The Inerrancy Debate

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Today at the Evangelical Theological Society in Baltimore, MD a panel discussion embraced the topic of biblical inerrancy. The five panelists were R. Albert Mohler, Peter Enns, Michael F. Bird, John R. Franke, and via video, Kevin J. Vanhoozer. The discussion was live-blogged by biblegateway.com and the link is:

http://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2013/11/biblical-inerrancy-live-discussion-ets/

The discussion is in the process of being put together in a single volume Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, out in mid-December. I pre-ordered it and am excited to read it. This discussion prompted several thoughts within me that I want to share.

During my 7+ years of academic study of theology, scripture, history, etc. I have heard several perspectives on inerrancy, mostly from other students/ colleagues. Often at seminaries, especially non-denominational seminaries like Fuller and Ashland (the schools at which I have studied), inerrancy gets thrown around as a belief for those who haven’t yet gone through “real” academic study of scripture.

I have conversed with several students at both schools who were in the midst of fighting against this stigma (often perpetuated by their professors), in the hopes of holding to a position of inerrancy while simultaneously engaging new academic methods of reading scripture. These students usually had an uphill battle with the professors and other students. It became common for those holding to inerrancy to be mocked and/ or looked down upon by others.

I entered seminary with more or less a belief in the inerrancy of scripture, and have since have shifted to a more inspiration-centric view of scripture. This has allowed me to avoid the inerrancy discussion and/ or to disagree with it and its precepts. However, I am thankful for the panel discussion in the link above and their willingness to engage both pro and con positions regarding inerrancy.

I think Peter Enns sums up the position against inerrancy well: “Holding onto inerrancy is a high-maintenance activity. Inerrancy is not an apt descriptor of how the Bible communicates.”  Al Mohler counters, “Without inerrancy, evangelicalism will become dissolute. I do not believe evangelicalism can survive without explicit commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible.”

So, I look forward to reading the book and engaging both sides of the debate. What is your take on inerrancy? Can one be an academic/ biblical scholar and hold to the inerrancy of scripture?

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4 thoughts on “The Inerrancy Debate

  1. Good stuff, Dan.

    The challenge of this particular discussion — as with so many others — is in first coming to a carefully agreed-upon definition of the terms. It’s one reason I dislike the term inerrant. It implies that if scripture is not “inerrant,” then it is errant — or full of error. Someone screwed up! This kind of all-or-nothing phraseology raises the stakes very, very highly. It feels political (pro-life vs. anti-abortion, etc.).

    An example of this is in the hyperbolic phrase you quoted, “I do not believe evangelicalism can survive,” which forces some camps to draw lines in the sand and defend their positions as if they were defending the very God of the universe (as if He needs it).

    While I’m certainly not as well versed as you (gross understatement), I guess my take is probably somewhere in between the two positions. Of course there are contradictions in scripture — and of course there are painful texts that would make faith much simpler if they just weren’t there. But those difficult texts do not (to me) mean that scripture is not God inspired — or even “God breathed”.

    The real question at the heart of all of this is fairly simple: is God sovereign or not?

    If He is not, then why are we even talking about this issue? Scripture becomes Homer’s Odyssey and Shakespeare’s sonnets: impressive, historic, and ultimately moot in changing our lives or world for the better.

    But if God is sovereign, then we are forced to take a more Talmudic approach to scripture. What is He telling us in these uncomfortable texts? Why did God allow them to remain in this book? And why did He direct a group of Catholic Bishops to approve these texts as the Bible we have today? (By the way, that last part is something most evangelicals prefer not to think about, I’ve found.)

    So is this really an academic exercise — or just a platform from which people with strongly held beliefs can assault each others’ positions (of course, people I know in academia might suggest there’s little difference between the two). Or is it just another all-in argument for or against the existence of God?

    Personally, I don’t think God is threatened by our questions. Nor do I think our faith should be threatened. God is much, much bigger than our doubts, and I think He loves to use discussions like this one to enable us to discover just how big He really is.

    Sorry for the ramble.

    Uncle J.

  2. Pingback: The Truth of #Inerrancy | Unsettled Christianity

  3. Pingback: Inerrancy: Which methodologies? Who Decides? | Political Jesus

  4. Pingback: A Review of Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy | The Historical Christian

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