My Theology Can Beat Up Your Theology: Thoughts on always saying more than the other guy.

shouting.jpgI’ve had an idea running around in my mind for a few months, and I’m going to try and get it down on paper. It’s slippery, and rather than try to sound profound, I think it would be best to say this is a bit of advice for those in the mood to listen (which some of you won’t be in the mood for, I’m pretty sure.) Perhaps I’ll manage to put something into words for those of you who, like me, often get these vague feelings that you can’t quite grab and get into a sentence, like…”What do you call it when someone says you’re a theological sissy because you won’t (fill in the blank with daring, bold, untoppable words!)

I’m going to talk about theology and how people choose to express it. One point I want to make immediately is that I believe the contemporary evangelical scene is impoverished in expressing anything theological, so I don’t want to be heard as criticizing those who actually DO think God-centered thoughts. My hats off to you for rising above the level of the childish nonsense that passes for theology these days.

Among those who are doing theology, however, I detect something that I can only call, with any honesty, a kind of game. I’ll call it the “More, Higher, Most, Highest” game. (MHMH) By using the term “game,” I am not raising the issue of insincerity, because I genuinely believe it is a manifestation of true zeal and devotion. But I use the word “game” because there is an element of comparison and competition that I can no longer ignore.

The “More, Higher, Most, Highest” game is the tendency to escalate theological claims and language, and to claim that the escalation of claims and language indicates an accompanying increase in truth, faith, commitment or other valuable commodities among Christians. (I would say the tendency to escalate theological rhetoric, but that word seems to upset some people beyond any possibility of clarification. But it’s what I mean exactly.)

The basic form of this game could be seen, for example, among those who believe in the continuance of spiritual gifts such as healing. Let’s say someone affirms the continuance of some kind of healing gifts, manifested as God sovereignly chooses. It will not be enough to say that one believes God can heal. This will be greeted by someone claiming God ALWAYS heals. This will be followed by the claim that if God DOESN’T heal, it’s our fault. And then we hear that God WILL heal if you use this prayer or attend this church. Then God heals big things, and does so immediately, IF we really believe. Of course, someone has heard that God is raising the dead somewhere, and someone else will settle for nothing else but perfect health for all true Christians, because by his stripes we are healed……

And on and on and on we go. Easy to see with the Pentecostal team, right? Well look in your rear view mirror.

Should we bring on the “How can I say the Bible is true?” team and see what rhetorical height we can climb with claims of the Bible’s perfection? I can cite you a well known reformed church whose web site says you are “saved by the Bible,” which is news to me.

Or just look closer to home. Respected blogger Tim Challies has just completed a short series on inerrancy. Tim will be here on Thursday answering questions about his new book, so just so you’ll know Tim and I are not on the same bus on many issues, take a look at what he says regarding those of us- and that’s me in that us– and a whole lot of other Christians as well- who do not use or endorse the term inerrancy. (Bold face is mine, so you can see what Challies is saying in regard to those, like me and many others, who do not use inerrancy as the way we understand Biblical authority and inspiration.)

First, if we deny inerrancy, we make God a liar. If there are errors in the original manuscripts, manuscripts that testify they were breathed out by God, one of two things must be true: either God purposely lied or he mistakenly lied. Either way this would indicate that God is capable of making or of producing errors. Needless to say, this would destroy our ability to trust any of God’s revelation and cause us to doubt God Himself.

Second, if we deny inerrancy we lose trust in God. If there are errors in Scripture, even if in the smallest detail, and these were placed there intentionally by God, how are we to maintain trust that He did not lie in other matters? When we lose trust in the Scriptures, we lose trust in God Himself and we may consequently lose our desire to be obedient to Him.

Third, if we deny the clear testimony of Scripture that it is inerrant, we make our minds a higher standard of truth than the Bible. At the outset of this series I indicated a concern I felt towards those who deny inerrancy is when they indicate that the doctrine does not “feel right.” But nowhere does the Bible appeal to our feelings or our reason for its authority or inerrancy. We must submit to the Word, for it will not submit to us. We must give to the Bible the place it claims for itself. We cannot stand in judgment over it.

Fourth, if we deny inerrancy, and indicate that small details are incorrect, we cannot consistently argue that all the doctrine the Bible contains is correct. Admitting error in even the smallest historical detail is only the thin edge of the wedge, for we then allow the possibility that there may be error in doctrine as well. And when we allow this possibility, the Christian faith soon crumbles into a mess of subjectivity and personal preference.

So inerrancy is not an optional doctrine—one we can take or leave. Rather, it is a doctrine at the very heart of the faith and without it we impoverish our faith and destroy our ability to trust and honor God.

Now I have great appreciation for Bro. Challies’ confidence that inerrancy is a no-option issue. I’ve been beat around with that word for almost three decades in Southern Baptist life, and I know the presentation pretty well. For the record:

I don’t believe God is a liar and I recoil from ever saying such a thing. I don’t have to believe in inerrancy to endorse the truthfulness of God. I don’t believe God lies in allowing Biblical language to be inspired human language. For what it’s worth, neither does N.T. Wright, just to name one scholar who wouldn’t use the term inerrancy.

I do not doubt God or his ability to express revelation exactly as he wants it to be. The thought that God cannot reveal truth unless it is in a book that is supernaturally prevented from having normal, imperfect, human expressions of its time really never occurs to me. I assume that within the expressions, thought world, worldviews and literary genres of the time, God got exactly what he wanted and I can preach it without having to be concerned about “errancy.”

I have not lost trust in God as a result of not using a word I never heard until 1979 when a bunch of guys came to my seminary and said we had to believe it or we didn’t believe the Bible enough to be Baptists. I have no problems in affirming God’s dependability even though I am guilty of not using a word that the Westminister Confession itself never uses. (Go read WCF I on scripture and see if I’ve missed it.)

I am not claiming to know more than God or that my mind is “above” the Bible. I submit to what I understand God is saying in the Bible. Is there a way to understand and interpret the Bible that doesn’t involve my mind making judgments? Is it sinful to do so?

I am in no way constrained to believe the Bible’s message is false because I do not use a standard of perfect scientific precision, for example or perfect linguistic expression. To me, inerrancy is a concept that has to have so many qualifiers, so many explanations, so many footnotes, so many exceptions that it is cumbersome and far from helpful. “Perfection” has to be redefined for inerrancy to be meaningful, and what finally emerges allows so many kinds of less than precise statements that the whole concept collapses.

For instance, I don’t believe Jesus cleansed the temple twice. I believe John has no interest in chronology when he puts the cleansing of the temple courts in chapter 2 of his Gospel. I am not interested in the kinds of “harmonizing” that are necessary to stop one of the Gospel writers from being in error. The category simply doesn’t apply.

The word inerrancy, which a lot of people in my denomination used to club a lot of other good, believing people in my denomination right out the door, just isn’t the only way to talk about Biblical authority. (Again, see Wright, The Last Word, for an example.) But it is a triple-word score in the game of “More…high…most..highest.”

Back to the topic of this post. I just don’t play the “say more…more…go higher…higher” game with the Bible’s truthfulness. What I see happening with “inerrancy” is an escalation of terms into the potentially useless.

The Bible is true. The Bible has authority. The Bible has the authority of God’s word in human words and expressions. While I know there are many who can state reasons we need to say “more…more” and make “higher and higher” claims, I don’t see the usefulness. Ultimately, we wind up defending our own language and our own formulations.

And the person willing to say the most, to make the highest claim- like a KJV Only-er for example- feels justifiably proud that he’s climbed further out on the limb of faith than anyone else. And I suppose he should. I’m not going that far, even if I sound like I don’t believe the Bible.

