The Inerrant Word, John MacArthur (ed.) Wheaton: Crossway, 2016
It’s worth setting out what this book of essays is trying to do, because it is a really worthwhile project. This is a group of scholars and pastors, many of whom are well-known, to restate and defend the classic evangelical view of scripture as laid out in the Chicago Statement, for the benefit of an interested lay readership.
So, it’s not really fair to compare it with the much more scholarly and exhaustive Carson collection, because this is aiming at a broader and less well-informed readership.
And there are some really good essays in here, and some really good contributors. How could you not like a book by (among others), Alistair Begg, Greg Beale, Mark Dever, John Frame, Carl Trueman, Kevin de Young, Al Mohler, and Sinclair Ferguson (for my money, the best in the book although the others produce sparkers too).
So I ought to give my reservations.
Mostly, it felt a little stale – by which I mean that this is a restatement of Chicago, which is definitely necessary, but not really anything more. Or at least, it seems to me that the general conclusion is that where anything has happened since Chicago it has been to the downgrade. I’ll come back to that because there is a tonal point which concerns me, but it is useful to compare this approach with the Carson essays, which defend the same position, but do so on the basis that not only might there be fresh questions, there might also therefore be some fresh answers, and some interesting angles. This book feels as though it has been written indoors, in an isolated room – compare what Carson’s authors have done on other religions, contemporary philosophy, or science.
And, to go further on the tonal point, there is an emphasis which I often find in MacArthur’s books, which is that the work is not really done until the enemy is identified. That’s not always to my taste, I admit, although I’m happy to agree that it’s a common biblical pattern to identify and dismantle false doctrine wherever it’s present (I write that carefully, because while I have read NT books which do not identify a false doctrine, I have not yet read a MacArthur one that doesn’t – maybe I only read his polemic writing). Where this approach goes off the rails here, I think, is that approach in the hands of some less skilful practitioners it becomes a generalised ‘the evangelical world is going to hell in a handcart’, and without the footnotes to back up the assertions it becomes a bit of a rant about preachers who only speak about the movies, or in generalised platitudes. Now, I hasten to add that none of the authors I’ve mentioned do that, but there are some others (with whom I am not familiar, and there is no list saying who they are), who – frankly – play to the gallery, taking pot shots at an unnamed enemy. I really don’t think that’s helpful.
There is more careful engagement with Peter Enns by some of the authors, but it is more by way of outlining his views and then disagreeing with them. I’m not sure any of it would persuade Enns out of his position – or more to the point, someone who has been reading him and finding him attractive.
So despite the best attempts of a number of the authors, I’m not putting this on my ‘must read’ list. I freely admit that much of my hesitation falls into the category of taste and style – I really don’t find the footnote-less pot-shot helpful. I did want to like this book,and even with my reservations I took lots of notes and quotations. But there were just too many occasions where I thought assertion had replaced argument, and that the writers were writing for the already persuaded.