Yesterday I began explaining some of the discoveries I’ve made about the Bible — about perfection and errors and whether we can trust it. Today, I will continue sharing these discoveries.
But first, before I dive into discovery number three, Scott raised an excellent objection to the idea that infallibility means the Bible will never steer you wrong yesterday. He wrote, “If that were true, then Protestantism wouldn’t consist of thousands of wildly divergent, even contradictory schisms and sects. In fact, it’s not even a new argument. Arius, for example, argued much the same and based his arguments extensively on the Holy Scriptures. In the end he was refuted not on the basis of Scripture, but because what he taught was not what the church had always believed and traditioned (handed over) about Christ. His was not the proper use of the Holy Scriptures. But you can’t show that from the texts themselves. There is nothing that privileges one interpretation over another save a tradition of interpretation.” (emphasis mine)
I’ve been tempted on more than one occasion to walk away from the Christian faith because it’s been so warped, misused, and abused that it becomes unrecognizable. The vast spectrum of divisions, especially in Protestantism, disturbs me greatly, especially as many claim to be the One True Faith and all others to be false. But I cannot walk away from Jesus. Each time come back to the response Peter gave when Jesus asked the disciples if they wanted to leave him along with everyone else (see John 6:60-69). “Master, to whom would we go?”
Ultimately, when someone abuses the Bible and their authority, they choose to do that. It isn’t something that the Bible pushes on them. Perhaps the image of the Bible as the one steering is incorrect — it is more like a map that can be misunderstood, altered, or set aside. We are the ones choosing to go one way or another. I think that’s where many who abuse the Bible go wrong — they put the Bible in the center, in place of God. While you can manipulate a book to say what you want it to say, God will never be manipulated.
How do you know someone is manipulating or misusing the Bible? Scott gives an excellent guide — if it’s a new or novel interpretation, be very wary. And even if it’s old, keep your eyes open. Heresies come in and out of fashion, so it is rare to see one that has never before appeared. Look to what has been widely agreed-upon as orthodox before throwing caution to the wind.
Finally, a word of hope. We are broken and we are sinful and we each bungle our faith and life, whether malicious or innocent. This is nothing new — we see people doing the same all through the Bible. Our hope and our confidence must not be in a book or a teacher or an interpretation of that book, it must be in the God who gave the book and redeems it all. God is the unmoving center and can and will work in and through all our messes, even when we misinterpret and misapply the Bible.
Moving on. What else have I learned about inerrancy?
3. Denying Inerrancy Is Not Heresy
It was very refreshing to read both of these statements on the same page:
“[The statement] affirms this inerrancy of Scripture afresh, making clear our understanding of it and warning against its denial. We are persuaded that to deny it is to set aside the witness of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit and to refuse that submission to the claims of God’s own Word that marks true Christian faith.”
Translation: we believe that denying that the Bible is inerrant discounts what Jesus and the Holy Spirit say about the Bible and shows a refusal to submit to what the Bible teaches.
“We gladly acknowledge that many who deny the inerrancy of Scripture do not display the consequences of this denial in the rest of their belief and behavior, and we are conscious that we who confess this doctrine often deny it in life by failing to bring our thoughts and deeds, our traditions and habits, into true subjection to the divine Word.”
Translation: Despite our warning, we admit that many who deny inerrancy live without showing any of the consequences we warn against, while many who affirm inerrancy with their words deny it in their lives by refusing to submit to the Bible’s teaching.
So, if you run into someone who denies inerrancy, you need to keep in mind two things — you may each define the word differently, and even if you agree on what it means, they are not heretics or illegitimate Christians because of this one issue. (They may be deceivers or the deceived based on other things, just not only this one.) In addition, from my own experience, a quiet reasonable conversation is much more effective in helping someone (including yourself) wrestle through this issue than pounding over the head or labeling. We are each learning, growing, and maturing, so let’s show a little grace to one another in this process.
Tomorrow I am giddy about sharing a guest post from one of the funniest Christian women I know, so I’ll continue this series on Friday (unless something else comes up).
How do you keep the Bible and the God it talks about in the right place in your faith? What happened when you got them out of balance?