Today I wish to direct your attention to a piece by Peter Enns on biblical inerrancy.
No doctrine in evangelicalism is anywhere near as contentious as the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. I am no big fan of inerrancy; you know this if you have been tracking with me for long enough. If not, then you have probably suspected it after reading my last post.
Inerrancy is a philosophical/theological system imposed upon the Bible in response to objections raised by the intelligentsia of a prior historical era–and a deeply flawed one at that. It is philosophical/theological overkill–like taking a thermonuclear device into a fight where a switchblade would have done just fine. Worse, it is like taking a thermonuclear device so unstable that it might melt down and kill you from radiation poisoning before you ever get to the fight.
Inerrancy may have seemed like a good idea a couple of centuries ago when higher criticism was all the rage and the intelligentsia of that era were hell-bent on explaining away the Scriptures and reducing them to nothing more than myth, legend, and folklore. But nowadays, we know a lot more about the history surrounding biblical times and how the people of biblical times understood their world, God, and the Scriptures. Our conception of inerrancy is ill-suited to this new knowledge and rather than a robust system with ample explaining power, it is something which we are always scrambling to prop up, lest it should collapse and drag all of Christianity down the slippery slope to the level of myth, folklore, and fairy tales.
Inerrancy dies the death of a thousand million qualifications. You have to qualify the shit out of it before you can even begin to use it in any meaningful theological discussion. For starters: Most everyone (except perhaps a few KJV-only fanatics running around out there somewhere) asserts inerrancy only for the original biblical manuscripts. We don’t have them. Isn’t there a problem here? What about the use of figurative language in the Bible? Or instances of actual language that are now figurative (such as “The sun rose”–we understand that the sun doesn’t really rise, it only appears to do so from our vantage point in the universe, but the ancients had no such understanding and believed that the sun actually rose)? What about the Bible’s silence toward and apparent acceptance of things that appear morally reprehensible to our sensibilities (such as slavery, polygamy, and the treatment of women as second-class creatures)? By the time you have accounted for all of these issues as well as any others that may need to be accounted for, your conception of inerrancy is so big that you need the entire warehouse district of a small to midsize city to store it, and a dedicated fleet of hundreds of 18-wheelers to transport it anywhere.
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is regarded as the definitive statement on the subject of inerrancy. I had to page down 17 times to get to the end of it. (Results on your browser may vary.) When it takes a document this long to articulate a doctrine that is as essential to the Christian faith as the proponents of inerrancy make it out to be, something is not right.
Okay, now that I have said enough bad things about inerrancy to get myself barred from ministry in any evangelical church anywhere on the face of the earth, I will let you read what Peter Enns has to say.
In this post Enns critiques a panel discussion recently held by Al Mohler and other faculty members at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on the subject of inerrancy. The discussion is available online if you want to watch it yourself. Enns lists and pushes back on several of the key points made by speakers during the course of the discussion, such as: Inerrancy grows out of who God is. (If the Bible is not inerrant, then God is not truthful and not worthy of our trust.) Doubting inerrancy puts you on par with the serpent in Genesis 3 who deceived Eve by causing her to doubt God’s word to her.