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Sunday, 10 August 2008

Inerrancy: Ignore it, Redefine it, or Replace it?

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.

28 comments:

Allan Harvey said...

I believe you are incorrect in naming Glenn Morton as a Theistic Evolutionist who "strongly affirms inerrancy, even in its strictest forms." In conversations on the ASA list several years ago, I recall Glenn saying he was not into inerrancy and did not want to be tarred with that brush.

Glenn's strong commitment is to concordism, the idea that Scripture must "line up" with science. Examples of non-concordist positions would include the idea of divine accommodation to the human audience (as in Calvin or Lamoreaux), and/or the idea that Scripture is not trying to answer our modern questions at all in these passages.

I think it is important to recognize concordism and inerrancy as two very different things, even if they often go together. One can affirm concordism without inerrancy (Morton), or inerrancy without concordism (Lamoreaux, probably Bruce Waltke and Peter Enns).

In my mind, while insistence on the inerrancy doctrine (at least in its more hardline forms) is a serious negative influence in the Evangelical church, it is the assumptions of concordism that are more of a direct stumbling block in the science/faith area.

Stephen Douglas said...

Dr. Harvey,

I'd appreciate some clarification here.

Glenn's strong commitment is to concordism, the idea that Scripture must "line up" with science.

But one of the chief claims (and errors) of inerrancy is concordism. Inerrancy may be thought of as the only really viable source of concordism; there seems to be no philosophical motivation for a non-inerrantist to argue for concordism. Why would someone arguing that science and the Bible must match be willing to cede the Bible's susceptibility to err in other matters? Concordism of any type presupposes theological concordism (Lamoureux's term). Is the non-inerrantist concordist's position that Scripture may err on historical matters, but not scientific matters? Upon what basis are the two bifurcated?

K-Funk said...

I find it frustrating that whenever strict inerrancy is questioned, the response is "Well then, how do you know that ANYTHING in the Bible is true?"

The answer is, of course, by faith.

I suppose a strict inerrantist (did I just make up a word?) would say, "I believe in the gospel because the Bible is inerrant," but of course the belief in inerrancy is also a matter of faith.

Bill Ather said...

It seems to me that there are two questions here, an epistemological one (how do we know that X is true?) and an ontological one (what is X?) It is important not to conflate them. Two persons might agree that the Bible is inerrant, but for different reasons. Or they might agree that it is inerrant, for the same reasons, yet disagree about what it actually says.

I am a strong (?) inerrantist (depends on what the term "strong" means), but would not say that "I know this by faith"; rather, I would say it is the position that I find most consistent with Jesus' own presumed beliefs about the question, which can be known on historical grounds apart from any presuppositions about the nature of Scripture. This is complex, though, and requires a lot more elucidation.

Bill Ather said...

Just one more thing...

It seems to the casual observer, at least, that the universe is philosophically underdetermined (there is more than one metaphysical lens through which one can view empirical reality). For more on that, google "Conceptualizing religion" and read an interesting article by Hall et al. (may now require a subscription, not sure). So it's not only inerrantists who have the "problem" of needing faith. Everyone does. Even the old-style foundationalist (logical positivist) needs faith: namely, the faith that what he sees is all there is, an assertion that cannot be proven.

Anonymous said...

Southern Baptists know precisely what we mean by "Inerrancy," It is the 1978 and 1982 Chicago Statements. Period- no ifs, ands or buts. The 1982 Statement affirms the historicity of Genesis 1-11. The ETS has also adopted the 1978 Statement.

If you are going to deny or modify inerrancy you should also in good faith and as a matter of transparency abandon the term "Evengelical," as it has also become meaningless. May God forgive you for the harm you are bringing to His Kingdom.

Walt Carpenter
Houston, TX

David W. Congdon said...

Bill,

When you say that you find inerrancy to be "most consistent with Jesus' own presumed beliefs about the question," I take it that you define inerrancy as the authority and reliability of Scripture. You certainly cannot mean anything more than that, since that's as much as we can glean from the Bible itself.

But that's hardly enough to qualify as "inerrancy," at least by the Chicago Definition's standards, which have been adopted by the ETS.

