Recent publication of a book by Thom Stark has got my attention because it looks like it treats of the issue of scripture inerrancy by a method that is much more constructive than the kind of anti-Christian rantings we expect from Bart Ehrman or Sam Harris, or John Loftus.
It was a recent two-part review by Kevin at Diglotting which got my attention in the first place. Meanwhile Steve at Undeception has been busy in the same vein, and both writers have me thinking a little more systematically about the question: ‘What would we expect to see in a good Christian theology that explicitly rejects the dogma of Bible inerrancy?’
It’s no secret that many theologies have been written without support of the dogma of Bible inerrancy. And I think all of the good ones have argued for a concept of Bible authority in which scripture remains normative for theology in a foundational sense. Martin Kahler, C.S. Lewis, Karl Barth, Dorothy Sayers, H.R. Neibuhr, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer – I believe all these thinkers and more have stressed the authority of the Bible without defending its inerrancy. We see here a ‘Doctrine of Scripture’ or there a ‘Doctrine of Revelation’ or a ‘Doctrine of the Word of God’ which give greater breadth to a more mature and more promising theological approach to the Bible than the irrational restraints of inerrancy allow.
I notice that these kinds of theologies all tend to show greater development of the role of Christ himself as Word of God – rather than alleging that the letter is identical with ‘the Word.’ And I think the question of the Holy Spirit’s testimony to Christ will see much-needed development any time the Bible is purged from the fetishism of inerrancy. Because a theology’s rejection of the dogma of inerrancy should not change its need to treat constructively of inspiration. The Spirit’s role in inspiring our fallible reading of the Bible becomes just as important and just as interesting as its role in inspiring the original (fallible) writer.
Evangelicals need quickly to see this as the new world of honest religion – it doesn’t signify the end of the world for faith. Faith remains the key to our salvation by the grace of God. The current drama – what looks to be the fast-approaching end of the dogma of Bible inerrancy – would not even be necessary if it hadn’t been for the proliferation of so much fundamentalism among Evangelicals in North America during the 19th and 20th centuries – while the issues of working with a fallible text were being treated by responsible thinkers in the religious mainstream.