Should we Break Fellowship over this Issue?

Should An Inerrantist Break Fellowship With A Non-Inerrantist Over Inerrancy?

The ICBI did not believe that inerrancy should be a test for evangelical fellowship. It declared: “We deny that such a confession is necessary for salvation” (CSBI, Art. 19). And “we do not propose that his statement be given creedal weight” (CSBI, Preamble). In short, it is not a test of evangelical authenticity, but of evangelical consistency. One can be saved without believing in inerrancy. So, holding to inerrancy is not a test of spiritual fellowship; it is a matter of theological consistency. Brothers in Christ can fellowship on the basis of belonging to the same spiritual family, without agreeing on all non-salvific doctrines, even some very important ones like inerrancy. In view of this, criticizing inerrantists of evangelical “fratricide” seriously misses the mark and itself contributes to disunity in the body of evangelical believers. Indeed, in the light of the evidence, the ethical charge against inerrantists seriously backfired.

Should Unity be Put Above Orthodoxy?

One of the fallacies of the anti-inerrancy movement is the belief that unity should be sought at all cost. Apparently no one told this to the apostle Paul who defended Christianity against legalism or to Athanasius who defended the deity of Christ against Arius, even though it would split those who believed in the deity of Christ from those, like Arius and his followers, who denied it. The truth is, when it comes to essential Christian doctrine, it would be better to be divided by the truth than to be united by error. If every doctrinal dispute, including those on the Trinity, deity of Christ, and inspiration of Scripture, used the unity over orthodoxy principle that one hears so much about in current inerrancy debate, then there would be not much orthodox Christian Faith left. As Rupertus Meldinius (d. 1651) put it, “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity.” But as we saw above, the inerrancy of Scripture is an essential doctrine of the Christian Faith because all other doctrines are based on it. So, it is epistemologically fundamental to all other biblical teachings.

Is Debate Contrary to Christian Love?

Even the editors of the Five Views book, who spent considerable time promoting harmony in doctrinal discussions, admit that the two are not incompatible. They claim: “There is a place for well-reasoned, lucid, and spirited argumentation” (Merrick, 312). They add, “Certainly, debate over concepts and ideas involve[s] description, analysis, and clear reasoning” (Merrick, 316). Indeed, the apostle Paul “reasoned’ with the Jews from the Scriptures (Acts 17:2) and tried to “persuade Jews and Greek” (Acts 18:4). He taught Church leaders “to rebuke” those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9). Jude urged believers to “contend for the Faith” (v. 3). In view of Peter’s defection, Paul “opposed him to his face” (Gal. 2:11). Indeed, Paul and Barnabas “had no small dissension and debate” with the legalists from Judea (Acts 15:2). Sometimes, a refutation or even a rebuke is the most loving thing one can do to defend the truth.

Our supreme example, Jesus, certainly did not hesitate to use strong words and to take strong actions against His opponent’s views and actions (Mat. 23; John 2:15-17). There are in fact times when a vigorous debate is necessary against error. Love—tough love—demands it. All of these activities can occur within the bound of Christian love.  John Calvin and Martin Luther were certainly no theological pansies when it came to defending the truth of the Christian Faith. But by the standards of conduct urged by non-inerrantists, there would have been no orthodox creeds and certainly no Reformation. And should any knowledgeable evangelical charge the Reformers with being unethical because they vigorously defended Scripture or salvation by faith alone? Of course not!

Does Unloving Debate Invalidate Inerrancy?

Most scholars on both sides of this debate recognize that the answer is “No.” Abusing marriage does not make marriage wrong. The evil use of language does not make language evil. And abusing inerrancy by some does not make it wrong for all to believe it. Even if one would speak truth in an unloving way, it would not make it false. Likewise, one can speak error in a loving way, but it does not make it true. Of course, we should always try to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). But when the truth is not spoken in love it does not transform the truth into an error. Accordingly, Vanhoozer rightly wondered whether “Enns, too quickly identifies the concept of inerrancy itself with its aberrations and abuses” (Vanhoozer, 302).

Is It Improper to Put Scholarly Articles Online?

Some have objected to carrying on a scholarly discussion on the Internet, as opposed to using scholarly journals. My articles on Mike Licona’s denial of inerrancy (see were subject to this kind of charge. However, given the electronic age in which we live, this is an archaic charge. Dialogue is facilitated by the Internet, and responses can be made much more quickly and by more people. Further, much of the same basic material posted on the Internet was later published in printed scholarly journals.

