Why are you an inerrantist?

If I were to ask you why you believe in inerrancy, would you answer with any of the following?

1) The Bible affirms that it is inerrant.

2) It’s a logical inference from other things I believe (e.g. about God’s perfection).

3) Without a perfect record of divine revelation, anything goes. What’d be the point?

I left off one likely response, as it doesn’t get to the root cause: “Because it’s never been proved wrong.” The problem here is that this response shifts the burden of proof off of the inerrantist, despite the fact that an expectation of complete perfection is not a natural position; no one expects that anything is perfect until it is proved to be flawed unless they have a prior reason for that expectation. So assuming the Bible is perfect until proved otherwise assumes something not in evidence. What I’m asking is, “Why do you expect it to be perfect?”

Let me look at the remaining answers one at a time.

1) For the Bible tells me so.

Ok. Forget the circularity of “I trust X because X told me to”; after all, presuppositionalism has nifty ways of embracing such circularity as a “feature, not a bug”. There are other problems.

Where does the Bible tell you so? Before answering that, realize what that question really means: does any passage ever refer to this specific collection of books as they were canonized centuries after the individual books were written? If so, does it additionally refer to them as entirely free from error? In other words, can you find even a single passage that refers to the sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible (“the word of the Lord” doesn’t count)? Do those passages also refer to this canon as inerrant, or with an unarguably synonymous term? If not, does it even say something like that in a way that doesn’t require philosophical/theological (i.e. extrabiblical) extrapolation?

Pretty sure I know what the answer is. But I won’t spoil it for you: go look for yourself.

2) Ok, maybe it’s not spelled out precisely in the Bible, but it’s a logical inference based on other Scriptures and on what one should expect from a perfect God.

A common pitfall is to suppose that because Passage X:YZ makes a claim about a passage or portion of “Scripture” (e.g. Psalm 119 speaking of the Law), we can extrapolate that everything the Church eventually determined to be “Scripture” somehow gets grandfathered in. So when one verse proclaims, “The Word of God shall stand forever,” it must be referring to what inerrantists now think of as the totality of the Word, the Bible. That’s clever: but it’s not biblical. In fact, it’s unapologetically extrabiblical; that is, it requires you to add other assumptions to the text, assumptions about the Church’s role that Protestants by definition reject when applied outside this one issue. What I mean is this: you’re rallying around Source A for authority while rejecting Source B, yet citing Source B as the authoritative body that proves Source A’s authority.

Many hold on to inerrancy because they believe that God does not lie, and so by extension we must assume that this must be applied to everything we call Scripture. By now you should be able to anticipate my response: what makes you think that everything we call Scripture is comprised of God’s words? This is yet another mask of a presupposition that needs to be peeled away so that we can ask the underlying question. There has to be a reason you believe that Scripture = God’s very words, and preferably it’s more defensible and less based on personal ignorance/incredulity than, “I can’t imagine it being any other way.”

A typical response to this is rhetorically asking why God would leave us without an unimpeachable source about Him and His ways. I return, do you mean to ask why He wouldn’t ensure that we had a source of knowledge that was capable of proving His truth to us and that was free from human obfuscation, manipulation, misunderstanding, and exploitation? Why indeed! Instead, what we actually have is a book whose truth claims are very easily disputed and that has been obfuscated, manipulated, misunderstood, and exploited for all kinds of nefarious purposes–and all the more because of its supposed authority! If God intended to invest it with an authority used properly so rarely and misused so commonly, it would not go toward lessening the problem of God’s transcendence from our plane of existence: if anything, it would compound the problem of why He has chosen to (ineffectually) intervene in our affairs only to deliver us a much misinterpreted and too often dangerous collection of ancient writings while leaving everything else in our world in such a state of glaring imperfection. On the other hand, if our very human Bible is instead yet another example of humanity’s grasping after the ethereal, always just out of reach, and frequently misunderstood regions of the Transcendent, there’s no hollow exception. All told, everything makes much more sense: the Bible’s not perfect because its authors weren’t, either. Nothing’s perfect.

