Thursday, March 30, 2006

Inerrancy? Pt.5

The Bible is as rich as life. It does not document one faith; it is an arena in which possibilities of faith vie with each other for the depths of the divine’ (Philosophical Faith and Revelation, by Karl Jaspers, cited in Law, Inspiration, 212).

In light of this quote, here are four more problems, as I see them, with the doctrine of inerrancy.
  1. The doctrine of inerrancy cannot safeguard an objective interpretation of the Scriptures, and even undermines it. Why is this so? When the Bible is read through the eyes of the ‘faith commitment’ of inerrancy, it is inevitable that one then seeks to explain away the contradictions and tensions found therein, to harmonise - even though the Bible is as Jaspers says. The difficulties of the harmonisation agenda can be clearly seen by reading a representative book that attempts just such a thing: H. Lindsell’s, The Battle for the Bible. In it he attempts to reconcile the contradictions in the Gospel accounts concerning when the cock crowed in relation to Peter’s denials of Jesus. In his harmonisation, Lindsell ends up having to say, in the name of harmonisation, that Peter must have denied Jesus six times! However, not only does this detract the reader from what each Gospel is trying to say, but also ends up invalidating all of the Gospel accounts!

  2. Given the truth of Jaspers words, it is also important to assert that different parts of Scripture are inspired in different ways. This means that there is no one formulation for interpreting Scripture. Instead, the Bible needs to be approached with different interpretive strategies depending on what is being read as well as why. For more on this see Goldingay’s two complementary books, Models for Scripture and Models for the Interpretation of Scripture. The doctrine of inerrancy puts the Scripture into one straitjacket (in which it does not fit), in such a way that variety of interpretation is inevitably neglected.

  3. The doctrine of inerrancy also promotes ‘misleading expectations’ (Models for Scripture, 278) regarding the content in nature of Scripture. Having come from a Fundamentalist background and my then affirmation of inerrancy, it was an extremely difficult process for me to start reading the Bible more intelligently, with all of my critical faculties. My faith itself came into question, something that forced me to reanalyse my doctrine of Scripture. I suspect that the Ehrmans and Funks of this world exist precisely, or at least partly, because of the promotion of the doctrine of inerrancy. The doctrine is so fragile because it doesn't measure up to reality.

  4. This ‘misleading of expectations’ manifests in another way. It encourages evangelism to treat the honest and serious questions of many people in a flippant way and demand that, in order to become Christian, some have to turn off their brains. This comes to the fore all the more clearly in the doctrinal statements of many organisations and churches which place the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture right at the top. This is a travesty!
On one blog I recently wrote these words: ‘While I’ve been majoring on a negative (in my series on inerrancy), a ‘no’, I still hold a very high view of Scripture - I read it daily, meditate on it, memorise it, and know from deep experience that God speaks through it, mediating his presence to me, changing my world. I have a big ‘yes’ to say to Scripture, even if a ‘no’ to inerrancy’. Before something else can be affirmed instead of inerrancy, a space needs to be made for it, and this meant a rigorous, logical and scriptural denial of it. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss which formulation regarding the truth of Scripture I’m delighted to affirm.


At 3/30/2006 3:46 AM, Anonymous Sivin Kit said...

I'm excited to read what's coming up next! Can't wait.

At 3/30/2006 4:02 AM, Anonymous Garth said...

Stanley Grenz of Primer on Postmodernism fame, said that,

"The Westminster Confession of Faith declares that the final authority in the church is the Holy Spirit speaking through the Scriptures. This suggests to me that the most profound truth about the Bible is that it is the Spirit’s instrument–the Spirit speaks to us through these documents. This suggests that we should speak first and foremost about the authority, and hence the infallibility and inerrancy, of the Spirit and the Spirit’s speaking through the text. Biblical authority, in turn, finds its basis in the Spirit who is the ultimate voice that we hear in the text".

I think we forget about the Spirit and personal revelation. Formulaic approaches surrender us to an almost controlling book culture Christianity where we are fed the 'answers'.

