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.