Saturday, April 5, 2008

What? Inerrancy's not true? And you already knew?

I got to speak briefly to Bart Ehrman tonight. (I’m at the Ehrman-Wallace debate at NOBTS.) I asked Wallace a question during the Q&A: If scholars who are believers have known the kinds of things Bart writes about for a hundred years or more, why is it that people have to wait for someone like Bart to come around and be the one to tell them? Bart remarked when I talked with him afterwards that he thought that was a great question and that he has yet to hear a decent answer to it. Immediately James Barr’s insistence that evangelicals apologize to critical scholars came to mind (as I mention in the preface to my book).

I think there is this real and terrible feeling of being “had.” Teachers, in order to be perceived as “real” and “true” Christians, keep quiet about things they privately hold to be right. They keep quiet precisely because they’ll get in some trouble (like Pete Enns is in right now) if they say too much in public. It takes someone like Bart Ehrman to get believers to relate their dirty secrets to the rest of evangelicalism. That forces conservatives to speak up: we’ve known about this for a long time now, it’s just that we’ve been too “timid” (as Wallace put it in his answer to my question during Q&A) to talk about it up till now. Students feel “had” when they find out the truth, the truth that teachers knew all along. There’s a much lower sympathy for conservative theological systems when students feel like those enforcing them are pulling the wool over students’ eyes. Enforcers, too, disagree amongst themselves, but this tends to get hidden behind what one is allowed to say in public (which is not necessarily what one would like to say with regard to where one stands with regard to scripture).

Interestingly enough, Wallace mentioned that the first time a doctrine of preservation (of scripture) had ever been articulated was in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Both Ehrman and Wallace agreed that there’s no way a doctrine of preservation could withstand scrutiny given the overwhelming preponderance of NT manuscripts, translations and citations that have been studied. The OT offers even more of a problem since there are places in the OT that do not even have enough evidence to venture a plausible conjecture as to what the wording should be. No preservation? Why didn't they tell us sooner rather than later (when it really is too late)?