Sunday, May 4, 2008

My Reaction to Collins' Languag of God Part 4

Collins' work on biblical exegesis

Read Part 1
Read Part 2
Read Part 3

Collins says, "The concern about not accepting liberal interpretations of biblical texts is understandable."8 But he also says, "…parts of the Bible, such as the first few chapters of Genesis, the book of Job, the Song of Solomon, and the Psalms, have a more lyrical and allegorical flavor, and do not seem to carry the marks of pure historical narrative."9 He adds, "to most other interpreters throughout history, until Darwin put believers on the defensive, the first chapters of Genesis had much more the feel of a morality play than an eyewitness report on the evening news."10 His view here only reflects Roman Catholic allegorizing during the medieval period, which was not only applied to these passages but to most historical narrative in the Bible. Allegorical hermeneutics were rejected well before Darwin by evangelical interpreters, and for reasons different than that assumed by Collins.11

These statements clearly signal that Collins has a view of scripture deemed unacceptable to the vast majority of evangelical scholarship and contrary to our own statement of faith. During the 1980's hundreds of the top scholars in the evangelical world came together to clarify what evangelical views on biblical authority should entail. They developed the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics," which is the clearest formulation of the evangelical view in this area. Notice these articales that are violated by Collins' statements (key phrases that I think are denied are in bold):

Article VI.

WE AFFIRM that the Bible expresses God's truth in propositional statements, and we declare that biblical truth is both objective and absolute. We further affirm that a statement is true if it represents matters as they actually are, but is an error if it misrepresents the facts. (Collins thinks they are still true even though they make claims that were wrong.)

Article XIII.

WE AFFIRM that awareness of the literary categories, formal and stylistic, of the various parts of Scripture is essential for proper exegesis, and hence we value genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study.

WE DENY that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual. (The early chapters of Genesis present themselves as factual, but Collins says they are symbolic.)

Article XV.

WE AFFIRM the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.

WE DENY the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support. (such as allegory, which Collins likes.)

Article XX.

WE AFFIRM that since God is the author of all truth, all truths, biblical and extrabiblical, are consistent and cohere, and that the Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, or anything else. We further affirm that in some cases extrabiblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations.

WE DENY that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it.

Article XXII.

WE AFFIRM that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.

WE DENY that the teachings of Genesis 1-11 are mythical and that scientific hypotheses about earth history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to overthrow what Scripture teaches about creation.
Also note these statements from the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:"
(Collins directly rejected this position.)

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.
(Collins directly rejected this position.)

Article XII.

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

[Their point here is that we begin with exegesis and determine the limits allowed. THEN we go to science as it stands today to see what is more or less likely within those limits. The wrong approach would be to reach conclusions via science, and then make scripture fit that conclusion—which is exactly the approach Collins takes when he dismisses Gen 1-11 as history. – Dennis]

Article XVI.

We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church's faith throughout its history.

We deny that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.
(Collins directly rejected this position.)

Article XVIII.

We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.

We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads or relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims of authorship.
(Collins did exactly this in his argument.)

I think Collins' approach to scripture violates all of these statements, and is completely unacceptable for Bible believers. Such a view could prove a stumbling block to the weak and unlearned.

Jesus and Paul affirmed that the early chapters of Genesis were historical and factual. Remember that our information on Adam and Eve, and the fall of the human race are contained in these "allegorical" and "morality play" chapters. This is why evangelicals believe these chapters are historical, not a defensive reaction to Darwin.

Since Collins' method emanates from a base that is not constrained by a high view of scripture, his method is faulty. Therefore, we must be very careful about accepting his views based on that method.

Contrast his view of scripture with his view of science:

"Science is progressive and self-correcting: no significantly erroneous conclusions or false hypotheses can be sustained for long, as newer observations will ultimately knock down incorrect constructs."12

I think Collins' faith in science is extreme and unwarranted. Critics of scientism like Kuhn have demonstrated multiple cases where exactly what Collins thinks could never happen has happened (see his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). Collins' faith in science contrasts strongly with his lack of confidence in scripture, and calls further in to question his underlying assumptions and methods.

Next time: Collins on Intelligent Design

8. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God, 175.

9. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God, 175.

10. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God, 175.

11. See this author and Gary DeLashmutt's explanation in "Hermeneutical Systems."

12. Francis S. Collins, The Language of God, 58.