Saturday, January 5, 2008

Inerrancy's will to power

I was excited to talk to William Lane Craig recently but he was not happy when I related to him my struggles in the faith and how I think that it all began with my doubts regarding inerrancy. He asked whether my experience had been similar to that of Bart Ehrman. I said that it was, and he inquired further into what precisely I thought was causing the problem. I told him that I think it's a clash of apologetic cultures that played a big part: I had first formally learned apologetics in a course with Gary Habermas (and informally from J. P. Moreland's Scaling the Secular City) and then went off to Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia to complete a degree. Westminster, to my astonishment (I knew nothing of presuppositionalism), was quite critical of the arguments I had learned and internalized in support of my faith. Some teachers there (and not a few students) were all-too-eager to point out that an argument for the resurrection does not imply the Christian faith. They seemed almost too happy to explain that the traditional arguments for God's existence are not all that compelling. In fact, my understanding after my first semester at WTS was clear: when Christian thinking is practiced by prominent Christian thinkers (not only by contemporary philosophers, but most intellectuals throughout Christian history) "a better recipe for error could hardly be imagined." (Lane Tipton and K. Scott Oliphint, "Introduction," in Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics. [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2007], 3, n. 2.) I told Bill Craig that his (Craig's) apologetic did not seem too compatible with Westminster's "Reformed" apologetic and that that had been existentially jarring for me, especially in the area of bibliology. He said that the conflict was no big deal for him for the simple reason that he is not "Reformed."

Not "Reformed." Now there's a thought. Tipton and Oliphint, for example, can hardly believe that Craig would counsel his readers as follows: "Some readers of my study of divine omniscience, The Only Wise God, expressed surprise at my remark that someone desiring to learn more about God's attribute of omniscience would be better advised to read the works of Christian philosophers than of Christian theologians. Not only was that remark true, but the same holds for divine eternity." (This is a quote from Craig's Time and Eternity, p. 11, that appears in the Tipton and Oliphint book on page 2.) Craig has some pretty good reasons for saying this: "Today's theologians generally have next to no training in philosophy and science and so are ill-equipped to address in a substantive way the complex issues raised..." (p. 11) What does this have to do with Craig not being "Reformed"? Well, Tipton and Oliphint interpret "not Reformed" in terms of Craig's holding reason as principium; but Craig knows all about reason as principium (see the discussion in his Hard Questions, Real Answers, for example.) and does not accept considerations regarding reason as principium as an excuse for culturally forbidding the pursuit of rigorous scholarship.

Now I can't help but think that on an existential level I would not be wrong to interpret "not Reformed" in terms of "not being subject to Westminster's inerrantist will to power." In other words, I think Craig finds it so easy to argue against Westminster's anti-scholarship stance (Craig talks about the eclipse of scholarship in conservative churches) because he is not subject to the authority of Westminster's theology professors. That seems to be what "not being Reformed" practically boils down to. The only ones who can freely argue against Westminster's theology professors are those who are not subject to their professional and communal authority, i.e, those who are ecclesiastically immune from them. Those who are under their authority have, of course, ample liberty to say something critical, but they are fated to suffer social and institutional consequences. So professors leave and students graduate with very bad tastes in their mouths (and sometimes they just up and withdraw) as the powerful consolidate their power by polarizing the community in terms of individuals' purported views of scripture. Now this is a fearful development, one brought into existence by, among other things, an authoritarian, inerrantist mindset.

Yet I feel like that is all I've ever known when it comes to religion. People's questions discouraged, their doubts dismissed. And if I, God forbid, should prove not satisfied with the church communities' social discouragement and institutional dismissal of questions and doubts, then it was often the case tacitly and sometimes forthrightly and explicitly that I was accused of harboring unconfessed sin or "thinking as an unbeliever." During my twenties, for example--a crucial time of spiritual formation--I came to a mutual agreement with a pastor of a KJV-only, fundamentalist church that I should leave the church--but here's the rub, I could not tell my students that I was leaving (much less why), kids my wife and I had been teaching for just over two years! And most recently, we've been attending this other church--going on two years--and the youth pastor and his wife mysteriously stopped attending. A few months later a new youth leader was introduced, no explanation as to what happened to the old one--turns out he didn't want to leave, he was simply dismissed when the people who hold the real power in the church decided to let him go during a temporary power vacuum (no head rector) that had occurred this summer. My wife and I just saw this exiled youth leader on New Years Eve and there was a social awkwardness to the effect that we had to carry on our conversations as if nothing had ever happened. I'm sure this kind of stuff happens all around evangelicalism. I wonder how it might be related to the authoritarianism that tends to accompany inerrancy.