April 6, 2020

Sundays with Michael Spencer: March 8, 2015

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Note from CM: In 2015 we will mark five years since the death of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. Today, we continue our “Sundays with Michael” series with an excerpt from a post that was originally published in February 2005.

• • •

I don’t believe in inerrancy, a view of how scripture is inspired that means well, but just can’t get traction with me. My problems with inerrancy have been going on for a very long time, and I’ve heard it presented and taught by the best. It’s never sat well with me, probably because I have a lot of literary interest in the text of scripture, plus I don’t like to be bullied. I get a rash.

1. What the heck is it? It takes a major document to describe inerrancy.

2. The document in question contains the following paragraph (Chicago Statement on Inerrancy XIII):

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further 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

Excuse me, but did I just read that I am off the inerrancy hook if I can assert that the passage in question did not intend to come up to a particular standard of truth?

OK….I don’t believe the Bible was ever intended to be true in comparison to contemporary science, history, astronomy, geology, medicine, anatomy, psychology or the Bill James Baseball Abstract. Can I go to lunch now?

3. Inerrancy is asserted for the original autographs.

We don’t have them.

4. While the Bible is supposedly inerrant, none of those who interpret it are inerrant interpreters. That’s a problem. If there is a perfect compass, and you give it to a chimp, what have you got? A chimp with a compass.

5. Inerrancy is almost always tied up with things that really bother me: Young earth creationism, of course. Spiritual warfarism, where people with problem kids and screwed up marriages thing that Satan is in the house and/or in their head. Secret knowledge schemes, like What did Jesus eat? Diets. Conspiracy theories. Bible only Christian education. Lunacy like the Bible Codes. It goes on and on. Magic Bookies run amuck.

6. Inerrancy looks, smells and feels remarkably like a philosophical imposition on the Bible, going beyond what the Bible CAN say about itself, and forcing those of us who believe in the authority and truthfulness of the Bible to take a “loyalty oath” that goes beyond what should be said. Typical of evangelical attempts to show they are really really really really really right. Catholics do it with the Pope. Pentecostals with experience. Evangelicals with inerrancy.

It’s like a philosophical security system to keep everything safe. It’s been called Protestant Scholasticism, and I agree.

7. No major confession requires that you use the word “inerrancy”. Even the Southern Baptist Convention’s Faith and Message Statement avoids the exact word, and doesn’t harp on the concept. Reformation confessions don’t use it at all. We can live without it.

I’ve got news for you….but the Bible may be wrong on the resurrection. It may be wrong on lots of things. I don’t really have any way to inerrantly prove it one way or the other. And neither do you. At some point, you’ve got to accept it on faith, as do I. Accepting or not accepting the idea of inerrancy has little to do with whether or not I place my faith in Christ. In fact, I think inerrancy has a tendency to get in the way of our trusting Christ. We spend so much time sweating all these little inerrant details and trying to scientifically/historically “prove” the Bible that we can miss out on the entire point of the whole thing: Christ. Isn’t Christ enough? Why does it have to be Christ and inerrancy? Call me crazy, but I’m THANKFUL that the Bible doesn’t line up factually or theologically 100%. It would make it too easy to “stand pat” with my current understanding rather than having to spend a lifetime wrestling with scripture.

Comments

  1. The clearest example I’ve found that undermines the entire idea of “inerrancy” is the use to which the writers of Matthew and Luke put the Gospel of Mark. While they do quote whole passages of Mark verbatim they nevertheless feel free to change Mark’s wording, alter the context of the stories they use from him, leave out parts and generally use Mark as a source but to their own ends. The last thing they do is treat Mark like inerrant inspired scripture.

    Maybe we should view the entire Bible the way Matthew and Luke viewed Mark? After all the sabbath was made for human beings not the other way round.

    • In a slightly different yet not unrelated example see the link under the “recommended reading” article, “What You Probably Don’t Know about ‘The Least of These'”. Mr Horvath is simply unable to admit that the writer of Matthew and Paul don’t agree.

      • Patrick Kyle says

        ” the writer of Matthew and Paul don’t agree.” Then which one is right/true and which one has this whole Jesus thing wrong?

        • Poor questions, maybe even bad questions.

          • Patrick Kyle says

            Ahh, then Matthew and Paul are both right in a way we really don’t understand, and don’t recognize in our day to day lives…

            That sheds some light on it.

        • Patrick, I accept the historical-critical scholarly consensus that the apocalyptic viewpoint is the earliest part of the tradition. I think the message of the historical Jesus was summed up in Mark 1:15.

          “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

      • He also seems to be confusing St. Paul and Martin Luther.

  2. Rick Ro. says

    “If there is a perfect compass, and you give it to a chimp, what have you got? A chimp with a compass.”

    That’s gold right there. I miss Michael. Thanks again for bringing back his writings.

    • Robert F says

      Even if the “original autographs” were “inerrant” (which I’m not willing to grant), the fact that we don’t have them, and yet the scriptures as we have received them are inspired and true (are they not?), giving us a true account of God in Jesus Christ, means that non-inerrant scriptures are an adequate means of Christian revelation. In other words, inerrancy is an unnecessary and redundant view of scripture.

