John MacArthur’s Recent Conference on Inerrancy
By Dr. William C. Roach
Note: Video for the The Master’s Seminary 2015 Inerrancy Summit discussed in this article can be found here.
The recent Conference on Inerrancy hosted by John MacArthur and The Master’s Seminary (March 3-8, 2015) was an important event in the life of contemporary evangelicalism. Evangelical leaders from around the country and the world convened upon Los Angeles, California to discuss the importance of the famous “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” for twentieth century evangelicalism and the church international. Unashamedly the speakers made one point clear: If evangelicalism is going to have a continued effect for Christ in our lives, we must remain whole heartedly committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and unashamed to preach the Bible as God’s Holy Word. The conference adds a significant second voice to a reaffirmation of this historic statement. Joining with DefendingInerrancy.com, which has already collected nearly 50,000 names in support of the total inerrancy of Scripture, a powerful voice is now being raised for this generation in defense of Holy Scripture.
Following events of this significance always calls for reflection. The watching world and church sometimes needs to be reminded of the importance of the event and the details of the issue. With that caveat in place, the following I am going to very briefly lay out five of the most pressing issues facing the inerrancy of Scripture, and how this movement for Inerrancy is a much needed event in the life of evangelicalism.
1. Authority and Tradition
Simply put, the Bible is first and foremost a divine book. God is the primary cause of Scripture and for that reason, the Bible carries with it divine authority. The framers of the Chicago Statement sought to articulate a thoroughgoing Protestant declaration on the nature of the Scriptures. The official commentary states, “This article, as well as Article II, makes the statement clearly a Protestant one. Thought it is true that that Roman Catholic Church has consistently and historically maintained a high view of the inspiration of Holy Scripture, there remains the unresolved problem of the uniqueness and sufficiency of biblical authority for the church.” Therefore, they claim, “We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God. We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the church, tradition, or any other human source.”
Immediately, one should contrast the two sources: divine versus human. The reason evangelicals affirm the sole authority of the Scriptures is because the Bible, and the Bible alone, has divine origin; hence, it has divine authority and is able to bind the conscience in matters of faith and practice. Tradition, in contra-distinction to Catholic claims, has a human origin; consequently, it does not have the absolute authority to bind the conscience in matters of faith and practice. Roman Catholics believe both the Scriptures and tradition are able to bind the conscience. But in making that claim, they are by necessity admitting the Scriptures are not the supreme written norm, and denying that the church is subordinate to the Scriptures. On the other hand, Protestants are clear that Scripture and Scripture alone, is the supreme written norm that binds the conscience.
Evangelicals need to be clear to address the fact that we are not Roman Catholics, nor should we try to act like there is some sort of ecumenical unity between Protestants and Catholics on this matter (or a host of other matters). The absolute authority and sufficiency of Scripture was the formal cause of the Reformation, and now is not the time for Protestants to quit protesting against Rome’s claims about the theoretical equal authority of tradition and Scripture, and the practical authority tradition takes over Scripture in their system. Indeed, we still stand with the Reformed churches, who claim that tradition has ministerial authority over the body of Christ, not magisterial authority.
2. Revelation and the Inerrancy of the Whole
The Scriptures are a revelation given to us by God. The Scriptures are not a witness to revelation, nor do they require response to become revelation, nor do they merely contain revelation. Instead, they are revelation. Several theologians throughout the years have denied that the Bible is objectively given revelation. They claim revelation requires the written Scriptures plus something else (e.g., dynamic response, perlocutionary effect, and so forth). These views have commonly been labeled as existential or neo-Orthodox approaches to Scriptures.
The Chicago Statement thoroughly sought to withstand these types of claims, maintaining, “We deny that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.” Consequently, they stated, “We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.”
Evangelical theologians as of late, however, have developed an infatuation with neo-Orthodoxy. They maintain alongside Barth that the Bible can be the revelation of God and contain the admixture of error. They are not bothered when theologians claim the Scriptures are generally true, even though they contain the admixture of error. All that matters, so they maintain, is the general message of Scripture be true, not the finer historical points and details.
Carl Henry was right when he claimed, “Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communication by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality.” In addition, “The nature, content, and variety [of revelation] are exclusively God’s determination.” In other words, the source of revelation is God. God’s character and nature determine the character and nature of Scripture—not humanity, Ancient Near Eastern cultural customs, or so-called acceptable historical and biographical practices.