Inerrancy is a thoroughly modern doctrine responding to a thoroughly modern "problem," viz. the rise of historical-criticism. So any account of inerrancy has to be specific enough to address that issue. And it's by no means self-evident to me or many others that historical-criticism requires the rejection of what Jesus says about Scripture. That is, I do not think historical-criticism necessitates rejecting the authority and reliability of Scripture.

In the end, I think Bruce McCormack's position of "dynamic infallibilism" is the best way forward. It holds all of the insights of inerrancy intact while grounding them in the action of the Holy Spirit, rather than in the being of the text itself. His position has the virtue of undermining bibliolatry (which inerrancy almost inevitably leads toward) while embracing the chastened use of historical critical research.

Bill Ather said...

I'm not sure where the bright-line tests, if any, might be between different views on this question. I have always been content (perhaps foolishly so?) with formulations like "true in the whole and in the part". I don't believe that inerrancy refers only to matters of theological import. Yet, I readily agree that it is problematic to read some of these more contemporary concerns back into the world of the first century.

Since I describe myself as an evangelical inerrantist, it's obvious that I believe that the two words are not synonymous. There is room for reverent agnosticism, and charitable disagreement, about these matters.

I find this discussion of great interest and will keep pondering. Naturally, I think one can be both a strong inerrantist and believe in evolution.

Mike Beidler said...

Walt Carpenter wrote: May God forgive you for the harm you are bringing to His Kingdom.

Now that's constructive.

Allan Harvey said...

Stephen Douglas asked for clarification concerning my desire to avoid conflating concordism and inerrancy (even if they often go together):

But one of the chief claims (and errors) of inerrancy is concordism. Inerrancy may be thought of as the only really viable source of concordism; there seems to be no philosophical motivation for a non-inerrantist to argue for concordism. Why would someone arguing that science and the Bible must match be willing to cede the Bible's susceptibility to err in other matters? Concordism of any type presupposes theological concordism (Lamoureux's term). Is the non-inerrantist concordist's position that Scripture may err on historical matters, but not scientific matters? Upon what basis are the two bifurcated?

First I should delineate what I mean by "inerrancy" and "concordism".

Inerrancy is all about the Bible being "perfect", as defined by the standards of Enlightenment modernism (standards that would have been foreign to the Biblical writers). This typically includes perfection in scientific statements when the Bible makes those. This usually leads to either a young-Earth position or an approach like that of Hugh Ross that (while still rejecting evolution) takes unusual interpretations of Genesis in order to be able to say that the Bible is speaking perfectly (in accord with modern astronomy and geology) in its account.

Concordism is all about "lining up", about being able to say that the Bible is telling a "true story" that corresponds with scientific or historical facts about creation or other events. But not all concordists insist that the correspondence be perfect.

Does inerrancy necessarily entail concordism? I think there are at least two ways to avoid that, although they are minority positions. The first is to say that God is not at all trying to communicate science in Genesis, that the descriptions are making theological points, so it is not an "error" if it does not seem to line up with science because Scripture is making no scientific truth-claims there. I think this is how someone like Waltke, or Wenham, would view Genesis in a non-concordist way while affirming inerrancy. The second is to say that God was communicating perfectly by accommodating the language of Scripture to human limitations. This has precedent with venerable inerrantist B.B. Warfield, and is the approach of Denis Lamoreaux. Both approaches might be out of bounds (or at least pushing the envelope) for more hard-line expressions of inerrancy like the Chicago statement, but people do take them while still claiming that they affirm "inerrancy".

As for the other direction (Stephen's question), I think there are many concordist non-inerrantists like Glenn Morton. Concordism need not proceed from an assumption of Biblical "perfection". Many people recognize that God did not always override the human foibles of the Biblical writers (like the one who thought the hare chewed its cud), but they still want the basics of Genesis 1-11 to be "true" and can't accept a "nonhistorical" interpretation. It is not a matter of accepting errors in some places and not others; it is a desire that the Bible be basically true (as they see it) while not necessarily inerrant. To draw an imperfect parallel, there are many people who don't need a "perfect-Bible" resolution of the differing accounts of Peter's denial (where one inerrantist famously proposed that Peter must have denied Jesus 9 times in order for there to be no errors), but who would insist on the basic historical fact that Peter did deny Jesus.

Steve Martin said...

