The Conservative Threat to Inerrancy

by Pastor Corey McLaughlin

Any discussion of inerrancy must begin with a careful and thoughtful definition. David Dockery offers just such a faithful and succinct understanding:

“Inerrancy – the idea that when all the facts are known, the Bible (in its autographs, that is, the original documents), properly interpreted in light of the culture and the means of communication that had developed by the time of its composition, is completely true in all that it affirms to the degree of precision intended by the author’s purpose, in all matters relating to God and His creation.[1]

While this description is solidly biblical, does it go far enough?  Many would nod approvingly at these descriptions and yet still harbor the belief that the Holy Scriptures are nonetheless corruptible, inconsistent and contradictory in many places. These are not the liberal outsiders from whom we expect such charges of fallibility, but conservative Christian scholars whom our pastors and leaders in the local church rely on for accurate insights to pass onto their own people.

When Westminster Theological Seminary dismissed tenured Old Testament professor Peter Enns in 2008 for making claims in his book inconsistent with their doctrinal stance on inerrancy (most notably various contradictions[2]), it sent shock waves through the evangelical scholarly world. At the time Enns affirmed his belief in inerrancy, however, the most recent meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in 2013 (ETS) left little doubt where he stood as he outright denied inerrancy and attempted to defend his position

But why should a lone professor at a prestigious seminary give us pause? Because, as many have noted, “as goes the seminary, so goes the church.” It’s the beginning of a new fight on inerrancy but unlike the one in the 19th century against liberal scholars claiming the Bible was myth (the very reason the term “inerrancy” came into play in the first place[3]). Now our own shipmates are in mutiny against the doctrine![4]

One may understand why these Christian scholars continue to affirm inerrancy, otherwise it could bring a decisive death blow to an evangelical career. A case in point is Michael Licona’s book, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach,” which subsequently caused him to lose his professorship at Southern Evangelical Seminary.[5]

In an otherwise outstanding work defending the historical resurrection of Jesus in more than 700 pages, he bizarrely interprets Matthew 27:51-53 (the resurrection of numerous saints at the death of Christ) as myth classifying it as “poetry,” and calling it a “legend,” an “embellishment,” and even Matthew’s way of adding literary “special effects.”[6]

He finds support in the Greek and Roman literature citing Virgil (among others) who reports that following Caesar’s death 16 supernatural phenomena appeared including prolonged darkness, earthquakes, streams standing still, ivory idols weeping, bronze idols sweating, etc.[7] In short, Matthew’s account is not historical according to Licona, but neither did Matthew actually intend for it to be taken as such. This enables him to still claim inerrancy and yet deny the historicity of a key gospel event.[8]

Since this is the knife’s edge many conservative scholars walk in the debate on inerrancy, we, too, must lock our carabiners in and explore their reasoning more thoroughly if we hope to defend a high view of Scripture.

There are two slippery slopes here that one may fall down; genre and the author’s intent.

1st Slippery Slope –Abuse of Genre: Genre research is crucial to any hermeneutic that seeks to understand Scripture.[9]How many Christians have deflated their spiritual lives because they did not recognize the difference between a proverb and a promise? The former is only a general truth that allows for exceptions (e.g. the famous Proverbs 22:6 concerning parenting), the latter is an iron clad expectation based on the character of God (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9; Rom. 8:28). However, scholars are often too eager to build a case for outside sources instead of trusting in the sovereign wisdom of God who brought these 66 books together in the Canon and thus allow Scripture to truly interpret Scripture as a first principle. When we do this, it becomes clear that Mathew 27 cannot be seen as anything other than historical narrative.

Many conservative scholars believe that if they can prove the existence of a particular genre that exists outside the Bible (say apocalyptic imagery used in Greco-Roman biography) then the biblical author must certainly have used it as well in his story (or at least there is a good possibility).[10]  Two unchecked assumptions often prevail: (a) that Matthew (or the biblical author) is, in fact, using the same genre, and (b) that he is using it in the same unhistorical way as his godless contemporaries (Enns uses similar reasoning in his work “The Evolution of Adam” to deny the historicity of Genesis 1-3).[11]Any outside sources that challenge Scripture’s own internal genre identity must robustly prove these assumptions beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise, once the incident of the rising of the saints in Matthew 27 is admitted to be “apocalyptic imagery” we are forced to admit with Licona, “It is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins.”[12]

That is precisely the monumental problem his theory and others like it introduce. Namely, if Matthew is using the genre of the time, with the assumptions of the time, what is to stop him from doing the same thing to the resurrection of Jesus just a few verses later in the next chapter?  In purportedly defending the resurrection of Christ Licona has made a bed of meat and left the door open for the wolves! Such is becoming characteristic of conservative scholarship.