Basic to each pronouncement of Scripture is that God is the sole source, ultimate originator and determiner of revelation. God’s pronouncements rightly represent God’s nature; Scripture is a pronouncement of God; therefore, Scripture rightly represents God’s nature. In the final analysis, then, an attack on the total truthfulness of the Bible, or claiming the Scriptures contain truth with the admixture of error, is an attack on the character of God and the purity of his nature. Can God lie? May it never be!
3. The Nature of Truth and Accommodation
If God is the ultimate source of Scripture, and the determiner of revelation, and the basis for all Scriptural truth claims rest upon his nature; and if it be admitted that humanity is depraved, and that the world has been plunged into sin, so that our minds, culture, society, etc. are fallen; then one would be correct to say there is a cosmic battle between the truth claims of God’s divine revelation and the truth claims of humanity, society, and culture.
Clearly the history of redemption insists that humanity lives in constant rebellion against God. Truly there is no one who seeks God, no not one! All of turned away from him. All are living idol making factories. Each of us and every society have been plagued by the social and noetic effects of sin. Consequently, there are cultural ideals and claims that mount up against the truth claims of God.
Sometimes these claims assert that we can become like God. Other times they claim God did not fashion the world in a particular way, whether it be the construction of the cosmos or the actual inherent value of humanity. Still, further, there are times when humanity claims that God’s pronouncements are not true or that Jesus and Paul were merely flawed and errant men. Sadly, whether it be through the influence of major political or religious leaders, or the proddings of an influential parent, or the instruction of an influential teacher; each of us are prone to distort the truth and believe that lies actually corresponds to reality, the Scriptural reality included.
The scholarly effect of this distortion of reality is known as accommodation. Academia insists that Scripture cannot be making timeless truth claims because they are restricted by natural and finite limitations. Subsequently, many of these academics claim the Scriptures merely reflect the cultural milieu and the customs of the people. Therefore, it is the task of the scholar to recognize these erred reflections and to sort out the wheat from the chaff, the true from the speculative, real from the falsely claimed. In effect, culture and society serve as the determiner of revelation and the corrector of Scriptural claims.
For example, scholars claim research indicates humanity is merely the byproduct of evolution or that Adam is merely a hominoid representative for the rest of humanity. Others will claim Jesus was merely reflecting the cultural customs of his day, or Paul was merely a pre-literate man saturated in the false views of his day; therefore, he was not really qualified to speak about the historical Adam or the truthfulness of gender roles.
Fundamental to this errant thesis is the claim that God is not the source and determiner of all revelation. But what is also fundamental to the Bible’s clear teaching is the Scriptures serve to confront and correct all other worldviews. So the practical effects being, if Scripture and any other worldview or truth claims conflict, one who submits to the authority of Scripture must submit to the Bible’s truth claims. In the final analysis—we are to use Scripture as a weapon to confront the errant views of opposing worldviews (for it is the instrument by which we tear down intellectual and moral strongholds)—we are not to allow speculative and errant worldviews to confront and attack the biblical worldview or the Scriptures. May the Word of the Lord stand forever!
4. Hermeneutics and Inerrancy
Some battles for the Bible are actually battles for the Bible. Some battles for the Bible are actually battles for one’s interpretation of the Bible. Consequently, some interpretations of the Bible do not undermine the total truthfulness of the Bible; while some interpretations do undermine the total truthfulness of the Bible. In other words, each group approaches the Bible, and each group interprets the Bible. But not all approaches uphold the total truthfulness of Scripture and consequently, some can actually undermine the inerrancy of the Bible by the way they handle the text of Holy Scripture.
Many evangelicals today are asking: Is inerrancy a hermeneutic? The short answer is, yes! The CSBI clearly believed only the grammatical-historical approach to Scripture methodologically and consistently upholds and affirms the inerrancy of the Bible. Article XVIII states:
We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.
We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teachings, or rejecting its claims to authorship.
Some believe the classic-evangelical insistence upon the grammatico-historical interpretation of Scripture is nothing more than wooden-headed literalism. They claim evangelicals cannot distinguish between different literary styles and resort to ridicule rather than rationally engage the issue.
