Inerrancy Accepted, Discarded, Established and Eroded
Last week on this side of the pond, specifically at John MacArthur’s Shepherds’ Conference in California, the hot topic has been the inerrancy of Scripture. Inerrancy means that the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is ‘without error in all that it affirms’. For the first 16 centuries of church history inerrancy was accepted. People believed that the Bible was written by men, but men who “spoke from God” and were “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:2
1). With the Age of Reason in the 17th and 18th centuries came Enlightenment thinking which had the effect of raising the thoughts of man above the mind of God.
In this same vein, German Higher Criticism in the early 1800’s deconstructed the Scriptures and they were left with a Bible of many errors. This caused a debate as to the nature and authority of Scripture. Some became anti-supernaturalists, denying the miracles: some questioned the historicity of events and even a historical Adam. Darwin’s influence had the effect of casting doubt upon the trustworthiness of the book of Genesis and the doctrine of inerrancy began to be discarded by the church.
In response, BB Warfield of Princeton reaffirmed inerrancy in a classic exposition in 1881. The term was hotly debated in the 1970’s in what became known as the ‘battle for the Bible’. One of the results of that battle was the 1978 document called the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. The doctrine had once again been publicly established. Yet in recent days, the debate has arisen again with open theism and evolutionary theories raising doubts as to the inerrancy of the Scriptures. A scholarly debate between Peter Enns and Greg Beale resulted in Beale critiquing Enns who said that he isn’t questioning, “whether the Bible is inerrant… but how the Bible is inerrant”.
This year’s Shepherds’ Conference highlighted both the erosion of belief in the inerrancy of the Scriptures since 1978, and the importance of the doctrine for the life of the church.
The Shift and the Slide
The problem is that when you shift from the inerrancy view, you shift on your view of the authority and character of God. “What or who is your authority?” is then a question amongst professing believers? With the shift begins a slide,so that some like Steve Chalke suggest the Bible contains errors and therefore even abhorrent ideas. Chalke denied penal substitution in 2004 calling it “cosmic child abuse” and thus discarded the central motif of the atonement and the true gospel. If you suggest the Bible has errors, you suggest that it cannot be trusted and therefore God cannot be trusted. The authority of God is indirectly challenged. It’s a subtle, “Did God actually say?” and “You will not surely die.” From the beginning the temptation was to doubt the inerrancy of God’s Word. And since the fall the tendency of man is always to bring God down to his level. As God said to Israel in Psalm 51:21, “You thought I was one like you.” When that happens we are on the way to apostasy.