Inerrancy, a word I was and am very familiar with as an evangelical. A word I don’t often refer to in my posts here, although I have before, but I wanted to address it now. I just watched a short video with John MacArthur speaking on inerrancy. In this video JMac makes the claim that the only reason someone would deny inerrancy is because they want to get out of being accountable to some teaching they don’t like therein. But is this true; is this the only reason someone would deny inerrancy? Is it possible to reject inerrancy for a doctrine of Scripture that is more positive definitionally? In other words, JMac’s claim presupposes, a priori, that inerrancy is the only doctrine of Scripture that has the doctrinal capacity to maintain that what we get in Scripture is the viva vox Dei (living voice of God). But is this really the case?
Click Here to Watch the Short Clip from JMac (and then click back)
Like I said, I am an evangelical, historically, and adjectivally understood vis-à-vis the Gospel; but does this necessarily commit me to affirming the same sort of understanding of inerrancy that JMac assumes ‘just is’ the only evangelically faithful way to approach Scripture? As a Reformed Protestant Christian, I am thoroughly, one hundred percently committed to the ‘Scripture Principle,’ sola scriptura, and the fact that when Scripture is read (silently or audibly) that I am hearing the voice of the living God without remainder. But this doesn’t mean I must affirm JMac’s doctrine of inerrancy in order to ensure that this is the case.
Inerrancy, even as a term, is a negative word; and it is symbolizing a negative concept. In other words, inerrancy, as JMac in particular is deploying it, comes loaded with a reactionary that developed in and around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries; the time that the Fundamentalists reacted to the invasion of German Higher Criticism into the seminaries (we might think of what happened at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Machen’s departure). Was this reaction warranted? I think so. But the problem with reactions is that they rarely if ever are constructive, and thus fail to yield long term productive results. I think this is the case with JMac’s ‘inerrancy.’ This doctrine as it developed under the pressures of higher criticism allowed higher criticism to determine the categories and emphases that inerrancy would operate under as it reacted to said higher criticism. As a result, as evangelicals, we inherited an approach to Scripture that was slavishly concerned with ‘answering’ every “error” that the higher critic ostensibly found in the Bible. We built whole hermeneutical constructs out of this reaction (think of Henry Morris and the sort of young earth creationism he spawned). And this is the point: if we allow, as JMac has and does, this reactionary form of inerrancy to determine the way we approach Holy Scripture, and its exegesis, we will also be inheriting a hermeneutic that is shaped not by the confession that Jesus is Lord, but instead by the higher critics, the history of religionists, and the positivists; in short the naturalists will get to determine the categories and emphases and the questions that the inerrantists feel they must answer in their Bible studies.
So, this is one problem with JMac’s claim. Another problem is that when we follow JMac’s view of inerrancy we aren’t developing a doctrine of Scripture, or bibliology, from genuinely Christian and confessional norms; instead we are doing so under the impetus of naturalistic philosophical categories that then views the Bible in abstraction and as the epistemic source for how we are to think God in Christ. But Holy Scripture isn’t, or shouldn’t be ordered this way in a Christian Dogmatic. Scripture comes to us in this order: 1) Triune God, 2) The election of humanity in the Son (Covenant of Grace), 3) Creation, Incarnation (God’s Self-revelation), 4) The Apostolic Deposit of Christian Scripture (e.g. the New Testament re-interpretation of salvation history [i.e. Old Testament] in light of its fulfillment in Christ). There is a positive ordering or taxis to Scripture that has a long line of antecedents that come prior to it, theologically, before we ever get to talking about Scripture. If you’ll notice, in a Christian Dogmatic approach to the Bible what we start with is not Scripture, so the epistemological frame is not us approaching God, but God approaching us unilaterally in Christ; viz. as Christian’s we are those who have already said that ‘Jesus is Lord’ by the Spirit, and so we come to Scripture as children of God and see Scripture refracted within that always already relationship that God has forever established for us in His Son, Jesus Christ.
If what I have been sketching above, particularly as we think of a doctrine of Scripture, Dogmatically, if this is the case—rather than JMac’s construal—then his claim is false. Questions of inerrancy, or errancy, and other such like Dogmatic shibboleths never make it to the radar. This impacts the way we read Scripture, just as inerrancy comes with its own hermeneutic. If the Triune Life of God is the Ground and Grammar of all reality, if His eternal life is the effulgent soil within which Holy Scripture receives its nutrients, then we will read Scripture, necessarily under His Lordship, and know that as His sheep we are hearing His voice without remainder. This might seem like an apologetically naïve way to approach and thus read Scripture, but we aren’t approaching Scripture from the pagan’s or the critic’s ground, we are approaching it as the Son of Man did; we are approaching it as if it already is God’s voice to and for us—without having to establish that point prior to being able to hear it as such. In other words, if we follow JMac’s understanding of inerrancy, Holy Scripture will only be as good as God’s Word insofar as we can answer its critics. But why would we grant its critics that sort of gravitas? We already know by definition that they hate God, and are anti-Christ; and so, their criticisms aren’t really critical, instead they are spawned by their father the devil (no matter how critical and irreligious they claim to be).
This is why I reject inerrancy as a valuable concept for a doctrine of Scripture. It isn’t because I think Scripture is not God’s Word through and through. It is because I think inerrancy is an inept and inglorious way to think Scripture to begin with. Scripture isn’t Holy because we argued it into that position, it is Holy because it is circumscribed in and from the domain of God’s life for us in Jesus Christ. I don’t doubt that JMac would want to agree with many of my sentiments. If so, he should quit defending an inadequate and limp-wristed way for thinking Scripture.