      • Patrick Kyle says

        ” and yet the scriptures as we have received them are inspired and true (are they not?), giving us a true account of God in Jesus ” How do you know? If there are mistakes in the ‘small’ historical details, you cannot make that assertion.

        • Robert F says

          I can tell a true story without being accurate in every minute detail: such a standard of absolute accuracy is not what we mean when we use the word “true” in everyday discourse; it’s not even the standard for truthful testimony in a court of law. The scriptures are reliable witnesses to Jesus Christ; I know this because the Holy Spirit testifies to the reality and truth of Jesus Christ through the witness of scripture, not because they meet an external standard of perfectly accurate veracity that is above them, and by which I judge them.

        • That’s ridiculous.

          If you witnessed a hit and run accident, but you got the color of the hat of the driver of the hit and run vehicle wrong…does that mean that the incident didn’t happen?

          The assembling of the Bible was ALSO a part of the historical process. Meaning sinners had a hand in it. It’s still true. The message is infallible…even if every jot and tittle does not match perfectly.

          The Lord uses (now hear this!)…EARTHEN VESSELS!

          Whoa…dude…

          • Patrick Kyle says

            Tell that to people like Bart Ehrman, or any of the legion of those who would say ‘Silly Christians, dead men don’t rise from the grave.”

          • turnsalso says

            New meaning to “let God be true, though every man a liar.”

  3. Christiane says

    ‘inerrancy’ is used to justify manipulating sacred Scripture . . . you can tell this from the way some folks say ‘the Bible clearly says’ when we know it sure isn’t clear, and what they are saying it says is hogwash

    Michael knew this and had the courage to write it up and put it out there . . . like the boy who cried ‘the emperor has no clothes’, Michael spoke for everyone who deep down ‘knew’ the truth but didn’t dare speak up for fear of . . . you name it: criticism? condemnation? being put outside ‘the fold’?

    I suppose for those in the fold who did challenge the grand poobahs of inerrancy, the resulting backlash was swift and ‘effective’ so as to discourage those tempted to honesty or worse, inquiry as to who gets to decide what is ‘literal’ and what is not . . .

    I’ve spent some time this winter reading the works of them what believe in unicorns, flat-earth geology, geocentrism, and inerrancy;
    and I know that some of these good people must be, because they have to be, undoubtedly barking mad.

    But I did try to comprehend something of their mind-set. It’s a bit unsettling when you realize there is no use to challenge a die-hard flat earth (complete with model) theorist . . . extremely unsettling, so peculiar is their strange reasoning . . . all Bible-based . . . of course . . . ‘it must be true because the Bible says it is’ . . . right . . .

    now, I happen to like the idea of a talking donkey . . . but some of the bizarre stuff inerrantists demand that you must swallow to be recognized in their world as ‘a real Christian’ makes a talking donkey seem quite plausible by comparison

    • Couldn’t you be a bit more charitable to your brothers and sisters who believe differently than you on inerrantcy? Couldn’t you think of a more forgiving description than “barking mad”, such as sincerely WRONG, or even “simplistic”? I don’t hold with their beliefs either, but I was once one OF them, so I can say that they were anything BUT “barking mad”, they are still part of the body of Christ, which makes them sons of God and servants of the King. Just because they may hold a specious view of scripture does not mean that WE are part of some “enlightened” branch of Christianity.

      If you do not believe as others then criticize the belief, NOT those who hold the belief. You may be judged in that same way…

      • I think I’m with Oscar on this one. This is a critique of inerrancy, not a criticism of those who believe in inerrancy. Michael seemed careful to avoid making it about the people and more about the belief, which is really the only way you’ll get someone on the other side to begin to understand. It’s one thing to say “I don’t think this is right, here’s why” and quite another to say “Only stupid people would believe it.”

      • OldPorophet says

        Oscar, I think you are correct and charitable in your response to Christiane. Here’s my take. To compare , apparently, I think, a whole camp of believers, apparently, Evangelicals, to a pack of barking dogs, is not only nonsense but non-rational, and moronic. I don’t know anybody who believes in unicorns, geocentrism, flat earth theory, or inerrancy of the scriptures. Sometimes I think some of the commentators on Imonk wear a badge on their chest that says, “I escaped the Evangelical world and have this tee shirt to prove it!”. Really, the continuing theological bashing does get tiresome. How about some critical eyes turned toward other religious groups. I’ve never seen a discussion over the RCC and it’s problems. How about why mainline churches are all dying out? Why are young people not attracted to the liturgical life?I don’t believe in a Young earth, and don’t care. Why is it a big deal? Really, Christians, unicorns? What’s next, how will the church evangelize elves and fairies? I’m not trying to be mean, I just think that we need to focus on the important issues, and not on things that are not helpful to real and honest dialogue.

        • Clay Crouch says

          OP, just because you don’t know any, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Some of the most strident inerrantist populate the pulpits of many Southern Baptist and independent evangelical churches and their respective seminaries . For example, Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has stated that he does not believe evangelicalism can survive without the explicit and complete assertion of biblical inerrancy. He has also completely affirmed the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy referenced in the above article. I don’t think this is just a silly little squabble, but a serious discussion that has long lasting implications for the church in America. In fact, Mohler has described it as the “50 Years’ War” on biblical inerrancy.

