What Is True Faith? (6) Grounded In God’s Inerrant Word

blue-bloods-table Last time we saw that faith is a gift.
The Evangelical Theological Society met in Baltimore this week. They discussed the inerrancy of Scripture. My former colleague and now frequent critic, John Frame, gave the plenary address defending the inerrancy of Scripture. I’m thankful for his defense of inerrancy because Scripture is God’s inerrant Word. It is infallible. That is the testimony of the Word incarnate about the Word written: “Your Word is Truth” (John 17:17). When I was a seminary student we were on the tail end of an “inerrancy debate.” I have bookshelves lined with books defending inerrancy (as I have books by modernists and neo-evangelicals critiquing inerrancy). When I began teaching full-time (and thus pastoring part-time; I’ve never stopped being a pastor) I had a discuss with a scholar about the state of the inerrancy debate. He said (paraphrasing), “it’s finished. The discussion has moved on.” I was a little surprised by that but I was a neophyte and had spent the last several years in the 16th century so I wasn’t in any position to contradict him. Nevertheless, I was never comfortable with that assessment. It seemed unlikely that, after Modernity, after Kant et al, after the apparently successful assertion of human autonomy with respect to all other authorities how could the conflict between Modernity and Scripture ever dissipate? It might ebb but it can never go away. The debate over inerrancy is just a manifestation of the larger contest between God’s authority and the authority of his clear (perspicuous) Word over against the Modern (and modernist) assertion of self.

In the mid to late-17th century the assertion of self, in Descartes and Locke, was ostensibly in the service of the faith, in the defense of the existence of God. It was an assertion nonetheless. I am deciding. I am the subject of the verb. I choose. I perceive. I doubt. I know. Prior to Modernity, God was the subject of the verb. That’s why older theologies frequently begin with God. The doctrine of Scripture may not occur in them until the end of the volume. Such an approach is unthinkable today because today, after the Enlightenment we must defend the propriety even of speaking about God and the supernatural—so pervasive is naturalism that I must fight with the spell checker to type the word supernatural! The early modernists were rationalists (the primacy of the human intellect over all other authorities) or empiricists (the superiority of human sense perception over all other authorities). In late Modernity, the assertion of autonomy has become subjectivist: my subjective experience is superior to all other claims. In earlier Modernity there was contest for truth. In late modernity the very existence of truth has been abandoned for “your truth” (i.e., your experience) and mine. In any discussion with a child of late modernity, experience über alles.

The Modernist core, however, of late Modernity manifests itself with the re-emergence of the inerrancy debate. Underneath the assertion of the primacy of subjective experience lies the conviction that reasonable people (even though it is an article of faith that it now untenable even to say “reasonable people”—who is to say what is reasonable? By what standard? Haven’t we shown that all those standards are merely social (and economic) constructs? Well, there is a little thing called nature. It’s not a social construct. Throw a penny from the top of the state capital and it behaves the same way it behaved before Kant and after Derrida.

So, it shouldn’t surprise us that inerrancy is a question again because it must be a question. The Modernist denial of all other authorities must destroy the reliability of Holy Scripture. Thus, it is significant that, in Q/A 21, the Reformed churches confess:

21. What is true faith?

True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

The clause in view, in this post, says, “whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word.” When we say “hold for truth” (the Latin text says, “firmly assent to everything that God has revealed in his Word”) we confess that we receive God’s Word as he presents it. Unlike the Modernists (whether early or late), we do not stand in judgment over Scripture. It stands in judgment over us. It presents itself as true and truth and this is how the church has always received it. It is true that the church has not always used the language of inerrancy but that is simply because it wasn’t necessary. The church did not use homoousios until it had to use it and it was a controversial term with a complicated background. We began to use the words inerrant and inerrancy in light of the sustained and relentless attacks on the reliability of Scripture by the modernists and we were right to do so. We were defending the historic Christian view of Scripture. Read the Fathers. Read the medieval theologians. Read the Reformers. Read them in context—not confusing text criticism, for example, for criticism of the reliability of Scripture as some neo-evangelicals have done—and you will see what I see regularly. The church and her theologians always received Scripture, submitted to Scripture, as true, reliable, and trustworthy. Those ideas are well expressed with the word inerrancy but the truth that is expressed in the noun inerrancy and the adjective inerrant is the same doctrine of Scripture taught by our Reformed confessions and catechisms.

Next time: The object of faith.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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2 comments

  1. Makes one wonder what true faith is nowadays!
    I read Paul Schaefer’s 2 articles in Christ the Lord book.
    Super – gets me on track again –
    What I would like to know, is the faith like Tullian shares on his
    website; is it real or not – I have found him to be like the WHInn
    guys – REAL indeed. Yet with Tullian is what he teaches truly real.
    Is that real faith? Justified yet sinful.
    not faith and obedience or else teachings.
    Even Barb Duiguids book Extravagant Grace, that is the best book I have ever read when it comes to being real about our walk and explaining it as she did.
    Finally someone who is real and not a person or pastor that seems to never do wrong – seldom do I ever hear of one who admits to what that book reveals. Awesome.
    Lastly – Can a Christian have a sin addiction of some sort all their life
    and be right with the Lord in spite of it? Can there be real faith inspite of how foolish we can be even as Christians?
    – Q60 HC seems to say so.
    There are some folk out there that say otherwise.
    Some sins seem to far out way other sins as being the ultimate ones that you will never enter the kingdom of heaven with – but what about Proverbs 6:16-19
    Its getting hard to know what faith is anymore – one says this and one says that or yes you can struggle with this but never with that – on and on it goes –
    Gets to where I have to stay off All the internet blogs and stick with WTS site WHInn Heidelblog and a few more and to be content with that. Or I get brain fry doing it.

    Anyway – sorry for the rambling – just having a tough time and need some answers – good place to go and get realigned by the brothers.

    Mike

  2. Denny Burke has a brief assessment of the panel discussion that included Pete Enns. How Enns could be remotely identified as an ‘Evangelical’ in the historic sense of the word is truly astonishing.

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