Sunday, May 4, 2008

Without inerrancy, it's a matter of personal preference

"If those who would thus judge the veracity of the Bible lack the necessary ingredient of personal inerrancy in judgment, they may come to a false and mistaken judgment—endorsing as true what is actually false. Or else they may condemn as erroneous what is actually correct in scripture. Thus the objective authority of the Bible is replaced by personal research, subjective intuition, or judicial faculty on the part of each believer, and it easily becomes a matter of mere
personal preference how much of Scripture teaching he or she may adopt as binding. This can lead us to a hopeless, almost cultic subjectivism where we pick and choose the word of God within the Bible as it suits our fancy, or vainly attempt to sift the revelational matter from the nonrevelational, or to find the Gospel within the Gospel, etc. Remember Dr. Davis’ statement cited in an earlier issue that the Bible is authoritative for every Christian until he encounters a passage he cannot accept “for good reason”? Where has such subjectivism led many biblical scholars to if not into either a quagmire of skepticism and uncertainty or a new papalism of higher critical “ex cathedras”? Scholars of the so-called Jesus Seminar, for example, are at best intellectual agnostics on the teachings of Jesus and at worst practical atheists." (J. Ankerberg and J. Weldon, "The Importance of Inerrancy, Part 1,"

Everyone keeps bringing this up when they talk with me. If the Bible contains one error, then it's littered with errors and everyone's going to be able to pick and choose what to believe and what to reject. Then we're only left with human opinions. I initially had a big problem as well with this consequence of abandoning inerrancy until I realized that everyone's in the same boat here. Inerrantists can make mistakes, too, and they have made their fair share. But inerrantists may be less willing to reexamine their theological conclusions being convinced that that their conclusions have been inerrantly set down in scripture. That's a huge problem.

What's more, inerrantists disagree amongst themselves on a host of issues. An inerrant Bible is not sufficient to solve the disputes (as I argue in my book). Some inerrantists must be wrong--they cannot all be right. So they, too, "endors[e] as true what is actually false. Or else they may condemn as erroneous what is actually correct in Scripture." In addition, everyone, inerrantists and non-inerrantists alike, finds ways to explain away a passage or pericope that they do not like. Inerrantists only have to find a way to do so within an inerrantist framework and non-inerrantists can find ways to do so without an inerrantist framework. The same hermeneutical dynamics are in place. Inerrancy does not save one from them, if anything, it exacerbates the situation. It's always a matter of personal preference (as I also argue in my book), but the personal preference for the inerrantist is pawned off as an inerrant one!

As for introducing uncertainty, that's not such a bad thing, is it? (I don't see what the big deal is here with this myself.) I have found that introducing healthy doses of uncertainty into things theological can be very humbling. That helps one put faith in a much more healthy perspective, in a way that inerrancy may not encourage or allow for one to do. In fact, as far as I can see, there are times when there is more virtue to be had in being a practical atheist than in being a practical all-knowing, unerring God who can decree biblical truths faster than Quickdraw McGraw.