      • I believe Christiane is responding to the damage done by people who hold this belief. A belief alone is not a threat; a belief acted upon can be dangerous. And it is certainly true that people (some, perhaps many) have used the inerrancy belief as a gatekeeping mechanism to define the ‘True Christian.’ And of course we know all sorts of vile things are done with a literalistic appeal to scripture, so I’m not sure why we would be so quick to correct Christiane’s words. She’s not naming an entire group and dismissing them… she’s pointing out that that’s the game inerrantists often play.

        • Rick Ro. says

          That’s a good and fair argument. I keep forgetting there are a lot of damaged folks here at iMonk, damaged by folks like “inerrantists.”

      • Clay Crouch says

        She was being charitable.

        • OldProphet says

          Stereotyping a large and diverse group of believers by saying that they all believe in a fantasy like unicorns borders on sin against your fellow brothers and sisters in the Faith. What’s so charitable about that? We’ve all been screwed by leadership and people in the church. So, shall we call them heretics, apostates, or blasphemers? Riddle me this; how wil you approach some of these who hurt you when you meet them in heaven? Yep, some of them wil be there in the sweet by and by! Just sayin……..

          • Clay Crouch says

            I don’t think she stereotyped a large group, but rather commented on a subset of that large group. Where did she call them heretics, apostates or blasphemers? In heaven, how will I approach those who harmed me? With great joy and thanksgiving. And I’m pretty sure all of them will be there.

      • Christiane says

        well, sorry for raising a fire-storm, OSCAR, but in the end I still cannot sort out how it is that inerrantists come to agreement on what is to be viewed as literal in meaning and what is not to be taken literally in sacred Scripture, and even then, if not literal, in what sort of category would a thought-unit of Scripture fall?

        I am puzzled by this and I have raised the question before, and I wish someone who IS an inerrantist could explain to me WHO calls the shots.

        If it helps calm the outrage, please note that I did refer to only ‘some’ among the group I explored as ‘barking mad’. . . and if you had read what I read, you might even agree with me 🙂

        No offense here on being critiqued, as I always value our imonk group for putting things into place with a thought to our diverse backgrounds, and since I am from one of those backgrounds and I do have a voice here, when I roar, please complain and I will lower my tone out of respectful consideration for all present. No one here is barking mad, except myself on occasion, and I do ask forgiveness for those lapses. Enjoy your Sunday.

        • Christiane, I try to be sensitive to name calling or broad brush criticism so the “barking mad” term set my sensitivity meter off. STILL, “barking mad” IS an unfair pejorative and implies a spittle spewing, eyes rolled back, wild haired and incoherent maniac. There are plenty of those on our streets today, but outside the “No tears for queers” church I am not aware of any others. Perhaps you can name one that is mainstream, so called? And be sure to include a reference where they actually DID bark 😀

          • Oscar, barking mad is the UK equivalent of US colloquialisms like crazy as a loon. It isn’t taken half as seriously as you’re taking it, though i can understand your reaction if you have never come actoss it before. Still, i don’t think Christiane intended it in the way you’ve described, and agree with her regarding fringe groups.

    • Patrick Kyle says

      “‘inerrancy’ is used to justify manipulating sacred Scripture” As opposed to editing out parts you don’t like? Pot, meet kettle.

      • flatrocker says

        > As opposed to editing out parts you don’t like?

        Let’s see… is the baseline for inerrant evaluation at 66 books or 73 books?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          67 if you’re into Hal Lindsay or Watchman Nee.
          88 if you’re into Left Behind.
          All Utterly Inerrant (especially Lindsay, Nee, or LB).

      • Richard Hershberger says

        In my experience, the “inerrancy” crowd is at least as bad. Here is a simple test: Ask whether the Bible devotes more attention to sexual morality or to economic morality. If the answer is astonishment that anyone could think that the Bible is at all about economic morality, then you are talking with someone who very carefully edits out large swaths of scripture without ever letting it reach his cerebral cortex.

        • Using the term “morality” kind of skews the discussion as “morality has no set standard in today’s world, even among Christians. Now, if you said sexual SIN references and oppression of the poor/Providing for the poor THEN it would elicit a different response.

          And on THAT subject: prohibitions on sexual sin was usually ASSUMED more than stated, but providing for the poor, the widows and orphans, the alien withing our gates and relieving the oppression of the poor by others ALL had to be continually reinforced by the prophets.

        • That’s really a false dichotomy, especially since the Bible isn’t about morality at all, but about redemption for immoral people. Sure, politically and theologically conservatives tend to emphasize sexual mores more than other issues of justice, but that is more a reflection of our political culture than their hermeneutic. Christianity has been remarkably consistent on its sexual ethic.

          • jazziscoolithink says

            “the Bible isn’t about morality at all”

            Really? Not at all? I think there might be at least a smidge of the subject of morality in the Bible.

          • Right. There’s a TON of morality (and immorality!) in there, but it isn’t the point. Jesus didn’t come to give us more clear instruction. God could have sent another prophet for that. In Jesus, God came himself to die and rise for the life of the world, and that’s the point of the whole book.

    • He said:

      some of these good people must be, because they have to be, undoubtedly barking mad.

      Emphasis on some.

