The PostBarthian

Helmut Gollwitzner on the Tower of Babel: How to Preach the Old Testament by Example

Tower of Babel (source: wikipedia)

Tower of Babel (source: wikipedia)

In Helmut Gollwitzner's collection of sermons, The Way to Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis, contains a sermon that is an excellent treatment of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). I've provided a quotation from it because it exemplifies how to preach the Tower of Babel. Stanley Hauerwas lectures and writings on the Tower of Babel have a similar interpretation where the story explains how the pride of man resulted for acquiring the technology of brick building, however the advantage of Gollwitnzer's approach is that he improves upon Hauerwas's hermeneutic and does so in preaching.

The following quotation is from Helmut Gollwitzner's sermon, "Work that is worthwhile", preached on May 2nd, 1976 on Genesis 11:1-9. This example may be used as a template for preaching the rest of the Pre-History in Genesis 1-11 (not only the Tower of Babel). This approach is incredibly more helpful and illuminating than the common anachronistic reading of Genesis 11 as modern history and as something that is undone by Pentecost.

The building of the Tower of Babel is the history of the great Empires, from century to century the great Empires and their great Caesars. They unite many lands and people under their rule, one ruling language, one administration, one culture. All this happens in the name of union and peace, all, it is claimed, for the blessing of mankind—Pax Romana, Pax Germanica, Pax Britannica, Pax Americana. But when the unification reaches its culminating point, the decay has always already set in. There must be some kind of canker in these attempts at unification. And yet today we really need unification. Do you remember how, after 1945, after the end of the attempt to unite Europe under German domination, everybody spoke of world government, whose time had now come—and today mankind is as fragmented as ever it was, particularly today when really a common effort of will among all nations is necessary to end the madness of armaments, for a new world economic order, and for the saving of our biosphere if we do not wish to perish. Instead of that we hear today the despairing talk of the "ungovernable character of the world". In great matters as in small, in large-scale politics as in small groups, in town-councils and in Presbyteries, our work remains fruitless because we cannot understand languages, because what continually happens is like what is said here, that "no one any longer understood another man's language".

Thus the ancient narrator three thousand years ago described what he saw round about him when he looked at the great Empires of that time, Egypt and Babylon, and at the same time he predicted the history of mankind up to the present day. For this purpose he used a story which he did not himself invent, but which people were telling each other everywhere in the oriental world at that time, and by which they used to explain the origin of two quite different phenomena, the origin of tower-like mounds, or rather high towers and ruins of towers, which people gazed at with wonder in the Mesopotamia of that day—and the phenomenon of the many kinds of language, which are so troublesome because they make it hard for one man to understand another. The gods must have interfered here—hence these enigmatic mounds and ruined towers, and hence the confusion of the nations and languages.

The biblical narrator, who adopted this aetiological saga (that is what scholars call such stories about origins), has no concern for the gods, he does not believe that there live above us gods who feel jealous and anxious because of the great powers of man, and for that reason intervene in defense of themselves. He knows, as an Israelite, the one living God, the Creator, who loves his creatures, who has equipped his human beings with many gifts and great powers, who wills to bless their work and make it prosper, who rejoices in the powers of his creatures. And yet he sees a truth in this saga, and for that reason he places it at the end of his account of the beginnings of the history of mankind, which is now contained in the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis. Thus a good beginning—the man and the woman in the garden of this earth, they have food and work, they live in peace and fellowship, the work is profitable, it is a healthy world. Then this one special, specially endowed creature of God—man, destroys more and more the Creation and himself, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the men of the story of the Flood, and lastly this tower-building—these are the stages of an accelerating disorder, destruction growing like an avalanche which starts with men and turns bad on themselves. The narrator merely tells the story; he does not comment on it. But his narrative forces this question upon us, what has gone wrong here, that man is so destructive, and that God does not bless men, but confronts them with his judgment?

Gollwitzer, Helmut The Way To Life: Sermons in a Time of Crisis. England: T&T Clark, 1981. Trans. David Cairns. 2-3. Print.

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Helmut Gollwitzer on How to Preach the Word

Helmut Gollwitzer died 21 years ago today (source:wikipedia)

Helmut Gollwitzer died 21 years ago today
(source: wikipedia)

Helmut Gollwitzer (1908-1993) died 21 years ago today. I was first introduced to this amazing theologian by Dr. W. Travis McMaken, in his recommendation of Gollwitzer's The Way To Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis. In the forward, Gollwitzer's amazing life is introduced by the English translator David Cairns, which contains not only amazing names of teachers (such as Karl Barth) and teaching posts Gollwitzer entertained, but also the censorship he received by the Gestapo and his imprisonment in the asbestos mines of Siberia.

Gollwitzer provides an introduction to this collection of sermons that includes the following charge to preachers everywhere on how to preach the Word of God. It's a remarkable introduction to an impressive compilation of sermons that all preachers of the Word are a poverty to live without!

As a way to secure the freedom required if preaching is to be taken seriously, my friends and teachers - here I have especially to name Karl Barth, Eduard Thurneysen and Hermann Diem - recommended in the Reformed tradition text-sermons, that is, the attachment of the sermon to the biblical text. They taught that the Bible text should not be merely a motto placed at the head of the sermon, not merely the occasion for all sorts of associations, not merely a peg on which to hang a theme chosen by the preacher, but should be in concrete control of the preacher. The sermon should make this text more perspicuous to the hearer than it was before. At the same time it should give pleasure, so that one is thankful for it, and be a source of guidance for life today. The preacher's subordination to this text frees him from all other authorities, from ecclesiastical authorities - that was the liberating experience of the Reformation - and from political authorities - that was the liberating experience at the time of Hitler's dictatorship.

