The meaning of inspiration

Tom Lambrecht zeroes in on the biggest question I had when reading Adam Hamilton’s book Making Sense of the Bible.

In the book, Hamilton argues that the writers of the Bible were inspired in exactly the same way that a pastor or Christian singer-songwriter or spiritual author is inspired today. He argues, I take it, that there is no difference in the inspiration of Paul and Billy Graham.

Hamilton defends the use of the Bible — as opposed to any other book — based on the proximity of the biblical writers to the events they describe and the church’s long use of the Bible as giving it a special place in our worship and theology.

When I read Hamilton’s book, I was not sure whether to interpret his argument as a case of strong pneumatology — the Holy Spirit is just as active today as then — or an appeal to experience in the classical manner of Protestant liberalism.

Lambrecht articulates some of my doubts and reactions to Hamilton’s argument. He does open up interesting questions about the nature of inspiration that are worthy of further discussion among us.

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7 thoughts on “The meaning of inspiration

  1. I think that the debate at hand is only one part of the formula. Bible writers are not merely people with a particular “inspiration” to write, but are also “witnesses”. This is why the early church held the New Testament authors in particular regard, and why succession was always used as a defense of orthodoxy (which apostles taught which teachers, bishops, etc.).

    The same goes for the Old Testament, where it is not merely Merton or Yancey reflecting on things, but actual witnessing to the real work of God either by the person experiencing the encounter or as a result of the passing on of the story by the witness.

    I think we can find much more scriptural foundation for combining “inspiration” and “witness” in determining the peculiarity of Scripture versus Christian writing that we could for trying to defend a system advocating for types of inspiration.

    1. Your point about Old Testament raises a weakness in Hamilton’s defense of biblical authority — at least for me. You can certainly say the apostolic witnesses were close in time to the events they reported, but not all the Old Testament writers. Indeed, large parts of the OT are not things that were witnessed but rather are reports of “thus sayeth the Lord.”

  2. “Lambrecht articulates some of my doubts and reactions to Hamilton’s argument. He does open up interesting questions about the nature of inspiration that are worthy of further discussion among us.”

    Some think it is worth a look

    ‘The doctrinal problem which, above all others, demands resolution in the modern church
    is that of the authority of Holy Scripture,” writes John Warwick
    Montgomery. “All other issues of belief today pale before this issue, and
    indeed root in it.”

    In a similar vein, J. Marcellus Kik concludes that
    “ecumenism will never in a thousand and one years achieve the goal of
    Christian unity until it settles the question of authority.”

    JOHN WESLEY AND THE BIBLE
    WILLIAM M. ARNETT, Ph.D.
    (Professor of Christian Doctrine, Asbury Theological Seminary)
    (Dr. Arnett’s Presidential address delivered to the
    Third Annual Meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society)
    http://wesley.nnu.edu/fileadmin/imported_site/wesleyjournal/1968-wtj-03.pdf

    1. Because he is arguably the most influential United Methodist pastor in the world.

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