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Biblical Inerrancy, Bibliology

>Is Biblical Inerrancy A Core Doctrine?

>[Yes, I changed the title of this post. The original title was too severe and could be misleading. It was not very pastoral in that this topic is a little more subtle than the average theological discussion and I do not think that I fully developed the necessary qualifiers and background material required to make this post be understood in the way I intended.]

I raised a few eyebrows with a comment I made in my review of Putting Jesus in His Place last week. As I was lamenting the amount of attention American evangelicals devote to secondary matters to the neglect of core doctrines such as the person and work of Christ, I mentioned biblical inerrancy as an example of a secondary issue. I’ll use this post to briefly clarify what I mean.

First of all, let me state that I am indebted to the work of Dan Wallace for helping me to think through this issue from a different angle. Our classroom discussions on the importance of maintaining a doctrinal taxonomy, the danger of a domino view of theology, and the inductive approach to biblical inerrancy were of great assistance to my thinking on this issue. Dr. Wallace outlined his views regarding these matters in response to a popular blog’s mischaracterization of his position last summer (in the comments section, not the post itself). His article can be found here. I highly recommend reading Dr. Wallace’s article in connection with this discussion.

I want to clarify what I mean by core doctrines and secondary doctrines. What did I have in mind when I spoke of core doctrines? Core doctrines are doctrines that are essential for salvation. I do not believe that this is the only way to identify and describe core doctrines but this is the framework I had in mind when I stated that inerrancy is a secondary doctrine rather than a core doctrine. Again, I believe this is a way to define “core” issues. It is not necessarily the only way.

In his article, Dr. Wallace divides doctrine into four useful categories:

1. What doctrines are essential for the life of the church?
2. What doctrines are important for the health of the church?
3. What doctrines are distinctives that are necessary for the practice of the local church?
4. What doctrines belong to the speculative realm or should never divide the church?

Dividing doctrines among these four categories is much more helpful than simply attempting to distinguish between “core” and “secondary” as I did in my review. Elaborating beyond “core” and “secondary” would have distracted from the review of the book.

Doctrines such as the incarnation, deity and bodily resurrection of Christ are doctrines essential for the life of the church. The doctrine of biblical inerrancy would be a doctrine that is important for the health of the church but not essential for the life of the church. Why? Because acceptance of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is not essential for salvation.

When I say that inerrancy is not essential, I do not mean to imply that inerrancy is unimportant or falls under the same level of importance as the two other secondary matters I mentioned, end-times matters and church growth strategies. I hold to biblical inerrancy and think that it is a very important issue. I do not mean to say that the research, writing, debates and discussions that have been devoted to biblical inerrancy in the past few decades were a waste of time because I do not believe that. I do believe, however, that we have not been giving core, Christological doctrines the attention they deserve. This was the primary point of that section of the review. Surely some of the attention we have devoted to end-times issues, church growth strategies and, yes, biblical inerrancy could have been devoted to issues such as the deity of Christ, the historical Jesus, the doctrine of God, or the Trinity. That being said, I understand that it is perfectly possible to devote resources to all of the above without the one taking anything away from the other.

While I do not believe that inerrancy is a core doctrine in the way I have described “core doctrines” above, I do believe that a high view of Scripture is vital. It is true that what we know today of Christ and the Gospel we know because of Scripture. Even if a person were converted upon hearing the Gospel apart from ever reading Scripture, the content of the Gospel message proclaimed to them was derived from Scripture (unless the evangelist is among a long line of Christians who have perserved an oral tradition apart from Scripture!). It is significant to note that early Christians did not possess a completed canon and the Gospel spread far and wide.

This does not mean that inerrancy is essential to salvation, however. It is not necessary to presuppose an inerrant Scripture in order for the biblical author’s writing to be considered trustworthy. We can approach the issue of inerrancy inductively by viewing the Bible as a historically reliable document rather than presupposing its inspiration. I’ll stop there for now.

To be continued…

I highly recommend giving particular attention to two sections of Dan Wallace’s aforementioned article, My Take on Inerrancy. Those two sections are “Inductive vs. Deductive Approaches to Inerrancy” and the section that follows immediately after it, “Christological Grounds for a High Bibliology.”

