Confessions of a Liturgical Inerrantist

EDIT:  I hold to inerrancy.  I have seen where denying it kills denominations and churches.  That said, a hyper-focus on inerrancy, instead of the person to whom it witnesses, also kills denominations.

In college I would have defended inerrancy to the death.  Literally.  I am not being dramatic. In college I was physically assaulted by charismatics and theological liberals for my take on Scripture. If you did not accept the doctrine of inerrancy, you were a liberal.   If you took the easy route and accepted only the infallibility of Scripture, then you were afraid of the hard reality of God’s revelation, and you were probably a liberal anyway.

To be fair to us Evangelicals in college, given our situation we really did not have a choice.   The liberalism in the Baptist world was rank and raw.  At Southern Seminary in the late 1970s (yes that was before my time), so the documentation goes, prayers were began with, “Our Mother, who art in heaven…”*  A hard, if wrong-headed, defense of inerrancy is certainly understandable.

Unfortunately, inerrancy is a dead-end.   The only way it can be salvaged is to immediately water-down its claims.  The prima facie problems with inerrancy are the discrepancies between different gospel accounts and different historical reconstructions in Kings/Chronicles.   I know many apologists have “harmonized” these accounts, but there are some problems with “harmonizations”:

  • harmonizations, especially in the gospels, take away the rough edges from the text and ultimately make the two (or three) texts say the same thing.   There are two problems with this:  the text you have “harmonized” originally wasn’t saying what you wanted it to say.   You’ve changed the text (so much for the inerrancy of Scripture).  Secondly, the “difference” in the text might be pointing to a theological or narratival truth.  Harmonizing that eliminates that truth.
  • Many harmonizations are quite strained.
  • In order to be successful at this, you have to read a whole lot, have an agile mind for smoothing over these problems, and have the necessary rhetorical skills for interpreting these problems.   Few people have this, which means few people can really defend inerrancy.
I’m familiar with the traditional (well, it’s not too traditional since inerrancy is a late arrival) defense that the original mss are inerrant, and not the translations itself.   Fine.   That doesn’t make the problem go away.  You have no inerrant texts with you and at the end of the day you are in the same practical boat as the one who denies inerrancy.
But does this make one a liberal?  Does the truth lie with Wellhausen?  Not for me, anyway.  Theological Liberalism is the most unexciting mentality imaginable.  Liberalism begins with the premise that our universe is a very closed, very Newtonian universe.   Liberals presuppose from the outset, with no evidence for their future claims, that miracles just can’t happen, that God just can’t speak, that ultimately the Author of the story cannot enter the story.  When asked how they know this, they can only reply, “Just because…”
My (metaphorical) war against liberalism is still on.
In this case my position is analogous to C. S. Lewis.  Lewis had a very exciting ontology in which animals talked, new horizons opened up, God became man, knights and shining castles, etc.   Yet Lewis denied the inerrancy of Scripture, and while I was previously critical of his reasons for doing so–and admittedly they aren’t the best–I think I understand that Lewis did not want to be straight-jacketed into a system that can be dismantled very easily.   I also think Lewis did not want to die on a hill which would have been unrecognizable to most of church history.
One of the problems with “affirming” inerrancy, as N. T. Wright pointed out to Gaffin, was that it necessarily commits one to certain ecclesiastical, cultural, and even political agendas.   Granted, this is mainly so in America, but that’s the culture in which I live (and frankly, I think that is the only culture today in which this is an issue).

*Given the doctrine of absolute simplicity, which Tillich says is the abyss of everything specific, one should not be surprised.

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One comment on “Confessions of a Liturgical Inerrantist

  1. […] have some more to add, but it also involves the reading of texts.  One other thing to add:  C. S. Lewis had a fairly liberal German view of the Old Testament, even noting how mean God sounded at times, yet Lewis didn’t seem bothered by the overall […]

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