Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What's Chicago got to do with it?

In an article in the April 2009 issue of Themelios, Jason Sexton urges all would-be revisionists of inerrancy to begin with the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.


He complains that five recent critical studies on inerrancy (by McGowan, Oldfield, myself, Allert and Sparks) do not engage seriously with the CSBI and the extent to which they fail to do this is the extent they will not merit serious attention from inerrantists. Sexton upholds "CSBI as a relevant touchstone today and basis for any further conversation on inerrancy." He does give six reasons for this assessment, yet it seems to me there are other considerations that suggest that his selection of the CSBI is somewhat arbitrary.

First, Sexton reports on the basis of James Borland's recount that at the very ETS meeting that sought to clarify that CSBI as articulating the intent and meaning of inerrancy for ETS, so few were familiar with the CSBI that the executive committee decided they should hand out copies of it to every member in attendance! (n. 2) This shows that the CSBI has very little cultural currency within evangelicalism.

Second, insofar as Sexton defers to James Borland for clarification on how the CSBI bears on ETS and its academic ethos suggests that his taking up the mantle of the CSBI might be a little ad hoc.

Third, positing CSBI as the default inerrantist position flattens evangelicals considerable diversity prematurely and artificially. CSBI may not have as much cultural currency as is claimed.

Fourth, D. Treier has observed that the Chicago project did not trickle down to churches and pews well. This suggests that CSBI has little to no cultural currency among lay people.

Fifth, the five writers in question--all from differing sectors of evangelicalism--independently decided that it was not important to interact directly with the CSBI. This suggests that CSBI does not permeate evangelical scholarship enough to warrant that the writers in question engage it directly.

Sixth, ETS should not be given preeminence for there are plenty of evangelicals who do not belong to ETS.

Seventh, there is also the uncomfortable matter of how it is likely the case that a surprising number of ETS members only half-heartedly affirm their yearly doctrinal affirmations.

I do appreciate Sexton's efforts in his most timely article, but I question his attempt to establish CSBI as the evangelical statement with which every revisionist must come to terms. I question his suggestion that evangelicals centralize the inerrancy discussion around this document. For not only does the article play down how its choice of this document is arbitrary, but it carefully and deliberately places all future terms of discussion under the direct auspices of conservative inerrantism. How convenient for the inerrantists!