Gridlocked by S. M. Hutchens


Readers may be beginning to wonder when the exchange begun by my article, “The Bible Under Spirit and Church” [Touchstone, Vol. 4.2] will end. Because the authority issue of which it partakes is an abiding concern of those interested in ecumenical orthodoxy as we think of it here, the larger discussion may confidently be expected to continue. The understanding ad extra upon which our work at Touchstone is based is that there actually is such a thing. But ad intra it must be defined—an ambition that invariably involves the long-standing and very durable differences of those who meet in the pages of this journal.

Our intention in publishing the pieces by Dr. Walter and myself was to help bring an important segment of the Church into what we regard as one of the most consequential theological conversations of our day. Evangelicalism has until now been busy with its own concerns and not really willing to open its arcanum to the larger Church of which it is a part. Its approach to the doctrine of Scripture, with all its complexity and its unique fail-safe mechanism (autographal inerrancy), is what needs the most explanation, for there is a great deal about it that strikes the Christian with strong intuitions of Church authority as eccentric and unnecessary. We were honored to have two of the movement’s most distinguished theologians, Carl F. H. Henry and J. I. Packer, offer responses, and pleased that other correspondents from several traditions also contributed. It is now time, however, to close this phase of the conversation, for some will want time to digest it and others appear to have arrived at an impasse.

Dr. Henry’s final word was that I gave more prominence to the church than to God and that I did not recognize Scripture as a comprehensively authoritative canon. He maintained that the “Church” of which I was speaking does not exist. I am afraid we have carried this conversation as far as it can go, for while I heartily agree with Dr. Henry on most things, I find his opinions on these topics as scandalous as he finds mine. Mr. MacKenzie in the correspondence of the last Touchstone took me up sharply for giving the catholic traditions a leg-up on the free churches, for he believes orthodox segments of both operate within the same epistemological framework: St. Thomas believed in inerrancy; so do Cardinal Ratzinger and other traditional Roman Catholics, those of Mr. MacKenzie’s acquaintance being more comfortable with the formulations of conservative Evangelicals than of those who are slipping to the left. He represents my view of the role of the later Princetonians by citing me in this way: “Reformed theology did without it [the doctrine of inerrancy] nicely until the late nineteenth century, when it was brought forward at Princeton . . . .” The portion in brackets, I have been informed, was added by Mr. MacKenzie. To omit “autographal” from it, however, is to create a straw man, and indicates to my dismay that despite the efforts I have taken to make myself clear, I am simply not making contact with some of my Evangelical friends.


S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.

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