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The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism [Paperback]

G. K. Beale

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.3 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
79 of 84 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Traditional Evangelicalism vs Progressive Evangelicalism 22 Dec 2008
By Dr. Marc Axelrod - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book isn't nearly as fun and hard hitting as the title suggests that it could be. G.K Beale is a terrific New Testament scholar who has written one of the best commentaries on the book of Revelation available today. He writes this book because postmodernism and liberal/non-evangelical institutions have called into question the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

But this book gets bogged down in the author's debate with Peter Enns. Peter has written a book challenging the traditional evangelical viewpoint on the inerrancy of the Bible. Peter believes that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are mythic, even though the authors didn't know it at the time. In fact, myth is allowed into the Bible at numerous points, and yet it is inspired by God to teach us theological and ethical points. The first four chapters of Beale's book makes challenges and replies to Enns.
Beale is concerned that evangelicals might be shaken in their faith, and so he replies strongly and straightforwardly to the claims made by Enns.

The second half of the book discusses issues related to inerrancy, such as the debate over the authorship of Isaiah. Beale feels that if we hold that Isaiah only wrote chapters 1-39, it undermines the authority of the NT writers who attributed all sections of the book to Isaiah the prophet. Beale gives a passionate defense for the unity and single authorship of Isaiah. It won't convince everyone, but it should be examined closely.

The next chapter shows that God allowed for descriptions of the earth that were less geographical and more theological. The structure of the earth mirrors the building and construction of the earthly and heavenly temples (Genesis 1, Ezekiel 1, 1 Kings 6-8, Revelation 12, etc).

But I was disappointed that Beale never made the move from analysis to synthesis. I would have appreciated an extended discussion on what the evangelical community can do to thwart challenges to inerrancy. Also, it would have been helpful to know whether or not progressives like Peter Enns belong at the table with evangelicals, or somewhere else. The author doesn't spend enough time alerting the reader to the dangers of the erosion described in the title. The book comes off as a quickly patched together collection of academic arguments, rejoinders, appendices, and debates, loosely fitting under the heading of the doctrine of Scripture.

The book is good for guys like me who don't mind sitting in on theological debates. But in my opinion, the book needs more application and more of a game plan on how the body of Christ should respond.
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Does the Bible Contain Inspired Myths? 26 Mar 2009
By Trevin Wax - Published on
Back when the Peter Enns controversy erupted at Westminster Theological Seminary, I realized that a major theological battle was taking place. After all, Westminster has been known to be a bastion of conservatism. If a professor that denied, questioned or redefined inerrancy were to remain on the faculty, the seminary could face serious accusations from its conservative supporters.

On the other hand, if a professor had to resign for simply illuminating and expounding on an existing definition of inerrancy, then there would other consequences, not least of which would include a substantial narrowing of what constitutes "evangelical orthodoxy".

After hearing about the Enns controversy, I printed out the extensive reviews of Enns' book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by D.A. Carson and G. K. Beale - along with Enns' responses and rejoinders, in order to understand what the controversy was all about. I summarized the issues in a brief blog post back in March.

G.K. Beale, professor of New Testament at Wheaton Graduate School and one of the strongest critics of Enns' work has compiled his reviews and added some additional essays into a new book published by Crossway, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority. In this new book, Beale makes the case that a number of evangelical scholars have begun adopting views that contradict the traditional understanding of inerrancy.

The book begins with a fictional discussion between two Bible scholars about the authorship of Isaiah. The conservative argues that Isaiah is the author of the entire work that bears his name. The progressive argues that the second part of Isaiah was written by someone else. The progressive maintains that his view upholds the traditional view of inerrancy, while the conservative worries that he is smuggling errors into Scripture under the umbrella of "inspiration."

The first half of the book contains Beale's reviews and rejoinders to Peter Enns. Enns' responses are not included; they are summarized by a third party.

The second half of the book deals with the issue of Isaiah's authorship as a test case of biblical fidelity. Beale then spends two chapters on Old Testament cosmology and argues that the OT depictions of the world were described in phenomenological and figurative ways and should not pose problems for the traditional view of inerrancy.

Those who are heavily invested in the debate at Westminster over Enns' resignation will want to consult this book. The discussions become highly technical at times. Few readers will have the stamina to persevere through the intricate arguments that Enns and Beale set forth. This book was frustrating for me at times, as the continual review/response/rejoinders tended occasionally to degenerate into a "you said/I said" debate.

In the end, I believe Beale is right to point out the chronological snobbery inherent in Enns' view that the biblical writers were consciously intending to record history, but were actually documenting legends from that period of time. But the most helpful chapters are not focused on Enns. Beale's chapters addressing Old Testament cosmology clarify issues for Bible students puzzled by some of the depictions of our world.

The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism is not for the faint of heart. Most people will find the fine-tuned arguments of Beale to be deep waters. But as history has shown us time and time again, our view of Scripture matters enormously. If Beale is right and the traditional understanding of inerrancy is being redefined, then we should expect to see more controversies akin to the Enns issue in the future.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting book that brings you into the world of OT scholarship 23 Oct 2009
By R. Hayton - Published on
In recent years, Evangelicalism has seen a number of challenges to the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. Chief among these have been new insights into the cultural and historical background of the Old Testament provided by newly found ancient Near Eastern sources (ANE for short). A recent turmoil was raised by a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary named Peter Enns who published a controversial book Inspiration and Incarnation. Eventually he was deemed to have violated the Westminster Confession of Faith in his views and was removed from his teaching post at Westminster.

In scholarly journals, G.K. Beale responded to Enns' book and open questioning of the popular understanding of biblical inerrancy. Enns and Beale responded back and forth to each other in a series of journal articles, which in a slightly emended form make up the first four chapters of this book. I'm glad that G.K. Beale chose to put the discussion in a book for a wider Evangelical audience, as he has done us all a great favor. His book, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority addresses this issue head on and offers a confessionally faithful model of approaching ANE parallels to Scripture.

