A Critical Review of the Book, "In Defense of the Bible," Cowan and Wilder's "Introduction"

As announced earlier I’m planning on reviewing select chapters in the new evangelical anthology, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture, edited by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder.[To read other entries in this series as I write them, just click on the "Defending the Bible" tag below this post].

So let me start by making some comments about the Introduction, co-written by editors Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder. While they introduce the chapters that follow, they also introduce how they view the Bible. Speaking for all the contributors to this book the authors claim the Bible is the inerrant word of God.

Steven B. Cowan
They affirm the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible, and its inerrancy. "God--who cannot err--is the ultimate author of Scripture," so "when Scripture speaks, God speaks" (p. 4). "The Bible thus functions as the churches' and Christian's sole authority in matters of religious doctrine and Christian living. Practically this means that whatever the Bible teaches on some topic or another binds the Christian's conscience. We are obligated to believe what the Bible teaches and to do what the Bible prescribes (with the proper proviso, of course, that the Bible has been properly interpreted). (p. 3).

I see serious problems here, to say the least. They deny the mechanical view of inspiration, which is the belief that God verbally dictated to the authors of the Bible the very words they used. I understand rejecting such a view, since there are obvious stylistic, grammatical and word differences used by the authors. Not to worry. Just change what you believe about inspiration to get the same result. Say, "God inspired the Bible by providentially preparing the human writers through their upbringing, education, and life experiences so that when they wrote, their words were their words. And yet, they were also God's words because they wrote what God intended for them to write" (p. 5).

Terry L. Wilder
Folks this is typical theological gerrymandering. When a potential problem surfaces for the believer, find a way, no matter how bizarre, to resolve it. Ignore what a linguistic analysis of the Bible does to the idea of inspiration. Hint: it destroys it. Instead, affirm that God was preparing King David throughout his life, including his affair with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, to write the very words in some Psalms, as it's believed by the authors of this book. Affirm also that God was preparing Saul/Paul throughout his life, including his persecution of the early church, so that he could have the vocabulary and grammar and understanding to write the book of Romans, and so on. Without these experiences the authors could not have written what God intended, you see. Steer Saul/Paul's eyes to see, guide his ears to hear throughout his whole life. Make him experience and learn all of the divine truths he'll later write down as a result of his so-called Damascus Road experience. Then let him do his thing from there. Some of the authors of the Bible didn't even have to know they were writing Scripture, like the authors of Joshua through II Chronicles. They were born and bred to write the inerrant word of God.

I see no escape from a dilemma here. If God did not mechanically dictate the Bible then it cannot be inerrant. So evangelicals must choose. Take this passage in Romans 7:
4 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Theologians wrestle with the precise meaning of these Greek words. Every word had to be written in the exact sequence we find it in the Greek manuscripts. How did God accomplish this without dictating them? And if he did dictate them then linguistics would reveal one author with one style, one grammar, and one set of word choices.

Believers like Michael Drosnin in his book, "The Bible Code," have looked for hidden messages in the Bible. Well then, the greatest hidden message we could hope for is that the Bible was written with obvious stylistic, grammatical and word similarities in each language by just one author over a thousand years. Now that would be some very interesting evidence of the inspiration of the Bible. What we have instead is clear evidence of human authorship. I guess once again, God didn't want his truth to be more obvious, eh? Figures. Typical Christian apologists. Where the evidence is not there just punt to divine hiddenness, even though 1) there are clear cases where God could act and still remain hidden, and 2) we would clearly expect an Omni-God to produce a better book than the Bible. God could have averted the underwater earthquake that devastated the lives of a quarter of a million Indonesian people by a 2004 tsunami with a perpetual miracle, you see. No one would be the wiser he did that because it would not have happened. When it comes to the Bible, did God really inerrantly inspire the passages in it that apologists must constantly explain away with so much contortionism a professional contortionist would be amazed?

Apologists like the authors in this book are believers. So they take what they find in the Bible and the world and defend what they believe because they have a need to believe, and that's it. They hardly ever ask themselves what we would expect to find if their Omni-God exists. No. Assuming he exists just as they imagine, they gerrymander the facts, or lack of them, to fit. It's that simple.

Why not just affirm the mechanical view of inspiration and then say, "God made the Bible appear to be written by different men on purpose so that people who didn't believe would have a reason for not believing"? I see no difference with this claim and the verbal, plenary view they now affirm. The result is the same, inerrancy. But this claim appears obviously contrived, an ad hoc hypothesis used to save a theory from refutation. Why then is their claim not equally contrived? God might as well have created fossils in the geological strata to deceive geologists about the true nature of the young age of the earth too, something that was actually claimed to defend the Bible. The fact is that mechanically dictating the Bible is what we would expect to find. It is a much better method for writing Scripture than the method God supposedly chose. The reason apologists have rejected it is because of the facts.

