Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sitting Solidly on an Inerrant Two-Legged Stool

In a recent entry on his blog, (The Inerrancy of Scripture: The Fifty Years’ War . . . and Counting) Paul McCain praised the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler, and his blog. McCain urged his readers “I recommend you add [Mohler’s blog] to your regular blog reading.” What apparently excited McCain about this particular blog entry was the topic, inerrancy. Kathy S tried to point out that we ought to be more careful of our reading, being concerned with who we let into our heads. She tried to point out the matter of efficacy, which is missing in the minds of Baptists with regard to the Sacraments, but didn’t gain much traction. McCain’s response was that Good News doesn’t put disclaimers over the artwork it uses, some of which is decidedly non-Lutheran. He wasn’t going to do the same.

On August 13, 2008, Rev. Wm. Weedon gave accolades to the newly dedicated altar at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brandon, MS. While others joined in to praise its design, not everyone was so disposed.

Paul McCain said...
I'm not really comfortable making Lutheran altars look like Eastern altars.

Here's my favorite Lutheran altar!
6:15 PM

Does that mean we at Good Shepherd ought to put up a disclaimer over our altar?

In other words, McCain was really making the same assertion about our altar that Kathy was trying to make about Mohler’s piece. According to McCain, Orthodox art doesn’t speak the same language as Western art. And, as Kathy tried to point out, Mohler does not mean inerrancy the same way we Lutherans do—especially, as she pointed out, when inerrancy and inspiration are absent efficacy.

That doesn’t mean Lutherans can’t use Orthodox art. Catechized Lutherans can “handle” altars with icons because they have been taught that the art is merely an earthly reminder of heavenly things. Nothing more. An icon is not the thing itself. It is no more to be worshiped and adored than one having this on it.

And in Good News magazine, the art is used as a jumping off point to explain a theological point. It never stands alone. Selection of pieces is so careful that art is rejected if even the title is inappropriate to the theological point being made to the reader. The reader is not left to his subjective opinion. A decidedly Lutheran catechesis is drawn from every piece of artwork used in Good News.

So in truth, the argument about the use of Orthodox art vs. Western art is actually a weak one. Orthodox art and Western art have their well known connotations for use in worship, and they are known to be different. Art is received subjectively. It can mean different things to different viewers. This is not so easily true with words. Words mean things, generally the same thing time and again. The inerrancy of scripture is a word known by theologians to mean the scriptures are without errors because they are God’s words breathed by the Holy Spirit into human authors to be written down for our sakes (2Ti 3:16). This carries with it certain implications with what the word actually is and does for our sakes (Is 55:11). When any part of that that is denied, then inerrancy takes a huge hit. How can inerrancy stand when its very usefulness as God intended it is denied because the men who handle it say, “That’s impossible!”? At that point a different connotation of the word inerrancy—perhaps it could be said even a whole other word being named “inerrancy”—is being used. One thing is certain; we aren’t speaking with the same terminology. To not deal with the text as it is given for our sakes is an indication that one is rejecting inerrancy at that point. Thus, inspiration and efficacy are sacrificed as well.

Inerrancy and inspiration absent efficacy is like a two-legged stool: just try to sit on it. But Baptist inerrancy is just that, a two-legged stool. They’ll tout inerrancy because of inspiration and shout out a good belief in creation or the flood story. Then they’ll look you straight in the eye and swear “Yes, ma’am, you and I, we believe the same thing.”

That’s when it’s time to get down to where things really count. Now it’s time to set that stool on the floor and see if she’ll set still and hold a body up. “Do you baptize babies? Do you believe what 1Peter 3:21 says?” Simply put, deal with the text: Does Baptism save now?

And that’s where the derrier hits the dust. That’s where inerrency is shown to be just another pretty word batted ‘round. Baptists deny baptismal regeneration. That kicks the stuffing out of inerrancy. Inerrency is certain because God inspired (God breathed) the word to His authors, therefore it does what He says it will do; it is efficacious.

But get a Baptist to grasp that when it comes time to baptize an infant; or set out wine for the Lord’s Supper; or even agree what’s in that Precious Water or Meal. It’s not happening without some very, very careful catechesis and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Most of the children enrolled in our school are non-Lutheran. Yet it is not uncommon a number of these children to come to desire Baptism for themselves. They hear of their Lord’s desire of it for them and its benefits daily in chapel.

One of my students waged an ongoing battle with his mother and grandparents for a good two years before he was given permission by them to go to the font and receive what our Lord would give him, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. It was a respectful battle, to be sure. He was armed only with God’s word. For every one of their protests he simply pointed to one of any several texts and said, now what do you have to say? He was told he didn’t need baptism because he wasn’t of the age of accountability; well, babies die don’t they, proving Paul correct, Rom 6:23. And then there is Ps 51:5. Heaven must be filled with a lot of sinners, those babies who die without baptism. He was told baptism doesn’t save. So he’d point to 1Pe 3:21. Get around that one, he’d reply. That’s God talking. God says baptism saves now. They’d have to deny God was talking through Peter, thus sacrificing their own belief in the inerrancy of scripture, in order to deny that baptism doesn’t save now.

He’s not alone. Our students, either those of the school or those of the congregation find they must be prepared to defend their Baptism against the onslaughts of their neighbors and friends. This is Baptist Country. Inerrancy only goes so far in the mind of a Baptist. That’s because efficacy has no place in their thinking with regard to the Sacraments Christ instituted for their sakes.

Mohler is a great read, up only to a point. Kathy would agree to that, I am certain. But he’s to be read critically, with Lutheran sensibilities. We do this with the Fathers. We do read them not as is if we are idle-minded sponges. We read as if in dialogue with them, saying “Amen” here, and rejecting what is written there.

Mohler simply doesn’t mean inerrancy the same way we mean inerrancy. If he did, he would agree to baptismal regeneration, and Christ’s very real body and blood presence in the bread and wine at the Holy Supper. But then he’d be a Lutheran, not a Baptist, wouldn’t he?


Pastor Mark Hass said...

Good one Em. Whenever we divorce what the things of God are for from the Word by which He gives them we end up with our butt prints in the sand.

Dcs. Emily Carder said...

We have to remember, too, that it is not we who have abandoned the church catholic's use of terminology that pertains to such things. It is others who have come up with unique usages.

In the Reader's Edition of the Book of Concord edited by Paul McCain the preface to the section of Free Will in the Epitome contains this line: "It is very unwise to take time-tested words words explaining one thing and use them to explain another. This only leads to confusion and error." This serves especially as a cautionary to those who would use the word "inerrancy" yet separate it from efficacy. Praising such people without caution is unwise. We are not on the same page theologically, and ought not make ourselves appear to be so.

Dcs. Emily Carder said...

A friend has kindly reminded me that the Orthodox do not venerate the icons themselves, but the persons they represent. Nothing more.

There is much we can learn from the lives of the saints. The Eighth Commandment, which God keeps for our sakes in Christ's name, ought to inform us how we treat the saints who have departed. We regard them among the heavenly hosts. Can we not also honor them for the examples they were to us in Christ?

Robbie F. said...

I just discovered your wonderful blog today! Keep it up, please!

Rev. McCain's poor judgment sometimes staggers me. I can't believe he would say that about GOOD NEWS. They have, in fact, published pictures that required disclaimers (such as the one where Mary is shown crushing the serpent's head; not what Genesis 3:15 promises!) And to attack GN's use of art like that does not answer Kathy's original valid concern. It's just a smokescreen. Paul M must do better than that if his answer is to deserve respectful consideration.