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Discussion

11 thoughts on “>Is Biblical Inerrancy A Core Doctrine?

  1. >The statement from Nathan…”Seems to me that we ought to be ecclesial inerrantists rather than biblical inerrantists: we should stop treating the Bible as if it were an object to be scrutinized and watch ourselves to make sure that we don’t wander!”,…speaks to where I am. I am not “shaky” on inerrancy but reacting to the high-stake some appear to place their faith in their doctrinal distinctives based on inerrancy. Inerrancy becomes intertwined with interpretation.

    Posted by blind-horse | September 28, 2007, 10:02 pm
  2. >It is not necessary to presuppose an inerrant Scripture in order for the biblical author’s writing to be considered trustworthy. We can approach the issue of inerrancy inductively by viewing the Bible as a historically reliable document rather than presupposing its inspiration. I’ll stop there for now.I’ll admit that I became confused by inerrancy-talk not long after I started devoting serious thought to it. My own tradition tends to consider inerrancy a non-issue, though there are congregations whose preachers have become convinced of its necessity.I suppose my main confusion is etymological: if to err means to wander (and it does), then one could only tell if it errs or not by comparing it to a more authoritative standard. For instance, if I wanted to see if a road were straight and did not err, I’d likely use a laser light or some device more reliable than a road for determining straightness. Likewise, if I wanted to see whether a reproduction of a Raphael painting erred or not, I’d have to look at the original to see to what extent it erred.So to what more reliable standard do inerrantists compare the Bible to make sure that it in fact does not err?Seems to me that we ought to be ecclesial inerrantists rather than biblical inerrantists: we should stop treating the Bible as if it were an object to be scrutinized and watch ourselves to make sure that we don’t wander!

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | September 28, 2007, 8:18 pm
  3. >Jeff: Thanks for sharing your perspective. Earlier this week I wrote an article defending inerrancy as a first tier doctrine. I did this without even knowing about this conversation taking place here…http://veritas83.blogspot.com/2007/09/does-inerrancy-matter.htmlThanks again!

    Posted by Stephen Stallard | September 28, 2007, 7:29 pm
  4. >”You trying to drop the word Conservative from Reformed Mafia Man?”But I am still an inerrantist. 😉

    Posted by Jeff Wright | September 28, 2007, 6:59 pm
  5. >chief,I suppose I should have clarified my question with a qualifier “in practice.”So can the doctrine of inerrancy taken too far IN PRACTICE just as the doctrine of love can?For example, don’t you think this hymn goes a little to far in idolizing the Bible? Perhaps that is a rather extreme example, but when I see a statement of the faith which mentions The Holy Scriptures before Jesus or God, I think that goes pretty far, and it is quite telling of how conservative Evangelicals practice their faith.If you see a statement of faith which affirms the deity of Christ first, and then biblical inerrancy later, does that raise a huge red flag to you? I know it would for my conservative friends, and myself as well back in the day when I was firmly in the inerrancy camp.

    Posted by David Cho | September 28, 2007, 3:40 pm
  6. >I disagree with the whole idea of taking doctrine and dogma and saying we can keep this we can throw this away… feels to much like cherry picking what we want, the American way of theology — the buffet.I believe wholeheartedly in Biblical Inerrancy. And I don’t think the Reformers Luther especially– would agree with this view of limited inerrancy.You trying to drop the word Conservative from Reformed Mafia Man?LOLLYBSeraphim

    Posted by Seraphim | September 28, 2007, 2:29 pm
  7. >I don’t think the two sides speak past each other as much as we just simply do not agree. It’s more of an impasse than it is closed minds.There is stuff Jeff and I agree on–much I am sure. I thought his comments regarding Christ’s deity were tremendous. And, I’m elated to see a resurgence in the great Christological truths of orthodoxy. Gunny, if I understand your concerns you feel that full inerantists such as myself are taking inerrancy too far. Whereas on the other hand I would say limited inerantists don’t take it far enough. Since I believe it is a core doctrine then I believe it is impossible to take it too far. That is perhaps why you have not heard MacArthur caution moderation on his Bibliology. If it were a secondary doctrine, then indeed I would think moderation at times would be in order.Jeff, I read the Wallace article. Thank you for the link. Warfield is sited by both sides of the argument because he embraced both the deductive and inductive. I read an article just recently from the Chafer Journal (author’s name escaping me) which referenced Warfield as a full inerrantist.I cut my hermeneutical teeth on Warfield and Ramm. And, Ramm likewise has been named along with limited inerrantists ocassionally. Ramm does a great job, in my opinion, of handling the sticky wicket of prose, symbols, and cultural “errors.” I love his choice of “normative” hermeneutics over “literal.”