The argument and belief that enough study will produce Godly wisdom and maturity becomes a bit of a nonsense. I don't think this makes the answer any easier but I certainly agree with your straight jacket analogy.

At 3/30/2006 4:15 AM, Anonymous jim said...

Excellent stuff, keep up thegood work!

At 3/30/2006 5:22 AM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Karl Jaspers! really ? no kidding?

Well Chris, ya know like T.B.V., I have begun to wonder ah ... well, if perhaps you have spent too long in Germany and need to take a break and visit someplace like Dallas Texas (DTS) as a kind of shock therapy. I know this is an extreme suggestion. Never been to Dallas myself. My Mentor wanted me to attend DTS but I told him "I didn't go to Vietnam and I am not going to Dallas".

On the subject of K.Jaspers I have often wondered if Jaspers had anything to do with the subtext of Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up?

Keep up the "good?" work. Your blog never ceases to ... [fill in the blank with anything you like] ... anyway can't really say what it never ceases to do but it never ceases.


At 3/30/2006 10:14 AM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Chris,

Your doctrine of Scripture undermines the unity, harmony and reliability of the Word of God. You are left with a fragmented and error-strewn Bible. You seem to espouse a hermeneutic of doubt and suspicion, rather than faith and confidence in the Bible as the word of God.

Of course, different parts of the Bible need to interpreted in different ways. History is to be taken as accurate history, poetry is to be understood as poetry epistles are to be interpreted as epistles etc. This exegetical principle was restored at the Reformation and exemplified by Calvin. But the Bible remains one coherent book.

Did Francis Schaeffer and Martyn Lloyd-Jones really have a flippant approach to evangelism that demanded people "switch off their brains to become Christian"? Can you substantiate that claim? What about Don Carson and numerous other Evangelical thinkers who hold to inerrancy? Are they all guilty of a dumbed-down approach to evangelism because they believe in the infallibility of the word of God? Church history tells us that when the Church ceases to insist on the inerrancy of Scripture, evangelism ceases to be a priority. (See my blog post on Safeguarding the Future.)

The problem in evangelism is that "the carnal mind is emnity against God" and that the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe. I fail to see how pandering to the unbeliever's mistrust of the word of God is a useful evangelistic strategy. Did Paul stop preaching "Jesus and the resurrection" because the clever Areopagites laughed at him?
We need to bear witness to the gospel in demonstration of the Spirit and power, not undermine the reliability of Scripture if we are to bring people to faith in Christ.

People tend to be kinder to the Theological position that they are moving towards than the one they are moving away from. In trying to distance yourself from your former fundamentalism, you are playing down the serious consequences that often flow from a denial of the inerarrancy of Scripture. I hope that you are not on the verge of Theological entropy.



At 3/30/2006 10:17 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Sivin,
You’re setting yourself up for an anti-climax! But thanks anyway.

Garth, thanks for your comments and welcome. The role of the Spirit, I think, is a hugely important aspect in all of this, you are surely right. Tom Wright’s recent book on the scriptures says something similar, that the authority of Scripture derives from the authority of God, but not in a straightforward manner.

Thanks Jim! It’s nice when people agree!

Clay, I do not hereby affirm everything Jaspers wrote, but I thought this quote was spot on – there is more than one faith represented in Scripture, isn’t there?

And I suspect you’d be surprised how little ‘shock therapy’ I need if you knew more about my situation here! All I’m trying to do in these posts, btw, is think carefully about inerrancy, in the light of the phenomena of scriptures, not to become a fluffy anything goes liberal – just to clarify my intentions.

("I didn't go to Vietnam and I am not going to Dallas") :-)

At 3/30/2006 12:46 PM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Chris,

I don't think the fact that unbelievers are spiritually blind means that evangelism has to be anti-intellectual. Not at all. That is why I cited the likes of Schaeffer and Carson as examples of thoughtful Christian apologists who also believe in inerrancy.

