Inerrancy — Lessons from History (7)

After being appointed in 1969, the committee started its work in earnest.  By 1971, a report had been produced for the synod of that year.  Report 36 was a preliminary form of the Report 44 that would go to Synod 1972.

One of my seminary professors often told us that the Reformed way is always the “via media” – the middle road.  Sometimes this is true, but not always.  Previous CRC synods had discussed reports on Scripture.  In 1961, for instance, the report entitled “Infallibility and Inspiration in the Light of Scripture and our Creeds” came down in favour of inerrancy and verbal plenary inspiration – this was more the “high view of Scripture” found with such CRC stalwarts as Louis Berkhof.   Yes, there were already reasons for concern in 1961, but ten years later, with Report 36, we don’t find a “high view of Scripture” at all but a view that was more “middle of the road.”  The tumultuous 1960s had taken their toll on the CRC.

There are at least three important things to note about Report 36.

First, Fruitland had expressed a pastoral concern about concrete teachings from specific individuals.  The report decided to deal with “methods and not persons.”  Confrontation with particular Reformed theologians and their writings was avoided.  Louis Praamsma, in an article in the November 1971 issue of the Outlook, expressed his disappointment that this approach was taken, thereby not really addressing the pastoral concern.

Second, we can take note of the statement, “Synod urges the churches to acknowledge that the redemptive events recorded in the Bible are presented as prophetic and kerygmatic history.”  At first glance, this sounds fine.  The Bible does give us the history of redemption.  However, many Reformed ministers’ antennae will perk up at the mention of “kerygmatic history” because of the association of that term with Bultmann.  While the report insists that the biblical message is rooted in the historical trustworthiness of the events in Scripture, it does seem to leave the door open a crack when it says, “It is possible in certain instances to distinguish, partially at least, between an event as it actually happened and the way that event is recorded in Scripture.”  Would that statement leave room for asserting that Jericho was not really destroyed as described in Scripture in Joshua 6?

Finally, Report 36 offered two formulations on Biblical authority.  The first was good, excellent even:

The nature of Biblical authority is simply and solely that it is divine.  God speaks and therefore Scripture has divine authority.

This came to be known as Formulation A.  Then there was Formulation B:

The divine authority of Scripture is manifested only through its content as the saving revelation of God in Jesus Christ, and that therefore the authority of Scripture is always concretely embedded in its redemptive message.

These two positions are irreconcilable.  One posits that Scripture has authority because it comes from God.  That is the position of the Belgic Confession in article 5, dealing with the authority of Scripture.  Formulation B, however, posits that Scripture has authority because of its redemptive content.  This emphasis on the redemptive purpose of Scripture might at first glance seem to reflect the concern of the Belgic Confession in article 7.  However, article 7 is not dealing with the authority of Scripture, but its sufficiency.

Report 36 went to Synod 1971 and from there was sent out to the churches for their scrutiny.  It was published as a booklet and the committee received much correspondence about what they had written, positive and negative.  But it already seemed that there was no going back to the inerrancy mentioned in 1961.

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. View all posts by Wes Bredenhof

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