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.

Evolution of a theological hit-man

I’m always wary of doing biographical posts, but this one is sufficiently vague and helps me see from whence I came.   I stole the title from the book Confessions of an Economic Hit-Man.  I haven’t read the book, but that is probably the best title of any book, ever.

In the early 2000s I went from a Baptist mindset to a Reformed Baptist mindset.   From then, as was natural with 95% of Reformed Baptists, I went full Reformed paedobaptist.  As a Presbyterian, I was a student of Van Til and Bahnsen.   Because I majored in American history in college, and had an interest in cultural apologetics, I became a student of Rushdoony (circa 2004 to 2007).

While Rushdoony had problems, he wrote well, exposed Reformed pietism for what it was, and sought to think Christianly about every arena in which he could live his life.   As long as one understands the Christological problems he got into because of his Calvinism, I think one can certainly read Rushdoony with profit.


Between him and Bahnsen I must have listened to over 1,000 lectures on philosophy, law, theology, and apologetics.  I do not boast.  I speak as a fool.

I knew, though, in order to be fully competent in apologetics, I needed to have a good handle on philosophy.   While Van Til specialized in rebutting Hegelian Idealism, and Bahnsen looket at Wittgenstein, and Rushdoony at Berkeley, I thought, whether rightly or wrongly, that my reading would go with the European Continental philosophers.   In order to read them, I started reading Dooyeweerd.  However, since Mellen Press was then selling Dooyeweerd for the cheap price of $400, and that after volume 1 Dooyeweerd was basically incomprehensible, I decided to settle for reading some of his leading interpreters, namely James K. A. Smith.

Smith is an engaging thinker.   He took many of Dooyeweerd’s thoughts, placed them into the Radical Orthodoxy matrix, and mix it with a heavy dose of postmodern liturgical theology.  Much of Smith’s project, while superior to the rest of Calvinism, suffers from most of the bizarre inanity in the Emergent Church movement.  It is one thing to critique George W. Bush and pretend you are the Prophet Jeremiah in doing so, it is another to offer a hermeneutics and ethics that doesn’t deconstruct (pun intended) into literary and ethical relativism.

Fortunately, though, Smith got me reading Robert Webber. Webber introduced me to the idea of Christus Victor.    Around the same time I started reading more of the Fathers and Orthodox guys, though I must admit I didn’t know much of what I was talking about and reading back then.