What inerrancy is not…

Keynote converger and Southwestern trustee — not to mention Criswell College and Southeastern Seminary alumnus — the Rev. Anthony George of Aloma Baptist Church in Orlando, FL, was quite concerned in his address to the Joshua Convergence that doctrinal fellowship with fellow inerrantists could only exist when the definition of inerrancy did not “die the death of a thousand qualifications.”

As an inerrantist who affirms without reservation the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I found this statement to be long on pulpit theatrics and short on careful reason. Any person comfortable with the English language can see that the Chicago Statement is just as concerned to qualify what is not meant by inerrancy as it is to avow what is meant. Consider the following excerpts from the statement:

We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.

We deny that Church creeds, councils, or declarations (BFM2000?) have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.

We deny that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.

We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God’s work of inspiration.

We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects of contradicts it. We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings. (Interesting that it denies normative revelation, and not any revelation altogether. Does the Chicago Statement allow for the continuation of the gift of prophecy, tongues and their interpretation, etc.? I would guess so, since Wayne Grudem, among others, signed the document.)

We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.

We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.

We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.

We deny that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We furhter deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of the material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.

We deny that Jesus’ teaching about Scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity.

We deny that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by Scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.

We deny that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture.

We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.

We deny that such a confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences both to the individual and to the Church.

The simple fact is that inerrancy is a complicated term, heavy with theological nuance, that requires lengthy description about what it means and does not mean for those who employ it confessionally. My NKJV is not inerrant. Your NIV is not inerrant. Lifeway’s Holman Christian Standard is not inerrant. The Baptist Faith & Message is certainly not inerrant, and neither is the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy inerrant.

I am not discomfited by fellow believers who are themselves uncomfortable using the term “inerrant” because of its complex and necessary theological qualifications or its heavy political baggage. I do not dare suggest that a person has to use the term “inerrant” to describe his or her view of biblical authority. I choose to use the term only because I cannot think of another term that conveys my epistemological confession, yet I am fully aware that the term is not self-explanatory. It is a term, however, that is easily injected into the vocabulary of amateur theologians who possess neither the wisdom to qualify its meaning nor the humility to employ it cautiously.

The Chicago Statement does not suggest that a person must use the term “inerrant” in order to maintain a belief in scriptural authority consistent with it. For this reason, I have found it useful to listen to a man’s description of his view, rather than contenting myself with his usage of a term found nowhere in extant manuscripts of inerrant texts. Likewise, there are certainly those who use the term “inerrant” with every breath, but have little appreciation for the actual lexicography that gives the term its definition.

I believe, therefore, that men who insist that their fellow believers use the term inerrancy in order to maintain Christian fellowship and shared missionary enterprise are using the Bible to accomplish something quite unbiblical: the unnecessary division of the Body of Christ. Such men are, in the estimation of the Apostle Paul, those who “quarrel about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction.”

One final question: Since when did “God-breathed” not suffice to describe one’s view of Scripture? It certainly seemed sufficient for the Apostle Paul.

Tolerable criticism?

I really do not wish to engage this issue for very long, but it has been gnawing at me for a week or so. In a recent post on his blog, Jeremy L. Green of Joshua Convergence glory has taken the mantle of Merriam-Webster and defined for his readership certain terms that constitute a part of a “Liberal Lexicon.”

Before I state my immediate concern, I should note that my first reading of Green’s glossary-of-sorts revealed the degree to which Mr. Green should have consulted a dictionary himself for the correct spelling and/or definition of the word “depreciatory.” I assume that Mr. Green meant “deprecatory,” but that is beside the point.

In his post, Green chose to define the neologism “McKissicgate,” which must have been employed at some point by some person to refer to the recent censorial edict by the president of Southwestern Seminary that limited public access to the chapel sermon of his own trustee, Dwight McKissic of Arlington, TX. I will be writing more about this later.

But Green, whose presence in the Southern Baptist blogosphere has grown into a blind — if not bland — apologetic for all things Pattersonian, is also a “special status” student and aspiring doctoral candidate at the Fort Worth seminary. Here is how Green speaks of Dwight McKissic, a trustee at the very institution where he now pursues his own theological education:

“McKissicgate” – this is a derogatory term employed by moderates and liberals of the decision made by Dr. Patterson to not allow a certain chapel message to be posted to the official SWBTS website due to Dr. McKissic’s criticism of a sister agency’s Board of Trustees. This term is employed in spite of Dr. McKissic’s apparent attempt to 1) ridicule the IMB’s Board of Trustees, 2) betray the trust invested in him by Dr. Patterson and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 3) incorrectly attribute his practice of speaking in tongues to cultural influences, and 4) essentially portraying Southern Baptists as racists because they overwhelming disagree with his erroneous interpretation of speaking in tongues.

Green suggests that McKissic attempted to “betray the trust” of the seminary president, “ridicule” the IMB trustees, appropriate a culturally-bound hermeneutic, and portray Southern Baptists as “racists” on account of his “erroneous interpretation.” Essentially, Green accuses an authorized, duly-elected trustee of the institution where he now matriculates of ignorance, racist bias, and betrayal.

And here we thought Patterson didn’t allow students to speak in unflattering terms about institutional authorities and ministries? We thought that was a violation of the student code of conduct? We thought such action necessitated Patterson’s unilaterally-imposed disciplinary action?

But no, this does not happen. Instead, Patterson sits quietly while a student under his watchcare enters the blogosphere to accuse the character and malign the motives of the highest of seminary authorities — a sitting trustee.

Now of course, I believe that Green should be allowed to continue blogging, and I don’t have any problem with the way that Green chooses to express himself. He often resembles a kindergarten boy marching around the garage wearing his daddy’s boots, but I rather enjoy the sight.

And sometimes I wonder if Green sees the current crises in the Southern Baptist Convention like a rutting season for all young bucks aiming to get a piece of the action before it’s too late. Nevertheless, I hope he continues blogging and thinking and studying to show himself approved unto God. Maybe next time the Joshuas converge, he can scrape his antlers like those whom we’ve had the good fortune to watch via YouTube.

I merely want to point out — once again — the inconsistency of Pattersonian adjudication. He measures with two scales. He plays with loaded dice. He condemns one to his death, and another he enthrones. He chooses to bless and curse whomever he will, solely because it is his good pleasure.

Watching Patterson work leaves one wondering what makes him disdain Calvinists so. They are merely affirming the kind of sovereign governance over the universe that Patterson prefers for his own institutional administration.