      Every Christian group I’m in over 20 or 30 people tends to have a few with views that I consider extreme. Some very much so. In ways that defy logic. The larger the group the more likely it is to find these folks.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      But I did try to comprehend something of their mind-set. It’s a bit unsettling when you realize there is no use to challenge a die-hard flat earth (complete with model) theorist . . . extremely unsettling, so peculiar is their strange reasoning . . . all Bible-based . . . of course . . . ‘it must be true because the Bible says it is’ . . . right . . .

      Just like ISIS and “IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN!”

      (Why do you think ISIS has to kill homosexuals specifically by throwing them off cliffs or tall buildings? Because “IT IS WRITTEN!” in the Inerrant Koran to do it in exactly that way.)

  4. “You know when you’re interpreting art, you’ve got to leave open the possibility that you’re not correct … there can never be 100 percent certain,” That taken from the Recommended Reading article above, “Vincent Van Gogh May Have Hidden ‘The Last Supper’ Within One Of His Most Famous Paintings”. Which I found highly interesting, even fascinating, check it out.

  5. Michael wrote: “I think inerrancy has a tendency to get in the way of our trusting Christ. We spend so much time sweating all these little inerrant details and trying to scientifically/historically “prove” the Bible that we can miss out on the entire point of the whole thing: Christ. Isn’t Christ enough? Why does it have to be Christ and inerrancy? ”

    This reminded me of something Tullian Tchividjian observed:

    Jesus + anything = 0

    Jesus + 0 = everything.

    Indeed, Isn’t Christ enough?

    • We do have to have some faith that the Christ that we are being presented with in Scripture is truly the Messiah of who we can say “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”. Perhaps I am not well read enough on what inerrancy truly entails. I definitely came up in an environment where questioning the text was less than encouraged, so that probably goes in the bias column for me.

      I’m not sure how one would get a statement like what you are saying above without having a trustworthy document to pull it from.Most of my complaints come from people who are interpreting scripture to fit their own aims, and not from the text itself.

      • Inerrancy adherents go far beyond trustworthiness.

        • That was the feeling that I got, but I wonder about the implications. If I don’t hold to inerrancy, but believe that scripture is worthy of me to place my trust in, can I leaf through 1 Corinthians and say “I have the same Spirit as Paul did, and I think he is wrong”?

          I remember reading through Hebrews a little while back, and noticing that the Septuagint quotations that are given there stray a bit from our modern translations, so there is a disconnect at least from a language base.

          Just thoughts. Not really an issue that I have dug very eep into before.

        • There seems to be a brain wiring in a non trivial number of people where they want all issues to resolve to a binary choices. Yes/no. Black/white. Good/Evil. Etc.

          For these folks the Bible MUST be inerrant because the other choices is it cannot be trusted.

          My mother was one of these folks And I have some mostly ex friends who are this way. If you’re a person who can deal with gray these people tend to get very upset unless you just keep your mouth shut 99% of the time.

          As to why God made so many people this way…….

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            God or Fundagelicalism?

            Because you see a LOT of that Binary/Boolean thinking in Fundagelicalism.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Inerrancy adherents go far beyond trustworthiness.

          They don’t have a Bible, they have a Koran and Hadith.

      • Rick Ro. says

        “I definitely came up in an environment where questioning the text was less than encouraged…”

        —————

        That’s an interesting consideration. Are there Christians who read the Bible specifically to “question the text”? That would seem to suggest that their motives are a bit off (my opinion), that they should be reading it to see what the word SAYS, not to see WHAT’S WRONG.

        For me, the errors don’t lead to “toss the whole thing out,” thus “inerrancy” isn’t a necessary stand we need to take nor defend. I really like the word “trustworthy.” The Bible is trustworthy, regardless of potential discrepancies. For example, I might read a history book about Julius Caesar that has a discrepancy in two documented eye witness accounts, but that doesn’t negate the book’s trustworthiness.

        • I don’t know that there are a lot of Christians that do that, but there are plenty of people in general that do. When I was first reading Scripture I had an atheist friend who was doing the same, and compiling a list of things that he felt were wrong or inconsistent. If I come across a list like that now it doesn’t take more than a quick glance to dismiss most of them, but there will be a few in the list that are worth pondering over, and I have definintely been encouraged by people in the past to ignore that instinct.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            If you imagine that you read Scripture “literally” then such lists are both easy to come up with and problematic. While “inerrant” and “literal” readings aren’t quite the same thing, they tend to go together.

          • A funny coincidence, elsewhere online last night while actually being critical of the view of some “literalists” I had someone call me out for referencing the “inerrant word of God”. Strangely, nothing I said made any kind of reference to inerrancy, but it certainly tid into this conversation. Got into a short one sided conversation about translation philosophy as well… less than productive, but I guess you will have that at times on the interwebs.

        • In the church I grew up in I stopped asking questions in my teens. Because there were all kinds of questions that you just could not ask. Asking these questions brought ridicule or whispering as you walked away while they discussed what might be “wrong” with you.

          When at the end of the day all I wanted was someone to explain something. But that wasn’t allowed. You were supposed to know the correct answer/interpretation. If you didn’t then maybe you were not really filled with the Holy Spirit.

          (Because everyone reads 17th century English and gets the same answer out of it.)

  6. Certain things are non-negotiable.

    If the resurrection didn’t happen…then we are all screwed.

