The Third Rail of Inerrancy (#556)

Evangelicals have set up camp around their belief that the Scriptures are inerrant. They judge people's faith on that belief, even if the word itself isn't used in Scripture. What does inerrancy mean? Does the book have to be inerrant to be fully trusted as God's revelation of himself? Wayne and Brad jump on this third rail of Christianity questioning the value of declaring the Bible inerrant while still affirming it as the book that gives an objective basis to appreciate our life in the Spirit. Why is it that those who are most willing to die on the mountain of inerrancy seem to lack the disposition and character of God in their lives and ministry? Was the Bible meant to replace the Spirit as our guide into all truth? You can celebrate the objective reality of Scripture while embracing a relationship with his Spirit that helps us live in its reality.

Podcast Notes:
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
Andy Stanley Responds to his Critics
Wayne's Travel Schedule
You can find our latest update on our work in Kenya here.
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  1. There is indeed more going on than we can see, and we are far richer than we know. So, we need to do better at surrender and submission to divine LOVE, to Christ.

  2. Brilliant conversation guys! You are not moonlighting for a security agency are you? The reason is I think you must have bugged a meeting I was in this week! Some of us were being hammered by ‘THE INERRANT WORD OF GOD.’ Grace and humility was greatly lacking. What you said much more eloquently puts into words the thoughts and feelings some of us had afterwards.

  3. The whole inerrancy thing I’ve never been quite able to follow. One of the issues, on a very base level is that if you have 2 different bibles & they say even one thing slightly differently, then there goes your inerrancy argument right out the window.
    I am no longer a pentecostal / evengelical. I have spent a goodly amount of time untangling myself from that nasty web. And it seems for me anyway, the more understanding that comes to light, then the more ridiculous & cult like ‘the church’ (as they call it) is.
    The more I see & hear of Christians & their behavior towards one another & towards those who they think are ‘going to hell’ then the less I really want to do with it. Please note that the ‘it’ in the last sentence relates to the organisation.
    I’m truly thankful to God for seeing me through a perilous journey where everything I thought I knew was tipped on it’s head. I have lost most things I held dear because of it. But he’s been most faithful.

  4. I remember a bro who, back in the 1980’s, wanted to work with Wycliffe Bible Translators. He would have to sign on to “biblical inerrancy.” What could I say?
    Today, I would say that our Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God and that the Writings (ie., “Scripture”) speak about the Word of God and that I believe in the plenary inspiration of the Writings–that God has, throughout history, guided those who handle the Writings. Whether those who handle scripture in fact follow that guiding…

  5. I’ve been waiting for this talk for a long time now. This topic has been a source of much inner angst for me as I’ve bucked this inerrancy talk for quite a while now, and even lost a friend or two over it. I think people cling to the inerrancy thing for the same reason many will cling to organized religion. I was talking with an old friend here the other day about my latest experience “working” with an organized group, attempting to model a bit of “disorganized” church leadership with them while encouraging a culture of total group involvement and leadership. His response to my attempt to disassemble the “status quo” pyramid leadership structure was that, without the leadership structure in organized religion, his fear was that the church would devolve into anarchy. Ultimately they are afraid of freedom, and they should be. Freedom for EVERYONE will only work for a short amount of time unless there is a rule to follow, a voluntary rule, an unwritten rule, a rule that is written into the being of people. Because if there are a bunch of written rules with a policing mechanism to enforce them, we are losing touch of freedom, as one rule leads to another rule and requires more policing, and so on until freedom is gone and a dictatorship of sorts is formed which now will tell people what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. God, however, appears to be moving in the opposite direction. Over the centuries He gives and enforces rules for children, but as they mature, while the spirit behind the rules remains, he is lessening those rules and is offering more and more freedom while also writing into our character the one rule that allows freedom to work for everyone; Matt7:12 “So in everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets.” This “love” is the only collective common denominator that allows freedom for everyone, but can be enforced by no one. Rules, cages, and boxes are for little children, fearful grown-ups, animals, and things, while freedom is for those on a path to maturity, loved by their Father and learning to live in that same love, knowing and relying on the love Father has for us, building confidence, driving out fear. Love always trusts…that love, taking the uncharted highroad, is the best way. I don’t obsess over OBEYing the rules given me by my father in my youth, but they remain the outer guardrails by which I live my life.
    I have another friend who is in prison more often than not. He phoned me a while back and told me how good he felt and how good he was doing…”but bro, you’re in prison. You’re locked up like a dog in a cage, how can that be good??” He was happier than I had ever seen him out of prison because he felt good about himself; he had a “good” relationship with the guards, some mutual “respect” with the other inmates, and was following all the rules and not getting into any sort of trouble by making poor decisions for himself in the real world. Enough said.

