Scot McKnight on Mike Bird’s Inerrancy Essay

Scot McKnight on Mike Bird’s Inerrancy Essay August 13, 2014

Over at Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight gives a summary and evaluation of my contribution to the book Biblical Inerrancy: Five Views.

I think Scot mostly gets where I’m coming from. My own “veracity” view can be correlated with a nuanced and generous view of inerrancy.

Scot thinks I may have over played my card about inerrancy being an “American thing” citing the examples of James Barr vs. J.I. Packer. Let me say that the idea of the Bible as inerrant/infallible, conceptually at least, has a long pedigree in the historical and global church and extends outside of America. No surprise here since all Christians believe that the Bible tells the truth. However, the whole inerrancy discussion as it takes place in the USA, has a very distinctive feel about, as something very Americano. No country besides the USA had a “Battle for the Bible,” the word “inerrancy” is rarely used outside the USA, and no organization would ever make the Trinity and the CSBI the only thing you had to believe in order to be a member. While Christians all around the world believe in the Bible, the inerrancy debates in American evangelicalism do sound a bit like people arguing about what flavor of coffee they prefer at Star Bucks.

Yes, Scot, silly as it may be, I really do enjoy taking pot shots at Joel Osteen and the Left Behind series. My point was that if inerrancy is such a vaccine for poor theology, then why do American inerrantists have so many weird interpretations of the Bible that gain large followings.

Scot doesn’t like where I place the doctrine of Scripture between Church and Spirit. I might try convince him of that one day.

Scot gives a good affirmation on one point: “I like this word of Bird: “I trust God the Father, I trust his Son, the Spirit leads me to that truth, so I trust God’s Holy Book” (165). This is not unlike NT Wright’s understanding of the authority of Scripture as the authority of God first.


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  • scotmcknight

    OK, yes, there’s an American emphasis here but we are after all a pretty big country with a bigger-than-average publishing industry. But I go back: James Barr is British, his Fundamentalism book is as much about England as the USA, and that book is the English version — therefore more sophisticated — of Lindsell’s Battle for the Bible. Pressing the American issue distracts from the whole discussion: it allows it to be a “that’s the Americans again” issue instead of the substance issue.

    • Michael Bird

      Scot, Barr’s beef with Packer was not about inerrancy, it was about whether the Bible can be even regarded as a divine revelation at all. It was a debate between belief and unbelief. Lindsell’s B4B, in my understanding, was about whose belief in the Bible should dominate among conservatives. The American thing has meant circling the wagons around a particular and precise view of Scripture in relation to epistemology (common sense realism) and history (positivist), something that others in the UK have never really thought we needed beyond general affirmations of Scripture’s authority like the UCCF statement.

      • scotmcknight

        Well, I don’t know if it can be reduced like that; in fact, I”m quite sure you’ve got a false dichotomy on Packer and Barr — it is both (and more): inerrancy, revelation, truth, fundamentalism. Barr has quite a lot about inerrancy, in fact, saying it is the #1 criterion for fundamentalist, and he sees Packer as an example, and inerrancy is both theological and historical. He gets after Packer on p. 172 for inerrancy … so maybe you want to press divine revelation, but what I see in Barr — and he wrote two books about this that I meticulously studied way back in the day — is a hostility toward fundamentalism, that it is marked first and foremost by literal interpretation in an inerrancy mode, and that Packer is one of his targets (along with Warfield, Hodge, et al). I’m saying this to say the battle is also among the English.

        Mike, my big point is simpler though: you say it is an American issue, and part of my rejoinder is — Yes, of course, but everything in America is bigger. It’s a bit like saying commentary writing is mostly an American thing and not an Ozzie thing. We’ve got the numbers, the money, the industry for this sort of thing (I’m thinking of production and exportation of our goods) and so it looks larger than life.

        My contention also would be that when it comes down to it, the English version and the Ozzie versions of inerrancy are the same or not that much different from the American version.

        Jim Packer, not to be ignored here, has quite a lot about inerrancy in his book on Fundamentalism. He has some very nice nuances, by the way, but he insists on factual accuracy. This view is Evangelical for him.