K-Funk:
No, “Strict Inerrancy” is not something you or I made up. It has been used frequently over the last 40 years – mostly to describe the more rigorous form of inerrancy. But I’ve seen multiple definitions and even multiple positions within “strict inerrantists” who disagree with eachother. So, for example, many will agree to “strict inerrancy” but still say there are “errors in rounding”. See for example this definition.

Absolute/Full/Strict Inerrancy – The Bible is completely without error in all the things that it says. The authors not only intended to convey the teaching about God and salvation in a perfect way, but about intended to communicate scientific and historical details which are given in a precise way. The descriptions of theology were their specific area of "expertise" and these are completely without error. Since science or history were not their main reasons for writing God's inspired Word, these may not be 100% accurate to the detail as 21st century people might expect. Rather they are more like approximations or rounded-off numbers.

Allan,
I had no idea Morton did not affirm inerrancy (that discussion may have happened before I joined the ASA). Actually, I had no idea one could be a concordist and not an inerrantist … my assumption (like Stephen D) was that inerrancy was a superset of concordism. Thanks for the correction & explanation.

On the other hand, as I alluded in the OP, the problem is that there are just so many different definitions of inerrancy floating around (not withstanding the supposedly definitive Chicago Statement). In a way, it might be correct to call Morton a inerrantist, even if he refuses to use the term himself. In the discussion on evolution, I have found your definitions very helpful. So when someone states that (as I heard a strong ID advocate say) “I accept common descent but not evolution”, we can reply, “Well by many common definitions of evolution, including Allan Harvey’s E2, you do accept evolution”. In the same way, I think Morton’s views are a proper subset of many common definitions for inerrancy.

Bill: Good points on the two different questions. Thanks. And regarding the fact that “inerrancy” and “evangelicalism” are not synonymous, absolutely correct. BTW, I tried looking up Hall et al’s paper on "Conceptualizing religion" … it looks like a subscription is needed (at least the links I found).

D.W:
Re: dynamic infallibilism: Do you have a link that can give me the 10-minute overview of McCormack's ideas?

Walt:
As Bill notes, Inerrancy & Evangelicalism are not synonymous; certainly the Chicago Statement is not a litmus test of Evangelical orthodoxy (and not all inerrantist Evangelicals agree with the Chicago Statement). If it did become the definition, a huge part of the Evangelical church would disappear by definition. I like John Stackhouse’s definition of Evangelicalism - note that inerrancy is not even mentioned.

All:
To be fair to Walt, there are many Evangelicals like him that believe this should be the definition of an Evangelical. For them, the Evangelical movement itself has allowed unorthodox beliefs to filter in. As I’ve said in the past, I suspect there will be some serious divisions occurring within the Evangelical movement in the next couple decades. For those who are knowledgeable and interested in Evangelical history & what the future might look like, I recommend you read Carl Trueman, WTS VP of Academic Affairs article Seminaries and Orthodoxy: the Historical Context. This is very interesting given the joint WTS statement I provided in the OP. WTS may admit that Enns’ views fall within the “purview of Evangelical thought”.
However, it is clear from Trueman’s article that they believe Evangelical thought itself has moved too far. For those who have not read much about the development of Evangelical thought (including the recent conflicts over inerrancy) I recommend Gary Dorrien's The Remaking of Evangelical Theology.

geocreationist said...

Some considerations I have used in pondering the inerrancy of scripture...

Consider that God Himself was without error when He inspired the Biblical writers to write what they did.

Scripture is God-inspired, and God-breathed, not God-dictated... except where quoted.

Now, I have recently finished reading Gordon Glover's excellent book, Beyond the Firmament, and it helped me put much of this in perspective.

In my mind, God inspired Moses to write in Genesis an account of the earth's creation. The account Moses knew was the ancient myth he had learned growing up in Pharoah's house. So, he wrote that account, but placed God in its center. Is the scripture in error? Historically, yes. Scientifically, yes. Theologically, no.

So, was God in error in choosing Moses? Obviously not. So then what?

Well, the phrase "God inspired" is often recast as "God breathed". So in that vein, what did God breath into the scriptures that His inspired servants wrote?

For me, I see a surprising amount of concordance between Genesis 1 and science. I disagree with Morton's approach and with Ross's approach, but I agree with both that concordance is there to be had. And so, I find that what Moses wrote in his humanity, God then used in His divinity. For me anyway, this negates any arguments against error in the scripture.

