Why inerrancy doesn't matter

I know I promised more about postconservative evangelicalism today.  Even though it may not seem directly related to a delineation of that, this post does help explicate how most postconservatives think about the inspiration and authority of the Bible. 

First, a strong affirmation.  As evangelicals, we postconservatives DO believe the Bible is our (and should be every Christian’s) norming norm for life and belief.  Tradition is our normed norm–a secondary guide or compass that is not infallible.  Scripture, we all agree, is infallible in all that it teaches regarding God and salvation.

Second, however, for most of us the word “inerrancy” has become too problematic uncritically to embrace and use.  To the untrained and untutored ear “inerrant” always and necessarily implies absolute flawless perfection even with regard to numbers and chronologies and quotations from sources, etc.  But even the strictest scholarly adherents of inerrancy kill that definition with the death of a thousand qualifications.  Some who insist that you must be evangelical to be faithful to Scripture’s authority say inerrancy is consistent with biblical authors’ use of errant sources.  In other words, they say, the Bible is nevertheless inerrant if it contains an error so long as the author used an errant source inerrantly.

How many people in the pews know about these qualifications held by many, if not all, scholarly conservative evangelicals?  When I teach these qualifications to my students (as I have done over almost 30 years) the reaction is almost uniformly the same: “That’s not what ‘inerrancy’ means!”  I have them read the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy and most of them laugh at the twists and turns it makes in order to qualify inerrancy to make it fit with the undeniable phenomena of Scripture.

The biggest qualification is that only the original autographs were inerrant.  Think about this.  The claim made by most conservative evangelicals (and, of course fundamentalists) is that biblical authority stands or falls with inerrancy.  If the Bible contains any real errors it cannot be trusted.  Then they admit every Bible that exists probably contains errors.  Only the original manuscripts on which the inspired authors wrote can be considered perfectly inerrant.

Again, for almost 30 years I’ve presented this to my students and allowed them to react.  The reaction is almost always the same: Huh?  Then no Bible we have is inerrant and therefore no Bible we have is authoritative.  Right.  You can’t make authority depend on inerrancy and then say no existing Bible is inerrant without calling every Bible’s authority into question.  It’s a hole in inerrantists’ logic so huge even a sophomore can drive a truck through it.

My experience teaching theology has been that more students give up belief in the Bible’s authority because they were taught it depends on absolute inerrancy (even in matters of cosmology and history) than because they are taught it isn’t inerrant.  In other words, they discover for themselves the problems with inerrancy once they face the problems.  Wouldn’t it be better to be totally honest with young people about the Bible so that they do not face a crisis of faith when they finally have to face up to its factual flaws (that even inerrantists admit but rarely tell people in the pews)?

What’s ironic is that many strong inerrantists who insist belief in the Bible’s inerrancy is necessary for authentic evangelical faith define inerrancy in highly questionable ways.  In other words, “inerrancy” has become a shibboleth.  So long as you affirm the word you can go on to define it however you want to and you’re still “in.”

Here’s an example.  a leading inerrantist wrote his own definition of inerrancy for a college where he applied to teach.  I taught at that same college later and his statement about inerrancy fell into my hands.  His definition was “perfection with respect to purpose.”  He admitted that many statement of Scripture, taken at face value, are wrong, but so long as they do not touch on matters of the Bible’s main purpose which is to identify God for us and lead us into salvation, these do not matter.  This scholar has emerged as a leading defender of biblical inerrancy and has spoken out very publicly about it (without explaining his own definition).  I confirmed at least twice over the years that he still believes in his definition of inerrancy.

I sent his two page definition and description of “inerrancy” to Carl F. H. Henry and asked him for an analysis and evaluation of the statement (without naming its author).  All I told Henry was that this person wrote the statement for the college as an applicant for a teaching position.  I didn’t mention that it was years earlier.  My purpose was an experiment about how the word “inerrancy” functions in evangelical circles.

Henry wrote back a two page, handwritten letter blasting the statement as totally inadequate.  He said “This person means well but needs help [understanding inerrancy].”  The thrust of his response was that the college should not hire this person.  And yet, the person who wrote the statement is widely considered an influential conservative evangelical who has publicly criticized others for allegedly not truly believing in biblical inerrancy.

Not too long ago I had a debate with another leading conservative evangelical inerrantist.  This one was an officer of the Evangelical Theological Society which requires affirmation of inerrancy for membership.  I have never joined because I don’t think inerrancy is the right word for what we evangelicals believe–including those who hold to the term.  This person is also an officer of a leading evangelical seminary.  After much communication back and forth we realized that we differ hardly at all about the Bible.  Given his qualifications of inerrancy and my high view of Scripture (supernatural inspiration and highest authority for life and faith) our accounts of the Bible were nearly identical.  So I asked him if I could join the ETS without affirming the word “inerrancy.”  He said no.  To me that proves it is just a shibboleth.

The theologian I referred to earlier who defines inerrancy as “perfection with respect to purpose” and whose expanded definition was deemed totally “inadequate” by Carl F. H. Henry still is and has been for many years an influential member of the ETS!

I have to conclude that within evangelical circles “inerrancy” has developed into a mere shibboleth because a person (such as I) can affirm everything many leading inerrantists believe about the Bible and yet be rejected and even criticized.  I fear they have elevated a word into an idol.

So how would I describe my own and many inerrantists’ view of Scripture’s accuracy?  I think “infallible” does a better job than “inerrant” so long as I can explain what it means.  “Infallible,” to me, means the Bible never fails in its main purpose which is to identify God for us, to communicate his love and his will to us, and to lead us into salvation and a right relationship with our Creator, Savior and Lord. 

I like theologian Emil Brunner’s illustration.  (I don’t necessarily agree with everything he wrote about the Bible.)  In his little book Our Faith Brunner wrote about the old RCA Victrola advertisement that showed a dog listening to the megaphone of a record player.  Under the picture the caption read “His master’s voice.”  We recognize our master’s voice in Scripture in spite of its inevitable flaws, just as the dog in the illustration recognized his master’s voice in spite of the inevitable flaws on the record.

I think it is time we evangelicals matured enough to get over obsession with a word and care more about our common belief in the Bible’s authority in all matters pertaining to faith and practice.  We used to be able to do this.  After all, the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals has never included inerrancy.  And leading evangelicals of the past who were universally considered authentically evangelical denied inerrancy.  (For example Scottish evangelical theologian James Orr who wrote chapters for The Fundamentals and was a good friend of B. B. Warfield!)

When I deny inerrancy I am not necessarily denying anything many inerrantists believe.  It may be, and I think is the case, that I am only denying that the word “inerrancy” is the most helpful or accurate term for what they and I believe in common.

  • Derek

    I appreciate your posts and find them to be very thought provoking. Thanks for the time and energy which you put into these. My question regards how you determine when to use a term and in doing so help to define it and when you just chuck the term. For example, some people no longer want to use the term Christian but rather Christ-follower or some other similar term. Similarly, some people don’t want to use the term evangelical because of confused meanings. It sounds like a similar issue is in play for some people on the issue of inerrancy. Would love your thoughts on thinking through this and thanks for all you write.

  • Pingback: Why inerrancy doesn’t matter | Roger E Olson | Pastoral Musings

  • http://www.living-loving-listening.blogspot.com Kathleen Krueger

    This is one of the most refreshing things I’ve read in a long time! Absolutely wonderful.

