Like every lover of God’s Word, I rejoiced to read the reports of the thousands of people who attended last week’s Inerrancy Summit. I salute the stalwarts of the faith who spoke there and earnestly pray that the hoped-for effects of greater respect for and obedience to God’s Word will be wonderfully realized.

I may have missed this, but one note I didn’t hear was one of humble confession, the sound of inerrantists confessing that we too have undermined the Bible. Unlike deniers of inerrancy, we’ve done it unintentionally, but the end result has often been the same – less reverence for and faith in the Word of God.

How so? Let me highlight four areas in which we inerrantists have inadvertently undermined Gods Word.

The Clarity of Scripture

The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is summed up in chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“Those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

When people (especially those outside the church) see the intellectual gymnastics some evangelicals use to get away from the plain reading of Genesis 1 regarding six-day creation or the uniqueness of Adam as the first human being, it’s no surprise that they often conclude this is an impossible book for the learned to understand, never mind the unlearned.

Preachers, teachers, theologians, and all of us have a huge responsibility to ensure that we honor the clarity of Scripture by demonstrating how even the unlearned using ordinary means can come to a sufficient understanding of the Bible.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

When we let the findings and theories of secular science have priority or primacy in our interpretation of Scripture and in our application of it in caring for people, we undermine the Word of God.

But sometimes, in our zeal to uphold the sufficiency of God’s Word for faith and life, inerrantists have often carelessly overstated the sufficiency of Scripture. For example, in the area of counseling, a concern to keep out dangerous worldly theory and practice has sometimes led to the theoretical rejection of anything helpful outside of the Bible.

There are three problems with this. First, there’s the problem of inconsistency. Whatever counselors have said or written about rejecting anything and everything outside of the Bible, they deny it in practice. No biblical teacher or counselor uses only the Bible in shepherding people. Every single one of us integrates knowledge from outside the Bible into our teaching and discipling. The only questions are how we do it and to what degree.

Second, Although this “bible-only” view sincerely intends to defend the sufficiency of Scripture, it ends up undermining it because the Bible is not regarded as sufficient enough to screen and filter the world of knowledge outside of the Bible, and admit into the care of people only what is consistent with God’s Word. The Bible is not thought to be up to the task and therefore we must not even attempt such an endeavor.

Third, when the sufficiency of Scripture is overstated to rule out any place for science in our interpretation or application of Scripture, it looks ridiculous to many, preventing them from giving a fair hearing to the true claims of God’s Word.

The Authority of Scripture

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed that the most important battle in his day was not over the inerrancy of Scripture but over the authority of Scripture. I believe both were and are equally important issues. What’s the point in fighting to the death for the inerrancy of Scripture if we undermine it by rejecting its authority in our lives, especially in our ethics? We end up with a perfect book that has no impact on our lives.

Many different theological systems have been devised that, in effect, displace the role of the ten commandments as an authoritative guide for the Christian’s life. Whatever the scheme, they all end in the same place – freedom from God’s moral law. Especially, freedom from the fourth commandment.

Unsurprisingly, many who want to argue for gay marriage or the legitimacy of gay Christians point out the seeming hypocrisy of our picking and choosing which of God’s moral laws we want to be authoritative in our lives. “Why can’t we do the same?” they ask.

The Practice of Scripture

This flows out of the last point, but a vital part of any Inerrancy Summit should be an Inerrancy Valley, where we all humble ourselves in repentance and contrition and confess how we have all failed to practice the Bible, we have all failed to live up to what we profess to believe about the Bible. This is especially serious because for most people our lives and character are the only Bible they regularly read.

There’s no question that far more people would believe in the inerrancy of Scripture if they could see more practice of Scripture. Errant lives are poor commercials for an inerrant Bible.

  • Richard

    David, you make some helpful points here but I’m afraid your mis-characterisation of those who would advocate a new covenant approach to the law is gratuitous and unworthy. Are such serious theologians really looking for ways to avoid keeping the law? You’ve done a good number of brothers and sisters a disservice in suggesting that.

    • David Murray

      Thanks Richard. I re-read what I wrote and saw your point. I’ve re-phrased it slightly. I believe it still makes my point without running the risk of mischaracterizing.

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  • Curtis

    David,

    Wilhelmus a Brakel insisted that because the Bible was inerrant, heliocentrism was in error. Would you agree with him? If not, how would you disagree with a Brakel in a way that did NOT “let the findings and theories of secular science have priority or primacy in our interpretation of Scripture”? (I ask because I’m unsure how to answer this myself at the moment.)

    I appreciate your work!

  • Adam Jonathan

    “Third, when the sufficiency of Scripture is overstated to rule out any place for science in our interpretation or application of Scripture, it looks ridiculous to many, preventing them from giving a fair hearing to the true claims of God’s Word.”

    Can you clarify in what way is this quotation different, in principle, from what your criticize in this quotation?

    “When people (especially those outside the church) see the intellectual gymnastics some evangelicals use to get away from the plain reading of Genesis 1 regarding six-day creation or the uniqueness of Adam as the first human being, it’s no surprise that they often conclude this is an impossible book for the learned to understand, never mind the unlearned.”

    On the one hand, you refer to “intellectual gymnastics.” However, are not day-age theories, etc. simply one way to avoid your other criticism about ruling “out any place for science in our interpretation or application of Scripture”?

    Put another way, why does your personal belief system permit you to interpret Scripture in one area through the lens of empiricism (counseling the human soul), while another area is subject to rather damning language as “intellectual gymnastics” (days of creation)?