At this point, most will have asked or at least thought the third possible response to my initial question.

3) Without an inerrant Bible, why should I believe in Christianity – or God Himself – at all? How are we supposed to know what to believe? Christianity is just not intelligible unless God left us a clear, miraculously accurate demonstration of His activity in the world, which is what the Bible is.

What it comes down to for those of you asking that is that you were sold a bill of goods. You believe the Bible, and therefore Christianity, because the Bible is inerrant; the moment you stop believing the latter, despite having had no good reason for starting to believe it, your foundation is gone. You become fallible; your beliefs become less than 100% sure; you stand the chance of being wrong about it all. And it’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? I felt more secure when I was confident I knew everything–or if not everything, I at least knew enough to consult the complete Source of All Knowledge, which conferred absolute truth to me on demand (magically, my interpretations were spot on as well). How much simpler things were then!

Let’s just say that, given only a Bible that’s human rather than divine, you decide that it’s all a sham and a scam. Let’s say you throw in the towel on faith. Are you so worshipful of Almighty Certitude and the Right to Be Right that, in place of your shattered inerrancy, you’d be willing to embrace a version of certainty that affirms, “There is no God, no transcendent meaning, and nothing but the material world”? (This is a very popular choice, unfortunately.) If so, I weep for you and for all the people you take with you into that rigid, harsh realm of fundamentalism. Good thing you don’t base everything in your life off of complete certainty, or you’d never leave your bed in the morning!

The difficulty is in managing expectations and dealing with disappointment: if you were never accustomed to forming your beliefs and outlook on life from the belief that the Bible is a codified list of unquestionable direct messages from God, I don’t think you’d miss it. It does, however, hurt a bit to have what you’ve planted your feet on suddenly jerked from underneath you.

Thankfully, the situation for the non-inerrantist isn’t nearly so bleak as the former inerrantist might be tempted to believe. Most of us are used to living in expectation of things not seen (that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Human beings can’t escape living by induction; the assumption that the sun is going to come up tomorrow is based only on inferences from our prior experiences and our unverifiable trust that past events are indicative of the future. We assume a lot in our daily lives, and have literally nothing we can say with certainty. We use Wikipedia. We Google to find answers from fallible people all over the Internet, having to pick through what is and isn’t credible on our own (well, Snopes helps). And by and large, we’re ok with that. That’s just the way it is. And for non-inerrantist Christians, the same goes with our faith; we don’t go around pretending we’re exempt from uncertainty because of some special knowledge we have about the world through our divinely authored handbook. We don’t set our gaze on the window with all its smudges and imperfections, but on what’s on the other side, which we can still see remarkably well.

For those brought up without such unrealistic expectations of the Bible as inerrancy, the faith is still communicated as it always was: the sacred but not necessarily infallible word of the saints’ testimony, leading to personal encounters with God. The earliest church spread by passing on their beliefs about their encounters with Jesus by word of mouth long before it was written down and spread around: even then, there were soon quite spurious testimonies as well, and so, like us, they couldn’t just trust that everything they read was…well, the gospel truth. The testimony of those changed by God in Christ was passed down and continues to be replicated. My father was brought to faith in his adulthood not because anyone had demonstrated the Bible inerrant, but because someone demonstrated the risen Christ in his life.

A faith without a perfect, unquestionable source for knowledge and truth is a light that shines in darkness without completely eliminating the darkness; in fact, when pointed in the wrong directions it can cast some pretty ominous shadows. Dim places are navigable as long as we tread lightly, but the inerrantist plows through boldly while pretending to see it all clearly, often with results that harm others more than themselves (which is the only reason I bother critiquing inerrancy). For instance, without permission to critique the Bible, we cannot convincingly condemn slavery, which is prescribed (by God, apparently) in the first part and never truly repudiated in the second.

“The faith once delivered to the saints” is bigger than will fit between the covers of a book. It’s unwieldy at times, and full of mysteries that can frighten some of us (and thrill others). But it’s entirely adequate for giving us insight into the backend of our universe and teaching us to recognize our place within it.