The biblical writers were obedient, God is perfect, and God made no error when he inspired them. This will obvsiously beg the question for some, but for me, this puts it to bed... it isn't whether the Bible makes mistakes, but whether God does.

Stephen Douglas said...

Thanks for the explanation, Allan. A belief that this or that passage concords with science in the sense that they address the same subject (i.e., a given scripture is giving an explanation for a particular scientific phenomenon) is not the same thing as "concordism" as I have always seen it defined, which is more of an expectation that Scripture gives an accurate scientific explanation wherever such correspondences occur. But I definitely see your point now. Thanks for the clarification!

Stephen Douglas said...

As for "inerrancy", I personally see no need to redeem it. (BTW, excellent post, David!) Attempts to do so usually appear to be PR-oriented and proceed by claiming the word while meaning something quite different by it. Contorting the meaning to limitless permutations seems to me to be a waste of time and emphasis.

I mean, for Pete's sake, let's be honest here. Everyone knows what inerrant means to most Christians: "containing no factual errors/authorial misunderstandings". By popular understanding, to say that the Bible is inerrant is to say that it has no errors. I have noted that the etymological meaning of inerrant as "not straying" matches my own opinion much better than the standard definition, but since meaningful discussion must always be based upon mutually agreed upon terminology, it doesn't help our dialogue to "nuance" such a key word so significantly. Infallibility (Lamoureux's "theological concordism") is something quite different, though: one can easily concede historical or scientific errors while maintaining that its divine message (Lamoureux's "Message of Faith" - can you tell I've been reading Evolutionary Creation?) is conveyed regardless.

That's my preferred tack anyway. Another way is to simply affirm "inerrant in matters of faith and practice," but since I don't see how that differs from infallibility and blurs the line between two distinct terms, I don't like to say it that way.

"Dynamic infallibility" as I understand it is a little scary; it seems to lean too far towards the "what does this passage mean to me" and too far away from "what can I learn from God's original intention for this passage". Thoughts?

David W. Congdon said...

This is a great conversation. As a recovering inerrantist, I have a lot invested in this topic. For the sake of clarity, I will outline this comment.

1. Dynamic infallibilism. Stephen, let me assure you that "dynamic infallibilism" has nothing to do with subjectivism. The "dynamic" aspect has to do with God's action, not human action. I briefly summarize McCormack's view here. In short, his position, following Barth, is that God makes the biblical text into Holy Scripture, into God's Word, through the activity of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is not in itself the witness to God's self-revelation. Its authority as God's Word comes in the event of its reading and hearing, an event empowered and illuminated by the Spirit of God. As the Reformed tradition has always emphasized, Word and Spirit go together. Inerrancy identifies the Word of God with the biblical text and thus dispenses with the need for the Spirit. The Reformed tradition, by contrast, and Barth most especially, seek to highlight the way the Bible becomes the Word of God in the actualizing power of the Spirit. If you want to read McCormack's essay, "The Being of Holy Scripture Is in Becoming," you can find it in the volume, Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics, edited by Vincent Bacote, Laura C. Miguelez, and Dennis L. Okholm (2004).

2. Concordism. For those who haven't, I recommend that everyone read Hans Frei's The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative. Probably the most interesting thesis in that book is that the rise of concordism -- that is, the split between the narrative of the Bible and the "real world" to which we must related the Bible -- is the source for both modern liberalism and modern fundamentalism. Both sides presume that the "world" of the text and the "world" in which we live are separate. Liberals emphasize this difference, while the fundamentalists/evangelicals try to bring them into concordance.

On the basis of this historical narrative, I would say inerrancy is a subset within concordism. Thus, it makes sense to speak of a non-inerrantist concordist, but I'm not sure it makes sense to speak of a non-concordist inerrantist. I would simply call that infallibilism. Inerrancy is all about bringing the text and world history into alignment. I can see how Waltke and Warfield might represent such a non-corcordist inerrancy, but it still seems suspect to me. And I'm not convinced that either really escapes concordism. Both might reject scientific concordism, but both still hold on to historical concordism: the narrative of Exodus or Joshua corresponds to what actually happened, for example. So perhaps we need to nuance concordism, because I don't see any way for one to truly be a non-concordist inerrantist. That's oxymoronic in my opinion.