A further example would be claims of God’s sovereignty. Just how big, bad and bold a statement of God’s control can we make in the aftermath of tragedy?

Or the presence of Jesus in our…..Eucharist? Or Praise music? or Revival? He’s present. Really, really, really…REALLY present.

Or I’m not postmodern. Look how non-postmodern I am. I’m 19th century. Or 18th. I’m a Puritan.

Or I’m in the real church. The true church. The only church Jesus founded. The church that’s in the Bible.

Or we’re not compromising with the world. We’re really about the Gospel. Really. Really. That’s all. Nothing else. How about you? Did you have a New Year’s bash? See…I told ya.

Or how about shocking you with what I’ll say about what it really means to be committed. Or how bad we all are. Or what you REALLY would do if you were a Christian.

I could keep going, but this is annoying even me, and I’m writing it.

“More…higher…more…highest.” “You can’t say more than I’m willing to say. You can’t pay more compliments, make more claims, use stronger language, be more public, make more noise…..than me.”

Is all of this really necessary? Or is this a manifestation of the need of theological types to find some way to create a stadium full of people who just don’t believe enough, or believe right or believe enough right?

The Bible makes some massive claims, but everything we believe isn’t to be expressed in a kind of rhetorical competition that sneers at the other fellow for being too much of a theological sissy to be as “stout” as we are with our theological affirmations. Call me liberal or worse, but much of what we need to say accurately can be said simply without shouting, setting the bar ever higher or taking the dare to climb out on the limb so we’re the only one with enough correct theology (and correct faith) to say what needs to be said. It can be said without setting up a way to say most other people who express their understanding differently actually have bailed out.

Before I head out the door on this topic, one last thought.

We’re justified by faith, right? Not works? Not any kind of works?

Not by saying “I believe in justification” MORE and LOUDER and with BIGGER WORDS and MORE ARGUMENTS than the other guy? Not by bluster and sticking our chest out? Not by being shocked that others won’t climb as far up the mountain as we’re willing to go?

Could it be that for some theological types, they’re doing the “works” of high-powered theological rhetoric rather than trust in the finished work and the trustworthy, simple word?

We’re saved by a perfect savior and simple faith. No hype needed. God isn’t going to get more impressed with anyone of us and what we say than he already is with Jesus. There’s no special commendation for the person who dared to really, really, REALLLLLLY believe.

Talk about it amongst yourselves….in the comments. But don’t shout at me. Please. I’ll get your point in plain english and a normal volume.

70 thoughts on “My Theology Can Beat Up Your Theology: Thoughts on always saying more than the other guy.

  1. A very interesting article.

    Yours are the sort of views that i am trying to collate for a global overview on theology book.

    I have set up a website for this purpose and requires nothing more than filling out a simple form.

    Your views (and any of your readers views) would be massivley appreciated.



  2. There were some good points earlier about the perceived inerrancy of the Torah, so I did a bit of research.

    As far as I can tell from reading the Internet and not being a scholar of Judaism, the reason the Torah was considered to be inerrant was the extraordinarily careful techniques used for copying it, not divine intervention. The techniques recognize the potential for creating errors in the Torah – and that’s in the same language!

    Considering the number of translations and versions of the Bible that have been created and discovered, I don’t think that Biblical reliance on the accuracy of the Torah is evidence for inerrancy.


  3. For years now it has seemed to me that it would be so wonderful if we could simply approach the Bible as being “exactly the way God wants it”. This is not inerrancy. Indeed, where scripture clearly contains passages whose details seem to contradict each other, we could assume that God is not interested in our getting hung up on each and every detail. Where scriptural passages strain against one another at the point of doctrine, seeming to pull in opposite directions and to explode into paradox, we could simply accept that God wants us to humble ourselves in the face of such paradox and not seek to “nail everything down” in systemmatic perfection.

    Then we could all focus on living into passages like “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” What would our Christian community look like if we began to do this, and abandoned our theological in-fighting? We might even begin to demonstrate the unity in the body for which Jesus prayed in John 17, and which he identified as the means by which the world will ultimately recognize the truth of the gospel.


  4. Well said. As Erasmus put it in “The Praise of Folly” when discussing “divines”(theologians):

    They will cut asunder the toughest argument
    with as much ease as Alexander did the gordian
    knot; they will thunder out so many rattling
    terms as shall fright an adversary into conviction.
    They are exquisitely dexterous in unfolding the
    most intricate mysteries; they will tell you to a
    tittle all the successive proceedings of Omnipotence
    in the creation of the universe; they will explain
    the precise manner of original sin being derived
    from our first parents. They will satisfy you in
    what manner, by what degrees, and in how long a
    time, our Saviour was conceived in the Virgin’s
    womb, and demonstrate in the consecrated wafer
    how accidents may subsist without a subject. Nay,
    these are accounted trivial, easy questions; they
    have yet far greater difficulties behind, which notwithstanding they solve with as much expedition
    as the former.

    As namely, whether supernatural generation requires
    any instant of time for its acting? Whether Christ, as a son, bears a double specifically distinct relation to God the Father, and his virgin mother? Whether this proposition is possible to be true, the first person of the_Trinity hated the second? Whether God, who took our nature upon him in the form of a man, could as well have become a woman, a devil, a beast, an herb, or a stone? A nd were it so possible that the Godhead had appeared in any shape of an inanimate substance, how he should then have preached his gospel? Or how have been nailed to the cross? Whether if St. Peter had celebrated the eucharist at the same time our Saviour was hanging on the cross, the consecrated bread would have been transubstantiated into the same body that remained on the tree? Whether in Christ’s corporal presence in the sacramental wafer his humanity be not abstracted from his Godhead? Whether after the resurrection we shall carnally eat and drink as we do in this life?

    There are a thousand other more sublimated and refined niceties of notions, relations, quantities, formalities, quiddities, hseccities, and such like abstrusities, as one would think no one could pry into,
    except he had not only such cat’s eyes as to see best in the dark, but even such a piercing faculty as to see through an inch-board, and spy out what really never had any being.


  5. inerrancy was not in the pardeigm that the bible was written. it is modernist baggage from the enlightenment where humans thought their pea brains could hold absolute knowledge of anything…

    I like to say that i do not care if the bible is inerrant, it does not say so and it for the most part of it poetry and parables … and i would like somebody to explain inerrancy in poetry 🙂


  6. OK Joe. Sending letters to the BHT fellows just ended your career as a commenter here.

    Smooth move. If you have time to send letters to my friends castigating me and criticizing them, you have too much time. Go find a soup kitchen.


  7. Joe,

    No, you’re not being in any way a stumbling block for me. In the way that you clarify your position, I don’t find much to disagree with. That is, I agree “that when you understood the factual content of the word you understood God, when you heard the words read you heard God, when you accepted the word of God you accepted God, and if you reject the word of God it is also a rejection of God.”

    (I would add some qualifications, but they might just be quibbling over words. For instance, I wouldn’t quite say that you “understand” God just by understanding the factual content of the word, because I think that true understanding requires acceptance. And someone who understands what the word says about God might still reject God. For instance, it’s possible for an atheist to understand the message of the epistle to the Romans about God and man and sin and Jesus and salvation–but that atheist would reject the message. But then, maybe it would be more accurate to say that this atheist doesn’t understand. Like I said, this could just be quibbling over words.)

    Please take this suggestion: Don’t say that Jesus and the Bible are one the same way that Jesus and the Father are one, unless you give the same kind of explanation you just gave me. If you don’t explain, a lot of people are going to read it as some kind of weird fourth person of the Trinity. As people here did.

    If just say, “Jesus and the Bible are one”, I think you’re guaranteed to be misunderstood by many.


