Inerrancy and Younger Evangelicals

Inerrancy and Younger Evangelicals March 11, 2012

The following is an edited version of the foreword I wrote for Carlos Bovell’s Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear. Carlos recently wrote three guest posts for this blog.

Inerrancy was once the unquestioned foundation for the evangelical tradition. In recent generations, however, it has become within evangelicalism a theological problem needing to be addressed.

Many evangelical thinkers over the last several generations have raised their voices to say that we can no longer marginalize or explain away broadly agreed upon developments in theological, philosophical, and biblical studies that happen to rest uncomfortably with inerrancy.

Such a call has created considerable tensions for evangelicals, for evangelicalism has built its theological identity around defending inerrancy.

But now, many younger evangelicals are saying openly that inerrancy does not have the explanatory power that its defenders once claimed for it. New paradigms, they say, are needed and have been for some time.

They are eager to engage in conversations that will respect their evangelical heritage but not simply leave things as they are for the sake of convenience or for fear of being ostracized should they step outside of well-defended boundaries.

The question before us is how post-inerrantist evangelicals can remain in dialogue with their inherited inerrantist evangelical culture while at the same time working toward for theological language that moves beyond those categories—and honor God and build up the people of God in the process.

That is a tall order, especially in an evangelical environment where questioning traditional views about the Bible and honoring God are often considered mutually exclusive.

But younger evangelicals are sensing the need to create an evangelical culture that not only accepts but is also oriented toward such discussions, where critical doctrinal self-reflection is the norm, not the pariah. These are sincere followers of Christ, who, in the true spirit of the Protestant Reformation, want to transform evangelicalism rather than ignore its problems or leave it behind.

Over the last several decades, evangelicals have seen a recurring pattern, where promising evangelical thinkers leave their evangelical seminaries to pursue further study in biblical studies, theology, and philosophy in secular research universities. In time, they begin to see that an inerrantist paradigm does not account well for certain pressing biblical and historical issues (such as the authorship of biblical books and the historicity of many biblical narratives).

In response, this younger generation wants to name the problem for what it is and have a constructive dialogue to propose better intellectual models of Scripture, ideally ones still conversant with their evangelical heritage.

This scenario is common to anyone participating in evangelical academic culture, but it is too often caricatured by inerrantists as a failure on the part of these impressionable youth to hold firm the faith of the fathers.

Rather than defend the faith as they should, this new, foolhardy generation has become enamored of the thought of academic fame and fortune and so forsaken their first love. Either that, or they are simply judged as being incompetent to address the issues at hand, proceeding unaware of the subtleties contained in various tomes written by guiding lights of centuries past.

But surely this caricature is more propaganda than truth; it can hardly explain the recurring willingness on the part of younger evangelicals over the last few decases to examine critically core elements of their evangelical heritage.

The reason that the same issues keep coming up is not some spiritual, moral, or intellectual failure on the part of younger evangelicals. The inerrantist paradigm is being called into question because the paradigm does not have explanatory power and new ones are needed.

The true failure lies not with younger evangelicals, but with the evangelical culture that does not recognize the despondency of this cycle. Younger evangelical leaders are basically left with three choices: They can either speak up (and suffer the consequences), keep silent (and so suffer tremendous cognitive dissonance–not to mention a wasting of their gifts for the church), or leave evangelicalism altogether. Failure to name the cycle for what it is will only perpetuate it.

Evangelical conversations over inerrancy are happening and will continue to happen. The only question is whether they will be conducted openly in a constructive and humble fashion, or whether fear will rule and perpetuate distrust.

Those who resist the growing dissatisfaction with inerrancy are obligated to engage the data and offer a more convincing paradigm, not offer piecemeal solutions.

Winning minor victories here and there will only forfeit in the long run the very heritage they wish to preserve.



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  • Dr. Enns,

    I’d like to take the challenge to start developing a new paradigm for the question of inerrancy. Beyond your work, Sparks work, and Bovell’s work, who do you think are the necessary conversation partners?

    I tend to find myself in the middle of the debate, not entirely comfortable with your proposal, but definitely not comfortable with how Norm Geisler addresses the subject either. I want to grow in my understanding, so I’m on somewhat of journey at the moment.

    Any suggestions?

    • peteenns

      I know it can sound trite, Nate, but the biggest education I’ve gotten is watching how the bible behaves, namely Chronicles side by side with Samuel/Kings and NT use of OT. Just try to shed apologetic glasses first. These issues are windows into a bigger hermeneutical world.

