The Christian church never ceases to have to contend for the divine authority, accuracy and reliability of the Bible. As a newly-converted teenager, I was in no doubt about the inerrancy and absolute authority of the Scriptures. In my twenties, I was encouraged by my pastor to read some of the key Reformed works defending these doctrines, thereby introducing me to some of the debates about inerrancy. I have continued sporadically to read on the subject. This book, however, has opened my eyes to the amount of material on all aspects of theCarson, Enduring Authority subject which has appeared in the last twenty or thirty years. D. A. Carson has assembled an impressive array of scholars to address some of the most significant areas of contention in the field of the doctrine of Scripture on topics of historical theology, biblical and systematic theology, philosophy and comparative religion. The result is a mammoth work of almost 1200 pages of text, plus indexes, supplying a collection of essays of extraordinary value to scholars and pastors who need or desire to understand better the issues in debate today and appreciate the strength of the arguments for an inerrant Bible of absolute divine authority.
The book begins and ends with contributions from Carson himself. His forty-page introduction to the work is a masterly overview of the subjects covered in the volume. As a way into grasping the main areas of battle in recent years, it must be difficult to beat. References to the key works and principal arguments on each side make it an ideal place to begin a more in-depth study of particular aspects of the issue. At the end of the volume, Carson supplies over twenty pages of ‘summarizing FAQs’ (and I love the way in which, at the start, he tells the reader what ‘FAQs’ Carsonstands for). Here, he provides succinct answers to the kinds of questions we ask because we have picked up on elements of the debate but not been able to engage with it in any depth: isn’t the canon rather arbitrary, what’s the use of affirming that the original manuscripts were inerrant, who are these ‘interpretative communities’, is the Islamic view of the Qur’an similar to our view of the Bible? And many more. These two chapters alone are worth the price of the book.
The core of the volume is made up of thirty-three essays by different scholars. It is impossible to review them all here. They begin with a substantial historical section of nine essays covering patristic views (Charles E. Hill), Luther and Calvin (Robert Kolb), the 17th century (Rodney L. Stiling), German pietism (John D. Woodbridge), Wesleyan Methodism (Thomas H. McCall), old Princeton (Bradley N. Seeman), Barth (David Gibson) and the 19th century Roman Catholic church (Anthony Lane), as well as a more discursive essay on accommodation (Glenn S. Sunshine). Of these, Charles Hill’s exposition of patristic views on the roles of reason and the Spirit in our belief that the Bible is God’s Word and John Woodbridge’s erudite and wide-ranging essay on the attitudes of German Pietists to biblical inerrancy stand out. Against the drift of much current academic writing, the essays in this section demonstrate with care, precision and clarity that the inerrancy and self-attesting divine authority of the Scriptures are not recent inventions but consistently held tenets of the church through the ages.
Fourteen chapters deal with an array of biblical and theological topics, ranging from JosephusJosephus’s views on the books which make up what we call the Old Testament (by Stephen Dempster) to the question whether we can legitimately engage in doctrinal development beyond Scripture (Kevin Vanhoozer). Many of the essays in this section are devoted to questions of canon and authority, as these are areas where evangelical views have come under particular attack recently. Bart Ehrmann’s views on text and canon are tested and found wanting by, respectively, Peter J. Williams and Simon Gathercole. Graham A. Cole and Peter Jensen emphasise the unique nature of the canonical Scriptures as the very Word of God. Henri Blocher provides a fascinating exploration of the relationship between a prophetic model for understanding the inspiration of the Scriptures and the different genres in which they were written. Similarly, Barry G. Webb discusses how the various genres of Scripture function in relation to its authority. V. Philips Long underlines the essential importance of the historicity of the Scriptures, focusing on the Old Testament. Likewise, Bruce K. Waltke argues against the use of the term ‘myth’ for Old Testament Scripture and for the term ‘historio-poesis’, insisting thereby both on the historicity of biblical accounts and on the capacity for those accounts to satisfy the hunger of the human heart for a reality which goes beyond a mere Enlightenment positivism.
Mark D. Thompson lays out a trinitarian framework centred upon the ministry of the incarnate Christ for understanding the clarity of Scripture. Osvaldo Padilla takes issue with postconservative views of the authority of Scripture, addressing in particular the approaches of Stanley Grenz and John Francke. The vexed theme of the use of the Old Testament by the New is taken up in two chapters by Craig Blomberg, addressing the authenticity of Jesus’s statements about the Old Testament as recorded in the gospels, and by Douglas Moo andOTNT Andrew David Naselli, demonstrating why the New Testament’s use of the Old does not weaken the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. Finally in this major section, Kevin Vanhoozer looks at the issue of doctrinal development. All these essays are well informed, clearly and fairly argued and articulate convincingly a conservative evangelical approach to the Bible.
The remaining two sections of the book deal with topics with which I am much less familiar – philosophy and comparative religion. I will therefore not comment upon them, other than to say that, like the rest of the book, the contributions all appear to be well argued, soundly evangelical and relevant to an overall consideration of the Scriptures in today’s world.
One of the incidental joys of this volume is the quality of the writing. Arguments are stated and developed clearly, with a careful, precise use of language which is readable and, for the most part, not turgid or stilted. Literary art causes arguments to shine and that is evident in many of the essays in this book. The collection of essays ends with a superb chapter by Daniel M. Doriani, entitled ‘Take, Read’, in which he charges us to engage with Scripture in a manner which reflects its authority over us and our need to submit humbly to its instruction.