I believe in inerrancy. This means I believe that there are no errors in the Bible. Of course, this comes with the usual disclaimers which say that we must be talking about the original manuscripts and we must be assuming that the Bible is being interpreted correctly. In other words, none of our Bible translations are inerrant and we are not inerrant in our understanding of the text. To solve the translation problem, you could become a KJV Only advocate and believe that the King James is inerrant (but there is no warrant at all to make such a move). To solve the problem of interpretation, you could head to Rome and believe that the Pope is the infallible interpreter (but, again, no warrant – besides that, who would interpret the Pope?!). Therefore, I am left with the type of inerrancy I have. I am good with it.
However, while I believe that the Bible is inerrant, I do not believe this is the linchpin of Evangelicalism, much less Christianity. While I agree with most of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, I think I disagree with it when it says that one cannot deny inerrancy without incurring “grave consequences” on his or herself (XIX). “Grave” is a very strong word. Too strong, in my opinion. Nevertheless, inerrancy is important because it speaks to the nature of Scripture being in harmony with the nature of God. I have looked enough into this issue to believe that I probably won’t ever change my stance here. It is one of those issues that is pretty well settled in my theology.
However, if I were to find something that I believed was a legitimate error in the Scripture, I don’t think my faith would be affected too much. Why? Because the central truths of the Christian faith are not affected by inerrancy. I come across so many people who think that if they expose one error in the Bible, the entire Christian worldview will fall apart like the proverbial house of cards. This is simply not true.
Consider this illustration that Mike Licona gives: There were 712 survivors when the Titanic sank. These survivors were divided as to how the ship went down. Some said it broke in half, then went down. Others said it went down intact. There is a contradiction in testimony, right? So what do we do with this contradiction? Of all the options, there is no sane person out there who would say, “Well, since we don’t have consistent testimony as to what condition the Titanic was in when it sank, we have to give up our belief that it sunk altogether.” Yet that is exactly what some skeptics propose we do with the story of Christ and his resurrection. Every testimony that we have in the Gospels says that Christ died on a cross and rose from the grave. Just because we may have some conflicting accounts as to the details does not mean we abandon the consistent testimony about the main event.
Now, I believe that what most people see as conflicting accounts in the Gospels only strengthen their testimony, since the accounts show that they are looking at the same event, from different perspectives, without collaboration among the authors. However, even if they do conflict here and there, there is no rational reason to deny the resurrection of Christ any more than we would deny the sinking of the Titanic due to conflicting accounts.
I think this is a fundamental principle that inerrantists such as myself need to be more vocal in conceding in today’s world. I find many people who wear inerrancy on their sleeve just as prominently as historicity. This can get us into trouble as we tie inerrancy too closely with the Gospel. Historicity is the issue. Did the central events actually occur? If they did, Christianity is true, no matter how many angels John says were at the tomb, not matter whether Abiathar was high priest at the time of David, no matter what Pilate wrote on the sign above the cross, and no matter how Judas died. I believe in inerrancy because I believe in the historicity of the central Gospel message. I don’t believe in historicity because I believe in inerrancy. Christianity is true if Christ historically rose from the dead, period. It is false if he historically did not rise from the dead, period.
Think about this for a moment. I have argued that the central truths of Christianity are not dependent on inerrancy. But I would also say Christianity is not dependent on the inspiration of the Bible either. In other words, the Bible does not even have to be inspired for Christianity to be true. We could just think of the eyewitness accounts in what we call the New Testament as twenty-seven ancient historical documents. Being such, we could simply evaluate their truthfulness like we would any other historical document. If the document passes the tests of history, then that which it records (the resurrection of Jesus) is true. Hence, Christianity is true. No inspiration needed.
In fact (to take this one step further), we don’t even necessarily need the Scripture at all for Christianity to be true. Think about it. What if God had not given us the twenty-seven New Testament books? Would that mean that historically, Christ did not rise from the dead? Of course not. Why? Because Christ’s advent and resurrection did not happen because the Bible says they did, the Bible says they did because historically, they happened. But what if we did not have the New Testament? Well, we would be in good company, as there have been innumerable Christians throughout the history of the church who did not have access to the New Testament. How did the earliest church receive the Gospel? Through preaching, unwritten tradition, and generally reliable hearsay. God could have used any number of means to communicate the advent, death, and resurrection of his Son other than pen and paper. Direct prophecy, dreams, angelic encounters, or even the mouths of donkeys are all possible means by which the central truths of the Christian faith could have been preserved. The point is that Christianity is not dependent upon an inerrant text.
Again, having said all of this, I do believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. I love the Scripture because I love God. But I worship Christ, not the Bible. I thank God that he gave us an inerrant Bible. I believe that having an inerrant text can make us more confident in not only the central truths, but also the details of God’s will. I do believe that inerrancy is important and that we should continue to argue with some energy that the text is true in everything it teaches. However, this energy needs to be residual energy. Our primary energy needs to focus on the primary issue: did Jesus rise from the dead historically. All dominoes fall from there.
Inerrancy is important, but not cardinal. And while it may be a defining characteristic of Evangelicalism, it is not the defining characteristic of Evangelicalism.
(However, I must admit something: I probably would never hire someone to be a fellow at Credo House who did not believe that the Bible was true in everything it teaches. Maybe this is an inconsistency. I don’t know.)