While some have thought that what has been termed the "battle for the Bible" was successfully concluded in evangelical circles almost three decades back, there can be little doubt at this point that the doctrine of Scripture is now a front-burner issue among American Evangelicals. In particular, there is increasing interest in the formulations of Karl Barth, whose dialectical theology is thought by some to provide a more "dynamic" and satisfying view of the Bible and its authority, and whose polemic against "inerrancy in the original autographs" is increasingly influential in some quarters. The recent reactivation of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy is but one indication of the concerns that many have regarding such developments.
The statement below addresses the problem of Barthian views of Scripture in a particular institutional context. It has been signed by five esteemed colleagues and myself. I am honored to join with these faithful men and to post the text of the statement on this blog. An exploration of issues related to the broader background for this statement can be found here on this site.
GOOD FRIDAY STATEMENT BY CONCERNED FACULTY MEMBERS
OF ERSKINE THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY AND ERSKINE COLLEGE
The ARP Church has historically held to a high view of Scripture as inerrant in the original autographs (see Historical Addendum below). It has consistently rejected Barthian and Neo-Orthodox refusals to speak of the inerrancy of Scripture and to affirm unequivocally that Scripture is, rather than becomes, the Word of God. Furthermore, the clear lesson of history is that Barthian fuzziness on the inspiration and authority of Scripture has had a disastrous impact on the mission and witness of the Church in Europe, Great Britain, North America, and elsewhere.
Despite these clear affirmations by the ARP Church, of which Erskine Theological Seminary and Erskine College are agencies, after decades of theological conflict between the Church and the Seminary over the inspiration and authority of the Bible, Barthianism continues to be tolerated at Erskine Seminary. In recent years, one faculty member has publicly and privately expressed his strong opposition to the stated position of the General Synod of the ARP Church regarding Scripture. We are profoundly disappointed that some in the Erskine administration and board find it acceptable for those who hold Barthian views of Holy Scripture to teach their viewpoint at Erskine.
Some may say that debates over the inerrancy of Scripture are nothing more than semantics, arguments among theologians who are more interested in precise definitions of words than they are the peace of the church. We regret that characterization of the issue. Pious-sounding bromides regarding Scripture are no substitute for a clear articulation of the church's historic doctrine of Scripture, especially when such bromides conceal positions that fatally undercut the church's confidence in our God-breathed book, the Bible. The inerrancy of Scripture is not a second or third order issue, but one of critical importance for the life and well-being of the church. As much as we dislike controversy, we are compelled to say that this is not a matter for equivocation or compromise. Rather, we must be clear in our articulation of the doctrine and resolute in our stance.
We rejoice that, Dr. David Norman, President of Erskine College and Theological Seminary, has publicly affirmed his support and acceptance of the ARP Church's statement on the inerrancy of Scripture in the original autographs. By virtue of the actions of the 2008 General Synod, this statement has been added to the General Synod's definition of Evangelical belief, is now required of all new teaching and administrative employees of the General Synod, and will be added to the ordination vows required of all ARP ministers and elders.
We, the undersigned, believe that, after almost half a century of resistance by some Erskine Seminary faculty members to the historic theology of the ARP Church (again, see Historical Addendum below), ongoing conflict over the doctrine of Scripture threatens not only the Seminary's reputation for orthodoxy and its relationship to the ARP Church, but the very well-being of the school--as prospective students opt for other seminaries that affirm a more consistent theological stance. As members of the faculty at Erskine College and Theological Seminary, we believe this situation is unacceptable. Therefore, we humbly call upon the Board and Administration of Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary to support and defend the position of the ARP Church on Scripture, and to work toward an Erskine Theological Seminary and an Erskine College that stand strongly and unequivocally for the authority of God's inerrant and infallible Word. We represent a wide range of theological specialties and different denominational affiliations, but we are united in our affirmation of the church's historic doctrine of Scripture.
Terry L. Eves, Ph.D.
Professor of Old Testament, Erskine Theological Seminary
Chair, Dept. of Biblical Studies
Presbyterian Church in America
The Rev. R. J. Gore Jr., D.Min., Ph.D.
Professor of Systematic Theology, Erskine Theological Seminary
Former VP and Dean, 1998-2003; Dean 2003-06
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Dale W. Johnson, Ph.D.
Professor of Church History, Erskine Theological Seminary
Chair, Dept. of Theology and Church History
Presbyterian Church in America
The Rev. Toney C. Parks, D.Min.
Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling, Erskine Theological Seminary
Chair, Dept. of Ministry
National Baptist Convention
The Rev. William B. Evans, Ph.D.
Younts Professor of Bible and Religion, Erskine College
Chair, Dept. of Bible, Religion, and Philosophy
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
John Makujina, Ph.D.
Professor of Biblical Studies, Erskine College
HISTORICAL ADDENDUM REGARDING ARP STATEMENTS
ON THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE
In an article entitled "What the Associate Reformed Church Stands For," in The Centennial History of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans, and Cogswell, 1905), p. 694, James Strong Moffatt gave clear expression to the doctrine of inerrancy in the original autographs: "The Associate Reformed Church stands stoutly for the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. Its testimony is that the inspiration extends not merely to some portions of the Bible but to the whole Bible; not only to the words and sermons of Christ but to the Epistles of Paul and Peter as well. Its position is that not merely the contents, the body of truth found in the Scriptures is inspired of God but that the inspiration extends to the very words; that not only does the Bible contain the Word of God but the Bible is the Word of God. . . . The Associate Reformed Church does not contend that that there are no errors in the Bible as we have it today. It would be strange indeed if having passed through so many hands, and so many casualties, and having been so often transcribed, some errors should not have crept in. But the contention is that as originally given to the church there were no errors, and that the originals have been so guarded by the Spirit, and so reverently and carefully handled by godly and faithful men that whatever errors may have crept in through human frailty are slight and have not corrupted or changed in any particular the originally inspired documents."
The Church's doctrine of inerrancy in the original autographs is also expressed by two 1979 statements by the General Synod. "We believe that the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us through the Holy Scripture which is the Word of God written. While we do not have the original autographs as evidence, we believe on faith that God's Word in its entirety was accurately recorded by the original writers through divine inspiration and reliably transmitted to us" (1979 Minutes of the General Synod, p.76). "Be it resolved that the General Synod of 1979 affirms that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God without error in all that it teaches" (1979 Minutes of the General Synod, p. 23, emphasis original).
In 1994 a controversy broke out at the General Synod meeting after a Barthian faculty member expressed reservation about the use of male language for God in a Seminary document. A "Seminary Select Committee" of the Board was formed to examine all Erskine Seminary faculty members as to their views regarding the Standards of the ARP Church. Faculty members were asked whether they affirmed "That the original writings of the Old and New Testaments are inspired by God, truth (without error), divine authority, and kept pure by Him through all ages" (1995 Minutes of the General, p. 51). While the results of this examination were no doubt ambiguous, the nature of the question on Scripture itself is highly significant. It demonstrates an understanding by the Church and Board that Erskine Seminary faculty members are indeed expected to affirm the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.
In 2008, after controversy erupted when two Barthian faculty members at Erskine Seminary refused to affirm the 1979 General Synod statements regarding Scripture, the General Synod passed the following language and added it to the definition of Evangelical beliefs binding on new faculty and administrative hires at Erskine Seminary: "the position of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church on Scripture is that the Bible alone, being God-breathed, is the Word of God Written, infallible in all that it teaches, and inerrant in the original manuscripts" (2008 Minutes of the General Synod, p. 514).