I have believed in the doctrine of Inerrancy at various times during my 50 years as a follower of Christ. But I can’t say I have always believed it. For me, the evidence that this doctrine is true gets slimmer as time passes.
I want to make this clear: I am not trying to convince anyone. This is just my journey. This article may help others who are in situations where they cannot express their doubts about Inerrancy and still maintain relationships with other Christians of their tribe.
Just so you know. You can believe whatever you want. These are my struggles.
This morning, I texted my wife and asked if she would read Numbers 31 again. I suggested she read it as if she was not a follower of Christ, and not someone with a high opinion of the Bible. As we digested its contents together, we realized it was saying that God had ORDERED the Israelites to:
Kill all the Midianite boys
Make all the virgin girls their sex slaves
Kill all the women who had sex before
Kill all the men
Set fire to all their towns
Reward the most violent soldiers with more spoils from the massacre.
your head around these stated “facts”: God commanded sex slavery. God
commanded slaughter of children.
The 45 college-aged students were stunned and frightened. Some were weeping, and others were so angry they balled up their fists and held their breath. They looked around as if they were about to be the next victim in a Hallowe’en movie. “Jumpy” describes their mood. Some of them reported weeks later they had not had a good night’s sleep since that horrific weekend.
Was this a murder mystery experience? Did they just do a horror movie marathon? Or did they really experience a supernatural phenomenon?
Actually, none of those things happened. They went on a college-and-career church retreat with their church. They invited a group of seniors from a local Bible College to come and do some teaching and direction for their weekend.
“It will be fun”, they thought.
“It will be instructive”, they hoped.
“It will be the most chaotic moment of our lives”, imagined none of them.
Because the Doctrine of Inerrancy (the belief that the Bible is without error) is the doctrine which holds together all other traditional doctrines, most conservative theologians may allow slippage on other doctrinal positions, but not this one.
They will not even allow it to be challenged. Or questioned. Or modified in any way.
This often leaves people who prefer to examine everything without “just” believing it in a tough spot. If something cannot be challenged, or questioned, or modified, then it becomes the trysting spot upon which allegiance is called for.
In other words, you either accept the entire package or you’re out of the Club. The Club is the group of conservative Evangelicals.
Here is where this conversation comes in. In my 47 years of being a Christian, I have questioned every doctrine of the church continuously and repeatedly. As a result, the things I believe, I believe VERY strongly. The things I question, I question deeply. Because of that, I ask questions about Inerrancy that many of my colleagues have been reluctant to ask, at least openly.
And as a result, I am often cornered by pastors, professors, interested armchair theologians and asked to dialogue about my beliefs on inerrancy.
Two of those conversations are burned into my memory. They were very uncomfortable for me and them.
What I have done here is reproduce both of those into one conversation. I am probably not doing justice to what they said and probably editing/improving my comments. They both know who they are and what they said. If they want, they can publish their own conversations.
Modern society has sharpened its critical focus on food with empty calories. All food and drink has calories. But not all calories are created equal. Some calories benefit our bodies. Some food has calories which only contribute to obesity and illness.
I’ll let y’all figure out which foods go in which category. I’m just using that as an analogy.
Though some fast food chains are trying to make their food more healthy and wholesome, few people believe they’ve accomplished it. Food which has many calories and few healthy elements is often desirable from a taste point of view, but bad for our health.
There are certain doctrines which are like that. They appeal to many people, but actually are harmful to spiritual health and growth. Every generation has doctrines like these, so we should never be surprised to discover them. Hebrews 13:9 has a name for them. It calls them “strange doctrines”. The word means “foreign” in the sense of “something imported”. There are doctrines which come at us like exotic, tasty food. They are not really part of clear historical doctrine, but at first bite they taste so good.
But are they good for us?
I have identified three current teachings in our day which fall into this category of Fast Food Doctrine. For each of these I will simply identify the following features:
1. The Doctrine
2. Why people like it
3. What is wrong with it
4. What you can replace it with that “tastes” similar but is better for you.
One qualifier and explanation before beginning. Most of us, myself included, are not professional theologians. I consider a professional theologian to be someone who has studied, been mentored in, been examined in, and has published in the arena of Theological disciplines. For the most part, the true Theologian should have at least a Masters Degree in Theology. Most of today’s professional theologians have both a doctorate in Theology and have been published in peer-reviewed journals.
I can hear someone saying “anyone who studies the Bible is a theologian.” I call that viewpoint “Credential Bleeding”. It results from diminishing the minimum requirements needed for someone to be considered professional at a task.
It is like someone looking up a medical condition on WebMD and considering themselves as well-informed on it as a doctor. It is like saying that anyone who has ever talked about their faith with someone is a missionary.
When you broaden a definition, you water it down so it means nothing.
I have a Bachelors degree in Theology. I have written papers on theological topics. I read and study theology regularly. Yet I’m nothing more than an amateur. Many pastors are the same. John McArthur, John Piper, Rick Warren, Francis Chan, Bill Johnson, T. D. Jakes, Jack Hayford, are all experienced pastors. They all have opinions on theological topics. In the case of John Piper, he even has a doctorate. But none of them qualify as a professional theologian.
The professionals–such as N. T. Wright, Marg Mowcsko, Alastair McGrath, Douglas Moo, Sarah Cokely, Grace Kim, Michael Horton, Roger Olson, etc.–are not as well known as the pastors. Yet, they form the foundation of knowledge, experience and learning upon which amateurs rely. Their writings give the background, credence, and historical context needed so the pastors and other more well-known Christians can speak with confidence.
Many of these theologians have identified these Fast Food Doctrines of our day. But because most people do not read theologians as much as they read pastors and bloggers, I thought I would explain how these three doctrines make Christians spiritually unhealthy.
This is an excerpt from Chapter four of my new book “Listen Carefully”:
Text of Chapter 1.4
“When Diligent Study doesn’t Satisfy”
Hearing God Book
My golf partner was late. And I was surly. The two go together.
This was in the days when cell phones were as long as your forearm, which was okay because only businessmen had them in their big cars, big enough to store such things. But it meant I couldn’t find out where he was and no one was home at his house. I hung closely to my car, for this neighborhood was tenuous at best.
It was full of very religious people.
I had visited there before and my buddy had pointed out many of the properties with their huge signs plastered with Scripture. Most of them went to the same church and many were related. I wanted to ask if any of the couples were first cousins with each other or perhaps closer relatives than that, but I kept my unsanctified comments to myself. This was a rural enclave in an ever-developing urban area and generally the neighborhood was peaceful and law-abiding. No one would think of mowing their lawns on a Sunday and wild parties on the weekend were only mentioned in prayer requests for people who lived closer to “town”.
In short, it was a religious, bible-loving ghetto.
The next door neighbor was a kingpin in the Bible sign mafia. He had a Bible Sign lab going in his garage and he churned out kilos of the material to be handed out for free to anyone who wanted his product. On his lawn he displayed his samples, hundreds of signs in bright neon shades, announcing various evangelistic and moralistic verses from the Bible. There must have been 200 of them at least. My first thought was “how do they mow their lawn?” At almost the exact moment I was thinking that, he came out of his shed with the lawn mower. Now I found myself gravitating over his way.
“How do you mow your lawn with all those signs” I started.
He looked me up and down as if assessing a junkie or a newbie (or a colossal idiot). “I pull them all out and stack them up before starting the mower”.