Review: Another Attempt to Discredit Inerrancy Falls Flat

The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries To Hide It). By Thom Stark. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2011, xx + 248 pp., $29.00 paper.

It is no secret that some of the most fervid theological liberals tend to be former evangelicals. Evangelical-turned-agnostic Bart Ehrman has vindicated that truism with books like Misquoting Jesus and Jesus Interrupted, both of which seek to discredit biblical inerrancy by popularizing critical studies of scripture. Thom Stark describes himself as a former fundamentalist, and his book The Human Faces of God belongs to the Ehrman-genre, though with at least one significant difference. Despite the Bible’s many deficiencies, Stark wants to retain the Bible’s privileged place as Christian scripture. Even though Stark views the Bible as shot through with error and contradiction, he nevertheless thinks that it is an important book. “This Holy Bible is also my book because I continue to choose it. For everything I loathe about it, there is at least one thing I love about it: it has the power to show me who I am… we see the aspiration, desires, insecurities, and utter obliviousness of humanity” (242). For Stark, the errors and foibles of the Bible are a reflection of the fallen human condition, and that rings true with him.

Stark makes no claim to be breaking new ground in The Human Faces of God. He does not aim “to advance knowledge within academic circles”; rather, he intends to reach a “wide audience” through the popularization of well-worn arguments (xvii). From the start, Stark has the 1979 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) in his crosshairs: “This book is an argument against that doctrine, particularly as articulated by the Chicago Statement, and it is an argument in favor of a different, more ancient way of reading the books that comprise the Bible” (xvi). Stark hopes his book will speak to Christians who struggle with biblical inerrancy and who have not found answers to their questions about the Bible. Stark wants them to know an “alternative way of being Christian”—a way that vehemently rejects the Bible as inerrant (xviii).

[Download the rest of this review from The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.]

10 Responses to Review: Another Attempt to Discredit Inerrancy Falls Flat

  1. Don Johnson March 23, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    I have read Stark’s book, it is useful to read but I think he makes some mistakes in interpretation and then ends up going too far in his response to those mistakes.

    There are better books that express concerns with the concept of inerrancy as expressed in the CSBI. Carlos Bovell’s recent “Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear” is an example.

  2. Mike Davis March 24, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    Not that any attack on inerrancy contains any serious scholarship, but it seems those produced from an experience of apostasy are particularly shallow. It was also interesting to compare your review of Stark’s book with Al Mohler’s SBJT article a few pages down on Michael Licona’s book, in terms of how both deal with the issue of inerrancy. Licona’s book, albeit with Dr. Mohler’s caveat, looks like a far superior work of course.

    • Bryan Berghoef March 24, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

      “Not that any attack on inerrancy contains any serious scholarship.”

      That is an unqualified, blanket statement that no serious scholar could endorse. 😉

  3. Bryan Berghoef March 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    Stark’s book dealt with biblical scholarship quite cogently and articulately – and is very accessible for those unfamiliar with the articles. I’m looking forward to your review as to why you think not.

  4. Daryl Little March 25, 2012 at 2:17 am #

    Well, I figure any book claiming God made mistakes or changed his mind, while perhaps not lacking in scholarship, is severely lacking in wisdom.

    As Aragorn said while looking for some athelas (kingsfoil) “Bring me a man with less learning and more wisdom.”

  5. Don Johnson March 25, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    God may not have made any mistakes, but people can!

    They can make a mistake in interpretation in regards to mistaking the genre, misunderstanding idioms and technical terms, not recognizing references to earlier Scripture, not knowing the cultural context in which a book was written, etc.

    • Bryan Berghoef March 25, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

      Exactly right. People can make mistakes. And who wrote the Bible? That’s right. People. I wouldn’t charge God with a mistake – but clearly there are ‘mistakes’ in the text – ones that cannot be passed off or explained away, as Stark so clearly identifies. There are a number of stories that clearly show the hand of more than one writer and of an editor who pieced them together. This is undeniable – unless you’ve already predetermined that it can’t be the case. But you can’t claim that based on the actual textual evidence. And this shouldn’t be problematic for people unless they’ve imposed a flawed, 20th-century fundamentalist doctrine on the text: inerrancy. One doesn’t have to hold to inerrancy to be a Christian, but some want to make it so. If we are absolutely honest with the text and with ourselves – we will be unable to come to any other conclusion. The only way you can continue with the charade of inerrancy is by ignoring the actual evidence and continually asserting an unassailable doctrine. That does more damage to the faith of young people than anything else, who finally begin to read the text for themselves and realize the version of the faith they’ve been handed is simply untenable in the real world. For an accessible, evangelical Christian approach to this, I would recommend Peter Enns: “Inspiration and Incarnation.”

      • Don Johnson March 25, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

        I believe people were inspired by God to write the Bible and that each book had an original meaning. And that Christ is the goal of the Torah, so there is also often a meaning that leads to Christ in some way in some of the texts, such as foreshadowing or prophecy. But I also believe that the Bible has infinite depth and one can mine riches from it forever.

        • Bryan Berghoef March 25, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

          I absolutely agree with you, Don! None of that depends on the doctrine of inerrancy. In fact, I think that such a doctrine can get in the way of reading the Bible to its fullest, and in understanding its original meaning(s).

          • Don Johnson March 26, 2012 at 10:52 am #

            I see the doctrine of inerrancy being a response to the liberals. When theological liberals started saying that little to nothing “stuck on the wall”, then the theological conservative response gave into the temptation to want to say everything “stuck on the wall”.

            Then when they got down to the details, the CSBI did admit to “escape clauses” such as genre determination except when dealing with Gen 1-11, where the famous/infamous article XXII declares that this section of Scripture is “factual” by which they mean that this section MUST be interpreted as historical narrative genre in a way that allows for YEC and OEC readings that are anti-evolution but not EC (TE) readings that allow integration with evolution. Why is Gen 1-11 not also open to genre determination discussions among the faithful that other parts of Scripture are?

            I see the result as a climate of fear that discourages the conservative faithful from investigating where the evidence leads in terms of what the Bible means based on what it meant to the original reader. And I do not like this.

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