When posing such a question, there are an infinite number of responses to it. Some reply no, others yes-but, still others more-or-less, and the most Orthodox express a resounding yes. Throughout church history, attacks have been leveled against the bible’s authority, its sufficiency, its necessity, its inerrancy, and its perspicuity or clarity. Liberal and Orthodox theologians represent two opposite ends on the spectrum regarding the answer to the question posed in today’s blog post.
During the 1960s and 1970s, a debate raged within Western Christianity over the specific doctrine of scripture known as inerrancy. This refers to the bible’s truthfulness in all that it declares. In many ways, this debate was a rehashing of one that took place during the turn of the Twentieth Century. It goes without saying that the attacks against the bible’s inerrancy probably sounded different during the 60s-70s and at the turn of the twentieth century; however, the core issue remained the same: is the bible God’s inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative word?
One of the major achievements that arose out of the debate over the bible’s inerrancy in the 60s-70s is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978 (http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html). Over 300 evangelical scholars from a variety of denominations gathered together to formulate a document stating their commitment to God’s word as inerrant, sufficient, authoritative, necessary, and clear. At the time, the battle had been won, but the war continued to rage. Today’s climate seems to be on verge of attacking those five aspects of scripture.
In the midst of collecting my thoughts for this post, I stumbled across the following Proverb: “Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded” (Proverbs 13:13, ESV). At first glance, the word despise comes off real strong. Most people within the church are not overt in their disdain toward the bible. In fact, such a stance typifies only the most staunch of atheists and agnostics. From my perspective, Christian disdain for the bible comes out in subtle ways.
There are all kinds of controversial examples to use; however, I will put forth one that crops up time and time again. When church leaders, scholars, and theologians waver on God’s word as inerrant, this usually leads to belt loosening across all of scripture. Rather than wrestling over the tough portions of scripture, the scholar, pastor, or leader resorts to outside interpretative helps and sources for cracking the textual, gordian knot. Instead of falling back on the analogy of faith (scripture interprets scripture), these church leaders and theologians end up following every wind of doctrine being tossed about by the wind and the waves (Eph 4:14, ESV).
When church leaders and theologians refuse to embrace the analogy of faith, and refuse to work out doctrinal issues with other committed bible teachers, then the stage is set for developing doctrinal error. Once there is enough error to balance out the sound teaching, the notion of God’s word being inerrant, truthful in all that it declares, will come under attack. Instead of God’s word being a lamp to one’s feet and a light to one’s path, the perception becomes that God’s word contains errors, unsolvable contradictions, and antiquated concepts out of touch with the present day culture. God’s word is no longer seen as giving light and life to the reader.
Finally, the apostle John records an intriguing dialogue between Jesus and the apostle Peter. The Lord questions his apostles about whether or not they desire to remain with him. Peter responds without hesitation, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God'” (John 6:68-69, ESV). Peter’s declaration is one that every believer needs to take to heart. Jesus has the words of eternal life. The bible declares this truth about Jesus, which is another way of saying that the written word about Jesus testifies to his spoken word. The bible is God’s written revelation.