  8. Coming out of lurkdom- blessed by this site!

    I hear everyone here saying that they believe Scripture reliably and faithfully teaches the truths of salvation. I also hear everyone saying that grammar, figures of speech, etc, don’t detract from this revealed meaning. So everyone agrees Scripture is inspired. Do I have it right that the argument is in regard to “verbal inspiration”? not only do the concepts have to be clearly expressed but the exact words used are critical.

    So Paul by revelation understands unity in the church. He passionately writes, in his own language, idiom, and confusing personal style (Peter said it, not me) about these truths clearly enough that we who read it could understand. He writes that he baptized a few people. . .then parenthetically, “Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know if I baptized any other.” Inspiration says that Paul is using an example to show how few people he baptized and how unimportant that number is compared to the headship of Christ in the church. It doesn’t really matter how he says it. Verbal inspiration says there is something Really Important about the fact that he mentions Crispus and Gaius first and then Stephanas later.

    (Yes, Paul turned an argument on seed vs. seeds. Consider the possibility he was making an illustration and not a proof; at any rate, he’s Paul and I’m not exactly qualified to seek for hidden meaning in exact phrasing).

    My outlook on verbal inspiration comes from my teaching experience. At my university we customarily give detailed handouts of our Powerpoints to students. (A whole ‘nother topic about the downfall of college education but I will say there is a lot of technical detail we would prefer they have down correctly). Anyway, there are those who take what may be described as a verbally inspired approach to my lecture notes, memorizing them word for word. This fairly impressive feat has several implications, all of which are true and not just made up for the point of illustration.

    *These students focus on the exact wording rather than the meaning. I’ve had students rattle off an equation but not be able to describe to me what it means.

    *They draw inferences from my phrasing I never meant them to draw.

    *They memorize, regurgitate, and forget because they have missed the point that these are concepts I am trying to explain that live and have meaning outside my notes. (I wonder if they think this is all some ritual we invented, a hoop to jump to graduate).

    *They are flustered if my notes “contradict” someone else’s. One example, if I understood the student correctly, involved a value being quoted as 34% by one professor and 37% by another (missing the point entirely that it was about a third).

    Yes, I know perfectly well the Bible is nothing like my lecture notes. But the readers are the same.


  9. I mean that God and His word are one in the same sense that Jesus said He and His Father are one.

    That’s exactly what I mean.

    How could it be otherwise?

    Jesus and God were one in the sense that when you saw Him you saw the Father, when you heard Him you heard the Father, when you accepted Him you accepted the Father, and if you rejected Him it was also a rejection of the Father.

    Watch how I can plug the word in there for Jesus and it works perfectly….

    God and His word are one, so that when you understood the factual content of the word you understood God, when you heard the words read you heard God, when you accepted the word of God you accepted God, and if you reject the word of God it is also a rejection of God.

    The written words are spoken by God.

    But this does not mean I worship the word as a person in the trinity.

    It does mean that I cannot worship God apart from the word, since I can’t know Him or hear Him or serve Him apart from it.

    Having said that, if it is a stumbling block to you, I can only apologize and continue to assure you I’m not implying what the cheap shots assume that I am.


  10. Let’s not equivocate on “defined by Scripture”. I doubt Joe means “defined” as in “this, and no further”. He means, “exactly and fully this”. It’s not that Jesus is constrained to be no more than what Scripture reveals. He means that the authoritative understanding of Jesus is contained in Scripture; if our understanding of Jesus disagrees with the understanding defined in Scripture, then our understanding is wrong. Why? Because Jesus’ Spirit breathed out the text.

    Assuming I’m right: That said, Joe, I think that “He and His Word are one” is just about the worst possible way you could express that idea. You’re setting people up to take you the wrong way. “He and His Word are one” may be true in some sense, but not in the sense that “I and the Father are one”. And that seems to be how people are taking it. That’s how I would naturally take it.

    If I’m wrong, and y’all actually were understanding Joe correctly: Goodness. Never mind.


  11. “Jesus is defined by Scripture.”

    “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” – John 21:25

    Jesus is described by the Bible. Jesus is revealed through the Bible. Jesus speaks through the Bible. The Bible is the written and inspired word of God. As a Catholic, I would say, along with the Second Vatican Council that “the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.” But Jesus is not defined by the Bible. It’s not God.


  12. Philip,

    You label “crazy” my statement that because God is of the utmost integrity “He and His Word are one” yet you can say the following over at the tavern….

    “You argue that you’re talking about “Jesus defined by scripture,” and I say that Jesus won’t be defined by scripture, but that scripture is defined by how it points to Jesus. Christ is authoritative over scripture, as He is authoritative over all things, and I will make — or accept — no claims about scripture that Jesus made about it or it makes about itself.”

    Is that sane? Jesus is not defined by Scripture but is only “pointed to” by Scripture? How does that work? Never mind, I don’t want to know.

    Jesus is defined by Scripture. You wouldn’t even know anything about Him except for the word of the apostles, which as Paul states is “not the word of men, but as it is indeed, the word of God.”

    I’ll say it again, with added comment.

    God and His word are one. That’s the summit of integrity of speech. Everything that comes out of His mouth is truth. He never said a careless thing. He never misled. He never let His human prophets misrepresent Him in any way by their weakness or fallibility, but “holy men of old spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

    Theopneustos. That is God-breathed TO US, not just to the prophet or apostle who then in turn breath their best but fallible rendition to us.

    About some supposed irony regarding Luther.

    He said “Scripture does not err.”

    He wanted to toss James because he thought it contained error.

    That’s different from saying something spooky like “Well, I won’t say that my Bible is inerrant, but it is nonetheless, despite it’s human element of fallibility sprinkled here and there, authoritative, and even if it doesn’t define Jesus it somehow mystically points us to Him”

    Have the courage of Luther! If you think the book has errors, GET RID OF IT, so you can have a pure book.


  13. Mark Shea, fortunately, I’ve never made a statement one way or the other about you and Mary, and also fortunately, I don’t say crazy things like “God is one with the Bible.” If all protestants were too thick to miss the irony of an avid inerrantist using Luther as an example but failing to see how that put Luther literally in the position of judging scripture, and therefore apparently judging God, well, then I wouldn’t want to be a protestant, either! 🙂

    Fortunately, Luther later translated James, and not all protestants are lumps — any more than all RCC folk are nominalists. You seem to be a stand-up guy, for example.


  14. I think “inerrancy” comes down to knowing when to say when as you eluded to…Otherwise we give up unity for the sake of a theology/faith sizing contest. We need to be reminded of the difficulties of translating from the original eastern languages to English as well. We should also be reminded of the literacy rate now vs. in the early centuries. I have an uncle who cannot read nor write, is he disqualified as a believer? When I tell many fellow Christians about his illiteracy, many respond with a fix, i.e. theres a reading program downtown, etc. Like it’s a disease, or even a requirement to being a Christian! He has tried to learn to read but he has a major learning disability, yet he can carry on a sharp witted conversation and listen to Bible all day long. He understands Biblical concepts and we discuss Christ almost everytime we talk. Dare I say, that he is more qualified to receive the word of God than even myself? I personally, would rather a man meditate and contemplate only a few books or even just the words of Christ his entire life… than read through the entire Bible in one year. Thanks for the article!


  15. P.S. Again, you could have a point that the label “inerrancy” is a poor communicator. If so, then the discussion should just be about finding a better label. You could say, “I believe in the doctrine called inerrancy, but the name for that doctrine isn’t good, because it sets up the wrong expectations in our minds–things that the doctrine does not teach.”

    If you would put the discussion in those terms, you would have far fewer cries of “Heretic!”