  • Pete,

    I at one time got all up in a fuss about the issues of inerrancy and would classify myself as one of the youngsters in your post, which is partly the reason why I got hooked on your “Inspiration and Incarnation” book. But as I progressed in my studies and read more and more, I ran across a fellow named Karl Barth. I then realized that all of this is old news. Yes, the evangelical church has serious problem in clinging to this view of inerrancy, and so we need to engage with them. But rather than acting like we got new answers, I really think Barth has already addressed all of this. What is post-modern is in my opinion most modern, and Barth challenged the modern questions at face value. If we just read (more!!!) Barth we would see that this has already been dealt with. He is surprisingly very much a Biblical Theologian, he is sensitive to the text, but he also deals with some very serious systematic and dogmatic problems that come along with treating the Bible as Scripture. I guess at the end of the day I get tired of these posts because they seem original but in fact are not original at all. Even if they are original, I would still like to see at least one or two contemporary theologians dealing with the question of inerrancy dialogue a bit with good old Karli.



    • peteenns

      Karli? Are you two on such familiar terms?

      You’re right. The problem is that Barth is taught in most gatekeeping evangelical schools, especially seminaries, as Exhibit A for what happens to you once you go down the slippery slope. You have read Barth but only after doing some processing (as you yourself say) . Most need to start elsewhere and work towards other thinkers like Barth (not to mention the fact that Barth is not easy reading). By the way, it is very gratifying to me where people finally get to the point where they realize what I am doing is not new, just repackaged. The work that needs to be done on the popular level is touching down on specific issues like OT and ANE and NT in Second Temple Judaism but within more coherent theological paradigms.

    • peteenns

      David, I just looked at your website (looks nice!) and your blogroll. If you keep reading Barth and learning something in the process, you’re going to have to get a new set of friends 🙂

      Actually, I’m not kidding.

      • Hey Pete,

        Thanks for the reply. Sorry if I came off a bit frustrated in my post. I see your point in that Barth is not looked upon favorably, and I still struggle to understand why. I guess one could take two approaches to this tasks, either (A) do what you are doing in promoting better paradigms to approach scripture, or (B) look at the work other theologians have already done that (Barth), and argue for why they should be accepted. I prefer the latter, but I understand why one would need to start at the former and work forward (and yes Barth is a tough read, but thats why we need people to explain it in a better way)

        Nevertheless, I guess my main problem is that I still get frustrated when concepts are portrayed as “new” when they are in fact “old”. I can understand why we would not want to call them old because people caricature old conventions and then label them as “Barthian”, consequently shutting their ears. But I think if we are to work toward any sort of coherent orthodoxy and dialogue within the Church we should promote the voices that have gone before us and wrestle on their behalf, even if some close their ears, even at that risk, if it is truth it will not return void.

        Regarding my blog, I take it you were being a bit sarcastic to the evangelical nature of my blogroll in spite of the fact that I am very “Bartian” in my blog? (Could you clarify your statement about getting new friends? I think I know what you mean. I would not say that my blogroll represents my “friends”. I actually disagree with a lot of the people on that roll, White Horse Inn c’mon they would hate this Barthian jargon, and I am aware of that, but many of my other blogs are in fact blogs in favor of Barth)



        • bonnie

          I’m going to jump in here, because although disregarding the inerrancy of scripture may not be a new idea, most people I know or read or live around are not discussing it. In fact, they think I am a poor lost sheep for even entertaining the idea. I appreciate so much that Pete is putting it into language that I can understand, and it feels so good to know that I am not crazy and alone for coming to the conclusion of inerrancy. I will not read Barth. I have a hard enough time reading Eugene Peterson!

          • Bonnie,

            I am thrilled that Pete has helped you. He has helped me too! I am not asking for you to read Barth, actually I would not ask you to read Peterson either (but that’s is a different story). All I am saying is that I wish more people like Pete who are doing the background work for people like you would entertain the theology of Barth a bit more as that would help organize the conversation and possibly direct it into some fruitful areas. What I find is that hardly anyone is doing this, and novel ideas are not novel at all. I think it is a great thing when we can embrace the Church and the thinkers that have gone before us.

            I do not expect you or anyone to read Barth, but I do expect the theologians to know Barth and interact with him in such a way that he can become accessible to people like yourself. Not only do most people debating inerrancy today keep from communicating Barth clearly to the lay Church, many of them do not even entertain his points, and that is sad in my opinion.



