Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Doctrinal Hubris of Scriptural Inerrancy


I realize some will be greatly offended just by the title and are preparing a faggot of sticks with which to burn my heretical carcass upon a wooden stake. I can almost feel the heat! But before you strike the match please hear me out. And before I wade into this uncomfortable pool teeming with many sharks let me say that perhaps the original texts are inerrant. I do not contend to argue they are not. However even if they were not (“were” because we do not have them) I also do not suggest that God has no ability to speak and make His truth known through errant men who wrote through the conduit of a limited language that as we can easily see can be interpreted in many different ways.

So what I am saying is that what we have today called the Bible is God’s Word and is the only and exclusive resource for eternal truth. But that is not enough for some people who fancy themselves as the doctrinal overseers of all that must be “orthodox”. And there are some who are so militant that even a proposition like mine renders me an heretic if not an unbeliever. Again, I feel your heat.

But this post is not supposed to start up an old debate which quickly deteriorates into doctrinal snobbery and classic pejoratives. This is a sincere attempt to bring our focus back to where it should be and help us surrender to what the Spirit wanted to do in and through us from the first moment we were born again. And that is to be conformed to the image of Christ, which is in practical and observable terms means that our actions, our minds, and our hearts become completely controlled by the life of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, and the extended teachings of Jesus found in the entirety of the New Testament.

First allow me to present this postulate. It is possible to entertain doubts about the issue of inerrancy and still be saved, and still follow Jesus, and to even embrace the Scriptures as God’s Word. This false suggestion that if you do not adhere strictly to the inerrancy of Scripture then somehow you are a fake or at least a shallow believer is a self serving contention of man. And then there is the slippery slope theory that suggests that if we do not strictly adhere to the inerrancy of Scripture then that opens the door to all sorts of cults and heresies. May I suggest that there is ample evidence over many centuries that even when men do embrace the inerrancy of Scripture it has never been a fortress against damnable heresies and even cults.

One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to lead us into divine truth. That immediately reveals just how malleable and adaptable are human words. There are literally tens of thousands of interpretations of Scripture which differ from each other from the smallest point to some of the most horrific heresies even among those who profess themselves to be of the inerrant view. So just ascribing to the inerrant view in the original documents has never been a sign of how you view truth or more importantly how your life depicts the life of Christ. Having been a part of the fundamentalist wing of evangelicalism for many years I realize that even speaking of such things is sheer doctrinal terror to some. And it also reduces the control over the masses by the doctrinal elite who subtly use their Bibliology to elicit “Amens” from a mixed multitude who follow the Scriptures at many various levels if at all. If we are saying God is not powerful and sovereign enough to communicate truth through fallible men and their language then all preaching dilutes truth as soon as the preacher's lips move.

In many ways this inerrancy issue has kept the orthodox wing of the community of faith from pursuing a deeper relationship with Christ. It is a false doctrinal comfort that soothes the conscience, makes a self righteous comparison with others, and creates an atmosphere which is heavily weighted toward Biblical doctrine at the expense of Biblical living. I liken it to the Jews who rested in the fact that they had Abraham as their father. John the Baptist revealed their thoughts and said “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham”. It is not enough to lean on pedigree or even a sound doctrinal statement. For too long the orthodox community has set about to present a sound doctrinal platform and stand high upon it and proclaim themselves to be Biblical. But to be truly Biblical one must not only understand the Scriptures as God’s Word, but one must also show hidden fruits of the heart and observable fruits of a life which makes truth come forth as thoughts and deeds. The Bible is not just a written museum. It must be life or it is little more than religious reading material.

And just going to church and supporting that church and even giving to missions falls significantly short of what it means to embrace the words of Jesus and live them. In fact if we read only the words in red and suggest they are inerrant and literal, and if we then compare the visceral and even profound implications of those words to what we think and live, are we so self righteous that we will not even admit something is very wrong? And that may be one of the reasons we construct doctrines so that we can tout them in order to hide our diluted expressions of God’s truth?

But I find it almost laughable that we die on the hill of inerrancy and yet all we have is our own interpretations. You see, if our interpretations are not inerrant then does that not compromise the inerrancy of the texts which are not even the originals? All English translations are not inerrant because they are linguistic interpretations hence all the different translations. So if you do not have a substantial knowledge of Hebrew and Greek your inerrancy position is moot and a little pompous. If you really believe the Hebrew and Greek texts we now have are inerrant and truly the only written form of the Word of God then why have you not learned those languages? Is it because it would take too much of your time and being militant about the doctrine of inerrancy is a much easier path? Do you see what I mean?

And if God really thought that inerrancy would make or break our faith in His Word they why did He not preserve the original manuscripts? And here is something else about which I always wondered. Many say that the copies we have are 99.9 per cent the same as the originals. And without the originals with which to compare just how can you make that claim? The answer is you must receive it by faith. Exactly! Even if you had the original manuscripts they still must be received by faith.