For this reason my sermons to this day have always been sermons from a text, and perhaps this makes them sound rather old-fashioned to younger theologians. I wonder at their preference for handling themes, in the service of which the biblical text is then exploited, and do not know whether I ought to admire the courage that is needed to believe that one's own ideas have so much truth-content in them that people should use Divine Worship to expound them. For it is, after all, that same gathering of the congregation, which should equip it, by the handing down of the great story of hope, to be a living cell in the world of men that is being shaken by deadly convulsions. But there can be no law ordaining that sermons should have a text, everyone must see what authorizes him to open his mouth in the name of the living God, and we can only tell each other what helps us to face up to the moment of truth which is the hour of public worship.

In my experience, subordination to the biblical text has a liberating effect also because in this moment of truth which challenges our responsibility to an unusual degree, it sets us free from responsibility for what is to be said here and now. The text takes over the responsibility, and through it, he in whose name these first witnesses spoke, to whom we owe our biblical texts. If I had to preach my convictions, my knowledge, and my experiences, what fills my heart at the present moment, and what stirs my mind, my Christianity and the certainty of my faith, then the responsibility would wholly lie with me, and the question whether I am at this precise moment a believer, and am certain of all these astonishing assertions of the Christian faith, might rightly hinder me from putting my foot on the first step of the pulpit stairs. What makes me go on, and open my mouth, can only be the knowledge that I have not to speak out of the wealth of my religiosity, but rather that I, a poor doubting man, am the first hearer of what the ancient text proclaims and promises to me and to all who sit before me. What is said to me, and what I have to pass on to others, is always much more than what I could say on my own authority, much more than I have already experienced, know and believe. It is always something unbelievable, incomprehensible, inconceivable, that is now to be proclaimed, and something through which in our company, including the preacher as well as the hearers, new beginnings of hope, new hope for beginners, and consequently discipleship of beginners must come into being.

Gollwitzer, Helmut The Way To Life: Sermons in a Time of Crisis. England: T&T Clark, 1981. Trans. David Cairns. xii-xiii. Print.

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Jürgen Moltmann: God without Future begets a Future without God

(source: wikipedia)

(source: wikipedia)

Jürgen Moltmann's Religion, Revolution and the Future contains the two following quotations on Earth Ethics. An eschatology with a God without Future—a hope without the Earthbegets an Atheism that hopes for a Future without God. The Cosmic Christ, The Pantocrator, is The Lord over all Creation, not just a group of men or subset of their souls. As Karl Barth said, the exterior basis of Creation is the Covenant and the interior basis of Creation is the Covenant. A faith without Creation is Marcionism. Any eschatology of hope that excludes a hope for the Earth, only creates Atheism as a hope for the Earth. (For further assessment of Moltmann's Ethic of Hope, see my post on Moltmann's Ethic of Hope for the Earth.)

Since Christians, the churches, and theology believed in a 'God without future' the earth has joined itself to an atheism which sought a future without God. The messianic hope emigrated from the church and became invested, evolution, and revolution." Jürgen Moltmann, Religion, Revolution and the Future

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 200-1. Print.


"If one hopes for the sake of Christ in the future of God and the ultimate liberation of the world, he cannot passively wait for this future and, like the apocalyptic believers, withdraw from the world. Rather, he must seek this future, strive for it, and already here be in correspondence to it in the active renewal of life and of the conditions of life and therefore realize it already here according to the measure of possibilities. Because this future is the future of one God, it is a unique and unifying future. Because it brings eschatological liberation, it is the salvation of the whole enslaved creation. The messianic future for which Christianity arouses hope is no special future for the church or for the soul alone. It is an all-encompassing future. As all-encompassing future, its power of hope is able to mediate faith to earthly needs and to lead it into real life."

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 218. Print.

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Jürgen Moltmann on Humane Revolution: The goal of Christian universalism can be realized precisely through the dialectic of siding with the humiliated.

Humane Revolution

Humane Revolution (source:wikipedia)

Jürgen Moltmann's lecture "God in Revolution" in Religion, Revolution and the Future was the 'opening lecture of the World Student Christian Federation Conference, July 23, 1968, Turku, Finland.' The lecture contained seven theses. I enjoyed the way in which Moltmann introduced them:

I do not want to begin this student conference with a well-polished theological discourse. Rather, I would like to open the discussion of the coming days with a series of theses. I do not intend to set a before you a masterful theological soup which you should consume with relish. These theses are meant as an aperitif to whet the appetite. For theology is not only a matter of eating something, but also the shared task of first preparing.

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 129. Print.

The entire lecture is excellent, and as an example, the following is a quotation from Thesis 5, in which Moltmann introduces his idea of a 'humane revolution' that abolishes the master-slave paradigm, and how siding with the humiliated is the way we achieve the universal love of all men (not just the abused, but the abusers as well). The examples from Martin Luther King Jr., Karl Marx and Albert Camus are excellent. (I've added the bold text for emphasis, the italics is original.)

THESIS 5: The church is not a heavenly arbiter in the world's strifes. In the present struggles for freedom and justice, Christians must side with the humanity of the oppressed.