The fact that you cite the emerging church as an example of a mission orientated movement (or "conversation")that is not committed to inerrancy is a bit worrying. Emergents tend to dislike the doctrines of penal substitution and the eternal punishment of the wicked. To me, this represents a prime example of Theological entropy.

According to Don Carson, "I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chakle have largely abandoned the gospel." (Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church p. 186.)

Of course, the crux of the matter is that I believe that the Bible, rightly interpreted, is without error and is therefore wholly reliable and you don't.



At 3/30/2006 2:03 PM, Anonymous Simon Hardwick said...

Hi Guy,

Of course, the crux of the matter is that I believe that the Bible, rightly interpreted, is without error and is therefore wholly reliable and you don't.

I believe that the Bible is, rightly interpreted, God-breathed, inspired, authoritative the Word of God and is therefore useful/profitable in equipping the man of God for every good work.

I have tried hard to follow your argument, both in terms of a theological approach to scripture and of what scripture says of itself. I find the argument Chris has presented more compelling and true to the biblical witness.

Many Blessings


At 3/30/2006 2:44 PM, Anonymous Volker said...

Hi Chris,

thank you for your helpful discussion of inerrancy. On a practical level, where does this leave us with all the theological seminars and bibleschools in Germany? Almost all of them belong to the 'Konferenz bibeltreuer Ausbildungsstätten' which affirms the inerrancy of Scripture. Would you work in one of these instutions? Or do you see the German State University as the only option left if one does not want to 'sin against the bible' and subscribe to inerrancy?

"WIR GLAUBEN UND BEKENNEN: die göttliche Inspiration und die Unfehlbarkeit der
ganzen Heiligen Schrift"

At 3/30/2006 4:57 PM, Anonymous chris the less said...

i think that, in short, the claim to inerrancy leads to the Christian having to do more work to "convince" a non-Christian of the Truth®, whereas not asserting it allows one to get straight to the good news of the Truth®. Inerrancy is a long-cut for "evangelism"

At 3/30/2006 7:45 PM, Anonymous T.B. Vick said...

I would not recommend DTS (Dallas Theological Seminary) at all - just for the record - albiet I never attened there (though my friend David Piske did), but the seminary I did attend was very similiar.

However, as Clay said - "shock therapy" or just plain "shock" might be the end result for anyone coming from German schools to DTS.

I am still undecided on this whole inerrancy issue - I have yet to discover or read sufficient reasons as to why it's "needed." Neither have I heard or read sufficient arguments from those who adhere to it as a fundamental of the faith (i.e. those at DTS), as to its weight and importance.

Besides, we do not have the original manuscripts (which are the manuscripts innerantists claim are w/o error), and what we do have is sufficient for our faith, our theology, even our dogmas. So, to be perfectly honest this all seems to be "much ado about nothing" (w/o trying to sound too "nihilistic" about the issue).

I guess I am not seeing the point of believing the Bible to be without error - it certainly does not mean that God is an erroneous God, nor does it negate the truths which we gleen from the texts, nor the message of the texts. So what's the point? Why is innerancy necessary?

*the skeptic now steps down from his soap box, allowing all those who want to respond to have at it*

At 3/30/2006 10:30 PM, Anonymous joel hunter said...

t.b. vick, re. the autographa,

The reason the inerrantist thinks that it is more than trivial is expressed in Article 10 of the icbi:

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

Defenders of the icbi should correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears that this is much ado about something because they are making their understanding of inspiration dependent on inerrancy. But the sophistry of that second sentence of the affirmation is a rather obvious fallacy. Take your pick: affirming the consequent or petitio principii.

I think it notable that in that second sentence, they equivocate about the status of "copies and translations" by opting to call them "the Word of God" rather than "inerrant." Other than the first article (which does nothing to advance inerrancy per se), this is the only occasion that this phrasing is used. The obvious question that this affirmation raises is: By what criterion/criteria do you determine "the extent that [the copies] faithfully represent the original?" Hello, what's this? "'s box?"

