Some fellow Wesleyans get the Bible’s authority right

July 8, 2013

Maybe I should become a Nazarene? Nah, just kidding.

But a small, recent doctrinal change to that Wesleyan denomination’s view of the authority of scripture mirrors my own quite nicely. Apparently, before the change, their statement read that the Bible is “inerrant throughout, and the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach.”

The tricky word there is “inerrant.” My problem with the word is that it represents a thoroughly modern concept, alien to scripture itself, and beholden to a post-Enlightenment view of the world. According to an inerrantist view, the Bible pays for the privilege of being our authoritative guide because it contains nothing that our modern world would call an “error,” at least in the original autographs.

So if the world wasn’t created in six literal days, then that’s an “error.” Never mind that Genesis 1 is a poetic description of Creation that conveys theological rather than scientific truth. Except even distinguishing theology from science is modern. Thomas Aquinas called theology the “highest science.” Regardless, I wouldn’t say that Genesis 1 is in error, even though I don’t believe the world was created in six literal days. See what I mean?

So why not avoid the term altogether? The Bible has nothing to prove. Skeptics haggle over questions of historicity and science so they can avoid dealing with the God revealed therein, who they hope doesn’t exist. It’s not like anyone comes to faith in Christ because the Bible’s truth has been proven to them. As the Nazarene report says, “We know that we are not brought to faith by having the inerrancy of the Bible proved to us, but that our faith in Christ is what leads us to trust his messengers, the prophets and apostles, and all who wrote the Holy Scriptures.”

Another problem with inerrancy is that it locates the miracle of scripture somewhere in the past—when the Holy Spirit first guided its authors to write down its words. While I agree that the Spirit inspired and guided the words of scripture as they were written, the miracle of scripture is ongoing: when we read it today, the Spirit continues to speak to us through it. I believe this is in part what Jesus means when he tells his disciples on Holy Thursday that he has “much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:12-13a).

But if you’re going to use the word “inerrant” to describe the Bible’s authority, you ought to use it the way the Nazarenes now use it: The Bible “inerrantly reveal[s] the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation.”

This statement uses “inerrant” to emphasize the classic Protestant doctrine of the “sufficiency of scripture,” with which I wholeheartedly agree: the Bible perfectly (infallibly, inerrantly) reveals the way of salvation in Christ and nothing beyond the Bible ought to be taken as an article of faith or dogma.

7 Responses to “Some fellow Wesleyans get the Bible’s authority right”

  1. Clay Knick Says:

    Nicely done!

  2. Agreed.
    Actually, though, the Nazarene manual has stated for some time that scripture “inerrantly reveals the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation.” What happened at our recent General Assembly is that the wording remained the same and it did not change to “Inerrant throughout”, something I am very thankful for 🙂

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I have somewhat “bounced around” on my viewpoint as to “inerrancy.” Part of my original “loss of faith” was triggered by finding a “contradiction” between two accounts in the gospels. So, when I returned to the faith, I was very leery of “readopting” the inerrancy position. At one point, I reached what I called the “peach fuzz” analogy. I like the peach, but I have to put up with a little “fuzz” on it. Specifically with respect to the gospels, I pointed out that God selected four good “reporters” to recount some major events, just as a newspaper editor might do, and if there are some minor discrepancies, that should no more cause us to doubt that the events occurred than if the modern day “reporters” fail to get all the facts exactly the same. God can and does use us as fallible persons to accomplish his purposes, and he certainly used those who wrote the scriptures in that way (assuming any errors at the moment).

    Subsequently, I have waffled on that view somewhat, based partly on such statements as those by Jesus that not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the law till all be fulfilled, and others. However, regardless, “inerrancy” should never be held to be a “test of faith or fellowship,” in my view. There are just too many passages that might cause one to doubt that conclusion, and we don’t want to push one away for that reason.

    Finally, though, as you know I tend to disagree with you a bit when it comes to the creation account. I recognize that there is a poetic “form” and that this might indicate something other than a “scientific” rendition. However, I see no reason based on other scriptures to doubt the “six literal days” interpretation. The Ten Commandments base the Sabbath day law on the “six days.” So the only real reason to doubt “six days” that I know of is because of “oppositions of science, FALSELY SO CALLED.” The various and often contradictory claims of evolutionary “scientists” are not persuasive to me at all, often contradict scientific laws, and in all events a “fully grown” view of creation in six days is entirely satisfactory to explain what we see.

    Who cares? A view that scripture “fails” because “contradicted by science” is a major point of argument used by those who attempt to dissuade others from Christian belief, and the creation account is a very large “case in point.” Thus, the argument goes, if scripture can be proved false as to creation, why not otherwise? So, I would instead attempt to beat evolutionists “at their own game” by showing the “scientific flaws” with evolutionary theories rather than grant such evolutionists the “high ground” of being right when it comes to creation, as opposed to a “straightforward” reading of Genesis.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Except I would say that evolutionists aren’t “right” if they merely object to the timeline of Genesis 1 without interacting with the theological point it communicates. That’s a childish objection, in my view—and probably a smokescreen. Who rejects Christianity because the Creation may or may not have taken place in six literal days?

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Well, I don’t know that anyone has objected “in so many words” bases on “six days”; however, my point is that the “critics” do say, “Look, you can’t possibly believe the Bible, that book of fairy tales, when you know good and well that science has disproved it, and particularly the silly creation story.” So I don’t think “six days” is entirely irrelevant to countering the “critics.”

      • brentwhite Says:

        Well, probably not, but they’re not being good students of literature, never mind science, if they fail to appreciate the poetic beauty of the text. That’s what I mean by childish. If they’re reducing Genesis to a flat scientific reading then they’re the ones being simple-minded and naive.

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