    If you can’t put the discussion in those terms because it’s about more than that, then you need more clarity than the way you’re arguing in this entry & combox. You say things like, “I am in no way constrained to believe the Bible’s message is false because I do not use a standard of perfect scientific precision,” when inerrantists are not saying you are constrained to believe such a thing. (For me, an answer to my question about the temple-cleansing would help.)


  16. Michael said,

    “Of course, saying that there were “errors” in life that aren’t reported in scripture is a useless piece of info. Your claim is that the Bible is without error. That’s a meaningless statement without dozens of qualifiers.

    What you mean is that the Bible is true and teaches truth, which is a defensible statement, without the need for major or special qualifiers. ”

    So… The Bible is true. So you mean, the Bible is true in what it claims? In other words, the Bible makes good its claims, and achieves that measure of focused truth for which the authors aimed?

    Since that’s exactly what the the authors of the Chicago Statement said, I’m left once again puzzled.

    You keep repeating this idea: That “inerrancy” requires dozens of exceptions and qualifiers.

    No. It requires one qualifier. That the Bible is true in what it claims. Everything else is the working out of what it does, and does not claim. Everything else is the basic analysis of cultural expectations that is required for reading any text. (An analysis which, by the way, you must do yourself. You acknowledge that saying Adam didn’t exist would be “denying what scripture says”.)

    If someone tried to tell me that I “made an error” when I said that the sun rose at 6:45am, I would think they were being absurd. If someone tried to tell me that I “made an error” because I said there were a hundred people in the room when there were exactly 117, I would think they were being absurd (unless I was a census taker, I suppose). If someone tried to tell me that I “made an error” by recounting various events out-of-order–but I didn’t tell them they happened in that order–I would likewise think they were being absurd. (Incidentally, I asked you a question about the temple-cleansing. It may have gotten lost in the length of my comment, but I think it would be helpful for you to go back and answer it.)

    Only one qualification. Many cases where our 21st century American expectations don’t match up with those of the biblical audience or the intentions of the biblical authors.


  17. Anna,

    What is truth, you ask.

    Jesus said “Thy word is truth” speaking to His Father.

    There is no disputation that “thy word” was “what was written.”

    Show me evidence where a 2nd Temple Torah observant Jew had a view that “what was written” could err in the slightest degree.

    As to your other questions, I answer yes to all three of them. Poetry tackles truth in a different form than prose, but both speak truth. And the Bible is full of poetry.

    The question of inerrancy is not about genre. It’s about, really, what we believe about the ultimate origin of the written word, because that determines it’s status. If we believe Peter when he writes “but holy men of God spoke being borne along by the Holy Spirit”, how can we even dispute a word like inerrancy? Can the Spirit err? Were the “holy men of God” left to their human limitations in delivering to us what Paul says is “not the word of men, but what it is in truth, the word of God?”


  18. “Outside Protestant confessions??????”

    Really Michael.

    How about the Reformers….

    “Holy Scripture cannot err”

    Martin Luther, Luthers Deutsche Schriften, XXVII,33

    The reason why he wanted to get rid of James was because he thought it was in error.

    Calvin charged Servetus with believing that the Bible contained a geographical error, a charge later dropped when Servetus refused to take responsibility for stating that belief.

    There are some areas where personally I am outside protestant confessions – for example, after 15 years of being a trinitarian I’ve now come to wonder whether this is a Scriptural doctrine or not – but inerrancy is not one of them.

    And speaking of the trinity. One of the reasons you have a problem with inerrancy is, so you say, that it is not a Scriptural word.

    Well, I’ve never found the word “Trinity” there either but you have no problem believing in it.


  19. It may seem odd, but one of the most respectful and well received discussions on Mary I’ve ever had was with a Protestant who is a KJV only devotee.


  20. NOTE: Those of you telling myself and other posters that we aren’t Christians unless we go with your church, theology, etc are not going to be posted here. I’ve given way too much space to one of you now. So you are on notice: Find a way to make your point without making pronouncements about the salvation of people in the thread, most notably me. Grow up and have a discussion like an adult.

    To the gentleman who spent all that time telling me I’m an apostate, thanks for the prayers. Hopefully, one day I’ll surpass Jesus and become a real Christian like you, with insight into the souls of others via the internet.

    MARK: Joe is outside the Protestant confessions and is being called on it. But I agree with you on the irony. It’s thick.


  21. Joe and Michael. I notice that you two are focussing on inerrancy even though you Michael are doing so in the negative still!

    Where is the Death of Jesus in this and the assurance that this is FOR YOU and for each other to share in joy? As two christian brothers does it not bother you that you each have gone on for a while now and during that time, have not focussed at all on offering assurance to each other of that One Thing Needful which each of your souls longs to have?

    [sarcasm alert]

    Michael, you wrote this article which now postures you to define your faith by what it is not for the rest of this thread. Congratulations.

    You are accomplishing what your post says you don´t like. more…more… higher….


  22. James. Wow. Now I need to beat a dead Jesus from my previous post. Not good. The only JESUS here is in your closing. Faith must always have an object. To be object-ive, that object must be outside of us. It must be tangible, not platonic, and rooted in OUR personal history in order to give us any assurance.

    There is no assurance in your protestant approach. No Jesus=No Assurance.

    Jesus lived and died 2000 years ago. We can know that is true, just as the devil does, but how do I KNOW that that applies to ME here in the year 2008? Where is the objective closure we need? Pentecostals would point to experiences brought about by the Holy Spirit. Still too subject-ive to satisfy. These are worked IN us.

    You protestants say: (1) Whoever believes in Christ is saved. (WCF add IF I am elect.)
    (2) IF I believe in Christ. (3)Conclusion: I am saved.

    Everything is conditional for you because of the IF about Faith. You are in no position to say the Gospel promise is about you until you can say,
    “I believe”.

    THIS is a huge deal for you all. Including you WCF1 folks. Only if I know that I truly believe can I confidently conclude: I am saved…. not just that we believe,… but that we know we believe. So we point to that hour of decision when we passed from death to life, and THEN stress about OSAS, sensing we are still lost if all depends on that believing of ours. So in review here, we are left with our subjective faith, and maybe our sincere (!) repentence and fruits and an abstract 5th point of calvinism that depends, like a card in a house, on getting the first 5 points exactly right.

    Phillip Cary calls this requirement “reflective faith.” It’s not enough just to believe; you have to believe you believe, maybe even know you believe.

    Those of us who are weak in faith, or who believe that all sin is rooted in unbelief and we are still sinners at heart (simul justus et peccator, both justified and sinner still) therefore know from this that we are truly and eternally and cosmically left without assurance. This all hits home on an ambulence gurney, or when we have been diagnosed with HIV or when someone close to us has died. Contemplating one´s death is a moment for potential clarity. Jesus DEATH IS that clarity. But just how can we be certain that that one 2000 year old death is something we can claim to be ours with certain assurance in the year of our Lord 2008?

    Philip Cary says further

    “[This] discourages us from confessing our unbelief and encourages us instead to profess
    our belief. This actually becomes a technical term in English Calvinism: the Puritans spoke of
    those who were “professors of religion,” meaning that they professed to know that they had been
    truly converted and regenerated by faith in Christ…The problem [for them]was to attain assurance that you really had true faith. If that’s your problem,then you are quite Protestant.”

    THIS is the rabbit hole down which the WCF1 will take you.

    The Definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and expect a different result the next time. It is to learn nothing from the Puritans progress to universalism to revivalism and then permanent burn out on the God issue.

    Please note that the sylogism mentioned earlier is based on Mark 16:16. The problem with you WCF1 protestants is exactly that you leave in the part about faith, but leave out, as a parallel the second part of the passage. You simply don´t know what to do with that second part.

    Lutherans do.


  23. Joe,

    What is Truth? I ask, not as Pilate did, but as a Christian who is interested in your definition of it.

