Is Inerrancy An Essential?

Is Inerrancy the litmus test for orthodoxy? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

We would have liked to have hoped that Geisler had ended his obsession, but alas, this is not the case. Of course, this has been also because of his web site where he has a petition for people to sign to stand up for the Bible before it’s too late!

Because we all know that Mike Licona, one of the strongest defenders of the resurrection of Jesus today, is just going full throttle in an attack on the Bible. Reading Geisler and seeing his obsession, you’d think Mike Licona is some master villain making it his goal in life to destroy the faith of Christians.

Of course, as has been pointed out with regard to this petition is that Geisler is the one who determines who is the true upholder of Inerrancy and who isn’t. I have in fact demonstrated this pointing out how Geisler has deleted my signature from the petition, even though I agree with what it says. See here. This also has happened to Craig Blomberg.

If you think I sound extreme in this, keep in mind that there is even a question asking if Mike Licona is the next Bart Ehrman. Think I'm kidding? Think again. It’s my understanding that this was from a paper at Veritas Evangelical Seminary. If that’s right, I’m pretty sure that if Geisler graded it I know what the reaction was.

Of course, it’s bizarre to say Mike is the next Bart Ehrman. In fact, the more likely scenario is someone in Geisler’s camp would be the next Bart Ehrman since Ehrman was one who put too many eggs in the Inerrancy basket and not just Inerrancy, but a literalist Inerrancy. If Geisler thinks that that is not a problem, I’d like him to meet the several ex-Christian atheists that I’ve met online who in large part left Christianity because they had the Inerrancy doctrine called into question when they in reality held to a modern view of Inerrancy, like Geisler’s.

So now, let’s see what Christopher Haun has to say on his article on Inerrancy and if it’s a litmus test for orthodoxy.

It’s worth pointing out that this starts with a quotation from Daniel Wallace in his review of Defining Inerrancy, the Ebook that J.P. Holding and I co-wrote together with a review by Craig Blomberg. You can find a description here:

If you want to, you can go here and buy a copy and help support Deeper Waters at the same time! Please leave a positive review!

Keep in mind also, that this is a book that a response has not been written to. We are sure Geisler will just be thrilled when the print version comes out expanded to include the works of scholars in the field as well.

At least we can be sure that it has been noticed as is indicated by Haun’s review.

What’s the relationship between biblical inerrancy and orthodoxy? Recently Daniel Wallace suggested that Carl Henry opposed the importance of inerrancy, claiming it was not a litmus test for orthodoxy. Wallace wrote:
And it is this very problem that one of the architects of modern evangelicalism, Carl Henry (who could hardly be condemned as being soft on inerrancy!), addressed in his book, Evangelicals in Search of Identity. It seems that many evangelicals are still not listening. And yet Henry saw, forty years ago, that the evangelical church was making inerrancy the litmus test of orthodoxy to its discredit.

That is of course Wallace being quoted but note what is said at the start. Wallace said nothing about Henry opposing the importance of Inerrancy. He said the opposed it being used as a litmus test for orthodoxy. If that is the case, then there should be no disagreement.

In fact, Wallace himself says that Henry was not soft on Inerrancy. Wallace’s point then is that Henry did see Inerrancy as highly important, but he did not see it as an essential for orthodoxy. Those interested can see the whole quote here:

In Defining Inerrancy, the authors note that they have known many evangelicals who have abandoned the faith precisely because they started out with such a hardening of the categories. This rings true: I get countless emails from people who have either jettisoned their beliefs (or have friends or family members who have) because their starting presupposition was that it’s inerrancy or nothing. Such people would throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater! And it is this very problem that one of the architects of modern evangelicalism, Carl Henry (who could hardly be condemned as being soft on inerrancy!), addressed in his book, Evangelicals in Search of Identity. It seems that many evangelicals are still not listening. And yet Henry saw, forty years ago, that the evangelical church was making inerrancy the litmus test of orthodoxy to its discredit. Yet again, I digress. Holding and Peters are not in the least denying inerrancy; they are simply rejecting a rigid form of it that they see as dangerous to the health of the evangelical church.

If you’re wanting to make sure I’m quoting it right, just go here.

Interestingly, Haun leaves out the problem that is noted here. Also left out is the point that Inerrancy is not being denied but a rigid form that Holding and I see as dangerous to the health of the evangelical church, something I take Wallace to agree with since he speaks about getting numerous emails from people who abandoned Christianity because they have the impression that it’s all-or-nothing with Inerrancy.

Wonder where they got that idea from….

Once again also, we must stress that no one in this is attacking Inerrancy. Wallace believes in Inerrancy. Holding believes in it. Licona believes in it. Blomberg believes in it. I believe in it. It is in Geisler’s world and that of his followers that if you disagree with a more literalist interpretation, a style that is foreign to the text, then you disagree with Inerrancy. It doesn’t matter if you say you believe in Inerrancy, as long as you disagree with the interpretation of Geisler, you deny Inerrancy.

