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The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism Paperback – 19 Dec 2008
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About the Author
G. K. Beale (PhD, University of Cambridge) is professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. In recent years he has served as president and member of the executive committee of the Evangelical Theological Society. He has written several books and articles on biblical studies.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
He wrote in the Introduction to this 2008 book, "The aims of this book are limited. I want to focus on a specific debate that bears on the broad issue of biblical authority that has arisen recently in evangelicalism... this is a debate that I have had with another biblical scholar [Peter Enns, formerly at Westminster Theological Seminary], who has posed [in Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament] what I consider to be some new challenges to the standard evangelical view of biblical inerrancy... I decided also to take pen in hand and give my own written response... Enns responded ... and I wrote counter-responses... It is these exchanges that will form a significant part of this book... This book is but a brief snapshot of the types of dialogue being conducted within which has usually been considered the most conservative sectors of Christianity." (Pg. 21-23)
Beale summarizes his critique of Enns: "1) He affirms that some of the narratives in Genesis, e.g., of creation and the flood, are shot through with myth, much of which the biblical narrator did not know lacked correspondence to actual past reality. 2) Enns appears to assume that since biblical narrators ... were not objective in narrating history, then their presuppositions distorted significantly the events that they reported... 3) Enns never spells out in detail the model of Jesus' incarnation with which he is drawing analogies for his view of Scripture. 4) Enns affirms that one cannot use modern definitions of truth and error in order to perceive whether Scripture contains truth or error. However, this is non-falsifiable, since Enns never says what would count as an error according to ancient standards... 5) Enns does not follow ... his own excellent proposal of guidelines for evaluating the views of others with whom one disagrees. 6) Enns's book is marked by ambiguities at important junctures of his discussion. 7) Enns does not attempt to present to AND discuss for the reader significant alternative viewpoints beside his own, which is needed in a book dealing with such crucial issues. 8) Enns appears to caricature the views of past evangelical scholarship by not distinguishing the views of so-called fundamentalists from that of good conservative scholarly work." (Pg. 53-54)
He observes, "Paul himself likely did not write the epistle to the Romans' Tertius was is secretary and wrote down what Paul dictated... Yet the epistle has always been called Paul's epistle to the Romans... It is for this reason that ... Moses was the ultimate author of the Pentateuch, even if every word was not written by him. Even the record of Moses' death... might have been commissioned by Moses for someone else... It is certainly possible that there were scribes of Isaiah who wrote down some of his discourses, so literary style may vary within the book. Furthermore, later inspired editors could have done some minor editing of Isaiah's prophecies. But the conceptual essence of each prophecy should be seen as stemming from which the historical Isaiah said or wrote in his lifetime... This is not very different from the ... Gospels, where Gospel writers may have paraphrased Jesus' sayings, giving them various kinds of interpretative nuance, perhaps not explicit when Jesus spoke them. Nevertheless, the later evangelists bring out Jesus' true intention without altering the conceptual essence of what Jesus did." (Pg. 156-157)
He concludes, "The objective of this book has been to address these objections and demonstrate that they are antithetical to the authority and inspiration of Scripture. Therefore, I have sought to show the incompatibility of the postmodern attempt to hold on to the high authority of Scripture and the acknowledgement, at the same time, of erroneous views in the Bible... the absolute authority of Scripture, is under serious debate. There is an erosion of the traditional evangelical notion of what it means for the Bible to be true... This slow process of weakening the traditional, biblical view of the Bible's truth is nothing less than the erosion of the very identity of evangelicalism." (Pg. 220-221)
This book will be of keen interest to anyone studying this issue
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.