3. Geocreationist: I really sympathize with your position, in part because your view is very similar to what I grew up with and what my parents and family members still believe. Part of the problem is that, at the very least, historical criticism makes it irrefutable that the biblical text is compiled from various authors and redactors. It's historically untenable to assume that the Penteteuch is composed by Moses.

But let's even set that aside. We have to examine what we mean by "divine inspiration." What does this look like in Scripture? Well, take what I think is the paradigmatic example: Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus tells him that this was not known by flesh and blood, but it was revealed to him by the Father in heaven. Inspiration is the opening of our eyes and ears to who God is and what God has done. It is a moment of revelatory clarity -- not revelation in terms of "propositional knowledge," but revelation in terms of being captured by God's presence and reality. It does not mean a person hears some voice from heaven. God does not literally speak to us, but through the power of the Spirit, we "see" and "hear" the Word of God. In other words, inspiration does not bring new information to the human person; rather, divine inspiration gives the human person freedom to testify to what he or she knows about God. That is, inspiration frees us to witness to God's encounter with the world.

I think a re-understanding of inspiration is essential to this whole discussion, because we need to articulate a non-competitive account between divine and human action. Your very traditional presentation of divine and human action makes God into a Big Tinkerer, an Infinitely Great Creature, who comes down and alters things here and there where necessary. So when God wants a person to write something correctly, God then comes down and "inspires" that person, even dictating when a direct quote is necessary. This is a very crude and mythological understanding of how God relates to the world, and it fails precisely because it is far too bound to an anthropomorphic and metaphysical conception of divinity. This "God" does not truly transcend the world, but rather exists "somewhere" out there, and interacting with people in a way not too far removed from how the Greeks and Romans understood God. All of it falls prey to Feuerbach.

What we need is a conception of God that recognizes God's utter transcendence. God does not come down at certain time to tinker with creation. God is eternally active, sustaining all reality out of divine love. Everything that happens occurs within the providential activity of God. There is no competition between God's action and human action. It's not as if humans only act where God is not active, and vice versa. Rather, as we are active, God is also active. The authors of Scripture did not compose some divine text; their words are as human as any other. But that does not make the text only of relative importance. Rather, within the providence of God, this text is elected by God to be used as a witness to God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ. We can say that the apostles and prophets were inspired, by which we mean their encounter with God freed them to proclaim this encounter in fallible human words. And while this text is not "divine" or "perfect," it is chosen by God, like Israel was chosen, to be the vehicle for God's self-communication. And so through the activity of the Holy Spirit, believers are illuminated in the hearing and preaching of Scripture, which means that we encounter the God who is already and always active in our midst.

I hope my thoughts on this matter are not entirely confusing and muddled. It's a difficult subject matter, and I'm sure more discussion is necessary to make progress on this issue.

I highly recommend reading John Webster's little book, Holy Scripture for more on this.

Steve Martin said...

Hi David,

Wow. A lot to chew on there. Thanks. A few brief responses:

1. re: Frei’s thesis that concordism is the source of the fracture between modern liberalism & modern fundamentalism: Have you read Nancey Murphy’s book “Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism”? Her thesis (one of them that I remember) is that foundationalism drove both camps, with Fundamentalism standing on the foundation of scripture & Liberalism standing on the foundation of common human experience. It would be interesting to compare these two thesis.

2. re: relationship between concordism & inerrancy: So I think (or at least used to – am rethinking this now after Allan’s comments above) that concordism is a subset of inerrancy and you think that inerrancy is a subset of concordism. Since we probably both agree that they are not the same thing, we’ve got a pretty big disconnect here. I suspect (I know I’m repeating myself) it is because of the lack of consensus on the definition of inerrancy (there is probably broad consensus on the definition of concordism).

I like Allan’s tagging “inerrancy” with “perfection”. This is helpful – same idea, but positive instead of negative. But the question must be asked, perfect in what way? Some say “In all matters that it speaks” but (to Bill’s point) disagree on what matters it speaks (eg. Does it speak to science or not?). Others would say “It is theologically perfect”. Still others would say it is “Perfect in purpose” – ie. Its purpose is to lead humanity to salvation through Jesus Christ – it is inerrant in this purpose even if there are scientific and historical “errors”. Now, that is a pretty broad spectrum, and I think in that spectrum there are a whole lot of positions and people holding those positions that could not be seen as concordist.