If writers are interested in why so many are saying they are moving away from Inerrancy and moving to authority, it is not because we have found a problem with the Bible. Not at all! It is because we are looking at this modernistic view and saying “If what it means to believe in Inerrancy is to believe in what Geisler says, then we need to find something else to believe in.”

But let’s look at some of what else Henry said.

Inerrancy is the evangelical heritage, the historic commitment of the Christian church.

A quote like this I find concerning. It shows me that our emphasis moved from Jesus to the Bible. Now to be sure, the Bible is the best witness we have of Jesus today. Still, the Bible is not Jesus. The church did not start with people proclaiming the Scripture, but it started with people proclaiming the resurrection and the Scripture in part was a testimony to that.

If the strength of American evangelicalism rests in its high view of Scripture, its weakness lies in a tendency to neglect the frontiers of formative discussion in contemporary theology

This one is worth noting because that is exactly what is being avoided. Keep in mind Geisler did not show up at the round table discussion about Licona’s view on Matthew 27 but decided afterwards that this was a good time to go after Blomberg for the great crime of standing up for Licona. (And noteworthy that he had to go back thirty years and find a paper that no one batted an eye at and try to find a way Blomberg supposedly denied Inerrancy in it.)

Geisler has this idea apparently that the way to respond to Licona’s interpretation of the passage in question is to wave a flag that says “Inerrancy” and say “Since the passage is Inerrant, therefore Licona is refuted.

This might sound like an odd notion, but to refute someone’s interpretation, you have to show the text does not mean what they take it to mean. It would not work to have the Jehovah’s Witnesses come by and when they say Jesus is not fully God to say “Inerrancy!” and act like they’re answered.

To be fair, Geisler has tried to do this some, but his arguments have been highly lacking and have not shown an interaction with New Testament scholarship. The proper attitude at that point would have been to just back away from the discussion until further research had been done. Waving the flag that says “Inerrancy” does not give Licona any reason to think his view is wrong. Now if Geisler does make an exegetical argument one day that Licona sees and makes him say “I am convinced now that Matthew is treating this as a historical event, but I think he was wrong” then I and Holding and others will certainly say that that is a denial of Inerrancy. That has not happened yet.

Those who reject inerrancy have never adduced any objective principle, either biblical, philosophical, or theological, that enables them to distinguish between those elements which are supposedly errant in Scripture and those that are not.

At this point, it is clear that New Testament scholarship has not been interacted with. Now of course, I disagree with those New Testament scholars who say the Bible is in error, but at the same time, I do agree we need a historical methodology to show that the Bible is not in error. Inerrancy is not a presupposition, but rather a conclusion.

In fact, it’s ironic that there is a statement like this because it does indicate a more presuppositional approach.

Simple question. How would someone like Henry know that the message of the Bible is true rather than say, the message of the Koran or the message of the Book of Mormon? Both of those claim to be from God as well after all.

If he points to historical claims that are known about what happened in Scripture without the doctrine of Inerrancy, then our case is made. If he says that he knows that it is true because it is the Bible and the Bible is the Word of God, then we are getting into circular reasoning.

In fact, this is the approach of a minimal facts technique where the Bible is treated the way liberal scholars treat it and we STILL have the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead. Once you establish the resurrection, Inerrancy becomes much easier to establish. It does not work however to try to establish Inerrancy first since you will inevitably need to show the resurrection to do that.

So do we have an approach to show some parts of the Bible are at least reliable? We do. We use historiography. Surely Geisler has been pleased to see archaeological findings that have corroborated the Bible and shown that the Bible was right about such and such a person or place existing. No doubt Henry was a great champion of Christianity, but he was simply wrong here.

If one asks what, in a word, eclipsed the biblical doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, what theological redefinition of inspiration in nonconceptual categories, and what encouraged neo-Protestant denial of inspiration as a decisive New Testament concept, the answer is modern biblical criticism.

There is some truth to this. There were liberals who wanted to take an approach to the Bible that would jettison the miracles and “supernatural” phenomena. (I do not like the word supernatural as I think it points to an Enlightenment dichotomy that I do not hold to.) Thus, they attempted to make arguments to show that the text was not reliable. There is nothing wrong with doing this as we make arguments to show Mormon texts are not reliable.

Picture yourself as an evangelical Christian if you’re not one and you have just got done presenting a host of problems with the text of the Book of Mormon such as contradictions and archaeological mistakes and matters of that sort to a Mormon who has come to the door and the Mormon responds by saying

“I have a testimony from the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God, and the Mormon Church is the true church of God.” When you hear this, are you going to sit back and say “Well darn it. I guess I can’t refute that.

Instead, you are more likely to see it as a defense mechanism. When I have dialogued with Mormons and they have said that, I have interpreted it to mean “Ah. There is a point that they cannot answer.”

Now picture yourself as a modern Biblical critic who is agnostic or atheist. You go to Christians and present to them what you think are a number of mistakes in the Bible such as archaeological mistakes, disagreements with modern science, contradictions, etc. Now suppose you hear this back.