    ___

    For far too many Christians, including MANY Lutherans (sadly)…Christ isn’t enough.

    They might want to consider an alteration to the text which they’ve already accomplished in their minds;

    “In the beginning was the Bible. And the Bible was with God. And the Bible was God.”

    • Christiane says

      STEVE . . . I agree with you on the importance of the Resurrection:

      a few weeks ago, 21 Christians from Egypt went to their deaths to affirm the faith that was brought to their people by St. Mark the Apostle two thousand years ago. This is one of the liturgical prayers of their faith community:

      ““. . . You are the life of us all, the salvation of us all, the hope of us all, the healing of us all, and the resurrection of us all.” ”

      the faith of the Apostles, once given to the Church, has not faded even after 2000 years . . . we have the blood witness to this on the shores of Tripoli in Libya in our own time

    • Don’t laugh – some have gone to *almost* that length…

      “In the beginning was Logic – and Logic was with God, and Logic was God.”

    • Desert Storm Libertarian says

      Good point Steve. How are we to determine which translation of the Bible is the most “inerrant”? An imposing, probably impossible task, to say the least. As long as we are reading the Word with an engaged, intelligent mind and allowing the Holy Spirit to impart wisdom and understanding to the words before us, then there doesn’t need to be a fretful, anxiety-provoking wish for inerrancy.

      • KJV of course. Everyone knows that. 🙂

        If it was good enough for …..

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Dropped down from Heaven word-for-word in Kynge Jaymes Englyshe, just as the Koran was dictated by Al’lah word-for-word in Meccan Arabic.

          Anyone ever trace how this got started?
          And how it got to be so widespread among this crowd?
          (Other than the general Islamization of Protestant Christianity, that is.)

          • It’s been said that the most severe fundamentalists in all religions are basically similar and that this similarity always bodes ill for …. women.

      • None of them. All translations have errors. The ideas is that the original manuscriptes were inerrant, and all subsequent copies/translations are open to human err. Only the original manuscripts are divinely inspired. And, as Spencer pointed out (his strongest point as far as I’m concerned), we don’t have them. This makes inerrancy simultaneously easy to affirm and completely worthless in the realm of the practical, as any err that is found can be declared to have crept in after the original. The whole game hinges on the definition of “err,” and not everybody singing “inerrancy” is going to agree (another reason why the Chicago Statement is ineffective).

    • I don’t think very many Christians would be able to disagree with you on the Resurrection, Steve.

      Michael’s point in the last paragraph seems to be not “it doesn’t matter whether the Resurrection happened,” but “inerrancy isn’t protecting the resurrection, we believe it by faith alone or not at all.”

      The seeking out of certainty based on some modern empirical system, or evidence-based method, seems to be what is in Michael’s sights.

  7. Oh, how I wish 2005 me would have discovered Michael Spencer.

    • I found him roughly around then. But then a former pastor tricked me by also reading Michael Spencer, quoting very select parts and using his words in sermons to fit his own beliefs, and never once understanding a single word Spencer wrote.

      But because of Spencer and iMonk, eventually I got free.

      Just had to go through a lot first.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Oh, how I wish 2005 me would have discovered Michael Spencer.

      As in “before the damage was done”?

      • Yes, in a way. I was a senior in college, new to faith, and reading the bible like my leaders taught me to read. I came upon the YRR movement on my own, after which I inflicted my own unique brand of damage on some good people.

  8. These posts always make me miss Michael. He had a way of calling things like he (and many others) saw them — something that was and still is much needed.

    I’m with him on this one. I don’t believe in inerrancy. I used to. I think my faith is stronger and more honest and certainly more nuanced now than it was then. I don’t mind if my brothers and sisters in Christ want to believe in inerrancy; i may disagree but I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus for it.

    But I do mind when those brothers and sisters start treating inerrancy like an essential of the faith, and this seems to happen pretty regularly. JMac just had a whole “summit” on inerrancy this past week, and he regularly spends time throwing people under the bus if they happen to disagree on this or any number of other issues that he’s elevated to primary status. I imagine there are others who do the same. This I have a big problem with. Eventually,it drives people to try to live their faith from a foxhole rather than engaging with others and living out Christ’s love. I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant the church to be.

    • The fewer false things you believe in, the stronger you believe in the true things.

  9. OldProphet says

    Just so I don’t become a villian I’m not a believer in inerrancy. Most of the comments I’ve read here have not responded to the fact that a lot of the comments here on Imonk wrongly target evangelicals falsely and are based on hurt, anger, or disillusionment from leaders or churches.

    • wrongly target evangelicals falsely

      This is what’s false, OP. I really don’t know what circles you run in, but they sound like evangelicalism done right. However, in every church in the Midwest I’ve been a part of, or every church/network I’ve listened to podcasts or read books from (SW, SE, S, NW parts of the country primarily), they ALL believe in inerrancy in some form or another, and all that that implies.

      This is why Internet Monk exists: because those evangelicals did this. There is no false accusasion, false targeting. There is just acknowledging reality.

      So I can’t say it’s false or wrongly targeted. Because it’s not. Because it’s the incredibly overwhelming majority. And the minority may be great and healthy, but they are definitely a minor minority.