The Church is for all men, say some. Therefore, it should remain strictly separated from political struggle. Since there are no unequivocal Christian judgments in politics, the church should religiously be in the service of all sides. This is the old ecclesiastical triumphalism in modern dress as offered by the representatives of organized churches to the contending parties. Here the church is always "the third power," a "neutral platform" for peace and reconciliation, a "place for meeting" and negotiating. Sub specie aeternitatis all worldly conflicts become relative and insignificant. There was a time when this mediating role of the church was occasionally in demand and was instrumental in promoting tranquility. But today all ambiguous and abstract appeals for peace fall on deaf ears, as was demonstrated in the speech of Pope Paul VI to the United Nations. Struggling factions have become tired of appeals to their conscience and of verbose sermons on morality. They do not expect from the church any transcendent wisdom to aid the resolution of their conflicts.

Yet, if Christians take sides in the political struggle, will they not lose sight of God's love for all men? This is the question from the other point of view. I do not think that they need to lose it. The goal of Christian universalism can be realized precisely through the dialectic of siding with the humiliated. Let me amplify this. It is, in fact, the goal of the church to represent that "new people of God" of whom one can say: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Greek nor barbarian, neither master nor slave, neither man nor woman [and if we may proceed with modern relevance: neither black nor white, neither Communist nor anti-Communist] for all are one in Christ Jesus." The barriers which men erect between each other to assert themselves and humiliate others are demolished in the community of Christ, since men are there affirmed in a new way: they are "children of freedom." By undermining and demolishing all barriers--whether of religion, race, education, or class--the community of Christians proves that it is composed, not of equal and like-minded men, but of dissimilar men, indeed even of former enemies. This would mean, on the other hand, that national churches, class churches, and race churches are false churches of Christ and already heretical as a result of their concrete structure.

The way toward this goal of a new humane comment involving all nations and languages is, however, a revolutionary way. In this connection we quote the apostle Paul once again: "For consider your call brethren, not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many of you were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord" (1 Cor 1:26-31). Accordingly, the community of the obscure and weak is given the power of judgement over the high and mighty. So in the community of the crucified, according to the old prophetic images of the mountain being laid low and the valleys exalted, those who hunger after righteousness are blessed and those who justify themselves are condemned. Thus the way of the kingdom of humanity into the world is prepared and only thus will all flesh see the glory of the Lord. Or to put it without images: The love of God and the humanity of Christ are partial to the laboring and heavily laden, to the humiliated and offended. But how can this be a way to the new community without barriers?

Martin Luther King, Jr., sided with the blacks and the poor. He organized protest movements and strikes. These actions were directed against the white racism and the capitalistic society in his country. But at the same time he was constantly concerned about the white people, unredeemed and enslaved by their pride and anxiety. He mobilized the marches of the blacks and the poor, not for revenge against the whites but for the redemption of the black and white alike from their mutual estrangement.

The young Karl Marx also spoke not only of the alienation of the exploited proletariat but also of that of the capitalist exploiter. By withholding or robbing from another his true humanity, the robber deprives himself of his own humanity.

Albert Camus described the humane principle of revolution this way: The slave revolts against his master. He denies him as a master, but not as a man. For his protest is directed against the master's refusal to treat him as a man. As master and slave, neither is a true man and neither can relate to the other in a humane way. If the denial of the master were total, the slave's revolt would bring nothing new into the world but would only exchange the roles of inhumanity. The humane revolution, however, is not out to turn the slaves into masters but to subvert an abolish the whole master-slave relationship so that in the future men will be able to treat one another as men. If the revolution loses sight of this goal, it becomes nihilistic and forfeits its fascination.

In this sense, Christianity's taking sides with the "damned of the earth" is a way to the redemption and reconciliation of the damned and the dammers. Only through the dialectic of taking sides can the universalism of salvation make its entrance into the world. Any ecclesiastical triumphalism is, therefore, an immature anticipation of the Kingdom of God.

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 141-3. Print.

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Jürgen Moltmann on The Abundant Man (Religion, Revolution and Future)

Jürgen Moltmann - Religion, Revolution and the Future

Jürgen Moltmann - Religion, Revolution and the Future

Jürgen Moltmann visited the United States following the infamous success of his infamous book Theology of Hope. He traveled throughout the U.S.A. and these lectures were compiled and published in Moltmann's book: Religion, Revolution and the Future (RRF). RFF discuses Marxism, Society and Hope. Douglas Meeks' translation of this book contains a helpful introduction:

From September, 1967, to April, 1968, Jürgen Moltmann, Professor of Theology at Tübingen University in Germany, sojourned in the United States. While he was pivotally located as Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Duke University, he traveled widely to almost every major region of the nation and visited many of the large academic and urban centers. This book is compromised of a portion of the lectures and essays with which Professor Moltmann introduced himself and his thought to the American continent.

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. N. pag. Print.

I've chosen a selection from Religion, Revolution and the Future in the section 'The Abundant Man' to demonstrate the excellence of this book, and in particular in Moltmann's charge even today for the Church and Christians in liberating the captives because no one is free in the land of the free, until all are free:

The promised future of God's reign is directed not only to man's internal happiness, but toward that full humanity which is denied by poverty, hunger, illness, and suffering. Through industrialization it is now more possible than ever to achieve success in the struggle against hunger. Therefore, Christianity should participate in those social programs which strive for conditions in which hunger and poverty and illness cease for as many people as possible. In such participation, there are, in particular, two viewpoints that it can develop.

First, with respect to the distribution of the social product and the politics of capital investment, Christianity can become the advocate of those groups that have insufficient or no public representation in a particular society. It can further urge concern for a balance between consumption and capital investment. A society which limits itself to investing, sacrifices the present to the future. But a society which avoids the category "future" forfeits the power for farsighted investment. It sacrifices the future for the enjoyment of the present.