  • http://www.living-listening-loving.blogspot.com Kathleen Krueger

    Glad to have found you, Roger Olson.

  • http://jcfreak73.blogspot.com/ jc_freak

    I wrote on this a while back. I have strong issue with the word ‘inerrancy’ because I believe it is the cause of proof-texting, cult-mentality, and fundamentalism. Here is a excerpt of what I wrote before:

    “The result of this (and this is my fundamental issue with fundamentalism and the notion of inerrancy) is that a person with an inerrancy view will consider their reading of Scripture to be just as inerrant as Scripture itself. They will tend to be unwilling to consider extra-biblical sources (even a source that is explaining Scripture), unless it is to elucidate on what they already believe to be accurate. What’s scary is that this attitude is proper and logical given their view of Scriptural clarity.”

    I also agree with using the term ‘infallible’. It is a lesser word that most are OK with, and it gets me out of situations where there are those that are looking for a shibboleth (most of the time). Considering the newness of the word, I’ve always found it silly that inerrancy has become such a litmus test. The real litmus test should be how we view Christ (and maybe the authority of Scripture).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12391489159230772637 Jason Sexton

    But Roger… there seems to be a few things missing here…

    Your point about the well-known evangelical who affirmed a form of inerrancy that got Henry aroused evinces a bigger issue. I wonder if perhaps you could convince him/her to engage you in a forthcoming debate or publication. As someone who affirms inerrancy, it seems like a very important issue.

    Also, as your point makes crystal clear, very few evangelicals who affirm inerrancy will define the nuanced doctrine in exactly the same way. This seems like a premier reason for there to ever have been a collaborative effort such as ICBI (and the fruit their first meeting generated). This is a very important factor since the affirmation of inerrancy, in its best form, has served a much greater purpose – i.e., it has served to affirm the Bible’s authority against particular arguments attempting to discredit that authority.

    Packer, who seems a good enough base to begin with, suggested that without “inerrancy… the structure of biblical authority as evangelicals conceive it collapses” (Truth and Power: The Place of the Bible in the Christian Life, 91). Of course, as has been noted elsewhere by other evangelicals, if inerrancy is focused on (as an apologetic matter) to the exclusion of Scripture’s authority, clarity, sufficiency, the doctrine of inerrancy may actually be doing a disservice. I hope that all “inerrantists” would agree to this. Hardly able to be overemphasized, it must be understood that the nuanced affirmation of inerrancy was always intended to support Scripture’s “authority.” Accordingly, those who affirm inerrancy should be open to nuanced extensions and re-articulations of Scripture’s authority, whether or not these include the things affirmed by the ICBI or other inerrancy advocates. Incidentally, the Chicago Statement’s “Preface” explicitly invited help for better articulations of Scripture’s authority, esp. when brought from Scripture itself, in order to serve the church in its understanding and application of Scripture’s authority in the present (and future) context/s. A generation ago, Packer noted that “in view of this broad representative base of support [that the 1978 Chicago Statement had] it should be able to function as an agreed platform and reference point for the debates of the next generation” (J. I. Packer, Beyond the Battle for the Bible [Westchester, IL: Cornerstone, 1980], 48, cited in Glen G. Scorgie, “When We Differ Sharply: A Proposal for the Evangelical Theological Society” unpublished paper presented at the 2002 ETS nat’l mtg). Packer’s “next generation” is here, and I am looking forward to learning from my peers about how we will pass the baton of Scripture’s authority to the next generation beyond us.

    Thanks, however, for bringing your challenges to the table. Personally, I think you are an inerrantist at heart, but without the political ties. I’m enjoying your new blog immensely and look forward to seeing more challenging and thoughtful posts… even if they boast less than helpful titles. (grin)

    Jason

    • http://irishanglican.wordpress.com Fr. Robert (Anglican)

      I am 60, and conservative Anglican, I am one from Packers first or early generation. I follow the Packman…Inerrancy! (Of the NT Autographs..)

      • http://irishanglican.wordpress Fr. Robert (Anglican)

        Btw, “Inerrancy” is another one of those biblical mysteries… we cannot define it, and we cannot understand it, but we surely must not diminish it! (Note St. Paul, 1 Cor. 4:1-2 …. really all Christians, and especially those of us that preach and teach, should be “stewards of the mysteries of God.”

        • rogereolson

          But what does it even mean? I have studied the term and its many meanings for years. I’m not sure there’s any consensus about it even among fundamentalists.

  • eric

    Dr Olson I onlly wish there had posts like this from reputable scholars like yourself 10-15 years ago so folks like myself wouldn’t have had to figure out that you can have a high regard for scripture without holding to an illogical doctrine such as inerrancy.. It seems that many christians fall into a false dichotomy: an inerrant bible with faith at risk if one mistake is found vs a “liberal” secular approach to the bible. I always thought there was a third way, and finally scholars are beginning to articulate it.

  • http://prodigalthought.net/ ScottL

    Great post. I am reading Peter Enns’ book right now, Inspiration and Incarnation. It is a great book touching on very related topics.

  • http://www.arminiantoday.blogspot.com The Seeking Disciple

    But my question to you Dr. Olson is how do you know that what the Bible teaches about salvation or about God is true? Do you merely rely on your subjective feelings or experience to validate these as true? If the Bible is wrong on issues regarding numbers, geography, science, etc. then how do you hold that its still trustworthy regarding salvation or about Jesus? I believe that you are heading down (and already have gone down) a slippery slope that leads only to failure. Your authority for truth is destroyed when you begin to say that the Bible is true here but not there. You become the judge of what is truth rather than allowing the Bible to be what Jesus said it was, truth (John 17:17).

    Further, can you name one movement that has been blessed by God with souls being saved and many disciples made for the kingdom of Christ where inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible are denied? No doubt history shows us that those who are willing to die for Jesus and His Word (and much blood was shed for the truths of Scripture) are those who held firmly to the full authority of the Bible regarding all things. ALL THINGS!

    Frankly, perhaps you and I would agree on many issues (and I know we would as I am an Arminian as you are) but we differ greatly on the issue of inerrancy. Ironically, the arguments used against inerrancy are the same used by Mormons to show that the Bible can not be fully trusted and thus why we need newer revelation. Others who have denied inerrancy such as the PCUSA or the Lutherans have seen a steady decline in numbers and in the influx of doctrines that have no basis from the Bible. But what matters? When the authority and inerrancy of the Bible are denied, you can create your own god and your own beliefs. This is the slope that I will not go down.

    • http://IMARC.CC Dennis Hartman

      Seeking Disciple
      Your expression of faith is right on. If we are to have any standing with the conservative Calvinists, this nonsense must stop. Your point is well taken. There is far more to this thing of “inerrancy” then we can ever understand. But the main point is this. Who are the people who are encouraging this debate with in the body of Christ? The answer is simple. The liberals who have been proven wrong on Creation and who try to correct history to their own way of thinking where they have no proof for doing so, and who honored education and the questioning of the Bible to the point of worshiping their on foolishness. Your kind and thoughtful logic dispels Olson’s objection. While Dr. Olson means well, I believe he needs to stop to see the bigger picture here.

  • Tim

    Very well said! These echo my own sentiments almost exactly. I think Howard Marshall, in his “Biblical Inspiration” book from almost 30 years ago, takes a similar approach concerning the Bible’s “purpose” being the crux of the matter when it comes to its trustworthiness/infallibity. He writes, “(T)he Bible is entirely trustworthy for the purposes for which God inspired it,” which was mainly “to guide people to salvation and the associated way of life” (p. 53).

