Thursday, February 7, 2008

Inerrancy, tradition and me

Hermeneutical issues are inextricably bound up with inerrancy and inerrancy with hermeneutics. I try to bring this out in the most convincing way that I know how in my book, Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals. Recently, I came across an essay where the author claims that on top of all the run-of-the-mill hermeneutical concerns that attend reading Christian scripture, there is a special hermeneutic suggested to Bible readers by the scriptures themselves:

"There is another kind of hermeneutics common at least to some books, certainly peculiar to the Bible. Namely, that kind of hermeneutics in which the book itself gives you certain information about how you are to read it. It involves the kind of attitude and mindset you bring with you when you read the Scriptures." (Robert Preus, "Scripture: God's Word and God's Power" in Can We Trust the Bible? [ed. E. Radmacher], 68.)

Preus states that the testaments form a unity, that scripture has power to do certain things, that scripture is meant to have soteriological effects, that the entire Bible is a witness to Christ (even if portions of it do not at first appear to be), that scripture has a divine origin, that scripture is always useful and that it always bears God's authority--these are all hermeneutical principles that one can gather inductively as one reads the Bible and, as such, must be incorporated into all hermeneutical acts of scripture reading. It would be a great mistake to read scripture as if it is just like any other book when scripture itself tells readers not to read it as if it were any other piece of literature.

My question is, as it always has been: Is it really scripture that gives us this special set of biblical hermeneutical rules or is it our traditions (cultural and ecclesiastic) that tacitly recommend them to us? Is scripture informing our traditions or are traditions informing our scriptures? Which is it if we are honest with ourselves? In my book I say it's both; I call the canonical dialectic. But inerrancy doesn't make any sense to me at all in such a context. I can't seem to meaningfully separate the text from my tradition or the tradition from my text for that matter. When it comes down to it, all that is inerrant is me.