Inerrancy looks, smells and feels remarkably like a philosophical imposition on the Bible, going beyond what the Bible CAN say about itself, and forcing those of us who believe in the authority and truthfulness of the Bible to take a “loyalty oath” that goes beyond what should be said. Typical of evangelical attempts to show they are really really really really really right. Catholics do it with the Pope. Pentecostals with experience. Evangelicals with inerrancy.
“Bingo!” with a capital “B,” I say. Let’s hear more, Michael…
I want to say more, but I am weary from saying this much. I love and respect my inerrantist friends. When they tell me I am rejecting the resurrection by rejecting “inerrancy,” I am hurt and puzzled. But so I will remain, because the quests to insure that modernistic assertions about the Bible precede and protect the Gospel are not about to end. Denominations will split. Friendships will end. Seminarians and pastors will be shown the door. Christians will reject their brothers and sisters. It is needless, and a ridiculous waste of unity.
I wonder what Michael would say about the latest kerfuffle in the Southern Baptist world over inerrancy. It seems that Houston Baptist University (which has a “ministry relationship” with the SBC in Texas) brought apologist (and suspected non-inerrantist) Mike Licona onto its faculty last fall. In November, he confirmed the suspicions of the inerrancy defenders by saying in an interview that some of the facts in the Gospels might contradict possibly each other.
Here’s a summary of the interview from Baptist Press:
In an interview with Lenny Esposito of Come Reason Ministries at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting, Licona, a former apologetics coordinator at the North American Mission Board, said it had not necessarily ever bothered him that some facts reported in the Gospels appeared to be contradictions.
“I believe in biblical inerrancy, but I also realize that biblical inerrancy is not one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The resurrection is,” Licona told Esposito. “So if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still true even if it turned out that some things in the Bible weren’t. So it didn’t really bother me a whole lot even if some contradictions existed. But it did bother a lot of Christians.”
Licona recalled a student in a class he was teaching at Southern Evangelical Seminary who, with tears forming in her eyes, wanted to know whether there were indeed contradictions. A majority of the class, he said, raised their hands to indicate they were troubled by apparent contradictions. Then he realized it was something he should address.
As he studied the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Licona began keeping a document of the differences he noticed. The document grew to 50 pages. He then read ancient biographies written around the time of Jesus because New Testament scholars often regard the Gospels as ancient biographies, he said.
Licona focused on Plutarch’s biographies. The assassination of Julius Caesar, he noted, is told in five different biographies by Plutarch.
“So you have the same biographer telling the same story five different times. By noticing how Plutarch tells the story of Caesar’s assassination differently, we can notice the kinds of biographical liberties that Plutarch took, and he’s writing around the same time that some of the Gospels are being written and in the same language — Greek — to boot,” Licona told Esposito.
“As I started to note some of these liberties that he took, I immediately started recognizing these are the same liberties that I noticed that the evangelists take — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,” Licona said.
“… If this is the case, then these most commonly cited differences in the Gospels … aren’t contradictions after all. They’re just the standard biographical liberties that ancient biographers of that day took.”
Ironically, in the interview Licona was actually trying to increase Christians’ trust in the reliability of the New Testament by pointing out that what we might consider “contradictions” according to our post-Enlightenment standards of historical veracity were simply characteristic of the way historians wrote then. He also affirmed that these “contradictions” were all written with regard to peripheral details in the accounts and not major points. In addition, he suggested that what we are really talking about here in the vast majority of cases are “differences” and that there is only a handful of stubborn differences that might rise to the level of actual contradictions — and again, even if they did, these relate only to peripheral details.
This, however, was not good enough for Al Mohler, who was involved in another dispute involving Licona’s understanding of Scripture in 2011. In that case, even though Licona wrote a book which strongly defended the literal resurrection, his handling of one pericope (Matthew 27:51-53) as a “poetic device” fell short in Mohler’s eyes and “ “handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon.”
With regard to the dispute we are considering today, Dr. Mohler has commented, “It would be nonsense to affirm real contradictions in the Bible and then to affirm inerrancy.” He was not satisfied with Licona’s suggestion that certain forms of inerrancy might be ruled out by his approach. “What you lose is inerrancy itself,” Mohler asserted.
Norman Geisler chimed in too, supporting agreeing with Mohler: “One thing is certain: his view is not consistent with the historic view of inerrancy as held by the framers of the ETS and ICBI statements.”
The “historic view of inerrancy”? Now that’s some remarkable historical revisionism right there.
In the Great Commission, Jesus did not say, “Go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them they must subscribe that the Bible is a perfect book.” I agree with Michael Spencer that this “historic” doctrine is a much later, unnecessary addition to the faith that places an unfortunate burden upon Christians in our attempts to engage the world with the Gospel.
It is enough for us to believe and assert that the Bible is from God, authoritative, a reliable witness to Christ, and that it tells the truth.
I encourage you to go back and read a good summary that we quoted last year from Roger Olson. He likes to use the word “trustworthy.” That is sufficient. “Perfect” is not necessary.
Quoting the iMonk again, we need not claim that the Bible is “…a perfect compass. Or a perfect map. Or a perfect book. Because God is perfect. And if God said it, it must be perfect. It’s perfect. Really, really really perfect. Not just true. Not just a book that brings us Christ and the Gospel. Perfect. And if you don’t come out and walk around saying the Bible is perfect, then you reject the Bible.”
My friends, our faith is not a Jenga game, dependent on blocks of post-Enlightenment logic being stacked just right so that they are in danger of collapsing if one of them is moved the slightest bit.
The inerrantist’s quest for absolute certainty with regard the way we understand Scripture serves to make me more fearful and anxious rather than assured with regard to the Gospel and living out my faith. If I not only have to believe in a perfect Savior, but also defend an ancient book as perfect in every way according to modern standards, then that’s simply too daunting a task for me and most Christians.
Our authority? Yes. A reliable witness to Christ? Yes. A book that tells the truth? Yes.
Perfect? Don’t ask me to prove it. I’m tired of trying to keep this stack of blocks from tumbling.