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In this excerpt from my book, The Evangelical and The Open Theist, I discuss the nature of Scripture.

nature of scripture

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

What follows, with minor modifications, is an excerpt from my book The Evangelical and The Open Theist.

At the core of evangelical theology lies a distinct understanding of Scripture. Christianity Today International provides an apt description of the evangelical position. The “sixty-six canonical books of the Bible as originally written were inspired of God, hence free from error.”

Such statements manage simultaneously to say a great deal and very little. What does it mean that Scripture is “free from error?” How broadly should evangelicals interpret such statements? That is, after all, a fundamental question for the purpose at hand.

Many other evangelical organizations have attempted to define the nature of Scripture. Some have expressed it more broadly than others. Most, however, leave open great room for ambiguity and interpretation.

Chicago Statement on the Nature of Scripture

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is one of the more comprehensive statements. It states, “[I]nspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine.” (Article VII)

Article IX elaborates. “[I]nspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.”

The Chicago Statement denies “that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.”

At the heart of these statements is an understanding of Scripture’s authority.

What do evangelicals mean, however, by the “authority of Scripture”? N.T. Wright provides the best definition of the phrase. It is a “shorthand way of saying that, though authority belongs to God, God has somehow invested this authority in scripture.”[1]

Similarly, Article XI of the Chicago Statement adequately summarizes the (somewhat) consensus evangelical view. It affirms “that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible.” Therefore, “far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.”[2]

The nature of Scripture, therefore, goes hand-in-hand with its authority. That is, Scripture’s authority is the defining aspect of its nature.

Behind the evangelical understanding of Scripture is an understanding of God. Scripture is infallible because God is infallible. Scripture is reliable because God is reliable.

Evangelicalism affirms that the infallible God inspired and orchestrated the writing of Scripture. God stamped his own character on the Scriptures. Scripture, therefore, must be the basis of all we believe.

ETS On The Nature of Scripture

This brings us to the Evangelical Theological Society. Its statement is particularly apt. It has been, after all, the most visible battleground in the traditional-openness debate.

Yet, the affirmation open theists allegedly violate is quite broad. Indeed, ETS held a vote over whether to expel open theists for violating one very expansive belief.

Open theists did not explicitly deny it, mind you. Their opponents merely claimed that open theism is incompatible with it. It did not matter that open theists denied this claim.

“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

A Fundamental Question

This one sentence lies at the heart of the question at hand. That is, can an open theist affirm this statement? Can an open theist believe that the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God? Does believing in a partially open future exclude a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture?

Indeed, must open theists choose between affirming their theology and affirming a high view of Scripture?

This is the question at hand. This is the question I will explore through the remainder of this book.

Politics or Theology?

I must state from the outset that my goal is to determine the theological compatibility of open theism and evangelicalism. I am not so dense, however, as to ignore the role personalities and politics can play in theological discourse.

From the Great Schism to the Reformation, religious disputes are rarely only about belief. Determining orthodoxy is often as much a matter of convenience and expediency as faithfulness and logic. Every theological debate is part Athanasius, part Constantine. The debate at hand is no exception.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explore this aspect of the topic. Evaluating the hatred and vitriol the debate has inspired belongs to the realm of the psychologist. Throughout the remainder of this book, I seek only to make a good faith evaluation of evangelicalism and open theism to determine their compatibility with one another.

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[1] N. T. Wright, “The Laing Lecture 1989 and the Griffith Thomas Lecture 1989,” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991), available <http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm> (19 September 2006).

[2] Despite common ground among all evangelicals, there still exists disagreements over the nature of Scripture. Article XII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, for example, affirms the scientific reliability of Scripture. It specifically denies that “scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.” This stands in opposition to the spirit of Fuller Theological Seminary’s statement on Scripture. It argues that applying the term inerrancy to “matters like chronological details, precise sequence of events, and numerical allusions,” is “misleading and inappropriate.” Fuller Theological Seminary: What We Believe and Teach.

See Also:

The Evangelical Understanding of Scripture

The Purpose of Scripture


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