Friday, June 15, 2007

A new statement of biblical inerrancy – part 2

As I mentioned, I would love to hear any thoughts about this approach - it's only my first draft but you'll get the general idea of what I want to do. And very important, this statement must be read in light of the first post, or misunderstandings will inevitably result.


This statement of biblical inerrancy is a faith confession not simply about the precise nature of God’s inspiration of the scriptures (and even less when squeezed through a deductive logical wringer, through which the stricter versions are forced), but also a statement about our daily practices and posture as we read and study scripture.

The confessions below are not to be understood as statements about the entire canon all of the time (to confess something about the prophets doesn’t necessarily include all of the Proverbs, or Ecclesiastes, for example). The confessions in their original contexts did not refer to the different Christian canons as we now know them. However, these confessions provide an orientation (or trajectory) in our confession and provoke the practices and posture aimed at in the second part of the statement.

Until I’ve thought of a better name ... here is The Tilling Statement of Inerrancy!

Part 1.
I believe
that all scripture[1] is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.[2]
I believe that the prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit and Spoke from God.
I believe that God speaks in many and various ways,[3] and most definitively he speaks about God’s Son.[4]
I believe that as we read scripture, we are invited to approach Christ,[5] and hear the final and definitive Word God speak to us in his Son.[6]
I believe that as we read and study scripture seeking Christ, we are addressed by God, that through scripture God speaks to us.
I believe the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.[7]
I believe that humans do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.[8]
I believe that the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.[9]
I believe scripture is trustworthy and precious, deserving of my study, love, time and energy.

A bridge to part 2.
I believe scripture is true.
What do you mean ‘scripture is true’?
This question cannot always be precisely answered at a propositional level. But we rejoice in the truth,[10] the gospel,[11] and the truth of scripture will be honoured in our practices and posture towards scripture. I seek to explain what I mean by inerrancy through my daily practices and inner and communal posture towards scripture.

Part 2.
Because of the above confessions of faith, and to make this confession meaningful, I purpose my heart for the following:
I purpose to call out to God’s Spirit for insight and understanding as I seek to understand the words of scripture.
I purpose to look for wisdom therein as one would for that which is the most precious, as a poor man would for hidden treasure
I purpose to apply various creative means of impressing scripture to my heart[12]
I purpose to regularly meditate upon and memorise scripture,[13] and hide God’s word in my heart,[14] expectant that God will speak a gracious word to me.
I purpose to divide scripture wisely, and to seek to understand scripture in its variety of levels of reference.
I purpose to be a discerning doer of God’s word, not just a hearer.[15]
To do this I purpose to seek the help of others in every way possible, and I pledge all of my intellectual, creative, emotional and physical faculties to the process, and offer them today to God’s sanctifying Spirit.[16] Amen.

[1] Again, these confessions do not specify the extent of the canon. [2] 2 Tim 3:16-17
[3] Heb 1:1 [4] John 5:39
[5] John 5:40 [6] Heb 1:2
[7] Heb 4:12 [8] Matt 4:4
[9] Psalm 12:6 [10] 1 Cor 13:6
[11] Col 1:5 [12] Deut 6:6-9
[13] Josh 1:8; Ps 1:2; 77:12; 119:15 [14] Ps 119:11
[15] Jam 1:22 [16] Prov 2:1-4



At 6/15/2007 2:23 PM, Anonymous Bob MacDonald said...

On first reading, Chris, I find your statement a useful summary of the witness to the written canon by various authors (now including yourself). It represents a statement of serious engagement with the same Spirit that they noted as engaging their lives. It does not appear as a work of the flesh on your part. If for some almost unimaginable reason, you laboured to be so right without the Spirit, then your labout might be in vain, but due to the nature of the LORD's hounding of you in loving kindness and reproof (Psalm 23), it is not likely that God will fail. I wonder if you can bind your faith and purpose in the Covenant of Blood? Word written on your heart ... in your blood, live. (I recommend Laurence Hoffman's book of this name.) The cost of commitment is not to be minimized by intellectual vigour. I think this also takes us down a path of reconcilation of opposites and towards the Shema as confession.

At 6/15/2007 3:53 PM, Anonymous David W. Congdon said...