  • Brian

    I agree with your post about inerrancy, but I have a question that I still wrestle with: If the Bible does contains errors, how do we know it is not mistaken about matters of faith and practice?

    • Hank

      My initial thought would be that Christianity is called a “faith” for a reason. We know in part, and prophesy in part. If truth and knowledge is what saves us then we get to call ourselves Gnostics, and not Christians, if we want to be ethical in our representation of ourselves to the rest of the world.

  • W B McCarty

    Dr. Olson: “I have them [that is, Dr. Olson's students] read the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy and most of them laugh at the twists and turns it makes in order to qualify inerrancy to make it fit with the undeniable phenomena of Scripture.”

    I don’t find the Chicago Statement humorous or even unduly complicated. Nor, I suspect, did its authors. I urge readers to review the Statement themselves before accepting Dr. Olson’s negative characterization of it.

    Dr. Olson: “But even the strictest scholarly adherents of inerrancy kill that definition with the death of a thousand qualifications.”

    Once inerrancy has been, as Dr. Olson puts it, weakened to the point of “death” by “a thousand qualifications,” what are we to think of those who still refuse to affirm even such a narrowed definition? Apparently, though allegedly dead, the doctrine is _still_ too strong for some.

    I conclude that the problem lies deeper than mere differences in terminological preference. Though it is not widely appreciated, inerrancy is at root a Calvinistic doctrine, for inerrancy entails the Calvinistic perspective of God’s meticulous sovereignty, by which God superintends the lives of authors of Scripture in such a way that, without overriding their unique personalities, God preserves the Scripture from error. It is hard to see how the Arminian doctrine of libertarian free will (which amounts to random, not merely arbitrary, choice) might support an inerrant Scripture. In the Arminian view, God would have repeatedly found it necessary to violate the free will of the writers of Scripture.

    Arminians pay a high theological price indeed for their commitment to free will and conditional election. Both the natures of God and of his Word must be diminished in order to give place to these Arminian doctrines. Are they really worth the price?

    • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

      W B McCarty,

      I Agree. Inerrancy must not be thrown out just because the term has been twisted and convoluted by misguided theologians. In that case, we would have to dismiss almost all theological terminology. We’re better off to define terms properly than to reject them outright.

      One might argue that Dr. Olson should discontinue using the term “Arminian” for the same reasons, since his form of Arminianism is rare nowadays and people might get the wrong idea. Likewise, I would have to abandon the term Calvinism if I followed this logic, simply because it’s been twisted into heresy a hundred different ways.

      I agree that the Chicago statement is a great document and really puts the right balance on things. I’ve never seen a better explanation of what inerrancy actually means. The modern day attacks on inerrancy put forth by Peter Enns and others have the net result of declaring the Bible untrustworthy – or trustworthy only in the places they decide are factual and not accommodated (making man’s opinion the deciding factor). In this way, some scholars now jettison objectionable doctrines, rather than submitting to the Word of God, when cultural pressures make them uneasy.

      Blessings,
      Derek Ashton

    • Robert

      McCarty who is obviously a staunch determinist took this as an opportunity to attack free will (i.e. libertarian free will, the view held by the vast majority of Christians across all church traditions and from the beginning of church history):

      “I conclude that the problem lies deeper than mere differences in terminological preference. Though it is not widely appreciated, inerrancy is at root a Calvinistic doctrine, for inerrancy entails the Calvinistic perspective of God’s meticulous sovereignty, by which God superintends the lives of authors of Scripture in such a way that, without overriding their unique personalities, God preserves the Scripture from error.”

      I know a lot of conservative Christians, most of them are not calvinists, and most of them hold to inerrancy. The claim that this is a “Calvinistic doctrine” is simply false. Just look at the example of Adrian Rodgers (a strong Arminian and just as strongly opposed to calvinism) in the Southern Baptist convention and how he fought for inerrancy in that denomination.

      “ It is hard to see how the Arminian doctrine of libertarian free will (which amounts to random, not merely arbitrary, choice) might support an inerrant Scripture. In the Arminian view, God would have repeatedly found it necessary to violate the free will of the writers of Scripture.”

      This is full of caricatures and misrepresentations of what people who believe in free will, actually believe.

      Start with the claim that LFW “amounts to random, not merely arbitrary choice”. What a caricature.

      God designed us capable of having and making our own choices (i.e. we have free will in the libertarian sense). And we usually make these choices for reasons in light of what we consider important. Something is RANDOM if it does not involve reasons, does not involve intentionality: and yet even our most mundane choices are done for reasons (you bought the product at this store rather than the other store because it is cheaper at this store, you made that choice for a reason).

      I would also suggest that God Himself has free will (in the libertarian sense) and ask: are God’s choices RANDOM or ARBITRARY?

      In fact God is the paradigm case for what agent causation involving libertarian free will looks like: he has choices and makes choices and does so for reasons according to what is important to Him. Nothing he does is random or arbitrary and yet He acts freely. He did not have to create this world but freely chose to do so. He did not have to create human persons in this world, but freely chose to do so. He does not have to save sinners, but He freely chooses to do so. He did not have to . . . . .

      Apparently, McCarty, like many other calvinist determinists believes that by intentionally mischaracterizing libertarian free will, people will be fooled by this deceptive representation. But people experience the having and making choices every day (i.e. free will as ordinarily understood and technically called libertarian free will in philosophy), so they know the experience of LFW first hand. They also know when reading the bible they will find plenty of instances of people having free will in this same way. The evidence in fact for free will is ubiquitous and only determinists who are in denial of their own experience and what the bible says on this, suggest otherwise.

      McCarthy also writes:

      “In the Arminian view, God would have repeatedly found it necessary to violate the free will of the writers of Scripture.”

      Another intentional misrepresentation.

      Arminians believe that God has the ability to foreknow how people will freely choose to act. Arminians also believe that God can intervene in such a way as to guide His people to do what God wants them to do (or does McCarty actually believe that Arminians do not have the Holy Spirit or are incapable of following the leading of the Spirit??). Admittedly the process in which fallible sinful men can be guided in producing scripture that is “God-breathed”, fully inspired, revelation from God, has some mystery to it. But most of the church has not been calvinist and has believed that the bible is written by men and simultaneously revelation from God.

      This is more of a faith issue then anything else (i.e. believers have no problem believing that God could [and did] accomplish this, though none of us knows precisely how this was done, but then we don’t know how God became a man, but we believe that too, and we also believe that God is three persons and yet one being, though we don’t know how that works either).

      Why would God need to VIOLATE PEOPLE’S WILL to get scripture produced?

      Why can’t God work in and through the Human person without VIOLATING THEIR WILL to accomplish His will?

      For that matter, what kind of view does McCarty have of the Christian’s daily walk with the Lord? (I.e. does God have to violate our wills whenever he wants us to do the right thing? Does God constantly violate our wills in order to lead us to be holy people? Does God constantly have to violate our wills for us to produce fruit?)

      “Arminians pay a high theological price indeed for their commitment to free will and conditional election. Both the natures of God and of his Word must be diminished in order to give place to these Arminian doctrines. Are they really worth the price?’

      These are the worst caricatures of all. I pay no theological price at all in affirming free will and denying unconditional election. I don’t have to explain away bible verses or my own daily experience in order to deny that we ever have choices.