2nd Slippery Slope –Abuse of Authorial intent: It is sometimes argued that if the author did not intend for his or her work to be taken historically/literally (even if it appears to be presented that way!) then his or her motives supersede any modern notion of inerrancy. This has solid merit, after all, few would argue that it was Jesus’ intent to be scientifically accurate when he said that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds (Matt. 13:31); rather, it was the smallest of the seeds customarily used or seen in Palestine in the life of his audience.  Since we talk about the “author’s intended meaning” at great length in all biblical hermeneutics, this appears to be a fully legitimate claim.  Upon further inspection however, we may discover that a scholar is really saying that an author’s intended purpose for writing can be sincere and without fault, free of error, truly “inerrant” in the full sense of the word, even if what they write does actually contain errors, inconsistencies and contradictions.[13]  Hence we are inclined to agree with Inigo Montoya in the “Princess Bride,”I do not think it means what you think it means” (“Inconceivable!”).

The problem is that the “author’s intended purpose” has to be clearly and precisely defined, or it allows for people to affirm inerrancy while pulling the rug out from under its feet.

Geisler observes that “intent” can mean four different things:

(1) Plan, as in: “I intend to go tomorrow”;

(2) Purpose, as in: “My intention was to help you”;

(3) Thought in one’s mind, as in: “I didn’t intend to say that”;

(4) Expressed meaning, as in: “The truth intended in John 3:16 is clear.”

 

He further argues that evangelicals who believe in verbal inspiration of Scripture should not use intention in the third sense when applied to understanding Scripture “for the locus of meaning (and truth) is not in the author’s mind behind the text of Scripture. What the author meant is expressed in the text. The writings are inspired, not the thoughts of the author’s mind.”[14] Nor does the evangelical scholar refer to some plan the author may or may not have had to express his meaning; rather all we know is what the author did actually express in the inspired text itself.

 

But what of the author’s purpose when not explicitly declared? Again, Geisler’s distinctions are helpful to navigate the rapids:

(1) Meaning is what the author expressed.

(2) Purpose is why the author expressed it.

 

Without the author in front of us to ask questions of, and without any explicit statement as to his purpose in writing, figuring out the why often leads to endless speculation and becomes a lot like searching for your echo in a cavernous gorge. But meaning can be understood without knowing anything about an author’s purpose. We are not sure why Scripture prohibits boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19), says Geisler, but what the author wrote is plainly in front of us; leaving no question as to what the author actually meant (i.e. don’t boil a young goat in its mother’s milk!). Nor does one have to understand why in order to obey the command.

 

The biblical exegete may inquire as to the purpose of an author in hopes of understanding the significance of any given passage but meaning stands independent of purpose (significance too, it can be argued, is highly contextual).[15]  This keeps biblical authority safe behind the walls of the biblical text, with the draw bridge up and the gates closed.  Therefore the author’s intended meaning should be understood as the accessible and available meaning in the text.[16]

 

There is no need, then, to appeal to Jesus’ intention (#2-3 above) when a simple appeal to the context is all that is needed; after all, was he giving a lecture on carpology? Context determines meaning. Consider this: Is it morally acceptable to punch someone in the face who has done nothing to you? That depends; are we talking about an altercation at work or a boxing fight on TV? Is it okay to steal? That depends; are we talking about robbing a bank or running to third base? Context is not the little drummer boy who pounds his drums but offers nothing of value to the war. Context is the army, the first line of defense, the sharp shooters, the cavalry and the cannons all rolled into one. Our appeal should always be to context first with all other interpretive concerns following behind.

