Thoughts on “Biblical Authority”

I’m almost finished reading John D. Woodbridge’s Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982). This is an excellent book in many respects, but what I find most helpful is reading it as an aspiring historian. Woodbridge did his doctoral studies at the University of Tolouse in France and has taught church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for quite some time. He is an expert in Reformation, post-Reformation and modern church history, in particular French evangelicalism.

Because Jack Rogers and Donald McKim argue historically that certain Christians denied the complete infallibility/inerrancy of Scripture, Woodbridge critiques them on the level of historical method. He points up common fallacies that the authors regularly make, highlights their misuse of sources whether through dependence only on secondary material or disingenuous quotations, and pokes holes in the logic of their historical interpretations. When I read a book like this I get a little fearful–it’d be horrible to have a book subjected to such exacting critique! Could Rogers and McKim sleep at night after this was published?

So, not only would I recommend this book for its value in setting the record straight historically about the doctrine of Scripture, but I would also suggest that historians read it and consider their own work and the potential that they too might be at the receiving end of such a review. It should cause historians to be assiduous in their use of primary sources, to be honest with the texts they study, and rigorous with the logic of their interpretations.

***UPDATE***

As it turns out, Woodbridge says as much regarding historians himself at the close of the book:

In a way that the authors [Rogers and McKim] probably did not envision, their study creates a call for those historians engaged in the current quest to discover the ancient attitudes of Christians toward Holy Writ. These historians should do their research in an even-handed manner, consider well the conceptual problems associated with their undertaking, and write technically competent analyses on delimited subjects before attempting the grand synthesis (p. 155).

For more of Woodbridge on historiography, see his introduction to Paul Kjoss Helseth’s new book “Right Reason” and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010), ix-xiv.

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Filed under bible, books, church history, history, reviews

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