  • I’m sure I’ll be able to do that in the coming months and years. I currently teach high school biology, but am moving to OT and NT survey in the fall. I have barely enough background to manage the bio class, but I’ve learned a lot and am glad to have had the experience. Teaching the bible is more my forte, so we’ll see how interacting deeply with the text and teaching it to others (I’ll have 3 sections of OT each day!) will start shaping my thinking.

    • peteenns

      My only concern is that you not teach yourself out of a job in a Christian high school.

      • Well, at this point, I’m most of the way through a section on evolution that has taken the scientific data rather seriously, and no complaints so far.

        But I see what you mean, though it is assuming that the position I’ll come to if I’m honest with the evidence is the one you espouse which is not at this point a “safe” position within evangelical circles (for the most part it seems).

        • peteenns

          It may just be that you come a position that a Xian HS is not ready to hear, which could be many things.

  • CGC

    Hi Pete,
    Yes, there may be some fear of losing inerrancy or power or your constituency. But my whole life experience among innerantists is not so much fear but the quest for absolute certainty which is a myth. Certitude on truth seems to be the bottom line, not fear. Actually, to tell inerrantists it comes down to fear probably makes them mad as they proscribe some kind of negative image on those of us who are non-inerrantists.

    • peteenns

      CGC, you have a good point. But…. pursuing the “myth of absolute certainty” is driven by a deep (meaning, unarticulated) fear of what will happen if they do not have that certainty.

  • Pete, you wrote: “Those who resist the growing dissatisfaction with inerrancy are obligated to engage the data and offer a more convincing paradigm, not offer piecemeal solutions.”

    I agree–yet I think the onus is also on those who question traditional understandings of inerrancy to offer a more convincing alternative. It’s easy to find piecemeal examples that “refute” inerrancy, but is there a coherent alternative out there that is still trusting of Scripture and the God who reveals himself therein? Maybe, “trust but verify”?

    • peteenns

      I guess I would say that “the traditional view of inerrancy” is the recent development that needs to be defended, and that it is not “coherent.” If it were, it likely wouldn’t have an many critics.

  • J. Johnson

    So who gets to decide what is right and what is wrong? Did Peter really jump out of the boat? Was there a flood? How about Jonah and the whale? What exactly are the ten commandments? who gets to decide these? Was Jesus wrong when he gave the sermon on the mount? Me as a young person wonders who has the authority and how is that decided? It isn’t a fear of uncertianty. Its the frustration of whats right and how did you get to decide this. I am tired of this elder being inspired and that elder being inspired only in the opposite direction. Then there is a disagreement about who is right. Call me sceptical but for the most part the one who wins is the one who gives the most money. Then did you get to decide what is correct because of your soundness, because God gave you some divine revelation, or because you have the biggest check book. This is my beef with this whole thing when it leaves this nice world of internet and is brought to reality on Sunday morning. To be very honest though my biggest beef is the whole notion of second guessing God. Do you not think God is big enough to work around man and his errors? Isn’t that the whole point, God is invincible. We can always count on him because nothing is impossible for God. Which boils down to trusting him. What do you do when you deem something in error and it is also in other places in the Bible? Do you then just rip out those pages or rewrite it the way you see fit. This is a very slippery slope.

    • peteenns

      Trusting God and trusting the BIble are not the same thing. I agree with what you say about people in powert thinking they can call the shots, but inerrancy isn’t the solution, since the Bible still has to be interpreted–and power comes into play there, too, big time.

      • J. Johnson

        How can trusting God and not his Word be seperate? Yes you are very correct there is a lot of power play when it comes to interpretation. I think that is the gift of history and learning what was going on at that time reading the books in their original language and knowing the culture gives you the context. I have found it to be very comforting to have the Magisterium to help in such matters I have found the Church and plan to stay.

  • leanne

    You have nailed it Peter, and this problem will not be solved easily or quickly because of the need for certainty, as J. Johnson and others say. My opinion is that eventually each of us must come to the point that we can say, “I will decide what is right, and what is an illusion.” (Led Zepllin). Oh, yes, some will make grave errors, but it is still the best way for competent adults.

  • Kyle

    Hey Dr. Enns –

    I love your work. I think the most frustrating thing about the debate over inerrancy among evangelicals is the way in which fear and retrenchment keep evangelicals from discussing the real issues, about which there is more agreement than it may initially appear.