So what’s your answer? Why are you an inerrantist?

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  • What about, “I believe that the Bible must be inerrant in order to be authoritative. If I cannot trust what it says to be true, it cannot have any authority in the life of the church. Therefore, it is inerrant.” What would you say about that?

    • Steve Douglas

      Unless I misread you, I think that’s more or less a variant on response #3, isn’t it? The argument from consequence: “If it’s not inerrant, that means [something difficult for my belief to account for]; therefore I believe it is inerrant.”

      I think to some extent this is also masking the real issue: it presumes that we need (rather than want) something to be authoritative, to fill in all the blanks. So I’d start by asking, “Why does the Bible need to be authoritative?” I’d also dispute the premise that it must be infallible in order to have authority: here again, we have no examples in life of completely perfect authority–so why do we all of a sudden need it now? (For that matter, is the existence of the need, real or perceived, itself capable of ensuring that there’s a fulfillment for it?)

    • Unless I misread you, I think that’s more or less a variant on response #3, isn’t it? The argument from consequence: “If it’s not inerrant, that means [something difficult for my belief to account for]; therefore I believe it is inerrant.”

      I think to some extent this is also masking the real issue: it presumes that we need (rather than want) something to be authoritative, to fill in all the blanks. So I’d start by asking, “Why does the Bible need to be authoritative?” I’d also dispute the premise that it must be infallible in order to have authority: here again, we have no examples in life of completely perfect authority–so why do we all of a sudden need it now? (For that matter, is the existence of the need, real or perceived, itself capable of ensuring that there’s a fulfillment for it?)

      • ZP

        I’m coming to this discussion really late (I only discovered your blog
        about a week ago) but I’d like to give a perspective of someone reaching
        for God from a different direction. Steve, you say that those who were
        not brought up with the notion of inerrancy would not miss it and could
        live a fine life without it. Well…I was brought up in an environment
        of state- sponsored atheism, in an intellectual climate that I would
        best describe as unhappy atheist/agnostic: religion is so nice to have,
        but we’re all educated people here. Somehow, though, except for a short
        period as a cocky agnostic in adolescence, I’ve always perceived that
        there is something terribly wrong in a world without God.

        As I have lived my life as an adult, I have grown more and more into
        that feeling. I operate in very “liberal” circles — largely secular,
        with lots of folks who’ve dabbled in Buddhism, and some “liberal”
        religious Jews and Christians, whose ethics I mostly love and resonate
        with, but who take the concept of God rather metaphorically, if at all.
        Here is how it looks to me after two and a half decades of religious
        probing, though: If there is no God, we are, to use the theological
        term, deeply deeply screwed and life is a terrible, terrifying, tragic
        doomed mess, a truly hellish existence that honestly I don’t think I can
        even bear. I can imagine a world such as this all too well, but I can’t
        imagine a world that’s remotely liveable, or me living sanely in it,
        without God. Also, not any God will do. I think that the God that’s
        needed to bring coherence, meaning, solace and hope to the world has to
        fit pretty much within the traditional theistic characteristics: all
        powerful (powerful enough to achieve God’s goals) all loving (loving
        creation and the creatures in it deeply and steadfastly and being
        committed to redeeming them) and all knowing (knowing the needs of every
        creature most intimately and knowing how to achieve God’s ends).
        Everything else is secondary to that because everything will turn out
        well with such a God in charge.

        When I do believe that I’m in the hands of such a God my life blossoms,
        my world blossoms and takes on entirely different colors. At this point,
        I went from identifying as a tortured agnostic to identifying as a
        doubt-tormented theist. So, that’s some progress. But the doubt is
        pretty frequent, excruciating and paralyzing. You see, the stakes are
        extraordinarily high — the highest really. I REALLY long for a faith
        that is deep and trusting and firmly rooted and steady even in unsteady
        or frightening times. I can imagine such a faith, but it’s hard to know
        how to get there.

        A faith based in pure fantasy that happens to feel good will not do. In
        fact it doesn’t even hold at difficult times. Fantasy will not redeem me
        or the world. But neither will a sober faith that realizes that it’s
        based on shaky or uncertain hope. You say that we live in a world that’s
        filled with imperfection and a measure of uncertainty, but I feel that
        the uncertainty here is of an entirely different order. Everything
        depends on whether or not a theistic faith is justified. If there really
        isn’t a God, or if God proves to be an ignorant or angry or careless or
        mindless or weak God everything crashes and the world reverts to that
        sick hellish joke. Truly.

        So, the question for me is where can I find this ground? I’m very fond
        of theology, but I don’t think that theology and philosophy alone can
        get us there. After all, a theory can be very beautiful but just not
        match reality, which, as John Polkinghorne says, is full of surprises
        and tends to resist our whole-cloth projections onto it. And religious
        communities and traditions abound. How do you know which one to base
        yourself in and how do you know which one, if any, are right?

        So, that brings me to a very surprising conclusion about the Bible. In
        my environment, the predominant views of the Bible range from it
        being perceived as a very problematic human document (in fact I still
        struggle mightily with some parts of it that seem very offensive to my
        sense of morality and goodness) to it being treated as a useful jumping
        off point for psychological and spiritual reflection. Hardly anyone in
        my circle believes that the Bible is the revealed word of God though.
        But it seems to me that the foundation of theism is that God has
        revealed God’s self — we’re not just guessing here. So, that brings me
        squarely to the sacred texts. Suddenly I’m looking at the Bible and
        wanting to know if what it says is true and if what it says is based on
        God’s nature. Because, for example, the Christian (and to some extent
        Jewish) vision of creation being fully restored and fully redeemed, and
        all being well in the end, is partly based on prophecies like Isaiah.
        Well, it matters then, doesn’t it, if those prophecies are made up or
        true and if they’re true in some very specific historical situation or
        overall (e.g. every tear being wiped)?

  • Dan O

    I’m not…. because inerrancy is a political tool from the reformation to counter weight the infallibility of the Pope.

    • No doubt it has been used as such.

      Of course, you could argue that an emphasis on the Bible was a primary cause of the Reformation, and not just a reaction: one of the reasons for, say, Luther’s involvement in the Reformation was a preference for his understanding of the Bible to what was taught by the Church (but there were, of course, other reason for the Reformation).

      Still, from that point the tail certainly couldn’t help wagging the dog, since one doesn’t simply gainsay the Pope without appealing to a higher authority. So voilà: it’s a political tool. And it’s still being used that way, isn’t it?

  • Steve, let’s come at this from a different angle. Can you more fully respond to Reaction 3? Why, if the Bible were not inerrant, would you believe in Christ? There’s little about Him, and certainly no divinity claims, outside the Bible.

    I’m anticipating that you’ll say that just because you don’t believe it’s inerrant, doesn’t mean you have to toss out the whole thing. So you use discernment. And I think that’s the right answer. But on what criteria do you find something Biblical to be true? What do you use to discern? I feel like that can be just as much of an appeal to consequence (for example: I don’t want slavery to be supported by God and therefore I critique this section of the Bible and I suppose it is in error; or, I want there to be a true, good, beautiful Savior who washes us clean and saves us from the ugliness of sin and therefore I discern that this section is true).

    Your thoughts?

    • Alexander, not much differently from all the disparate, disputing factions of Christianity that hold onto a more inerrantist view of the Bible, there’s not a sure fire way of discerning what exactly is true without that view of the Bible, either. That’s the Achilles’ heel of an inerrant Bible: a lack of inerrant interpreters.

      As you may have anticipated from my comments in the last couple of paragraphs about the early church, I find myself leaning more and more on the broad consensus of the community of faith throughout history as my starting point. We weren’t left to piece it all together by our individual selves: as I have said on this blog before (I didn’t make it up), “Christ didn’t leave us a book; he left us a Church.” It’s because of the testimony of our forbears in the faith that we have been led to encounter God on our own. We disagree on lots and lots, but as a community we still hold a lot of things in common. It’s a starting point, because upon analysis we might find that we disagree, but we do it respectfully by trying to understand why they believe the way they do. And we trust God with the rest.

      I am also fully of the opinion that MacDonald had it right when he insisted that what’s most noble in our natures, what we (fairly uniformly) recognize as the highest, most loving, and most good is not a whimsy, but is based on God’s self-revelation. Calvinists misdirect us when they use Romans 9’s potter and the clay metaphor to tell us, “Don’t judge God based on your depraved natures; He can do whatever He likes and it’s just peachy.” The Church’s historical appraisal of God, present in the Bible, is as Goodness made manifest, “and nothing,” said MacDonald, “but what, if an honest man understood it, he would say was right.” (I wrote a good deal about this in these posts: 1 and 2.)

      • This approach has its own problems (as they all do) in that you get to decide who you consider to be in the community of faith and whether their consensus should count towards the appeal to consensus.

        I guess what I do is that I accept inerrancy (which I would define as “it’s all true, but with a broader definition of true than literalism) as a valid option, with the understanding that there are so many interpretations and, especially important, theodicies out there that maybe an inerrant Bible wouldn’t be as evil as I personally read it to be. So perhaps the Bible is inerrant and that’s why it seems immoral at parts. The other option is that it’s not inerrant and the immoral bits just plain weren’t true. This is more convenient and easy but I guess what I’m trying to say is that both options require faith and guesswork and estimation and hope that God is the way one thinks He is. So my conclusion is that you shouldn’t necessarily pick on inerrancy and that it’s not really on shakier ground than anything else.

        • I am a live and let live type of person. I don’t have fun critiquing inerrancy; I had all but given it up, in fact, until some recent events in my personal life reminded me of two good reasons to “pick on inerrancy”:

          1) It gives Christianity an awful name when it becomes clear that it is false. People lose their faith over this stuff all the time. I’m just not cool with that.

          2) It is dangerous. I’m not talking about inerrancy as an opinion; “I just happen to believe that the Bible is inerrant.” I’m talking about people who uphold that as a doctrine, and usually an extremely important doctrine that is not to be cast aside. Non-inerrantists have nothing enticing them to defend human slavery, outmoded and radical “complementarianism” (patriachalism), or the isolation/persecution of out-groups like homosexuals; inerrantists have a tantalizing tool for doing so, and within the last week in my personal life I’ve seen all three of the above examples in action, in different people from different Evangelical traditions. Sure, there are lots of inerrantists who would be uncomfortable with one or more of those, but a huge swath of even those more reasonable people will defend “divine command theory” (as you seem to be) — that whatever God commands is just, even if it involves running swords through infants. This justification of evil in God’s name is dangerous, too, since it fuels things like abortion clinic bombings. I’m not cool with that, either.

          So I “pick on inerrancy.” Not to bully or to sound “enlightened”, but because I think that even if all of these views are equally on “shaky ground”, only inerrancy is used to persecute and make victims, and so it deserves to be rooted out.

          If knowing all the right facts is what God wants, then He’s probably a big fan of inerrancy; if He prefers that we throw off everything that hinders so that we can live out the truth we know, I think He’d agree that it more often proves a distraction. For the next week or so, I’d like to challenge you to look at everything that comes up in your life and ask whether inerrancy influences you or the inerrantists you know to respond more like the Christian ideal or more like a Pharisee. In my own life, as a former inerrantist living in Inerrancy Land, I think it’s more often the latter; if I’m right, it deserves a critique, doesn’t it?

          • But again, you’re critiquing inerrancy *from consequence*. You don’t like it because of how people abuse it. That doesn’t make it not true. If it’s true, then we have things to deal with, like why God would do or say some things, but again these are challenges to the inerrantist, not proofs against him.

            If you ask me, people can be inerrancy jerks or atheist jerks or any other type of jerk. Inerrancy doesn’t compel anyone to be rude, hateful, or violent. Jesus Himself could be said to be influenced by inerrancy… not of the Bible, but let’s say that every opinion He held was true and He was 100% sure of it, much like some inerrantists today. You can see it didn’t influence Him in any sort of negative way. He was decent and kind through and through despite knowing that He was right.

            As an aside, I think the OT’s treatment of Joseph being sold into slavery made it clear that it was wrong of his brothers to do that and by extension condemned the slave trade. There were other forms of slavery back then (debt slavery; conquered nation slavery) and I don’t know what to say about those… again either the Bible erred or I don’t understand it well enough. But still you see this condemnation and there are explanations to so many other questionable Bible verses as well. So I’m not as compelled by appeal to consequence as you are; I believe you can both hold inerrancy as an opinion and be a decent person, and I’ll even say you can hold inerrancy doctrinally and still be a decent Church. I think that Catholics generally do this pretty well actually.

          • So Steve, to your points above (dangerous and gives Christians a bad name), I think you could easily boil those both down to sin. It’s sin that gives inerrantists a bad name… some are highly sinful in their inerrancy while others are good natured. It’s sinful use of an opinion (it could have been any opinion that would be sinfully used) that’s dangerous.

            I don’t think this is an oversimplification… merely a simplification. It takes irrelevant beliefs out of the equation (you can be stupid or smart, right or wrong, and still be a decent guy) and gets to the heart of the matter, which is that after all this stuff, still what the world needs to save it is the freedom and washing from sin that only Christ can bring.

          • Here’s my impression: you wish I’d just hush about inerrancy and join you in an evangelistic and/or holiness campaign. Am I close?

            I wouldn’t call every false belief a sin. And except insofar as the Bible becomes an idol or perhaps it appeals to sinful people of a certain sort, I don’t think inerrancy is a sin. So no, I don’t think it comes down to sin. I think there are some non-sinful erroneous beliefs that have negative unintended consequences, and I think inerrancy is one of those.

            Maybe this post will help explain my disposition and motivation. Apologies if you’ve already read it.

          • NW


            The big problem I have with inerrancy is that it’s just wrong, as in factually incorrect, and if we tell people that the Bible is inerrant only for them to find out later on that such is not the case then they are likely to call into question everything else we tell them (e.g. the essential doctrines of Christianity).

            To take an example from Mormonism, if we know that Joseph Smith did not translate the Book of Abraham from the Egyptian papyri that he bought in Kirtland, Ohio by the Spirit (and we know that he did not because we have the papyri that he used and can confirm that his “translation” is no such thing) then why should believe that he translated the Book of Mormon by the Spirit. The question answers itself in this case.

          • But Alexander, this post was not at all about proving inerrancy false. It was set up entirely as a question of why some people won’t even let themselves consider it, won’t suffer themselves to weight arguments against it. You implied that there’s no reason to pick on inerrancy: now it sounds like you wanted me to start laying out logical arguments as to why inerrancy is wrong, but at the time I thought you wanted to hear my reasons why I even bother to talk about it.

            The fact is, my believing that there are logical, factual reasons to dispute inerrancy isn’t enough reason for me to get on a soapbox against it. I’d be happy to let people believe what they wanted to about this–I’ve come very close to shutting this blog down a couple times because of that conviction–except for the fact that potential consequences of inerrancy are so harmful. So yes, I appealed to consequence: not as an argument against its truthfulness, but to explain my motivation. Even if inerrancy turned out to be correct, it would justify critiques about bad consequences.

          • Your post reads as “this is why inerrancy isn’t correct” to me. If you wanted to talk about the dangers of the inerrantist mind, can’t you get more personal and less theological? And constantly you’re using words that are more suited to logical arguments than to personal testimony. Since you’re telling me that the reason you write about it is that it’s dangerous rather than it’s incorrect, I don’t really understand why you chose the tone and the words that you chose. Why don’t you tell us, for example, the three things you witnessed this week and why you think they were motivated by inerrancy? Of definite interest would be the question of, Can you take that person who perpetrated that act, convince them that inerrancy is an incorrect position, and by doing so reform them? Or are they still a jerk?

          • Listen, though: I’m not expecting to convince the jerks not to be jerks anymore. The problem is the subculture of inerrancy.