    To help clarify,

    Am I telling the truth about rainbows when I explain them simply to a small child?

    Or write a poem about them?

    Or write a Phd thesis about the optics that form rainbows?


  24. A key distinction rarely gets made: between “the word of God,” – logos, usually, in Greek – and “the scriptures,” or graphe, in Greek, the writings.
    The main meaning of logos, the Word of God, is as we see in John 1, Jesus Himself, and then, the utility knife of creation, that brings into being what God speaks. Who knows just what it all is.
    Then we have the scriptures (about which it’s rather impossible to never use the phrase, ‘the word of God,” at this point in history; but it’s often accompanied by an unfortunate fuzzing of key distinctions.)
    Try word substitution in the famous passage in Timothy: “All scripture is breathed by God,” to “All words of God are breathed by God.” The latter shows the useless tautology you end up with, illustrating the importance of maintaining a distinction between scriptures and “the word of God.”
    Scriptures are sort of “the word ABOUT The Word.”
    True, authoritative, we can take ’em to the bank; but they are not God, not the Word of God, in the sense that Jesus is, or in the sense that the spoken utterances of God that bring things to pass, are.
    So remember these things.
    Cuz there’s a test on Friday, ya little tow-heads.


  25. Michael:

    Last week I spent time getting a beating over at Boar’s Head and Reformed Catholicism for allegedly worshiping Mary. No matter how many times I repeated that neither I, nor any Catholic who actually knows and believes the teaching of the Church adores Mary as some sort of equal to God, I was told that I did anyway because it sure looked like it to my Inquisitors.

    In jesting hope that they would see how silly this act of mind-reading was, I told the Inquisitors that “It sure looks like Protestants worship the Bible to me. And how things look to me is the final arbiter what you do and do not worship.” I didn’t mean it, of course. I was simply trying to get them to admit that this was a crazy way to settle the matter.

    However, if I *were* of a mind to similarly Gather Evidence for the Prosecution as they were, this would be Exhibit A:

    “God is one with His word – I’m sure you will say that of the human Logos (John 1:1) but it means nothing unless you say that of the written Logos.”

    Whew! A collection of paper pulp, ink and wood must be acknowledged to be one with God the Father in *exactly* the same way that God the Son is one with God the Father.


    And they say Catholics give *Mary* too much honor.

    Now the difference is between me and the Inquisitors at ReformedCatholic is simply this: when Joe denies that he is a bibliolator and insists that he worships God alone, I will take his word for it instead of insisting that I know his soul better than he does. I will assume that this, well, singularly unfortunate locution is some sort of slip of the tongue or verbal ineptitude instead of trying to score points for My Team.

    My point: It would be nice if guys like the Marian Inquisition at ReformedCatholicism could return the favor.


  26. I agree with much of what you have said here.
    It reminds me of a quote by Thomas Watson:

    “The two great graces essential to a saint in this life, are faith and
    repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven. Faith
    and repentance preserve the spiritual life—as heat and water preserve
    the physical life. The grace which I am going to discuss is
    repentance. Chrysostom thought that repentance was the fittest subject
    for him to preach upon before the Emperor. Augustine kept the
    penitential psalms with him as he lay upon his bed, and he often
    perused them with tears. Repentance is never out of season; it is of
    as frequent use as the artificer’s tool or the soldier’s weapon. If I
    am not mistaken, practical points are more needful in this age than
    controversial and disputable matters.”

    In Christ,



  27. “Your claim is that the Bible is without error.”

    My claim is that God and His Word are logically one. That means just as if I were in God’s direct presence and He spoke to me, I would never question the veracity of those words so I would never question the veracity of the words as the biblical authors wrote them down, because I would regard them as what they are indeed – the word of God.

    This is a road that leads nowhere good. My father felt the call to ministry back in the late 70’s, and he was given advice by his pastor at the time to attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest – an SBC institution.

    You alluded negatively to the fact that this whole innerrancy thing drove out good people during this controversy in the SBC. You are right. It drove me father out after a few weeks of attendance. He couldn’t handle the higher criticism. I still have his textbooks – Martin Noth’s History of Israel, tearing to shreds the biblical historical account. And some German higher critic guide to the NT, which pretty much denied that Paul or Peter wrote a fraction of what was attributed to them. And so on.

    The conservatives eventually won out, but not after leaving my father completely demoralized.


  28. Of course, saying that there were “errors” in life that aren’t reported in scripture is a useless piece of info. Your claim is that the Bible is without error. That’s a meaningless statement without dozens of qualifiers.

    What you mean is that the Bible is true and teaches truth, which is a defensible statement, without the need for major or special qualifiers.


  29. Michael,

    Nowhere does the Bible say that those who were prophets were perfect in anything other than delivering God’s Words as He breathed them out.

    The Bible presumes the prophets are bumbling humans just like the rest of us. Whether they get there ABC’s wrong in day school, or forget where they put their prayer shawl has NOTHING at all to do with what happens when the Spirit of the LORD comes upon them and the speak “as the Spirit gives utterance.”

    You can say what you want, but the guy made a silly illogical statement that doesn’t even interface with the biblical data.

    I never realized that innerrancy means that the Bible writers are not allowed to overcook their eggs. That’s a new one to me.


  30. That person is a Ph.d candidate in computer science and an elder in a Baptist church.

    You just decided that an “error” is a special case. IOWs, you are resorting to a special definiton of “error” to maintain the insistence that inerrancy is necessary to orthodoxy.

    Join those of us who believe WCF 1 and see that the word isn’t necessary.


  31. Over at the Boar’s Head Tavern, one fellow writes this, apparently in a fit of fundy-frying….

    “An inerrant Jesus would have never missed a sum. Never misspelled a word. Never forgot His homework. Never (assuming He helped His father at work) produced anything less than perfect craftmanship. Never got lost. Never misplaced His prayer shawl. Never mis-laced His sandals. Never mispronounced a word.
    You get the idea.”

    This is what I mean by the statement that if you mess with God’s word, He will mess with your mind.

    The logical nonsense here is shocking.

    I thought God speaking was in a whole different category than a man tying his shoes.

    No one denies Jesus was a man or that He suffered the limitations of humanity, such as forgetting or tying shoes wrong.

    The whole biblical idea of God inspiring the human prophet was to empower the human to be God’s mouthpiece. Language in the OT describes this as “I will put my words in your mouth.” That’s pretty clear.

    This person’s logic went clear off the rails.


  32. Rae anna,

    Thanks for the theological cheap shot 🙂

    I never said or implied that the Bible was a member of the trinity.

    I meant it in terms of the bond that a person with the utmost integrity has with his word. They are one in the sense that just is God is truth, His word is true and can be counted on to be true.

    That is not Islamic, and it should be Christian, and it most certainly was and is Jewish. Try telling the Orthodox Jew that His Torah is not without error.

    Jesus Himself regarded the written word as so sacrosanct that He could drive home a point on the basis of the particular tense of a single word…

    ie, I am the God of Abraham… as opposed to “I was the God of Abraham” means a proof for continuance of life beyond the grave.

    Likewise, Paul could base an argument on the absence of a mere plural ending…seed as opposed to “seeds” (see Galatians.)

    My gosh, have you ever heard of gematria? The Torah was so free of human error and perfect that theological meanings would be brought out from the numerical values in the letters that make up words.

    (Michael, have I reached 9.5 yet?)

    If the Bible writers were not under the guidance of the Lord’s Spirit to give us God’s explicit words, which by nature would contain no error or falsehood, then the whole text-crit enterprise is just a big fat waste of time. Why should we be so concerned to restore the original text when we are not even assured that it was originally God’s literal word and thus free from error and falsehood.

    Logically, this whole argument is a strict either/or.

