Asbury Theological Seminary, which is one of the preferred seminaries of The Wesleyan Church, has a helpful statement on inerrancy: the Bible is “without error in all that it affirms.” The important question is thus, “What was God affirming when He inspired this particular passage?” For example, was the point of Philippians 2:10 that the earth is flat and that there are beings under and above the earth: “that at the name of Jesus every knee might bow—of those in the skies and on the earth and under the earth”? . . .
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The idea that the Bible is inerrant in all that it affirms captures the Wesleyan sense of inerrancy well. Certainly God’s word could never be in error. The challenge is in determining what the Bible affirms rather than in acknowledging its inerrancy. Certainly when God’s Spirit truly reveals something to an individual through the words of Scripture, this affirmation will be without error. And anything that God has authentically revealed to the Church, to a specific church group or specific individuals, is an affirmation without error.
Ken Schenck, What Wesleyans Mean By Inerrancy. [I took my summer Hebrew courses with Ken Schenck when he was still a professor at Asbury. John Walters, another professor at Asbury, said openly that the concepts of the Bible are inspired and inerrant but not every single word of the Bible.]
Certainly when God’s Spirit truly reveals something to an individual through the words of Scripture, this affirmation will be without error. (Schenck, Ibid.).Schenck's view is practically identical with the neo-orthodox view. If the Bible is not an objective revelation instead of a framework that needs personal revelation, Christianity is completely destroyed. [He also places more authority in the church than in the Holy Scriptures. Whatever happened to sola Scriptura?]
Also, as an aside, I should mention that no literary analysis of the Bible can be done in exactitude without knowing the biblical languages sufficiently to read and exegete the syntactical information in the original languages. Although this method works for the layman who is reading the Bible in an English translation, the layman should be comparing various translations to see what translation issues become immediately apparent. A further complication is the issue of textual criticism and what is considered to have been originally in the autographs. (Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism). [Note well that when I was a student at Asbury from 1992-1995 Hebrew was no longer required for the fulfillment of the degree for a master of divinity. As stated above, I had to do Hebrew as a summer elective.]
To show what I am talking about I will quote the lengthy passage from Dr. Traina's book on pages 148 to 149:
(4) Connotations of General Literary Forms
Some of the intepretative implications of general literary forms were indicated in their previous treatment. The purpose of the discussion at this juncture is to supply one or two illustrations which will clarify some of the means by which the utilization of literary forms will have a serious bearing on exegesis, and to suggest articles and books which may be read in order to broaden the reader's understanding of their exegetical importance.
Let us consider, for example, one of the factors involved in the interpretative significance of the parabolic form. As was indicated previously, the parable is based on an analogy between the physical narrative and a spiritual truth. Now such an analogy does not imply that the spiritual truth and the physical illustration are absolutely identical, since spiritual and physical truth are on two different planes and can never be equated. Nor need they be, for all that is demanded of an analogy is similarity at certain points. In fact, it is safe to limit the place of intersection between the spiritual truth and the physical illustration to one main point.
If this analysis is true, one of the factors involved in the exegetical significance of the parabolic form become abundantly clear. The physical aspects of the parable should never be pressed in all its particulars in order to discover its meaning. For the parable may be likened to a husk containing a kernel. The husk must be removed until the kernel alone remains, because it is for the sake of the kernel that the husk exists. The kernel may be compared with the one, main spiritual truth for which the parable is given. When this kernel is discovered, the physical aspect, like the husk, may be set aside. For to treat the physical factor of the parable as identical with the spiritual truth it carries, and consequently to find spiritual meaning in every of the narrative, is to misuse the parabolic form."
Robert A. Traina. Methodical Bible Study. 1952. 1980. Reprint. (Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury/Zondervan, 1985). Pp. 148-149.
Dr. Gordon H. Clark, on the other hand, defined his terms carefully. He said that behind every metaphor, simile, and parable there is a logical proposition. The term "spiritual truth" is vague and not carefully defined. A logical proposition is a logical statement that is composed of a subject and a predicate joined by a copula. Dr. Clark's example of this is, "David was the king of Israel." Even a basic English grammar student can see what this means because the grammar of a sentence and a logical statement are exactly identical in this case. Parables are therefore not a contradiction to the principle of propositional revelation when we say that all knowledge is propositional. The distinction between literal and symbolic or literal and analogical is therefore misleading.