    • Hi Kevin, I could not agree more with you. I ran a workshop with my colleague recently talking to pastors about churches and companies that run incredibly well with no hierarchical leadership and control. Some ministers just did not get it. For some I think the problem was that they give up power which requires a loss of ego. I think for others the whole concept of no one being in charge other than the Holy Spirit (who only leads with gentle nudges) is a little beyond comprehension. It might not be they are egotistical, they just need more time to understand how and why leaderless organisations work so well. I think we needed to give them more of the values, principles and behaviours that underlie leaderless organisations. From your writing you clearly have some understanding of that. If you want some reaserch to lean on in any discussions I recommend books ‘Reinventing organisations,’ Fredric Lalloux. This is a marvellous and very hopeful book about new ways to run business charities and schools. Highly applicable to churches too. Book comes in two versions – simple illustrated version and the more complex and academic. Brilliant astonishing book! Also Church Uncorked: leadership that releases our potential by Catherine Cowell and Sean Kennedy. The latter book Wayne interviewed the authors back in late 2015. I quietly confess I’m one of those authors. Whatever book you choose you will find clear examples of how and why leaderless organisations can work so well. Blessings to you Kevin

    • Oh man! I resonate with your heart Kevin. Love, yes, isn’t the what Jesus came to show us most of all about God?! Not wrath and anger, but loving redemption! I’m still reeling from yet another bashing by a “Brother” who holds on dearly to his inerrancy and fundamentalist beliefs, even to the point of judging me a “heretic”. He quoted a lot of Paul, but never mentioned Jesus (Sermon on the Mount & Greatest Commandment come to my mind). This is where the Bible gets used for “thumping” instead of loving, and sadly driving people away from the One who can satisfy all the deepest needs and wants of their heart and soul. Yet, here too we must show grace and mercy lest we become part of the problem ourselves. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy indeed!

  6. “This love is the only collective common denominator that allows freedom for everyone, but can be enforced by no one.” Love that, Kevin! If we could just learn to live by love freedom would be not only awesome, but completely safe! Love IS the freedom we are waiting for.

  7. Well this is encouraging! I thought I’d be coming to the party as the only Heretic in the room, but it looks like a few others got the same memo.

    So here goes.

    Yes, applause applause, first to Wayne and Brad for diving into this subject. As they mentioned with regard to the firestorm unleashed on Andy Stanley, it does seem to be a “third rail” of evangelicalism, so they are right to tread lightly. For that reason, we need to cut TGJ plenty of slack in the discussion and recognize that they are simply not in the position to alienate alot of people who are not ready to question inerrancy. And applause applause to Kevin, Patrick and Sean for thoughtful insights.

    Now the plunge (or, perhaps more appropriately, pile up the sticks around me and soak them with oil).

    Inerrancy and indeed the so-called canon of scripture is likely a crutch for our spiritual immaturity (or, worse, a tool to manipulate people into behaviors deemed necessary by [fill in the blank]). Now, before you light the match, let me say that I do not think we need to throw out the Bible or that there is no value to what we have all come to cherish about the books that have come down to us through the ages. These writings are profound. They do speak alot of truth about God, the nature of the universe, mankind’s place in that universe and God’s plan for redeeming us all from our determined waywardness from him. None of us should judge or condemn anyone else for how they do (or do not) value these writings. If you feel that the bible is helpful to your journey and the relationship you are discovering with God, that’s wonderful! If someone else feels that the bible is not as helpful, that’s fine, too! In all things, we are all only trusting in God’s tender mercies. To the extent that any of us are trusting in *anything* else to keep us out of error, or to lead us back to him, we are mistaken. But, as Wayne once said, “That’s OK. God loves idiots, too!” He’s big enough to redeem us from the worst mistakes and show us when we are wrong.

    So I have to meekly disagree with the podcast when the Guys say that people who do not subscribe to the inerrancy of the bible or do not hold the bible as the only, inspired words of God are somehow more likely to stray into sin or have a worse relationship with Jesus than a bible-believer. I submit that we either believe that the Spirit *can* and *does* lead us— I mean, really and truly lead us in the here and now, day to day living— or let’s pack up this whole show as a bunch of nonsense and live like the rest of the world, as best we can. It’s no good saying that God can guide us into all truth and then turn around and say that anyone who actually lives like that is bound to fall into sin.

