(Posted by Paige)
Musing on the subject of inerrancy, I came up with a “spectrum-of-thought” model to describe the various ways that people view and respond to the Scriptures. See what you think.
Note that in the scheme below I am not using “FAITH” with salvific significance, but rather as a description of the view that “takes God at his word” about the Word. It is worth debating whether one could maintain a robust, saving faith in Christ while simultaneously believing that the Bible in its original state already contained intertextual or historical contradictions and errors. For my part, while I do not at all recommend this as a healthy path to take, I would personally echo the Chicago Statement’s sentiment at Article XIX:
We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.
We deny that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences both to the individual and to the Church.
Which may turn out to be the most provocative thing that I say here; go ahead and argue with it if you want to.
Here is my spectrum-of-thought model. I observe that people react to the various claims of the Christian faith along a continuum that looks like this:
SKEPTICISM —- FAITH —– CREDULITY
While an individual’s response to any given doctrine, orthodox or heterodox, may be described along this spectrum, I believe that one’s stance regarding the Bible – what it is, what authority it possesses over the reader – is the foundation of one’s reaction to all other claims of the Christian faith or of men.
Ideally we’re to be right in the center of this spectrum, responding to the truth with FAITH; but in reality even believers are often leaning away from faith and towards one of the other options, with regard to one aspect or another of Christian claims. (Again, don’t think of “FAITH” as salvific in this scheme.) Also, sometimes Christians confuse CREDULITY with faith, and sometimes we forget that faith incorporates some healthy SKEPTICISM. Some elaboration, as this relates to approaching the Bible:
On the far end of SKEPTICISM, the Bible is viewed only as another Ancient Near Eastern text. There is NO assent to claims that there is any supernatural involvement in its creation, or that it is “God’s Word.” It is a people-made product. (Slightly closer to center, it is a people-made product that tells about a real God and his works, but the book itself is no more unique than any ancient book. Thus it is no wonder that it’s “messy” and contains many internal contradictions and errors, which were there even before the scribes & the translators got hold of it.)
On the far end of CREDULITY, the Bible basically fell from the sky into the church; there is little interest in the “how” of its writing, the people-made part of it, or the history of translation or document studies; there is much literalism, “magic,” ignorance about genres, and misplaced loyalties (like to the KJV only). The Holy Spirit is basically assumed to have dictated the whole thing to its writers, if not guided their penmanship while they were in a trance. This stance is assumed by many to be the same as FAITH, but if so it is only blind faith, not reasonable faith. (Slightly closer to center we find more interest in the different authors and their time periods, but also the too-ready acceptance of the interpretive choices of preachers, teachers, and translators.)
Finally, a stance of FAITH means hearing God’s words and believing them. Because of our heart-change by the Spirit, we are enabled to accept the Scriptures as God’s very words, which is the Bible’s claim about itself. Scripture is, uniquely, the written voice of God, speaking through human writers. This is not blind faith — it’s reasonable faith, the only reasonable response to the claims of the God of the Universe, validated to us by the risen Christ. And this is the basis for our confession of the inerrancy of the Scriptures.
I would suggest too that at its best (and most informed), this stance of FAITH also involves a sort of “critical realism” that is missed by the credulous, including reasonable views of the various authors’ involvement (it wasn’t all dictated!), the history of canonization & translation, and sound contextual approaches to interpretation. This faithful stance also evaluates the claims of teachers according to the content of the Bible, keeping the wheat and throwing out the chaff, rather than accepting everything it hears. It’s smart, but believing — and it believes, but is smart about it. (Obviously, every believer will not be able to investigate all these aspects. But speaking ideally, if they could, they would; and speaking realistically, if we can, we should.)
Frankly, I am persuaded that if the church neglects instruction in the believing-but-appropriately-critical approach to the Scriptures that I’ve touched on here, it risks abandoning the flock EITHER to a drift towards credulity or a slide towards skepticism. And either option has “grave consequences,” to quote the CSBI. Perhaps this danger is easier to recognize in the academy’s rejection of the supernatural nature of Scripture; but I believe it is a comparably grave thing to be credulous, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). Of which I can think of a few; can’t you?