This is a very intriguing project that you've undertaken. Personally, I'm not sure that I see the benefit in keeping the word, other than the possibility of sounding "orthodox" with certain evangelicals. I guess the question I have is whether the word "inerrant" is necessary when we also have words like "infallible." Also, what is the connection between these words and the confession you've put forward? Are all of these confessions necessary in order to hold to biblical inerrancy? Which of them are the linchpins apart from which the whole edifice collapses?

The use of scripture is very good, though it's interesting that confession #5 in the first part is perhaps the most important, though it has no scripture reference. I certainly agree that God speaks through the scriptures, but it seems to me that we need more clarity on what this means.

For example, I have family members who tell me that because God inspired the scriptures, and thus because God speaks through the scriptures to us, we can trust that the creation account is literally and historically accurate because the God who created in the beginning is the one who speaks to us now through the creation account. Certainly, your orthopractical definition of truth is helpful, but offers no way of nuancing what it means for the Bible to be true -- other than the brief comment that the gospel is true. Does this limit truth to the gospel? (I would tend to agree with such a point.) Or do we want a broader understanding of truth?

In the end, my biggest issue with doctrine of biblical inerrancy/infallibility is simply that it turns the Bible into a static document which somehow "possesses" its inerrancy. The text itself is inerrant. I think the first and more important confession is to move the notion of infallibility/inerrancy away from the Bible itself and onto God as the infallible Lord who wills to speak through Word and Spirit, who sanctifies these texts as the "creaturely auxiliary" (Webster) of God's self-communicative presence. With Bruce McCormack, I would posit a doctrine of dynamic infallibilism, in which the infallible being of Holy Scripture is in becoming -- it is not possessed by the text (just as we do not possess grace), but it is given to the text by the Spirit in accordance with the will of God.

At 6/15/2007 3:54 PM, Anonymous Stephen C. Carlson said...

The sentence, I believe that the prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit and Spoke from God, does not have a cite. Was 2 Pet 1:21 meant?

At 6/15/2007 4:58 PM, Anonymous metalepsis said...

Thanks Chris this is well articulated and helpful. Scott McKnight’s pithy little phrase really stuck with me, you may want to incorporate it into your essay scripture as, "Living Trustable Truth"


At 6/15/2007 6:35 PM, Anonymous Looney said...

Chris, the sentiments you list I agree with entirely. There is still a problem. If you use this as an alternative definition for "inerrancy", you now have two definitions floating around the evangelical churches. Both serve as filters, but they filter much different things. Communications will be muddled. The conservatives #1 complaint is that intellectuals and scholars are forever twisting words in order to twist the gospel. Thus, I think a better/alternative filter ought to be associated with a word other than 'inerrancy'.

I have already seen the one word - two definitions solution floating around my church. It seems to me that this is just storing up more trouble for another day.

At 6/15/2007 7:34 PM, Anonymous Michael Barber said...

This is very interesting. I ended up talking about it over at SITR and there I had to ask a few questions.

...this blog is always so interesting.

At 6/16/2007 12:14 AM, Anonymous Ryan Jones said...

Chris, this is great stuff. I'm loving this thread so far. Two quick thoughts. First, can you add a qualifying word to this view, making it something like "moderate inerrancy" or "hermeneutical inerrancy" or something to differentiate it from the Chicago Statement?
Second, you wrote yesterday that, "by strict I mean those that insist a belief in the historical and scientific inerrancy of all of the bible." But if you are going to talk about inerrancy, I think you have to be commited to this strict view. Either you view the apparent historical and scientific errors as arising from bad hermeneutics, and consequently you implicitly affirm the Chicago statment by revising what 'counts as an error'; or you actually do view them as errors, in which case inerrancy becomes a misnomer.

At 6/16/2007 5:53 AM, Anonymous Brant Pitre said...

Very interesting posts. I particularly like your "I purpose" section and reflections on the implications of inerrancy for our "posture" and practices toward Scripture. In my own life changes in belief about inspiration have had a direct effect on my daily engagement with Scripture.

I noticed, however, that all your citations are biblical. Do you plan to draw at all on the Church Fathers and Doctors to inform this statement? Irenaeus, Augustine, Jerome, and others have some fascinating things to say about this topic? Have you been able to read any of their statements about the inerrancy of Scripture? (This might help avoid some of your concerns about modern post-Enligtenment propositionalism). I think this could really help round out your thought by tapping into the ancient Christian tradition on this issue.