    Indeed, I think the very word “inerrancy” is part of the problem. Most seasoned “inerrantists” at least concede that *some* things should not be considered “errors” (or errors “that matter”), precisely because, they say, we cannot apply modern standards to the goals of ancient texts (cf. the Chicago Statement). So, in my mind, the real debate is whether we should make similar qualifications in light of new evidence about ancient standards and goals (and perhaps whether we think there is such new evidence, though it is hard to dispute). There hardly seems to be a difference of principle here between seasoned (vs. straight-up fundamentalist) “inerrantists” and “non-inerrantists,” only a difference of degree, and an apparent unwillingness on the part of “inerrantists” to apply consistently what they have already begun to apply in a document like the Chicago Statement.

    By my lights, it all comes down to what we take to be the intention and purpose of the text, and accordingly, what “errors” we judge to be relevant or irrelevant to that purpose. I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary a couple of years back, and their statement of faith holds that Scripture is “without error in all that it affirms.” On this point, it seems to me that traditional “inerrantists” and “non-inerrantists” actually agree, though this agreement is often obscured by the polarizing and fear-based rhetoric. Both sides agree that the Bible will be truthful–without error–on whatever it puts forward for our belief, after careful hermeneutical work in discerning what it is actually teaching/affirming–even if, as the “non-inerrantist” (and even the seasoned “inerrantists” though to a lesser degree!) insists, the Bible *contains* “errors” of an incidental kind. If we can make this point clear, I think much of the resistance to a “non-inerrantist” position would evaporate, since I believe much of it is rooted in the fear that if we abandon “inerrancy,” what the Bible actually *teaches* may be in error, leaving us with no reliable rule of faith. But no one is saying that.

    Am I wrong?

    • peteenns

      I find the idea “inerrant in all it affirms/teaches” to create hermeneutical problems as much as solve them. All one has to do is apply this idea to Genesis 1 to see how unhelpful it is.

      • Kyle

        Dr. Enns,

        I guess I’m confused. I take it that you do not believe the Bible actually intends to puts forward for our belief that there is a dome above the earth, that the world was created in six days, etc.–thought it certainly contains these errors. That is to say, you don’t believe the Bible *intends to teach/affirm* these things, that to affirm things on such matters is not its purpose. It *assumes* these errors and *contains* them, to be sure, and they are used as a vehicle to put forward for our belief certain other truths (the author(s) likely believed them), but since the intention/purpose of the Bible is not to speak to scientific truth as such, it does not intend to affirm such things for us.

        I don’t think even non-inerrantists can avoid the fact that a teaching has to be true to be authoritative. The Bible has to be correct on what it intends to speak to in order to be authoritative. This seems to be a conceptual truth: falsehood has no authority over our beliefs. “Without error in all that it affirms” simply means that, once we figure out the purpose/intention of the Bible and apply the proper hermeneutics, what it teaches regarding that purpose will be true. Certainly non-inerrantists do not want to say that the Bible is ever wrong on what it *intends* to teach us and affirm, even once we sift out the incorrect conceptual world of the ancients and conduct proper hermeneutics, do they?

        • Kyle

          I suppose I’m just wondering if some conceptual and terminological clarity here could bridge some of the gap between inerrantists and non-inerrantists (though certainly not all of the gap). It does not quite make sense to me for anyone–inerrantist or non-inerrantist–to say, once all hermeneutical work and reflection of the nature of the Bible is said and done, that the Bible, as inspired revelation, actually puts forward for our belief falsehoods. So for instance, I take it that the non-inerrantist is not saying that the Bible puts forward for our belief Young Earth Creationism; indeed, he is arguing for the conclusion that this is not the Bible’s purpose or point, even if it contains such a teaching.

          I think there in implicit distinction at work here for the non-inerrantist (and to a lesser degree, the inerrantist) between what the Bible contains and what it ultimately teaches or holds before us as authoritative truth. Perhaps these aren’t the best words/[hrases, and perhaps this is where some of the disconnect is, but I can’t see how anyone who views the Bible as inspired divine revelation can keep from holding at least that everything God *wants* to say to us through the Bible will be true. The debate seems to be over what we should expect from the Bible in terms of the spheres of its teaching, not over whether what God is actually teaching us (discerned through reflection on the nature of the Bible and hermeneutics) through the text is true. Everyone should agree on that, short of holding that God puts before us for our belief untruths.

