Sunday, February 03, 2013
Inerrancy 7: Conclusion
1. A Little History
2. The Authority of God
3. Different Kinds of Speaking
4. What God Intended 1
5. What God Intended 2
6. What God Intends
The Wesleyan Church has never defined exactly what it means by inerrancy. Obviously it means that the Bible is without error. But it has never defined what an error is or created a list of positions on specific issues as if to say, "Such and such a position on this issue violates inerrancy."
This is a crucial observation. It surely means that there is some leeway among Wesleyans in exactly what a person understands an error to be. Whether individuals affirm inerrancy surely depends, within reasonable limits, on their attitude toward Scripture rather than on the specific positions they take.
When some Wesleyans use the word "inerrancy," they have a very specific list of positions in mind. For example, it might mean affirmation that God created the world in six literal days, that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, David the Psalms, and Isaiah all of Isaiah. It might mean for them that the gospels are historically harmonizable on the level of detail and that all the books of the New Testament were literally written by the individuals whose names are on them.
It is very understandable that some equate inerrancy with these positions, because these were some of the key issues at the time the term came to the fore in American culture. Modernists had taken contrary positions and said the Bible was in error. Fundamentalists had responded that the Bible was not in error and took traditional positions.
But both sides, interestingly, were operating with the same definition of an error at the time, namely, the modernist one. Fundamentalists, perhaps without even fully realizing it, absorbed the definition of an error as something not being historical, not being literal, or not being scientifically accurate. As I hope this booklet has shown, these standards for error are not obviously the appropriate ones for the Bible, as common sense as they may have seemed in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
For example, what if the rules of ancient history writing were not the same as modern history writing? What if God inspired the biblical authors in genres that we are not as familiar with today? As I mentioned earlier, it is no error if you do not hit a target you are not aiming for. No one considers a parable to be lying even though the genre of parable is fictional rather than historical.
To affirm inerrancy thus does not presume that a person will take a particular position on these sorts of issues. The key to inerrancy is not so much specific positions on interpretive issues but whether a person believes the Bible failed at some point at what God wanted it to do.
The value of this approach is that it allows Wesleyans to listen to the biblical text, even if they think it is leading in a different direction than tradition. They may of course be wrong. But can we really say we are interested in truth unless we are willing to change our minds given a sufficient basis or amount of evidence? It is often the person who feels threatened by new evidence who argues most strongly against it.
Thankfully, Wesleyans have never fought over inerrancy. Wesleyans have always valued Scripture on the highest level. We have never had a group of scholars or ministers arguing that the Bible has errors in it. If some Wesleyans have at times had what seemed to be peculiar positions, they have held them within a framework of respect for the Bible and a sense that they accurately understood what God intended the text to mean.
What a great thing to be able to say that! We have neither had scholars trying to convince us that the Bible has errors, nor have we had hard core fundamentalists trying to kick people out of the church for their positions on specific issues. Both arguably have the wrong attitude. You can rest assured that such controversies do not bring anyone closer to God. They are far more likely to drive people away from Christ.
Wesleyans believe that God's word never fails. The books of the Bible never failed at what God inspired them to do nor do they fail at what he intends them to do today. God's commands in the Bible were authoritative then, and they remain authoritative over us today insofar as God intends them to remain in force. Finally, the truths that God asserted in the Bible were true then, and they continue to be without error today, inerrant.