Christian Scripture: An Evangelical Perspective On Inspiration, Authority And Interpretation
by David S. Dockery, Broadman & Holman, 1995.
Reviewed by A. J. Smith
This is a well-written and much-needed defense of the historic doctrine of the Bible as God’s revelation in written form. Dockery’s work is brief and readable, unlike many other fine works on the subject which suffer from undue length and/or complexity.
The book begins with the current situation facing evangelical and mainline denominational churches, namely, the challenge of authority. While for evangelicals and fundamentalists the claim is that Scripture is the final authority, the problem remains of making that affirmation a living reality through sound interpretation and consistent application to life’s situations.
Using the current problem as a catalyst for reexamining the doctrine of revelation, Dockery moves to a discussion of general and special revelation as given through nature, history and human experience, and through God-appointed prophets and apostles. He then looks at the incarnation as a basic analogy for understanding inscripturation. Here he addresses the basic question of Christian epistemology: “How do we know what we know?” If God has communicated himself and his truth to us, how did he do it?
Following this he enters into a discussion of the inspiration of the Bible, examining all the major views which have been set forth through the centuries. Within the context of inspiration it is impossible to discuss the self-revelation of the God who is Truth without dealing with the issue of errancy/inerrancy as it pertains to his word.
Affirming the historic position of the Church, Dockery says, “Yes!” to the question, “Can God use fallible people to write an inerrant book?” He also seeks to give a satisfactory answer to the question, “How can a book be written by men and still be inerrant?” He removes the extraneous elements from the question first so that we are looking at Scripture on its own terms. He also affirms that inerrancy is an implication of the doctrine of inspiration, based on 2 Timothy 2:14-17 (pp. 63-69). He further affirms the need for a return to the commitment to Scripture’s authority as normative for the Church and the believer (pp. 70-73). This section of the book concludes with a look at the issues of canonicity and transmission of the biblical text from ancient times to today.
In the next major division in the work Dockery traces the history of biblical interpretation through the centuries. He begins with rabbinical interpretation, and then moves on to interpretive methods from the early church into medieval times. He discusses Reformational hermeneutics and post-Enlightenment higher criticism. Lastly, he seeks to set forth a hermeneutical method which will be true to the historical context of Scripture, interpretive principles used by Christ and the apostles, and applicable to the Church in the world today.
In his conclusion Dr. Dockery restates the principal issues surrounding the doctrine of Scripture and lays out eight confessional affirmations related to the doctrines of revelation and inspiration.
The Appendix was a well-written supplement to the book which served to highlight the historical setting of the doctrine of Scripture in Southern Baptist life.
Here is a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of Christian Scripture, beginning with its strengths, which far outweigh its weaknesses.
- Dockery writes with a warmth of conviction which is inviting to the reader.
- His logical pattern of development gives the book balance and symmetry.
- Writing in a homiletical style, Dockery makes good use of repetition as a means of reinforcing key points.
- Dockery presents an excellent summary of both the role and the handling of Scripture in various ages of the church in chapters 5-7 and the Appendix.
- Dockery clearly presents critical and hermeneutical issues the church has faced, highlighting typological, allegorical, Reformational (grammatical historical), and historical critical interpretational methodologies.
- He unashamedly affirms the Scripture as God’s Word in written form.
- He addresses the mode of inspiration, speaking of it as “concursive” verbal and plenary (p. 43).
Having noted all of these strengths, it is necessary to note that the book does have some weakness, most notably the following:
- There is a clear lack of detailed treatment of Jesus Christ in his prophetic office, either pre- or postincarnationally.
- On p. 23 Dockery states: “The proper setting of special revelation is Christian faith.” This statement leaves open the question of whether or not the Bible is objective revelation from God where it is not received in faith.
- The work lacks balance in the treatment of Reformational and post-Reformational hermeneutics.
- Connecting some of the information in the Appendix with post-Reformational developments would have better shown the context of the drift from the historic affirmation of inerrancy by many Southern Baptists who were swept up in the Continental movement of higher criticism.
All things considered, Dockery has done an excellent job of bringing together information from Scripture, church history and tradition, and synthesizing it into a readable book. It would serve every pastor and theology instructor to take the time to read this work. Dockery clarifies many issues and misconceptions surrounding the debate about inerrancy and inspiration. With supplemental information from other sources, this book could even be used as the basis for teaching this important subject in our churches where many people need to have a renewed sense of confidence in their Bibles as the Word of God written.