What the Documents Say by S. M. Hutchens

Mortal Remains

What the Documents Say

by S. M. Hutchens

For many years I ignored as a commonplace what I now find as the most striking observation in The Screwtape Letters. In the twenty-third, Lewis has Screwtape, making a note on tactics, say in regard to liberal theology's perennial search for the "historical Jesus," "The documents say what they say and cannot be added to." When I was younger, I didn't find this diabolical concession very interesting because I thought I was involved in a battle for the Bible where everything was really up for grabs—that, to reverse Harry Emerson Fosdick—the liberals might win, and that losing apologetic ground in theological and biblical studies would in some way put the Church in jeopardy.

I now see things a bit differently, and not only because I came to the conviction that the Bible battlers, who rejected Tradition as a source of authority, in the end had to resort to the flawed logic of autographal inerrancy to maintain their argument. If they had stuck to "the Bible says it" in the face of liberal attack, they might have done better—but they wouldn't because that is "fundamentalism." It is not that we are to supinely ignore the defense of Christian teaching, for this is a part of our whole duty, but that at the end of that day of teaching and defense, the documents say what they say. Questions about the extent of the canon, its inerrancy, or the precise nature or locus of interpretational authority cannot obscure this extraordinarily hard fact.

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S. M. Hutchens is a senior editor and longtime writer for Touchstone.

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