Moody’s Challenges and Scripture’s Inerrancy: Why the Chicago Statement Matters More Than Ever

In recent days, a furor has broken out over a surprising place: Moody Bible Institute. Moody is a hallmark of American evangelicalism, particularly the mainstream Chicago rendition, and has famously sent out thousands of graduates to the mission fields. Moody’s reputation is justifiably strong; it is a school that most evangelicals would instinctually trust.

But Moody has been shaken to its core in the last few weeks and months. First came reports of massive faculty cuts at two locations; then came the reporting of Julie Roys and allegations of both theological and ethical drift; then the school’s top leaders resigned. At present, the school seems destabilized. Many of us who support MBI and are grateful for its historic witness are praying for faithful resolution to these issues.

I cannot comment on anything happening on the ground in Chicago. I don’t know anything about the internal affairs of Moody, nor do I have firsthand reports of classroom instruction, and I have no personal stake in this matter. For my very limited part, I have only read Roys’s latest reporting (see here), and thus can only offer quick comment on one aspect: the institutional importance of inerrancy. Inerrancy is the historic claim that the original autographs of Scripture are without error in all they affirm, and thus the biblical text is entirely trustworthy. Inerrancy is based upon verbal plenary inspiration–the Spirit inspiring or “breathing out” the Word–and entails the absolute authority of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16). According to Roys, this biblical doctrine is at the center of the controversy at Moody, which includes inerrancy as part of its core doctrine. If this is the case, and it certainly seems to be, then Moody is merely the latest institution to face this doctrinal gauntlet, and confront this definitive question: will the school reaffirm that its vital center is the sacred Scripture, or will it choose a different path?

The doctrinal battles of the twentieth-century waxed hottest around inerrancy. George Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism, for example, shows just how fierce the battle was at the leading school of postwar evangelicalism, Fuller Theological Seminary. (Here’s my book on this period, which touches on these matters.) Harold Lindsell’s Battle for the Bible staked out the conservative position, as did Baptists and the Bible by L. Russ Bush and Tom Nettles and Scripture and Truth by D. A. Carson and John Woodbridge. The most significant short document about this doctrine was the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (see below). The Chicago Statement was produced in 1978 by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, a group led by statesmen like James Montgomery Boice, Kenneth Kantzer, J. I. Packer.

Forty years after it debuted, the Chicago Statement offers a potent summation of the historic Christian doctrine of inerrancy. Here is article XII, for example: “WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.” With clarifying affirmations like these, the document leaves no room for a “postmodern” understanding of Scripture by which we would view the Scripture as telling us the truth in a spiritual sense but without concrete grounding in actual history. In other words, while the Chicago Statement leaves room for (and even necessitates) the interpretation of biblical passages according to genre and literary style, the Statement precludes a reading of the Bible that would render some historical accounts fictional. The creation of the world from nothing, the axe head floating on water, the sun standing still, the saints raised from the grave following Christ’s resurrection, the resurrection of Christ itself–all these miraculous biblical events actually happened (Gen. 1; 2 Kings 6; Joshua 10; Matthew 27). These events and many others like them did not “spiritually” occur in a mythological sense; they actually occurred.

The foregoing does not mean one must affirm the Chicago Statement; a school must affirm the Bible and all it teaches. It is the Scripture alone that is God-breathed, and no confessional statement, however valuable, however helpful. But with this point noted, confessional statements often have serious value in doctrinal, spiritual, and ecclesial formation. We think of the early church’s four ecumenical creeds and their careful definition of the Trinity and the person of Christ here; in more recent days, we think of the Danvers Statement and the Nashville Statement as examples of helpful theological definition. Regarding Scripture, the Chicago Statement offers evangelical institutions a terrific way to identify themselves as staked upon the inspired, inerrant, authoritative Word of God. As one example, I am grateful that my seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has adopted the Chicago Statement and requires all faculty members every year to state their agreement with it. This is the kind of theological care and biblical watchfulness that sets a school up to honor God and, God allowing, take ground from the devil.

Faculty members at evangelical schools have no business teaching Christianity in all its many-splendored beauty if they believe the Bible is errant. If they go against the Bible’s ethics and theology–for example, by making way for a Christianity that affirms homosexuality, that embraces transgender identity, and that softens the doctrine of divine judgment and denies penal substitutionary atonement–they are, at least in practice, not making good on the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. This means that the students they have the holy privilege of instructing will hear false teaching. This means that the school will have turned away from the Word of God, and face the oncoming reality of divine reckoning. Not many of us should teach, for these sobering reasons; none of us should teach false doctrine, lest we place ourselves and our precious students in danger of God’s just judgment (James 3:1).

