Guest contribution by my friend Lawrence Garcia. If you would like to contribute a guest post here at the EC Forum, then please contact me and let me know. The post will need to have something to do with Evangelical Calvinism and doctrinal points that might flow from EC’s themes as this short essay from Larry represents. Enjoy! And thank you, Larry for the contribution!
Bio: Lawrence Garcia is the current head pastor of Academia Church in Goodyear-Phoenix, AZ and blogs over at The Unlikely Theologian where he engages in weekly theological, pastoral, and missional reflection. He enjoys dance, cooking, and reading all things N.T. Wright and T.F. Torrance. His ultimate mission is to show that deep theological reflection and real life co-inhere and uphold one another.
The Question of Inerrancy Is Simply the Wrong Question: Scripture As God’s “Magic Eye”
Undoubtedly, because this is a post that will not support the doctrine of “inerrancy” (or reject it for that matter) there will be those who think this is then ipso facto a support for “errancy”; as if anything but a wholesale support of the doctrine is tantamount what is often tossed around as “neo-Marcionism.” But this is to load a theological a priori on to the whole endeavor when discussing the ontology of Scripture, because Scripture is not allowed to speak for itself (better said, “Scripture is not permitted to unfold its own ontology) and thus muddies the water to begin with. So, I simply request that you hold your conclusions at bay.
Thus, to anticipate my conclusion about the current discussion on inerrancy, I suggest that the entire debate is simply asking the wrong sort of questions about Scripture; that is, once the true nature of Scripture is rightly understood in relation to its dynamic-revelational ontology the categorical options usually offered are simply not sufficient. Of course, as many of my readers may have already noticed, I’m suggesting the inerrancy debate falls in line with what C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed about many of our theological discussions:
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask—half our great theological and metaphysical problems—are like that.
But the fact that both inerrancy’s advocates and its dissenters have been waging war on the wrong battle field will not become obvious until we discuss how science (!) has made head way over the last century when reserving logic-casual rubrics/a priori when approaching objects on their own terms in order to come to grips with their actual nature (kata physin, according to their nature). In fact, science gained considerable advance when, for example, it moved beyond Newtonian physics following Einstein’s contribution, into an integration of form and knowing where modes of thought and experimentation are derived in the process of investigation as the intrinsic intelligibility of the object in question unfolds and discloses itself to the enquirer.
It turns, prior to Einstein (with some precursors), out that logico-casual a priori had been clouding and hindering true advance in scientific knowledge because of alien theoretical frameworks (that were decisively syllogistic, hence Aristotelian) imposed from outside (this is where Barth’s theological approach should be located by the way). It’s therefore not difficult to see the epistemological problems that arise with deducing ontologies for Scripture apart from engaging Scripture (like God’s “truthfulness”) itself and allowing it to unfold its own proper nature kata physin (according to its nature). Much of theology, then, is still stuck in Newtonian logico-causal (dualism) chains that are hindering true advance when it comes to arriving at the actual ontology of Scripture, not to mention Christology. It may turn out, that once we allow Scripture to unfold its own inner nature and thus the proper ways to speak about it that inerrancy/errancy categories are just alien a priori thought forms and should be disbanded for more sufficient ones.
In his book on T.F. Torrance (and his scientific theological method) Elmer Colyer comments on the shift of method that allowed Einstein to move passed the Newtonian impasse. He writes:
Thus, the theories that Einstien developed were in one sense freely chosen (integration of form in knowing). Yet, nevertheless, in another sense, they arise out of, are controlled by, experiential and experimental contact with reality in its intrinsic structures and relations (form in being), and are tested and confirmed by applicability to that reality. This means that Einstein sees a significant harmony between scientific concepts (when allowed to arise from the object itself in the course of investigation) and reality.
If I haven’t lost you, let me try and summarize this. Science following Einstein, not least Michael Polanyi, made significant advances in knowledge once it rejected a priori strict logical and rationalist explanations and in turn allowed genuine knowledge, discourse, explanation, and even the proper rational modes of thought to arise out of the object itself under the process of investigation, even if they were paradoxical and seemingly contradictory.
For example, light prior to the epistemological shift described above was thought to be either particle (Newton) or wave, but genuine explication of the nature of light wasn’t advanced until its paradoxical reality was allowed to disclose itself as both wave and particle (Einstein); an Aristotelian, and hence logico-causal, approach would have none of this, and thus its limited nature.
