I was at the Wheaton Theology Conference last week, and this year's theme was "Rediscovering the Trinity: Classic Doctrine and Contemporary Ministry." As usual, there was a wide range of interesting presentations. Keynoting this year was Kevin Vanhoozer, who took up the task of relating the two components of the Evangelical Theological Society's doctrinal basis, that God is Trinity and that Scripture is inerrant. Vanhoozer argued that though these two foundations might seem disparate at first glance, in actuality, a trinitarian theology of "Scripture as triune discourse" is the best way of understanding the truth of Scripture.
Vanhoozer explored how all three persons of the Trinity are at work in Scripture. He unpacked Scripture as divine rhetoric, that the classical components of rhetorical communication (ethos, logos, pathos) correspond with Father, Son and Spirit. Ethos is the divine character of Scripture. Logos is the covenantal content of Scripture. Pathos is the persuasive power of Scripture rightly interpreted.
Vanhoozer used a baseball analogy (as did Tony Jones last year). What provides "home run power" - is it the bat, or the batter's swing? Both, of course. Vanhoozer likens Scripture, the written Word of God, as the bat, and the triune God speaking through it as the batter. So the statements "Scripture is true" and "the living God speaks truly through Scripture" are not necessarily equivalent statements. The first focuses on the bat, whereas the second focuses on the batter.
In Q&A, someone asked Vanhoozer whether the word "inerrant" is still useful, or if we should prefer to simply speak of the "truth" of Scripture rather than its "inerrancy." (As folks like Roger Olson have argued elsewhere, the terms "inerrant" and "inerrancy" are often problematic and more confusing than helpful.) Vanhoozer had a nice response, pointing out that yes, "inerrancy" was a term used that was particularly meaningful in the various debates of the 1940s and 50s, and that it is still valuable for affirming Scripture by what it negates (just as the word "infinite" affirms a characteristic by what it negates, that it is "not finite"). And Vanhoozer said something to the effect of how instead of automatically affirming (or denying) the use of the word "inerrancy," it's usually better to find out what people mean (or don't mean) by it first.
This is pretty sensible, but I personally think it's better to simply say that Scripture is true and to let truth be the guiding understanding of Scripture. Especially since "inerrant" isn't a biblical word. We can be fully biblical in describing Scripture with terms that Scripture itself uses, like "God-breathed" or "living and active" or "cannot be broken" and the like. But "inerrant" seems to claim something about Scripture that Scripture does not necessarily claim about itself, especially in how folks tend to use it or perceive the term today.
At any rate, Vanhoozer argued that "the Trinity is our Scripture principle," and offered these three theses:
- On the nature of Scripture: The Bible is a gracious word, a self-communicating work of triune love.
- On the authority of Scipture: The Bible is a truthful word, a knowledge-giving work of triune light.
- On the interpretation of Scripture: The Bible is a sanctifying word, a freeing work of triune life.
I really like these, and how they connect the work of Father, Son and Spirit to different aspects of what Scripture is and does. I like that this moves beyond a discussion of Scripture as "inerrant" (as if it's simply some static artifact) but instead looks at God's dynamic work in Scripture, in grace, truth and sanctification. Yes, Scripture is "inerrant," if you still want to use the term - but it's so much more. It's a gracious, truthful, sanctifying Word of the triune Father, Son and Spirit.
By the way, the proceedings from last year's conference are now in print in the book Ancient Faith for the Church's Future (IVP, naturally). While all of the essays are valuable and should be of interest to various folks, I particularly recommend Jason Byassee's chapter "Emerging from What, Going Where? Emerging Churches and Ancient Christianity," which provides a thoughtful analysis and balanced critique of contemporary emerging/Emergent folks from Mark Driscoll's "neo-fundamentalism" to Doug Pagitt (who Byassee notes as presenting a "surprisingly modern" approach and "confidence in modern progress" despite self-describing as "post-Protestant" and aligning with postmodern sensibilities). I highly commend the essay and the whole book.