    Would it not be better to either abandon your criticism of day-age theories, or your defense of empirical psychiatry?

  • http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/ Gary

    Almost all Christian doctrines are based on the New Testament of the Bible. But, how do Christians know that these 27 books are the inerrant, inspired words of God, as Christians tell us?

    Answer: A bunch of fallible, scientifically illiterate Churchmen in the second, third, and fourth centuries said so! That’s it!

    When and where did God say that a bunch of old Churchmen have the authority to determine what is and what is not his Word? When and where did God say that Saul/Paul of Tarsus was speaking on his behalf? Or the writers of the Gospels? Or James? Or Peter? Or any other writer of the New Testament? Even if the apostles themselves had voted unanimously for the 27 books of the current New Testament to be designated as the “Word of God”, that still would not prove that God had authorized them to do so. We have no evidence that the Eleven achieved a state of perfection and omniscience on Pentecost. They, like every other human being, were fallible. So where is the evidence that God left a list of what should and what should not be considered his Word in a new testament?

    Answer: No where!

    We have no evidence from the Bible or anywhere else that God gave Christians a list of what is and what is not his Word! Christians have created an “inerrant, inspired, you-are-damned-to-Hell-if-you-don’t-believe-it” Holy Book based solely on the opinions of men living almost 2,000 years ago.

    Bombshell: Christians have zero evidence that proves the New Testament of the Bible to be the Word of God; the inerrant message of the Creator of the Universe to mankind. Zero!

    • Brett Vermillion

      Big difference between regurgitated ignorant ranting and legitimate arguments.

      Big difference between a bloated baseless claim and a bombshell.

      Friendly advice: “repent and believe in the gospel”. (Mark 1:15) since you are going to be judged
      based on your response to the book you have been duped into disbelieving. “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.” (John 12:48) –Jesus of Nazareth approx. 30 AD

      Have a nice day.

    • Jeff Smith

      Dear Gary,
      Perhaps you are aware that all of your claims have been addressed in great detail many times. A number of things you say are not accurate representations. However, leaving that aside, may I ask you how you know that bacon is salty or that candy is sweet? As you think about that I would also encourage you to begin reading the N.T. as at least an honest agnostic. What do I mean? Well an atheist says there is no God. I might ask an atheist is it possible that of all there is that one may possibly know in the universe you don’t know everything? He may say, “Yes”. I say, “Let’s say you know half of what there is to know. Could it be possible that in the half you don’t know, God exists?” Okay he says. I say, “Now you are an agnostic, not an atheist. But are you and honest or dishonest agnostic?” “What do you mean?”, he says. “Well, a dishonest agnostic says I don’t know if there is a God or if the God of the Bible is that God but I really don’t want to know or care to know. An honest agnostic, as I’m using the terms, says, I don’t know if God exists or if the Bible is true but I want to know and if He is I am willing to give him the worship and devotion that He requires and deserves. Will you be willing to go that far?” He says, “Ok”. I say, “Let me challenge you then to take the N..T., beginning with Luke or perhaps John and pray ‘God I don’t know if you exist or if this N.T. is true but I want really want to know if it is or not so if you exist and if it is please show me as I commit myself to reading through it carefully”. Gary, I challenge you to do that or at least to admit that you really don’t care or want to know if the N.T. is really the inspired Word of God. With warm regards.

      • AtheistCards.com

        Jeff, you make a common mistake in assuming an atheist asserts “there is no god”. Atheists, at the very least (this is what makes them atheist) say they don’t have belief in god. So we could play you word game with any NUMBER of things, but I’m not sure how helpful it is.

        Well an aunicornist says there is no Unicorn. I might ask an aunicornist is it possible that of all there is that one may possibly know in the universe you don’t know everything? He may say, “Yes”. I say, “Let’s say you know half of what there is to know. Could it be possible that in the half you don’t know, Unicorn exists?” Okay he says. I say, “Now you are an agnostic, not an aunicornist.”

        Great! But we haven’t really made any progress, nor altered any beliefs. Again you assume the atheist is making a knowledge claim: “I know there is no god”. An atheist might indeed say that, but many won’t. They are still atheist. It is simply the rejection of belief in god. There are any number of things you don’t actively believe in, presumably (unicorns, fairies, boogeymen, etc.). Your belief in those things, and mine, could be changed instantly in the face of overwhelming evidence. Until you see such evidence, you’re probably continue your disbelief. That’s how I, as an atheist, view god. We just happen to have a word for this, and not for other things. I think if billions of people had an active belief in unicorns, we would indeed have a word for that too.

        Thanks for reading! :)

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  • http://www.affectedbytruth.com/ Steve Meister

    Thanks, David, this is very helpful, but I was surprised at this comment: “one note I didn’t hear was one of humble confession, the sound of inerrantists confessing that we too have undermined the Bible.”

    That very point was directly addressed, especially by Ligon Duncan, Ian Hamilton, and Derek Thomas, and indirectly in nearly all the others. Before I arrived, I prayed that the Lord would challenge me in this doctrine of which I was already convinced – and He did! Remarkably, in the very things of which you write here.

  • johntjeff

    Ditto what Steve Meister commented. He saved me the trouble. You did miss it. Rather than second hand reports, I would recommend listening to each of the worthy messages, while viewing the transcripts posted on The Master’s Seminary “Preachers & Preaching” blog site. That being said, I am “Amen!”ing your post!

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