          • Kyle

            Perhaps you took “without error in all that it affirms/teaches” to mean a view that the Bible *contains* no errors in the course of its teachings. And in one sense, it is true that the Bible “affirms” or “teaches” errors in terms of science, history, etc.

            What I was trying to get at with “without error in all that it affirms” was that sense of *intention* and *purpose* — the Bible will be without error in what it *puts forward for our belief*–what it *ultimately* teaches and affirms when all interpretation and reflection of the Bible is said and done, even if it contains and in a sense affirms erroneous teachings on various matters as a means to teach those ultimate truths.

            It seems to me that non-inerrantists want to–indeed need to–say this.

  • Kyle

    (and of course, in light of new scientific and historical evidence)

  • *Sigh of relief*

    I had to give up on talking about inerrancy for a while because I was so burnt out by the overwhelming responses from inerrantists and the non-interest from those who didn’t really care. I sometimes wish faith was that simple where I could avoid the heated debates. It seems much more peaceful.

    I appreciate all these recent posts regarding inerrancy, Dr. Enns. You are building (or at least trying to build) something I couldn’t: An environment in which inerrantists, non-inerrantists, and sojourners are on equal ground, discussing their various perspectives with humility. Finally I don’t feel as though I’m the only one bugged by certain unanswered questions.

    Sort of off-topic, but sort of not: Would you happen to know of any seminary in the Northwest that doesn’t lean too heavily on doctrines and systematic theology? I’m currently contemplating pursuing a Master’s in theological studies, but keep running up against close-handed beliefs – beliefs which I just so happen to want to question.

    Thanks. Blessings…

    • peteenns

      Jeremy, it depends on how northwest you are talking about. Have you looked at George Fox?

    • Dan Arnold


      Fuller has an extension campus in Seatle and the faculty there will give you plenty of room to explore (at least they did me).

  • Kyle

    Dr. Enns – would you be comfortable with someone describing your position as one that holds that the Bible will always be truthful with respect to what it intends to teach us? It seems to me that if this were an accurate description of your position, making this clear would vitiate at least some resistance to non-inerrancy positions.

    • peteenns

      Kyle, I think this way of asking the question puts people on a road that gets further and further away from clarity. For example, there are places–quite large places–in the OT, where it is quite obvious what the intentional teaching is, that is then transformed in the NT in such a way that clear OT teaching far behind. This is why the NTs use of the OT is a key (among others) hermeneutical/theological issue to grasp well before entering in a discussion such as this. This is an issue that an inerrantist model has had difficulty addressing, and actually often botches it up. The pressing question may not be how to maintain an inerrantist paradigm but leaving that issue alone and exploring how the Bible behaves what the Bible set up to do.

      • Kyle

        But my question is not motivated by maintaining an “inerrantist” paradigm; rather, it is motivated by making sure that we hold at least that whatever we discern the Bible to be teaching us when all is said and done, is true–that what it is set up to teach us, what God intends to teach us through it, will be true. I don’t think even a non-inerrantist can give this up without giving up entirely the idea of revelation–of God putting before us true things for us to believe. Even the non-inerrantist has to say that God speaks *truth* to us through the Bible, even if, on his view, it is through a text that is errant and messy in various ways.

        I don’t see how the reality of the NT authors’ use of the OT scriptures detracts from my point. I’m not speaking of *authorial* intent here, but rather *God’s* revelatory intention for the text. So, the issue is not what an individual *author* intends to affirm, but what *the Bible as divine revelation* intends to affirm, once we conduct careful reflect on the nature of the Bible, its inherent tensions, its erroneous cultural conceptual worlds, the odd hermeneutics of NT authors, using a Christotelic hermeneutic, etc. Even if, as the non-inerrantist rightly insists, we are careful not to attempt to flatten out these tensions and errors artificially and instead leave them standing, certainly we still want to say that amidst and through all of these tensions, errors, etc, God aims to teach us *truths* (not falsehoods) about Himself, His relation to the world, salvation, etc.