As for the denials, I agree with the first sentence but find the second silly (as I think you do, too, t.b.).

I think the icbi inerrantist paints herself into a fideistic corner with this article. Consequently, too bad for the doctrine of inspiration and a high view of the Scriptures.

At 3/30/2006 11:30 PM, Anonymous T.B. Vick said...

Joel quoting the icbi - "We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original."

My first question to the above, from the icbi, is 'how do you know whether the copies faithfully represent the originals?'

They can only answer - we don't know, we simply have faith - thus the fideistic result (or corner) Joel mentioned.

This uncertainty is what leads me to think that the doctrine of innerancy is unwarranted and distracting to the work of the exegetes - it poses too much limitation on the texts - and we waste too much time trying to defend the texts rather than interpret them - just food for thought.

At 3/30/2006 11:35 PM, Anonymous Joanna said...

Chris, just wanted to say I've appreciated your thoughtful discussion of these issues and I'm looking forward to reading your 'alternative' to inerrancy. I'm in the process of spending a week reflecting on the Song of Songs on my blog, and it's started me thinking about biblical texts that disrupt simple systematic theologies. My own experience is certainly that a simplistic understanding of inerrancy can lead to huge anxiety when people actually read the Bible. (The example I give on my blog is of a Bible study where people got very anxious when considering the question 'In what sense are the biblical Proverbs true?' So, as we say in the antipodes, onya!

At 3/31/2006 5:34 PM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Jobloggs said:
"My own experience is certainly that a simplistic understanding of inerrancy can lead to huge anxiety when people actually read the Bible."

Over a decade ago I attended two sessions of a course at Calvary Fellowship (Seattle, Wayne Taylor's church) school on Ecclesiastes taught by one of the nine associate pastors. I wanted to see how he was going to steer through the hazards of being a fundamentalist and teaching Ecclesiastes. It was a disaster, a perfect example of what Jo Bloggs had to say. After asking a lot of pointed questions and staying after for a private discussion with the associate pastor we agreed that it was not a good idea for me to continue to attend his class. This guy told me a few weeks later that he lost a lot of sleep over my comments. My parting shot was to suggest he might want to stick to teaching the Gospel of John until he had worked through the problems in his theology of the scriptures, aka bibliology.


At 3/31/2006 7:31 PM, Anonymous chamblee54 said...

The spell check suggestion for "inerrant" is "ignorant".

At 3/31/2006 7:43 PM, Anonymous David Wilkerson said...

"...he might want to stick to teaching the Gospel of John until he had worked through the problems in his theology of the scriptures...."

Interesting, I took a course on the Gospel of John in seminary and decided I should stick to teaching the Gospel of Mark until I worked out my theology of the Scriptures. :) or :( I'm still not sure.

At 4/01/2006 7:40 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Guy said: "I don't think the fact that unbelievers are spiritually blind means that evangelism has to be anti-intellectual"

That wasn't the logic in my response.

Hey Volker, Good question. I think if bible schools can accept someone who takes the scriptures seriously, with respect, i.e. hold a high view of scripture, without insisting you have to believe the rabbits hoped into the ark two by two – then wisdom will have won a victory.

Hi Chris the less,
Oddly, I was converted to a creationism Christianity, so I was a teenager, and being most reasonable was not high on my agenda, I needed security.

Hi TB,
Good comments.
You said: ‘I am still undecided on this whole inerrancy issue’. This is the valley of decision.

Hi jobloggs, Thanks for your kind words. And nice comments.

You write: ‘My own experience is certainly that a simplistic understanding of inerrancy can lead to huge anxiety when people actually read the Bible’

This has been my experience in the past, yes.

Hi Chalblee54.

At 4/02/2006 10:41 PM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...


You wrote,

That wasn't the logic in my response.

Did your responce have any logic?


At 4/02/2006 10:50 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Did it have logic? Yes, I think so. Why think you not?

