Dear Sir: What a total disappointment.
I do like your wisdom and passion. However, you have become too smart.
May God have mercy on you regarding your responsibility to adhere to the inerrancy of scripture.
• • •
The discussion on inerrancy at the BHT and here at IM always fills my mailbox with mail that I can’t answer. All I can do is make an attempt to say what I believe is a reasonable approach to Christian scripture. That approach doesn’t do well with those who need perfection in their hands before they can say they have truth in their minds. I am not an inerrantist. It’s costing me friends, and it makes me uncomfortable. Here’s some of my thoughts. I know they will make a lot of you unhappy, but I’m nailing it to the door anyway. We need to articulate what we believe about scripture in a way that comports with the real nature of the Biblical texts, not inerrant, perfect autographs no one will ever have.
When I first wrote about Why I Am Not A Young Earth Creationist, I knew that eventually I would have to write more on scripture itself. So I have, and you can access various posts on the subject here.
There is a lot more to be said, and I am really not up to saying it, but comments like these over at the Boar’s Head illustrate the problem well. (Three different writers, btw.)
One reason inerrancy is so important is that if we give it up in part the logical outcome will be the eventual giving up of the Gospel(not that you would of course). This is so is because the gospel is inextricably tied to history. Undermine the historical details of the Gospel and we undermine the Gospel itself.God, through the Holy Spirit, has written and preserved the Scriptures…If we don’t believe that, then why don’t we just toss it out the window, really…Do we believe in a literal six-day creation? I certainly hope so. Or do we try to turn some/all of the Bible stories into “allegories”?
What you are asking is the same as saying: “Since different people are reading the compass and their interpretation of true north may vary, then it doesn’t matter whether the compass is broken or not!” I disagree. KNOWING the compass is right is at least a starting point.
I could cite so many more things. I am constantly getting mail about my view of scripture, which really puzzles me. I obviously believe in the essentials of the Gospel and preach them out of the Bible. I teach the Bible to high school students, and have never been accused of being a liberal. I am a confessional Christian who enthusiastically embraces the Westminster Confession on the subject of scripture.
The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture….our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
…it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary..
The problem? I don’t believe in inerrancy, a view of how scripture is inspired that means well, but just can’t get traction with me. My problems with inerrancy have been going on for a very long time, and I’ve heard it presented and taught by the best. It’s never sat well with me, probably because I have a lot of literary interest in the text of scripture, plus I don’t like to be bullied. I get a rash.
1. What the heck is it? It takes a major document to describe inerrancy.
2. The document in question contains the following paragraph (Chicago Statement on Inerrancy XIII):
We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations
Excuse me, but did I just read that I am off the inerrancy hook if I can assert that the passage in question did not intend to come up to a particular standard of truth?
OK….I don’t believe the Bible was ever intended to be true in comparison to contemporary science, history, astronomy, geology, medicine, anatomy, psychology or the Bill James Baseball Abstract. Can I go to lunch now?
We don’t have them.
4. While the Bible is supposedly inerrant, none of those who interpret it are inerrant interpreters. That’s a problem. If there is a perfect compass, and you give it to a chimp, what have you got? A chimp with a compass.
5. Inerrancy is almost always tied up with things that really bother me: Young earth creationism, of course. Spiritual warfarism, where people with problem kids and screwed up marriages thing that Satan is in the house and/or in their head. Secret knowledge schemes, like What did Jesus eat? Diets. Conspiracy theories. Bible only Christian education. Lunacy like the Bible Codes. It goes on and on. Magic Bookies run amuck.
6. 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.
It’s like a philosophical security system to keep everything safe. It’s been called Protestant Scholasticism, and I agree.
7. No major confession requires that you use the word “inerrancy”. Even the Southern Baptist Convention’s Faith and Message Statement avoids the exact word, and doesn’t harp on the concept. Reformation confessions don’t use it at all. We can live without it.
I’ve got news for you….but the Bible may be wrong on the resurrection. It may be wrong on lots of things. I don’t really have any way to inerrantly prove it one way or the other. And neither do you. At some point, you’ve got to accept it on faith, as do I. Accepting or not accepting the idea of inerrancy has little to do with whether or not I place my faith in Christ. In fact, I think inerrancy has a tendency to get in the way of our trusting Christ. We spend so much time sweating all these little inerrant details and trying to scientifically/historically “prove” the Bible that we can miss out on the entire point of the whole thing: Christ. Isn’t Christ enough? Why does it have to be Christ and inerrancy? Call me crazy, but I’m THANKFUL that the Bible doesn’t line up factually or theologically 100%. It would make it too easy to “stand pat” with my current understanding rather than having to spend a lifetime wrestling with scripture.
I could expand this list but I won’t. I want to say something about the comments quoted at the beginning of the post.
Defenders of inerrancy send me lots of false dilemmas. Thing like: If we don’t believe in inerrancy, the Bible must go out the window. Shred it. Go ahead. Shred Grandma’s KJV because you don’t believe in inerrancy so YOU JUST DON’T BELIEVE THE BIBLE ANY MORE YOU OVER-EDUCATED KNOW IT ALL.
Or this one. If you don’t buy the six day, young earth creationist view of Genesis, then you are saying it’s all an allegory. And that’s stupid. So it’s literal history with Ken Hamm or it’s allegories with all the devils of hell.