Second, it can become the advocate of those groups of hungry and destitute men who live outside the industrially developed society. For no man will be abundant unless all are abundant; no man will be satisfied if some lack satisfaction; no man will be happy until all are happy. The struggle against hunger and poverty through the forces of industrialization must be either universal and without distinction or it has not even begun.

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 122-3. Print.

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Hans Kung says Catholic Justification is not Synergistic

Hans Kung Universidad de Educación a Distancia (2011) (source: wikipedia)

Hans Kung Universidad de Educación a Distancia (2011)
(source: wikipedia)

Hans Küng's Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection proposes a solution to the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae that has captivated me, and I've been writing a series on this excellent work.

In the following quotations, Küng addresses the question of whether the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification (and Trent too) is synergistic, or as Küng calls it: Partly-Partly. And his answer is No! The difference between Catholics and Protestants is a matter of emphasis. Protestants focus on the work of God in justifying the man, and Catholics focus on the outcome of the justification of a man. Both are entirely the work of God. The Protestants do not deny that the justification of man by God is without results in the sinner, and that the Catholics do not deny that the works of a man are entirely given to the man who works. Protestants and Catholics emphasize the different sides of the same coin of the Doctrine of Justification.

There remains a further discussion to be had over what Protestants and Catholics mean by grace (habitus) that is needed to answer all the questions, but the following quotations explains how Protestants and Catholics are arguing about two sides of the same coin.

The first quotation contains the assertion that the differences between Protestants and Catholics are only imaginary difference:

Trent’s teaching on justification can be correctly understood only in the context of history of dogma. In this context, however, it can and must be understood correctly. This, for the time being, is our preliminary answer to Karl Barth’s polemic against Trent. Protestants speak of a declaration of justice and Catholics of a making just. But Protestants speak of a declaring just which includes a making just; and Catholics of a making just which supposes a declaring just. Is it not time to stop arguing about imaginary differences?

Küng, Hans Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 221. Print.

This next quotation rejects the Protestant criticism that the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Justification is partly-partly, such that man works in part and God works in party, in a "synergism in which God and man pull on the same rope." Küng demonstrates that no such synergism belongs to the Roman Catholicism.

Kirchgaessner: “‘Be reconciled with God!’ This means man must respond to the redemptive will of God so as to have his mind changed in regard to God. Faith and conversion is thus the second step, made necessary as soon as God has taken the first. At first man is passive. God acts on him as an object, but it is precisely through this activity of God that he is made active” (Erlösung p. 105)

Therefore, Trent’s cooperari implies no synergism in which God and man pull on the same rope. It is never as though justification came partly from God and partly from man. It has been sufficiently emphasized that the sinner can do nothing without the grace of Jesus Christ. “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7). “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor 3:5).

Everything comes from God, even what man does. A “supplementation” of divine justification is out of the question, God’s glory is not belittled. God wants man’s highest activity, but this can grow only from a complete passivity, from a receptivity brought about by God. The vital point is that God accomplishes everything. But it does not follow from this that He accomplishes it alone. On the contrary the greatest marvel of God’s accomplishing everything is that man accomplishes along with Him as a result of God’s accomplishment. Sacred Scripture makes both points, as does Trent (D 797): “Restore us to thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!” (Lam 5:21), and “Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you” (Zech 1:3)

Ibid. 265

And an additional response explaining the same thing in response to Karl Barth:

We have seen once again how unfounded was [Karl] Barth’s polemic against the Council of Trent. It may have become clear now that, according to Catholic and Tridentine teaching on justification too, there is no other recourse for the sinner than to place his whole trust in the Lord.

In the problem of the certainty of faith, Barth’s misunderstanding of the strictly “subjective” character of the Tridentine concept of justification shows up once again. Obviously, Trent did not intend to question the certainty of, and absolute confidence in, that (“objective”) justification which took place for everything in the death and resurrection of Christ. But in the question of certainty as to the (“subjective”) realization of justification, and in the matter of trust in this having happened, the Council intended to make sure that its approach was tempered by an awareness of human frailty and sinful unreliability.

But this discovery is not enough for an answer to our questions. We need further clarification. What about human co-operation, sanctification, and merit?

Ibid. 263-4

Much of the differences between Protestants and Catholics is how to understand the word "grace" or habitus. 

Barth's fears that God's grace might become, perniciously, 'my' grace are unfounded if we keep in view the fact that grace is mine only as the grace of God; I never "have" it; it is never simply at my disposal. The term habitus is not meant in the sense of "having" grace, but, as Bonaventure explains "to hold is to be held" [..]. Grace is given to me each day as something completely new. It becomes "my" grace--as a consequence of the incarnation--but always as a grace alien to me, according to the paradoxical formulation of Trent: [..] ("Thus, it is not personal effort that makes justice our own."--D809). The 'Index of Celestine' states in Chap. 2: "Unless he who alone is good grants a participation in his being, no one has goodness within himself. This truth is proclaimed by that prontiff (Innocent I) in the following sentence: 'For the future, can we expect anything good from those who mentality is such that they think they are the cause of their goodness and do not take into account him whose grace they obtain each day, and who hope to accomplish so much without him?" And in Chap. 6: "The same teacher Zosimus instructed us to acknowledge this truth when, speaking to the bishops of the world about the assistance of divine grace, he said: 'Is there ever a time when we do not need his help? Therefore, in every action and situation, in every thought and movement, we must pray to him as our helper and protector'" (D 131 and 135)

