Fifteen years ago, I wrote about the negative impact a low view of biblical authority, rejection of propositional communication, and the focus on creating an experience, had on preaching. (David L. Allen, “A Tale of Two Roads: Homiletics and Biblical Authority,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43.3 [2000]: 489-515.)

For example, David Butrick, in A Captive Voice (1994) said: “There is no pure gospel; no, not even in the Bible.  To be blunt, the Christian Scriptures are both sexist and anti-Semitic” (75). He went on to state: “Insurance policy preaching, urging people to come find Jesus and ensure an eternal future, isn’t Christian at all; it is merely an appeal to narrow self-interest” (109).

No less shocking are the comments of Joseph Webb in his Preaching and the Challenge of Pluralism (1998). For him, the biblical text is in some ways more “ideological than theological”!  It needs to be probed in such a way that the preacher does not “let the text off the hook” with what it may appear to say on the surface. Webb said:

“One can ask the text to demonstrate its ideology…If this sounds somewhat devious, it is not…This is a way, however, that the preacher can, with honesty and integrity, analyze and evaluate a text, and shall we say, reject it—not “out of hand,” but “for cause.” Webb continued: “When one preaches this way…one’s preaching takes on a sparkle that instead of demeaning the Bible, will actually give the Bible a vitality that it can receive in no other way” (101-02). 


Taking his queue from process sociology developed at the Chicago School of Sociology, Webb constructed his approach to pluralism and preaching. When we ask the question “what is the gospel?” we are forced, Webb says, to respond that there is no consensus concerning a single answer.  Traditionally, Christianity has been based on an absolute sense of the gospel.  This was, according to Webb, a mirage:

What we have believed, particularly about Jesus, we can continue to believe as a way to give spiritual meaning and substance to the lives we live.  We can even take our beliefs as ultimate for our own lives, as we choose to do.  But it is no longer tenable for us to assert our beliefs about Jesus—about divinity, about resurrection, about his being the only path to God—as final, complete, and unalterable for every human being everywhere (103-04).

Webb also suggests that although the prophetic model of preaching after the Hebrew prophets is no longer viable, prophetic preaching is still needed.  He redefines it as preaching in a pluralist vein which becomes a “call to uncertainty” (108). So much for Peter’s “more sure word of prophecy” in 2 Peter 1:19. Now we have “a more unsure word of prophecy.”

The last chapter of Ron Allen’s book Patterns of Preaching: A Sermon Sampler (1998) is entitled “Preaching in a Postmodern Perspective” and includes a sermon by John McClure on Philippians 2:5-11. McClure states that Christ emptied himself of his desire to use his power for domination; to use others for his own ends.  He further states that, being born in human likeness, “Jesus had no assurance that he could empty himself of these evil patterns of dominating power” (249-5o).

…   …   … I had to do a double take too when I first read it!  It would be difficult to imagine a more convoluted Christology resulting from such a low view of biblical authority.

In matters theologically and homiletically, what we believe about the inerrancy of Scripture matters. All we know of Jesus is found in Scripture.  We are face to face with the living Word, Jesus, when we are confronted with His written Word (the Scriptures) because knowledge of Christ and His salvation does not come apart from Scriptural revelation and textual mediation, but through it!

Tags: , , , , , ,


  1. I think you do a good job of pointing out various “liberal” approaches to scripture and how ludicrous they are. However, I don’t believe the issue of “inerrancy” is as simple as that. For my part, for a number of years I believed that God has in scripture exactly what he wants there, and that we are to accept it as such (i.e., basically “literally”), but that the God/man creation of scripture allowed for some human errors in its transmission. Thus, I believed the four gospel writers were “doing their best” to operate as “reporters” of Christ’s life and teachings, but, as reporters occasionally do, they might not get all the “details” straight, a phenomenon which emphasized the lack of “collaboration” and hence “believability” in their end product. As one example, I believed that Matthew’s account of the centurion whose servant was sick actually coming to Jesus, as compared with Luke’s view that he did not come personally, was an example of such an “error,” with Luke’s version being more likely the correct one. This was not taking a “low” view of scripture, but rather “allowing the text to speak for itself.” Subsequently I have become less certain of that approach. However, my present point is that it is not necessary to take an “inerrant” view of scripture to have a “high” view of it. It is a “spiritualizing” or “modernizing” of scripture that is the culprit we must avoid. Thus, to tell someone that he must believe there are “no errors” to “believe in scripture” is to place a “stumbling block” before those who cannot “overlook” such “problematic” texts.

  2. Thomas,

    Thank you for your comment. If I understand you correctly, you have articulated your previous belief concerning the nature of Scripture, but now you no longer approach Scripture in that fashion. But now you hold a “higher” view of inspiration. Is that correct? Does your current view include “inerrancy”? I’m just curious.

