by Edward T. Babinski
Evangelical Christian theologians like Chris Tilling at his interesting moderate Christian blog, Chrisendom, are “disturbed” by the recent decision of the Evangelical Theological Society to adopt the Chicago Statment on Biblical Inerrancy, because it was probably lead to members of that society being voted out as “heretics,” and not being recognized as “Evangelicals.” (Reminds me of Catholics who have been excommunicated yet who still call themselves “Catholic.“ Though in the later case the excommunicado seems firmer, while Evangelicals can simply start their own church or seminary, and there already are plenty of non-inerrantist Evangelicals, including whole seminaries full, so the term remains more fluid.) At any rate the comments at Tillingʼs blog are worth perusing if you have ever been involved in a debate with an inerrantist, say, J.P. Holding of Tekton apologetics, who still clings to the myth of “inerrant autographs.” You see, there is no need for “Christian debunkers” get involved in debates over the inerrancy of the Bible, since Christians excel most at debating each otherʼs views of the Bible, and there are plenty of moderate Baptists out there as well as moderates in all the worldʼs major Christian denominations willing to debate inerrantists. You just have to know where the moderates are on the web so you can point inerrantists their way. Tillingʼs blog also contains links to like-minded moderate Christian Evangelical scholars like himself. Though forgive me for attempting a few criticism of my own below, of the blessed Chicago Statement of Know Nothingness:
“The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy”
Articles 13 & 14, state, “We deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations. We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.”
[COMMENT: So, the Bible is inerrant DESPITE a plethora of items that any sane person would take as prima facie evidence of errors.]
Article 15, “We deny that Jesusʼ teaching about Scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity.”
[COMMENT: Yet these same inerrantist are free to appeal to any and all possible “accommodation” hypotheses to explain a host of other Old Testament and New Testament verses related to other topics from genocide to Jesusʼs command that “the slave who was disobedient shall be beaten with many stripes.”]
Article 18, “Scripture is to interpret Scripture.”
[COMMENT: Really? The opposite appears to be a well-attested fact of all Christian history, not excluding the history of Evangelicalism. Scripture does not interpret Scripture. Rather, it takes dozens of lexicons, history books, commentaries, and plenty of education to interpret Scripture, and what are the odds those commentaries all contain the same interpretations? About the same odds that every Evangelical theologian contributing to the ever more numerous “Viewpoints” series of InterVarsity and Baker Books will interpret Genesis and Revelation and everything in-between the same way.]
Article 16, “We deny that inerrancy is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.”
Exegetical conflicts arose from the 1860s onwards. It was a time of turmoil that also led to the Catholic Church adopting its doctrine of papal “infallibility.” The view that the Bible is “inerrant” and the pope “infallible” seem to have similar roots around that time.
Essays and Reviews (a book on the Bible that said among other things that the raqia or firmament in Gensis 1, was solid) published around the time of Darwinʼs Origins (the mid-1800s) caused quite a stir in the religious world as did Colensoʼs book, The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined, as did the questions of German theologians.
Battle lines began being drawn, and the Catholic church came up with papal “infallibility” (which also was invented to combat growing ideals of “freedom of conscience and belief” that the Catholic Church was against), and the Presbyterians came up with inerrancy of the Scriptures.
For instance soon after The Presbyterian Review was founded in 1880, Warfield and Hodge began formally arguing in its pages for verbal inspiration and consequent inerrancy of the Scriptures.
One prominent “heresy” case (a generation before “The Fundamentals” were even published) involved several Presbyterian professors, Dr. Briggs, Dr. Henry Preserved Smith and Dr. Llewelyn J. Evans. (A retelling of the case in Smithʼs own words may be found in Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists.) All three men pointed out that neither their churchʼs Presbyterian Creed nor the teachings of many of the best known seventeeth-century Puritan theologians would have agreed with the ideas of “inerrancy” that Hodge and Warfield were then developing.
H. P. Smithʼs account of his heresy trial in 1892, and the arguments he and Dr. Evans put forth regarding their rejection of “inerrancy” can be found in a book titled, Inspiration and Inerrancy [Cincinnati, Ohio: Robert Clarke & Co., 1892]. Smith added that if you wanted to go back much further, Waltonʼs work from the mid to late 1600ʼs, The Considerator Considered, was also still worth reading. (Walton published in 1657 his great Polyglot, giving the ancient version a place alongside of the Hebrew text, and also supplemented the work with a list of various readings that called forth a bitter attack from John Owen, defender of Presbyterian orthodoxy. Owen deprecated the publication of facts which might militate against the authority of Scripture. Waltonʼs reply to Owen was the work Smith suggested reading, The Considerator Considered.)
Dewey M. Beegle from the 1960s-70s is a more recent example of an Evangelical Christian theologian who left inerrancy and thereafter debated his inerrantist brethren in print, yet remained in the church. (H. P. Smith had to switch denominations to a non-inerrantist one, wherein he continued his scholarly writing career.) Beegle was on the board of trustees and the translations subcommittee of the American Bible Society, and was author of Godʼs Word Into English, as well as, Scripture, Tradition and Infallibility, and, Prophecy and Prediction. He also composed articles on Moses for Encyclopedia Britannica and the Anchor Bible Dictionary, i.e., based on his research for his book, Moses: The Servant of Yahweh. (Beegleʼs story, “Journey to Freedom,” is in L.T.F., the book already mentioned above, in which Smithʼs testimony can also be found.)
Todayʼs Evangelical Christian “inerrantists” include Evangelical Theological Society members whose views range from young-earth creationist, to old-earth creationist, to theistic evolutionist (like Clark Pinnock), as well as those who hold rival interpretations of the book of Revelation and the “end times,” as well as those with rival interpretations concerning all manner of “teachings” and “commands” in the Bible (as can be read about in the “Viewpoints” series of debate books published by InterVarsity Press and also Baker Books).
Neither can various “inerrantist” seminaries agree whether a person is “saved” by believing in Jesus as “Savior and Lord,” or just by accepting Jesus as their “Savior.” Nor can “inerrantist” Evangelical and “inerrantist” Pentecostal churches agree on how necessary or unnecessary “speaking in tongues” is, or whether or not it is a visible sign of having recʼd the baptism of the holy spirit. Nor can “inerrantists” of various churches agree on how to view the Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church.
If you want to read a brain sizzling book on the topic of inerrancy, there is one that may soon be available at amazon.com, titled, Inerrant the Wind: The Troubled House of North American Evangelicals. It compares and contrasts the many view of inerrancy and semi-inerrancy advocated by different Evangelical theologians. Very interesting distinctions each makes.]
Edward T. Babinski