Kudos to the Church of the Nazarene for Resisting Pressure to Expand “Inerrancy”

Kudos to the Church of the Nazarene for Resisting Pressure to Expand “Inerrancy” July 11, 2013

Kudos to the Church of the Nazarene for Resisting Pressure to Expand “Inerrancy”

I have not heard news from the June (2013) annual convention of the Church of the Nazarene that specifically answers the question regarding the disposition of the proposed amendment to its statement of faith. I have scoured the internet looking for such, but have not found it. I’m assuming the amendment was defeated, but I am prepared to stand corrected.

The amendment was proposed by a group of Nazarene pastors in 2009 and referred to a study committee that brought a proposal to this year’s convention.

The Nazarene Church’s statement of faith affirms the plenary inspiration of Scripture but limits inerrancy to matters pertaining to salvation. Some call this “partial” or “limited” inerrancy.

The amendment, which I hope was defeated by the convention, reads as follows:

RESOLVED that Manual paragraph 4 be amended as follows:
IV. The Holy Scriptures
4. We believe in the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, by which we understand the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, [inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation] inerrant throughout, and the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach so that whatever is not contained therein is not to be enjoined as an article of faith.
(Luke 24:44-47; John 10:35; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21)

The study committee’s report is lengthy but can be found here:

https://sp.nazarene.org/gar/Shared%20Documents/English/Commission%20Reports/Report%20of%20the%20Scripture%20Study%20Committee.pdf

(If it does not show as an active hyperlink here, just copy and paste it into your browser.)

I applaud the study committee’s report; it is a beautiful example of sound biblical-theological thinking about Scripture, its authority and accuracy. It also reflects the historic Wesleyan position—the one held by stalwarts of the Nazarene tradition such as H. Orton Wiley, the “dean” of Nazarene theologians.

Ever since the publication of The Battle for the Bible in 1976 evangelical denominations and institutions have been “under the gun,” so to speak, from fundamentalists to establish plenary, detailed inerrancy (sometimes with necessary qualifications and sometimes without) as required doctrine. That belief is foreign to many evangelical traditions—especially those in the Pietist tradition (broadly defined). I have been doing a lot of research on Pietism lately and can report confidently that neither Spener nor Francke nor Zinzendorf—the three early great leaders of Pietism—believed in it. They believed exactly what the traditional Nazarene confession says—that inerrancy pertains to matters of salvation only.

Many evangelical denominations and institutions that never held to plenary, detailed inerrancy as a matter of required doctrine caved in to pressure in the aftermath of The Battle for the Bible. Nazarenes and most others in the Holiness-Pentecostal tradition did not. But the pressure just keeps up—mostly from “Reformed” (Calvinistic) neo-fundamentalists who came into those denominations and institutions from outside and were/are not familiar with their Pietist, not rationalist, ethos.

I grew up in the “thick” of Pentecostalism and had many Nazarene friends. We considered Nazarenes and other evangelical Wesleyans our near “cousins” in the faith. We had much in common even though we disagreed on some distinctive doctrines such as speaking in tongues and entire sanctification. My parents dragged me and my brother to the West Des Moines Nazarene Campmeeting every summer—one of the largest Holiness campmeetings in the world. Over the years I’ve known many wonderful Nazarene theologians including one of their finest—Kenneth Grider (who strongly opposed plenary, detailed inerrancy without caving in one inch to liberal theology).

The argument used by advocates of plenary, detailed inerrancy is, of course, that it is the only guard against liberal theology. That’s nonsense. Wesleyan-Holiness, Pietist, and Pentecostal groups have traditionally not held to it and have anyway not slid down the slippery slope into liberal theology.

I think an argument can be made the other direction—that a doctrinal requirement of plenary, detailed inerrancy can lead down a slippery slope into obscurantist fundamentalism and wooden, literalistic biblical interpretation (e.g., the author of The Battle for the Bible’s argument that the rooster must have crowed six times during, after Peter’s denial of Christ—to reconcile the gospels’ accounts of the event).

But my main concern with plenary, detailed inerrancy is that it changes the ethos of Christianity—from Christ-centered to Bible-centered. And it changes the ethos of evangelicalism from experience-centered to reason-centered.

I hope the Church of the Nazarene accepted and affirmed the study committee’s report and recommendation to retain the traditional wording of the Church’s statement of faith and rejected the amendment proposed in 2009.

 

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