      For more info, I’d suggest spending some time on the Slactivist, Christian Nightmares, and Stuff Fundies Like pages. You’ll see a lot mroe than you’d want to.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Again: How did this catch on and become so widespread among Evangelicals?

    • I’m with OldProphet. In view of full disclosure, I am Southern Baptist. I seem to be the opposite of most of those who comment on this blog. I went from growing up Lutheran to becoming Southern Baptist. I became Southern Baptist pretty much out of necessity when my family moved from Michigan to rural Alabama in 1969, however now being much older and having studied much more about my Lutheran roots, I would not go back. While I find much to appreciate in Luther, and much I as a Baptist agree with, I find little of Luther in the ELCA of today and little of my childhood Lutheranism.

      I think OldProphet raises some valid questions that I have that I never see addressed here on Imonk. One is if Evangelicalism in general is so bad why is it that it is holding its own while the mainstream churches in their rush to remain relevant and modern have collapsed and all but died out?

      I try to base what I believe and what I do on the Bible. I’m not a theologian and I don’t read Greek, Hebrew or Latin so I try to keep things simple. I tend to avoid theological ideas that require too many unusual interpretations or reinterpretations of ancient Greek and Hebrew along with multiple theological back flips off of tall buildings in order to decide that God really didn’t mean what He said so that we can condone the latest social fad. If that makes me an inerrantist than so be it. I will wear the badge with honor, but I think there are several who comment here who use their favorite interpretation of scripture as a club while criticizing those from the other side for their obvious error.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        One is if Evangelicalism in general is so bad why is it that it is holding its own while the mainstream churches in their rush to remain relevant and modern have collapsed and all but died out?

        Because they present themselves as The Return to the Original True Christianity and all others are Lukewarm Apostates, just as the Wahabi & ISIS present themselves as Returning to Islam As It Was In The Days of the Prophet. This picks up a LOT of young types in their Idealist phase, rebelling against their ho-hum parents.

        Crimson flames tied through my ears rollin’ high and mighty traps
        Pounced with fire on flaming roads using ideas as my maps
        “We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I, proud ‘neath heated brow.
        Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

        Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, “Rip down all hate,” I screamed
        Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull. I dreamed
        Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow.
        Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

        Girls’ faces formed the forward path from phony jealousy
        To memorizing politics of ancient history
        Flung down by corpse evangelists, unthought of, though, somehow.
        Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

        A self-ordained professor’s tongue too serious to fool
        Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
        “Equality,” I spoke the word as if a wedding vow.
        Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

        In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand at the mongrel dogs who teach
        Fearing not that I’d become my enemy in the instant that I preach
        My pathway led by confusion boats, mutiny from stern to bow.
        Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

        Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
        Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect
        Good and bad, I define these terms quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
        Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.
        — Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”, 1964

        • Robert F says

          I love me some Bob Dylan. In this case, the discovery of a youth never before experienced is seen as a movement toward wisdom, a re-enchantment and recovery of the world from the violence of factions and history. The persona singing My Back Pages has turned away from the oldness of a world divided among warring parties, such as the Wahabi, and toward a newness opening out onto a present and future not confined by the stifling and bloody memories of past wounds. I love me some Bob Dylan.

        • Robert F says

          As Stephen Dedalus said in Ulysses, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake…”

  10. And in semi-defense of MOST believers in inerrancy, they just have not taken the time to study the implications of their stated belief. They are just following the lead of their pastor/teacher/denomination, etc. Most of it is peer reinforced and not strongly held. Scratch most believers in inerrancy and you will find a lazy reader and an unquestioning mind.

    • Unfortunately, Oscar, their lazy reading doesn’t keep them from zealously tossing other Christians under the bus. Without love, any man-made doctrine has the potential to be used as a weapon.

      • Jenny, if you take inerrancy away from them, they’ll just find something else to use as a weapon. I’m with oscar on this. When the people who lead you to Christ tell you other things, you want to believe what they say. I am grateful for the church that preached the gospel so that I could hear it when I needed to hear it. But I should have transitioned to a healthier church soon after. But God was good and the Holy Spirit protected me and raised up other healthy options for spiritual growth outside my church.

        • Deb, I do not disagree. I was merely observing that although they may be lazy in their reading and dim in their understanding of inerrancy, they tend to be properly thorough about tossing those who fail to march in lockstep with them. As I pointed out, this has less to do with the doctrines being applied and more to do with the hearts of the people doing the applying.

      • Christiane says

        JENNY and DEB D., I agree with you both

        for a classic example of the practice of ‘inerrancy’ without love, you can example the treatment meted out to Dr. Sheri Klouda, who was a Hebrew professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It is one of the saddest examples of the treatment of a woman (and her family which included a very ill husband) in the records of the use of sacred Scripture in a way that was devoid of the love of Christ. When innocent people suffer because of an inerrantist’s command, we have to question what has happened there . . . there’s a saying that we can side with the powerful or side with their victims, but if we say nothing we are in fact siding with the powerful . . .

        ‘inerrancy’ was one tool used to justify harming innocent people . . . I have no doubt of it and I have no problem saying it

        • Christiane, I’m familiar with this situation. The Bible in the hands of unloving authoritarians is a weapon. Fortunately for us there are teachers who do follow the rule of love and do apply Scripture according to it.