    Either the Bible writers gave us God’s literal words, despite of the human instrument, and then the words were written down as pure as God Himself is, or they gave us some type of mixture of divine and human words, and it is then up to each one of us to decide what is true, what is less true, and what is just a bunch of crapola.

    Ok Michael. I know I am your ‘perfect 10’ now.



    I am guilty as charged!

    I pray every day that you are all about MORE and LOUDER and with BIGGER WORDS and MORE ARGUMENTS radically as you can be about ONLY JESUS CHRIST! I pray this for all christians and especially for me!

    Lutherans say..

    The purpose of the ENTIRE Bible is to be a testimony to the life death and resurrection of JESUS, and to make you absolutely assured that JESUS died for you. If you read anything in the WORD that causes you to doubt that you qualify to be saved, Lutherans would SHOUT that you read something wrong!

    JESUS=Word of God, JESUS=Bible (in the beginning was the Word….in JESUS very Person. JESUS Incarnate. Like the WORD of the Bible was written by humans in human context. Fully divine and fully human. Like JESUS.

    The ONLY doctrine Lutherans have is the one about JESUS, JESUS life, JESUS’ death and JESUS’ resurrection for the forgiveness of my sins. The Augsburg Confession has it as “The GOSPEL (JESUS!) and all it´s articles….” Lutheran teaching is not merely CHRIST-Centered. It is ONLY about CHRIST. Skip the Westminster Confession Michael. Come to JESUS baby. Come to the confession that is only about JESUS, the Augsburg Confession.

    “True worship is trust in JESUS CHRIST”. This is what that augsburg confession confesses. Period! So even christian worship is ONLY about JESUS according to Lutherans. All else is pious and useful adornment but not essence-tial.

    CHRIST HIMSELF is really present in the Holy Supper with His very BODY and BLOOD that was given and shed for YOU Michael. The perfect JESUS commands sinful, unclean,unworthy, unrepentant, unbelieving YOU to ingest the most holy thing there is. If THAT doesn´t convince you that JESUS is serious about convincing you that you belong to JESUS in spite of your bad self….. REALLY REALLY REALLY! … It is about SHOUTING out about JESUS DEATH until JESUS returns!

    so it´s not the REAL PRESENCE.. it is that JESUS is really present …with ALL of JESUS gifts! For YOU!

    CHRIST HIMSELF is present in the waters of baptism. We are literally dead and buried WITH CHRIST in our water baptism. JESUS claimed YOU as JESUS own in YOUR baptism…. Trust that JESUS is faithful in that promise and your conscience is the liar in those days that you feel you are not good enough to belong to JESUS.

    There is MUCH more evidence that I hope is completely damning us Lutherans of being MORE and MORE and RADICALLY MORE AND RADICALLY EXCLUSIVELY MORE, and BROKEN RECORD MORE, and UNREASONABLY MORE about JESUS.

    DID I INCLUDE ENOUGH MORES? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am STILL not making this enough about JESUS and JESUS DEATH.

    Don´t forgive me for shouting in caps. I AM shouting!

    I have resolved to know NOTHING but CHRIST and HIM CRUCIFIED.

    We Lutherans say that the problem is not with more or higher or louder or more radical. It is with not being radical enough in making everything all about JESUS.

    I am shouting here and carrying on because I am so excited to be a part of the christian church that confesses JESUS JESUS JESUS.


    I feel better now!


  34. Joe:

    Your statement that Bible- the book- is “one” with God strikes me as about the best illustration I can think of of what this post is about. The only person to surpass you once told me the Bible was the “fourth member of the Trinity” so you still have some room to go.

    While you are getting agitated about a word that the Westminister divines never used, I’ll tell you that saying chronological disagreement between John and the Synoptics isn’t a kind of error is what’s called a “special definition.” That means no matter what anyone comes up with, right down to geocentricism, you’ll say it isn’t the kind of error inerrancy is ruling out.

    That makes it relatively easy to use the word, so please, go right ahead.



  35. God is one with His word – I’m sure you will say that of the human Logos (John 1:1) but it means nothing unless you say that of the written Logos.

    And if it is one with God, it is truth, without error.

    The Bible is NOT a member of the Trinity, the Logos is Jesus Christ – not the Scriptures. I am flabbergasted that anyone would equate God with the Scriptures – that is an Islamic understanding of Scripture and the view they take of the Quran, it is not (and never has been) the Christian view. God reveals himself via the Bible. He is not equivalent to the Bible.


  36. Aaron,

    I meant to add the follwing, with regards to your statement that God is not bound to the book.

    I unashamedly say that He is bound to the book. And I am thankful for that. The only hope I have is that He is bound to His word and will not depart from it. He will do exactly as it says, and will not do anything against it. That’s our hope. The most free being in the universe is bound at this point.


  37. Aaron says….

    “God is bigger than a book. To be more accurate, God, the Divine Source of all Life, is not bound by a collection of writings even if those men were inspired during their authoring.”

    I disagree.

    If you mess with His book, He’ll mess with your mind.

    God is one with His word – I’m sure you will say that of the human Logos (John 1:1) but it means nothing unless you say that of the written Logos.

    And if it is one with God, it is truth, without error.

    I really think there is something wrong with disputing the word inerrancy. We should never deny that the the authors of Scripture wrote without error, because God’s Spirit was upon them to communicate as God’s mouthpiece.

    You can dispute what inerrancy means, with such things as genre or chronology or things of that nature, but not the idea of being without error itself.

    Lack of chronological order is only error if you have certain presuppositions which themselves may not be informed by the Word of God. Michael you may be saying as much, but I just get a little agitated over this controversy with the word.


  38. Well, I tried some more things, to no avail. I emailed Michael to see if he could try posting the rest of my comment himself, and that didn’t work, either. He suggested that it could be a problem with conflicting editors–I composed in one program, and it may have included some odd character encoding.

    I don’t want to leave the comment half-finished, so I just posted it at my own blog. Here’s the entry URL:

    Thanks for your help, Michael!


  39. Thanks, Michael. This was water to me – cool water.

    By the way, want to buy some books on theology? I’m selling some. 🙂


  40. Phil Smoke has a good point. There is definitely a trend toward consensus. From my experience, most protestant churches in my city are already teaching the same thing. Their pulpits have been surrendered to the likes of Warren, Hybels, and Osteen. What’s left to debate: Which church is more “purpose-driven”? Who is the more contagious, passionate Christian? Granted, the acidic nature of some of these debates probably has served to drive away many into the arms of the mega-church masters.

    Some day we’re all going to wake up – long after Calvin, Luther, Wesley, and Spurgeon have long been forgotten – and realize that our denominational differences could have served to strengthen one another as iron sharpens iron, rather than to drive us apart.


  41. Respectful of Mr. Challie’s passion, his reasoning is not of the level to pass a freshman philosophy class. I’m not putting the love of wisdom (philosophy) above God, so don’t get all excited, but I am pointing out the fact that there are giant leaps in logic made in claiming one thing means another. For example, because a writing claims itself to be inerrant does not mean it is.

    God is bigger than a book. To be more accurate, God, the Divine Source of all Life, is not bound by a collection of writings even if those men were inspired during their authoring.

    Most writers of the Bible did not know they were writing what would one day become what we refer to as the bible. We could speculate that not even the authors themselves would want such division over their writings.

    God allows many things. If God allows babies to be incinerated, children to be molested, villages and towns to be destroyed, genocide to occur, and not to mention the greater and lesser atrocities specific to Christianity such as the incuisition, then God allows men to misperceive the nature of Divinity, and misunderstand and miscommunicate in general.

    God lets men goof things up; let’s not be so concerned with making God fit within a collection of any writings. We can take the bible seriously as a collection of works having pointers and insights into understanding the Reality of God, without arguing about inerrancy.