      I don’t have to diminish “the natures of God” as McCarty does with his espousing exhaustive determinism (i.e. it is the God conceived of by determinists who becomes the author of sin, who becomes the planner of all evil and sin, whose character becomes difficult to distinguish from the devil). It is the proponent of theological determinism/calvinism who is in denial of realities overwhelmingly attested by both scripture and our own experience. It is determinists who have a strange view of God in which they affirm that He is loving and merciful only to some (which both flies in the face of explicit scripture such as John 3:16; and with respect to the “reprobates” he hates them, doomed them before they were born, decided every sin they would commit before they existed, then ensured they committed each of these pre-planned sins and then if that were not hateful enough, condemned them to eternal punishment for doing the very things that God himself preplanned and ensured they would do).

      It is not the non-determinists who malign and diminish God’s character it is those who espouse exhaustive determinism that end up with a God whose character and actions is very different from that of the God revealed through the bible.

      Robert

      • W B McCarty

        Robert,

        1. Your allegation of “intentional misrepresentation” is out of line, sir.
        2. Like most Calvinists today, I am a compatibilist rather than a determinist.
        3. It seems to me that you have not studied libertarian free will closely (see explanation here). Libertarian free will, or uncaused free will, is actually a very strong and counter-intuitive model of the human will. Under libertarian free will, our actions cannot be cause by anything, not even our own natures, desires, or preferences. In this strange view, God cannot be the cause of free acts of his creatures. Instead, God must merely await the decisions of free creatures. Thus, libertarian free will affords God no means by which to control the writing of Scripture so as to prevent error. Frankly, my guess is that you do not actually believe in libertarian free will as you suppose you do. But, of course, that is for you to freely decide. Just be sure not to decide based on knowledge or preference :-)
        4. You are correct that many Arminians, unlike Dr. Olson, do espouse inerrancy. My point does not contradict that. My point is that they do so inconsistently because their belief in free will is inconsistent with the ability of God to produce inerrant manuscripts without violating creaturely free will. My question to the Arminian is, How did God manage to create inerrant Scripture without interfering with the free decisions of creatures?
        5. You have raised the issue of caricature. I agree that our little discussion exhibits any number of caricatures. But, I find you to be the source of most, if not all, of them, beginning with the first sentence of your comment, in which you incorrectly identify me as a determinist. I trust that these caricatures are not intentional and that you will restate your claims appropriately.

        Grace,

        • http://travelah.blogspot.com/ A.M. Mallett

          Mr. McCarty, could you explain why you believe your compatibalism removes you from the deterministic theology of Calvinism bearing in mind that compatibalism is a philosophical mechanism to reconcile free will with determinism. Within Calvinist thought it is a rather recent theological device to address inconsistencies within its systematic thought process. Consider the following of which I am sure you are familiar.

          God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

          Is it not fair to state that your compatibalism is an attempt to reconcile the inconsistencies in that statement so as to cling to the former while explaining the latter?
          After considering these matters, perhaps you might turn your attention to what Arminians actually instruct regarding the will of man rather than what a dozen or so Calvinistic websites might instruct you. Here are Arminius’ comments regarding the will of man.

          From his “Sentiments” …
          This is my opinion concerning the free-will of man: In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace. But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.

          How does this reconcile with the caricature you have made here and elsewhere regarding Arminian thought?

          • W B McCarty

            A.M. Mallett: “[C]ould you explain why you believe your compatibalism removes you from the deterministic theology of Calvinism bearing in mind that compatibalism is a philosophical mechanism to reconcile free will with determinism.”

            Perhaps because I am not a trained philosopher, I don’t understand the philosophical construct known as compatibilism as a reconciling “mechanism.” I use the term merely as a descriptor that’s appropriate in referring to a system of belief that affirms both God’s meticulous sovereignty and man’s free will. My point in describing myself as a compatibilist rather than a determinist is to make clear that I have a genuine commitment to free will in addition to my commitment to sovereignty. To emphasize one aspect of my belief over the other–by, for instance, describing me only as a “determinist”–would be to mistate my belief.

            I can’t say that I’m able to reconcile determinism and free will. I can say that Scripture clearly affirms both. One of the geniuses of the Calvinistic system is that it quite deliberately does _not_ resolve such tensions, whether by means of philosophical constructs or otherwise. Instead, it aims to be faithful to the entire teaching of Scripture. Given that, I find it ironic that Calvinists are regularly charged with exercising an excess of logic.

            A.M. Mallett: “Here are Arminius’ comments regarding the will of man.”

            I find nothing objectionable in Arminius’ statement. But, obviously, no brief statement can express the whole of Arminius’ theology (let alone that of classical Arminianism generally) or demonstrate the coherence of his theology. In particular, the statement doesn’t address the relationship between the Arminian doctrine of conditional election and free will, which is where I as a Calvinist have greatest difficulty with the Arminian view. Neither does the statement clarify how Arminius’ view of free will might comport with verbal inspiration of Scripture.

            My previous remarks regarding free will were made under a good faith belief that classical Arminians accept the libertarian view of free will, a belief I had formed due to certain statements by Dr. Olson in his book _Arminian Theology_ (some of which I have cited elsewhere on this blog). Dr. Olson has now clarified that the classical Arminian view is not that of libertarian free will but some other incompatibilist view, unspecified as to details. With respect to my claim that the Arminian doctrine of free will is inconsistent with the verbal inspiration of Scripture, Dr. Olson’s clarification seems to me to moot certain arguments available to me but does not in itself defend against my claim.

            A.M. Mallett: “After considering these matters, perhaps you might turn your attention to what Arminians actually instruct regarding the will of man rather than what a dozen or so Calvinistic websites might instruct you.”

            I find many more than a dozen Calvinistic websites that provide good teaching on these issues. But, if your implication is that my knowledge of these matters is derived principally from websites, you are both mistaken and out of line. If you have an argument to offer, please offer it. But kindly refrain from insults directed at me, Calvinists, or Calvinism.

            A.M. Mallett: “How does this reconcile with the caricature you have made here and elsewhere regarding Arminian thought?”

            I object to your characterization of my claims as a “caricature,” which implies intentional misrepresentation. If my understanding of Armininian free will is incorrect, by all means dispute it. I’ve accepted Dr. Olson’s clarification that Arminians do not believe in libertarian free will (notwithstanding the contrary claim of Robert and the statements in _Arminian Theology_ that plainly seemed to me to indicate the contrary). But, what _do_ Arminians believe with respect to free will? At this point, I frankly do not know, beyond a general affirmation of (non-deterministic) incompatibilism. Moreover, accepting Dr. Olson’s position as definitive as I do, it appears that at least one Arminian commenting here also does not know what classical Arminians believe with respect to free will. It seems unfair to charge me with misrepresenting Arminianism when there is manifest lack of consistency among Armianians.

            I will stand by my claim, now moooted, that libertarian free will is not adequate to support verbal inspiration. But, does whatever other sort of incompatibilist free will that Arminians actually affirm support verbal inspiration of Scripture? That’s essentially the question I placed on the table and, as it seems to me, there it remains.

        • Robert

          McCarty wrote:

          “1. Your allegation of “intentional misrepresentation” is out of line, sir.”

          Actually I am not the only person seeing McCarty creating multiple caricatures here. Mallett made the same claim: ““How does this reconcile with the caricature you have made here and elsewhere regarding Arminian thought?”

          “2. Like most Calvinists today, I am a compatibilist rather than a determinist.”