I am suggesting that inerrancy has become a sacred cow and many times is a hindrance to seek diligently and with a great amount of prayer the Spirit’s illumination as to the depths of His written revelations. Our staunch doctrinal stand has supplanted our brokenness and contrition in seeking God’s heart. And even when that or any other doctrine may be true, the way it is wielded with such spiritual violence lends itself to a level of self righteousness and doctrinal competitiveness rather than leading us all to embrace that reality with such a personal humility and hunger that the Word we claim is inerrant consumes us. But as it stands, and hear me well, I have not seen a difference in the lives of those who are militant about inerrancy and those who do not make it a non-negotiable tenant of fellowship.

What I mean is this: When a person says he believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior you would expect that person’s life to be much different than those who do not believe in Jesus. Right? And when a person says he believes in the inerrancy of the original manuscripts and that inerrancy is an almost an indispensible element of faith for any true disciple of Christ, then one would have to believe that the life of that person would be observably more remarkable as a follower of Jesus. Right? But I have seen no evidence that would support that contention. And I have seen equally committed disciples from many different doctrinal quarters that believe that Jesus is the only way and the Bible is the Word of God.

And it really comes down to this: As it pertains to truth, just how inerrant is your life? How accurately and tangibly and even viscerally does your life openly reflect the teachings contained in the Scriptures? I am not as concerned about what you believe but how you exhibit your beliefs. A computer can be programmed to pull up an orthodox statement of faith when commanded to. And after a while if you belong to a church you will be able to check most of the doctrinal boxes and nod when the preacher spouts them off. But how does your neighbor know what you believe? Can he see and does he hear what you believe above the church attendance revelation?

Can your neighbor testify that you are the most gentle person he knows? Or that you are incredibly humble? Has he been affected by how you show your love for mankind? Has he seen that your life is quite different than his conservative friend who does not attend church? If he was allowed to secretly watch you for twenty-four hours would he be astounded at the time and quality of your prayer life? And would he be taken aback as he heard you beg God for his soul? And even though he does not believe in Jesus would your neighbor believe that if Jesus really did exist you surely must be like Him?

The lost world is not interested in these doctrinal battles. They need to hear and see Jesus emanating from people’s lips and lives. I do not wish to offend anyone with this post, and I do believe the Bible we have is the Word of God. But I hope we can translate those words into living beings all for His glory. Perhaps the greatest and most tangible defense of God’s Word is when we actually live its teachings. I do not mean living like all the rest of the church world. That is quite a nebulous and insipid existence in this culture. It should be noticed that when a true believe has been martyred throughout church history that the Word spreads and souls are saved. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. And why is that? Because most of the martyrs lived the Word and their lives became a gospel witness.

It was not because of a doctrinal tenant. It was because their lives spoke of Christ and His Word. Do we not have enough theological books that outline with great detail what we believe and why we believe it? What we need now are lives which reveal and manifest observable theologies which unmistakably show the life and heart of Jesus. Living theologies. We need truths that have hearts and legs and which can be read by sinners who will never read a Bible. What would a church look like if it called the people together and said from this day forward we are going to learn what Jesus taught and how He lived and through much prayer and worship we are going to allow the Spirit to break us and empower us to do whatever He said to do? Doesn’t that sound so simple? And yet that is not what churches do. Oh yes, they say that is what they do but that is not what they do. They teach doctrine and they take stands on moral issues and they handle finances and they hold meetings and they practice music and they print literature, but do they sacrificially seek to emulate the Lord Jesus? Unless Jesus would live very similarly to the hedonistic heathen in our culture than we do not live like He would.

This is the great mandate to the followers of Jesus. To stop for a day or a week or a month and diligently seek Him with all your heart and allow the Spirit to uncover your spiritual nakedness in order to set your feet on a new and nail scarred path. I must believe there are many believers who are tired of doing church and going to and from a certain building and seeing everyone satisfied with a spiritual existence which is really no different than many moral unbelievers. I must believe that many see themselves as living a robotic existence which defies everything they know about Jesus.

And while the doctors of the law love to teach systematic theology and exhibit their exegetical prowess and their original language credentials, the sheep learn stuff that does not challenge their lives in any dramatic and extreme way. And many times learning that stuff only generates an aroma of self righteousness because knowledge puffs up the heart. Should we not be learning of Jesus? And when we learn things that Paul or Peter or James taught should we not incorporate that into what we know of Jesus and have it translate into living and observable deeds? I attended Bible College and I learned many good things. But I also learned a lot of Biblical minutia which played no part in my spiritual life and only filled my mind and not my heart.

And during my years of college I did not see one course that was specifically designed to teach and practice prayer. And one of my regrets over almost forty years is that I should have prayed much more. That is not just a good suggestion, but that in all seriousness is the thermometer which measures a believer’s spiritual life. So much of the church spends much time with Martha in the kitchen doing churchy things but how many have committed themselves to sit with Mary at the Master’s feet? Read most church statements of faith and you may find very little if anything about prayer. The church for all practical and spiritual purposes has lost the discipline and life giving force of prayer.

