Issue 5 (September 10, 2008)

Welcome to the fifth issue of ARPTalk. Featured in ARPTalk(5) are the following seven (7) articles: (1) Do Burnett and Bush Affirm Inerrancy?  No! (2) Is This a Metaphor for Erskine’s Future?by Dr. Mary Anne Fleagle; (3) An Open Letter to the Seminary Committee; (4) Kudos to Erskine College for Academic Recognition, from Erskine NetNews; (5) Old Challenges, New Opportunities for Erskine, byJosh Grimm (Erskine College student); (6) Erskine College Now Has Buildings Named After a Convicted Felon, from The Clarion-Ledger (“Another Guilty Plea in Beef Case”), Jackson, Mississippi; and (7) Bush’s DUI Trial Continued.

If you are new to ARPTalk, the purposes of ARPTalk are two-fold: (1) To inform the ministers and laypersons of ARPdom of the significant issues that are before them that are overlooked or ignored by the ARP establishment; and (2) To give voice and encourage those who feel their voice has been taken away and they have been disenfranchised.

If you have thoughts, articles, reviews, criticisms, or news that is of interest to the ministers and laypersons of ARPdom, if you submit them, I will most likely publish them in ARPTalk.

If you have missed past issues of ARPTalk, this blog site is used archivally to store the past issues of ARPTalk. If that doesn’t work, e-mail me at and copies will be sent to you.

The lead article in this issue of ARPTalk is ”Do Burnett and Bush Affirm Inerrancy? No!” Please see the attachment for the other six (6) articles of ARPTalk(5).

Many thanks to Dr. Mary Anne Fleagle and Mr. Josh Grimm (Erskine College student) for the articles they contributed to this issue of ARPTalk.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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Do Burnett and Bush Affirm Inerrancy? No!

In response to criticism that Professors Burnett and Bush are “weak” on the authority of Scripture, the Seminary Committee of the Board of Trustees of Erskine College met in Due West on Friday, August 22, 2008, to examine Burnett and Bush on their view of Scripture. According to sources, both men indicated that they are NOW willing to affirm inerrancy, albeit with lengthy qualifications.
Three events have lead to this controversy: (1) A memorial in First Presbytery regarding the Calvin Colloquium this past Spring, charging the presence of neo-orthodox teaching; (2) A complaint by the Reverend Mark Wright, the Pastor of the Unity ARP Church in Second Presbytery, asserting that Dr. Burnett taught neo-Barthianism not as an alternative but a preferred theological method regarding Scripture in a Th.M course that he took at ETS this past Spring; and (3) The adoption of the following motion by the 2008 General Synod regarding Biblical authority: “The Bible alone, being verbally God-breathed, is the Word of God written, infallible in all it teaches, and inerrant in the original manuscripts.”

Dr. Burnett presented a position paper regarding his view of Scripture to the committee. A copy of Dr. Burnett’s  paper is below for your examination.

"From my youth I have believed Holy Scripture to be “the only infallible rule for faith and practice.” By that I have understood the Bible to be wholly true and fully trustworthy in all that it teaches and that this extends to all manner of events it, in various ways, seeks to describe. I can also affirm the Bible’s “inerrancy.” However, given the protean nature of this term and the various ways it has been employed, I find it necessary to clarify my affirmation in the following way.

While I can affirm that the Holy Scriptures are “inerrant  . . . in all they say,” the question this immediately raises is: What do they say? Scripture, of course, says many things but, according to my own theological tradition, what the Scriptures say, and say not “primarily” or “for the most part,” but wholly, indispensably, and irreducibly, is about God. God is the central subject matter and theme of the Bible and it is He as its primary author who, by means of secondary human authors, speaks and reveals Himself through the Scriptures by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. Any attempt to read the Bible apart from this subject matter and theme is, therefore, from the standpoint of faith, the discipline of theology, or even, I would argue, from the perspective of sound literary theory, improper. If, then, we wish to speak of the Bible as “inerrant” and are really serious about “all” that the Holy Scriptures have to say, then I think it is necessary to stipulate that no question concerning the Bible’s errancy or inerrancy is appropriately asked or answered apart from this one, central subject matter and theme.That no question of truth or falsehood can be appropriately asked or answered apart from the one, central subject matter and theme does not, in any way, limit the kinds of questions that can be raised from the perspective of science or historical-criticism, nor does it render scientific or historical-critical judgments irrelevant. Reading the Bible according to its central subject matter and theme does, however, relativize these questions and the standards of truth and falsehood, error or inerror, many of us would seek to apply to the Bible. None of our concepts from any of our fields of knowledge (not least of all, Systematic Theology!) are exempt from the judgment of God’s revelation. All our concepts, including those informing us of error and inerror, must die and rise again, as it were, before they can be applied to the true subject matter and theme of Holy Scripture.

