Saturday, September 15, 2007

What about a Sensible Inerrancy?

Well, have you heard the term "inerrancy" before? (I get a red squiggly line under it when I type it, so apparently Firefox has NOT!). When used in reference to the Bible, it's the concept that there's something inspired about it; it goes beyond the level of being created by people, and is said to be without error in its original form. This is important because - if the Bible really is inerrant and inspired by God - it has something to say about really is and is not so in this world. Christians, however, have varying beliefs about the inerrancy of the Bible; I stumbled on a discussion of it this week. Because it's on a private discussion list, I'm going to copy out the messages in the comments section of this blog; I would love it if you'd read through them and add your own. You'll see a post or two of mine as you progress through them. (The posts come from Spare Oom, a Yahoo! Group that discusses the life and works of C.S. Lewis).


  1. Dear friends,

    The Lewis encyclopedia Victor is referring to is the
    new 4-vol. Praeger one edited by Bruce Edwards, not
    the 1-vol. "Reader's Encyclopedia" which is probably
    more familiar to many.

    I already addressed some of the questions in the
    article referenced. Much as I respect John MacArthur,
    I would have to say that he is just flat wrong in
    saying that only a literal 6-day creation is
    consistent with inerrancy. To say the Bible is
    inerrant is distinct from saying that one
    interpretation of the Bible is inerrant. On whether
    other views of creation (day-age, gap theory, etc.)
    are legitimate interpretations of Genesis, I recommend
    Francis Schaeffer's book Genesis in Space and Time.
    He does a careful exegesis of Genesis 1-3 to try to
    establish the boundaries of what interpretations can
    legitimately claim to be faithful to Scripture.
    Strikingly, even though Schaeffer himself favored the
    literal 6-day view, he very forthrightly concludes
    that the other options cannot be eliminated on the
    basis of the text, and that those who hold them should
    not be accused of unbelief or of denying inerrancy.
    The doctrine of inerrancy is about whether the Bible
    is inerrant, not whether my interpretation of it is.

    From Mr. Tumnus' Library,


  2. Thanks for clarifying on the encyclopedia. Here's what Lewis actually says.

    I have been suspected of being what is called a Fundamentalist. That is because
    I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it
    includes the miraculous. Some people find the miraculous so hard to believe that
    they cannot imagine any reason for my acceptance of it other than a prior belief
    that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical or scientific truth. But
    this I do not hold, any more than St. Jerome did when he said that Moses
    described Creation “after the manner of a popular poet” (as we should say,
    mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job were
    history or fiction.7 (RTS) 105.

    Twp things to notice. First, as Don points out, the inerrancy Lewis attributes
    to the "fundamentalist" is a naive, not a theologically nuanced version of the
    doctrine. Second, it looks as if Calvin (one of the premier champions of
    biblical authority in the history of the Church) didn't hold this naive
    doctrine. However, naive versions of the doctrine can easily be found in pews
    and pulpits all across the evangelical community. Don seems to think Lewis was
    "caricaturing" the position, but I think there are plenty of people who fit the
    caricature to a T. It's just that he's not responding to a theologically
    underdeveloped version of the doctrine.

    My own view is that the question "Do you believe in inerrancy" is a little like
    asking someone "do you believe in evolution?" Depending on how you explain the
    doctrine, I might answer either question yes or no. I personally dislike the
    word inerrancy, and prefer to ask "what hermeneutical constraints follow from
    believing that Scripture is special revelation from God.

    Evangelical groups committed to inerrancy sometimes do purge members whose
    interpretations of Scripture do not square with inerrancy as they understand it.
    Such was the case in the purging of Robert Gundry from the Evangelical
    Theological Society a number of years ago, based on what they took to be
    "errantist" interpretation of Matthew.

  3. Thank you, Mr Williams, for pointing me in the direction of Francis Shaeffer's
    book below. Is this the same Francis Shaeffer who is connected with L'Albri (or
    however you spell it)? I've long wanted to visit or perhaps stay for a time at
    one of the L'Albri places. I had not noticed that Mr. Shaeffer also wrote books.

    Inerrancy is something I've come upon relatively recently. The church I was
    raised in taught 'thought inspiration' in which theory the "inspiree" was worked
    upon by the Holy Spirit but put the resulting inspiration in his or her own
    fallible, human words. This was in part to leave room for that church's fallible
    'messenger from the Lord' who wrote out her visions and testimonies with notable
    confusion of facts and meanings.

    Now that I'm no longer a part of that church, there is a whole world of teaching
    in Christendom that I've yet to study. I do have down that Jesus is the Lord of
    my life, that God is utterly trustworthy, that the Bible is inspired, and that
    the good news of the Gospel is Salvation by faith "not of works lest any man
    should boast." I also have developing (and a few firm) opinions on issues beyond

    Thanks for helping me along in my quest!



  4. This is the locus classicus for present discussions of biblical inerrancy.


  5. Quoting Donald Williams

    > The doctrine of inerrancy is about whether the Bible
    > is inerrant, not whether my interpretation of it is.