Keep up the good work!

At 6/16/2007 4:06 PM, Anonymous Alan Spence said...

Chris, I believe that theological debates can sometimes become sterile, polarising and resistant to resolution because the wrong question is being addressed. It seems to me that in your two posts you are offering a helpful response to a somewhat different question that is being asked of the Scriptures. You are considering them not in isolation but in their relation to the believer. What you might need to do is explain why the question you are asking is in fact better that the earlier one. Sometimes the value of the question is recognised in the fruitfulness of the responses it produces. And you have already shed helpful light on what form they might take.

Alan Spence

At 6/16/2007 8:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Chris,

As usual, great stuff!

Hello Brant,

You wrote: Do you plan to draw at all on the Church Fathers and Doctors to inform this statement? Irenaeus, Augustine, Jerome, and others have some fascinating things to say about this topic? Have you been able to read any of their statements about the inerrancy of Scripture?

Other than something like: The Faith of the Early Fathers by Jurgens, do you know of any resources where the Father's inerrancy quotes can be found in one place?



At 6/17/2007 12:25 AM, Anonymous Doug Chaplin said...

Chris, you may be amused to know that (according to my blog stats, someone visited my site as a result to typing "The Tilling Statement" into their search engine. You may replace "Chicago" yet

At 6/17/2007 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris - OK - still seems quite conservative to me. I guess this means ideological critique is out?

At 6/17/2007 7:01 PM, Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I wonder about ideology critique, too. I think our difficult task today is NOT to rehabilitate the term "inerrancy," but to find a doctrine of Scripture (and practices of Scripture reading) that make room for BOTH "a hermeneutics of suspicion," and a "hermeneutics of trust and obedience." That's a very difficult task, but that's what the church needs today. Or so it seems to me.
Chris seems to be rooting us in trust and in an orientation to Scripture more accurately drawn FROM Scripture than "inerrancy" is normally conceived. Good first step. But I want to know how read Scripture against empire, against all forms of oppression, against self-serving readings which pat ourselves on the back. Bonhoeffer said rightly that the Reformation taught us to read Scripture for ourselves, but we need to learn to read it OVER AGAINST ourselves.
And we sometimes must read it over against the limited perspectives of some biblical authors--or do we really want to celebrate with the Psalmist the bashing of the babies' heads of our enemies?

At 6/18/2007 2:00 AM, Anonymous Danny Zacharias said...

These are some great thoughts. I love the "purpose" statements - all theology ought to be written this way.

But like others, I still don't like the term inerrancy. When I read your statements, which I'm pretty much in agreement with, inerrancy is not the word that comes to mind. The word inerrancy is so tied in with fundamentalism in North America right now that I'm not sure it can be redeemed, and I don't think it needs to be. Even if it is part of church tradition, it isn't exactly a word with biblical precedent.

At 6/18/2007 2:06 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Danny, I'll write a follow up post about this and will be interested to hear your thoughts.

At 6/18/2007 3:48 AM, Anonymous Brant Pitre said...

Unfortunately, I don't know off the top of my head of a monograph that deals with inspiration and inerrancy in the Church Fathers. The one source that I know deals with it is William Jurgens classic work, The Faith of the Early Fathers (3 vols. Liturgical Press)--a must own--which is a compendium of lengthy quotes from the apostolic fathers through the sixth century or so. It contains a doctrinal index in the back which has a section on Sacred Scripture and will refer you to most of the patristic statements on the issue.

Particularly interesting is the TERMINOLOGY used by the Fathers--something which which seems to be an important issue for you in this discussion. Even if you don't quote the Fathers as part of your statement, it is always illuminating to read how the ancient Christians approached certain issues, especially since some of your readers seem to assume that "inerrancy" is a distinctly modern (or fundamentalist) concern. This just isn't true; statements about inerrancy of Scripture are part of Christian tradition from the beginning.

Other sources that will give a helpful sampling of quotes are the three papal encyclicals on Sacred Scripture: Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus (1893), Benedict XV's Spiritus Paraclitus (1920), and Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943) (all available online or in Dean Bechard's The Scripture Documents, Liturgical Press).

All three of these papal documents deal with inspiration and inerrancy and precisely the questions you are wrestling with in some detail. I would be fascinated to know what you think of the Catholic approach to the question, as part of the ecumenical discussion.