          Apparently, McCarty is not familiar with standard usage and meanings of certain terms including determinism and compatibilism.

          Note Mallett wrote:

          ““Mr. McCarty, could you explain why you believe your compatibalism removes you from the deterministic theology of Calvinism bearing in mind that compatibalism is a philosophical mechanism to reconcile free will with determinism. Within Calvinist thought it is a rather recent theological device to address inconsistencies within its systematic thought process.”

          And I will add the fact McCarty says he is a compatibilist “rather than a determinist” is an oxymoron.

          Because ***every*** compatibilist **is** a determinist.

          In standard usage in both philosophy and theology the basic understanding is that there are two types of determinists: “hard determinists” and “soft determinists” (also called “compatibilists”). The hard determinist argues that if all is determined, then there is no such thing as “free will” (the hard determinist recognizes that exhaustive determinism eliminates free will as ordinarily understood, makes it impossible for anyone ever to have a choice). The soft determinist argues that all is determined (hence THEY ARE ***IN FACT DETERMINISTS***) but that exhaustive determinism is compatible with “free will” (hence the term “compatibilists” for their position, it should also be noted that compatibilists redefine “free will” so that it does not include having choices, but is doing what you want to do and not being coerced when you make your choices). Now according to standard usage of the terms McCarty is in fact BOTH a compatibilist and a determinist since compatibilists ARE SOFT DETERMINISTS!!!!

          This can also easily be shown by citing well known calvinist philosophers who openly acknowledge that they are compatibilists/determinists.

          James S. Spiegel in his book on providence, THE BENEFITS OF PROVIDENCE: A NEW LOOK AT DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY arguing for calvinism writes:

          “So Augustine espoused and early version of **compatibilism**, the view that determinism and human freedom (and therefore moral responsibility) are logically compatible.”

          John Feinberg representing calvinism in the famous PREDESTINATION & FREE WILL: FOUR VIEWS OF DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY & HUMAN FREEDOM wrote:

          “According to determinists such as myself, an action is free even if causally determined so long as the causes are nonconstraining. This view is often referred to as **soft determinism** or **compatibilism**, for genuinely free human action is seen as **compatible** with nonconstraining sufficient conditions which incline the will decisively in one way or another.”

          And finally to make this a slam dunk, let’s quote John Frame, (surely someone McCarty knows as a fellow determinist calvinist) in his book against open theism NO OTHER GOD (after attacking libertarian free will Frame suggests his preferred view of free will which is explicitly compatibilism):

          “This kind of freedom is sometimes called compatibilism, because it is compatible with determinism. Determinism is the view that every event (including human actions) has a sufficient cause other than itself. Compatibilist freedom means that even if every act we perform is caused by something outside ourselves (such as natural causes or God) we are still free for we can still act according to our character and desires.”

          So in fact calvinists are determinists who claim that exhaustive determinism and free will are compatible.
          Apparently McCarty is out of touch with what the top level determinist calvinist philosophers like Spiegel, Feinberg and Frame maintain.

          In another post McCarty wrote:

          “Perhaps because I am not a trained philosopher, I don’t understand the philosophical construct known as compatibilism as a reconciling “mechanism.” I use the term merely as a descriptor that’s appropriate in referring to a system of belief that affirms both God’s meticulous sovereignty and man’s free will. My point in describing myself as a compatibilist rather than a determinist is to make clear that I have a genuine commitment to free will in addition to my commitment to sovereignty. To emphasize one aspect of my belief over the other–by, for instance, describing me only as a “determinist”–would be to mistate my belief.”

          Note especially the words “God’s meticulous sovereignty” as this is determinist code words for exhaustive determinism. This is the determinist claim that God first conceives of a total plan which encompasses and includes every detail of history. God then actualizes this total plan as what we call history. God actualizes this total plan by directly controlling things in such a way as to ensure that every detail of the total plan is carried out. This concept is thoroughly DETERMINIST. Hence someone who believes this is in fact a determinist.

          McCarty also states “to make clear that I have a genuine commitment to free will”. It must be kept in mind that as someone who espouses exhaustive determinism (the total plan is actualized in every detail hence we never ever have a choice, free will as ordinarily understood cannot exist, does not exist): McCarty must redefine “free will” so that it is compatible with exhaustive determinism. This is done by limiting free will to actions that do not involve coercion and are things that we want to do. What is carefully left out, what is rejected is that we EVER HAVE A CHOICE.

          “3. It seems to me that you have not studied libertarian free will closely (see explanation here).”

          McCarty you are the one who doesn’t even understand basic terms and continues to present all of these caricatures of libertarian free will (Even the article by Zagrebski that you cite is not about libertarian free will, but is about reconciling foreknowledge and free will). I took the time to correct some of them and you just ignored my comments.

          And you present yet another caricature:

          “ Libertarian free will, or uncaused free will, is actually a very strong and counter-intuitive model of the human will.”

          UNCAUSED FREE WILL???

          Every event that occurs in this universe has a cause.

          There are no cause-less events, including freely made choices.

          If I have the choice to raise my left arm or raise my right arm to ask a question in a class: and I choose to raise my left arm. Then *****I***** am the cause of that arm being raised. If a child freely chooses to bop another child over the head: he can’t come back with: “well I am a libertarian, my arm acted on its own, it was uncaused free will in action, I had no control of the thing, it just happened, my arm just pops up and bops other kids sometimes for no reasons, just a random and chance event!” No, the boy freely made the choice to use his arm to bop the other kid. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand any of this, we have all experienced these kinds of choices and controlled our movements when having and then making choices thousands of times.

          “Under libertarian free will, our actions cannot be cause[d} by anything, not even our own natures, desires, or preferences.”

          Again, in LFW, ****WE**** cause these events to take place. And since ****WE**** cause them ****we**** can be held responsible for them.

          And our “own natures, desires, or preferences” may incline our actions, though they do not ****necessitate**** them.

          “In this strange view, God cannot be the cause of free acts of his creatures.”

          It **is** a strange view because McCarty has intentionally constructed this bizarre caricature of LFW. I hold LFW and others that I know who also hold to LFW, do not believe in uncaused choices. We believe that WE are the causes of our own freely made choices.

          And this claim that “God causes the free acts of his creatures” is semantic game playing typical of compatibilists (i.e. if God causes/necessitates my action then I am not acting freely: just as when the puppet master pulls the strings of the puppet to cause the puppet to do something that puppet is not acting freely). To claim that God controls someone to force them to do something (so it is impossible for them to do otherwise, they have to do what they are forced to do)and claim they are “acting freely” is the height of misusing ordinary language expressions. Wittgenstein would see that as “language gone on holiday.” :-)

          “Instead, God must merely await the decisions of free creatures.”

          What does “merely await the decisions of free creatures” mean?

          If God created us, better designed us to be capable of doing our own actions, controlling our own bodies, having and making our choices and decisions, then where is the problem when we make our own decisions and choices? When we are the causes of our own actions??? In fact when we freely choose an action we are acting in the way that GOD DESIGNED US TO BE!!

          Of has McCarty never made a decision for himself?

          Never had a choice?

          Just done things like a machine or puppet having its strings pulled, with no choice in the matter?

          “Frankly, my guess is that you do not actually believe in libertarian free will as you suppose you do.”

          Actually I do believe in LFW as I have experienced having and making choices for my whole life.

          And so has McCarty, though as a determinist he is in denial of his own lifetime of experience in having and making choices.