Or 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.
And of course, without inerrancy, we lose history, and we lose the resurrection, and we lose the Gospel. The only way we know that the Gospels are telling the truth is the doctrine of inerrancy, modern version. Without it, we float off on a cloud of mythology. Or so I keep hearing. Why this doesn’t seem to be applying to N.T. Wright hasn’t been explained.
You will have to forgive me, readers, but this all just amazes me. I mean, it really amazes me, because it simply isn’t so.
The Bible is, first of all, not a book at all. IT IS NOT A BOOK AT ALL. It is 66 books, from a very long time ago. A wide selection of literature in the human conversation. The church selected these books because it believes that God speaks through those books to tell us the truth of the Gospel, and to tell us about Jesus and our salvation by the mediator. Therefore, the church asserts that these 66 books are a message from God. Since the Bible doesn’t know the “Christian Bible as canon” exists, it doesn’t have a word for itself beyond the New Testament calling the Old “scripture.”
Confessions like the WCF do a good job of saying God revealed himself, the church wrote down not only what was revealed about the Gospel, but a lot of other things surrounding the Gospel that make it understandable. The church selected a canon, and the church endorses that canon as scripture. God didn’t pick these books. We did. Christians will discover, on their own, that the Spirit speaks through those books and brings us to a saving knowledge of Jesus. They do a good job of this without talking about science, anthropology, anatomy, the latest issue of Biblical Archeology or any other standard of modern “truth.” The Bible is historical, but nowhere do I read a claim that it is perfect history. It’s “here’s the story from the God-point of view, where all kinds of strange things are more important than what you learned in school.”
The Bible is truthful, but it’s approach to truth is clearly something like this: God told us the truth in Jesus. Believe him. The Biblical story leading us to Jesus is true in that it leads us to Jesus. This seems to work without reference to large epistemological tomes on the nature of truth or the real “facts” of science. It’s actually quite amazing. For example:
Romans 5 says sin entered the world through one man. No history book in the world agrees with this, but Bible-believers know its true. We don’t need to worry that it is laughable to the world. This is our story.
Romans 5 says the death of one man made up for that sin for all who believe the Gospel. This also doesn’t match up with any history anywhere, and won’t be verified, so I don’t really get what’s going on. (I mean, you can historically conclude that Jesus was executed, but the meaning of it all is off the meter.) The only way you get ahold of this event, and what it means, is by faith and the Spirit. The church tells you the story in its canon of scripture, and you believe it by the illumination of the Spirit.
We also discover that the Bible’s approach to truth comes through an amazingly diverse grid of various literary types. Most all were literary forms common in prescientific cultures that thought the earth was the center of the universe, stars were angels, the blue sky was water, the moon gave light and so on. God didn’t seem to care about the limitations of prescientific accounts. Inerrantists worry about them endlessly. God actually seems to prefer them over modern “historical and scientific” accounts, as they keep the main thing the main thing. (If the Bible were being written today it would be larger than Spurgeon’s collected works. 30 times as large. Easily.)
Literary genre is the great ignored fact of the Bible that inerrantists seem unable to feel good about. They toss out “allegory” as a straw man, but if we were more accurate, the list would include EVERY kind of literary genre in the book: proverb, drama, journal, lament, imprecation, praise song, parable, didactic, story of origin, genealogy, poetry, apocalyptic, novella, and on and on and on. For some reason, the “truthfulness” of anything other than “flat” narration or eyewitness reporting really bugs a lot of inerrantists.
They remind me of people who, when asked by a four year old chide where babies come from, get out a college biology text or a video from human development class. Why? Well, allegory, story, poetry, etc. would just be abandoning the truth. (This is crazy!) So if I say the story of Adam and Eve is true, but it is prescientific, mythic, and more story than history, I’m a heretic. I will just say this once: I’m an English teacher, and you people get an F. Truth comes in all kinds of literary forms, and insisting that Genesis must produce a scientifically correct view of the universe is being brutally shallow in your appreciation of the literary nature of the material that makes up scripture.
This just in, and I have lots more like this.
History in the Bible must be perfect if it is to be trustworthy and if it is to be breathed out by God. If not, then the historical detail about the resurrection of Christ may not be true at all. And then our faith would be futile.
I respect my brothers and sisters with this view, but I cannot understand why they have come to the conclusion that Jesus and the Gospel must depend on a perfect book for “truth.” I thought if it really happened, it was true, and if God chooses to tell us what really happened in a book of poetry, symbol, music, apocalyptic, parable, prophecy, lament, proverb, saying and so forth, that doesn’t stop anything from “really” being true.
Creation “really” happened. That I am told by God about creation in a three thousand year old liturgical, poetic, prescientific story meant to assert Hebrew ideas over pagan ideas during the Babylonian captivity doesn’t take one thing away from the truth of Creation. Not one thing. Telling me I have to become a young earth creationist in order to actually “believe” this account is absurd. Saying that if I don’t become a young earth creationist, I disbelieve this account is simply unacceptable. Stronger words are really needed.
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.
(For a thorough response to this article, read the Jollyblogger, David Wayne. Excellent post and totally an honor to be fisked by the best.)