The Case for the Dynamic View of Biblical Inspiration

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TylerR's picture

Editor

The basic premise (i.e. a concursive partnership between God and man in the production of Scripture) is plain-vanilla conservative evangelical, but the dynamic view doesn't see inspiration going to the choice of the very words themselves. Bird explained:

However, I’m inclined to say that human authors are directly inspired and it is in a derivative way that their words as the product of that process are inspired. God provides the concepts, the Spirit initiates and superintends the concursive operation of divine influence and human cognition, resulting a composition dually authored by God and human authors. Then, the Spirit continues to guide the whole process of collection and canonization to ensure that God’s word is communicated and effective.

The dynamic view of inspiration tells us, though without giving us a description of the exact cognitive process, that these human words can be identified with God’s Word. Thus we can legitimately say that it is not only Ezekiel, Amos, Jeremiah, Matthew, Paul, or Peter who speaks to us, but God is the one speaking through them to the church. It is God’s voice that is heard through the grammar, style, and words of the authors. However, authors are inspired at the level of concept, framework, worldview, and idea. Their own style, personality, vocabulary, and even their idiosyncrasies come out—not despite inspiration but in tandem with it.

Is there a potential danger with this view? Folks from the evangelical-fundamental world are taught "verbal, plenary inspiration" with their mother's milk, and the knee-jerk reaction is to cry "liberal!" when they read Bird's words. In practical terms, I'm not certain what the ramifications are for the dynamic position vs. the verbal plenary one.

I will observe, though, that Bird does not use Scripture to back up his argument. He seems to rely on simplistic arguments against the verbal, plenary inspiration and ignores the good arguments that have been given by others. No serious theologian who believes in the verbal, plenary model would deny the concursive element. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

David R. Brumbelow's picture

If you believe in Verbal Plenary Inspiration, you believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. 

If you believe in Dynamic Inspiration, you may, or may not. believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. 

You can hold to Verbal Plenary Inspiration and also hold to the idea that God worked through the personalities of the writers.  Yet, the final product was exactly, word for word, what God intended it to be; all God’s word, and all completely true and trustworthy. 

David R. Brumbelow

Bert Perry's picture

It struck me while reading the article that there are a number of places where the specific word, or even verb/noun form, matters quite a bit.  So if we say that it's the "concept" that matters, that gives us quite a bit of wiggle room to weasel out of what the specific words mean.  

And yet, it strikes me that, apart from perhaps many of the prophets, that many of those actually writing what is now recognized as God's Word may not have even known how authoritative their words were.  A great example is when Paul notes in 1 Cor. 7:12 that he thinks it's his wisdom and not necessarily the Lord's--of course the Lord had a little bit to say about that IMO, but you see the point.  Another great example is the entire book of Esther, written apparently as mostly a court/national history of great events, but now included in God's Word.

So we might posit that there is a mysterious way in which God works such that not only the concepts, but also some very specific words, are included in the text without totally (e.g. agricultural tone of Amos, professional tone of Luke and Acts, etc..) overriding the particular style of the human writer.  To borrow a phrase used in politics to (generally inappropriately) praise politicians, God is in a manner of speaking playing 12 dimensional chess in doing this.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

A common misunderstanding of Paul's statement.  He is not  saying that his advice to those in mixed marriages is simply Paul's human wisdom and not the Lord's instructions.  He is saying that Jesus did not speak to the issue of mixed marriages.  (pagan married to a believer)  Paul's command to the married (I Corinthians 7:10,11) was to reiterate what Jesus commanded regarding the marriage of two believers.  Paul's command to those in mixed marriages (verses 12-16) was to add new divine revelation in addition to Christ's previous revelation.  In the manner of progressive revelation, the inspired Apostle Paul now gives authoritative instructions for a heretofore unaddressed situation.  Paul's words here are equally inspired with his words in verses 10,11, and there is no indication that Paul himself thought otherwise.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

Bird has already argued, elsewhere, against inerrancy in the Chicago Statement sense. He prefers to speak of the Bible's truthfulness! I follow Bird on Twitter, and he is more to the center-right in the evangelical spectrum.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Philip Golden Jr.'s picture

While I did somewhat grimace when reading of Bird discussing that "inspiration means stimulating the mind to reach for words, but falling short of giving them," I got to thinking and I am not necessarily all that terribly in disagreement with it. I think one could take Bird's article to describe the process of inspiration that produces the result of verbal, plenary inspiration. I always understood the process of inspiration as divine superintendence, whereby, God (precisely the Holy Spirit), inspired the authors of scriptures to produce writings that bear the marks of the individual author's style and personality, yet are still indeed the very words of God. Of course, we know that when God is quoted by a writer or tells a writer to state something verbatim, then we have dictation, but I do not necessarily disagree with the concept that God caused the human mind to "reach for words" but the result of that process is that the words penned by the author of scripture are the very words of God.

Thinking of it differently, I think a corollary example is found in divine providence over human actions. Take Peter's statement at Pentecost. God had planned before that Christ would die on the cross. The process that God sovereignly guided to bring that about was through the choices of individuals to crucify Him. So the real and responsible actors for Christ's crucifixion were the Jewish leaders and the crowds in Jerusalem. The result is that God's sovereign purposes were accomplished. To a large extent, we cannot fully comprehend this process/result dynamic, however, it is the clear teaching of scripture.

So, I think to a large degree, inspiration (which is an act of divine providence), is very similar to any act of God's providence. I think it is useful and even healthy to think through the process. But danger lurks when we let our consideration of the process lead us to adjust the clearly defined biblical definition of the result.

Phil Golden