Monday, 24 March 2008

The Divine Spiration of Scripture

Over this Easter weekend I was able to find some time to do some reading, and thoroughly enjoyed reading Andrew McGowan's new book "The Divine Spiration of Scripture". As one who spends most of his time in Biblical Studies, it was a pleasant change to spend some time in Systematics. The basic thesis of the book is that some of the traditional "i" words regarding the authority of Scripture are unhelpful. Instead of "inspiration" which is often interpreted as referring to the author, McGowan suggests "Spiration" may be a better term as it refers to the text. At one level I agree with the thesis, but as my Oxford Dictionary is not big enough to have the word "Spiration" it may not be the most user friendly word to use. The book also claims that the word "inerrancy" is unhelpful, as it is a category that "inerrantists" apply to Scripture and thereby to God, which to say the least is a bit presumptive. God is free to work in the ways he chooses, not in the ways that conform to our logical deductions. A more helpful term, according to McGowan, is "infallibility".

There are a couple of things that really excited me about the book:
1. McGowan places the Doctrine of "Spiration" of Scripture as an outworking of the Doctrine of God. He notes how the Westminster Confession commences with Scripture (rather than God) - and argues that we should be careful not to bind God in ways he (and Scripture) have not bound him.
2. The book has a very helpful survey of the arguments concerning the authority of Scripture. It gives insights into the rise of liberalism, neo-orthodoxy and fundamentalism. It helps the reader to understand why issues of "inerrancy" are discussed with greater vigour in North America than is the case in Europe.
3. Without going down a neo-orthodox line, McGowan shows the role of the Holy Spirit - not only in the writing of Scripture, but in recognition (which is a better word than illumination) and in comprehension (which is a far better word than perspicuity). There is something very liberating about this discussion of the Spirit's work in regard to Scripture, especially in the realm of preaching. It is as though the Bible is being rescued from the empirical world of Newtonian science and that life is being breathed into it - indeed the Spiration that has always been there. And yet in all of this, the authority of Scripture is always upheld. In fact, grounding it in the doctrine of God, I think it is actually stregthened.

One of the reasons I read this book is that Andrew McGowan is giving a series of lectures at PTC in August this year (see the PTC website for details). Having read this book, I am sure that the lectures will be worth attending.

10 comments:

Dave said...

Although the word 'inspiration' might be wrongly interpreted as referring to the author it does refer to both author and Spirit in the production of the text. 'Spiration' refers only to the Spirits involvement in the production of the text (I do not have a dictionary definition for spiration, so I hope my understanding is correct). One of the great things about God is that he uses us in his work, even when he breathed out Scripture. He achieves perfection through imperfect creatures, and is worthy of glory! Where does this sit with McGowan's approach Ian? Using a word like Spiration it sounds like the difficult task of understanding our involvement in the process is underplayed?

Laurie Bradey said...

Looks like you will have to read the book Dave. It's on the library's shelves at RE60/McG

Ian Smith said...

Hi Dave,

And that is the wonder of it - McGowan is really strong on the fact that the Scriptures are written by humans. God does use us - or at least them - in the writing of Scripture. And whether the original spiration, or recognition or comprehension - human's are involved. But the ultimate authority lies in the text, and the absolute ultimate authority lies in God. Placing the doctrine of Revelation within the doctrine of God really makes sense. He is not advocating a semi-Pelagian view, however. It all comes back to how we see God. Enjoy the book.

Ian

byron smith said...

Thanks for the summary. Sounds like an interesting book. I've just discovered your blog via Steve Chong.

My question after reading this post is: why substitute one negative term (inerrant) for another (infallible)? Why not shift the focus to the positive claim that the scriptures are trustworthy? I understand the place of negative statements in ruling out misunderstandings, but isn't it better to begin with the positive and then try to clear up any misunderstandings?

Ian Smith said...

Hi Byron,
Glad you've found the blog! I guess the problem with single-word positive terms like trustworthy is that they are open to broad interpretation. One's dog is trustworthy! Negative statements seem to allow for greater precision. However, I totally agree with your sentiment - in our longer definitions of Scripture (i.e. longer than one word statements) it is much better to speak in positive and well-defined categories.

Ian

byron smith said...

If I'm looking for a single word statement on my position on something, I think I'd assume that I'm going to be misunderstood, and so still go for the positive term that is more important (and which might invite further questions into an actual discussion).

"Trustworthy" also has the benefit of addressing the function of Scripture in relationship, rather than simply a static property.

Peace.

Dave said...

I've never had a dog that I could trust...but perhaps that is more a reflection on me...
I cannot help but think that although infallible is the negative of fallible, it is much more positive to be infallible than fallible (though I could be wrong, being fallible and all, like the dogs I have owned). I do like the relational aspect of trustworthy...
Sorry to go on so much, but I am lonely...

byron smith said...

I cannot help but think that although infallible is the negative of fallible, it is much more positive to be infallible than fallible
Yes, but infallible is still a negation, saying what Scripture is not. This is what I meant by infallible being a "negative" term - logically negative, rather than connotatively negative.

Dave said...

Hi Byron. You are absolutely correct, and I understood your original intent. I guess my last comment was having a go at the discussion on two points.
1. Ian's comment about having a trustworthy dog, as this really did an injustice to the word 'trustworthy' in making his point (sorry Ian)!
2. I was also having a go at the discussion about positive and negative terms because in the case of terms like fallible and infalliable it is a mute point. Using the positive or the negation does not add any more information or result in a more or less accurate description. Something is either fallible or infalliable. This being the case, the only difference is connotative - hense my little joke! Jokes are never any good if you have to explain them!

John McClean said...

A few years ago Carl Trueman and Paul Helm put together a collection of essays dealing with the questions related to 'inerrancy' and 'infallibility ', but with an emphasis on God's faithfulness. I've found "The Trustworthiness of God: Perspective on the Nature of Scripture" (Apollos, 2002) very helpful.