Ibid. 205


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The Rogers/McKim Proposal: Inerrancy vs Calvin and Westminster Confession of Faith

Gerard Dou (source:wikipedia)

Gerard Dou (source:wikipedia)

Jack Rogers and Donald McKim's historical analysis of the Doctrine of the Inspiration of Scriptures, The Authority and Inspiration of the Bible (AIB), created a firestorm in the late 1970's due its conclusion that the Reformers' Doctrine of Inspiration (exemplified by John Calvin and the Westminster Confession of Faith) was abandoned by Protestant Scholasticism (exemplified by Francis Turretin and John Owen) and Old Princeton (exemplified by Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield and A.A. Hodge) who replaced it with a mechanical view of inspiration that was foreign to the Reformers. This departure by Turretin and Old Princeton became firmly established in Evangelicalism until today, a grievous example is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. [See my previous articles on Calvin's use of Accommodation and Calvin's allowance for errors in the autographs for examples of how Luther and Calvin would not affirm Inerrancy.]

The Reformers emphasized faith seeking understanding as they approached the Bible, and expected to learn from it how to become wise unto salvation, and that they believed that the bible used accommodation to reveal truth that didn't require absolute precision in every factual detail, such that we possessed the Inspired Word of God in the manuscripts that we now possess, and not in the lost and non-existing original autographs! Turretin and Old Princeton inverted this approach to scripture and elevated reason over faith in their hermeneutic and stretched the meaning of the inspiration of the Scriptures to extreme ends, such that the very words were mechanically inspired and that the very words (ipsissima verba) were absolutely precise in every scientific detail of all areas of knowledge, and at the climax of mechanical inspiration's development, this precision was extended to even the Hebrew vowel pointers of the Masoretic Text and included an assertion that the inerrant original autographs were still extent in the 17th century despite some variants in various known copies before these claims became scientifically indefensible, such that a subsequent retreat to the non-existing original autographs entailed to defend their novel and unassailable tautology.

The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible is a survey of the history of the Doctrine of Inspiration from birth of Christianity until today. It contains an excellent assessment of Plato and Aristotle and their influence on the Christian tradition of this loci of scripture, and it contains an overview of the principle contributors to the development of the Doctrine of Inspiration. The book is particularly valuable to Presbyterians who cherish the reformed tradition, John Calvin, and the Westminister Confession of Faith. AIB is not a 'turn back the clock' book because it includes an excellent appendix on G.C. Berkouwer and Karl Barth as examples of better approaches of solutions to understanding scripture that have developed in the Reformed Church tradition.

The publication of Authority and Inspiration of the Bible caused a firestorm of criticism during the Battle for the Bible, and generated endless books and articles "refuting" the Rogers/McKim Proposal. Rather than responding to any of them, I will share some quotations from the "Rogers/McKim Proposal" to encourage Evangelicals to read this excellent book!

This first quote summarizes the problem that Francis Turretin introduced:

A century after Calvin's death, the chair of theology in Geneva was occupied by Francis Turretin (1632-1687). In that interval of one hundred years Reformed Protestants had reacted to Catholic criticism and the new science, and the reigning theological method was closer to that of a Counter-Reformation interpretation of Thomas Aquinas than to that of Calvin. A doctrine of Scripture that made the Bible a formal principal rather than a living witness had been gradually developed. Turretin further solidified this shift of emphasis from the content to the form of words of Scripture as the source of its authority. He treated the forms of words of Scripture as supernatural and increasingly divorced the text of the Bible from the attention of scholarship and an application to life.

In the generation immediately following Francis Turretin in Geneva, his son, Jean-Alphonse Turretin (1648-1737) led a revolt against scholastic theology that opened the doors to liberalism. Francis Turretin's theology was to be revived, however, and have its greatest influence in America during the era of the old Princeton theology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At Princeton, further refinements were made in the scholastic doctrine of Scripture, but the foundation had been solidly laid by Turretin.

Rogers, Jack Bartlett., and Donald K. McKim. The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979. 172. Print.

The following quotation explains John Calvin's Concept of Error in the Inspired Scriptures:

For Calvin, technical errors in the Bible that were the result of human slips of memory, limited knowledge, or the use of texts for different purposes than the original were all part of the normal human means of communication. They did not call into question the divine character of Scripture's message. Nor did they hinder the completely adequate communication of God's Word. In fact, they enhanced the telling of the Good News because they were part of God's gracious accommodation of himself to human means and thus made the message more persuasive to human beings. Scholars could and should deal openly and honestly with technical problems according to Calvin's theory and his own practice. Calvin would not allow, however, that a biblical writer had ever deliberately lied, or knowingly told an untruth. Error in the moral and ethical realm was far removed from the biblical writers.

Ibid. 111

Just as Calvin did not expect the Bible to be a repository of technically accurate information on language or history, neither did he expect that the biblical data should be used to question the findings of science. Calvin did not feel that the Bible's teaching had to be harmonized with science. The purpose of Scripture was to bring persons into a right relationship with God and their fellow creatures. Science was in another sphere and was to be judged by its own criteria. In his commentary on Genesis 1:14-16, Calvin faced the issue of the relationship of the Bible to the science of his day. The problem to some people was that the moon was spoken of in the Bible being one of the two great lights, with the starts being mentioned only incidentally. Astronomers of Calvin's day had proved that Saturn, because of its great distance from earth appeared to be a lesser light than the moon, but was really a greater light.

