Is the ‘Tilling Statement’ really a statement about inerrancy?
Thank you to you all for your feedback and help as I think through these matters. Once again I am confronted by the limitations of religious language and of my intellect, the difficult art of theological thinking, and the need for critical feedback! And apologies for the hubris in the title of the statement. If anyone has a good idea as to how I could rename it ... but this is what this post is all about.
So why have I called this statement one specifically about inerrancy?
- I suggest that all titles, whichever one is used, are limited in their ability to appropriately describe the varied phenomenon of scripture in its diversity. In other words, I need to use something, but none can possibly 'name' scripture doctrinally. I admit that it was a bit provocative calling my statement one about inerrancy, and perhaps I should have called it a statement about the trustworthiness of Scripture, but see the next point...
- While I am aware that the word 'inerrancy' may not be the oldest, as well as that it may be weighed down with unhelpful connotations, my statement is at least an attempt to redeem this word as I not only respect the valuable tradition of inerrancy – in that it has encouraged many to approach the scriptures with expectancy and trust, but also because statements like the Chicago version need to be challenged on their own grounds, in my view. Besides, while the word 'inerrancy' may not be the oldest, the idea most certainly is. Clement, a first century Bishop of Rome, held that in 'the Holy Scriptures which are given through the Holy Spirit ... nothing iniquitous or falsified is written'. Augustine claimed 'none of these (canonical) authors has erred in any respect of writing'.
- Admittedly, my statement assumes a slightly subversive (but healthily so!) point of departure, one I didn't make explicit in the statement itself. Namely, I assume that a doctrine of inerrancy need only be a statement about the truthfulness of scripture. I am trying to understand it positively, a move justified, I believe, by the nature of the confessions one can find in scripture. For example, it doesn't claim that all scripture is not rather lamely uninspired, or that the words of the LORD are not flawed; the author of Hebrews didn't write that the word of God is not dead and not passive, not as blunt as any two-edged blunt thing!
- Furthermore, I am attempting to define the truth less in terms of the standalone existence of the biblical texts, and more in terms of the relation between believers and text. Truth (negatively understood as the absence of error), is to be found and defined in terms of the dynamic of the believer's confessions, practices and postures to the scripture. I have thus attempted to redraw the lines around what counts as descriptive of the truth of scripture.
- However, I haven't merely suggested a boring pragmatic approach; I believe that propositional statements are important (I discussed propositional revelation here and here). However, in drawing the confessions directly from the bible – for ecumenical reasons mainly – I note the limitations of religious language, the limitations of the confessions in their historical scriptural contexts, and the inability of such confessions to be stretched so as to include all of the books in the Christian canons. I do this in order to emphasise that the confessions provide a trajectory of orientation towards the significance of the Christian canons. To claim inerrancy is a sign pointing in the right direction, but Derrida's différence pushes the 'presence' of the statement not only into practices and postures, but also into the eschaton. The statement of 'inerrancy' thus doesn't attempt to describe scripture alone, but to provide a trajectory of meaning which supports healthy practice and posture. Indeed, put like this I suggest that my statement should encourage a higher view of scripture than the Chicago version, for example.
In other words, I am attempting in this statement on inerrancy, to first positively define inerrancy as the truth of scripture, then I attempt to redefine what constitutes as a statement about the truth of scripture.
Convinced? Or should I make it a statement about something else?!