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Adrian Warnock on the Doctrine of Scripture

And as you might expect, I’m disagreeing with him. In introducing a post urging people to read Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (not a bad idea), he says:

There is no more foundational subject than the doctrine of Scripture. All the current theological arguments that are causing such disruption in the Church today stem from a lack of confidence in the authority of Scripture. …

Now the first part of that statement is pretty obvious and quite foundational. I don’t think we can be Christian and talk about being Christian without dealing with the doctrine of scripture. However far you may end up away from regarding scripture as foundational, you’re going to have to deal with this doctrine.

As it happens, I believe that scripture is foundational, and whatever we believe must be rooted in it. Not only our doctrine of scripture, but also our hermeneutic that is derived from that basic doctrine is critical in how we will understand and live our faith. I would like to see us discuss this more.

But the second sentence is quite problematic, and I think represents one of the greatest barriers to sound dialog within orthodox Christianity today. Let me quote it again:

All the current theological arguments that are causing such disruption in the Church today stem from a lack of confidence in the authority of Scripture.

Um, not so much. Now there are people who lack confidence in scripture, and this can lead them to many odd views, views which fall outside of reasonable definitions of the bounds of Christianity. There are also people who express (at least) great confidence in scripture but who show no great ability to actually discover what it’s saying.

Yes, there are certain disputes which results from differences in various people’s confidence in scripture, but I don’t think they are the major ones, and I especially don’t think they are the bulk of those that are debated within orthodox Christianity.

Let’s illustrate with a point I’ve debated (indirectly via blog post) with Adrian before, penal substitutionary atonement. For Adrian, nothing less than viewing penal substitution as the meaning of atonement is adequate.

I believe that penal substitution does occur in scripture, but that it is one of a number of metaphors, all of which are required for an understanding of the atonement. I believe this, not because I lack confidence in scripture, but because I am confident that a full scriptural understanding of the atonement requires much more than penal substitution. Like every other finite description, using penal substitution exclusively or even to diminish other views, especially in my view christus victor, diminishes our understanding of the atonement.

From the evidence of reading Adrian’s blogging over several years, I’m certain that penal substitution is a “current theological argument” and is “causing disruption” and thus I must exclude it from any list of those based on a lack of confidence in scripture.

I think I made my best statement on this in my post from last Easter, Atonement: The Error Adrian Warnock and Giles Fraser Share.

I see a similar type of issue in the debates over creation and evolution and certain major figures in reformed Old Testament studies, such as Peter Enns, Bruce Waltke, and Tremper Longman. I think it would be ridiculous to assert that these three men lack confidence in scripture, yet they are in the middle of a theological controversy. The difference is not confidence but the way in which they understand scripture.

In connection with this I appreciated Jeremy Pierce’s recent post, Arguments Against Old Earth, in which he reclaims the term “creationism” for any set of beliefs that God created the universe. I am a creationist, because I believe in God the creator. I do want to debate a bit about Jeremy’s categories, though they are really quite good. That’s for another post.

In summary I would say that the problem in most theological debates within Christianity is not confidence but understanding. There is an element here where one’s hermeneutics make the decision, but in a number of cases, such as understanding 2 Corinthians 5 an imputed righteousness, I think often the hermeneutics are similar, but the application is different. Confidence, however, is not part of the problem.

(Note: I have not yet read, but I do intend to read Adrian’s book Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything.)

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  1. Margaret is playing the game – one word on what’s the essence – you suggest here a game on one word that is the problem. Authority. I am reminded of my eldest son’s first memorable phrase – you are not the boss of me. Right on.

  2. Actually, I think I parted company with Mr Warnock at the first sentence instead of the second: “There is no more foundational subject than the doctrine of Scripture.”

    Rewind to the year 40 A.D. when there was no Scripture, and we realize why the first Christians wrote Scripture: to make sure we understood what they thought was the most foundational point, namely: our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Take care & God bless

    1. I would say that the first sentence is more justified if one thinks of “is most important now” vs is and was always most important. But your point is well taken.

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