Stephen Robinson and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
Recently various posts have raised the notion of inerrancy. I believe it is important to clarify a mistake that has the possibility of being perpetuated in ensuing dialogue between Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals.1 I refer to a mistake in How Wide the Divide (Intervarsity Press, 1997) that has created quite a bit of confusion. Whenever Stephen E. Robinson is referring to the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy”2 he is actually referring to a one sentence statement by Paul D. Feinberg.
Feinberg’s statement is not part of the Chicago Statement. It is not a sentence from the Summary Statement, the nineteen Articles of Affirmation and Denial, or the accompanying Exposition. None of these portions were the topic of substantial discussion in the book, if discussed at all. Indeed, as several reviewers of HWD have pointed out, many of the actual articles of the Chicago Statement directly contradict Robinson’s own views on, for example, revelation, an open canon and the role of prophets.3 In fact, every time Robinson seems to be quoting from the Chicago Statement, he is in fact quoting Feinberg. The phrases “when all facts are known,” “in their original autographs,” and “properly interpreted” are not quotations from the Chicago Statement, but from Feinberg, even though Robinson mistakenly attributes them to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. (pp. 56, 89).
The confusion may have occurred when Blomberg described Feinberg’s statement as an “abbreviated version of the [Chicago] declaration” (p. 35, emphasis added) but it’s hard to see how Feinberg’s one sentence is an “abbreviated version” of something containing a Summary Statement, nineteen Articles of Affirmation and Denial, and accompanying Exposition. Blomberg breaks down Feinberg’s sentence into five qualifications in order to frame a useful discussion about “Scripture’s truthfulness.” Robinson at times refers to the “common parameters” or “similar parameters” or “five qualifications” of the Chicago Statement. However, there are no “five qualifications” of the Chicago Statement and Robinson is actually referring to Blomberg’s elucidation of Feinberg’s one-sentence statement or the Feinberg qualifications. It’s clearly a mistake, and one that has created confusion and invited misunderstanding.4
In Are Mormons Christian? Robinson points out that one of the problems with inerrancy is that it precludes an open canon and makes further revelation redundant.5 In his entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism Robinson states, in part, “Mormons deny both biblical inerrancy and sufficiency.”6 He notes in HWD that “Words like inerrancy, plenary and infallible are not scriptural, nor are they part of the LDS vocabulary.” (p. 205, ft 5). This leads me to believe Robinson was focusing on, and responding to, Blomberg’s discussion on scripture and not agreeing to endorse or to become a signatory to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. A more sensible reading is that the authors recognize that there are parameters of scripture not shared between them, and not in common, but that they can agree with those parameters that they do share. (p. 195). Indeed, Blomberg expressly states areas of inerrancy where he and Robinson differ (p. 200, fn 8). Robert Silvuka contrasts the authors’ stated views and provides other examples of where Blomberg and Robinson probably possess different understandings of inerrancy.7
In HWD, Robinson is attempting to draw a parallel between the eighth article of faith and the five qualifications as explained by Blomberg, not the entire Chicago Statement. Robinson’s purpose is to illustrate to Evangelicals that they should not be offended by the eighth article of faith qualification on the bible being true “as far as it is translated correctly” when Evangelicals themselves place several qualifications on “Scripture’s truthfulness,” namely the five qualifications as explained by Blomberg. Seen in that light, the qualification in the eighth article of faith should not raise serious objections. This is the kind of dialectic that Robinson is using. In fact, had the discussion been about the actual articles of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Robinson may have found Article X quite useful to his argument. There, the framers state: “We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.”
Most reviewers recognized that Robinson wasn’t advancing a fully developed inspiration theory, though reviewers wished that he had done so. In the chapter on scripture, I think his main goals were to place the eighth article of faith in perspective for Evangelical readers and defend an open canon. For his part, Blomberg doesn’t dwell a lot on inspiration theory other than to clarify misunderstandings about it and explain, among other things, that “No reputable Evangelical scholar or theologian believes in divine dictation for more than a tiny fraction of Scripture” (p. 37). This is clearly an area where further thoughtful dialogue and discussion might prove beneficial.
1. This is an expanded version of a comment I originally posted at Juvenile Instructor April 2, 2009.
2. For the full Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy see http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html. Retrieved May 22, 2009.
3. Mosser and Owen point out “. . . Robinson’s view of inerrancy does not seem to follow. How can a text be inerrant if it is not verbally inspired to begin with? Inerrancy cannot be organically derived from the neoorthodox view of revelation here expressed. Why then does he believe in it at all? At the least Robinson’s views on the nature of revelation and its relationship to scripture are underdeveloped; at worst they are contradictory.” Mosser, Carl and Paul Owen, How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation” [including Appendix: Hellenism, Greek Philosophy, and the Creedal “Straightjacket” of Christian Orthodoxy] FARMS Review of Books 11, no. 2 (1999): 103-177; see also Ostler, Blake T. “Bridging the Gulf.” FARMS Review of Books 11, no. 2 (1999): 103-177.
