This week I presented a paper for the national conference of the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS). One does not have to be a member to present, but at the time I was. Some have asked whether a Catholic can be a legitimate member of such a group, and this is my response.
To be a member of EPS, one must agree to the following doctrinal affirmation:
“The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and therefore inerrant in the original manuscripts. God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”
There are basically two affirmations being made: the Inerrancy of Scripture and the Doctrine of the Trinity. Obviously a Catholic must affirm the Trinity (after all, we formulated the Nicene Creed and affirm it nearly every Sunday!).
So the issue would seem to be the section on the Bible.
Exegeting the EPS Doctrinal Statement
The Catholic Church affirms biblical inerrancy (see Dei Verbum III:11), and that would be enough to settle the issue except that several qualifications are added to the basic statement of biblical inerrancy – and knowing who came up with this statement, I am pretty sure they meant to exclude non-Protestant Christians. That is, the statement might be understood to say that, “The Bible alone is the Word of God,” and this would seem to run up against Catholic view of the Word of God expressed in Dei Verbum II:10:
“Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.”
If the intent of the original EPS clause was to single out affirmation of the Bible alone-as-the-Word-of-God, then it would seem to exclude Sacred Tradition – but that is not how the statement must be understood. What the EPS statement actually refers to is “the Word-of-God-written” which alone and entirely was inerrant in its original manuscripts (i.e., written). The qualification of being “written” is certainly important, for it limits the Word of God in this statement to its origin as written manuscripts – not its present existence – for the originals are no longer around. Affirming this in no way limits the Word-of-God-in-general to the Bible though. For example, even Evangelicals believe that Jesus is the Word of God (cf. Jn 1), and certainly EPS does not wish to exclude Jesus as being inerrant!
Further, EPS certainly does not mean that God’s revelation is not the Word of God until it was written – for the New Testament was not completed until nearly an entire generation of Christians came and went. Oral traditions can count as the Word of God as well (cf. 2 Thess. 2:13 and 3:6), and we know that some of the original oral traditions were recorded later in Sacred Scripture and some were kept by the Church in other writings (e.g., the Church Fathers, Liturgies, Councils, etc.). Therefore, these Words of God must simply not be the Word-of-God-written in view in the EPS statement. Therefore, inerrancy is only being affirmed of the original biblical manuscripts – and, consequently, these must be what EPS means when it says, “the Word-of-God-written.“
Now, since inerrancy is only affirmed here of the original biblical manuscripts, if EPS meant to limit the Word of God to those manuscripts, then EPS would have to conclude that the Word of God no longer exists. Since I am sure they do not affirm such a conclusion, then EPS must be allowing for additional forms of the Word of God to exist besides the original biblical manuscripts. Since the EPS doctrinal statement does not specify that these additional forms are limited to the Bible (in some form), a Catholic can affirm the statement.
If the above analysis sounds like grammatical (or theological) hair-splitting, that is understandable. If that is what I have done, however, then I am not alone. If Open Theists like Clark Pinnock can remain members in good standing of EPS/ETS while denying that the Bible is inerrant, then I think I am within my rights to affirm my understanding of its present doctrinal statement and remain a member as well. The problem is that without an authoritative “magisterium” to interpret a given doctrinal statement, anyone’s interpretation can be taken as valid – and such a paradigm is necessary if Evangelicalism is to retain its claims to orthodoxy (e.g., when Baptists think they can affirm the Nicene Creed).
(Note that the requirements to join ETS – EPS’s sister theological society – include the same doctrinal statement, but “inerrancy” must be understood according to the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. That even this considerable document cannot resolve the issue has been demonstrated recently by the Geisler-Licona battle over inerrancy.)
Concluding Doctrinal Post-Script
While at the conference this year, I ran into my friend Francis Beckwith who had drawn considerable attention when, in 2007, he proactively resigned as the President of ETS after deciding to return to his Catholic faith. As it turns out, he was elected to the EPS Executive Committee this year. So I guess that settles it!