 

An abuse of genre studies and authorial intent allows opponents to frame the debate in terms of interpretation rather than the core issue inerrancy.[17]This same strategy was used in the 1980s as well when respected scholar Robert Gundry published his Matthew commentary.  There he argued that Matthew used a Jewish genre called “Midrash” in order to turn Luke’s account of shepherds in the field into magi from the East, and his descriptions of two doves shockingly became twisted in Matthew’s hands into a fabricated story about Herod’s slaughter of the innocents![18]  He, too, stuck by his affirmation of inerrancy.

 

Craig Evans defended Gundry in the 1980s and defends Licona now.  Yet he himself is not untainted. In his commentary on Luke he posits that Jesus likely allowed for no legitimate grounds for divorce, but Matthew (or the tradition he received) “added” the exception clause. Inerrancy affirms that biblical authors may select, omit or summarize their material, but it is quite another thing for Matthew to actually “add” his own personal views into Jesus’ mouth![19]

 

Outside this particular debate stands another otherwise outstanding New Testament scholar, Craig Bloomberg. In a book about how modern scholars distort the gospels, he attempts to defend the veracity of the Scriptures by conceding to Christian turned agnostic–liberal-critic Bart Ehrman, that his charge of a contradiction in Mark 2:25-26 (who was high priest, Abiathar as stated in Mark or Ahimilech as stated in 1 Samuel 21:1-10?) is actually sustainable. He admits, “We have a mistake, technically speaking, either made by Jesus himself, or by Mark (or perhaps by someone who passed on the story).”[20]Now, is it more likely that the sinless Son of God did not know his Hebrew Scriptures and made a mistake, or that Jesus was simply referencing the one who became the more notable and well known High Priest in line with the custom of the day? After all he literally says, “in the days of Abiathar” indicating a wider perspective than just when he was in office.[21]

 

Rumblings in the church? When the dam of inerrancy springs a leak it is not long before it cracks under the pressure of the worldliness it is holding back. Rob Bell’s 2011 controversial book “Love Wins” challenged the notion of God’s judgment in Hell and presented a hopeful belief that God would reconcile all to himself. Oprah loved it, but it set off a furious firestorm from evangelicals. Not surprisingly, he also rejects biblical inerrancy.[22]

 

More shocking was what popular and influential pastor Andy Stanley did NOT say in a now famous 2012 illustration.[23]  He told a story about a couple with a young daughter who recently divorced because the wife discovered the husband was in a relationship with another man. The wife asked her former husband and gay partner to move; they did, to another North Point congregation where they began serving as part of the “host team” (greeters). Then Stanley learned that the former husband’s gay partner was still married. He kindly explained that the partner was committing adultery and as such could not serve on the host team any longer so long as he was still married. As the story wrapped up, and to illustrate the messiness of grace, he reported that the entire family (the woman, her daughter, her former husband, his gay partner and his daughter) all attended the Christmas service together with joy.[24]Stanley himself has refused to offer any help despite the outcry to clarify why he emphasized adultery but ignored the homosexual issue (curiously the same cannot be said this year as he eagerly offered a four page interview to “Christianity Today” about a passing comment concerning Obama[25]). It is hard to say, and certainly no one wants to be hasty, though, Stanley does appear to undermine the doctrine of inerrancy in other interviews, which may eventually undermine his convictions here.[26]

 

Another difficult to determine case is the ever popular “Message” paraphrase created by the retired PC-USA pastor Eugene Peterson. Is the removing of the term “homosexual” in two texts (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:10) and the softening of it in another (Romans 1:27) indicative that he shares his denomination’s view of both inerrancy (which they reject)[27] and homosexuality (which they allow for ordained ministers)[28]? No one knows precisely what Peterson believes. He has endorsed two unorthodox authors (Rob Bell,[29] William P. Young who wrote “The Shack”[30]) who believe in universal reconciliation and deny the substitutionary atonement of Christ(that he died in our place to appease God’s demand for justice); but how far this extends to Peterson is difficult to say.

 

Perhaps these are off base, but many believe a new battle for the Bible is already hiding, ever so subtly, like an armed submarine below the surface. Perhaps more than ever we need believers willing to think through the issue, not just react. We need both reasoned responses and seasoned wisdom. Perhaps most practically for the person in the pew, we need Christians to get off the computer and bury their “Face” in the only “Book” that matters and then to live it out with light and love.[31]

 

*To see the expanded 16 page version, please visit sheffieldchapel.org, “Articles” on the main site, “The Conservative Threat to Inerrancy (Expanded).” 

