Note: I changed the title of this post a couple hours after publication - substituting "Replace" for "Abandon".
Within Evangelicalism, biblical inerrancy may be the only theological topic more contentious than evolution. And, like evolution, a big part of the contention is with the definition of inerrancy. While almost all of us quickly affirm scripture’s authority and divine inspiration, many of us hesitate when asked to affirm biblical inerrancy, or at least carefully qualify what we mean by the term. Given the lack of consensus on the definition of inerrancy, many Evangelical organizations, including missions, colleges, affiliations, churches and umbrella organizations like the NAE and the EFC, refrain from mentioning it in their statements of faith.
Enns new definition
Peter Enns, in one of 5 essays defending his approach in Inspiration and Incarnation addresses the issue of inerrancy. After acknowledging that the last thing the world needs is another definition of inerrancy, he immediately provides one.
I affirm that I am committed to the Bible’s inerrancy as a function of its divine origin. If I may offer a thumbnail definition, the Bible as it is is without error because the Bible as it is is God’s Word.For Enns, inerrancy starts with scriptures’ divine origin, and not with a historical, scientific, or logical analysis of the text. It is not something to test, but something to receive.
To put it another way, a belief in Scripture as God’s word is an article of faith, a gift of the Spirit, and is confirmed by faithful study and following Jesus within a community of believers. It is not where we end up after some rational proofs. It is where we begin so that we can end there.And that for me succinctly and effectively captures the essential theological truth. If this is the definition of inerrancy then I am 100% on board. Scripture is the living Word of God, and as revelation from God, an infallible guide for those who actively put their faith in God.
Enns acknowledges in his article that this definition will not be acceptable to many Evangelicals, particularly those who hold a rather strict (and thoroughly modern) view of inerrancy; many will see it as an open-ended license to interpret scripture in any way they see fit. Enns elaborates on why this is not the case, and why strict inerrantists should look carefully in the mirror when making this accusation.
Is the term Inerrancy still useful?
I am wondering if the term inerrancy may have outgrown its usefulness within the Evangelical community. As Carlos Bovell astutely notes, our schizophrenic tendencies to both qualify and jettison the inerrancy dogma indicates a passing of an age. At best the term may be superfluous (An excellent article by David Congdon. Read it); at worst it may go too far in the wrong direction (conforming the Holy Scriptures to modern metrics) and not far enough in the right one (promoting a healthy attitude and approach to scripture).
Scripture is from God. The Scriptures as we have them, are exactly what God wanted us to have. They are trustworthy and will not lead us astray. However, inerrancy does not unambiguously address any of these affirmations. My reluctance to latch onto inerrancy is not so much about what it says, but about what it does not say. Inerrancy just isn’t strong enough.
A couple of Postscripts
1. Enns and WTS have officially parted. This will not, as earlier announced, drag into December. A joint statement by Enns and WTS has been released. It includes this acknowledgment by the WTS administration:
The administration wishes to acknowledge the valued role Prof. Enns has played in the life of the institution, and that his teaching and writings fall within the purview of Evangelical thought.2. Within the small but growing community of Evangelicals who describe themselves as Evolutionary Creationists or Theistic Evolutionists, the wide array of attitudes towards inerrancy mirrors that of the broader Evangelical community. Many, as one would suspect, are uncomfortable affirming inerrancy. Many others strongly affirm inerrancy, even in its strictest forms (Eg. Glenn Morton and Dick Fischer). Others would support a more nuanced definition. For example, Denis Lamoureux strongly affirms inerrancy even though he bluntly states that there was no historical Adam.