  42. One could easily reverse Challies’ argument and say that, since the language of Scripture is not inerrant, and the ‘inerrantists’ are determined to attribute the very words of the Bible to God’s own specific choice, it is the ‘inerrantists’ who make God a liar.


  43. Amen amen amen! I couldn’t agree more. I believe some of the reason people cling to Inerrancy is they don’t know how else to understand the Bible – having divorced themselves from any church history or authority/reliableness of the early church fathers and councils.

    To quote from another blog I read this morning (Glory to God for All Things):

    “And this is theology – to know God. If I have a commitment in theology, it is to insist that we never forget that it is to know God. Many of the arguments (unending) and debates (interminable) are not about what we know, but about what we think.

    Thinking is not bad, nor is it wrong, but thinking is not the same thing as theology. It is, of course, possible to think about theology, but this is not to be confused with theology itself.

    Knowing God is not in itself an intellectual activity for God is not an idea, nor a thought. God may be known because He is person. Indeed, He is only made known to us as person (we do not know His essence). We cannot know God objectively – that is He is not the object of our knowledge. He is known as we know a person. This is always a free gift, given to us in love. Thus knowledge of God is always a revelation, always a matter of grace, never a matter of achievement or attainment.”


  44. I’ll call it the “More, Higher, Most, Highest” game. (MHMH) — IMonk

    I call it “Can You Top This?”


  45. I’ll confess to excesses of zeal & overstatement in some of my posts. It’s so easy to get carried away an in this medium detecting tone is especially hard. As a result I may imagine a statement expresses a sentiment that is not actually there. Then I bring my hypersensitivity to a few issues into it and if the topic should drift that way , well … you’ve already said it better than I would have.


  46. Well done, Michael, in articulating what many of us are experiencing. A place where I come in contact with what you have mentioned is in the area of VBS/Sunday School/Youth Ministry/Bible Camp. It manifests it most often in my life in the form of Christian curriculum products labeled “EXTREME”. There are EXTREME study Bibles for teens, EXTREME Sunday School literature, EXTREME weeks of Church camp, and EXTREME VBS material. (Several years ago my sons attended a SBC Vacation Bible with the theme “Mount Extreme” The theme song… “We are climbing, Mount Extreme, the Ultimate Challenge!)

    It kind of makes my brain hurt. I am having a hard enough time being a regular Christian, without the added pressure of being an EXTREME one. And, I am often judged quite harshly by other Christians that I am probably not right with God because I am not EXTREME enough.

    Something I’ve noticed (and I try to teach the young ones in my pastorate) is that it is impossible to be EXTREME all the time.

    Something else I’ve noticed is that in this day in time when you give kids just normal stuff, they really enjoy it. What I mean is, I pulled out some tried and true lesson books from the 1950’s and the young ones ate them up. I think that when everything in their lives is EXTREME (their Skittles, their Kool-Aid, their breakfast cereal, their Sunday School books) it is kind of a nice break to get something regular.

    I made my 16-year-old laugh the other day when I told him, “The current train of thought in praise music is ‘My love for God is so extreme that it causes me to suffer.'” He said, “That’s true!”

    Excuse me now, I’ve got to get to work, being a regular Christian this morning. Most of the time, that’s extreme enough….


  47. Michael, I’ll just ditto Jugulum and go on to the other topics you mentioned.

    As far as arguing theology, or people going more, higher, highest in arguments—-or people getting more and louder with bigger words—-well some of us (that is me) love to hear and see what people think. I have found that arguments, debates, etc are what forces me to think about issues and not just take everything at face value. It makes me examine my beliefs and why I believe or why I should question or think more on an issue. I really do not think I mind how people respond–I love to see them respond in different ways—whether loudly or softly, whether big or little words, etc because it does show something about each individual and because it does humble me and gives me cause for examination.

    Last of all–Michael- I love the fact that you put your thoughts out there—-that you feeeeeeel things—-express things—and even if we disagree, you make us think. Love you, and keep it up—I don’t care if you yell or whisper 😉


  48. Guilty as charged.
    I’m a 3rd year Divinity student (a mature student, if that isn’t contradictory) and I love theology. And I love to try and pass on to others some of the knowledge I am acquiring – to educate them. It’s so easy to slip into that mindset that says “you need to know or understand more to be a better Christian”. I’ve even preached that having a ‘simple faith’ shouldn’t be an option – we should be striving to understand more, apply it more meaningfully, stretch our knowledge of God.
    Now, none of these things is a bad thing in and of itself, but they don’t make you ‘more saved’. And at their worst, they can become a ‘work’ that we feel we need to do to ‘get it right’. And when the pursuit of more/higher becomes an end in itself, then we’ve gone far astray.
    Michael, thanks for your words. They’ve made me pause and think and have put some things in perspective. I doubt the more/higher thing will ever go away – we’re flawed people after all – but if those of us who are/will be in positions to influence such thoughts can be aware of the dangers, then so much the better.


  49. Hmm, I’m getting a server error–I can’t seem to post the rest. I’m guessing it’s an automated thing, to prevent crazy people like me from posting ridiculously long comments. I can try again in the morning. 🙂


  50. Michael,

    Er, sorry, this got too long for one comment. This is your blog–if that annoys you, please say so, and I’ll try to keep it shorter next time. (If it helps, I’m trying to be clear, not to throw out a ridiculous number of arguments.)

    1.) No, I didn’t expect you to say “Adam didn’t exist,” even though some would say so. I didn’t have any expectations. I’m not familiar with you. And when I said that I was left without much of a clue of what the issue is for you, I meant it. I couldn’t make out what the difference is between your view and those of inerrantists, and I said as much. It’s a bit more clear now, but not too much.

    2.) I didn’t suggest that you implied that Challies wrote a hit piece on you. That didn’t even occur to me; he was speaking generally.

    When I said, “a bit of setting yourself up as the victim,” I had in mind two things. First, your assumption that Challies’ would apply his criticism to you. He might. Not if it’s just over the label “inerrancy”. But, it might have been a reasonable assumption, if you know you differ more substantively. Second, the way you were bracing yourself for yelling and screaming. Yes, there are people who will yell and scream at you, but there are just about always people who will do that–and I think it seemed to me that you were painting with a broad brush. So I got a bit annoyed.

    In retrospect, that comment of mine was at least unwise (and distracting), and possibly unfair. (My apologies.)

    3.) I’ll start this point by conceding something: The chronology of Jesus’ temple cleansing is a somewhat better illustration than I allowed for, because there are inerrantists whose view of inerrancy requires that there be two incidents. I understand why you used that example.

    That doesn’t change the point I was making. You have not distinguished well between your view and those of inerrantists.

    First, notice that I said “those of inerrantists”, not “that of inerrantists”. Keep in mind that there isn’t a monolithic view. Even among Chicago inerrantists–at least, on matters it doesn’t address, and on particular cases of apparent conflict.

    Second, when you were defending yourself, you threw in things that the Chicago Statement agrees with you on–and you didn’t distinguish. It sounded like you were defending your own view–you didn’t say, “We’re together on this part, but they would criticize me for this part.” (Hence the lack of clarity.) Specifically: (1) Biblical language needn’t have “perfect scientific precision”. (2) You mentioned the impact of “literary genres”. (3) Observational language like “stars falling” is allowed by inspiration. (4) The temple-cleansing.