But there is another side entirely to this conversation. If there is a negative side to denying the biblical witness, there is propulsively positive blessing to affirming the Bible. The chief outcome is simply this: the school is, as noted above, stationed so as to withstand the howling winds of a secular, Satan-driven order. We never know if our congregation or institution will survive or thrive, but we know in a collective sense that God is building his church, and none can withstand him or stay his hand (Matthew 16:18). He loves his Word; he loves the church that preaches and lives by his Word; he will gather and power his people to the end by the ferocious strength of his Word. The institution that wishes to exist, let alone grow, makes no better organizational decision than this: to plant itself upon the wholly inspired, wholly inerrant, wholly authoritative Bible. How needed this is in 2018.

Truly, we need biblical inerrancy–and sound witnesses to biblical inerrancy like the Chicago Statement–more than ever.

There is no stronger signal that can be sent to the minions of Satan and the people of God than to affirm the complete truthfulness of holy Scripture. Doing so places us right in the enemy’s crosshairs. Because we are united to Christ, held fast by him at all times and in all seasons, this is ironically the safest place to be (John 10:27-28). Satan will rage against all God’s chosen. This includes a school like Moody, one of the choicest instruments of God in the revival that broke out in the twentieth-century. Here is hoping the school will be unified going ahead. But let us mark this carefully: some today speak of unity, but downplay doctrine. The only unity God wants is unity in the truth (John 17:14-23). Outside of the truth, outside of sound doctrine, unity is a fabrication. It does not exist. It is anti-unity, for it promotes falsehood.

The controversy at Moody reminds us of what has already happened at numerous institutions: we think of Westminster Seminary, for example. Praise God, Westminster righted itself, and is flourishing today. We think of what took place at United Theological Seminary, and how this school is now brimming with health. More broadly, we think of what happened in the Southern Baptist Convention, which re-grounded itself in the Word of God, bringing untold blessing to thousands of churches, students, missions outposts, and lost people who now received clear biblical witness unto eternal life. The takeaway of these transformed bodies tells us this: God loves reviving. God loves rebuilding. God loves taking what is shaken and struggling, and strengthening it by his Word.

May God do so once more in our day. We remember the words of D. L. Moody on Scripture: “Someone has said that there are four things necessary in studying the Bible: admit, submit, commit, and transmit.”

Amen and amen.

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Chicago Statement (1978)

Articles of Affirmation and Denial

Article I.

WE AFFIRM  that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God.

WE DENY  that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.

Article II.

WE AFFIRM  that the Scriptures are the supreme written norm by which God binds the conscience, and that the authority of the Church is subordinate to that of Scripture.

WE DENY  that Church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.

Article III.

WE AFFIRM  that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.

WE DENY  that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.

Article IV.

WE AFFIRM  that God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation.

WE DENY  that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God’s work of inspiration.

Article V.

WE AFFIRM  that God’s revelation within the Holy Scriptures was progressive.

WE DENY  that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings.

Article VI.

WE AFFIRM  that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.

WE DENY  that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.

Article VII.

WE AFFIRM  that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.

WE DENY  that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.

Article VIII.

WE AFFIRM  that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.

WE DENY  that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.

Article IX.

WE AFFIRM  that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.

WE DENY  that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.

Article X.

WE AFFIRM  that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

WE DENY  that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

Article XI.

WE AFFIRM  that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.

WE DENY  that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.

Article XII.

WE AFFIRM  that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

WE DENY  that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

Article XIII.

WE AFFIRM  the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.

WE DENY  that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

Article XIV.

WE AFFIRM  the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.

WE DENY  that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.

Article XV.

WE AFFIRM  that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration.

WE DENY  that Jesus’ teaching about Scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity.

Article XVI.

WE AFFIRM  that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church’s faith throughout its history.

WE DENY  that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.

Article XVII.

WE AFFIRM  that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God’s written Word.

WE DENY  that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture.

Article XVIII.

WE AFFIRM  that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.

WE DENY  the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.

Article XIX.

WE AFFIRM  that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.

WE DENY  that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.

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