[1]The Doctrine of the Bible. Nashville: Convention Press, 1991: 80. Cf. Paul D. Feinberg who rightly adds that the Scriptures are true in all that they affirm “whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with social, physical, or life sciences”(p. 294, Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler).

[2]Enns claims in Inspiration & Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament that there are contradictions in Ecclesiastes (Inspiration and Incarnation 77, 78), and inconsistencies in the moral law in the Old Testament (85), which is simply indicative of the inconsistency in the Law itself such as the conflict between Exodus and Deuteronomy (87). In a specialized article Enns argues that the apostle Paul was referring to a standard Jewish myth when he referenced the “rock” that followed Israel in the wilderness as Christ, but Paul himself believed this to be historical (though it was only a legend) in “The ‘Moveable Well’ in 1 Cor. 10:4:  An Extra- biblical Tradition in an Apostolic Text,” BBR 6 (1996):  23-38. Westminster Seminary did affirm that they believe his “writings fall within the purview of Evangelical thought” (so www.wts.edu/stayinformed/view.html?id=187), however that cannot be claimed in light of the stance he has taken in 2013 in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. For a complete and thorough rebuttal see The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority by G.K. Beale.

[3] Though to be clear, the concept was present throughout church history from its earliest days, cf. John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church, 1984.

[4] For a great overview see How Far Beyond Chicago?  Assessing Recent Attempts to Reframe the Inerrancy Debate by Jason S. Sexton online at thegospelcoalition.org (Themelios: Volume 34, Issue 1: April 2009). He places the current debate begun by Enns in its third wave, issues a call for clarity of concept and terms, and observes attempts to reframe the debate. This is a helpful overview for someone trying to put the debate and it’s complexities into a wider context.

[5]  Similar to Enns, he nevertheless stood by his claim to inerrancy in contradistinction to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (the plum line for defining inerrancy), which clearly states that anything that denies the “historicity” of Scripture denies its full truthfulness and inerrancy (so Article 17, online at www.churchcouncil.org/Reformation_net/COR_Docs/01_Inerrancy_Christian_ Worldview.pdf). Evidently, others did not buy his reasoning either. When his views became known, it created a rift that dislodged Licona’s academic career, and he was asked to leave his position as professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, resign as apologetics coordinator for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), and refused a contract renewal with Liberty University.

[6] “For this reason we get a sense in the canonical gospels we are reading authentic reports of Jesus’ arrest and death, even if Luke may have cleaned up or omitted some of those embarrassing details, and John all of them, and even if some embellishments are present. Accordingly, the embarrassing elements in the Passion Narratives weigh in favor of the presence of historical kernels.” (p.306 last paragraph; emphasis added). “Special effects” (552), 548-553 for the other claims (search books.google.com “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” for free excerpts of these pages).“On the other hand, in favor of the historicity of the phenomena reported by Matthew, the darkness reported in all three Synoptics is also apparently reported by the secular historian Thallus (ca. A.D. 52)” (551).  Evidently, Matthew’s testimony cannot stand on its own but requires outside corroboration in order to add authenticity. What does Licona do with early church reports that understand this incident as a historical event such as the one recorded by Ignatius about prophets raised by Jesus? He counters, “But it is uncertain how this report was intended to be interpreted.” Licona might be uncertain but the early church was not.

[7]Ibid. 548-549.

[8] Article 17 of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy states, “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.” Cf. Al Mohler “The Devil is in the Details: Biblical Inerrancy and the Licona Controversy” online at www.  albertmohler.com/2011/09/14/the-devil-is-in-the-details-biblical-inerrancy-and-the-licona-controversy/

[9]  For a 14 page helpful quick notes guide to Fee & Stuart’s book, How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth, www.prepareinternational.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/e-understandingthegenreofthebook.pdf.

[10] The definitive study on gospel genre as Greco-Roman biographies is What Are The Gospels? A Comparison With Greco-Roman Biography by Richard Burridge (380p) now in its second edition.