Are these the exact inerrant words of an Omni-God:
"And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron." — Judges 1:19
23 Then he [Elisha] went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” 24 When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. 25 And he went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria." -- 2 Kings 2:23-25)
What about the evil eye?. What about the magical powers of Jacob's mandrakes, the Egyptian magicians in Exodus who could turn rods into snakes. What about all of the other difficulties these authors must deal with in this 463 pages of text? Yep, God inspired every word they say. This is a perfect book. *Cough* Their delusion is never seen more clearly than here.

As far as inerrancy goes, become informed by reading the following books by moderate and liberal Christians:

Now that these books are on the table it's only willful ignorance that keeps Cowan and Wilder affirming inerrancy. Not once do the authors in their anthology mention any of these works. Since they do not take on the strongest objections to their faith they are pseudo-intellectuals. Period.

Cowan and Wilder also claim "The Bible thus functions as the churches' and Christian's sole authority..." Such a statement defies the facts. It's merely an affirmation without evidence. Biblical exegetes use reason, experience, and tradition too, the Wesleyan_Quadrilateral, where Scripture is not the sole authority but rather the primary authority. Catholic biblical scholars are among the best scholars because for them the church is the primary authority. The church has always been the primary authority. It cannot be otherwise since the church interprets the Bible in each generation to suit her own needs, even to the point of selecting which books belong in the canon.

Cowan and Wilder included a proviso: "(with the proper proviso, of course, that the Bible has been properly interpreted)." What is the proper way to interpret the Bible? Donald McKim wrote a massive book of 623 pages detailing various ways to do so: Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters. Are we to suppose that these evangelicals/fundamentalists have discovered the correct way to interpret it out of the myriad number of ways to do so? That is pure hubris.

Evangelicals have learned from the war over inerrancy in the late 70's, much to their chagrin, that the real issue is hermeneutics. Once they discovered that then they can now claim that a mythic account of creation in Genesis is inerrant simply by fiat. It is without error because it was not to be taken as a straight-forward account of the scientific origins of the universe. So now what we have is a situation where The New Orthodoxy is the Old Neo-Orthodoxy. About this I highly recommend Robert Price's book, Inerrant the Wind: The Evangelical Crisis in Biblical Authority.

Dr. Valerie Tarico reveals just how these type of Christians argue with regard to Bible inconsistencies, in her book, "Trusting Doubt." She writes, “a whole industry has sprung up to convince believers and non-believers alike that these difficulties are inconsequential.” She quotes from Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, where he tells his readers that when looking at the Bible, one must first assume God inspired the authors and preserved them from error or mistake. Then she writes,
Archer says, essentially that the reader must start the process of inquiry by assuming a certain outcome. Don’t look for the most likely hypothesis suggested by the evidence, he says, nor the one that is most likely straightforward or reasonable. Start by believing that a certain conclusion is already true. . . . Examine the evidence through the lens of that conclusion. . . . Ask yourself, ‘What explanations or interpretations can I come up with that would allow me to maintain my belief that these texts are not contradictory?’ If you can find any at all, then you have succeeded in your task. By implication, if you cannot, the problem lies with you, not the text. Archer’s approach, in almost any other field of inquiry, would be considered preposterous.
Isn't this obvious? What they need to do is to take the phenomena of these texts seriously. Jon D. Levenson, Professor at Harvard Divinity School in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and Civilizations, offered a great definition of what a critical scholar is when he says they “are prepared to interpret the text against their own preferences and traditions, in the interest of intellectual honesty.” See page 3 of his book The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son. In that book he argues that "only at a particular stage rather late in the history of Israel was child sacrifice branded as counter to the will of YHWH and thus ipso facto idolatrous" (p. 5). Why shouldn't all Biblical scholars be critical scholars? I see no reason why they shouldn't. It's the intellectually honest thing to do. But we've come to expect the opposite from evangelical/fundamentalist pseudo-intellectuals like Cowan and Wilder, sad to say.

It's the Bible, when properly interpreted, that leads so many of us away from the faith. If anyone takes seriously the evidence in the Bible itself, then at best God is an utterly incompetent tribal barbaric deity who deserves no worship from us, and at the worst, he died a long long time ago with the other gods and goddesses of the ancient superstitious world. The problem is that Christian apologists have set his corpse up in a the bedroom of the mansion of Norman Bates and think they can still hear God speaking. Give him a proper burial, okay. He died. Let him go. Stop the madness.