But we have our doctrines. We have our theologies. We have our 501c’s. We have our membership classes. We have our religious literature. We have our favorite preacher’s study Bible. We have our music. And we have our conviction that the Bible is the Word of God and we believe in the verbal plenary and inerrant inspiration of the original manuscripts. Doesn’t that sound oh so orthodox and solid? Doesn’t that make the doctrinal hairs of your head stand up? I mean come on, look what we believe! We are so strong in our doctrinal beliefs. We are fundamental and orthodox and we are prepared to defend what we believe if questioned or attacked through careful analysis of the Scriptures. Yes, we believe the Bible!!

Well, how do I know you believe the Bible?

Because I just told you I did and I can show you our statement of faith if you wish.

I have read it but how can I know for certain you believe the Bible?

I don’t know what else I can do but tell you.

Well, can you show me?

Sure, why don’t you come to church with me?

Those few hypothetical sentences reveal a profound departure from the faith which is running rampant throughout what is called the evangelical community. The only way out is through a prayer fueled repentance. Until then we will depend upon the exclusivity of a Christianity birthed by Gutenberg and confined to marks on a page. It is a shame that the early believers did not have the complete written from called the Bible because they might have been able to spread the gospel throughout the earth. Wait a minute…


Anonymous said...

Just a thought...when Jesus' disciples talked about the Word of God, they were talking about Jesus, not a bible...they didn't have a bible to read. They knew the Word of God personally...they denied themselves, took up their cross and followed Him wherever he led them.

Will said...

Great post Rick. I haven't been to a Bible School or anything like that, but I do try to study the doctrines that we "supposedly" adhere to. I say "supposedly" not to down anyone, but make the point that so many (ME definitely included!!) tend to get so caught up in learning that we forget that it should be transforming us! We need Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Am still halfway through this post and am listening to "Let There be Peace on Earth" and 'let it begin with me'.

That kind of goes along with the post so far. "lets, take each momnent, live each moment, and let it begin with me".

Onward I go to read the rest.....


Anonymous said...

I'm rejoicing here that the Lord is the center of it all. We know that God does not do anything shoddy, everything He does is 100% planned and He knew that believers would take His Holy Word out of context and argue, especially the educated ones. In fact, He knew that many coulnd't read in early centuries and had to depend on priests and the learned for doctrinal teaching. I used to wonder how these people lived a sancitified life without Joyce and John and TBN and all the CD's and books and how-to wares; seriously though, I wondered how people living in corners of the earth, isolated, with little teaching, could hold on to their faith. It's the simplicity of the gospel and Christ that makes it so, now I realize.

The fruit of the Spirit and the Beatitudes are understandable and don't need to be written over our door, or memorized in our heads. I think that once a believer has met Jesus, and like Rick says, the Holy Spirit will lead them. They will be passionate to be kind, meak, compassionate, merciful, forgiving, all those attibutes, because He first was to them, and us. He first loved us, therefore we go out in love. (I'm preaching to myself here).

I think those that could not read or write throughout the centuries may have had a better understanding of the things and way of God, because hubris couldn't get in the way, as they were always dependent on Him, by their faith. From what I'm learning every day, by witnessing the church go way over it's head in overkill with it's teachings. They just can't let it be simple, it has to have special new meanings and written in books for only those who can afford to buy books.

I try to imagine what it was like in the 1600's as an example. Spending a full day, working, making, without electricity, not loving their lives to the death. Many only lived to 50, and women died in childbirth. Their attitude was not the same as it is today. I am sure they had a greater reality of the temporal life and knew they had to trust God in all things. I don't think Satan back then was pushing them the idea that "thou shalt not surely die" (the big lie). Today, in Western culture, everything wants to live as long as they can, with excessive quality of life.

So much on this post to grasp. Thank you Lord!


Steve said...

Probably scriptural inerrancy is closely related to the "sola scriptura" teaching. (You can even buy a tee-shirt proclaiming that slogan !) Your remarks highlight what is the dirty secret of both doctrines: belligerently "orthodox" stances toward scripture often only come down, in practice, to belief in "MY INTERPRETATION of scripture."

An attitude wrong on its face, since scripture itself tells us to "...know this first of all, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation..." (II Peter 1:20). Peter teaches, as you have written, that scripture must be received with "…the ministr[y] of the Holy lead us into divine truth." And the same Spirit likewise works in those who receive Him the "...hidden fruits of the heart and observable fruits of a life which makes truth come forth as thoughts and deeds."

Thank you, brother, for this straight truth, very well put !

In Jesus, Steve

Cherie c. said...

I am truly grieved and confused and I am not going to say anything else.

Steve said...

Jann, thank you for your insightful comment. Very true: for the first Christians "the Word of God" was entirely and exclusively JESUS Himself. It gives me a profoundly different understanding of the Spirit's work among them.

In Jesus, Steve