Therefore, in light of the particularity of Holy Scripture’s subject matter and theme and the fact that “His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts,” my only reservation is that rather than allowing concepts intrinsic to the Scriptures themselves to define truth and error, many have sought to apply extrinsic concepts to the Bible and have insisted upon these as constitutive for affirming or rejecting biblical “inerrancy.” By “extrinsic concepts” I mean, for example, concepts related to theories about time, space, and matter which are extrinsic to the Scriptures themselves.
* Because such theories persist, for example, as independent criteria for assessing the truth or falsehood of Holy Scripture, I find it is necessary to qualify my affirmation by stating that to the extent that the concept of “inerrancy” does not subvert the Reformation principle of sola scriptura by submitting Scripture to criteria independent of the Scriptures themselves, and so long as it is based, not on any speculative foundation or human value judgment (Matt. 16:17), but on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14), I affirm the Bible’s inerrancy.
I must emphasize, however, while the Scriptures are infallible, my understanding of them as such is not. *Dr. [name removed by CW], what I have in mind here has to do with, for example, those who insist that with regard to Genesis 1, one day = 24 hours. Another way of saying this is that although human knowledge is gained in various ways, all of which make important contributions to the totality of human learning, the true meaning and value of what is learned must be tested by Holy Scripture itself."

This is a long and complex statement. Please permit the following analysis.

The statement is wordy and convoluted. Wordiness and convolution are the art of using an ocean of words to HIDE meaning. If a seminary professor can’t state what he believes about the authority of Scripture in 50 words or less, he either doesn’t know what he believes or he is attempting to hide what he believes.

The parameters of the inerrancy debate have been well defined in the last century. Dr. Burnett seeks to radically redefine those boundaries. Dr. Burnett states that the issue is the Bible’s focus on God. Simply stated, the debate is not that! The debate has been whether what the Bible says—about God, his creation, redemptive history, the holiness expected of God’s people, and so on—is true and without error. Does the Bible reveal truth about God or not? Is the Bible true in all that it teaches or not?

The one example that Dr. Burnett uses is a “straw man.” Most evangelicals look to B. B. Warfield for the classic definition of inerrancy. Dr. Burnett seems to think that only “flat-earth” fundamentalists who believe in six-day creationism are inerrantists. Warfield did not teach six-day creationism as his interpretation of Genesis 1. Neither do many of those who follow the old-Princeton/Westminster Seminary camp. They favor a literary interpretation (the Framework model) in their interpretation of Genesis 1. Both the six-day creation people and the Framework people affirm the historicity and truth of Genesis 1.

Dr. Burnett’s statement is an attempt to say that he affirms inerrancy while actually using the term in a way that is unrecognizable to those who affirm inerrancy.  For example, Dr. Burnett’s version of inerrancy places no limits on higher critical conclusions regarding the text.  Apparently one can deny Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the unity of Isaiah, and the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles and still affirm inerrancy.  All this is quite familiar to those who have read a little from the writings of Karl Barth.  Barth accepted many, if not most, higher critical conclusions about Scripture, and placed no limits on such inquiry, and Burnett’s statement echoes this too.  The only difference is that Barth did not call his view inerrancy.

Dr. Burnett’s statement seems to be an attempt to distance his theological construct from fundamentalism. He seems to be concerned that some of his colleagues in the PC(USA) may identify him as a fundamentalist. Certainly fundamentalists identify themselves as inerrantists, but not all inerrantists are fundamentalists—there are many other issues in Fundamentalism (e.g., George Dollar, A History of Fundamentalism in America; George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture and Earnest Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism). Is Burnett concerned how ARPs are going to identify him and work with him? He seems to be willing to work in an institution of the ARPC—a church that affirms inerrancy (a camp of inerrancy-believing fundamentalists, if you will)—and take the livelihood provided by the ARPC. Where are his intellectual integrity and professional respectability? Certainly there are many other academic institutions where his views are respected and honored as legitimate.  

 If the task of the theologian is to clarify what the Bible says, Dr. Burnett’s statement FAILS. That’s the kindest thing I can say about this statement!

Dr. Bush’s affirmation of inerrancy is also problematic. It is reported that at a faculty meeting before the meeting of General Synod, in a discussion on inerrancy, he said that his PIETY would not allow him to say the Bible is without error in all that it teaches. Dr. Bush now says that he can affirm inerrancy with qualifications. How is it that he has disabused himself of his piety? Which is it? It can’t be both ways! How is it that Dr. Bush has changed his mind in the weeks since the meeting of General Synod? It’s a fair question to ask: Is he now convinced of the theological legitimacy of inerrancy on vocational and economic grounds?

The Seminary Committee is to meet again. I hope this meeting is sooner rather than later. It is also hoped that the minutes will be made public to the ministers of the ARPC.

These are my thoughts,

(For articles 2-6 of ARPTalk(5) see the attachment)

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