        From your writings, it seems clear to me that you do believe this. Indeed, your last statement about attending to “what the Bible is set up to do” is exactly the description I am going for. Certainly you, even as a non-inerrantist, want to say that the Bible will be truthful regarding what it is set up to speak on. What I am saying is, if non-inerrantists were clear on this point, I think much of the fear associated with non-inerrancy would evaporate. An inerrantist is often worried by non-inerrancy on an intuitive level because they are afraid it means that God teaches them falsehoods through the Bible–that God puts before them falsehoods for their belief. But the non-inerrantist is not saying that, as far as I understand the best articulations of the position. Rather, he is saying that God speaks *truth* through and amidst tension, error, limitation, etc. What God aims to teach us through the Bible will be truthful (or “without error”). Once we figure out how the Bible behaves, what it is set up to do, and what we should expect from it, what we get according to those expectations will be truthful. In other words, even for the non-inerrantist, what the Bible actually intends to teach us–or what God intends to teach us through it–will be true.

        • Kyle

          *I’m not speaking of authorial intent, nor am I speaking about the intentional teaching of individual books or passages, but rather the intent of the teaching of the Bible as a whole–God’s revelatory intentions with the text–once all the reflection on its nature and purpose is said and done.

  • Carlos Bovell

    To Kyle:

    Chapters 3 and 4 of my book Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear are entitled, “The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy and the Truth of Biblical Narratives,” and “Inerrantist Appeals to Speech Act Theory and the Truth of Biblical Narratives,” respectively. You might want to check them out, they address many of the points you are hitting upon in your comments.

    • Kyle

      Carlos — I’ll definitely check that out. Would you say that on your view, it is appropriate to say that the Bible will be true with respect to what God intends to teach us through it? That is, once the Bible’s nature is understood, including the errors and the like, nevertheless, what the Bible as a divine revelation intends to affirm will be true? That what God puts forward for our belief in and through the Bible will be true?

      To me, if the non-inerrantist can say this, it would clear up a lot of resistance to non-inerrantism. Indeed, some people might say this is just a more nuanced version of inerrancy. I do think there would be a problem if we said that what God ultimately puts before us for our belief in an through the Bible is false, but I see no problem with God speaking truth through and with various errors.

      • Kyle

        I’m not so much attached to Speech Acts theory as I am the contention that the Bible must be truthful in what it puts forward for our belief. I think that, minimally, something cannot be authoritative divine revelation unless what is revealed–once we figure that out through proper hermeneutics–is true. It may be that it is revealed amidst and through errors of various kinds, but what *is* revealed has to be true for it to be authoritative divine revelation.

        • Kyle

          I’m trying to keep my question/concern as minimal as possible, free from any particular theory of how the Bible operates. A basic “intuition” of most inerrantist, one that I think is actually correct (and the one that motivates the many qualifications that rightly make us wonder if “inerrancy” is an accurate word any longer), is that God would not authorize falsehood for our beliefs. What God reveals to us, what He puts before us for our belief in the Bible, will be true–*even if it is through erring authors and texts.*

          If “non-inerrantists” say that and are clear, I think this conversation would open up, since many “inerrantists” will see the position as sharing a basic commitment.

          • Carlos Bovell

            To Kyle:

            I appreciate your comments on biblical truth and inerrancy. You might also look at George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine to get an idea for how scripture’s “truth” is thought to extend beyond conservative emphases on propositions (an observation that is at least partly responsible for why inerrantists began to take an interest in speech act theory in the first place).

            Grace and peace,

  • Alex Burgess

    It seems that inerrancy is defined only as unlimited these days. Whatever happened to good old limited inerrancy? Is that term ever used any more? It may not be perfect, but I think it could be a helpful term in the ongoing conversation (especially for those working in institutions where some sort of subscription to inerrancy is required).

  • David S.

    Thanks for bring up these important issues. I just graduated from a Baptist college, and it changed the way I viewed the Bible. I stopped using the term “inerrant” almost a couple of years ago. I believe that the way some people defend inerrancy, though probably with good intentions, can actually drive people away from the faith in the long run. What saddens me the most is that there are people in high positions who say that if one questions inerrancy, then one is ultimately questioning Jesus. The truth is….Once I rejected flat-out inerrancy, though it led to other questions, it opened up a fresh new world to me. To look at the Bible anew. Thank you for bringing this most needed discussion to the table.

  • tom

    Limited inerrancy sounds like a good recipe for fudge:) As an Anglican I know all about fudge. If your definition is vague you can get everyone to agree. The problem is that inerrant folks probably would not go for a limited inerrancy. Also isn’t the term “limited inerrancy” a little less than honest. I mean would this be a term that only could be used when talking of the bible ? Would it have any meaning in other settings?