    I will start with what appears to be your previous view.

    You have assumed an error in the text in Matthew’s version of the centurion with the sick servant as over against the Lukan version. But are there sufficient reasons to conclude that there actually is no error? I think there are, as many of the exegetical commentaries advocate. For example, D. Bock, quoting I. H. Marshall, in his commentary on Luke points out that in the culture of the first century, “Messengers sent to represent a figure can be said to speak as the figure (2 Kings 19:20-34).” Clearly, Luke’s account speaks of messengers. This approach would easily explain what appears to be an “error” but actually is not.

    Moreover, 99% of the so called “errors” can be reasonably explained upon careful examination of the Greek text, context, etc.

    I certainly agree with you that spiritualizing or modernizing must be avoided at all costs.

    You have stated that it is not necessary to hold to inerrancy to have a high view of Scripture. I would agree with you up to a certain point. The operative word here is “high.” Compared to a liberal who denies the miracles of the Bible, your previous view of Scripture was certainly “higher” than his! But your problem is going to be in the realm of epistemology. Once you grant the possibility of slight error in details, where do you stop? You may stop, but the next guy takes it one step further, and so on. Your epistemological grounds are undercut on any view of Scriptural authority other than inerrancy.

    I would not tell someone he “must believe there are no errors to believe in Scripture.” One may believe the truthfulness of the theological claims of Scripture; even in the factual accuracy of most of the historical details, while denying full inerrancy of all matters of historical details in the text. But as I have said, such would be an inconsistent position. My position would be “one cannot believe in a Bible with errors consistently with what the Bible claims about itself.”

    Finally, I would not tell someone to “overlook” problematic texts. I would tell them to look carefully into the language, context, etc., and consider other possibilities before declaring a biblical author has made an error.

    I hope this helps explain my thinking. Thanks again for stopping by!

    David L. Allen

  3. Thank you for your response. I would say, first of all, that I now “lean in favor of” inerrancy, based on, in fact, that such matters as the “visit” of the centurion to Jesus can be explained in just the fashion that you say consistently with “no error” (though the “dialogue” between Jesus and the centurion in Matthew seems more “strained” under that reading). My main thrust is that there are certainly enough such “problematic” passages to lead one who is not as “well versed” in such matters as “how people spoke of ‘coming’ in that culture” to have a very difficult time in accepting the view of “inerrant” (as was the case with me earlier). (As one other example, for instance, whether the disciples in Jerusalem said, “He is risen indeed, and has appeared unto Peter” to the two on their way to Emmaus upon their return; or, instead, as in Mark, “Neither believed they them.”)

    I agree that there can be some difficulties in “where do you stop” when you accept any possibility of error, but I don’t find that to be dispositive. I think the “orthodox” belief in “errors” starts and stops with what the text says–not some “independently imposed” error from”outside” of scripture. In other words, what one can properly insist upon is that “God has in scripture exactly what he wanted to be in scripture, including that it proves that it was actually written by men, not handed down as some text out of heaven” (as another false religion teaches). The “inspiration” is God’s calling upon men to “faithfully” record to the best of their ability. Thus, God says, “When I pass on a message to someone, I do so in dreams and dark sayings; not so with my servant Moses–with him I speak face to face, and mouth to mouth” (my paraphrase). Indeed, to the best of my recollection, such a “stalwart” a Christian as C.S. Lewis did not believe in “inerrancy,” but was obviously someone greatly blessed by God as a “lay theologian.”

    So, what I just want to make sure of is that people “like me” who, at least for a considerable time, have difficulty with “inerrancy” are not “considered liberal” because they cannot in good conscience “sign on the bottom line.” As I read you, that is likely not the case with you, but I can assure you it is with many.

  4. Thomas,

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Another point I might make is that you may be laboring under a restrictive view of inerrancy. Inerrancy does not mean that the biblical authors did not use rounded numbers, the language of appearance, grammar inconsistency, etc.

    You state: “The ‘inspiration’ is God’s calling upon men to ‘faithfully’ record to the best of their ability. Actually Scripture says it is more than that in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:19-21, to name only two places. If Scripture is “God-breathed” and if the writers were “picked up and carried along” (literal Greek) in their writing of Scripture, then divine inspiration is a stronger notion than you have articulated.

    C. S. Lewis is one of my favorite people, but no one I know considers him a theologian when it comes to biblical inspiration. I certainly agree with you, however, that people can be “blessed of God” who do not believe in inerrancy.

    Again, I would not consider someone necessarily “liberal” just because they did not espouse my view of inerrancy.


    David L. Allen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *