B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) is now famous for, among many of his works, his posthumously collected writings entitled The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. Especially in Reformed camps, Warfield is perhaps the standard defender of the bible’s authority and inspiration. But his work is admittedly old and he did not face the challenges of the last century of modern critical developments.
How might Evangelicals respond to such developments? One crew attempted to address them from an “Evangelical” perspectives in Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism. The book hypothetically (as I charitably see it) accepts historical critical dogma and asks whether Evangelical dogma can be salvaged. The result is not so Evangelical, and not so helpful (full review here).
This new work by Carson might be considered a new and improved attempt to address the challenge of historical criticism of the last century. It was not composed with the former work in mind, though. This volume began when in 2010 the contributors flew to Chicago to deliver their papers to each other and to debate, correct, and sharpen one another. The result is that all the papers were subjected to peers who were competent in the topic being discussed so that they were much more robust and useful than they would otherwise have been.
Since the volume is 1248 pages of collected essays, a summary is of course impossible, so I give here the broad outlines and then move to the work’s importance. Carson opens with a paper he delivered at the ETS annual conference (plenary address) on current works on Scripture. Between 1980 to 2010, he and Andy Naselli found 337 new items written on Scripture. He discusses many of them, most not very significant, and some simply poor in their argumentation, but many being significant. This first chapter sets the stage for understanding the need for a new work that addresses current challenges to the doctrine of Scripture.
The book then divides into six different parts. First are historical essays, such as Charles Hill on Scripture in the Patristic period and Woodbridge on German Pietism. Next are biblical and theological topics, covering issues such as OT canon, Ehrman’s work on inerrancy, double authorship, Jesus’ view of the OT, NT use of the OT, and more. After this are philosophical and epistemological topics such as non-foundational epistemologies, the idea of inerrancy, and science and Scripture. Next are comparative religions topics, addressing issues such as the Quran, the relationship of Hindu Scriptures to Christ, the Bible and competing claims, and the relationship of Buddhist Sutras and Christian revelation. Part five consists of one chapter by Daniel Doriani on thinking holistically, while the final section includes FAQs answered by Carson.
One reviewer has suggested that this volume is another poor example of Evangelical trench warfare, digging in against possible objections to their positions and churning out massive tomes to defend what they already believe. But I have the opposite impression. In fact, anyone who has studied the history of philosophy and the rise of historical criticism (in conjunction with modern philosophical developments) knows the roots of those who have questioned the divinity or authority of Scripture. This means theologians must engage in issues of epistemology especially, which this book tackles head on in the third section (Philosophical and Epistemological Topics)!
It is also far from clear that the old views of inspiration and “inerrancy” are lost causes. The grounds on which modern theologians, following philosophers such as Spinoza and Locke, are shaky, as postmodernism has borne out (not that it has fared any better). Thus, robust and comprehensive defenses of our traditional notions of biblical authority (even if those notions have been improved over time) are still necessary, and this volume is a who’s who of authorities on their topics, from Dempster to Gathercole to Blomberg to Vanhoozer to Moo to Blocher, and on and on.
If anyone cares to write against Scripture’s authority within the next couple decades (and they will), they deserve to be blasted if they ignore the contributions in this volume. That’s not to say that this is a definitive defense, or that each essay is watertight. But, these essays now constitute a compendium of responses to most of the problems with our traditional notion of the authority of Scripture as brought out by historical criticism following in the wake of modern philosophy. They deserve interaction and acknowledgement by those writing in the field of the doctrine of Scripture.
In sum, is this the strongest defense of Scripture’s “authority” since Warfield? Since it’s not a unified monograph with a carefully mounted argument, perhaps not. But as a reference work, it certainly comes close.
Preview and buy it here on Amazon.