          Haven’t you ever experienced having and then making a choice, where the decision was up to you?

          “But, of course, that is for you to freely decide. Just be sure not to decide based on knowledge or preference ”

          And if I freely decide based on a reason (though my reason does not necessitate my choice) then I am experiencing LFW. And note McCarty’s words here “based on”. That is again his determinism peeking through his words. He is implying that knowledge or preferences determine or necessitate a person’s choices (a standard and common form of determinism espoused by calvinist determinists).

          “5. You have raised the issue of caricature. I agree that our little discussion exhibits any number of caricatures. But, I find you to be the source of most, if not all, of them, beginning with the first sentence of your comment, in which you incorrectly identify me as a determinist..”

          And in fact McCarty ****is**** a determinist.

          He holds to soft determinism, just like Frame, Feinberg, Spiegel, et al, believing that “free will” as he defines it, is compatible with exhaustive determinism/”God’s meticulous sovereignty”.

          Robert

          • W B McCarty

            Robert, what part of the following explanation given by me is unclear to you, I cannot imagine:

            “My point in describing myself as a compatibilist rather than a determinist is to make clear that I have a genuine commitment to free will in addition to my commitment to sovereignty. To emphasize one aspect of my belief over the other–by, for instance, describing me only as a “determinist”–would be to mistate my belief.”

            No secret is concealed here. I readily acknowledge that compatibilism is a species of deterministic theism. But, _compatibilism is also a species of free will theism_. To understand compatiblism as _only_ deterministic theism would be no more correct than to understand compatibilism as _only_ free will theism.

            As to your many further points raised with respect to free will and causation, Dr. Olson has helpfully clarified that he did not intend “libertarian free will” in the strict philosophical sense in which I understood him. Hence, my claims with respect to uncaused free will, which assumed libertarian free will in the strict philosophical sense, are mooted, _as are your counterclaims_.

            I had originally thought to say no more on the subject. But, given your further comments, I will state my suspicion that classical Arminian free will theism _does_, in fact, entail libertarian free will in the strict philosophical sense _at points_, such as in respect of the “free” decision to exercise faith. Certainly, many non-classical Arminians affirm a concept of indifference of equipotence in this context. I suspect that it lies at the heart of all forms of Arminianism. However, I would be happy to see my suspicion disputed. Frankly, I would rather be wrong in my suspicion than find my Arminian friends to be in such error.

            Finally, back to your first and most personally distressing point, your allegation of “intentional misrepresentation.” Two points must be established to substantiate your claim. Firstly, it must be shown that I have misrepresented the Arminian position. Secondly, it must be shown that I have done so deliberately.

            With respect to the first point, at least with respect to my characterization of libertarian free will, I will cheerfully stipulate misrepresentation. But, with respect to the second point, that of intent, I deny your claim and offer two arguments in rebuttal.

            Firstly, my misprepresentation was based on a good faith (mis)understanding of Dr. Olson’s affirmations in his book _Arminian Theology_. That this is the case can be demonstrated by citing from a source you yourself mention, Feinberg’s _No One Like Him_, which I happen to be reading. In Chapter 7, Feinberg writes, “This problem is especially acute for those committed to libertarian free will, _which says that an action is free only if it is not causally determined_” (p. 290; see additional relevant material from this source, available at http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/feinberg.html). It should be evident that Feinberg understands the term “libertarian free will” just as I did when interpreting Dr. Olson’s writing; that is, as a reference to the strict philosophical meaning of the term, which is that of a _non-casually determined choice_. My understanding of Dr. Olson’s writing, though incorrect, was reasonable on its face.

            Secondly, you cannot by any means known to me have definite knowledge of my intention in the matter. So, to assert _intentional_ misrepresentation is not only a slur on my character but also a gratuitous and ungracious charge that you lack the means to prove.

            Civil conversation cannot proceed on a foundation of distrust and animosity. I leave it to others to deal with your further and future remarks.

          • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com Derek Ashton

            Mr. McCarty,

            It seems that Robert fundamentally refuses to accept the fact that most contemporary Calvinists are compatibilists and not mere determinists. He repeatedly builds the straw man of determinism and burns it with zeal, but to no effect since we aren’t that.

            I am in hearty agreement with your statements about compatibilism as deliberately not reconciling determinism and free will, but holding both together in Biblical tension. In view of Robert’s considerable antagonism and refusal to deal with Calvinism as it truly is, I have stopped replying to his comments. I’ve enjoyed conversing with several of the Arminians here, I’ve conceded on a few points, and I’ve even encouraged some to continue being Arminian if they believe it’s Biblical, but I’m not going to keep on with anyone who consistently fails to interact in a charitable and fair minded way.

            BTW – I really appreciate your sound arguments and explanations in the various pages of this blog.

            Blessings,
            Derek

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  • http://afterorthodoxy.blogspot.com/ Spencer Boersma

    I wrote in a presentation during my master’s saying that I felt that I could not affirm biblical inerrancy (or at least the Chicago Statement’s version – I am comfortable with Grenz’s or Pinnock’s version) since I felt that there was something about it that is, dare I say it, LIBERAL.

    What I explained to my peers whose jaws had dropped, was that defining the Word of God in such terms diminished the Bible’s authority, since this doctrine had accommodated to the enlightenment definitions of truth rather than the biblical one. It imports a humanistic notion of truth from analytic philosophy (whose methods are naturalistic) as scientific precision, verificationism, and rationalistic coherence. In doing so, it renders the authority of God dependent on the sciences of humans, rather than on the saving power of the Spirit of truth, who speaks through it. It becomes exactly what it aims to dispel: closet liberalism.

    Needless to say, I had a few people leave dazed and confused.

    • Robert

      Spencer wrote:

      “In doing so, it renders the authority of God dependent on the sciences of humans, rather than on the saving power of the Spirit of truth, who speaks through it.”

      And Dr. Olson wrote:

      “Second, John Calvin himself claimed that the authority of the Bible lies in the Holy Spirit and not in some rational proof of its accuracy. Read Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, chapter 7. For Calvin (as Luther before him and most Protestants later) the guarantee of the Bible’s truth and authority lies in the “inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.””

      I believe this is a critical principle that both Spencer and Dr. Olson allude to here.

      In my experience and observation, those who were truly believers (regardless of their actual church tradition) and so had the Holy Spirit indwelling in them. THEY do not have problems recognizing the authority of the scriptures nor believing the bible is a revelation from God. These same folks because they have the Spirit are not threatened by attacks on the bible or people’s questions about the bible.

      I personally believe the originals were inerrant. After that some textual issues have arisen (which is why we have scholars like Gordon Fee and Daniel Wallace studying textual issues and why scholars are comparing the numerous texts that we have). People may disagree on terminology (some preferring inerrancy others something else) but if we have the same Spirit in us, then we will have the same confidence and allegiance to God’s Word.

      Robert

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    I think these are some related points to the topic of inerrancy

    1) Difference Between Fact and Truth
    As a friend of mine helpfully made me aware, I think we have to determine the difference between the words fact and truth. I would say Scripture is fully true, but might not be error-free in its fact presentations.

    The greatest example, of which even inerrantists would agree, is the idea that parables are not fact. They teach truth, no doubt. But they are not factual stories. It is a fact that Jesus told parables. But the parables, in themselves, are not fact. But they are truth. Again, something both sides can agree on.

