Darren at Nicene Theology has written a post called "Calvinist or Reformed" where he goes through my summary of what the Reformed confessions have in common in a prior post on the League of Reformed bloggers. Those things are:
a. High view of Scripture - Scripture is infallible and inerrant.Darren affirms the above criteria except for the five points of Calvinism and the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. He holds to a high view of Scripture but does not believe that the church has historically held to what we would now call the "inerrancy" of Scripture. Neither does he think that one has to affirm the Five Points of Calvinism to be considered reformed.
b. God's absolute sovereignty in salvation in all matters. God's sovereignty is not based on foreknowledge of future events, nor is it a bare permission, it is His active ordaining, maintaining, preserving and governing of all that happens in life.
c. Each of the confessions affirms the five points of Calvinism in some form.
d. Each of the confessions affirms the five solas of the Reformation.
I plan to deal with the issue of the five points later, although for now, I would say that they are at the heart of the Reformed system. There are some who consider themselves "four point Calvinists," who don't believe in limited atonement. They have historically been referred to as Amyraldians and there is debate in reformed circles as to whether or not an Amyraldian can truly be considered Reformed (see this article for a short primer on Amyraldianism). It is hard to say whether or not a four point Calvinist could be considered within the Reformed tradition. Some of the more hard boiled Calvinists would say no, but I am loathe to exclude someone like Richard Baxter, who was close to this position. I think it all depends on one's view of God's sovereignty, but that is for another day.
For now I want to take up some of Darren's comments about inerrancy. As I do this, I do it for the sake of clarification, and not to diss Darren. He's got an excellent blog and I commend it to you highly. Furthermore, he has said that he is recently come to a reformed position and is still working through some issues. But having said that I do want to clarify that the position that the Scriptures are inerrant is central to the reformed system of doctrine (and I would say to the Christian faith) and it is the historic view of the church.
The doctrine of inerrancy, however, is a particular view of inspiration, modern in origin, that goes far, far beyond the Reformers (and the Fathers, and the historical church, for that matter). I reject it wholesale, while still maintaining the high view of Scripture's infallibility.This is a common view from the proponents of the non-inerrancy view.
In interacting with this view, rather than hitting it head on I like to understand what it is that about inerrancy that it's opponents are reacting to. My guess is that most non-inerrantists agree with James Orr's definition of inerrancy:
It is urged...that unless we can demonstrate what is called the inerrancy of the biblical record down even to its minutest details, the whole edifice of belief in revealed religion falls to the ground. This, on the face of it, is the most suicidal position for any defender of revelation to take up.I've heard other versions of the Orr hypothesis. One time I asked a guy who had recently graduated from seminary if he believed in inerrancy. He took a piece of paper and wrote out a sentence that went something like this - "I live fore miles from here." He asked me if that was an inerrant sentence and I answered that he had obviously misspelled the word "four." He said that his sentence was true, but it was not without error and so it is with the Bible.
Another example is the time Bruce Metzger visited us in seminary. He may be the foremost New Testament scholar in the world - he has led the teams that have given us the UBS Greek New Testament and has written all kinds of stuff on the text of the New Testament. I made the mistake of asking him in class if he thought the bible was inerrant. He said "of course not." The bible is full of errors, for instance, it uses bad grammar at times.
In each of these situations, from Orr to Metzger, the opponents of inerrancy were using a technical definition of inerrancy that even inerrantists wouldn't use.
I think one of the reasons they think this is because inerrancy is usually linked to the verbal, plenary view of inspiration. The word "verbal" means the words of Scripture, and the word "plenary" means "all." The "verbal plenary" view of inspiration means that all of the words of Scripture are inspired.
This is where things get a little tricky. One of the things we inerrantists are commonly charged with is that we believe in the dictation view of inspiration. The dictation view is that the writers of Scripture were mere secretaries, mindless transmitters of the words of God. There are those who hold to this view, but most inerrantists do not hold the dictation view of inspiration.
Most of us hold to a view of organic inspiration. This means that God inspired the writers in such a way that the words were fully God's and fully theirs. He made use of their personalities, cultures, and experiences in inspiring them to write His word, yet in such a way as to render His word to be error free.
This is important because it leads to the crux of the matter. There is a difference between objective inerrancy and subjective inerrancy. The inerrant view is that the bible is subjectively inerrant, not objectively inerrant. A couple of examples might help. When a biblical writer says that the sun rises is that objectively true or subjectively true? Modern scientists would say that the sun doesn't rise, it circles around the earth. Objectively speaking, the sun doesn't rise. But, to the biblical writer observing the sun in the morning and evening he would say that it rises and falls. It appears to him to rise and he inerrantly reports what he saw. Similarly, in Matthew 13:31-32 Jesus said that the mustard seed is the smallest seed. Some have pointed out that there are seeds which are smaller than the mustard seed. But, Jesus was speaking of farmers and the seeds they would plant and it was the smallest seed they would plant. Again, he is not making a technical, scientific statement.
Article XIII of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy says it this way:
We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.I realize that all of this may give the impression that the doctrine of inerrancy is suffering death by qualfication, but the point I am making is that the bible is written in ordinary language, not the language of scientists or lawyers. Those who hold to inerrancy have always understood this.
We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to
its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of
modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the
reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material,
variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.
This is why the definition of inerrancy is crucial. Inerrancy simply means that the bible does not teach error. It is true in all that it affirms.
This goes for historical and scientific matters. Where the bible reports a historical event it reports it truly and accurately. Where the bible deigns to speak on a matter of science it speaks truly.
These are the two stickiest wickets when it comes to inerrancy - history and science. The historical critical school taught that the bible had numerous factual errors in regard to history. They said that archaeology didn't affirm biblical accounts of certain events, nor were there extra-biblical accounts to confirm certain portions of Scripture. Furthermore, the fact that there were similar accounts of biblical events in other ancient literature led many to conclude that the biblical writers had simply borrowed from other tradtitions.
In regard to those matters I would say the following. It's one thing to say that an archaeological site has been found that disproves the existence of something in the bible and its another thing to say that no site has been found that corresponds to an event in the Bible. For instance, the bible talks about things like the Red Sea, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. If the entire middle east were one giant desert and there was no evidence of any of these seas or rivers, such a finding would negate many biblical accounts. I am not aware of any such archaelogical findings, although I will admit that I have little knowledge of archaeology.
On the other hand there are many potential sites that could confirm biblical events that have never been excavated. The fact that they haven't been found yet doesn't prove they aren't there. Also, one of my professors once pointed out that some biblical towns were very, very small and could easily be wiped out with no trace of them.
The fact that there are similar accounts of creation in other ancient literature can prove the validity of the biblical account as much or more so than they prove that the biblical writers borrowed from other sources.
The stickiest wicket comes in regards to science. I have already said that Jesus didn't intend to make a scientific statement about the mustard seed. Non-inerrantists would argue that God didn't intend to make a scientific statement about anything in the bible. And thus we get to the debate over Genesis 1-2.
For my money, belief in literal creation ex-nihilo is inherent in the view of inerrancy, belief in a literal six day creation is not. I happen to believe in a literal six day creation for various reasons, but I also realize that this is not an iron clad theory without its own problems and I also know that there are better folks than I who do not, who still affirm inerrancy. The orginal formulators of inerrancy as we know it today, Hodge and Warfield, apparently did not hold to the literal view.
This brings us to another sticky wicket in the debate over inerrancy and that is the confusion of one's view of inerrancy and one's view of hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation. Anytime you get into a discussion of inerrancy someone raises certain views which are tests of your adherence to inerrancy. An anecdote comes to mind in this.
One of my seminary professors was talking about the committee that got together to write what eventually became the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. There were all kinds of people there with particular agendas. The ICR folks were there and wanted a statement affirming the literal six day view of creation, others were there advocating their views of eschatology. Someone wanted a statement regarding their view of women in the document. Things like this were judged to be matters of hermeneutics, not matters of one's view of inerrancy.
The fact is that there are inerrantists who affirm six days and who don't. My understanding is that Norman Geisler doesn't, yet would anyone say he is not an inerrantist. James Boice definitely didn't yet no one would accuse him of not believing in inerrancy. Similarly, there are some who are inerrantists who believe that women can be ordained as elders. Roger Nicole from RTS Orlando comes to mind. Roger is one of the greatest theologians of the last hundred years and has been a staunch defender of inerrancy and one would be foolish to say he isn't an inerrantist because he believes in the ordination of women.
All of that to say that the doctrine of inerrancy is a fairly nuanced view and there are many who negatively react to a view of inerrancy that even most inerrantists don't hold to.
The real battle of inerrancy was against the higher critical school which taught that the bible was full of historical errors. It taught that the bible was purely human book in which the authors made many errors. The inerrantists rightly fought against this - if God is the author of Scripture then by definition it cannot lie and cannot be in error. The historical-critical school had a definite anti-supernatural agenda that reduced the Red Sea to the Reed Sea with only six inches of water and denied many of the important events in redemptive history. The bible is founded on historical events and to deny their existence is to subvert the whole plan of redemption and to call into question the character of God who inspired the Scripture.