Well, what of Scripture? Now, by “investigation” I don’t not mean “search for a single or group of isolated proof texts that means this or that,” but we are going to make it mean “inerrancy.” Rather, the larger and deeper inner logic of Scripture as a Self-witness of God in Christ for our salvation and reconciliation. Like Einstein, we are going to freely approach Scripture and allow for its inner dynamic and self-attesting reality to emerge in the process without imposing any alien categories.
When we do this, all of Scripture, I suggest, is explicable as the conceptual matrix for the dynamic revelation of God in Christ through the Spirit as it is read, studied, and expounded upon. A good example, raised by Colyer is the Magic Eye. He states:
An example of focal and subsidiary awareness is the popular Magic Eye pictures which at first look like a jumble of tiny detailed figures. However, if one holds the picture close enough to one’s face and then gradually moves the picture away from one’s eyes without focusing on the details, suddenly an astonishing three-dimensional image comes into view. What happens is the mind integrates the subsidiary clues to the matrix of intrinsic interrelations between the parts that constitute the three-dimensional whole (which the creators of the Magic Eye in a sense hide amidst what first appears to be a chaotic collection of tiny figures). As the mind integrates the clues, the 3-D image that creators of the Magic Eye build into the picture comes into view.
You see, Scripture itself, every jot and tittle of it, is the “subsidiary” matrix and Christ himself as God’s self disclosing reality in revelation and reconciliation is the 3-D Image that emerges as we actively engage it. Like Einstein freely engaging objects and allowing their dynamic and paradoxical nature to surface. It matters not, then, which parts of the subsidiary reality are “historical” or like “loving a God” etc., but simply that the Creator of the Magic Eye of Scripture has more or less created a host of texts by which Christ himself emerges in reconciling and community forming activity in the present as people engage Scripture within its own terms and self-disclosing patterns.
Remember, to focus on the parts rather than what emerges from within is to lose sight of the the 3-D picture!
It would make no sense with a traditional Magic Eye to set the image that arises out of the course of focalizing against its peripheral subsidiary reality from which it emerges. Both are integrated and are inseparably related to each other. So, is the reconciling activity of God in Jesus Christ as mediated through the conceptual matrix of Scripture. Deducing static frameworks about the nature of a Magic Eye from alien metaphysical starting points that ignore the dynamic purpose of the Magic Eye to disclose a 3-D image would be an exercise in simply missing the point; what matters is that we engage the Magic Eye itself to see what emerges in all of its relational and astonishing presence!
And so it is with Scripture. Arguing over the tensions of the resurrection accounts, or the difference between the Jesus of the Synoptics and John, or between the God of the OT and that which Jesus speaks of in the NT as ways to prove errancy are atomizing elements within the subsidiary framework while missing the personal Christ that emerges from within and not apart from it all. While those arguing about the static nature of text as deduced from some foreign metaphysical principle are not allowing Scripture to unfold its own inner-coherence in the person and work of Christ as it dynamically steps forward in the process of investigation.
Therefore, I suggest that both the errantist position (which focuses on atomized parts of the subsidiary matrix instead of the Christ—and hence the God whom he reveals—that arises from them as a totality) and the inerrantist position (which introduce distorting alien thought forms which blur the dynamic reality for a static detached one) are fighting a battle on the wrong ontological field altogether. Rather, Scripture in toto is the textual Magic Eye in which the loving, redeeming, and personal God in Christ emerges to take hold of a world desperately in need of reconciliation. As Jesus said, “These things testify to Me….”
 C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, reprint 1996), pg. 69.
 This is no way a “liberal” concession to science within the other current debates surrounding science and religion. This is similar to what early theologians did when discovering the proper modes of rational enquiry and explanation when approaching Christ’s relation to the Father and his own inner reality as fully divine and fully human. This is why many of us see science and theology as relatives in their endeavors.
 By this he means were not imposed a priori but were allowed to arise ‘freely’ under examination and experimentation.
 Elmer Colyer, How To Read T.F. Torrance: Understanding His Trinitarian & Scientific Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press: 2001),pg. 334.
 I could reach for another statement from Lewis about the uselessness of culling our forefathers and their comments for modern issues which have no bearing on the current situation as they are not strictly in view.
 What I offer is, in fact, informed by T.F. Torrance.
 Ibid., 338.