One thing that needs to be remembered is that all of the arguments raised against the inerrancy of Scripture are really old arguments dressed in contemporary clothing. Carl Henry addressed a similar issue in his day. Henry recognizes some evangelicals might be inconsistent with the literal method; however, that is not an argument against the method per se, but the use or abuse of the method. He also notes it was not evangelicalism that first subverted a literal interpretation to modernism, but neo-Protestantism by labeling the miracle claims of Scripture as legend and myth. Henry suggests the best way to know whether the author intends for the text is to be taken literally or figuratively is from the context of the passage. He warns his readers noting,
Evaluation of an author’s intention can, of course, be manipulated by critical presuppositions . . . . Surely writers who use sayings or events for apologetic purposes need not require or presuppose the nonfactuality of those sayings or events. Yet Barr proposes that we take ‘very seriously’ what is nonfactual, and dignifies this approach as literal interpretation. (God, Revelation and Authority 4:127–128).
Henry believes individuals attempt to escape the literal method by examining the authors supposed intention, when in reality they repudiate the literal interpretation of the Bible and use authorial intention to gut the Scriptures of their literal meaning. He concludes that this new “literal method” used by these neo-evangelicals (e.g., individuals going beyond the tenets of historic or classical evangelicalism), is a result of their disdain for the inspiration of the Scriptures. Furthermore, when they do make use of a “literal” interpretation, they do so upon the premise that the Bible is not historically and factually accurate.
5. Health of the Church
Ideas have consequences. Truth matters. And the idea about the total truthfulness of Scripture matter, bearing eternal consequences for the health of the church and the lives of individuals worldwide.
Francis Schaeffer reminds us, “We have seen then that as Bible-believing Christians we are locked in a battle in the arena of ideas. But in the area of actions there is a direct parallel. Ideas are never neutral and abstract. Ideas have consequences in the way we live and act, both in our personal lives and in the culture as a whole.” (The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer: The Great Evangelical Disaster, 4:315).
One must ask: Can one really expect Christians worldwide to remain true to the message and ethic of Jesus Christ if they no longer believe in the total truthfulness of Scripture? Ideas have consequences. If the battle for the Bible is really the watershed for evangelical identity and consistency, one might rightly ask: Can one really expect individual Christians to not bend the Bible in their individual theological beliefs and moral lives if the Scriptures are no longer completely true? Ideas have consequences.
If we no longer have an inerrant Bible, divine promises lack all assurance and moral imperatives cease to bind the conscience. If we no longer have an inerrant Bible, preaching becomes null and void, for the preacher is merely communicating one man’s interpretation of a pre-historic individual who happened to write down his thoughts over two-thousand years ago.
The mark of our age is that society holds all of its beliefs tentatively and seeks to reevaluate religious claims daily. Sadly evangelicals are not inoculated to this trend, and some are starting to reevaluate the practical effects of denying the inerrancy of Scripture. Unfortunately, many evangelicals have neglected to heed the voice of their twentieth century prophet, Francis Schaeffer, who warned of this very thing. He warned of the practical effects of denying the inerrancy of Scripture for both evangelicalism and culture. Schaeffer warns that if we give up the Bibles own self-testimony and Jesus’ claims for the Scriptures, we will no longer be the redeeming salt for our culture or faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ. Schaeffer goes on to note, saying:
Here then is the watershed of the evangelical world. We must say most lovingly but clearly: evangelicalism is not consistently evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a view of Scripture and those who do not. But remember that we are not just talking about an abstract theological doctrine. It makes little difference in the end if Scripture is compromised by theological infiltration from the surrounding culture. It is the obeying of Scripture which is the watershed—obeying the bible equally in doctrine and in the way we live in the full spectrum of life. (Ibid., 343).
Let’s consider the battle that we’re in as evangelical Christians. God’s Word will never pass away, but the history of redemption since the foundation of the world indicates that men will either blatantly rebel against the text of Scripture, or they will try to hide it under the bushel of profound intellectual and speculative theories.
The implications of these efforts for the doctrine of inerrancy, calls for us to consider the nature and authority of Scripture, alongside the proper function of Christ’s church and the practice of truth by Christians. We at DefendingInerrancy.com join with MacArthur and TMS Conference on Inerrancy in support of the landmark statements of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in defense of this historic doctrine.