Last week, I wrote a blog post critiquing Andy Stanley’s brief remarks about the historicity of Adam and Eve. In short, I concluded that his remarks were a “poison pill” for the doctrine of scripture. Even after Stanley responded in the comments underneath that post (here, here, here), I believe that my concerns still stand.
Since then, both Scot McKnight and Michael Bird have suggested that I have erred in my critique of Stanley. Bird says he was “deeply frustrated” by what I wrote while McKnight said my reflections were a “failure to think theologically.”
This has been an interesting exchange, to say the very least. And I hope that carrying it forward will be clarifying and helpful to readers. So I want to respond to each of these in turn and invite further discussion and response. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read my original post as well as those by McKnight and Bird.
Response to Andy Stanley
Perhaps the confusion stems from the fact that I was suggesting an approach to talking about “The Bible” in a culture that is no longer moved by “The Bible says.” But I do believe the epicenter of the faith is something that actually happened.
If I understand him correctly, Stanley is saying that he was not articulating a doctrine of scripture but a strategy for engaging people who don’t believe in the Bible. Is he suggesting that we can evangelize people in ways that call into question the reliability and authority of scripture? I cannot imagine a scenario in which it would ever be helpful or right to tell someone that I believe something but “not because the Bible says so.” When trying to convince someone that the Bible’s message is true, why would I tell them that,
The foundation of our faith is not the Scripture. The foundation of our faith is not the infallibility of the Bible… The Scripture is simply a collection of ancient documents.
These kinds of statements do not engender confidence in God’s written word. If anything, they seem to denigrate scripture. I cannot imagine speaking of the Bible like this to anyone, much less to unbelievers.
One final thing: Stanley affirms another commenter who says that “believing in verbal plenary inspiration is not required for being an evangelical.” I wonder if Stanley really meant to communicate that verbal plenary inspiration is a “take-it-or-leave-it” option for evangelicals. If he did, I ardently disagree.
Response to Scot McKnight
McKnight contends that I have a “Word problem” and a “canon problem.” My Word problem is that I have failed to “think theologically about the Bible as the Word, and the Word as Christ.” I am frankly not sure where this critique is coming from. My post says nothing to disaffirm the reality of both the written word and the living word. In fact, I affirm both. My point is simply that we cannot know Jesus apart from special revelation, and that special revelation comes to us as the written word of God. McKnight seems to agree with this when he says that we know what we know about Jesus because “the Everlasting Word Before Time, chose to ‘Word’ the Word into words.” In short, we can only know Jesus through the Bible. Since that’s precisely the point I was making, I’m not sure why McKnight cites this as a disagreement.
My canon problem—according to McKnight—is that I have failed to recognize that Jesus’ authority is both logically and chronologically prior to the existence of the canon. He writes, “So any articulation of our faith that is not first God in his authority before Scripture’s authority makes a fundamental mistake.” Again, I am not sure where McKnight is getting this from. Of course Jesus precedes the canon. He precedes everything (John 1:1-3)! I think we all agree on that. My point is simply that we cannot know this preexistent Christ apart from Scripture, so it’s not helpful to suggest that we might (as Andy Stanley does).
Response to Michael Bird
Bird takes issue with my statement that the Bible is the “foundation” for Christian faith. He believes such a formulation to be a “recent post-Protestant innovation” that assumes a “mass produced Bible-culture” and that ignores the masses of Christians throughout the ages who have not owned Bibles.
But I would argue that Bird has a non sequitur embedded in his critique. To speak of the Bible as “foundation” does not imply that everyone can read or own a Bible. I would say that Christians who followed Athanasius against Arius were standing on a biblical “foundation.” I do not mean by that that every peasant in fourth century North Africa owned a Bible. That’s absurd. I simply mean that the faith that they held derived from scripture, however it was communicated to them (either through preaching, the reading of scripture in church, or any other means of transmission).
As I mentioned in my original post, the “foundation” language drives from scripture itself. On more than one occasion Paul referred to the apostolic message as the “foundation” (1 Cor. 3:10-12; Eph. 2:20). If Paul spoke that way, I think we can as well. In that sense, we are on solid ground in calling the Bible the “foundation” for Christian faith. This is hardly “a recent post-Protestant innovation.”
In my original post, I contended that apart from the Bible there is no salvation. Bird thinks that this is “Christologically disastrous” and that this suggests that one can be saved by the Bible apart from Christ. This critique pushes language to the brink. I wonder if Bird would offer the same critique of David’s words in Psalm 19:7, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul.” Wouldn’t Bird’s objection go something like this if applied to Psalm 19? “Surely David had it wrong. The law cannot restore the soul. Shouldn’t David have said that God restores the soul?” If that objection hits wide of the mark with Psalm 19, then I think it does with my statement as well. We can multiply passages of scripture which speak of the message as the means of salvation (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18). Everyone knows that such language never implies that the message operates independently of the One proclaimed in the message.
Bird also turns his critique upon my denomination’s statement of faith, The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (BF&M). I hold to this confession without any reservation, and I am happy to defend the BF&M against all-comers. Bird says that he agrees with the 1963 revision of BF&M, which reads, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” Yet this is precisely the section that theological liberals used to pit Jesus against other parts of scripture. The 2000 revision removed that pretext for undermining the authority and integrity of scripture. I wonder if Bird is aware of this history of interpretation of the BF&M.
Bird also objects that the BF&M 2000 “replaces our Deliverer with Doctrine!!” This objection hits wide of the mark as well. The words in question actually refer to the preamble, and not to the confession itself. Anyone reading the confession itself would be hard-pressed to make the case that Jesus somehow gets displaced by “doctrine.” For instance, consider the section on “God the Son” (II.B):
Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.
I leave it to the reader to judge whether the BF&M 2000 really “replaces our Deliverer with Doctrine.” I don’t think so.
I am very grateful to Stanley, McKnight, and Bird for taking time to read and interact with my post. These matters are not trivial. The doctrine of scripture is foundational, and at a time when it is so contested it is worth every effort to get it right.