This is why Karl Barth brought little comfort to the inerrantists. Karl was reared in the higher critical school of thought, but he realized that the higher critical school of thought had effectively taken the bible away from the church. He realized that without a bible the church had nothing to preach, no message to give. However, his neo-orthodoxy sought to wed a high view of Scripture with acceptance of the "assured results of higher criticism." He gave us a bible without any historical foundation which was not the word of God but could become the word of God when united with faith in the hearer or reader.
When Darren says that the inerrancy view is not the historic view of the church he echoes the views of Jack Rogers and Donald McKim in their book The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach. In it they argue that the church has historically held a high view of Scripture but not the view of inerrancy. This has been one of the most thoroughly debunked assertions in the last hundred years.
John Woodbridge got a copy of their book and read the footnotes and checked the sources to see if they were correct in their assertion that the church has never held to inerrancy. He put his findings in the book Biblical Authority. He showed conclusively that the church has always believed in inerrancy as we now understand it.
In 1982 John Woodbridge and Jack Rogers had a debate on this matter on the John Ankerberg show, a transcript of which you can find here. Here is Ankerberg interacting with Rogers about Augustine:
Ankerberg: And what we want to find out... Let’s take the first area, the Patristic Period, alright? And, Jack, if I can come back to you, let’s take Augustine. We could have taken Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Origen, or somebody else. Let’s take Augustine. Most people know St. Augustine, and let me give you a few quotes here and let’s see what you’re saying.Augustine says that the authority of the Scriptures would be unsettled if there was an error in them, that they are free from error and other things like that and he affirms that Augustine affirmed the infallibility of the Scriptures. But then he says that Augustine didn't mean the bible was inerrant in the same way that we mean the bible is inerrant.
First of all, you’re saying that he did not believe the Bible was completely infallible or inerrant. But here’s Augustine’s statement. He says (this is quoting Augustine), "It seems to me that the most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the Sacred Book. If you once admit into such a high sanctuary [or authority] one false statement there will not be left a single statement of these books."
Or else take another statement here, "The authority of the Divine Scriptures becomes unsettled if it once be admitted that the men by whom these things have been delivered unto us could, in their writings, state some things which were not true."
Or finally here, "I have learned to yield with respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture. Of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error."
In light of those statements from Augustine, how can you say that he didn’t believe in the infallibility of the entire Bible?
Rogers: Well, I think if I were sitting out in the audience now and heard these things back and forth, I would have to conclude that there must be something wrong with one or both of these guys if they can both read the same stuff and come to such widely different conclusions.
And I think that is the key issue that really is before the house. It’s not a question of the particular text; it’s a question of how we understand history, and how we go about interpreting them.
Both you and John [Woodbridge] have attributed to me things that I do not hold, you see. I have never... that book... this is the book that we’re talking about here. It’s got 480 pages in it and it has nearly 2,000 quotations from other sources, you see.
Now, obviously my colleague and I are not infallible and never claimed to be and we can have made mistakes but...
Ankerberg: But can I ask you this? Do you believe then, that if what we’ve just said, if you’re saying that what we’re accusing you of writing is not true, what are you saying that Augustine actually said?
Rogers: I believe that all of the major biblical people believed in what John [Woodbridge] calls "the complete infallibility of the Bible." They thought it was authoritative.
Woodbridge: That’s right.
Rogers: And I’ve never said anything other than that.
Ankerberg: But how about…
Rogers: However, when I use the word "inerrancy," I apparently mean something very different by it than John [Woodbridge]. Because I mean that Augustine’s mentality, as he approached things, was not the same a 19th century or a 20th century mentality. That seems to me just to be obvious. People at different periods in history, because of their historical context, look at things differently.
Again, I think that is because Rogers has adopted a caricature of inerrancy as was expressed by Orr. Believers in inerrancy, from Warfiled and Hodge through those who affirmed the Chicago Statement have never adopted such a view, but have stood in the tradition of folks like Augustine. Ankerberg quotes Dr. Bruce Vawter as follows:
"It would be pointless to call into question that biblical inerrancy in a rather absolute form was a common persuasion from the beginning of Christian times and from Jewish times before that. For both the Fathers and the Rabbis generally the ascription of any error to the Bible was unthinkable. If the Word was God, it must be true, regardless of whether it made known a mystery of divine revelation or commented on a datum of natural science; whether it derived from human observation or chronicled an event of history."Since this post is almost a mile long I'll start coming to a conclusion by saying that the major figures of history have always affirmed that the Scripture is without error.
Inerrancy simply means that the Scripture is without error in all that it affirms. This has been the view of the church throughout history and for those who read the carefully nuanced views of the Princetonians like Warfield, Hodge, and Alexander, and the Chicago Statement will find that these comport with the historical position of the church.
So, the doctrine of inerrancy is the historic position of the church, it is foundational to the reformed system of doctrine, and it is foundational to the Christian life.