Inerrancy Is Not Necessary For Evangelicalism Outside The USA

March 18, 2014 — 2 Comments

9780310331360 Yesterday, we examined Peter Enns view in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Today, we start a new section in the book, although it only includes Michael Bird’s contribution. The section is titled “Inerrancy in International Perspective.” While Bird is international, he is still a white male academic (nothing wrong with that). But he has the added virtue of being Australian, and also has a much needed sense of humor.

In his perspective, the “America Inerrancy Tradition” is not necessary outside of the US. He is for inerrancy, just not quite the way the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) articulates it. Instead, he thinks the international view is best represented as a commitment to infallibility and authority (146). Bird thinks that churches round the globe get on just fine without CSBI. And they are able to do so all the while upholding the essential authority and infallibility of the Scriptures.

From this “center of gravity,” Bird reflects a bit on the CSBI. He mistakenly sees it as demanding a strict literal hermeneutic that necessitates young earth creationism (147). He also thinks it pushes a bit too much for harmonization. In a more extended section, he takes up historical considerations laying behind the formulation of the CSBI. In Bird’s estimation, “modern defenders of inerrancy have not given sufficient attention to the philosophical, theological, and hermeneutical paradigms that have often accompanied inerrancy-like affirmations in church history” (154). Finally, Bird feels that inerrancy, as articulated in the CSBI, lends itself to a kind of colonialism as the American church expands.

Rather than “inerrancy,” Bird thinks “veracity” better captures the claims Scripture makes for itself. He then makes a constructive case for the “infallibility” of Scripture in international perspective. Having done this, he then deals with the three biblical test cases. He wrestles with them to some extent, but does not not see any conflict with his understanding of an infallible Bible.

Mohler offers the first critique, seeing Bird as “a friendly critic” and says that we can learn from his approach (174). He sees Bird as a “man I can work with” because he wants to uphold a high view of Scripture (something you get the feel Enns has a hard time arguing for). Mohler points out that most of his critiques of the CSBI fall more on those who misuse it. They use the statement to support a certain hermeneutical stance, rather than the doctrine of inerrnacy itself. In the end, he sees Bird making a case for inerrancy rather than against it (177).

Enns picks up on this as well. He says, “for the most part, whereas I could see Mohler quite unhappy with Bird’s critique of inerrancy by which he began his essay, I am not so sure he would be as alarmed by Bird’s articulation of his own view of Scripture” (183). His strongest disagreement with Bird is how he handles the Canaanite extermination. Specifically, Enns thinks that Bird does not wrestle with what the text actually says (185).

Then Vanhoozer comes along. He too prefers “infallibility” (188). What’s more, he reminds readers that John Frame says that it is the stronger term (188n63). As Vanhoozer defines it, “inerrancy is a subset of infallibility: the Bible is inerrant because its assertions are infallible.” As I did above, he points out that many members of ETS who affirm CSBI (people like me) do not affirm a literal seven day creation (I’ll leave my position on that a mystery for now). In the end, Vanhoozer reminds us that Chicago is no Nicaea. But, it does try preserve that the Bible is wholly truthful and trustworthy in the way it articulates inerrancy (189-190).

Being the postmodernist that he is, Franke resonates with Bird’s concern about colonialism. He sees the idea of asserting that the global church must assent to CSBI in order to be faithful to Scripture as the height of cultural imperialism (194). Since Franke is big on plurality, he welcomes Bird’s invitation to consider alternative accounts of inerrancy. He says that “the plurality of Scripture leads to the conclusion that there will not be a single statement of biblical authority that will be able to do justice to the full scope of the biblical witness” (195).

On the whole, I found Bird engaging. Like everyone except for Enns, he is on-board with the concept of inerrnacy. He wants to uphold the truthfulness and authority of Scripture. He has some misgivings about the CSBI, and is concerned for how it is received in global contexts. At the end of the day, the other contributors (sans Enns) find much to agree with in Brid’s proposal. The general impression I have is that if someone competently explained the CSBI, what it implies and what it doesn’t, and isn’t intent on saying “everyone must subscribe to this statement or they have a low of Scripture,” many of his concerns would evaporate. I appreciated his contribution, and always, enjoyed reading it. In the end though, Vanhoozer has an edge, but Bird might be a bit more playful (which in this conversation, certainly helps lighten the mood). For that, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

2 responses to Inerrancy Is Not Necessary For Evangelicalism Outside The USA

  1. I love how it’s generally the Aussie in these conversations that has the sense of humour, with a u.
    I wonder if you feel the CSBI is misapplied by some with respect to dealing with Genesis, creation, and New Testament references to gender, dress and behaviour that deviate from the western norm?
    Having read through it, and not being too comfortable myself with a commitment to a 6k year old Earth statement, the CSBI doesn’t seem to demand literal modern time 24 hour days in creation, or am I reading it wrong?

    • I think it definitely is. The CSBI argues for literal interpretation, but as Vanhoozer argues, that also means “literate.” So, you can interpret Genesis 1 literarlly and not come to a 6/24hr day conclusion. There are lots of people who assent to CSBI but aren’t young earth creationists.

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