Many are wondering whether Erskine has “gone secular.” I certainly understand why. Many colleges in my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, were secularized in the last century. This has been a terrible loss. But Erskine College and Seminary, which were founded by the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, have resisted this trend. Indeed, Erskine has become much more conservative and evangelical in the last couple decades and I know of no alumni who would disagree.Here are some of my thoughts on Dr. Burnett's comments:
I’m firmly committed to Christian liberal arts education and believe we should certainly continue to require commitment to Christian faith for employment here at Erskine. I know no one here who wishes otherwise. The problem is that the ARP Synod has introduced a new litmus test of orthodoxy. Employees are now being asked to affirm that the Bible is “inerrant in the original manuscripts.”
The problem is that we don’t have any original manuscripts of the Bible. We’re told we should “take it on faith.” But this, I believe, is a misunderstanding of faith. Faith, according to the Reformed-Calvinistic tradition, is always a matter of knowledge based on that which has been revealed and never merely a matter of trust.
I believe, unreservedly, that the Bible is the Word of God. And based upon what it says about itself, I believe there is warrant for saying the Bible is “the only infallible rule for faith and practice,” as Presbyterians, traditionally, have been taught to believe. But we believe this not on the basis of original manuscripts but, as the Westminster Confession says, “by the inward work of the Holy Spirit.”
This new standard shifts, or at least confuses, the true source of Scripture’s authority and does so on the basis of an argument that is relatively new in the history of the Church (an appeal to “original manuscripts”). The entire Erskine seminary faculty publicly rejected this argument in 1977.
Now this argument is being resuscitated. Given its track record, I believe it will do more to undermine the Bible’s authority than to safeguard it since it seeks to establish the authority of a Bible we do not have for the Bible we do have. Of course, the easiest thing to do would be to affirm this new litmus test. But some of us cannot do this in good conscience.
1. Of course, this is just a bunch of Barthian mumbo-jumbo. Burnett says we are trying to "establish the authority of a Bible we do not have for the Bible we do have." But what sort of an authority is the Bible we do have, according to him? After all, it isn't inerrant. Inerrancy means that the very words of Scripture are inspired by God, and therefore true (plenary verbal inspiration). The reverse of that (Burnett's position) is that every actual word carries with it the possibility of being false. So then, what authority is Burnett's Bible? If any word or group of words could, in fact, be false, how are we to know what is true? By the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, he would answer. But that is just subjectivist nonsense. The Holy Spirit confirms the Word of God. How do we know what the Word of God is? The Holy Spirit confirms it. But what if the "Holy Spirit" confirms the truth of a passage of Scripture to me, but not to Burnett (like, I don't know, Isaiah 59:21)? Whose Holy Spirit do we trust? Burnett substitutes the confirming nature of the Holy Spirit for the authority of the Word of God, itself. We judge truth by Scripture (and we judge Scripture by Scripture (WCF 1.9)), not by the confirming of the Holy Spirit.
2. Burnett says that we do not possess the original manuscripts and therefore he cannot affirm their inerrant nature. But, this is only true if one rejects the divine preservation of the text. The WCF explicitly affirms that God's word has been "kept pure in all ages" (WCF 1.8). If this is true, then we do possess "pure" copies of the original manuscripts. Will Burnett affirm one part of the Confession while denying another?
3. Lastly, I would note the redefinition of the term "infallible." Webster's 1828 Dictionary (which, I understand is not the dictionary of the Westminster Assembly) defines infallible as [emphasis added]:
1. Not fallible; not capable of erring; entirely exempt from liability to mistake; applied to persons. No man is infallible; to be infallible is the prerogative of God only.Webster's 1828 does not contain the word "inerrant". Why? Because it is a new word. Don't get me wrong, by our modern use of language, I affirm inerrancy and infallibility, but our modern language is not what is being questioned. The question is, what did the Westminster divines mean when they wrote of "the infallible truth" of Scripture? They meant what we would call "inerrant". So for Burnett to "agree" with the WCF on the infallibility of Scripture, but to disagree with the ARP on the inerrancy of Scripture is a contradiction. The WCF's "infallibility" is the ARP's "inerrancy."
2. Not liable to fail, or to deceive confidence; certain; as infallible evidence; infallible success.
To whom he showed himself alive after his passion, by many infallible proofs--