Ibid. 111-2

AIB provides a powerful argument that the appeal to the original autographs became a primary tenant to Inerrancy because it was no longer possible to state the science supported Inerrancy. Charles Hodge believed that science supported mechanical inspiration, but A.A. Hodge lead the retreat to the inerrant original autograph tautology:

Despite the intended uniformity of thought among the Princeton theologians, significant changes were made in successive generations. Archibald Alexander began with religious experience and used reason and evidence to confirm it. Charles Hodge continued to honor religious experience as a valid basis for personal religion. He preferred the internal evidence the Bible presented to the reader over external evidences of its authority. But in the classroom and in writing Hodge asserted that theology was a science and stressed objective proofs of the Bible's divinity. By the time of his son, A. A. Hodge, the sciences were no longer supporting Princeton theories of biblical inerrancy. A. A. Hodge rested his case on external evidences, but shifted the object of inerrancy to the original (lost) autographs of the biblical text.

Ibid. 310

I learned that the Dutch Calvinists were not consumed by the Turretin/old-Princeton aberration, and had remained far more faithful to Calvin and the Reformers of accommodation. I've explored Herman Bavinck's analysis of Inspiration in his Reformed Dogmatics and his personal view of organic inspiration.

Together, [Abraham] Kuyper and [Herman] Bavinck perpetuated a theological method which, particularly with regard to Scripture, followed the line of Augustine and the Reformers rather than that of the post-Reformation scholasticism preferred by the Princeton theology. The Dutch Reformed tradition held to the Augustinian method that faith leads to understanding rather than the medieval scholastic view that reasons were necessary prior to faith. Thus, the primary issue for the Dutch Reformed tradition was the functional one of how God related to humankind rather than the philosophical issue of whether God's existence could be proved. In relation to the Bible, that meant the Holy Spirit moved persons to accept Scripture as authoritative because of the saving message it expressed rather than that human reason compelled persons to believe the Bible because of evidential or logical proofs of its divine character.

Ibid. 389


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Oliver Crisp on How to Read Karl Barth

Deviant Calvinism (source:fortress press)

Deviant Calvinism (source:fortress press)

In Oliver Crisp's exciting new book Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology, he provides a helpful summary on how to read Karl Barth. The description is particularly reminiscent of Barth's paragraph on the twofold election of Jesus Christ in the Church Dogmatics II/2 §33 that Jürgen Moltmann instructed the Moltmanniac in a personal letter to read to learn about Barth's view of election.

In particular, when first reading Barth, one is struck by the dialectical mode of thought. That is, he tends to begin with a thesis statement and then spells out a particular view in accordance with that statement before taking a rather different view, which at times appears to retract what he has said in the previous section of his work, and finally resolving this tension in a further section of his work. In addition, this dialectical way of writing takes Barth some time to unfold—such that the reader must often plow through a good fifty to one hundred pages of reading before she is in a position to grasp the different aspects of the dialect and begin to understand what Barth's view actually amounts to. Finally, Barth does not set out his views on a given doctrine just once before moving to the next topic, as is often the case in classical orthodox Christian theology. Instead, he returns to similar themes again and again. In fact, he remakes in one place that in commencing each part of his Church Dogmatics, he, as it were, began his thinking anew.

Crisp, Oliver D. Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014. 153-54. Print.

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Inerrancy: Old Princeton’s Abandonment of the Reformer’s and Westminster Confession Faith’s Doctrine of Inspiration


Princeton Theological Seminary (source: wikipedia)

The eminent British church historian, Thomas M. Lindsay, wrote an amazing essay demonstrating how Inerrancy is an innovation by Old Princeton that deviated from the Reformer's doctrine of inspiration and the Westminister Confession of Faith. Donald McKim referred Lindsey's eye opening essay to me: The Doctrine of Scripture: The Reformers and the Princeton School. [PDF].

The following quotation from the article summarizes Lindsay's article:

The common doctrine of the Reformers about Holy Scripture, as I showed in my former article, may be summed up under two principle and four subordinate statements.

  1. In the first place, they held, in opposition to medieval theology, that the supreme value of the Bible did not consist in the fact, true though it may be, that it is the ultimate source of theology, but in the fact that it contained the whole message of God's redeeming love to every believer--the personal message to me.
  2. In the second place, they held that the faith which laid hold on this personal message was not merely assent to propositions, but personal trust on the personal God revealing Himself in His redeeming purpose--a trust called forth by the witness of the Spirit testifying in and through the Scripture, that God was speaking therein.

These two thoughts of Scripture and faith always correspond. In medieval theology theology they are primarily intellectual and propositional; in Reformation theology they are primarily experimental and personal. Hence the witness of the Spirit, which emphasizes this experimental and personal character of Scripture, forms part of almost every statement of the Doctrine of Scripture in Reformation theology.

The four subordinate statements which really implied in the two primary ones are, as I explained, --

  1. There is a distinction to be drawn between Scripture and the Word of God, or between the record and the Divine manifestation of God, His will and His love, which the record conveys;
  2. This true distinction must not be used to imply that the Spirit witnesses apart from the record, nor that one part of the record is the Word of God while another is not, nor must it prevent us saying that the record is the Word of God;
  3. But it implies that the infallibility and authoritative character of Scripture belong to it, not in itself, but because it is the record which contains or presents or conveys the Word of God--it is the Word of God which is primarily infallible and authoritative, and this infallibility and authority are received through faith, not through intellectual assent;
  4. God has framed and preserved the record which contains or presents His Word under a singular care and providence.