Chapter 2 is especially pertinent as he discusses the difficulty of genre. In the hands of liberal scholars this theory often leads to hunting for all the fabrications this genre allows for. In the hands of evangelical scholars they tend to emphasize the original audience’s expectation of historicity. This wide consensus is rarely challenged, but Loveday Alexander presents a compelling case for placing the Gospels in their Hebrew context and comparing them to the Old Testament (three of the four gospel writers were Jewish after all!). See, Loveday Alexander, “What Is a Gospel?” in The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels, ed. Stephen Barton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006):  13-33. Search for the book at books.google.com to read it online. A.Y. Collins also critiques Burridge for failing to see the bios genre in the Hebrew Scriptures (Mark: A Commentary [Hermeneia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible]: 29-31).  Cf. E.P. Sanders work “Studying the Synoptic Gospels” who points out the differences from Greco-Roman biography arguing for a more Jewish context as well.

[11]The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012. He uses the term “genre calibration” to indicate that Genesis did not intend to accomplish anything more than surrounding cultural/narrative myths were aiming at. In chapter four he lays out the idea that because Genesis was written during the Exodus it is essentially an allegory whereby Israel’s deliverance is presented with cosmic battle scenes, thus her present experience greatly shaped her creation story.

[12]The Resurrection of Jesus, 34. See his attempt to make his case nonetheless, “When The Saints Go Marching In (Matt. 27:52-53): Historicity, Apocalyptic Symbol, and Biblical Inerrancy.” www.risenjesus.com/wp-content/uploads/2011-eps-saints-paper.pdf.

                [13] Linguist Moises Silva recognizes the danger here as well identifying such manipulation of the author’s intent saying, “These and comparable formulations are indeed destructive of biblical authority and must be rejected” (70) in Westminster Theological Journal 50 (1988) 65-80, Old Princeton, Westminster, And Inerrancy, online at www.files.wts.edu/uploads/images/files/ WTJ/Silva%20-%20Old%20Princeton%20Inerrancy.pdf.

[14] P. 230, The Relation of Purpose And Meaning In Interpreting Scripture in Grace Theological Journal 5.2 (1984) 229-245.  Online atwww.Biblical studies.org.uk/pdf/gtj/05-2_229.pdf

                [15] So Geisler who argues that the significance of the Exodus passage would change drastically if it were found in a cook book as opposed to God’s holy law.  The implications of any given command is also understood less by an appeal to an invisible purpose and more “by the overall context of who said, to whom it was said, and under what circumstances” (p. 232).  Cf. The Relation of Purpose And Meaning In Interpreting Scripture in Grace Theological Journal 5.2 (1984) 229-245.  Online atwww.Biblical studies.org.uk/pdf/gtj/05-2_229.pdf.

[16] Silva both commends Geisler and critiques him for going too far in distinguishing purpose and meaning (p. 70 n. 6). Yet, Silva defines sensus literalis by asking the basic question, “What did the author mean?” and keenly observes, “The only evidence we have to answer that question is the text itself. In other words, we dare not speak about the Bible’s infallibility in such a way that it legitimizes random and arbitrary interpretations of the text” (p. 70). Silva is not saying anything substantively different then Geisler then. Thus, Geisler rightly quibbles that Silva is equivocating the word “intent” without defining it (Does Purpose Determine Meaning? A Brief Response to Professor Silva in the Westminster Theological Journal, 51:1 (1989): http://www.galaxie.com/article/wtj51-1-09

[17] A number of heavy hitting conservatives are backing him up claiming this is really just an interpretation issue that concerns genre not a theological issue concerning inerrancy so William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Gary Habermans, Craig Evans.

[18]Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Eerdmans, 1982), p. 34. See christianitytoday.com “Evangelical Scholars Remove Robert Gundry for His Views on Matthew.”

[19] Craig Evans, Luke Understanding the Bible Commentary Series comment on Luke 16:18. Regardless of one’s views on divorce and remarriage this is an unacceptable approach to solving the problem between Jesus’ statement in Mark and Luke compared to Matthew.

[20]Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity, 2006): 31.