    But I think the difference between these 2 words is where modern Christians get mixed up. So we must note such a difference when we read in 2 Samuel 7:16 the report of Nathan’s prophecy to David – And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. And then read what 1 Chronicles 17:14 reports – but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.

    From a factual standpoint, one (or both) could be wrong. But the truth is communicated in both accounts, especially noting the purpose of the author in Samuel-Kings (pre-exile) and the differing purpose of the Chronicler (post-exile). Again, most inerrantists would not argue against this. But there must be notation of a difference between fact and truth. The purpose of Scripture is to fully communicate the truth of God, not to always communicate each detail of fact. And I suppose it might be intellectually dishonest to argue that Nathan said both statements at 2 different times, which I have argued. I think we simply note that the authors were not trying to get minute factual details down, but were communicating specific details to back up the specific message they were communicating to the people.

    This is why we notice differing accounts of how many angels were at the tomb of Jesus following his resurrection. Or differing accounts of how many demoniacs. Etc, etc. From a factual standpoint, we could argue whether there was one or two. But that is not the point (again, which most inerrantists would argue). But one has to do with communicating truth, which the Gospel writers do. But they are not sitting around wondering if they got every detailed fact correct. Of course, they are not trying to hide or misconstrue details. But even in their details, they present specific things in a specific way to communicate a specific message that is of utmost import.

    And this is why I am ok that the compiler of Genesis used already orally known traditions of the origins of humanity from the ancient near east and crafted it in a way to teach the origins of humanity from a Yahweh perspective, to teach the people of Yahweh His truth. But they were not trying to communicate detailed facts. It was all headed quickly towards Abraham anyways, which was the father of Yahweh’s people.

    This is why I believe a typical definition of inerrancy – inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact – fails to faithfully consider all things that we currently know of the situation of Scripture. Scripture is not ultimately about communicating fact, though it has plenty of them. It is about communicating truth. If we fail to recognise this, we will craft our own faulty definitions.

    2) Verbal Plenary
    This is why I believe theopneustos does not communicate verbal plenary, in that every single word was chosen by God Himself. It doesn’t allow for the incarnational model of Scripture that Peter Enns puts forth in his helpful book, that I mentioned in an above comment, Inspiration and Incarnation. Now this might challenge, at times, our meticulous dissection of each individual Hebrew and Greek word in the old manuscripts. But so let it be. There is no harm in dissecting, for I want to know what the author was trying to communicate. But I am not going to stand up at all times and say, ‘God choose that the word but be right there to communicate something.’

    3) Original Manuscripts
    Finally, I would also challenge inerrantists to lay back off the whole argument for inerrancy with regards to the original manuscripts. The first apostles didn’t even have them, and they were using a Greek translation of most of Scripture. They didn’t even hold to the ‘original manuscript’ argument. And I can guarantee that we will never have the original manuscripts. But I can guarantee we will continue to have the theopneustos incarnational word of Scripture. And God will make it real and alive to His theopneustos people, the Spirit-indwelt and empowered body of Christ. God was not bothered about maintaining the original manuscripts. He was fine to allow transmission errors throughout history, even factual errors in the ‘originals’. Thus, I think we need to relax on investing so much in the originals, something we don’t have, and most generations did not have, even the inspired NT writers.

    Ok, sorry for the long comment. :)

  • http://www.andyrowell.net/ Andy Rowell

    Daniel Kirk, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Daniel Wallace, Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, are also talking inerrancy this week at:
    After Inerrancy: Functional Bibliology
    and
    Jesus, the Pharisees, & Scripture

  • Brandon Morgan

    Dr. Olson, I actually feel like there is less of a difference between the word “inerrancy” and the word “infallibility” as it is often defined. The common reader, like myself, sees these words as trying to accomplish similar goals–to solidify the biblical witness as a revelation instead of a witness to revelation. This is why, I think, you have redefined t “infallibility” as the ability for the Bible to fulfill its purpose of identifying God and lead us to God. What is good about your redefinition of “infallibility” is that it leans away from some reduction to propositionalism and more toward an intentional purpose or direction of Scripture, both in its original writing and in its current practice. I think you would agree that this implies a move towards narrative and away from proposition. Perhaps your discussion on this issue would be even more distinct if you discussed your view of infallibility as it relates to the narrative character of the biblical story.

    I actually don’t see this as a “slippery slope” but an honest trajectory that recognizes the constant temptation to “essentialize” the words on the page as equal to the event of the Word that those words are struggling to give witness to. The narrative quality of the Bible does more to situate our reading and allows us to move around in the stories and statements we find in Scripture in order to avoid any overemphasis of the “original autographs” or the shibboleths of specific passages. If we are not careful, then even the word “infallible” can distract us from the iconic nature of Scripture, which is meant to bear witness to an event that is linguistically unbearable. If evangelicalism holds to its Christo-centrism and postconservative evangelicalism holds to its renewed pietism, then one would have to conclude that our interaction with the narrative of Scripture can be viewed simultaneously through a lens of Christ’s incarnational body and humanity’s interaction with that incarnation as the experience of salvation. In this way, the Bible’s authority need not be pitted against our interaction with it and our experience of it. This would not negate the Bible’s authority for Christian practice, but would assume it while giving rise to it. It is our transformative experience of the narrative in its effort to bring to sight an event (the Christ event) that helps us to recognize that biblical authority (or even infallibility) is discovered through our experience of the Bible’s truthfulness and our interaction with its story. If the truthfulness of the Bible requires an a priori guarantee through strange litmus tests like “inerrancy” or “the accuracy of the original texts” then what good is such a truth? Does not the Bible speak for itself without our solidifying its foundations? Perhaps this is pushing the possibility of postconvervative evangelicalism too far, but I think it is helpful to convey in our account of the biblical witness an interaction with the Scriptural story where authority and experience are co-constituted and inter-relational. In this way we view the biblical account outside a metaphysical category of cause and effect and admit that we grant authority to the Bible by experiencing it while simultaneously experiencing it because of its authority.

  • http://travelah.blogspot.com/ A.M. Mallett

    I have batted this issue around for some time now and have come to accept two perspectives regarding “inerrancy”. Within the body of Christ, the in-house terminology of inerrancy and infallibility are interchangeable. They mean essentially the same thing and should be interchangeable in conversation among brethren. I am sure there are some who would object and insist upon a hard and fast scientific application of a scientific term but I believe they are, ironically, errant in doing so. The scriptures, the Word of God are infallible in all things. We should be able to agree upon that and if we cannot, we have become far to ecumenical for my taste.
    The second perspective of inerrancy relates to our interactions with the secular world. I cannot in any circumstance tell a lost soul that the bible is inerrant, without any error whatsoever. From where he sits, he can PROVE, yes PROVE the scriptures contain errors or at least one error. If he has any familiarity with scripture and has some scientific background, he could know that the mustard seed is not the smallest of seed (Mark 4:31). The Orchid is considerably smaller. For the scientifically minded non-believer, the scriptures can be proven, scientifically, to contain an error and when we use relatively modern scientific terminology to interact with a disbelieving scientific world, we better be prepared to be embarrassed and lose our evangelical credibility.
    Let’s be wiser and keep “inerrancy” in-house. For that matter, I wish the term would be cast aside and we focus our energies in this matter on the term “infallible”. The unbeliever has no retort against it.

  • http://legends-of-qin-forum.gamigo.com/member.php?u=53397 Colin Krahenbuhl

    Thank you for the advice. I’ve found your first point to be most effective.