Lindsay, Thomas M. "The Doctrine of Scripture: The Reformers and the Princeton School." The Expositor Fifth I (MDCCCXCV): 278-93. Print.

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Herman Bavinck’s Organic Inspiration of the Scriptures

Herman Bavinck (source: site)

Herman Bavinck (source: rpcnacovenanter)

Herman Bavinck was a Dutch Calvinist who wrote an influential Reformed Dogmatics, and this is part two in my analysis of Bavinck's Doctrine of Inspiration of the Scriptures. As I previously shared, the Dutch Calvinists were not encumbered in fundamentalist debates over inerrancy like their American Calvinist counter-parts. Bavinck stayed closer to the spirit of the reformation, and especially to John Calvin, in his understanding of Inspiration of the Scriptures.

Bavinck developed his own "Organic Inspiration" theory in contrast to what he called the "Fundamentalist" or "Mechanical Inspiration" known today as Inerrancy, which was a trap that perceived that even the Reformed confessions had fallen into, a trap that his own Organic Inspiration theory had evaded.

The Reformed confessions almost all have an article on Scripture and clearly express its divine authority; and all the Reformed theologians without exception take the same position. Occasionally one can discern a feeble attempt at developing a more organic view of Scripture. Inspiration did not always consist in [new] revelation but, when it concerned familiar matters, it consisted in assistance and direction. The authors were not always passive but also time active.

Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena. Ed. John Bolt. Trans. John Vriend. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011. 414. Print.

Bavinck wrote, the "'fundamental' approach to inspiration is in conflict with this dogmatic and religious character of the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture." (pg 436) and "Erring in the other direction are those who favor a mechanical inspiration, thereby failing to do justice to the activity of the secondary authors." (pg430) Bavinck believed that the Scriptures did not contain errors so far as they communicated the "history of salvation", and although the truth of Scriptures in this regard extended positively to all spheres of life [in true Kuyperian fashion!], yet this precision did not extend to scientific and historical detail. Bavinck does not affirm that the Scriptures contains errors, but when faced with errors in the realms of geology, zoology, physiology, medicine, or other areas of science and history, Bavinck concludes that it was not the intention of the Scriptures to answer those details positively that it could be invoked to adjudicate between world-views such as the Ptolemaic versus the Copernican systems. It is only the error of Mechanical and Fundamentalist theories of inspiration that stretched the Scriptures beyond the truths they communicate regarding salvation that are forced to reconcile the errors created by these deficient systems.

Bavinck's Organic Theory of Inspiration was further developed by G.C. Berkower, which I will discuss in the future, and although Bavinck lacks some of the developments that were to come later from Dutch Calvinism, he is still in a healthier vein of the Reformed Church on this topic. An example of this is how Bavinck remained open to Higher Criticism and appreciative of Schleiermacher in a way that old Princeton never was, and he maintained an helpful distinction between the Revelation and Inspiration of the Scriptures, as the following quotations will demonstrate.

I've collected the following selections from Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena Vol.1 Only recently has the entire four volume Reformed Dogmatics been translated into English.

On Schleiermacher and Revelation vs Inspiration:

Revelation and inspiration are distinct; the former is rather a work of the Son, the Logos, the latter a work of the Holy Spirit.  There is therefore truth in Schleiermacher's idea that the holy authors were subject to the influences of the holy circle in which they lived. Revelation and inspiration have to be distinguished. 

Ibid. 426

On the a-historical character of the Gospels and Pentateuch, the lost original autographs, and the advantages of Higher Criticism:

Holy Scripture has a purpose that is religious-ethical through and through. It is not designed to be a manual for the various sciences. [...] Historical criticism has utterly forgotten this purpose of Scripture. It tries to produce a history of the people, religion, and literature of Israel and a priori confronts Scripture with demands it cannot fulfill. It runs into contradictions that cannot be resolved, endless sorts out sources and books, rearranges and reorders hem, with only hopeless confusion as the end result. No life of Jesus can be written from the four Gospels, nor can a history of Israel be construed from the OT. That was not what the Holy Spirit had in mind. Inspiration was evidently not a matter of drawing up material with notarial precision. "If indeed the four gospels words are put in Jesus' mouth with reference to the same occasion but dissimilar in the form of their expression, Jesus naturally could not have used four different forms; but the Holy Spirit only aimed to bring about for the church an impression which completely corresponds to what came forth from Jesus." (Abraham Kuyper, Encyclopedia, II, 499).

Scripture does not satisfy the demand for exact knowledge in the way we demand it in mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, etc. This is a standard that may not be applied to it. For that reason, moreover, the autographa were lost; for that reason the text--to whatever small degree this is the case--is corrupt; for that reason the church, and truly not just the layman, has the Bible only in defective and fallible translations. These are undeniable facts. And these facts teach us that Scripture has a criterion of its own, requires an interpretation of its own, and has a purpose and intention of its own. That intention is no other than that it should make us "wise unto salvation." The Old Testament, while not a source for the history of Israel's people and religion, is such a source for the history of revelation. The Gospels, while not a source for a life of Jesus, are such a source for a theological (dogmatic) knowledge of his person and work. The Bible is the book for Christian religion and Christian theology. To that end it has been given, and for that purpose it is appropriate. And for that reason it is the word of God given us by the Holy Spirit.

Ibid. 444-5


There are intellectual problems (cruces) in Scripture that cannot be ignored and that will probably never be resolved.