[21]  For helpful answers to difficult questions see Making Sense of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009): 175-176. Often Scripture presents various angels on a single event and we are left to put the pieces together. These may be apparent contradictions, or seeming inconsistencies, on the surface, but that is because we do not have a perfect knowledge of all events; we do, however have a perfect God and one we trust completely. When we are told that God incited David to number his troops in one book (2 Sam. 24:1) but that Satan incited David in another (1 Chron. 21:1), we can either (A) declare this an outright error and falsity, (B) harmonize the accounts with a theory, (C) let the mystery stand knowing that the answer will come eventually. In this case we can apply what we learn in the book of Job. Who brought trials to Job? On the one hand and quite directly, Satan did, on the other, and quite indirectly God had to allow this to happen in the first place. God was the ultimate cause of testing Job’s faith through the fire of suffering, but Satan was the immediate means God used. The same is true with David.  God is the ultimate cause on the one hand, but on the other, Satan was the instrumental cause.

[22]He describes the Bible as a “human product” and chastens under the idea that “Scripture alone” is our guide saying, “It sounds nice, but it is not true” (Velvet Elvis 67). “Emergent Mystique” christianitytoday.com interview. It makes sense that he describes inerrancy as “not a helpful category” on his blog since he sees the Bible as just a book “written by actual, finite, limited, flawed people.” What is the Bible? Part 21: In Air, In Sea at robbell.com.

[23]  “When Gracie Met Truthy” (April 15, 2012 #5): www.northpoint.org/messages/christian/when-gracie-met-truthy/ Stanley is no liberal and even in this message he speaks of sin, people as sinners, and God’s grace as the answer. As a pastor of tens of thousands of souls however, he has a duty to be clear and not obscure. See Denny Burk’s site for reflective questions he hopes Andy will answer: www.dennyburk.com/the-relevant-queries-for-andy-stanley/

[24]reported by Albert Mohler, “Is the Mega Church the New Liberalism?” online at  http://www.christianpost .com/news/is-the-megachurch-the-new-liberalism-74152/ where he points out that Stanley affirms that Jesus does not condemn them, even if they cannot or do not leave their life of sin. Another glaring silence was the lack of any mention of repentance and faith in Christ.

[25] Search christianitytoday.com, “Did Andy Stanley Really Mean Obama Is ‘Pastor in Chief’”?

[26] See online:  www.dennyburk.com/andy-stanleys-poison-pill-for-the-doctrine-of-scripture/ for written excerpts since the video was taken down.

[27]What Presbyterians Do Not Believe http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/today/dont-believe/

[28]Romans 1:27 in the Message, “Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men – all lust, no love.” As a PC-USA pastor for more than 30 years, is he unaware that the main argument launched from the pro-gay camp is that the Bible forbids uncommitted gay relationships but does not condemn committed and loving gay relationships? Is it a mere coincidence that the homosexuals in his interpretation of Romans 1:27 are said to specifically lack “love” three times in that one verse? Perhaps it is, but it has not missed the attention of the gay community who invoke his scholarly credentials as giving the true insight into these verses and thus supporting their arguments (so Pastor turned gay rights advocate Tim Evans, “On Being Gay” http://www.courage.org.uk/articles/ article.asp?id=219).

[29]  Does Peterson really believe Bell’s book was written “without compromising an inch of evangelical conviction” as he says in his endorsement? After the flurry of debate began, Peterson also was sure to defend Bell, http://www.readingtheology.com/eugene-peterson-and-love-wins  Peterson ends the interview by saying, “There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.” These people would include Pastor John Piper and John Macarthur among others. His DVD presentation The God’s Aren’t Angry subtly denies substitutionary atonement through insistence that God does not demand a blood sacrifice for sins.

[30]William P. Young’s The Shack has found a substantial following with many reading it not as fiction but quite dangerously as revelatory insight into the nature and character of God. His universalism is present: Mack, the main character hears from God, “I don’t punish sins; sin is its own punishment” (p. 120). The Shack’s Jesus says, “Those who love me come from every system that exists … I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters” (Windblown Media, 2007:  p.182). Young also appears in a recent documentary titled “Hell Bound?” in which he questions the doctrine of Hell. Cf. Burning Down ‘The Shack’: How the ‘Christian’ bestseller Is deceiving millions by James De Young who exposes the doctrine of universal reconciliation, which he shows stands behind The Shack.

