Quick poll. Just wondering where people stand on this issue.
A) an absolute inerrantist? (the Chicago Statement)
B) a limited inerrantist? (can contain historical and scientific errors, but otherwise inerrant on matters of faith and practice, morality, etc.)
C) an inerrantist of purpose? (the Bible is inerrant insofar as it accomplishes the purpose for which God gave it; may contain historical, scientific, or [esp. in OT] theological errors)
D) an errantist or “non-inerrantist”? (the Bible has errors, and who cares)
Hopefully that’s a good number of categories to get us going, but if you don’t feel you fit into any of those, or just dislike labels, just write a few short sentences about what you believe. This subject can get technical and tricky at times. I’m curious to see your responses.
In my opinion this is best phrased as a yes/no binary question when using the term “inerrant”. I would say I am a non-inerrantist (E), in that I believe the Bible may and likely does contain errors of some sort in at least some places. Even the most minute but real error rules out “inerrancy”. IMO there is no sound basis for foisting “inerrancy” on the text.
Side note, as far as I know Enns is not an inerrantist of any sort.
In the preface to his second edition of “Inspiration and Incarnation,” Enns makes reference to the fact that he calls himself a “progressive inerrantist,” while also claiming to be a “non-inerrantist” (eschewing the use of the term “errantist”). I may have misread him there, but I think he does claim to be an inerrantist of a highly qualified variety.
I’m not sure how all of your categories are defined. Assuming that it runs top to bottom from absolute perfection to ‘riddled with errors but who cares?,’ I’m probably around B. I think its mostly accurate and those areas that we might define as errors are on our end and not the authors. For example, I wouldn’t say that author of Esther erred when he described a figure with no other historical record and a number of provinces that didn’t exist. I would say that we err when we attempt to read it as such because we miss the point and/or don’t understand the genre.
However inerrancy may be defined—whether strictly or in its more nuanced, progressive varieties (both types are represented in this book)—however it is defined, in my opinion inerrancy doesn’t sit well with what I see when I open my Bible and read it.
I think the list you have is deeply flawed. Sorry. it seems to a suggest a ranking of “intensity” of some sort. I strongly dispute this. A lot have been work has been put in to determining ecuemencial langauge for this. I think the language of the Lausanne Covenant is very helpful and say…
I believe that the bible is inerrant in “all that it affirms.”
This allows for careful consideration of what exactly the Bible affirms, without pretending that our personal interpretations of scripture ensconced in a belief statement hold the same authority of scripture. This, I would say, is one of the big failings of the Chicago Statement. Even though I can affirm it in the same that Hugh Ross and RTB affirm it too.
That was when he was still employed by a Reformed seminary. Inerrancy is highly political, as you probably know. After he was fired from Westminster Theological, I think for publishing that book you quoted from, he has been much more direct about his rejection of inerrancy. People’s views evolve over time too.
Personally, I avoid inerrancy when talking about my theology of Scripture because I don’t think it is a helpful construct. Whereas the Chicago Statement may have had its time and place, it was a product of (almost exclusively) American (white male) Evangelicalism, and it answered questions and addressed concerns pertinent to their particular time in Church history. It is woefully inadequate for addressing the concerns of Evangelicalism in a postmodern, multicultural context. I don’t see why we need to bend over backwards trying to pretend it is relevant and helpful today.
And that is what I see most people doing when they try to make inerrancy make sense, given how we currently understand texts, communication, meaning-making, and culture. You end up invoking the Humpty-Dumpty quote from Alice in Wonderland. (“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”) To understand what a given author means when they say they accept inerrancy, you often have to wade through pages and pages of dense and nuanced prose explaining what they don’t think inerrancy means, and I often come away wondering if they just had to salute the flagpole to keep their job.
I think the real question, one I don’t feel writers like Sparks and Enns address well (although I have enjoyed reading their discussions of inerrancy and I think they make a lot of valid points), is how you uphold the Bible’s authority if its authority does not rest on it’s inerrancy and perfection.
I’m committed to an authoritative Scripture. I don’t think it is ever a valid contention that such-and-such in Scripture can be dismissed “because… science” or “because…sexist/racist/ignorant/culturally biased.” At least if you are going to claim to be Evangelical, you have to do your exegetical gymnastics and offer a viable interpretation based on biblical theology, linguistics, cultural studies, and you have to engage with the historic teaching of the church. Or you can say, “I don’t know what to do with that part of the Bible.” That is always an acceptable admission, and sometimes the most preferable “interpretation” to me.
The best essay I’ve read on the authority of Scripture is an old N. T. Wright lecture from the 1989. You can read it here if you are interested. I think it presciently addresses the deeper issues.
I would say then…nothing. The inerrancy package makes a mighty soft cornerstone. Since I’m doing a lot of stealing from authors lately (this one also not an inerrantist), here’s Greg Boyd in Benefit of the Doubt:
…rather than believing in Jesus because I believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, as evangelicals typically do, I came to believe the Bible was the inspired Word of God because I first believe in Jesus. This is how I now encourage people to structure their faith, for I have found it to be a much surer intellectual foundation for my faith than the conviction that Scripture is the Word of God… … …It is, in the words of C.S. Lewis, the greatest myth ever told, though unlike all other myths, this one gives us reason to believe it actually happened!
I would say that you were mistaken in saying that the Bible affirms it (a problem with your interpretation) or you are mistaken about the fact. Holding to inerrancy in this sense does not play make believe that intepretation does not exist. We still have to apply hermeneutics and interpretation to make our best guess as to what the Bible affirms.
I know that many have jettisoned the notion of inerrancy altogether. I am not one of them. Most Christians have not either. Once again, I point to the Lussanne covenenant as a good model. Does not suffer the same problems as the Chicago statment, and has stood the test of at least 3 generations now.
At least Lausanne reflects a global Evangelical consensus, not just American concerns. It focuses on the inspiration, truth, and authority of Scripture, not on trying to pin down a definition of what inerrancy means. https://www.lausanne.org/content/lop/lop-3
E) This question is too political to answer in written form online, even when using a semi-anonymous username.
But since I’m piping in despite myself: how can one NOT affirm that the OT has theological errors? I mean, I suppose that in the case of those OT texts that imply that people die and go off to Sheol and that’s the end of the story, inerrantists say that those texts have been superseded by other later scriptures that affirm otherwise. Relegating aspects of Old Testament theology to a particular dispensation is a time-honored tradition within many inerrantist circles, but sometimes it seems to me it can get fuzzy how exactly one decides what’s an acceptable line of reasoning and what isn’t.
Roger Olsen on patheos has also written some good blogs on inerrancy. I believe he has said that those who claim inerrancy have placed so many qualifiers on it that it has made the term meaningless, and it is now used primarily a “litmus test” for conservative circles even though largely devoid of meaning.