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  • http://halcyon4eyes.blogspot.com/ Halcyon

    Just my two-cents:

    Changing the word “inerrant” to something else isn’t going to help anything because as Dr. Olson put it the problem is the definition of the word, the definition that “dies the death of a thousand qualifications.”

    Let’s say that we change the word from “inerrant” to “infallible.” That doesn’t help at all. Someone could very well ask Dr. Olson, “What do you mean by ‘infallible’?” Dr. Olson would politely reply, “Why, what I mean is X.” Then that someone could frown and shake his head: “I don’t like your definition. I would define it as Y.” Then someone else comes in and says, “You’re both wrong. It means Q.” Then someone else steps into the mix saying, “You’re all crazy. It means C,” and so on.

    Eventually, “infallible” will die the death of a thousand qualifications as well and become just as useless a word as “inerrant”. The problem, then, is not the word, but rather the instability of and lack of consistency on the definition. Until we all agree upon a single and set definition for what is meant by “inerrant” (or “infallible” for that matter), all of our term juggling will be only so much smoke and mirrors.

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  • Bud

    Okay, so who’s the leading scholar with the goofy view of inerrancy? C’mon Roger. We’re all friends.

  • http://sportslivefeed.com/ Ashely Eckl

    Spotted your web blog via google the other day and absolutely like it. Keep up the good work.

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  • mullet

    “I think it is time we evangelicals matured”…LoL
    you had me all the way up to the end :) Good Luck

  • Chuck Conti

    Thank you so much for writing this. I agree 100%.

  • http://www.ecumenicalchristianperspective.blogspot.com John R King Jr

    “Inerrant” means “free from error”.

    To claim that the writings contained in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are inerrant is simply misleading.

    1. Mankind has approximately 5,800 Greek manuscripts that contain all or part of the New Testament, approximately 10,000 Latin manuscripts that contain all or part of the New Testament, and approximately 9,300 manuscripts in other ancient languages. None of these manuscripts has a text that is exactly the same.
    2. There are somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 variations in these manuscripts. There are more variations than there are words in the New Testament.
    3. There have been many accidental copying mistakes and there have been intentional additions, deletions, and changes to the written word by both church members and professional scribes. Many of the intentional additional, deletions and changes were theologically motivated.
    4. While the New Testament was largely written in the first century A.D., the oldest manuscript that we have that only contains parts of the New Testament comes from around 200 A.D..
    5. No human alive today has seen the original of the books of the Bible, nor knows exactly, without any error, what words were in them.

    If in the face of these facts, one still contends that the Bible is inerrant. So be it. However, preaching “inerrancy” when the average layman will think that “inerrancy” means “free from error” is misleading.

    Once these facts are faced, some will claim that the “original autographs” are inerrant. This claim seems to me to be irrelevant. Who has the “original autographs”? Who has seen them? Who can read them? To claim that the Scriptures are “inerrant” when you are really talking about something that we do not have is misleading to the average laymen who only has one of the modern English translations in his hand to read. So all the textual critics make no mistakes? The translators make no mistakes? The readers make no mistakes? The preachers make no mistakes? Your understanding of the Scriptures has no mistakes? Even if we had Scriptures without errors, by the time we got done translating, reading, preaching, and understanding, there would be plenty of errors.

    So, the claim of inerrancy for the Scriptures is misleading and irrelevant. It is also inappropriate. A description of “free from error” is not appropriate to apply to the wide diversity of literary types that are in the Scriptures, types that include poetry, narrative, parables, prophecy, apocalyptic, and history. The description of “free from error” is so cold, sterile, rationalistic, and exacting. It is inappropriate to apply it to literature that is so passionate, so full of life, and so applicable to the very heart and soul of man. “Inerrant”, a very misleading, irrelevant, and inappropriate description that seem to imply a pedestrian and low view of Scripture.

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  • C Wells

    I’ve been digging around lately, looking at different opinions on scripture, inerrancy, etc. I’ve read blogs such as this one and the responses below them.

    Here is my conclusion. Everyone thinks that THEY are correct. And they are more than happy to criticize others who believe the same thing about themselves.

    All of you learned men and women are seeking God based upon the Bible. And you, so often, come to different conclusions about what is “orthodox,” what is “heretical,” etc.

    It is clear to me that there is simply no pat answer and no way to know which view is right or wrong as they are all equally viable in some way.

    If Father had wanted us to know His mind more clearly, He did a poor job of clarifying for us. I’ll pin the blame squarely on his shoulders for not foreseeing the problem and offering some solution.

    As such, I’m finding the entire usage of the Bible for doctrine somewhat tedious since it is quite clear that the “real” Bible isn’t going to step forward anytime in our lifetimes. I’m beginning to wonder what, exactly, it is good for at all. If the most scholarly people of our day cannot come to any kind of consensus for what the h*ll it means, the way we should use it, etc. We’re still debating calvinism and arminianism for Heaven’s sake. How long has THAT debate been going on? There are no concrete answers.

    I wonder what Father is thinking about all of this? Any of it only matters in how it causes us to relate to one another. We could debate the nuances for eternity and it would amount to nothing. I think perhaps the only bit of scripture that matters much is, “Love the Lord your God…. love your neighbor.” Or perhaps “A new command I give to you… love one another…”

    It is supremely silly to me for any of us believers to hold so tightly to a book which cannot be agreed upon in almost any sense by the broadest range of scholars. Why do we hold so tightly to “inerrancy” or “predestination” or any of these doctrines? Why do we insist that we are correct? Why do we argue over them? We simply don’t know. God knows. And He ain’t talking. *sigh*

    • http://RogerEOlson.com Roger

      Well, by that logic we should also ignore the U.S. Constitution! Think of all the interpetations of by learned men and women! Because we cannot all agree on the meaning of the second amendment hardly means we should throw out the Constitution. I’ve addressed this issue in Who Needs Theology? co-authored with Stan Grenz (IVP). I suggest you look at it.

  • Stephen

    I’m grateful for Mr. McCarty’s web link to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I’d never read it before.

    Fortunately, among it’s many affirmations, the Chicago Statement does not affirm the inerrancy of the website posting of the Chicago Statement, because it has – well – an error.

    “Thus, what Scripture says, God says; its authority is His authority, for He is its ultimate Author, having given it through the minds and words of chosen and prepared men who in freedom and faithfulness ‘spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Pet. 1:21).”

    The scripture reference should be to Second Peter, not First Peter.

    I have faith, though, that the Chicago Statement is inerrant in it’s autographa

    • Stephen

      No … wait … the error appears in the exposition, not in the articles. The exposition must not be a part of the inspired canon of inerrancy.

  • Stephen

    oh my … I quickly googled several websites with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. All of them have the same error in the Exposition (referring to 1 Peter 1:21, instead of 2 Peter 1:21).

    Including the PDF posted by the The Coalition on Revival, Inc.

    • John I.

      Way too funny Stephen! =:-0
      I note that your post didn’t capitalize the initial “oh”–sigh isn’t there anyone out there who is inerrant?

      John I.

      • Stephen

        Apparently, not since the period of apostolic revelation … roughly 2 millenia since our last inspired inerrancies.

        Speaking of errors – I made a whopper of an error over on Dr. Olson’s post on Stephen Hawking. Accused our intelligent moderator of being someone that he most certainly is not!

        We blog commentors may be the least inerrant creatures on the planet!

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