Happy reading!

(Hope this response helps with John's questions).

At 6/18/2007 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brant wrote:

(Hope this response helps with John's questions).

Hello Brant,

Thanks, that's very helpful. I have The Faith of the Early Fathers -- which is an excellent resource -- but the papal encyclicals are more along the lines of what I was hoping for. Plus, they have the added advantage of being available on the Internet.

If anyone else is interested, see:

Leo XIII's Providentissimus Deus

Benedict XV's Spiritus Paraclitus

Pius XII's Divino Afflante Spiritu


At 6/18/2007 4:34 PM, Anonymous James F. McGrath said...

In my experience, the term "inerrancy" is a sibboleth (sorry, I have trouble pronouncing shibboleth) - I voiced reservations about the term when being interviewed for jobs at schools that used the term, and was told that I shouldn't worry about it, they are aware that it means different things to different people. So, if nothing else, your statement would let people with more Biblical views of Scripture apply for jobs and not feel they need to get entangled in these issues!

My one concern is whether this statement, as it stands, makes room for viewing the sentiments expressed in Psalm 137, for example, as (among other things) the expression of a human desire for revenge, one that it might be appropriate to evaluate critically and not simply accept as something presented as an example to emulate.

To put it another way, might the Word of God that we encounter through Scripture be one that leads us to be critical of what the text actually says in some instances, perhaps precisely because of things that other texts in the Bible have to say? Perhaps this matter could be addressed in terms of 'progressive revelation'.

Just a few thoughts and questions. Thanks for your thought-provoking posts!

At 6/18/2007 5:35 PM, Anonymous Michael Barber said...

Brant is (as usual) right about inerrancy being part of Christian tradition. But I think we should also point out that it was apparently part of ancient Judaism--indeed, the Judaism of Jesus' day--as well.

Josephus writes in Against Apion (1.37-38): "...every one is not permitted of his own accord to be a writer [of historical records], nor is there any disagreement in what is written; they being only prophets that have written the original and earliest accounts of things as they learned them of God himself by inspiration; and others have written what hath happened in their own times, and that in a very distinct manner also. (38) For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine... (42) for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change in them; but it becomes natural to all Jews, immediately and from their very birth, to esteem those books to contain divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be, willingly to die for them."

Notice that Josephus stresses that this is a universally held Jewish belief. For those interested in the so-called "Third Quest", this passage has very interesting implications for understanding Jesus' view of Scripture, I think.

At 6/18/2007 8:59 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

I appreciate what you're trying to do here, Chris: using quotes from scripture as much as possible, and practice rather than abstract mental constructs.

The transition section doesn't work for me. "What do you mean "scripture is true"? — This question cannot always be precisely answered at a propositional level. But we rejoice in the truth."

My impression is, you raise the question and then refuse to answer it; but you continue what you were doing as if the question is irrelevant. If the question is irrelevant, you probably shouldn't raise it for consideration; or just say "It's irrelevant" explicitly. But I suspect that's not the impression you meant to convey!

Like several others, I'm also curious to know whether it's a good idea to try to preserve the term "inerrancy". If I'm not mistaken, you believe there are errors in the Bible. How can the Bible contain errors and yet be inerrant? If this isn't doublespeak, it comes awfully close to it.

At 6/19/2007 12:37 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks so much for that helpful response, Brant!
And likewise, thanks John.
James, thanks for your points – you raise important issues. I hope that the statement as I formulated allows for the critique you mentioned. I think it does because the ‘I believe’ section is not meant as a set of proclamations for all of the scriptures all of the time. Perhaps I still need to be clearer how ‘the Word of God that we encounter through Scripture [can] be one that leads us to be critical of what the text actually says in some instance’. I was thinking of responding to this issue not simply in terms of progressive revelation, though I wouldn’t have a problem with that, but rather through an acceptance of various models of scripture (ala Goldingay). I’ll develop the point later.

Michael, thanks so much for this clarifying and thought-provoking comment! And how profound this is for the Third Quest.

Hi Stephen,
You may be right. I was trying to suggest, however, that the question can only be answered by recourse to our posture and practices, informed as they are by our confessions. I didn’t want to dodge the question, but rather change how it be answered.
As for the double speak, I’ll get back to that in another post. Thanks for helping me think through this!


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