Review: Thoughts on GK Beale’s The Erosion of Inerrancy In Evangelicalism

Though this book isn’t in my personal collection, I am very grateful to my friend Angelo for having lent it to me as a counterpoint to Enn’s Inspiration and Incarnation.

Responding to each other’s writings is something all theologians do whether in a positive or negative way. Having knowledge of the controversy surrounding Inspiration and Incarnation, it is of no surprise to me that harsh reviews such as Beale’s (or at least of heightened concerned, if harsh is too strong a word) exist. What saddens me about Beale’s response to Enns, however, is the attitude with which he writes, and his needless jump to the defense of a high view of Scripture.

Beale pokes a number of holes in Enn’s book, but here’s the predominate ones:

  1. Ambiguity on Enn’s part.  He claims that Enns seems to be unclear about what he thinks about the evidence he’s presenting, and that the reader is left to simply trust Enns at his word that he’s still showing them a high view of Scripture. I found this to be pretty inaccurate, as I felt like I grasped what Enns was saying: there’s a lot of external influence on the Old Testament writings that comes from other existing civilizations, and God can (and did) work through that to teach us theological truths.  Pretty cut and dry to me.
  2. Not presenting the other side of the argument (that being the evangelical view of inerrancy).  Enns responded to this objection by pointing out that his aim was at a popular audience, not a scholarly one, and he was not attempting to write an introductory book to biblical interpretation; rather, he was trying to start a conversation amongst evangelicals (who, no doubt, know what inerrancy is) about archaeological findings that have been published.  Again, I think Enns accomplished this task just fine, and while every scholar wants their work to be so much more than what it is, Enns decided that where he had left it was good enough.  Why judge a scholar’s work by what’s not there?
  3. Enn’s argument is inconsistent with a high view of scripture (read: inerrancy and infallibility), which Beale stresses as critical to the Evangelical faith.  What bothered me here was that Beale never made a real defense as to WHY such a view was critical, he really only stated that it was crucial, and proceeded to show how certain viewpoints of Enns (and other scholars) weren’t consistent with a high view of Scripture.

Now, here’s the thing with Beale: he states from the get-go that he is going to be basing his definition of a high view of Scripture around the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, a document drafted by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) and signed back in 1978 by over 300 noted evangelical scholars (I don’t know if he was one of them, but among the signers are Francis Schaeffer, Norman Geisler, RC Sproul, and JI Packer).   Beale is therefore stating that, if it doesn’t line up with the CSBI, then it’s not conducive to a high view of Scripture.  I want to admire his boldness for setting forth his presuppositions in this area from the  start…but his doing so ultimately shuts down any hope of actual dialogue regarding the issues in question.  It’s basically saying, “Here’s what I think, and if what your saying doesn’t look like what I think, then forget about it.”  No doubt Beale’s predecessors at Westminster (such as Cornelius Van Til) would have been fine with such a position (theologians call it “presuppositional apologetics), but I, frankly, am not.

There were times in this book that I felt like I was learning from Beale; he presented legitimate evidence contrary to Enns’ evidence used to support his view, and he did give SOME consideration to the views and language Enns used (he noted that he liked the use of “Christotelic” over “Christocentric” to describe how NT authors interpreted the OT).  I can bet that I would learn a lot from a class from him.  What I didn’t care for was what felt like less of an interest in dialogue so much as an interest in defending the CSBI against a perceived challenge (the very title of this book invokes a defensive posture).   There was no conversation (what Enns wanted), and there was even some inconsistency with his own views, such as defending seemingly cosmological statements in Scripture as “theological” in nature, not “scientific,” as though there were no way the ancient authors would have viewed the Earth as the center of the universe.  He took what Enns was trying to do and used it to support his own views while still knocking down what Enns had already accomplished!

In my opinion, though there was some good in this book, Beale had the chance to dialogue with Enns, and instead decided to get defensive. His presuppositional framework isn’t conducive to good theological dialogue at all.  If you’re looking for a good book defending inerrancy, I can’t say I’d tell you to look here, or to anyone who begins with the idea that the Bible HAS to be inerrant.  From what I’m told, BB Warfield has a good defense of inerrancy from an evidential viewpoint, so I would recommend looking there first.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Thoughts on GK Beale’s The Erosion of Inerrancy In Evangelicalism

  1. I remember the first time I seriously thought about whether changing my view on evolution would radically affect my Christianity. I was surprised, given the extreme scale of rhetoric, to see very little change so long as I maintained a Christocentric focus.

    The same eventually came for me at VF. We do want to affirm Scripture’s authority, but putting up arbitrary faith claims to tackle before we can affirm Scripture’s authority is really messy and not conducive to real dialogue in what it means to have faith and try to walk in faithfulness.

  2. as Dippold wd say, ‘so what?’ — if evangelicalism erodes, what will be lost or gained? or is Christianity truly limited within these boundaries? ok, I need a nap.

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