  • Alex Burgess

    Before you dismiss limited inerrancy as a “fudge” and “a little less than honest”, I would only ask that you consider this Fall 1974 JETS article by Richard Coleman (back when the term was more in vogue). I think it’s a pretty a good defense of the term. Yes, it demands significant qualifications, but so does unlimited inerrancy.

  • tom

    Thanks for the link. I have given the article a look but have not had time to study it. From what I understand I think that you are right about the concept of limited inerrancy. It’s just the name that I was dismissive of. The word limited seems to strip the word inerrancy of its natural meaning. I think it best to drop the word inerrancy altogether but I can see that may not be possible.

  • Steve

    Thank you all for a much needed conversation.
    My thoughts are largely in response to Kyle’s.

    I’m wondering if a helpful word here would be “infallibility” versus “inerrancy”…?

    I have been a pastor in the Free Methodist church for 10+ years, a denomination that does not hold to inerrancy but to infallibility, that is that the Bible “…is the trustworthy record of God’s revelation, completely truthful in all it affirms.” (taken from the Articles of Faith in the FM Book of Discipline)

    Here is how I see the difference between infallibility and inerrancy:

    While an undergrad at Seattle Pacific University, OT Professor Dr. Frank (Anthony) Spina would often say that the Bible does not claim to be THE Revelation but the RECORD of the Revelation. That is: At first God revealed himself to a chosen person/family (Abraham) and then among his people (Israel). And then God revealed himself ultimately in Jesus. The Bible is the record of this revelation of God, as opposed to the revelation itself.

    For clarification: certainly there are specific sections of the Bible that contain much more direct revelations from God (a written record of God’s words spoken through prophets, dreams and visions). And yet even so, the Bible functions as a record of God revealing himself in a specific place and time, among a specific people (Israel) and eventually in a specific person (Jesus Christ). And what’s more, most of the Bible functions as the retelling of these events by various completely human and fallible people (who were all imbedded in a specific place and time, and who all therefore had the limited understanding and knowledge that comes with this). The Bible never claims that God penned these words himself or whispered the majority of them into someones ear to write down. In one of our Dr. Spina led class discussions, we talked about how the Koran (and its community of faith from the very beginning) claims to be an actual word for word revelation from God (Mohammed received it in a cave). This is not a claim the whole of Scripture makes.

    What the Bible does claim, as well as the community of faith that years ago deemed it Scripture, is that it is a completely reliable and infallible witness to the Revelation of God (who he is, what he is like and his plans and purposes) to the world (via Israel and ultimately Jesus). In other words the Bible is Truth.

    The reality is that we have a Bible that has been passed from language to language, culture to culture, interpretation to interpretation. It is always read through some interpretive human and therefore fallible lens. And while the community of faith (the Church) throughout history has sought to faithfully preserve and interpret it, the Bible has been preserved and interpreted through fallible imperfect humans. The Church has to own up to this because it is what it is. And if you do own up to it, I don’t see how inerrancy works.

    And I see a lot of Evangelical Christians owning up to this by holding to “Infallibility” instead of “Inerrancy”. The position is that Scripture is True and yet may have some historical discrepancies (in not critical places) (I know this is worthy of a-whole-nother discussion), and/or places where Scripture is not attempting historical claims but rather interested in the “who?” and “why?” Yes this opens up a whole can of worms. But I don’t see how we can’t open them if we truly acknowledge what the Bible is, who it came to be in our hands and how it functions with itself.

    Of course this then brings up a whole host of issues. But my point here is to simply say that there are a whole bunch of evangelicals out there who get at this issue by simply embracing the Bible as the reliable witness, the record of the Revelation, that the Church throughout history has deemed as Scripture. In other words, the Bible is infallible, not inerrant.

    • Steve

      Edit second to last paragraph: how it came to be (not who)

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Infallibility, inerrancy, limited innerancy, the problem with all these terms are “they die the death of a thousand qualifications” (something I heard from I. H. Marshall many years ago). We need a new language that not only represents what we find within scripture, but maybe a language that comes from scipture?

    • peteenns

      No argument here.

      • Alex Burgess

        Very true. As a pastor, I really do find a deeper wisdom among my people than with most “defenders” of the Bible. While they approach Scripture with great reverence, they’re not hung up on these matters. They’re open to letting the Bible speak for itself, and they don’t feel the need protect it or make apologies for it. They intuitively understand it’s an ancient book, and they seem quite comfortable letting it be a little foreign. Indeed, that’s what makes it interesting. Because they know you can never quite get a handle on it, the Bible never ceases to surprising and challenging.