  11. Mike the non-inerrantist says

    In the end, I just don’t think that “inerrancy” is the correct word to describe the nature of the Bible – and it’s not because tiny irrelevant details don’t match up. Frankly, my own challenges with inerrancy came about from reading the Bible MORE, not less. You don’t even need to get outside the biblical text let alone address the false dichotomy of science vs faith.

    “Inerrancy” – this idea that one tiny little thing can shatter the whole of scripture – has everything to do with modernist philosophical presuppositions and little to do with an examination of the text(s) itself as it actually exists. What is an inerrant psalm? An inerrant lamentation? Inerrant ancient cosmology? Inerrant poetry? Which canon of writings? Which translation? Hebrew or LXX? Do historical accounts (particularly accounts when nobody was there….angel dictation?) need to meet modern criteria for unbiased objective information that just “tells it straight” or else the whole of the story of Christ falls apart? That just seems like nonsense to me – and is a distraction from Christ. Does that mean that we don’t have inerrant answers to all of our inerrant questions? Yep. Do we have to force every single text to line up with every other text? Nope, and good luck doing that. Even with inerrancy we have pervasive interpretive pluralism, so there’s really no change.

    Rather than treating every OT reference in the NT as a dogmatic confirmation of OT inerrancy, it’s fascinating to see how much NT writers are actually subverting what they’re quoting (selectively quoting at times) – not affirming it. Again, inerrancy just isn’t the right word.

    From the mouth of God in Exodus 20:5 – “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers.

    Again from the mouth of God in Ezekiel 17:20 – “The son will not share the guilt of the father.”

    I’m not interested in seeking out contradictions just for the sake of undermining, but I want to be honest about the nature of the Bible (and there are lots of these kinds of things). How does verbal plenary inspiration make sense of this? Which one of these is inerrant, or did God change?

    The early chapter of the Hebrew Scriptures make an incredible number of references to not serving other “gods”. Saying that the Israelites ACTUALLY believed that they were “demons” is completely dishonest – they believed that there were other real gods and that they shouldn’t worship them.

    These aren’t weaknesses that need to be covered up or explained away. They provide a record of growth and dispute and change within an ancient people’s faith and perceptions of God.

    “Authority” is really the issue and that’s a legitimate point – whether related to an inerrant pope, an inerrant Tradition, an inerrant church, or an inerrant text with inerrant interpreters. But IMO staking authority on “inerrancy” doesn’t do justice to the biblical texts as they actually are – it treats them as a flattened out doctrine manual (of lost originals) dropped directly from heaven. And frankly this is untenable from many different perspectives and is incredibly damaging to the faith of younger generations.

  12. I think that the Chicago Statement is largely reactionary against these things:
    1. Historical-critical method. The idea that we can get behind the authors of the text and understand why the wrote it.
    2. The rise of liberal theology, who took #1 to it’s furthest end, elevating reason to the point that Scripture was only true so long as it complied.
    3. Feminism and the sexual revolution, along with the ensuing olympics of hermeneutical gymnastics working to overturn historic Christian teachings on gender and sexuality.
    4. The development of the Christian publishing industry and rise of celebrity minsters who used verse fragments to sell snake oil.

    Unfortunately, I believe the root of all four of these has at it’s foundation some Reformed theological presuppositions. It is nothing short of ironic that the neo-Puritans have led the inerrancy crusade, when the denominational heritage of the original Puritans (UCC, PCUSA, ECUSA, etc…) have been the lead proponents of #’s 1-3. It is nothing short of a futile attempt to subdue ulterior motive driven rationalistic hermeneutic with a reactionary, conservative culture driven rationalistic hermeneutic. It’s really quite the rhetorical circus.

    I do not think these sorts of concerns or squabbles make a big splash in Cathodox circles (correct me if I’m wrong there, please), and I would like to see the same for Lutheranism. It’s a Reformed/sacramentarian Protestant issue.

    • Robert F says

      Miguel, are you really omitting the ELCA, and its predecessors, from your list of leading proponents of #s 1-3? Throughout contemporary European Lutheranism, #’s 1-3 are standard in the development of modern and postmodern theology. The history of Lutheran theology in 20th century Europe was one of radicalizing and liberalizing developments, ultimately extending the same trends of the 19th century after a brief flirtation with Neo-orthodoxy, which some believe is itself a form of liberal Christian theology.

      And when you say that you do not think these sorts of concerns or squabbles make a big splash in Cathodox circles, are you discounting the enormous number of Catholics in Europe and the US who are either alienated from or leaving the RCChurch precisely because of its intransigent traditionalism surrounding #s 2 & 3?

    • Miguel, can I have a series expanding upon your comment, please? That’s some excellent stuff!

      • I’ve been meaning for some time (and promising to Steve and Robert) to write more on the subject of how Lutherans approach Scripture and our theology of the Word, but my writing output has remained abysmally low and mostly focused on concerns more directly related to my vocation. I’m sure I’ll get to it, eventually.

    • And, Miguel, how is it that the ECUSA is a denominational inheritor of the “original Puritans”? The Puritans were a minority, revolutionary faction in the Church of England, that was quickly restrained by the established church. Their religious ideas had to be exported to other European nations, in a different church polity, to gain any traction. By no means does the ECUSA have a Puritan heritage.

