Thursday, February 14, 2008

Inerrancy's social prototype

On Wikipedia, I found this statement under the write-up for inerrancy: "Evangelical churches which hold to Biblical inerrancy will often make a prominent, unambiguous statement supporting this in a list of their beliefs." I already know that colleges, universities, seminaries, and other institutions that are inerrantist feel compelled to explicitly say so on their statements of faith--isn't that how one knows that the organization in question really takes the Bible seriously (and by extension, really taking Christianity seriously)? But to actually read a statement relating how evangelical establishments tend to explicitly declare their inerrantist status has caused me to reflect on why inerrantist culture tacitly expects that one make an explicit public statement on on scripture's inerrancy if one is really serious about scripture (and by extension, really serious about Christianity).

Accordingly, I was reminded of a summary of social identity that I read online, specifically, the following excerpt:

"The signaling examples from the world of biology have been simple mappings, with a direct
correspondence between signal and trait: big horns signal strength. With identity, the process is more complicated. We do not build up our impression of another trait by trait. Instead, we bring to the interpretation a number of pre-existing prototypes and our observations of people leads us to categorize them as being like one or another of these prototypes. Thus, from a limited set of interactions and observations we can create a richly detailed (if not always accurate) impression of another. Understanding how these prototypes are created and modified, how they are shared across a culture, and how we use them to categorize people is an essential part of understanding identity.

Interpretations of identity are subjective. The prototypes that populate one person’s cognitive map of the social world will be different from another’s, because their experiences are different. The more people share of a common culture, the more likely it is that their social prototypes will be similar."(

There is an ongoing debate within (and without) evangelicalism about whether inerrancy is a 19th century construct. Perhaps, it's not a concept that is being fought over here in this debate, but a social prototype. Maybe what the one side is trying to say is that although something like inerrancy may have been believed by various Christians throughout the churches' history, the social prototype of 'inerrantist evangelical' is entirely a 19th century cultural development.