Thursday, June 07, 2007
Status of Inerrancy
I have met some Evangelical Christians who, at the mention of the word "inerrancy" role their eyes and shake their head, and go into a long winded speech about fundamentalism and 161 reasons why they don't like the KJV or George Bush. I have met others who think that inerrancy is the centre of the theological galaxy (who needs Jesus when you have inerrancy) and make inerrancy the sine qua non of authentic faith. Let me say this: (1) If I have to choose between errancy and inerrancy, I'll take inerrancy; (2) Christians through-out the centuries have affirmed that the Bible is free from error in all that it claims, and I stand with them; (3) A case can be made that inerrancy is arguably an implicate of inspiration, so it's a theological doctrine but not necessarily a historical or biblical one (if ya don't like that one, don't blame me, blame Carl Henry); and (4) My preferred expression for a Doctrine of Scripture is the 1689 LBC which states: "The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience" (see 1689 LBC 1.1-10). That aside, I'm interested in exploring the status of inerrancy as an article of faith. The originator of a modern view of inerrancy, B.B. Warfield, and the most capable theologian of inerrancy, Carl Henry, did not regard inerrancy as the necessary criteria of an authentic Christian.
James Orr, professor at Glasgow University, a contributor to the "Fundamentals" argued that what Warfield was proposing in inerrancy was "suicidal" (direct quote). Yet Orr and Warfield remained good friends, contributed to joint publications, and promoted each other's work. Carl F. Henry was good friends with F.F. Bruce (non-inerrantist and egalitarian) and they regarded each other as good evangelical scholars. Here's my questions:
1. Did Warfield and Henry fail to see the gravity of their own views, or did they (I think rightly) put inerrancy in its proper perspective in terms of the weight that they assigned to it as a theological doctrine? Have the heirs of Warfield and Henry exceeded or abandoned what Warfield and Henry saw themselves as doing?
2. To what extent has the "Battle for the Bible" been a product of the Christianity's battle/struggle with Modernity, and have conservatives tried to win the war by using the rationalistic philosophy of the Enlightenment?
3. Do some evangelicals look down on inerrancy as if to somehow make a desperate plea to non-evangelicals to take them seriously? For example: "Yes, I'm an evangelical, but I don't believe in inerrancy, so please come to my SBL paper!" (As I bite my bleeding tongue, Russ Moore might actually be right on this one!)
My thinking on this topic has been influenced largely by my boss, Andy McGowan, see his work: A.T.B. McGowan, ‘The Spiration of Scripture,' Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 21.2 (2003) 199-217 - excellent stuff!