In a November 18, 2012 paper for The Evangelical Philosophical Society, Mike Licona speaks of his critics saying “bizarre” things like “bullying” people around, of having “a cow” over his view, and of engaging in a “circus” on the Internet. Further, he claims that scholarly critics of his views were “targeting” him and “taking actions against” him. He speaks about those who have made scholarly criticisms of his view as “going on a rampage against a brother or sister in Christ.” And he compares it to the statement of Ammianus Marcellinus who wrote, “no wild beasts are such dangerous enemies to man as Christians are to one another.” Licona complained about critics of his view, saying, “I’ve been very disappointed to see the ungodly behavior of a few of my detractors. The theological bullying, the termination and internal intimidation put on a few professors in SBC…all this revealed the underbelly of fundamentalism.” He charged that I made contacts with seminary leaders in an attempt to get him kicked out of his positions on their staff. The truth is that I made no such contacts for no such purposes. To put it briefly, it is strange that we attack those who defend inerrancy and defend those who attack inerrancy.

While it is not unethical to use the Internet for scholarly articles, it wrong to make the kind of unethical response that was given to the scholarly articles such as that in the above citations. Such name-calling has no place in a scholarly dialogue. Calling the defense of inerrancy an act of “bullying” diminishes their critic, not them. Indeed, calling one’s critic a “tar baby” and labeling their actions as “ungodly behavior” is a classic example of how not to defend one’s view against its critics.

What is more, while Licona condemned the use of the Internet to present scholarly critiques of his view as a “circus,” he refused to condemn an offensive YouTube cartoon produced by his son-in-law and his friend that offensively caricatured my critique of his view as that of a theological “Scrooge.” Even Southern Evangelical Seminary (where Licona was once a faculty member before this issue arose) condemned this approach in a letter from “the office of the president,” saying, “We believe this video was totally unnecessary and is in extremely poor taste” (Letter, 12/9/2011). One influential alumnus wrote the school, saying, “It was immature, inappropriate and distasteful” and recommended that “whoever made this video needs to pull it down and apologize for doing it” (Letter, 12/21/2011). The former president of the SES student body declared: “I’ll be honest that video was outright slander and worthy of punishment. I was quite angry after watching it” (Letter, 12/17/2011). This kind of unapologetic use of the Internet by those who deny the CSBI view of inerrancy of the Bible is uncalled for and unethical. It does the perpetrators and their cause against inerrancy no good.

Is Disciplinary Action Sometimes Called For In Organizations Like ETS?

“Judge not” is a mantra of our culture, and it has penetrated evangelical circles as well. But ironically, even that statement is a judgment. Rational and moral people must make judgments all the time. This is true in theology as well as in society. Further, discipline on doctrinal matters is not unprecedented in ETS. Indeed, the ETS By Laws provide for such action, saying: “A member whose writings or teachings have been challenged at an annual business meeting as incompatible with the Doctrinal Basis of the Society, upon majority vote, shall have his case referred to the executive committee, before whom he and his accusers shall be given full opportunity to discuss his views and the accusations. The executive committee shall then refer his case to the Society for action at the annual business meeting the following year. A two-thirds majority vote of those present and voting shall be necessary for dismissal from membership” (Article 4, Section 4). This procedure was followed carefully in the Robert Gundry case.

In point of fact, the ETS has expressed an interest in monitoring and enforcing its doctrinal statement on inerrancy from the beginning. The official ETS minutes record the following:

1. In 1965, ETS Journal policy demanded a disclaimer and rebuttal of Dan Fuller’s article denying factual inerrancy published in the ETS Bulletin. They insisted  “that an article by Dr. Kantzer be published simultaneously with the article by Dr. Fuller and that Dr. Schultz include in that issue of the Bulletin a brief explanation regarding the appearance of a view point different from that of the Society”(1965).

2. In 1965, speaking of some who held “Barthian” views of Scripture, the Minutes of the ETS Executive Committee read: “President Gordon Clark invited them to leave the society.”

3. The 1970 Minutes of ETS affirm that “Dr. R. H. Bube for three years signed his membership form with a note on his own interpretation of infallibility. The secretary was instructed to point out that it is impossible for the Society to allow each member an idiosyncratic interpretation of inerrancy, and hence Dr. Bube is to be requested to sign his form without any qualifications, his own integrity in the matter being entirely respected” (emphasis added). This reveals efforts by ETS to protect and preserve the integrity of its doctrinal statement.

4. In 1983, by a 74% majority vote of the membership, Robert Gundry was asked to resign from ETS for his views based on Jewish midrash genre by which he held that sections of Matthew’s Gospel were not historical, such as the story of the Magi (Mat. 2:1-12).

5. In the early 2000s, while I was still a member of the ETS Executive Committee, a majority voted not to allow a Roman Catholic to join ETS largely on the testimony of one founder (Roger Nicole) who claimed that the ETS doctrinal statement on inerrancy was meant to exclude Roman Catholics.

6. In 2003, by a vote of 388 to 231 (nearly 63%) the ETS expressed its position that Clark Pinnock’s views were contrary to the ETS doctrinal statement on inerrancy. This failed the needed two-third majority to expel him from the society, but it revealed a strong majority who desired to monitor and enforce the doctrinal statement.

Finally, preserving the identity and integrity of any organization calls for doctrinal discipline on essential matters. Those organizations which neglect doing this are doomed to self-destruction.