My tentative hypothesis (you are getting as it is forming real-time): Inerrancy may have been a subset of concordism at one point (late 19th & early 20th century). However, inerrancy has recently taken on a life of its own. Many people do not want to let go of the concept even when the ideas behind the concept are changing; so they redefine what it means. And now, because of the proliferation of meanings, concordism is a subset of inerrancy.

3. definition of Dynamic Infallibilism: I have to admit, that at first glance I am a little uncomfortable with this. I guess I need to read and understand it better. In particular the statements that “The Bible is not in itself the witness to God’s self-revelation” and that “the way the Bible becomes the Word of God in the actualizing power of the Spirit” don’t seem strong enough. On the other hand, I agree that both Word and Spirit must go together.

Allan Harvey said...

Steve Martin wrote:
I like Allan’s tagging “inerrancy” with “perfection”. This is helpful – same idea, but positive instead of negative. But the question must be asked, perfect in what way? Some say “In all matters that it speaks” but (to Bill’s point) disagree on what matters it speaks (eg. Does it speak to science or not?). Others would say “It is theologically perfect”. Still others would say it is “Perfect in purpose” – ie. Its purpose is to lead humanity to salvation through Jesus Christ – it is inerrant in this purpose even if there are scientific and historical “errors”.

I think the above puts too much under "inerrancy". From Old Princeton through the Chicago Statement, THE meaning of inerrancy has been perfection “in all matters that it speaks”. As Steve points out, this still leaves some wiggle room for different opinions as to whether the Bible is "speaking" about a particular matter. But limiting the "perfection" to theological matters, or to perfectly fulfilling its purpose, would be pretty universally rejected as liberal compromise by those who fly the inerrancy flag.

On the subset question, as I've said I see inerrancy and concordism as overlapping. However, I think "inerrancy as a subset of concordism" is closer to being true. Many people want some "lining up" of science and Scripture without insisting on perfection. But taking a non-concordist view of early Genesis (saying that it conveys truth without corresponding directly to specific real events) requires taking positions outside the mainstream of "inerrancy" (in fact, the Chicago Statement, which is central for most modern inerrantists, specifically rejects non-concordist readings of Genesis 1-11).

Cliff Martin said...

Thank you for the post, Steve.

The truth clearly presenting itself in this thread is that the term “inerrancy” has become an extremely flexible contortionist, able to twist itself into any distortion the user wishes to assign it. And why all this bantering about the word? Very simple: the Bible is not without error. Walt may feel comfortable with the Chicago statement, but when I read various comments by the framers of that statement, I’m not sure they are. When John Piper admits (apparently without blushing) to “hundreds of discrepancies” in the Bible, I am left wondering if inerrancy has any meaning at all.

David's comment bears repeating: The authors of Scripture did not compose some divine text; their words are as human as any other. But that does not make the text only of relative importance. Rather, within the providence of God, this text is elected by God to be used as a witness to God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ. For me, the essence of "God's Word" is Jesus. When we recognize Jesus as the only "inerrant" revelation of God, it binds us to unchanging Truth while liberating us from unnecessary bibliology.

Back to the OP title question: I vote “Replace it”. The term "inerrancy" is beyond redemption.

Stephen Douglas said...

Well said, Cliff. We're in agreement here.

Cliff Martin said...

... and of course, when I wrote "bibliology" I meant "bibliolatry".

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cliff,
Good point that many of the original supporters of the Chicago statement (including some of those directly involved in writing it) have qualified inerrancy considerably. In fact, from my understanding, there were many at the time that felt the Chicago Statement itself had too many qualifications and would lead to the death of inerrancy. (eg. Some vocal YEC’ers wanted to put YEC language in the statement).

Also, like Stephen, I like your brief summary.

All: Note that I am heading out on a family vacation tomorrow morning and will be without net access for about a week & then only for a day before losing it again for about 5 days. You are welcome to continue the conversation, answer outstanding questions, & raise other questions but just note I may not be able to respond very quickly. Then again, many of you already know that my response time tends to be pretty slow (by blogging standards).

Steve Ranney said...

