but the Word of God will.
As I look at the movement of the contemporary evangelical church away from its commitment to an inerrant text, I tremble.
4:56 As we think about the Word of God, what is the logical conclusion but inerrancy?
4:57 Warfield had a very simple argument: Scripture is divine, therefore because it is inspired it must be inerrant. If every word is inspired by God, it will bear the character of God upon its very word. Therefore, it is true.
4:58 This current challenge against inerrancy has arisen in three areas.
1) The Exegetical Area.
Charles Briggs is an example of one who denied inerrancy after being influenced by German critical scholarship.
And so we begin the modern challenge to inerrancy.
5:00 In 1911, Herman Bavinck extolled the virtues of modern achievements.
5:01 But he recognized that there is a price tag to be paid with this modernist mindset — we think we have outgrown God.
The terrible question of the 20th century is this: Does an ancient book really have anything to say to us moderns?
5:02 Bavinck did not waver in his commitment to Scripture. For Bavinck, the words of Scripture were true. He was a Daniel among lions.
5:03 In the UK, Spurgeon endured a similar experience during the Downgrade Controversy.
5:04 German liberalism claimed the Bible was full of mythological expressions, that had to be peeled back in order to get to the small kernel of truth inside.
2) The Philosophical Area.
5:06 With the rise of rationalism, a philosophical shift takes place. The prevailing question is no longer, “What is reality?” but “How do I know?”
In the 20th century, as modernism began to collapse in on itself, philosophers began to give up searching for knowledge.
5:07 Instead, they now talk about language.
As we transition to the end of modernity (post-modernity), one of the tenets of post-modernity is that there is no view from nowhere. We all have a context.
5:08 We are all situated, which means that our language is entirely referential. We only have meaning within our tribe.
If we think that our language has some touchstone to a reality outside of our tribe, we are fooling ourselves. We have reduced everything to a context.
5:09 Even some evangelical theologians have brought this postmodern perspective to Scripture.
3) The Cultural Area
Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences.
5:10 Our culture treats Scripture as if it is utterly irrelevant.
5:11 Secular hubris looks at the Bible and says, “I’ve read this book, no thank you.”
5:12 The opening chapters of Genesis teaches that God made man, male and female. We also see that God created man in His image. Yet, our culture stands in opposition to those truths. Such is seen in things like the homosexual movement and the legalization of abortion.
5:14 Church history teaches many important lessons that we ought to remember. Augustine and Jerome debated the inerrancy of Galatians based on Paul’s confrontation with Peter.
5:15 Augustine wrote a letter to Jerome noting that if we admit even a single falsehood into the exalted authority of Scripture, the credibility of the whole is undermined.
5:17 When we stand in judgment of the Word of God, we are putting the credence of ourselves over the credence of the Word of God.
5:18 What Augustine was saying in the early fifth century remains true in the 21st century. The common thread is that unbelievers are unwilling to submit.
5:19 In church history we find affirmations of the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. This includes the great Reformers like Calvin, Zwingli, Tyndale, and others.
5:20 Everywhere Scripture’s divine essence is apparent. And if Scripture is divine it is truth.
5:21 If the Spirit is the Author of Scripture, the Scripture must be true because the Spirit cannot lie.
5:23 We do not establish the Scriptures. We receive it, because it is the Word of God.
In every century and every age of the history of the church, believers have stood for the full truthfulness and authority and reliability of the Word of God.
It is from that Word that they preached. And it is that Word which changes lives.
5:24 Suddenly, in the 20th century, people are convinced that they know better.
5:25 The ‘Chicago Statement’ sustained a group as they fought to win back their denominations and their seminaries.
Here we are in the twentieth century. We find ourselves in a moment in the church, where we are facing these exegetical, philosophical, and cultural challenges to the Word of God.
5:26 It boils down to this: Will we submit to the text?
5:27 Faithful pastors must prepare their congregations for the battles that will very likely come in the future.
We must take this doctrine of inerrancy, seal it in our hearts and in our minds, and let if flow into our bloodstream and into our lives.
5:28 The doctrine we are talking about is the sufficiency of Scripture.
We can sign a statement affirming inerrancy. But do we take this word seriously in our own lives?
5:29 On an encouraging note, it is the Word of God and it is at work.
5:30 Modern technology can lift a man high (in an elevator), but what is modernity doing to lift men’s souls?
5:31 The hubris of modernity must be challenged by a humility that cries out for the living bread and the living water that satisfies our true hunger and our true thirst. (J. Gresham Machen)