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The Personal-Word Model

The main contention of [The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship] is that God’s speech to man is real speech. It is very much like one person speaking to another. God speaks so that we can understand him and respond appropriately. Appropriate responses are of many kinds: belief, obedience, affection, repentance, laughter, pain, sadness, and so on. God’s speech is often propositional: God’s conveying information to us. But it is far more than that. It includes all the features, functions, beauty, and richness of language that we see in human communication, and more. So the concept I wish to defend is broader than the “propositional revelation” that we argued so ardently forty years ago, though propositional revelation is part of it. My thesis is that God’s word, in all its qualities and aspects, is a personal communication from him to us.

            Imagine God speaking to you right now, as realistically as you can imagine, perhaps standing at the foot of your bed at night. He speaks to you like your best friend, your parents, or your spouse. There is no question in your mind as to who he is: he is God. In the Bible, God often spoke to people in this way: to Adam and Eve in the garden; to Noah; to Abraham; to Moses. For some reason, these were all fully persuaded that the speaker was God, even when the speaker told them to do things they didn’t understand. Had God asked me to take my son up a mountain to burn him as a sacrifice, as he asked of Abraham in Genesis 22, I would have decided that it wasn’t God and could not be God, because God could never command such a thing. But somehow Abraham didn’t raise that question. He knew, somehow, that God had spoken to him, and he knew what God expected him to do. We question Abraham at this point, as did Søren Kierkegaard in Fear and Trembling.[1] But if God is God, if God is who he claims to be, isn’t it likely that he is able to persuade Abraham that the speaker is really he? Isn’t he able to unambiguously identify himself to Abraham’s mind?

Can We Trust the New Testament Text?

Several years ago I was walking in a park and met a man who identified himself as a pantheist. As I shared the Gospel with him, he raised a series of objections to the Christian faith, the first of which concerned the reliability of Scripture. “The Bible was going along fine,” he explained, “until King James came along and changed it all, and now we have no idea what the original actually said!”

The man’s objection was obviously more than a little misinformed, but it does raise a legitimate question: If the original manuscripts of the Bible no longer exist—and if the existing manuscripts do not completely agree with one another—how can we have confidence in the Scriptures we possess today? Can we really trust the Bible as it has been handed down to us? Can we really insist that it is nothing less than the inerrant Word of God?

Sola Scriptura and Limited Inerrancy

Is Sola Scriptura compatible with a view of Scripture that limits inerrancy to matters of faith and practice? Theoretically it would seem to be possible if “faith and practice” could be separated from any part of Scripture. So long as biblical teaching regarding faith and practice were held to be normative for the Christian community, there would appear to be no threat to the essence of Christianity. However, certain problems exist with such a view of Scripture that do seriously threaten the essence of Christianity.

The first major problem we encounter with limited inerrancy is the problem of canon reduction. The canon or “norm” of Scripture is reduced de facto to that content relating to faith and practice. This immediately raises the hermeneutical question concerning what parts of Scripture deal with faith. As evangelicals wrestle among themselves in intramural debates, they must keep one eye focused on the liberal world of biblical scholarship, for the principle of the reduction of canon to matters of “faith” is precisely the chief operative in Rudolf Bultmann’s hermeneutic. Bultmann thinks we must clear away the prescientific and faulty historical “husk” of Scripture to get to the viable kernel of “faith.” Thus, although Bultmann has no inerrant kernel or kerygma to fall back on, his problem of canon reduction remains substantially the same as that of those who limit inerrancy to faith and practice.

A Textual Analysis of the Passage about the Adulteress

For anyone who loves God’s Word and the story about Jesus’ masterful management of the situation with a woman caught in adultery (found in most English Bibles at John 7:53–8:11), the thought that this heartrending segment of text may not belong to the Gospel of John seems understandably foul. By experience, I know that it can be tremendously disheartening to hear that a passage in your Bible, that you have held as dear and edifying for years, may not belong there. Such a proposition will usher in a flood of thoughts, many of which are troubling, disconcerting, and significantly unsettling.


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