>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. -- Peter Enns quoted

I like Enns but I think this kind of thing is a game. The word, if it ever had a meaning you could accept, has changed its meaning so why would he say he believes the Bible is 'without error.'

It is like the word 'gay' - nowadays, I wouldn't say 'I am feeling gay today.' It was a great word 100 years ago, but it has changed its meaning. So i can go around saying that if I want to, but what's the point?

Someone else was cited as believing in inerrancy yet rejecting a historical Adam. So I think I'd stick with the original title of the post and say 'dump the term inerrancy.'

Steve Ranney said...

I was not clear in the last sentence of my previous comment - what I mean to say is, I differ with the position now known as 'inerrancy' or 'the Bible is without error.' That term has been assigned a meaning I do not accept. I'd say, goodbye to that word.

So rather than redefine or replace, I guess I'd say ignore the term, and talk about the authority of Scripture, which I accept and is more legitimate historically anyway.

elbogz said...

I think many use the term inerrancy to say the bible is true. But if you look at the definition of inerrant it means something that is incapable of erring. It is so much more than true, it’s incapable of being in error.

If you look at the statement 2+2=4. It really doesn’t matter if you translate if from Hebrew to Greek to German to old world English to modern English. It remains a true statement. But if you look at the statement “agape love”, it means many different things within the translation, each of which is capable of being in error. If something is capable of being in error, it can’t, by definition be inerrant.

If you look in the bible, you see the commandment that says ‘thou shall honor thy mother and they father’. Furthermore, a child that violated this commandment could be stoned to death. Yet, Jesus tells a story of a Prodigal son. In the story the second son, refuses his fathers plea to come to the party. The father begs the son to come to the party.

What makes the story of the Prodigal son so striking is the Jewish culture truly believed the 10 commandments to be inerrant. Yet Jesus comes along and says, no, what is more important than all the written words is the love of the Father.

We spend so much time worshiping the book that it impedes us from worshiping its author.

Steve Ranney said...

elbogz - good point. A different way of thinking about it - the subject is usually discussed in terms of science, etc.

kyle porter said...

An excellent discussion of inerrancy from a Wesleyan perspective can be found at http://www.crivoice.org/inerrant.html. In this essay titled "The Modern Inerrancy Debate," Dr. Dennis Bratcher argues that inerrancy as defined, for example, in the Chicago statement has "weakened the credibility of Scripture and created tremendous controversy, friction, and pain within the Christian community," as well as unnecessarily making the Bible less credible to skeptics.

He traces the roots of the modern inerrancy debate to very modern and rationalistic premises in reaction to historical skeptics fueled by historical positivism and scientific naturalism.

The idea that strikes me the most is that our view or doctrine of the Bible so often ignores the very biblical text itself. The modern concept of inerrancy is not biblical, but rather a rational syllogism. Bratcher: "Since God wrote Scripture, and since God is perfect and without error, and since God knows exactly what happened, then the Bible must be absolutely accurate, inerrant, in everything it says, and even in a lot that it doesn’t say that we now know to be fact (the earth is round, matter consists of atoms, etc.). In other words, Scripture, since it was associated directly with God, must be of the same quality as God Himself: absolute, perfect, "omni," inerrant, etc."

But when we read the actual pages of Scripture, it does not contain this type of perfection. There are some who rationalize away the tensions or defer to the perfection of "original manuscripts" only (see Bratcher's article regarding "Inerrant Autograps"). But perhaps we should stop making Scripture fit into our categories and allow it to speak on its own terms, in the form in which we have received it.

Steve Martin said...

Stephen:
Re: Enns playing the name game, in some ways I tend to agree with that. Kyle’s article (in last comment) and this post by Henry Neufeld make similar points.

Elbogz:
Re: “We spend so much time worshiping the book that it impedes us from worshiping its author.” … bang on.

Kyle,
Thanks for the link to the discussion of inerrancy from a Wesleyan perspective. That is a good article. Re: the point that certain definitions of inerrancy weaken the credibility of Scripture, a friend of mine goes much further and states that “inerrancy demeans scripture”. I think if he would qualify his criticism with “certain definitions” as Bratcher did, then I agree.

Steve Ranney said...

>The idea that strikes me the most is that our view or doctrine of the Bible so often ignores the very biblical text itself. - Kyle

Enns makes that point in I&I. Let's look at how the text actually behaves, he says.