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Inerrancy debate never goes away, Mohler says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Inerrancy is never a settled issue. The debate will never go away, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“It comes part-and-parcel with the modern world. Modernity itself presents a set of issues that are going to have to be answered one way or another,” Mohler said. “Thus, we’ll land either in the affirmation of inerrancy or in some other place. I think inerrancy continues to be a defining issue for what evangelical integrity requires.”

Mohler, as a contributor to a new book, “Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy,” defines and defends the doctrine of inerrancy as articulated in the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

The Chicago Statement is the preeminent evangelical explanation and affirmation of the doctrine of inerrancy of the Scriptures. Nearly 300 evangelical scholars, including Carl F. H. Henry, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, R.C. Sproul, James Montgomery Boice and others signed the statement in 1978. 

In his contribution to Five Views, Mohler asserts inerrancy means “the Bible, as a whole, and in its part, contains nothing but God-breathed truth,” Mohler said in an interview about the book. “When the Bible speaks, God speaks.”

Published by Zondervan, the book addresses the question of the “doctrinal rationale … and Scriptural warrant” of the term “inerrancy” as a way to define the Bible’s truthfulness.

The book features five writers, each articulating different views: Mohler, Peter Enns, Michael F. Bird, Kevin J. Vanhoozer and John R. Franke. The assignment for each contributor was to discuss inerrancy — along with corollary topics like the doctrine of inspiration and the nature of truth — in direct reference to the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. After each chapter, the four other contributors offer a brief response.

Enns writes that the CSBI obstructs “critical dialogue” within evangelicalism and, instead, advocates for an “incarnational model of Scripture” that views Scripture as “a collection of a variety of writings that … reflects the worlds in which those writings were produced.”

Bird expresses appreciation of the CSBI but has significant hesitations regarding its so-called “hermeneutical assumptions,” and the lack of global representation among its framers. Bird, then, argues for a more international view of Scripture that affirms its infallibility and is less exclusive than inerrancy.

Franke, who thinks inerrancy is an unhelpful way to articulate “the core idea of the authority of Scripture as a witness to the mission of God,” posits a “fallibilist perspective” on inerrancy that is “wed to the plurality of truth.”

In his defense of classic inerrancy, Mohler asserts that the Bible is God-breathed truth. His argument for the total inerrancy of Scripture “flows from three major sources — the Bible itself, the tradition of the church and the function of the Bible within the church.” Mohler argues not only for the validity of inerrancy — particularly as the Chicago Statement articulates it — but that “the affirmation of the Bible’s inerrancy has never been more essential to evangelicalism.”

In the interview, Mohler discussed the differences specifically between his and Vanhoozer’s views about inerrancy. Vanhoozer, a research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, differs from Mohler on the Chicago statement, but only in hard-to-define ways, Mohler said.

“It seems to me that Professor Vanhoozer wants to critique the Chicago Statement for failing to say some things that, upon reflection and reading, the Chicago Statement actually said,” Mohler said. “Perhaps they could have been said more clearly. Perhaps they need to be said more loudly. But virtually all the qualifications he demands of the Chicago Statement are actually in the Chicago Statement.”

Vanhoozer argues for a “well-versed” or “Augustinian” inerrancy that recognizes that Scripture is “comprised of language and literature” and asks of the text, “What is the author doing in his discourse, and what is the discourse about?” While he has some reservations about the Chicago Statement, Vanhoozer claims that, “while the term ‘inerrant’ or the concept of inerrancy may be new, the underlying judgment is not.”

Because the debate about inerrancy will never go away, this discussion “makes all the difference in the world” for pastors and their preaching ministry, Mohler said. A pastor’s conviction about biblical inerrancy will inevitably spill over into the pulpit.

“The question is not whether the preacher has something to say but whether God is going to say something through the preacher and through His Word,” Mohler said. “And if the preacher has any question whatsoever about the truth status of the Word of God, it will inevitably shift to the preaching.”
RuthAnne Irvin & Matt Damico write for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The interview with Mohler is available online at www.sbts.edu/blogs/2014/03/05/inerrancy-a-modern-definition-of-an-historic-view. “Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy” is available on Amazon.com and at the LifeWay Christian Store on the Southern Seminary campus. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • RuthAnne Irvin & Matt Damico