If you believe in ‘inerrancy’ you have to pretend that all the other people who believe in ‘inerrancy’ do not exist

If you believe in ‘inerrancy’ you have to pretend that all the other people who believe in ‘inerrancy’ do not exist October 15, 2013

“Complementarians” do not like Rachel Held Evans — mainly because complementarians do not like other complementarians.

They have to attack Rachel because she listens to all of them, and tries to respond to all of them. And they can’t bear that, because that exposes the one thing they can’t survive acknowledging: the wide diversity of “complementarian” views.

That word refers to the idea that men and women have “complementary” roles, with men divinely ordained as leaders. It’s basically a religious euphemism for “patriarchal.”

What all these various “complementarians” share in common is the claim that their views are based on the decisive, authoritative plain reading of an inerrant Bible. That’s their trump card — “It’s not me saying this, it’s God.” Anyone who disagrees, therefore, is denying “the authority of scripture” by rejecting its plain, clear, obvious meaning.

This is what the idea of biblical “inerrancy” offers its adherents. This is its appeal and its primary function. If we do not recognize the Bible’s authority as the final word, settling all disputes with clear, definitive teaching, then we are adrift.

Inerrancy, in other words, is said to be the only way to avoid a bewildering diversity of opinions and interpretations and the only way of adjudicating decisively between competing views.

That’s an excellent argument and it makes biblical inerrancy seem very appealing. The problem is that, in practice, biblical inerrancy itself produces a bewildering diversity of opinions and interpretations while offering no way of adjudicating decisively between competing views.

If inerrancy worked as advertised — if it were true — then every believer in an inerrant Bible would share identical beliefs with every other believer in an inerrant Bible.

And yet they don’t. Not even close.

“That other guy is lying. I alone have the one, true, inerrant Word of God.”

That diversity among inerrantists is itself a more sweeping rebuttal of their claims than any external critique of “inerrancy” ever could be.

Thus “complementarians” are upset with Rachel Held Evans not because of her critique of their views, but simply because she had the audacity to try her best to portray the wide diversity of their views as accurately and honestly as possible.

Evans writes:

The problem with accurately portraying what complementarians believe about “biblical womanhood” is that complementarians do not agree on what they believe about “biblical womanhood.”

This is why I never use the word “complementarian” in the book. It appears only once, and in the context of another person’s quote. I did this on purpose because 1) complementarianism is not a word, 2) I recognize that the movement is too diverse to summarize, and 3) I suspect a more general audience will be unfamiliar with the term anyway.

Instead, I identify and cite what specific people (some of whom identify as complementarian) say about “biblical womanhood.”

In the introduction, for example, I quote from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s pivotal Danver’s Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to try and capture the ethos of the movement. On page 22, I quote Dorothy Patterson’s statement in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that “keeping the home is God’s assignment to the wife—even down to changing the sheets, doing the laundry, and scrubbing the floors.” On page 100, I quote Mark Driscoll as saying that “a wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband….is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping either.” On page 178, I quote Walter Chantry who said, “Woman’s hope, the church’s hope, the world’s hope is joined to childbearing…Women, here is a lifelong calling! It’s the highest any woman can enter,” and Dorothy Patterson again who said , “We need mothers who are not only family-oriented, but family-obsessed.” On page 203-204 I examine John Piper’s views on women’s submission from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and on pages 207-214, I examine Debi Pearl’s. (Note: I never identify Debi Pearl as a complementarian.) On page 254, I quote again from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to share what John Piper and Wayne Grudem say there about women teaching and leading in the church.

If most of these people and organizations identify as complementarian, and if I represent their views by quoting directly from their books or sermons, and their fellow complementarians disagree with those views … that seems like something complementarians need to discuss amongst themselves rather than with me.

That’s true. But they can’t have that discussion amongst themselves, because to do so would be to acknowledge the intolerable diversity of views among those claiming that the authority of an inerrant Bible eliminates the possibility of all such diversity.

See earlier:

• The all-or-nothing lie of fundamentalist Christianity (part 1)

• The all-or-nothing lie of fundamentalist Christianity (part 2)


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