Inerrancy broke into a debate in the late 1970s when Harold Lindsell (in The Battle for the Bible
) named names and laid down the law. The law was that a true evangelical believed in inerrancy.
Do you think inerrancy is an important term? Why or why not? What do you think is the best single term to define the Christian’s “view” of Scripture?
Wilkens and Thorsen say no. Their contention is that there are three significantly different meanings of the word “inerrancy,” that “inerrancy” is simply not something the Church has always affirmed (with that word) and that even the word “error” has become a bit tricky.
Much to discuss here…
Inerrancy believes the Bible is without error. The term has always defined fundamentalism; it has been a dividing force and boundary marker for some segments of evangelicalism (like the Evangelical Theological Society, for which its sole confession was inerrancy at one time), and for some evangelicals inerrancy and evangelicalism or what they believe are tied together.
Yet, Wilkens and Thorsen contend there are three meanings:
1. Absolute inerrancy (Chicago Statement, Carl Henry, JI Packer)
2. Limited inerrancy — where the Bible is true when it comes to matters of faith and practice and salvation (Daniel Fuller).
3. Inerrancy of purpose — where God’s intent with Scripture is what is inerrant. God’s intent is true (Clark Pinnock, Jack Rogers).
I have in my hands as I write this a letter from a theologian (well-known) about a pastor (well-known). The theologian tells me that said pastor believes in #3 above and that the Bible can contain scientific and historical errors but that won’t influence his view that God’s intent and purpose are true and inerrant. Said pastor is known to all of my readers. The theologian described said pastor’s theory to an even better well-known theologian, a kingpin among evangelicals, and the kingpin theologian observed that said pastor is seriously mistaken.
I tell you this to say this: there are many evangelical theologians and pastors today who fit #2 and #3 and won’t say it publicly because #1’s definition is both ruling the roost and politically powerful.
But what’s an error? Frankly, those who believe in inerrancy, when confronted with “discrepancies” or “Bible difficulties” — like was it David or Elhanan who killed Goliath (cf. 1Sam 17:50-51 with 2Sam 21:19)? was the priest Abiathar or Ahimelech (Mark 2:25-26 and 1Sam 21:2-3)? — tend to find harmonistic explanations that make many historians see special pleading.
Some prefer infallible or inerrant. I see the former to be a softer version of inerrancy.
Because of the squabbles and vitriol connected to this term, I have stopped using it: I believe the Bible is true. And the word “true” is good enough for me; it’s a biblical one. The word “inerrant” is not found in the Bible and, in fact, is a development connected to science and history debates and the term gets people into as much trouble as it solves.