    The heart of the matter seems to be what Kevin/Patrick/Sean allude to above: it’s about love and relationship. Any of us are perfectly capable of choosing to sin and live selfishly with or without the bible. The podcast talks about people who justify their sin (such as having an affair/infidelity) by saying that they are led by the Spirit etc… That’s no proof of anything. We can find just as many examples of people who have affairs and then quote bible verses to justify it as easily. When we are determined to sin and go our own way, we will not be deterred by bible verses. It’s not a lack of “objective reality” that causes people to have affairs. It’s just selfishness and a lack of relationship with Jesus.

    I know because it happened to me.

    At the time of my plunge into sin, I didn’t lack any bible verses. I memorized plenty of them over the years. I had all the evangelical theology and all the marriage conferences and ministry badges. The couples’ groups. If we somehow imagine that the bible keeps anyone from sinning, we are creating a False Idol. We have a distorted view of God. We need to understand that no one and nothing truly keeps us from sin. Sure, for years I may have suppressed the urges and desires, but the reality was there. Until Jesus satisfies those deep needs and untwists the broken places inside of us, no amount of bible reading or scripture memorization will keep us safe. We aren’t safe, period. And we only fool ourselves thinking that if I just read my bible everyday that it will somehow make me less likely to fall than anyone else without the bible.

    I realize that many of us are not ready for a life without the bible as the inspired writings of God. That’s fine. My only, real point here is that we get real with God. With or without the bible, it’s all about facing up to just how absolutely needy and dependent we are on him. Our capacity to ruin our lives and the lives of people we thought we loved is horrifyingly limitless. Whether the bible is or is not the absolute, inerrant writing of God is besides the point. It’s all about him and his love. Somehow he will get us home.

    • Silent T, anyone is welcome to disagree with any of the podcasts in these pages, but please don’t accuse us of being less than honest for fear of alienating our audience. It’s just ridiculous. This comment section is better off when people aren’t making assumptions about other people’s motives or guessing about their level of honesty or diplomacy. Hopefully we’re all sharing honestly and all still growing in our ability to see and embrace his reality.

  8. Sorry guys. My apologies. I take you at your word, no punches pulled, no pressure felt.

  9. Wow, I thought my brother and I were alone in our thinking! My brother likes to state philosophically that the Writings are a subset of a greater (larger body of) truth. We argue passionately that the sciences, art, philosophy, and mathematics all point to Father. The writings unpack the reality of the ways Father has personally interacted with His creation. That all said, the single point of failure in man’s pursuit of truth is the fallibility of man and his perceptions. Truth however, is completely infallible! By it’s nature truth is always the same (I AM the Way, The Truth..etc). The writings have technical issues and have even been co-opted to push specific points of view through translation in the past, however the underlying truth is too powerful to be extinguished by anyone! The greatest thing I have learned about the Writings is that they are not some kind of recipe book.
    I thank Father for His revelations and His great love as He uses all truth to draw men to Himself.

  10. I think I hear what you’re saying Silent T, and I also know how difficult it is to take from the mind and put it into words using “language” that others would understand with where they’re at. Face to face is so much easier! I love the bible and it has been the cornerstone of my journey to finding personal knowledge and acquiring my own faith. Like you, I too made many mistakes that are regretful while I used the bible solely as a formula or rule book which I memorized, hoping that if I put the words to memory my heart would be changed and I would be “good”. Without the Spirit bringing life to those words I can now see that all I was focused on was the “outside of my cup” and the outside of other’s cups and I got nowhere and my bible cliches were little to no use to others as well. I think the heart of the matter or the point of a father saying anything (written or spoken), is for his kids to get the point, period. I no longer require the bible to be inerrant in order to get the point; I no longer need to understand (literally or figuratively or both) the first three chapters of Genesis in order to get the point; and I no longer need to argue or understand the details of the Revelation to get the point, that God has the personality traits of a Father, who loves his kids, is jealous for their affection as he loves them more than anyone else ever will, would love to involve me in the plan, and will stop at nothing to have those relationships reconciled {2Cor5:18-20}. My bible informs me of this awesome truth, and it is His Spirit that walks me more specifically into this personal reality as I journey in the love of my Father. As children we follow the rules, as adults we embrace the heart of the rules and embrace a lifestyle taught us by our father…if and when we too love and embrace what’s at the heart of the matter. I think this is the inside of the cup which affects the outside, in that order. Just my thoughts, feel free to correct. Thanks for the discussion guys!

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