      • Robert, the Puritans were known as the ones who stayed with the Church of England, verses the Seperatists who became Baptist, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist. They may have been restrained by the established church, but the left indelible marks on the 39 articles and the book of common prayer. The Puritan influence was huge in early America. The Puritan heritage of ECUSA may be negligible compared to the PCUSA, but it is certainly a factor. But the ECUSA is a mixed bag if there ever was one. A fact they are rather proud of. But Anglicanism generally is still home to many Puritans, including J. I. Packer and large swaths of the global south. ECUSA may have actually managed to finally chase them all out, though.

        • Robert F says

          I guess that I have to acknowledge that you’re right. Reformed theology did have a huge influence on the history of Anglicanism, and since you’re using the words “Puritan” and “Reformed” interchangeably here, that would mean that you’re correct about the influence of Puritanism on the Anglicanism. I got caught up on the word “Puritan” in a way that I shouldn’t have. Mea culpa.

          But my first comment in response to you above still stands: German Lutheranism had an extremely liberalizing and radicalizing effect on Christian theology in general, including influencing Christian theology with #s 1-3. It wasn’t just the Reformed heritage involved in these developments; Lutheran theologians were full participants. In fact, it was Reformed theology in the form of Karl Barth that was the locus of an attempt to correct this liberalizing drift of European Christian theology.

  13. You LCMS guys need to realize that not every doctrine that your denomination holds to is exactly right.

    NO Christ +’s…

  14. Truth is bigger than words!

  15. Christiane says

    ‘sacred’ Scripture and ‘Holy’ Bible say something very important . . . we can relate to these adjectives as valid

    the word ‘inerrant’ is not clear as to who gets to interpret a verse in a way that is acceptable to those in charge of maintaining the whole ‘inerrancy’ thing

    I think that ‘inerrant’ must mean “correct only IF you agree with OUR interpretation when we say ‘the Bible clearly says’ or ‘the Bible clearly means'” . . .

    the ways human beings can mangle the meaning of sacred Scripture can serve a lot of errant agendas . . . so that word ‘inerrant’ to me is just one more way for this to happen where the participants attempt credibility

    if the word ‘sacred’ isn’t clear enough, and the word ‘holy’ doesn’t do it for folks;
    then I suspect they are trying to use the Scriptures for their OWN purposes
    in situations when that word ‘inerrant’ prefaces some of their opinions about theology

  16. I haven’t read the whole Chicago Statement, but in my experience inerrantists don’t talk very much about apostleship, and the apostolic origin of the Scriptures. I wish they would.

    Because there are far too many “magic bookies” in evangelicalism who ignore or even deny the historical nature of the faith, and the importance of the apostolic transmission of its message. These people are perfectly able to affirm inerrancy and then go on their merry way with a disastrously wrong view of the Christian faith as a magic trick, of one sort or another, and not something that has genuinely human-historical origins and transmission. It becomes a “Bible over people” religion, and ushers in all sorts of attempts to divinize particular leaders, doctrines, 20th century events, etc….rather than to see God as humanized. It (inerrancy) seems to sit very well with a low ecclesiology also. Inerrantists who “get it” should really try to work against this.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Magic bookies” sounds like “Fifty on Rainbow Dash in the fourth at Santa Anita!”

  17. One thing we know is that God watches over his word to perform it. God’s word is not dependant upon man’s sincere, insincere, perfect, or non perfect attempts to interpret his word. For example, God has made sure that after all these years, that even today we still clearly know:

    23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

    24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. (1 John 3:23 – 24)

    Love God and love one another. The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. If some far out twisted versions of the Bible do arise that do not have the word of God working through it, then God will make it known to us.

  18. Ben Carmack says

    The final paragraph from a Boar’s Head Tavern man gives away the game being played by this article. I am shocked at how ignorant I was for admiring what I took to be Mr. Spencer’s deep respect and regard for orthodoxy…

    The fellow who wrote the BHT paragraph (NOT Mr. Spencer, I hasten to add, but one of his associates. You can tell something about a man by the company he keeps or kept) is iffy on the Resurrection, you know, the Event that establishes the Christian faith. This is like believing in modern physics, but being iffy on gravity. It is too absurd to take seriously. A Christian man is iffy on the Resurrection of Christ? Whether or not it literally happened has no bearing on his “personal” “Jesus shaped” faith? Why not just become an atheist and put your inner demons to bed? Instead of wailing like an ass about how how personal and “deep” your connection to a dead, potentially non-Resurrected Jesus must be. Seriously, folks, it’s embarrassing. Cut it out.

    There is nothing more exciting and exhilirating than orthodoxy. The Christian faith is not a gnostic faith but an embodied faith involving real bodies, real life, real sexuality and a real, flesh and blood incarnate Christ who suffered a real bodily death for real, bodily sins on a real, wooden Cross. Get your gnostic rubbish out of here and into Sheol, where it belongs.

  19. The most important period of my faith was the time I spent questioning everything I had been taught growing up in fundamentalist Southern Baptist churches. I spent a lot of time on this subject. One of the most important books I read during that time was The Myth of Certainty, suggested by Michael.

    The damage may never be completely repaired, but my faith and spiritual health are so much stronger now because of my ‘dark night of the soul’. It was essays like this from Michael that kept a lamp lit for me. I miss him greatly.