  51. Bravo! Perhaps people have this need to know that somehow they’re irrevocably “in” [and others are not] and drawing a line is a fairly obvious way to do it. I mean even Bugs Bunny would dare Yosemite Sam to cross a line. Then he’d draw another one after he did it. I’ve read scientists who say, “If you show me that the law of thermodynamics is wrong, I’ll say ok and ponder the thing. I’m not going to flip out and threaten you with some horrible eternal destiny.” Preachers and teachers often drive home two main questions: How do you know you’re “in”? And what are the stakes? I think I’d rather talk about thermodynamics myself. Even Bugs Bunny was compelled to keep drawing lines [“I dare you cross THAT line!”] until eventually poor Sammy walked stepped right off a cliff.


  52. I definitely recognize the danger of what you’re talking about here – and as usual, I am thankful for your insight. But I would also like to draw attention to an opposite danger. If you’ve described “theology by competition,” I’m talking about the opposite error: “theology by consensus” – even if a more subtle concern for consensus. What I mean is that the fact that some extreme theological claims are being driven beyond the truth by competition does not mean that all are. It’s still very possible that all or most of us Christians have drifted so far from the truth in an area that that truth will now strike us as extreme, or shocking, or blustering – and yet still be the truth, and still need to be said.


  53. Michael thanks for this. You’ve pinpointed the reason that people like me don’t get too embroiled in internet debate, even though we actually have thoughts and opinions on all sorts of subjects. I just get turned off from the whole enterprise by the way someone always has to come along and escalate it from a simple sharing of viewpoints and perspectives to a holier-than-thou spitting competition. I’m just not interested in pinning someone’s whole salvation and character to their opinions on one theological issue. We’re probably all partly wrong. And why do we have to prove we’re right when our self-manufactured rightness doesn’t count for any more in God’s sight than self-manufactured righteousness.Yes of course doctrine matters, truth matters, but somewhere along the way truth that is proclaimed without humility ceases to be totally true, our sinful egos have jumped in yet again to distort the grace of God.
    And, BTW, I dislike the term “inerrancy”, too. never heard it until a few years ago, here in Aussieland we mainly used to talk about the authority of scripture (which I maintain is absolute)or perhaps the British term “infallibility”.
    blessings on your truth-telling


  54. I rub many in the SBC wrong because I refuse to consider “the Bible” inerrant without specifying which Bible. Certainly nobody thinks the NKJV is without ANY error. It gripes me for folks to demand agreement to inerrancy without specifying that it’s God Who is inerrant, not the English versions of what He said. Much less “The Message”, which I cannot even consider as a Bible, much less “the Bible”.

    Taking our thoughts captive for Christ means not accepting simple minded, but good sounding doctrine from people who mean well.


  55. I’m a big fan of Smith Wigglesworth, an early 20th century Pentecostal preacher who was awfully fond of saying that God will heal you every single time you ask Him, and if He doesn’t then your faith is lacking in some way.

    While I do agree that a lot of Christians are lacking faith, I don’t agree that God’ll heal every single time we ask. Wigglesworth experienced regular faith healings in his life — indicating a special anointing by God to do so — but he assumed wrongly that everyone had a similar anointing. Some of us don’t. But the all-too-common assumption people make is, “This is true for me; ergo it’s true for you too.”

    I don’t drink because of a family history of alcoholism. I could take the route my mom once did and say therefore that no one should drink for fear of triggering alcoholism; but I know from experience that some people have no such problem. God made us all different.

    Sometimes it is a spiritual maturity issue. I think the reason people get so gung-ho about inerrancy is because they recognize, unconsciously, that they lack the spiritual maturity to recognize, “Okay, this story in scripture may not have happened 100 percent this way” yet accept its teachings and underlying principles regardless of any questions one might have about its accuracy. They can’t handle doubt; they fear it would make them fall away. So they demand that doubt shouldn’t exist in Christians, otherwise we’re not really Christians. (If Jesus had held to this standard, shouldn’t He have cast out His male disciples on Easter Sunday?)

    In any event, demanding that people live up to my standard or embrace my theology is to put me or my beliefs ahead of God, and the last thing I want anyone to do is that.


  56. OH….and one more thing. If we defend a doctrine based on what we are afraid might happen if people don’t believe it, as opposed to its intrinsic truth, what kind of theology is that?

    We are working backwards to construct a theology rather than working with what we have.


  57. “it’s over the concepts we use to define it”

    That’s the point. If you have to bend over backwards to “prove” inerrancy and explain away all the things that don’t always add up..what kind of inerrancy is it?

    That is why many people choose the term “inspired” instead.


  58. Jugulum:

    I fail to see any “victim-ology” in saying I’m included. If that’s the case, then I volunteered for the hit. I never implied that Challies wrote a hit piece on me. He stated that “inerrancy” – which is a word with an entire document, the Chicago Statement, devoted to defining it, is an essential. He then delineated the (I assume) inevitable results of abandoning inerrancy.

    If you don’t like my definition of inerrancy, then perhaps I need to publish a list of all the inerrancy advocates who say Jesus cleansed the temple twice, did duplicate miracles, etc so we can clear up what is an “error” and what is not. An error in chronology is an error. Geocentricism is an error, of a kind. Stars falling is an “error” of a kind. I made it clear that we have SO MANY exceptions to make that the term is eventually drained of its meaning.

    If you expected me to say, “Adam didn’t exist,” that’s denying what scripture says, not pointing out that the language of scripture often contains errors.

    Its the inerrancy advocates that paint the dire picture of what happens when we don’t require everyone to use and believe that term. I believe the Bible is true and inspired. I’ll use every word I can that’s useful, but I won’t extend the terms out into terms that need a small volume of explanation to be valid.




  59. Michael,

    When you read Challies saying that “denying inerrancy is bad”, you seem to assume that’s the same thing as “declining to use the word inerrancy is bad”.

    You said,
    “To me, inerrancy is a concept that has to have so many qualifiers, so many explanations, so many footnotes, so many exceptions that it is cumbersome and far from helpful. “Perfection” has to be redefined for inerrancy to be meaningful, and what finally emerges allows so many kinds of less than precise statements that the whole concept collapses.
    The word inerrancy, which a lot of people in my denomination used to club a lot of other good, believing people in my denomination right out the door, just isn’t the only way to talk about Biblical authority.” (bold added)

    You say that you decline to use the word “inerrancy” because of all the qualifiers and explanations that must be used. So, to what extent are you just disagreeing over a term? Are you correct to assume that Challies would have you in mind in his comments? If he retains the term and you just think it shouldn’t be used, why pretend there’s a substantial disagreement?

    I mean, most inerrantists do make a number of qualifications and explanations. (Imprecision is allowed, some degree of free quotations–quoting someone without using the exact words–is allowed, referring to events out of order is allowed, language of appearance–“the sun rose”–is allowed, etc.) When Challies talks about denying inerrancy, he definitely does not refer to making those kinds of qualifications. If you agree with him about the kinds of qualifications that can be made, and you just don’t want to use the term “inerrancy”, then you’re quibbling over words in this post.

    On the other hand, if the differences are more substantial, you would do well to bring that out. You used the chronology of Jesus’ cleansing the temple as an example of your view–but that’s not a distinctive of your view. I think you give the impression that you think Challies would disagree–and that looks like a strawman or caricature to me. If you want to give an illustration, give one that illustrates the difference.

    In short: The issue isn’t over the word “inerrancy”, it’s over the concepts we use to define it. Yes, the lowest common denominator won’t be able to look past the shibboleth; most of us will be looking to see if there are problems with your concepts–with hard examples that show how your hermeneutic plays out when it encounters the text.

    After reading your post, I was left without much of a clue of what the issue is. Many words, a bit of setting yourself up as the victim, and little clarity.

    (If the problem is on my end–if I just didn’t pay close enough attention to what you said–then you have my apologies.)


  60. (whisper) Thank you, Michael, for saying what I’ve thought for years. I have referred this entry to my friends (and enemies).


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