The online episode of Wretched includes both audio clip and commentary on William P. Young’s interview with Kendall Adams in which he denies penal substitution: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIBy0Bkk1ks. For a full defense of the historic understanding of salvation see Pierced for our Transgressions:  Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Jeffrey, Overy and Sach. They prove beyond a doubt that the doctrine has “an impeccable pedigree in the history of the Christian church” (31) and contrary to recent claims the evidence that the early church believed and taught this doctrine is “quite overwhelming” (163).

[31] Recommended books for further study: (1) Reading the Gospels Wisely:  A Narrative And Theological Introduction by Jonathan Pennington (2012), offers a clear, lucid introduction for laymen and pastor alike into the world of gospel studies, which can sometimes feel like clanging cymbals and crashing pans in our head. (2)  Christ & The Bible by John Wenham (2009, Third Edition) is unique in that he begins with Jesus’ view of the Scriptures and works outward from there. This has the advantage of building a case for inerrancy based on the inductive approach to Scripture rather than a priori logic, as well as avoiding circular reasoning in the process. (3) Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation by Geisler & Roach (2011) gives the history of the recent inerrancy controversy and itemizes the specific people who are challenging it with substantial quotes along with a strong defense of the doctrine.

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One thought on “The Conservative Threat to Inerrancy

  1. Several comments here that are of importance. First, I sense that the author is uncomfortable with the use of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) texts to shed light on the linguistic and cultural contexts in which the OT and NT writers did their work. No serious evangelical scholar including Craig Evans and N.T. Wright would claim that ANE texts determine what biblical passages can mean or not mean. (I consider Peter Enns someone who is transitioning out of evangelicalism and who has been doing so for the last ten to fifteen years.) But ANE texts have an important role in helping us understand authorial intent in that they can cast light on how words were used and the frame of reference to which an author may have referred. I have come across some evangelical scholars who claim that ANE texts have no role in biblical interpretation, a position that I think actually obscures our efforts to grasp authorial intent.

    My second observation references Craig Blomberg and his observation regarding the what some scholars see as the discrepancy between the identity of the high priest in Mark 2:25-26 and 1 Samuel 21:1-10. At face value, we are faced with an apparent contradiction and I would point out that both Blomberg and the author of this article have to resort to interpretation to resolve the contradiction. Before I would affirm either interpretation I would want to do some more digging by comparing the Hebrew text of the 1 Samuel passage with the LXX Greek translation knowing that the New Testament writers primarily used the Septuagint translation and that there are substantive differences between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint.

    Third, the author references a Christianity Today article “about a passing comment concerning Obama” supposedly made by Andy Stanley. My question is, “Which Obama?” President Obama? Michelle Obama? Melia Obama? Sasha Obama? The point is that proper decency means that whatever we think of his policies, President Obama is entitled to the respect of his office, and for far too long I have seen lots of evangelicals engage in rhetoric that communicates disrespect of the President if not outright slander (ie. he was not born in the United States, or he is a Muslim, despite that both of those things have been demonstrated to be false). The problem we often run into is that we have a hard time treating those with whom we disagree with a modicum of respect and my fear is that this “new fight over Inerrancy” (to use the author’s language) may get reduced to one of these shouting matches so popular on MSNBC or Fox News. We truly have lost the ability to disagree agreeably in our society and I am sad when I see Christians fall into these traps.

    Finally, after forty years of reading and engaging Holy Scripture, I have come to one important conclusion. Context is key! We cannot isolate passages from their historical, literary, cultural, geographical, and narrative contexts, especially with determining the author’s intended meaning. Biblical inerrancy is a confessional statement that gives theological explanation to the Apostle Paul’s statement about the Old Testament scriptures in 1 Timothy 3:14-17, a statement that was applied by the early church to the New Testament as the Canon of Scripture was formed over the first three centuries of Christian history. It is a confessional statement that I wholeheartedly affirm. But from there, the real work of exegesis and hermeneutics begins. In my view, liberals read too little into Scriptures while evangelicals often read too much into Scripture. Both are dangerous and can only be avoided by careful reading with attention to the contexts mentioned above.

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