Proving Christianity with inerrancy

In a discussion involving my rejection of inerrancy, a frequent commenter mentioned the inerrantist objection, “Without [our Bible] can we confidently walk up to a non-believer and ask him to believe our own personal faith in God without showing him something that he can see that points to that God?”

The first thing I’d like to note is that we can confidently show our non-inerrant (can anyone think of a better term than “errant”?) Bible as something that points to God. The Bible, if nothing else, points to God, but this obviously stops well shy of “proving” Him or anything about Him. But what the commenter is getting at is the inerrantist’s uneasiness with the fact that we have no official “last word” source text whose very existence will elicit compulsory belief from the doubter to whom it is presented. This is, in effect, what the inerrantist holds the Bible to be: you must believe because the Bible says so.

In actuality, I doubt very many reasonable people become Christians solely because they have been persuaded that the Bible is inerrant. They become convinced by what it says, and this may or may not suggest to them that the whole thing is absolute, crystalized divine perfection. We don’t need to be assured of inerrancy in order to make good use of a newspaper, but our confidence may be boosted by its consistent accuracy.

Telling an unbeliever, “Accept Christ as Lord, just as the Bible says,” is not itself dependent on inerrancy at all. Laying aside any questions about the value of proselytism, rejection of inerrancy itself does not undermine it in principle, although it does underscore the invalidity of one common tactic.  I think it no less likely (and more probable, in fact) that I might convince someone to adopt my faith if I told him that…

(1a) the Bible was written by ancient witnesses who believed Jesus was Lord, and that

(2a) I’ve found that to be true in my life and seen it at work in others’ lives

…than if I tried to convince him that…

(1b) the Bible is 100% perfect because it and I say it is,

(2b) Q.E.D., Jesus has been proved Lord.

(3b) Oh, and I’ve found that to be true in my life and seen it at work in others’ lives.

If they find one error in Scripture, or even just one difficulty without a plausible answer, they’ll be obligated by sound reasoning to declare (1b) unsatisfied and chuck (2b) without a second thought about (3b). In other words, when they ask, “Why should I believe your Bible?”, which puts a more significant strain on credulity? “Because it’s perfect, which proposition I accept because it says so about itself,” or “Because it works, and has yielded extraordinary results for believers and for society as a whole throughout the centuries”?

The inerrancy doctrine has been used more than anything else as a blunt object to decisively “prove” Christianity. But only the young or gullible come to accept Christianity based upon that. Too many Fundamentalists and evangelicals feel as though they have to prove the Bible’s perfection so that their faith will be “proved” as well. But we don’t need proof of its inerrancy; we need evidence of its usefulness and its reliability. Even if we don’t consider the Bible to be any more indicative of actual events in the times they describe than historians assume for the uninspired, non-inerrant, but sincere works of Josephus, Tacitus, or Julius Caesar, we still have something to reckon with.  And for all my rejection of inerrancy, I find it an unmotivated leap to also reject its adequacy for leading us to the formative and definitive stages of our faith’s history, from which starting point we and the Church throughout history have gone on to encounter the truth of God in Christ.

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