Ibid. 442

On how the Scriptures do not reveal science:

[Cardinal] Baronius' saying: "Scripture does not tell us how the heavens move but how we move to heaven."

[...] there is also a large truth in the saying of Cardinal Baronius. All those facts in Scripture are not communicated in isolation and for their own sake but with a theological aim, namely, that we should know God unto salvation. Scripture never intentionally concerns itself with science as such. [...] But for that very reason too it [Scripture] is not a scientific book in the strict sense. Wisdom, not learning, speaks in it. It does not speak the exact language of science and the academy but the language of observation and daily life. It judges and describes things, not in terms of the results of scientific investigation, but in terms of intuition, the initial lively impression that the phenomena make on people.

For that reason it speaks of "land approaching," of the sun "rising" and "standing still," of blood as the "soul" of an animal, of the kidneys as the seat of sensations, of the heart as the source of thoughts, etc. and is not the least bit worried about the scientifically exact language of astronomy, physiology, etc. It speaks of the earth as the center of God's creation and does not take sides between the Ptolemaic and the Copernican world-view. It does not take a position on Neptunism versus Plutonism, on allopathy versus homeopathy. It is probable that the authors of Scripture knew no more than all their contemporaries about these sciences, geology, zoology, physiology, medicine, etc. Nor was it necessary. For Holy Scripture uses the language of everyday experience, which is and remains always true. If, instead of this, Scripture had used the language of the academy and spoken with scientific precision, it would have stood in the way of its own authority. If it had decided in favor of the Ptolemaic worldview, it would not have been credible in an age that supported the Copernican system. Nor could it have been a book for life, for humanity. But now it speaks in ordinary human language, language that is intelligible to the most simple person, fear to the learned and unlearned alike. It employs the language of observation, which will always continue to exist alongside that of science and the academy. In recent times a similar idea has been articulated by many Roman Catholic theologians with respect to the historiography found in Scripture.

Ibid. 445-6

On Higher Criticism and Demythologizing the New Testament:

Yet it is true that the historiography of Holy Scripture has a character of its own. Its purpose is not to tell us precisely all that has happened in times past with the human race and with Israel but to relate to us the history of God's revelation. Scripture only tells us what is associated with that history and aims by it to reveal God to us in his search for and coming to humanity. Sacred history is religious history. [...] Considered from the viewpoint and by the standards of secular history, Scripture is often incomplete, full of gaps and certainly not written by the rules of contemporary historical criticism. [...] In its determination of time and place, in the order of events, in the grouping of circumstances, it certainly does not give us the degree of exactness we might frequently wish for. The reports about the main events, say, the time of Jesus' birth, the duration of his public activity, the words he spoke at the institution of the Lord's Supper, his resurrection, etc., are far from homogeneous and leave room for a variety of views.

Ibid. 447

On how literal theories of the inspiration makes the bible impossible:

Whether the rich man and the poor Lazarus are fictitious characters or historical persons is an open question. Similarly we can differ about whether and in how far we must regard the book of Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon as history or as historical fiction. This is especially clear in the case of prophecy. The Old Testament prophets picture the future in colors derived from their own environments and thereby in each case confront us with the question of whether what they write is intended realistically or symbolically. Even in the case of historical reports, there is sometimes a distinction between the fact that has occurred and the form in which it is presented. In connection with Genesis 1:3 the Authorized Version [Dutch] comments in the margin that God's speech is his will, his command, his act, and in connection with Genesis 11:5 that this is said of the infinite and all-knowing God in a human way. This last comment, however, applies to the whole bible. It always speaks of the highest and holiest things, of eternal in invisible matters, in a human way. Like Christ, it does not consider anything human alien to itself. It is old without ever becoming obsolete. It always remains young and fresh; it is the word of life. The word of God endures forever.

Ibid. 448

On the Testimony of the Holy Spirit is superior to Dictation:

Inspiration alone would not yet make a writing into the word of God in a Scriptural sense. Even if a book on geography, say, was inspired from cover to cover and was literally dictated word-for-word, it would still not be "God-breathed" and "God breathing" in the sense of 2 Timothy 3:16. Scripture is the word of God because the Holy Spirit testifies in it concerning Christ, because it has the Word-made-flesh as its matter and content.

Ibid. 443

Against Mechanical Inspiration theories:

A mechanical notion of revelation one-sidedly emphasizes the new, the supernatural element that is present in the inspiration, and disregards its connection with the old, the natural. This detaches the Bible writers from their personality, as it were, and lifts them out of the history of their time. In the end it allows them to function only as mindless, inanimate instruments in the hand of the Holy Spirit. To what extent theologians in the past held to such a mechanical view cannot be said in a single sweeping statement and would have to be explored separately in each individual case. It is true that the church fathers already started comparing the prophets and apostles, in the process of writing, with a cipher, a lyre, a flute, or a pen in the hand of the Holy Spirit. But we dare not draw too many conclusions from these comparisons. In using these similes they only wanted to indicate that the Bible writers were the secondary authors and that God was the primary author. This is evident from the fact that, on the other hand, they firmly and unanimously rejected the error of the Montanists, who claimed that prophecy and inspiration rendered their mouthpieces unconscious, and often clearly recognized the self-activity of the biblical authors as well. Stile, from time to time, one encounters expression and contradictions that insight into the historical and psychological mediation of revelation--now taken in a favorable sense--only came to full clarity in modern times and that the mechanical view of inspiration, to the extent that it existed in the past, has increasingly made way for the organic. 

Ibid. 431

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