However, to say that we can set aside the parable once we know the "spiritual truth" is dangerous. The parable stands as God's written word and the meaning of the parable cannot be understood apart from the symbolic statements that lead us to the propositional statement behind the parable. Dr. Traina's statement that the parable is just a husk while the truth within is the kernel and that we can dispose of the husk is nothing more than neo-orthodoxy. All Scripture is inspired by God and all Scripture is profitable for doctrine. (2 Timothy 3:16; Matthew 4:4; John 10:35). Scripture stands as a totality, a systematic whole and no parts of the Scriptures may be discarded as husks just because we think we have arrived at the proper interpretation of the text.
According to Roger Johnson, Bultmann "rejected every effort to identify keryma with any past confession of faith." (Roger Johnson, "The Relation Between Theology and Proclamation," in Rudolf Bultmann: Interpreting Faith for the Modern Era, (San Francisco: Collins, 1987), p. 235). Bultmann completely rejected not only dogmatics and systematic theology but also propositional revelation. This means that systematic organization of basic Christian doctrines into creeds or extended confessional statements is impossible. For Bultmann truth is an existential encounter between an individual person and what that person perceives God is saying to him through direct encounter:
Bultmann's consistent focus on the New Testament kerygma as the locus of faith suggested to some a very specific and limited formulation of that kerygma, as if it could be defined in terms of certain core New Testament beliefs: e.g., the confession that Jesus is Lord, that God has raised up this Jesus who was crucified, etc. Bultmann, however, rejected every effort to identify the kerygma with any particular past confession of faith. Since the keryma is nothing else than God's word of address to a particular person, no formulation of it can ever be regarded as complete. It will always find expression in new forms of speech appropriate to the concrete situation of the person addressed. (Roger Johnson, Ibid.).
Bultmann in his own words rejects the doctrine of dogmatic theology and propositional truth or any idea that theology or biblical theology can be systematized into a summary of biblical doctrine:
The science called New Testament theology has the task of setting forth the theology of the New Testament; i.e. of setting forth the theological thoughts of the New Testament writings, both those that are explicitly developed (such as Paul's teaching on the Law, for example) and those that are implicitly at work in narrative exhortation, in polemic or consolation. The question may be raised whether it is more appropriate to treat the theological thoughts of the New Testament writings as a systematically ordered unity--a New Testament system of dogmatics, so to say--or treat them in their variety, each writing or group of writings by itself, in which case the individual writings can be understood as members of an historical continuity.
The second procedure is the one chosen in the treatment here offered. By this choice the opinion is expressed that there can be no normative Christian dogmatics, in other words, that it is not possible to accomplish the theological task once for all--the task which consists of unfolding that understanding of God, and hence of the world and man, which arises from faith, for this task permits only ever-repeated solutions, or attempts at solution, each in its particular historical situation. Theology's continuity through the centuries consists not in holding fast to once formulated propositions but in the constant vitality with which faith, fed by its origin, understandingly masters its constantly new historical situation. It is of decisive importance that the theological thoughts be conceived and explicated as thoughts of faith, that is: as thoughts in which faith's understanding of God, the world, and man is unfolding itself--not as products of free speculation or of a scientific mastering of the problems involved in "God", "the world", and "man" carried out by the objectifying kind of thinking.
Theological propositions--even those of the New Testament--can never be the object of faith; they can only be the explication of the understanding which is inherent in faith itself. Being such explication, they are determined by the believer's situation and hence are necessarily incomplete. . . .
Rudolf Bultmann, quoted in "The Relation Between Theology and Proclamation," Rudolf Bultmann: Interpreting Faith for the Modern Era. (San Francisco: Collins, 1987). Pp. 235-236.
