Sunday, September 20, 2009

Inerrancy not the only way to submit to God

Some conservative professors have related that they experienced the battle for the Bible back in the 70s and that although there were some extreme personalities who made inerrancy into an all-or-nothing type of crusade, there were still plenty of other more balanced writers who showed that evangelicals should still espouse inerrantism as the historic, orthodox position.

During some spare time (which has been very hard to come by these days), I reread a few such works. As a result, I do not agree with those who advise believers who are uneasy about inerrancy that they would benefit from tracking down sources from the 70s and 80s and see for themselves how more knowledgable inerrantists presented compelling cases for conservative inerrantism.

In my experience tracking down and rereading, Inerrancy and Common Sense, for example, I did not feel afterward that it was worth the time and effort (emphasis on time in my case) to engage the positions presented. To take one example, I was appreciative that Roger Nicole pointed out that inerrancy is neither a necessary nor sufficient "standard for evangelical truth." But Nicole goes on to explain what appears to him to be on the line when it comes to whether or not someone should adopt inerrantism:

"What is supremely at stake in this whole discussion is the recognition of the authority of God in the sacred oracles. Are we going to submit unconditionally to the voice of God who has spoken? Or, are we going to insist on screening the message of the Bible, accepting only what appears palatable and remaining free to reject what does not conform to our preconceived criteria? This is really the great divide, and those who stress inerrancy are simply aiming to maintain what they view as the consistent biblical stance on this issue" (R. Nicole, "The Nature of Inerrancy," in Inerrancy and Common Sense [1980], 94).

Not a few contemporary evangelicals who were originally on board with this line of thinking have decided to give up on inerrantism precisely because it has occurred to them that inerrancy has become the preconceived criterion that Nicole is talking about. In their view, non-inerrantist alternatives are unpalatable to inerrantists precisely because inerrantists are screening the phenomena of the Bible and accepting only those features that can be spun in an inerrantist way. They feel free to reject whatever does not fit into this mold and even count it a pious act to do so.

Someone like Nicole likely understands all this, but it does not impinge upon his promotion of inerrantism. Many evangelicals who disavow inerrancy do so precisely because they are trying to submit unconditionally to God. The difference is that, to them, inerrancy actually gets in the way of being able to do so. Scripture is said to be God-breathed, but for many inerrancy simply has not panned out as a spiritually fruitful way to articulate this kind of belief.