    Indeed. "Inerrancy" is often confused (by its supporters and
    opponents alike) with "literalism", an entirely different thing. I
    expect we all agree (at least those of us on this list) that not
    everything in the Bible is to be taken literally, but it can still be

    Dan Brown

  6. "It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the
    true word of God."

    C. S. Lewis
    (To a Lady, 8 November 1952)
    Letters of C.S. Lewis, p. 247.


  7. There are presumably no real problems in the text only ignorance in
    man and hubris. We variously imagine that the problems call scripture
    into question on one extreme or that we can explain them on some
    simple model in the other. The reality is that we don't know but
    refuse to admit we don't know. Sometimes the proper thing to do is
    pray in humble ignorance for illumination.

    Regards, Ray

  8. I said that we should acknowledge "problems" in the
    text of Scripture but not presume to call them
    "errors," always giving the benefit of the doubt to
    the Text rather than to the Critic. To which Ray

    "There are presumably no real problems in the text,
    only ignorance in man and hubris."

    Yes. Well said, Ray.

    From the Falls of Henneth Annun,


  9. Don wrote, "I acknowledge that there are problems in the text, but I always
    call them problems and not errors. Always give the benefit of the doubt to
    the Text and not to the Critic is, I would argue, sound theology and sound
    practice. You will go wrong least often that way."

    I couldn't agree, more. ( Putting a question mark works for me.) I don't
    think the Bible errs in matters of faith. For Christians the benefit of the
    doubt should go toward the Bible. There have always been doubters who seek to
    disprove rather than just explore the meaning further.


  10. I generally put three times as many question marks in for the times in
    which it's somehow to my benefit to interpret things a certain way!
    This can apply to something practical in my life - some "rule" I'd
    rather not follow - and in theological interpretations. I only took
    enough theology classes to be minimally aware of the field, but it
    amazes me how reading one text one way can become a key that turns the
    interpretation of a slew (or would that be "slough"?!) of other texts
    in the same direction. There's something to be said for logical
    consistency, (theology matters!), but I can't help but think there are
    times when it's "both-and" rather than "either-or". Predestination,
    for example. Yes, God really gives us actual choices, and yes, God
    really does know how things will turn out in the end.

    I would love help with this, though. On the one hand, how do we avoid
    believing blindly and having a naive faith that persists in spite of
    flat contradictions from science, logic, or experience? On the other,
    how do we avoid setting ourselves above a humble, learning attitude
    toward Scripture, and merely picking and choosing at whim those things
    which fit into our current understandings of ourselves and our world?

    I'm just finishing the book _Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why
    We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts_. It's
    outstanding, and it ties directly into this question, for me. It
    compelling exposes the dangers of being unable to back down from a
    given point of view, citing harmful mistakes made by religious people,
    therapists, doctors, prosecutors that only became more harmful when
    they couldn't admit they'd made the mistakes. But how far down the
    path of willingness to admit to being frail, mistaken, or prone to
    error can we go before we drive ourselves mad, fearful of believing in
    and living by anything?

    There's got to be a good Lewis quote that deals with this (or McDonald
    or Chesterton!); I would appreciate your insight!


  11. Ann's mention of "seeking to explore the [biblical] meaning further" rather
    than doubting or dismissing reminds me of what Lewis writes in "The Weight of
    Glory," Reflections on the Psalms, and other places as well, when he starts
    with a biblical passage he finds troubling or distasteful, and in exploring
    it, finds great riches.

    I acknowledge that there's quite a big difference between the problematic
    passages in the Bible central to the debate about inerrancy, and the
    devotional, pastoral interpretation that Lewis was engaged in, but the humility
    always giving the Bible the benefit of the doubt and seeking to learn rather
    than leaping to conclusions is the same in both cases. For me, the most
    memorable example of Lewis' method is "The Weight of Glory."

    In "The Weight of Glory," Lewis starts by exploring scriptural imagery that
    says he finds unappealing, even baffling--i.e., personally problematic. His
    exploration leads to unexpected riches, however. Lewis writes, "If I had
    rejected the authoritative and scriptural image of glory and stuck obstinately
    to the vague desire which was, at the outset, my only pointer to heaven, I
    could have seen no connection at all between that desire and the Christian
    promise. But now, having followed up what seemed puzzling and repellent in the
    sacred books, I find, to my great surprise, looking back, that the connection
    is perfectly clear."

    I love this about Lewis, and I take it as a personal call to remain
    teachable always when it comes to Scripture.


  12. In a message dated 13/9/07 22:00:09 GMT Daylight Time, jane38@...

    > "It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the
    > true word of God."
    > C. S. Lewis
    > (To a Lady, 8 November 1952)
    > Letters of C.S. Lewis, p. 247.

    Just so! That is the difference between Christianity (on the one hand)
    against Judaisn and Islam (on the other hand).
    See John Barton's People Of the Book?
    This argues that Christians are not people of the book in the same sense as
    are Jews and Muslims.
    Also see the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the subject of the special
    relationship between Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

    Anne P