A new statement of biblical inerrancy – part 1
At the risk of more personal abuse from certain conservative quarters, in two posts I want to suggest a new statement of inerrancy. I am thinking of writing an essay about this, actually, and would appreciate your feedback as I test my thoughts here. In this post I will give my introductory blurb and reasoning. In the second post, things will get really interesting! This first post is a little negative, I admit, but the second is so positive that I'm sure I'll be forgiven. Besides, it's a first draft ...
The following statement assumes that the church has a long tradition of affirming inerrancy, and that it is a valuable tradition. However, it also asserts that modern – and especially stricter – formulations are either misleading, ineffective or both. Furthermore, one model for scripture, one title, whether it be 'Word of God', 'Witness', 'Inerrant', 'Infallible', or whatever, cannot capture or adequately signify the variety and importance of God's gift of scripture to us. It is beyond any simple definition, and must be titled by the churches practices, posture, and through a variety of different faith confessions. By inerrancy we mean to say something about scripture itself, but at the moment it simply identifies a high view of scripture, one that is manifested in healthy practices and an expectant faith-filled posture towards scripture.
Why a new statement?
- Stricter formulations of inerrancy do not necessarily foster appropriate and healthy practices and an expectant posture towards scripture.
- Believing the flood 'actually happened', for example, as posited in the Chicago Statement, doesn't guarantee orthodoxy, or an appropriate posture towards scripture, nor healthy scripture reading habits. Believing that inerrancy simply affirms all in scripture necessary for salvation is without error also doesn't guarantee orthodoxy, or an appropriate posture towards scripture, nor healthy scripture reading habits.
- The proclamation of a strict definition of inerrancy – such as the Chicago Statement – is meaningless if one does not live life in such a way that reflects a high view of scripture, by which it is meant that one doesn't maintain and pursue certain practices, nor come with expectancy and faith that God will speak in scripture.
- If you confess the Chicago Statement of inerrancy, this is no promise that you actually have a high view of scripture. It may simply mean that one is wallowing in self-righteous anti-intellectualism, and loveless, close-minded, aggressive, needlessly defensive dogmatism. It must not mean this at all, and doesn't for the majority that confess the Chicago Statement (I hope), but the point is that such a definition doesn't affirm the important and the worthwhile, that which inerrancy does at its best, namely encouraging a daily practice and an internal and communal posture that treats scripture as if God speaks through it.
- What is lacking in many doctrinal formulations of scripture, as well as in the various formulations of inerrancy, is a practical fostering of meaningful practices and faith-filled expectancy in one's posture as scripture is read.
- While propositional statements are important, an obsession with precise and strict formulations of inerrancy can simply foster the playing of meaningless metaphysical word games. One can no more define, for example, 'childhood' in a proposition than 'inerrancy'; it needs to be lived and experienced or it is meaningless. Inerrancy cannot be boiled down to propositional truth claims without violence being done.
- Propositional statements are important and should be formulated so as to 1) facilitate the establishing of concrete meaning in one's practices and posture towards scripture, 2) correspond to witness of scripture, and resists the temptation to employ a deductive wringer.
- The stricter versions of inerrancy take the worthwhile and valuable tradition of inerrancy formulations beyond scripture's own witness.
- For more on this cf. my earlier series.
What is needed is a statement of inerrancy that makes clear propositional statements (that nevertheless avoids deductive logical wringers) to provide an orientation for appropriate church practices and posture towards scripture. It the following post it will thus be formulated as a varied faith confession (in part 1), and a statement of purpose (in part 2).