I wrote over the weekend about the dialogue on Christianity Today’s website between Tony Jones and Collin Hansen. The dialogue has continued and it’s been alright, though most of the questions being asked are going unanswered in what increasingly looks like nothing more than a good example of charity in conversation between “emergents” and “non-emergents” (if you’ll excuse my categorization). I wanted further clarity on Jones’ view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture, which has been a murky phrase in theological circles, especially in the past two centuries.
So on Wednesday, Jones had the following to say:
I’ve been reading some of the young, Reformed bloggers write about our conversation, and one sentiment has stood out. Several have written that my affirmation of God’s sovereignty, the inspiration of Scripture, and the Atonement is not good enough. “What does he really mean?” they ask. “I don’t think he really means what I mean!” So, I ask you, do you think that any affirmation of the historic, creedal beliefs of Christianity by an Emergent will be good enough for the young, restless Reformeds?
I’m not concerned with being appeased. I don’t harbor ill will against Jones and I appreciate his call for epistemic humility to a certain extent. Far too often, both the Reformed and the non-Reformed will attack one another’s positions viciously and it becomes a caricature of what brotherly Christian dialogue should look like. You really see this a lot with the language used in the polemics between Calvinists and Arminians (“they don’t believe in the sovereignty of God,” or “they don’t believe in prayer and evangelism,” etc.).
But simple definition of terms is never too much to ask, especially when you make it a point to be so ambiguous about a great many things and associate with people like Brian McLaren who have some ‘different’ takes on the gospel.
Nor is it too much to ask for clarification if he intends to use that phrase, “the inspiration and authority of Scripture.” The history of the doctrine of inerrancy in the 19th and 20th centuries illustrates this point well.
Many sought to do away with inerrancy, claiming that it was nothing but an overreaction to biblical criticism by American theologians like B.B. Warfield and A.A. Hodge. The late-nineteenth century trial of Charles Briggs by the General Assembly of the PCUSA and the outlandish Rogers/McKim proposal are two cases of this history. What was recognized as ridiculous in the 19th century became established liberal Protestantism’s creed in the late 20th century. They would (and many do today) espouse the “inspiration and authority of Scripture” but they held to bastardized views of inspiration and authority.
As Charles Hodge said in response to Darwinism, “When a drama is introduced in a theatre and universally condemned, and a little while afterward, with little change . . . it is received with rapturous applause, the natural conclusion is, that the change is in the audience and not in the drama.”
Such is the case with modern views against inerrancy and the sufficiency and authority of Scripture. This is important to remember today as the emergent crowd consistently promotes “new” ideas. In reality, many of these views are often re-painted 19th and 20th century liberalism.
So no, Tony Jones. I’m not asking you to affirm any creeds (nor should anyone else for that matter). You can affirm creeds all day long and reserve different interpretations of those creeds. All I’m asking is that you define your terms like any good theologian should. I’m not waiting here to denounce you as a heretic and pounce on any point I see as aberrant. You can hold to whatever view of Scripture you please, just be forthcoming. That’s all.
Epistemic humility? Certainly, but with a dose of conviction please. Clarity must characterize these interactions if there is to any genuine dialogue occurring. I’d like to see genuine dialogue.