            You want love shown towards homosexuals? It is inerrantists who will be fighting you every step of the way. You want kids raised in households where their mothers aren’t verbally whipped into submission? Only inerrantists will back up their abuse with biblical prooftexts. You can try fighting it from within: if you try hard enough, maybe you can find an interpretation of Scripture that will avoid these pitfalls, even as they show you biblical examples that support them. And I’ll try fighting those injustices from outside inerrancy, not only because I happen to think there are a host of reasons why inerrancy is indefensible from a factual standpoint, but because I’ve found the proposed counter-evidence in favor of gay acceptance, egalitarianism, and the abolition of slavery within Scripture to be wholly unconvincing (as have most inerrantists, I daresay).

            But then I feel pushback from the more reasonable inerrantists, asking why we should even talk about it, since it’s not doing them any harm. My point is, as soon as you try to insulate some people from the attacks on the juggernaut of inerrancy, you’ve empowered inerrancy for the whole community. How many Christians struggling with their own homosexuality or suffering through an abusive “Christian patriarchy” relationship have been looking for a way out, but kept seeing passages in the Bible, ostensibly from God Himself, keeping them in their place? Why should we wait until counter-prooftexts (that have so far been uncompelling to mainstream evangelicalism) convince them and the ones abusing them that the abuse is unjustified? I’m dedicated to not pretending it’s ok or merely patching up holes when to me it’s obvious that the ship is sinking; I’m trying to prepare the lifeboats, telling people that they can safely leave the ship without drowning.

            I understand the fear of “anything goes” once the bulwark of an inerrant Bible is removed. But I don’t think we need go so radically off the rails as some do. I think the life of faith is a tightrope that we must trust God to help us walk. To me it comes down to how willing we are to live up to our own convictions and how much we’re willing to trust God to take care of exactly how holy other people are.

      • NW


        I think a better answer would be that we should derive our doctrine from the theological narrative that is at the center of our scriptures and not be worried about whatever errors exist along the periphery. Speaking for myself, it’s much easier to discern a robust theological center from the scriptures than from church tradition.

        • NW, two things to consider. I find that a lot of the things we take for granted as centermost in our faith comes as a result of our cultural beliefs, which are a result of the church having deemphasized certain Scriptures and emphasizing others; I find myself quite skeptical that I would have picked all the right things out and marginalized the wrong ones all on my own without influence from the church. And secondly, a point I often make is that we cannot legitimately bifurcate church tradition and Scripture: the Bible is church tradition, both in the sense that it was the community of faith that wrote down the individual books and the sense that it was canonized and passed down to us through church tradition. I just don’t think we can (or should) escape the church’s role in our theological beliefs.

          • NW

            No doubt, discerning the theological center of our scriptures is a
            difficult task, but that doesn’t mean that such is the wrong way to
            discern the truths of scripture and thereby derive Christian doctrine.

            Moreover, it is impossible to bifurcate scripture from the tradition of
            God’s people for the simple fact that scripture reflects the tradition
            of God’s people. To discern the theological center of scripture is to
            discern the theological center of whatever story God was trying to tell
            through his people in long ages past. The church today helps people
            discern the theological center of our scriptures by giving them a
            tradition that equips them to read ancient texts that would otherwise be
            hopelessly opaque and mysterious.

          • So we agree? (If not, I’m afraid you lost me!)

          • NW

            Let me try that again.

            As part of our discipleship, the church teaches us how to profitably read the scriptures that she canonized; however, proceeding from that starting point, we should try to discern the theological center of the scriptures for ourselves seeing as how the present understanding of the same in the churches today is probably not identical to that of Jesus and his first followers.

            To give an example, I am absolutely convinced that Jesus and Paul believed that everyone would eventually be reconciled to God through Jesus and live with him in the kingdom of God but not at the same time (i.e. first the elect then everyone else later on). I figured this out by reading the scriptures as part of my efforts to discern the original teachings of the first followers of Jesus, I could not have figured this out from any major branch of the church today as this teaching was evidently lost early on somewhere in the sands of church history. The point is that through the scriptures I have access to an earlier layer of tradition that teaches important truths concerning the theological center of our faith that later tradition sometimes tries to hide or even deny outright.

