History, inerrancy, and failed eschatology – III

The first and second parts of this series described the moral and intellectual dilemmas created by the inerrancy principle.  This third and final post describes a spiritual problem.

“All men know that ‘to err is human,’ and a mere man who received and gave forth an infallible word of the Lord must be, for the time, not himself, not at home in his own brain and senses – in other words, beside himself.  Human values could not be brought forward as tests of such revelation; and human reason could have no power to criticize it.”  (Lily Dougal, The Lord of Thought, 1922, p.19-20)

Neither Dougal nor I would discount the value of honest humility in the face of religious texts alleged to be revealed.  But uncritical belief in a massive plenary inspiration does not truly ‘humble’ the mind in any spiritual sense of the word.  What takes place instead is an unnecessary belittling of the mind’s reasoning powers – unnecessary because it requires a surrender of reason in scientific and moral realms where reason has legitimate powers and jurisdiction.  The premature surrender of reason only frees the mind to wickedly indulge its craving for certainty amid systems of authoritative ‘facts.’

“Contradiction between man’s highest ideal and what he conceived God to be, felt even when not admitted to open-eyed consciousness, produced necessarily a complex system of doctrine at variance with the plain man’s reason and values” (p.39)

Where historical contradictions and immoral assertions about God are not submitted to the process of doubt and discernment, an unreasonable theology is easily elevated to a position independent of both reason and living faith.  This kind of believing mind is worshipping its own convictions as if they were a type of certainty.

 “With such inconsistency in his God, if man is to be truly religious it must be by exercising his affections and imagination upon the only attributes of this complex and inconsistent God that do not contradict human values.” (pp.40)

This kind of guilty ‘cherry picking’ is the only spiritual outlet for the inerrancy principle.  But it tends to encourage an emotional approach to God which is completely distrustful of a reasonable criticism of scripture.

“That is precisely what the best of the Jews did, what the saints of every religion founded on an ancient and closed revelation must do, with the result that emotion is supposed to find God where reason can produce only skepticism.”

For the ‘seer’ unable to take the emotional high ground of the ‘saint,’ the mind has no ground for carrying out its duty to discern the difference between sacred and profane history.

“in a nation believing in such revelation, man’s values and reasons were held to be on a level inferior to his religious visions…”

Dougal argues that the result was a failure of religious visions – the embarrassment of Jewish eschatology.  The apocalyptic prophets lowered their views to match their canonical texts and missed the truth of God’s shalom in Christ for Israel and the world.


2 thoughts on “History, inerrancy, and failed eschatology – III

  1. And we seem never to learn the lesson do we? I was reading commentary on Mark this morning, where it was pointed out that Mark’s reference to Isiaah was wrong, in fact the “messenger in the wilderness” occurs in Malachi.

    It is believed that Mark might have been quoting from his memory, and thus got it wrong. How is the inerrant follower to do justice here?

    Surely God’s memory is not faulty. Are we to just assume that any such “errors” are the parts God left to his human writer to “flesh” out?

    If so, how do we tell which is which? It seems to me that the pusher of inerrancy simply stops the ears and refuses to engage. Or, at the “seminary” level, the right wing twists and turns the text to an excruciating degree in order to make it all fit. Talk about fitting a square peg into a round hole!

  2. Thanks for writing Sherry.

    Your ‘never learn’ statement reminds me that our end-timers of today are looking back at much of the same scripture that screwed up the end-timers (the apocalyptic writers) who were trying to ‘see’ God’s future just before the Incarnation.

    They missed it badly, of course, and yes I believe today’s wannabe ‘seers’ are set to fall too – even if they try to ‘factor in’ the mixed messages of the New Testament on ‘the last days.’ Huge industry though.

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