Examples of portions of the Chicago Statement that directly conflict with a Latter-day Saint view of revelation (including Robinson’s) are as follows:
“When God’s final and climactic message, His word to the world concerning Jesus Christ, had been spoken and elucidated by those in the apostolic circle, the sequence of revealed messages ceased. Henceforth the Church was to live and know God by what He had already said, and said for all time. (Chicago Statement, Exposition. A. Creation, Revelation and Inspiration).
“The New Testament canon is likewise now closed, inasmuch as no new apostolic witness to the historical Christ can now be borne. No new revelation (as distinct from Spirit-given understanding of existing revelation) will be given until Christ comes again.” (Chicago Statement, Exposition. B. Authority, Christ and the Bible).
“We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings.” (Chicago Statement, Articles of Affirmation or Denial. Article V.)
Robinson’s own stated views on living prophets, revelation and an open canon preclude the conclusion that he would adopt these positions.
4. This has led to several commentators and reviewers to conclude that Robinson accepts the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I believe such a conclusion, while entirely understandable given Robinson’s language, may not follow for reasons cited above.
Matthew R. Connelly writes in his summary of the literature: “Of particular note is Robinson’s insistence that Latter-Day Saints could accept the Evangelical Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” Connelly, Matthew R., Craig L. Blomberg, Stephen E. Robinson and BYU Studies Staff, “Sizing Up the Divide: Reviews and Replies [review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation by Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson with a reply by the book's authors] (1999)” BYU Studies, 38:3:163-190. (see p. 167)
John-Charles Duffy concludes in his review of LDS apologetic literature: “Robinson maintains, for example, that the LDS view of the Bible is equivalent to that set forth in the evangelical Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” John-Charles Duffy, “Defending the Kingdom, Rethinking the Faith: How Apologetics Is Reshaping Mormon Orthodoxy”, Sunstone, (May 2004): 22-55. (see p. 24).
Kevin L. Barney concludes that “Robinson accepts a doctrine of inerrancy consistent with the Chicago Statement.” Kevin L. Barney, “Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis,” Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 33 No. 1, Spring 2000: 57-99 (see p. 73 fn 64).
Blake T. Ostler notes well the problem: “It was unclear to me, even after reading his contribution several times, whether Robinson fully adopted the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. My confusion arose from the fact that while repeatedly allowing for the possibility of errors in the written versions of Mormon scripture, Robinson nevertheless affirms that Latter-day Saints can accept the Chicago Statement.” Ostler concludes, “I was stunned that Robinson apparently accepted the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy as consistent with his Latter-day Saint beliefs, especially after he went to such great lengths to explain that he as a Mormon believes that scripture ‘is in our [Mormons'] view recorded by men who can and do make mistakes’” (internal citation omitted). Ostler points out many places where the Chicago Statement is inconsistent with Robinson’s stated views. Ostler, Blake T. “Bridging the Gulf.” FARMS Review of Books 11, no. 2 (1999): 103-177. Most of this confusion disappears when we realize Robinson is not endorsing or accepting the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, but instead is referring to the Feinberg qualifications.
Comments on the issue by Mormon bloggers tend to adopt the conclusion that Robinson has accepted or endorsed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. For example, see David G. “Bart Ehrman, Biblical Criticism, and Mormons” Juvenile Instructor [blog], dated March 28, 2009. Accessed April 12, 2009 from http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/bart-ehrman-biblical-criticism-and-mormons
While some Evangelical reviewers of HWD were skeptical of Robinson discussion on inerrancy, not all Evangelical commentators concluded that Robinson must have accepted the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Owen and Mosser as well as Robert M. Sivulka both note that Robinson is referring to the “abbreviated version” of the Chicago Statement (not the Chicago Statement) and conclude that Robinson’s views are still different from those espoused in the Chicago Statement. See Robert M. Sivulka “Similar yet Different,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 31, no. 3 (1998): 196-98; Mosser, Carl and Paul Owen, How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation” FARMS Review of Books 11, no. 2 (1999): 103-177.
5. Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991). Chapter 5 may be accessed from http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/response/general/christians/ser5.htm
6. Stephen E. Robinson, “Doctrine: LDS Doctrine Compared With Other Christian Doctrines,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992, pp. 399-403.)
7. Robert M. Sivulka “Similar yet Different,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 31, no. 3 (1998): 196-98.