          • I agree. I make it a point to say that the church (especially through the Bible) is a starting point. We will recover things that the earliest church seemed to lose and we fill discover that none of them, from Jesus to Paul had anticipated. I am just saying that we are remiss and arrogant to think that we should set off in our own direction without at least consulting our forebears in the faith. More often than not these days, I find that my radical departures from Evangelicalism are in actually returns to places settled by some obscure Orthodox father centuries ago.

          • NW


            It turns out, we don’t really disagree after all. 🙂

  • My problem with the article isn’t the conclusion, or the smarmy “ooh, look at how evolved my Christianity is” (in Zoolander voice) it’s the fundamental lack of intellectual veracity. It’s kind of the old “straw-man” approach where one argues against a hypothetical opposing view that he frames in his own terms and words. The inerrantists I was taught by at the college level had MUCH more profound, weighty arguments in favor of inerrancy than was put forth in the article. With that beig said, I personally would only affirm what scriptures testify about themselves, they are a “more sure” word of prophecy, and they are God-breathed…. among other things, but even an inerrantist has to assert inerrancy as only extending to the original manuscripts… so it’s kind of intellectual masturbation to have a deep discussion about this… THE MEGA PROBLEM is that there is a new horrendous apostasy that has taken it’s place: I have recently heard people calling themselves “Christians” say things like “If I could go back in time I would read The Apostle Paul the riot act over his self-righteous attitude” and “I can’t worship the God of the Old Testament, I only go by the words of Jesus”… basically, I’ll take the inerrantist needing God’s correction, over the blasphemous, once-born, idolater, who it makes me want to vomit that he dare even speak the name of the Lord Jesus, needing the fire of hell.

    • Paul, I appreciate your delicate and uplifting criticism.

    • I don’t think there are any strawmen here, Paul. I’ve spent the last several years of my life distilling all those clever arguments my theology professors in college gave me down to a few root issues. I’m all about representing the other side fairly, so I’d be more than happy to hear your suggestions as to which position I might be misrepresenting, and why.

  • NW


    I’m not an inerrantist either but I’d like to know what you meant when you said that you found evidence for “gay acceptance” in the Bible. In particular, do you think homosexual behavior is sinful and if not then what is your justification for thinking so from the Bible?

    • NW, I think you’ve misread me. I said I found the various propositions about biblical evidence in favor of acceptance of homosexuality to be unconvincing.

      • NW

        Thanks for the clarification.

  • Pete


    As someone once in your shoes, I offer advice.

    Step 1) Realize Christianity is just as much made up and not based in reality as every other competing religion.
    Step 2) Experience freedom.

    • Step 3) Coach a little league baseball team.

    • Hey Pete, long time, no comments.

      I appreciate your advice. I imagine that things would be simpler if I were convinced of step 1. But even if it’s true, it would hardly demonstrate atheism. Besides, if I were going to be content to “free” myself by denying humanity’s experiences with the numinous throughout recorded history, I’d have done it by now. I think I left the shoes you were in a long time ago.

  • StevenGarmon

    For answer 2 you write:
    ” what makes you think that everything we call Scripture is comprised of God’s words?”

    One of the major answers to this question is “because Jesus called scripture the Word of God”. For instance in Mark 7:13, Luke 4:4 and Luke 11:28 Jesus uses the term “word of God” to describe scripture. I suppose you could argue the same thing you argued in this post-namely, that calling a part of scripture the word of God doesn’t in turn apply that label to each and every verse. But I think that this wont satisfy inerrancy apologists. In fact, Norman Geisler (probably the poster-boy of inerrancy) uses the fact that Jesus labeled scripture the word of God as his second premise in his famous logical syllogism in proof of inerrancy. I guess I was just hoping you could help me answer this objection (as you have helped me in the past!). Thanks Steve.

    • My reply got way too long, Steven. I think I’ll turn it into a post. 🙂

      • StevenGarmon

        Awesome, looking forward to it!