I must admit that when I began this book, I was skeptical of Beale's position and open to what Enns had to say. By the end of the book, I realized that Enns had indeed erred, and that Beale represented a careful scholarly approach worthy of consideration. Still, the objection could be raised that Beale is making a mountain out of a molehill and is just interested in muddying Enns' image, even as he threatens the scholarly Evangelical community with the same if they dare tip the sacred inerrancy cow. Such is not the case however. Let me allow Beale to explain his rationale for the book:

... most of the problems that [Enns] poses are not that hard to solve, though he gives the impression that they are difficult to square with a traditional view of inerrancy. Indeed, this is partly why I felt a burden to write the review (of Enns' book) that I did. Instead of helping people in the church gain confidence in their Bibles, Enns's book will likely shake that confidence--I think unnecessarily so. (pg. 66-67)

After laying out the issues, Beale jumps right in to the back and forth between Peter Enns and himself. He splits the discussion into two topics: recent OT studies' developments and the study of the Old Testament in the New. For each he gives his rejoinders to Enns and Enns' responses. While at times the back and forth leaves the typical reader dazed and confused (at times one feels like he's looking over the various scholars' shoulders or that the discussion is moving on too quickly to follow), key issues and main points are driven home through these first four chapters. Differing approaches to ANE myths and their implications for Genesis, and second Temple Judaistic hermeneutical principles and their bearing on our understanding of the New Testament are fleshed out.

After the various approaches are displayed through the back and forth of chapters 1-4, the book moves on to the unity of Isaiah as a case study. Will we trust the Bible's witness to itself when it comes to Isaiah's unity, or move with the scholarly winds and deny that which Jesus and the apostles appeared to assume? While Beale is a NT scholar, he handles the Isaiah question capably, referring to recent scholarly evangelical assessments on this point.

Beale then provides a fascinating discussion of Gen. 1 and a biblical cosmology model in the form of the universe as God's temple. In this section, Beale really shines as he develops a compelling case for the tabernacle, Temple and indeed Eden and the universe as a whole as all being models of God's true cosmic temple. This applies to the book in general because to understand Gen. 1-2 as a temple cosmology allows one to assimilate insights from ANE studies without defaulting to teaching that the early chapters of Genesis are intended to be taken as a myth.

Two appendices are also provided. One is a rather detailed discussion of postmodernism, epistemology and the like. The second is an exposition of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

This book is not for the average reader. Beale develops a case and brings you into the world of Biblical scholarship today. He explains how one can maintain a high view of Scripture and assimilate insights from scholarship successfully. He also warns of the dangers of forsaking inerrancy. I learned a ton in reading this book, but the part I enjoyed the most was when Beale left polemics aside and focused on a positive development of his cosmic temple idea concerning Gen. 1-2. Beale has written an entire book on that subject (The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God), and I'm interested in picking it up soon.

I recommend this book, but have to admit it was put together in a piecemeal fashion. Still it has great value and needs to be read by anyone interested in OT scholarship.

My thanks go out to Angie Cheatham and Michelle Bennett at Crossway for furnishing me with a review copy of this book.
38 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Scholarship, Hard Reading 5 Jan 2009
By PastoralMusings - Published on
G.K. Beale seems to be one who can be counted on to uphold Evangelical doctrine. He has co-authored (with D.A. Carson) a Commentary on The New Testament Use of The Old Testament which is a very good commentary. That points to his being a good scholar. His reputation is that of an evangelical scholar. With these things in mind we consider the book at hand.

If one expects The Erosion of Inerrancy to be light and easy reading they will quickly be disappointed. I am a fast reader, but it took me a very long time to read this book when contrasted with others of the same length. One should not expect to find trite, Fundamentalist, sarcastic sorts of answers to the issue of inerrancy. Beale is a scholar and writes like a scholar.

The book did a good job of addressing the subject, however. Beale responded to many arguments that seemed to contradict inerrancy. The particular writer to whom he was responding was Peter Enns. There is much to learn from this book, for sure. I like the way the author instructed us concerning the fact that most ancient near eastern stories that seem to correspond to Biblical stories were most likely borrowed from the accounts of truth that were passed down orally through the years.

The highlight of the book for me was Beale's defense of the Isaian authorship of Isaiah. When the preponderance of evidence points to something, and that evidence seems obvious, why should one seek a novel understanding? Beale upholds the traditional view that Isaiah did indeed write all of Isaiah and that none of it was written after the fact and then made to appear as prophecy.

In the end, the common reader will not be the one to benefit from this book. It will find its way to seminary, college, and university library shelves as well as the libraries of scholars. It is not written in a way that the average person in the pew will enjoy or endure reading, though Beale states that he is writing for the popular audience.

For content I give the book five stars. For ease of reading I give it three stars for an average of four stars.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very weak response 23 Dec 2011
By Adam Shields - Published on
Overall, this was a very weak response to Enns. Beale's use of prior journal articles (which resulted in unnecessary repetition and a lack of clarity), his summary of Enns responses (and then responding to issues that were not included in the summary) instead of actually re-printing them and fairly random supplemental chapters (single authorship of Isaiah, ANE cosmology, discussion of Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) makes this book feel very thrown together and a very weak piece of scholarship. If Enns is important enough to write a full book about, he should be important enough to actually write a decent book about. Instead, this book seems to be exactly the type of book that Christian Smith wrote Bible Made Impossible to address. Beale's concern does not actually seem to be the authority of scripture, the value of the text or following the evidence of the text, but preserving his preconceived understanding of what he thinks is necessary to maintain inerrancy.
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