Andrew Wilson throws down a bold and extraordinary challenge to the critics of inerrancy. As one such critic, I'm grateful for the provocation. I know there are more subtle, nuanced and persuasive views of inerrancy out there but Wilson gives a good grass roots sketch of the motivation for the doctrine. He starts like this,
There are a bunch of reasons for [holding to inerrancy]: theological (what would it say about God if his word was incorrect?), anthropological (isn’t the idea of the pot telling the potter that he got it wrong somewhat problematic?), even Christological (Scripture is affirmed as both divine and human, like Christ, and to use the latter to argue for the flawed nature of the former could pose substantial problems for our view of Jesus - which is evident when you find people saying that Jesus, in his humanity, made a mistake about the historicity of Adam).To which I would rather briskly reply,
- it is not God's words that contain errors it is our Bibles (and yes we should distinguish between the two),
- when I observe inaccuracies in the Bible I am not telling God he got it wrong but observing what is actually in the Bibles I have access to (rather than deciding before hand what the Bible looks like and then twisting it to fit) - these Bibles have all been through a long and imperfect human process of transmission, collation, translation, interpretation, and editing for marketing purposes
- and no the scriptures are not divine and human in the way that Christ is. No orthodox theologian has ever suggested they are, Christ is unique in that respect.(Peter Enns has wondered if the two natures of Christ is a good analogy for scripture in his book Incarnation and Inspiriation, but it isn't a good idea, mainly because you can hardly use a theological mystery to analogically explain a literary reality, analogies are supposed to work from the known and understood to the unknown, not the other way round, and as Wilson rightly points out it also causes Christological problems downstream).
But inerrancy also matters because it rules out what I call “the option of errancy” when interpreting Scripture. Put simply, this is the idea that if you don’t believe Scripture is inerrant, then when faced with a biblical “difficulty” (whether a genuine challenge or, more commonly, something you as an interpreter don’t like), you can always say that the Bible is mistaken on that point. You may claim that you don’t want to use it - and that may be true - but if needed, you know the option of errancy is sitting in your back pocket, like a Presidential veto, as a last line of defence.Wilson assumes that my reluctance to hold the doctrine of inerrancy is because without it I have a get out of jail free card on the Bible. Rubbish. If you need something to stop you from discounting portions of scripture you struggle with, it is not a doctrine of inerrancy you need it is a fuller submission to God. Signing the Chicago statement won't help you one bit. Believers in inerrancy are just as good and sometimes better than others at avoiding the bits of the Bible that don't suit them.
I do have a doctrine of errancy. I don't call it the doctrine of the errancy of scripture. It is the doctrine of the errancy of humanity, of the Bible's human authors, of the scribes and copyists and translators, of the church and of those who read, interpret, and preach the Bible; but that even despite all those errant human beings being part of the process the God of grace speaks to his people through that collection of scriptures known as the Bible in as fresh and liberating a way today as he ever did. It is a doctrine of the scriptures that are given not to tell us how many Israelites walked the wilderness or how many angels were at the tomb but teach us about God. Most of all it is a doctrine of the God of grace who reveals himself even through our broken and errant humanity and seems to delight in doing so. It is a doctrine of a the God who speaks, loud and clear, faithful and true, even into the errancy of our feeble minds and unfaithful hearts.
Let me know what you think :-)
[You might also enjoy these older posts, 2 Reasons why Inerrancy is Meaningless and Beyond Inerrancy. For all Xenos posts on the issue click here. And if you still think you believe in inerrancy try this on for size.]