“The Bible is the Inerrant Word of God and if the Bible says it, then it is true and therefore, Jesus rose from the dead.”

You are not going to be convinced.

But what if that’s what Christians did in the face of criticism? What if in the face of charges that the Bible had errors, our response was to just make a statement saying that the Bible has no errors? That’s no more a response than the Mormons making a statement that the Book of Mormon is from God and that is known because of a testimony from the Holy Ghost.

Now I am not opposed to making statements on Inerrancy, but statements do not answer questions alone. Statements should be made after questions have been answered. Unfortunately, many Christians chose to retreat. When liberals came to colleges that had been set up to proclaim the Christian faith, Christians set up their own Seminaries instead of staying to fight the battle against the liberals. How are those colleges doing today?

The problem was not Biblical criticism. The problem was bad methodology and faulty premises and conclusions. The way to respond to this is to respond with good methodology and true premises and conclusions. The way to respond to bad historiography is with good historiography. The way to respond to bad science is with good science.

If we uphold Scripture as Inerrant, then we should not fear any methodology that seeks to call it into question. If it is Inerrant, then we should not be afraid of scientific research if we think the Bible is addressing scientific questions. If you truly think the Bible teaches a young Earth for instance, you should welcome the scientific research of the scientific community because that should establish it. If you think it teaches evolution, you should welcome that. If you think it teaches an old Earth without evolution, you should also welcome that.

If you think the Bible teaches that Jesus died and rose again, you should welcome the historical research and if you are convinced that historians who say otherwise are wrong, you should seek to point to problems in their methodology or the evidence that they present. Just making a statement of what you believe will not constitute an answer.

In other words, we should be able to meet our opponents at their own game and be able to face them and win. If the Bible is historically true, then if we do history right, we will find that the Bible stands up. Of course, we can’t prove EVERYTHING historically, but if we go through and find we can trust what we can test, then we have good reason to give the benefit of the doubt to the rest. If we think the Bible speaks on scientific matters, then we should welcome the science and if it is wrong, we should be able to show it scientifically.

This is why when it comes to evolution, I stay out of the debate. I am not a scientist and I do not speak the language. If you think evolution is false and want to argue it, here’s what you do and I don’t think even the staunchest evolutionist will disagree with me on this point. Go do your study and preferably a degree in a science that is related to the field, such as biology, and study the arguments for and against and make your own arguments and present a case from the sciences that refutes evolution. If evolution is bad science after all, the way to refute it is with good science. This is the same way that if denying Jesus rose from the dead is bad history, the way to refute it is good history.

If Geisler does not want to get involved in the field of New Testament scholarship and answer Licona on an exegetical level, that is fine. The best course of action then for him to take is frankly to stay out of the debate. Perhaps he can instead rely on others who he thinks are New Testament scholars who will address the problems that they see with Licona’s view and leave the Inerrancy question out of it.

As long as Geisler goes with the Inerrancy question, then he is simply chasing windmills. The sad tragedy is that he is not driving people to Inerrancy but rather driving them away from it as more and more are looking at what is happening and saying “If this is what Inerrancy entails, I want no part of it.”

It is ironic that people like myself and Holding are lifting up a view of Inerrancy that is defensible and this according to NT scholars like Wallace. Haven’t we seen someone say that those who defend Inerrancy are being attacked while those who attack Inerrancy are being defended?

Now if anyone wants to see if I am quoting Haun rightly, and to be fair I am not responding to everything as I don’t disagree with Henry who is cited profusely, then one can just look at the original article here.

It is still my contention that those who are defending a modern literalism based on a modern Western view of Scripture no doubt mean well and their intentions are good and noble, but they are simply doing more harm than they realize to the body. Again, I have interacted with several ex-Christian atheists that lead me to this conclusion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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6 Responses to “Is Inerrancy An Essential?”

  1. alaskazimm Says:

    Good article. Thanks for taking the time to write this up.

  2. J.W. Wartick Says:

    I think you’ve raised some really excellent points here Nick. Thanks for the great post.

  3. certitude827 Says:

    Hello,

    I’ve noticed that you’ll affirm Inerrancy in one sentence and distance yourself from Inerrancy in the next. Do you hold to a form of limited Inerrancy? Here is how I am using the term limited Inerrancy: Inerrancy is limited to those parts of the Bible that are held to be central to orthodoxy (the essentials) while allowing errors in the peripheral material. My question is how do we distinguish between the two? Personal preference it would seem.

    • apologianick Says:

      I hold to inerrancy. By it I mean the Bible is true in all it teaches. How do you think I distance myself from what you think is inerrancy?

      • James-Durham Says:

        But a straight forward reading of your blog suggests you affirm a version of limited inerrancy. Namely, you suggest that as long as the main things are tru that’s what really matters. So called peripheral details don’t really affect the nature of revelation or the truthfulness of Christianity. Honestly, it is time for you to start using the historical definitions of the terms and come to grip with the fact that you, Licona, Blomberg, Walton , Samdy, et al are limited inerrantists.

      • apologianick Says:

        How do I say peripherals don’t matter?

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