    Posted by ChiefsSuperfan | September 28, 2007, 2:18 pm
  8. >”I do wonder at times how I come across in my posts… It is my prayer that along the way I balance my words with love and I hope you know that any disagreement is not meant as personal attack.”No problem. I’m just glad you leave comments! You’re one of the few who do. “By embracing limited inerrancy Wallace puts himself at odds with men such as Driscoll, Piper, MacArthur, Warfield, Ryrie, Chafer, Luther, and Paul.”Its interesting you mention Warfield because Wallace contributes the development of his ideas regarding an inductive approach to inerrancy to Warfield’s position. Check out the link I provided to Wallace’s article and look at the material regarding Warfield under “Inductive vs. Deductive Approaches to Inerrancy.”I’ll have more to say later. Take care.Keep the comments coming. Good discussion.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | September 28, 2007, 1:45 am
  9. >chief,I find that this is an issue which the two sides talk past each other in the perpetual chicken or the egg conundrum, so bare with me as I try to simplify my question to you.I think we can agree that most correct doctrines can be abused and taken “too far.”For example, Christian love is a great doctrine, but it can be taken too far. You cannot love without confronting sin, I am constantly told, and I agree with it in principle. The same with the doctrine of liberty. You cannot take it too far to the point of ignoring sin and heresy. I agree.But here is the thing that bothers me. While conservatives (for lack of a better term) seem paranoid about taking love and grace too far, they never seem the same way with the doctrine of inerrancy. They never seem concerned about taking that doctrine too far and abusing it. When was the last time you heard MacArthur calling for moderation in taking the doctrine of inerrancy too far?So let me pose this question to you. Can biblical inerrancy be taken too far just as we can with love, grace, liberty, etc? If so, how?

    Posted by David Cho | September 27, 2007, 9:22 pm
  10. >Hey Jeff, thanks for the clarification. I still don’t agree with you, brother. :)It is as I thought a debate over full inerrancy against limited. There’s nothing new here from either side excepting some minor refinements. Wallace, regardless of what he says, holds to limited inerrancy (or some variant of it) and therefore does not see it as a core doctrine.You appear to be in agreement with him. I respectfully disagree. I agree with you that a full comprehension of inerrancy is not essential for salvation. But, as I stated yesterday, I do not believe that soteriological concerns is the first test for church health.We should begin with the doxological. Does the doctrine and inevitable debates to follow pass the test of God’s perfect glory? A final note, and then I will stop unless you otherwise want me to continue: Wallace puts himself in poor company by holding to limited inerrancy. This is not a platform upon which one stands–it is a slope.By embracing limited inerrancy Wallace puts himself at odds with men such as Driscoll, Piper, MacArthur, Warfield, Ryrie, Chafer, Luther, and Paul.A personal note: I do wonder at times how I come across in my posts. I have little time for the vacuum of the internet, and I certainly pray I avoid the even more wasteful wrangling over words. But, I do appreciate the opportunity to discuss and debate important matters such as these. It is my prayer that along the way I balance my words with love and I hope you know that any disagreement is not meant as personal attack.

    Posted by ChiefsSuperfan | September 27, 2007, 2:26 pm
  11. >Thanks for the clarifying of your position. I too have struggled with – what I now realize is a (very) high view of scripture and – the uncompromising stance of inerrancy. I wonder if any votes in the poll would be different if marked prior to reading this post. I did mark secondary but with hesitation and some difficulty. After reading post I see that you are articulating what has been an idea that I could not quite grasp rolling in the mists of my thinking. Now I can reflect on my vote with a bit more confidence as to why I designated as I did.

    Posted by blind-horse | September 27, 2007, 10:40 am

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