At 4/02/2006 11:02 PM, Anonymous Steve Sensenig said...

I'm quite late to this discussion, so I'm not sure if anyone is still around reading this one.

A couple thoughts: First of all, this conversation is very, very refreshing for me! I had come to the conclusion awhile ago that the whole inerrancy thing was, as someone else here said, "much ado about nothing." If the doctrine only relates to manuscripts we don't have, then what's to gain by holding to it?? I have yet to be able to figure out why we need to hold to it, and why it should be used as a test for fellowship, partnership, or any other kind of heresy detection! :)

Secondly, I did attend DTS, working on my ThM there back in the mid-90's, so I can speak authoritatively on this! ;) If you are willing, like myself, to ask these tough questions about doctrines that others hold to be absolutely essential, then steer clear of DTS. I found it rather unfriendly to questioners. This is why Craig Blaising had to move on to another seminary when he put forth "Progressive Dispensationalism". I took the very last class Blaising taught there (it was a summer session) before he left, and I can tell you that guy had a great heart and was an honest thinker. Others just couldn't seem to handle that.

Anyway, I'm very glad to have found this blog, and am enjoying the questions being raised.

steve :)

At 4/02/2006 11:05 PM, Anonymous Steve Sensenig said...

BTW, please don't judge me for having attended DTS (or its "prep school", Philadelphia College of Bible!!) -- I have since moved quite a bit away from the dispensational viewpoint!!

steve :)

At 4/02/2006 11:19 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Steve, thanks for your comments and welcome to this blog. I'll be interested to hear what you think of my podcast which should be published sometime tonight.

At 4/02/2006 11:26 PM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Chris,

One of the reasons you gave for abandoning inerrancy is that unbelievers find difficulty accepting that the Bible is without error. I responded by saying that unbelievers are spiritually blind. We must not accommodate our doctrine of Scripture to suit an unbelieving mindset. I mentioned that we need the Spirit of God to enlighten the minds of non-Christians so that they see the truth. You the suggested that I was being anti-intellectual. That's not logical, Captain. I think that aunty-intellectual is a red herring.


At 4/22/2006 6:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

exiled preacer,

I think Chris meant that there is a tendency toward anti-intellectualism within those holding to inerrancy. Am I spiritually blind because I believe the earth is over 4 bil years old? I think not, even though a large percentage of innerantists would say yes. The reason they do so is for the sake of inerrancy.

It's not a red herring, it's a known component of large numbers of people holding to the innerancy position. They are willfully ignorant.

At 4/23/2006 7:13 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Anon. for your comments. Anti-intellectualism is no red-herring, but a reality among many inerrantists. They have to spend hour after hour defending this or that literalistic reading of the creation accounts becasue of strongly formulated versions of inerrancy, not because of the physical, geographical, palaeontological etc. data.

At 5/26/2006 2:59 AM, Anonymous Garth said...

Just a thought on spiritual blindness of unbelievers...We prob need to be carefful that doesn't convey we believe they are devoid of spirituality, ironically many unbelievers could teach us about becoming cognitive of our human spirituality (our book culture mentality can rob us of that).

The other thing that struck me was on another blog where the author posted that the Apostle Paul would have known the scriptures backwards as a Pharasee prior to his conversion. Knowledge of Truth and Scripture in itself was not enough. This ideology is a similar approach to Alpha type courses where its believed that information will produce conviction, somwhat successful for the boomer generation but less relevant for those under them who process truth and reality very differently.

If we had a better grip on what 'makes the penny drop' with people we might get less worked up by arguments of truth and inerrancy which may well be of some use, but isn't the conclusion to the with Paul.

At 5/29/2006 11:19 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Garth!
Nice points.
And yes, thanks for pointing that out - in good emerging church fashion, and I think non-Christians can teach us plenty about spirituality.
Just a question: How do you read Paul when he contructs his strong conjunctions between 'before being Christian'/'being Christian'?
I sense the influence of Gibbs' Emerging Churches in your comment too ...(?)


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