The similarities between the Wesleyan rejection of plenary verbal inspiration and their affirmation of the theological concepts only should be apparent. Bultmann calls the thoughts of the New Testament the kerygma but he rejects any attempt to systematize the doctrines of the Bible into creeds or confessions. Although the Wesleyans do not go that far, it should be noted that John Wesley never wrote a systematic theology. His 52 standard sermons serve as the only systematic theology Wesley ever produced. Unfortunately, modern Evangelical Wesleyans have used this as an excuse to dismiss the systematic theology of the Reformed scholars as overly scholastic. This same tendency to endorse both higher and lower biblical criticism and to reject propositional revelation and confessional dogmatics and systematics has infiltrated not only the Wesleyan seminaries but by and large the majority of the Reformed and Evangelical seminaries due to the influence of Cornelius Van Til, who largely agreed with the neo-orthodoxy of G. C. Berkouwer. Van Til most famously said that all Scripture is apparently contradictory:
Now since God is not fully comprehensible to us we are bound to come into what seems to be contradiction in all our knowledge. Our knowledge is analogical and therefore must be paradoxical. -Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 61.
… while we shun as poison the idea of the really contradictory we embrace with passion the idea of the apparently contradictory. Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel, 9.
All teaching of Scripture is apparently contradictory. Ibid., 142. (Quoted and cited by Patrick McWilliams, Cornelius Van Til vs. Zacharias Ursinus).
Dr. Traina at least acknowledges that inductive Bible study must have some connection to the overall structure of the book being studied and to the Bible as a whole:
. . . It may truly be said that the context of each term of a book is the book itself.
The purpose of emphasizing the complexity of contextual relations and their interpretative significance is to encourage the reader to be constantly on his guard lest he forget to utilize some important structural connections in the process of exposition. For such an oversight will eventuate either in erroneous interpretation or at least incomplete interpretation. In fact, it was because of this that the suggestion was made that an entire passage be observed before a serious attempt be made to interpret any of its parts. It might even be added that the exegesis of each unit within a given book should remain tentative until the entire book is studied in order to give full consideration to the broader structural relations, which are frequently so important for proper exposition. Traina, Ibid., pp. 145-146.
I will not quote Dr. Gordon H. Clark here because I have already quoted at length both Bultmann and Dr. Traina. But suffice it to say that Dr. Clark believed that the Bible consists of propositional revelation that is univocally the very words of God. These propositions in isolation would be meaningless apart from their systematic organization into a system of epistemological truth. Verses of the Bible are not isolated aggregates that stand alone. They appear in the total context of the pericope, chapter, book, and the whole Bible. The old arguments between biblical theology, which is allegedly focused on inductive Bible study, and systematic theology is pertinent here because systematic theology is not merely proof texting out of context. In fact, the proper exegesis of the proof texts is based on inductive study of the Bible and how all the parts fit together not only in a structural analysis of the biblical texts but also how all those parts fit together into a systematic summary of the doctrinal statements of the Bible. Dr. Clark rejected the neo-orthodox distinction between kerygma and Scripture (Is There a Distinction Between Church Doctrine and Kerygma?, and The Gospel Includes the Five Points of Calvinism), yet he supported proof texting as a legitimate method of supporting systematics and dogmatics. Every scholar of Aristotle and Shakespeare proof texts those writers to show what their views were. So why should Reformed Christians be prevented from proof texting?
The neo-orthodox attack on propositional revelation is prominent not only in Arminian seminaries but in practically every so-called Reformed seminary in the nation today. Evangelicalism is infected with relativism and situational ethics and morality because it has as a movement rejected the dogmatic and systematic interpretation of Scripture as the univocal revelation of God in the very words of God. Unless and until there is a return to classical Reformation theology and the doctrine of propositional and systematic revelation, the slide into apostasy will continue in Evangelicalism and in the so-called Reformed denominations. While Asbury and other seminaries put on a show of their commitments to conservative theology and traditional Evangelicalism, the truth is that they equivocate significantly on the definitions of these terms. Ken Schenck's article on biblical inerrancy cited above is just one example of that. My own understanding of what Asbury stands for is that Asbury has long ago rejected the authority of Scripture and instead teaches neo-orthodox views of Scripture, including rejecting Genesis 1-11 as inspired myth rather than propositional revelation. Reformed seminaries are now just as enamored with higher and lower biblical criticism as any openly liberal seminaries these days.
Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.