The Future of Inerrancy

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’ve gone through the ICBI statement and having done that now, I think it’s time that we really talked about the future of Inerrancy. Where do we see the doctrine going?

My commenter, Bryan, from last night says that there are further commentaries on the statement and more and more evangelicals explaining what is meant. There can be no denial of this and definitely, an exhaustive look at this point would be highly difficult. It would be like studying the Nicene Creed. Since it’s been written, there have been several works on it and on orthodox Christology. Creeds are meant to be simple statements that can be remembered, but they don’t really give arguments. That’s not their point.

ICBI is not really a creed however. It is a statement. Of course, we don’t expect it to be exhaustive. However, as I said at the start, this was put together in a 3-day period and should not be the final statement, just like Nicea was not the final statement on orthodox Christology. If anything, the Geisler/Licona debate has shown us that we need more.

I do have a concern that some people are going to avoid Inerrancy altogether. Some of them are not going to join societies now since they fear that they will be the next targets in a hunt. If you check the blogosphere, you can see that this is already going on.

Thus, while I have no doubt Geisler thinks he is saving Inerrancy for the next generation, I believe he is in fact killing it. It is not just Inerrancy that is being killed, but evangelicalism.

Now don’t misunderstand me on this. If the Bible is Inerrant, and I believe that it is, that will last regardless of what anyone does. If the Bible is Inerrant, it is inerrant whether we believe it or not. Thus, what Geisler is doing cannot make the Bible to be errant.

However, if it comes down to Inerrancy being the same as literalism, then you will find several people ready to say “No. I’m not an Inerrantist.” Say it enough over time and soon enough it will be commonplace so much so that people will just take it to mean that the Bible has errors.

How will this kill Evangelicalism? Just take a look at what’s going on in the blogosphere again. Evangelicalism is already taking hits as most atheists are seeing that Mike Licona is a real NT scholar, even though they disagree with his claims, and they do not see Geisler as one, which is true. Geisler’s degrees are in philosophy. They are not in New Testament studies. That’s nothing to disregard Geisler in that sense. However, is Geisler’s name really taken seriously in the world of NT scholarship as a sound authority? The answer is no. Mike Licona’s name is however.

So what does the unbelieving world see? A non-expert telling an expert that he needs to get in line with the party. It’s not about if Licona’s explanation is right or wrong. It’s about getting in line. Now yes, Geisler has given reasons for thinking Licona is wrong, but these reasons are not proving persuasive to NT scholars. Note that the people who have been siding with Geisler are not NT scholars. The people who have been siding with Licona quite often are.

The unbelieving world sees this and says “See? You can’t be objective in evangelicalism. You have to come in line with what the higher institutions say. Why should we trust the claim that the Bible is Inerrant when we know that people have to say that apparently in order to keep their jobs?”

To an extent, they’re right too.

So now Licona could come out and say “I believe the text is literal” and yet an atheist could say “We’ve seen the debate! We know why you are saying that! You’re saying it because you have to! If you deny that it is literal, then you’re going to be cast out by your crowd!” Fortunately, Licona has stuck by his position. He won’t say something unless he believes that it is true. IF he is convinced, he’ll change his mind. Charges of him denying Inerrancy and dehistoricizing the text do not work. You cannot dehistoricize a text that was not meant to be seen as literal and if it was not meant to be seen as literal, it is not a denial of Inerrancy to say that it is not literal. I’m not saying it is apocalyptic. I’m just saying that if Licona’s right, he’s not doing anything that is a denial of Inerrancy. Even if his view is wrong, he’s not denying Inerrancy as long as he’s convinced his view could very well be right.

In fact, if this is the way that Inerrancy is being guarded, then it makes Inerrancy look weak. Take for instance the creation-evolution debate. Those on the creationist side often point to how evolutionists can say they don’t want both theories taught in schools as cowardice on their part and that the ones who is open to seeing both sides is the one who is really sure of his view.

I think there’s some truth to that.

But this is what is going on here. It is saying that we will not allow this other view to be considered. It goes against the traditional view and we’re going to stick with the traditional view. It won’t matter about further studies in the New Testament or the social context. The evidence cannot say otherwise.

But if it does say otherwise, it’s not just Geisler with egg on his face. It’s evangelicalism and then, Christianity.

A better approach for Geisler would have been to tell Licona that he’s allowed to put forward his hypothesis, but if he wants to argue that claim, well there are some strong questions that he has to answer. That’s the way it should be for anyone challenging something that has generally always been understood a certain way. When you bring forward a new idea, it’s up to you to answer the claims and show why your answer is superior.

That only makes it more fun.

What would be the result? Licona would have to dig in his heels and work really hard in order to show his idea was probable and worthy of further research. Geisler sits back and asks the questions. If Licona’s view is true, then we are fortunate that we have a new way of looking at the NT and we can see what else we can study. If Geisler’s is true, well we know something that didn’t work and we have more information on the passage overall. Of course, it could always be the case that years down the road someone will resurrect the discussion again (Pardon the terrible pun) and look for more evidence that has been uncovered since the first debate.

This position holds that if one believes their side is true, they will not have any fear researching it. If all one cares about is truth, they also will not have any fear researching it. Why? Because truth is all that matters and truth is not decided a priori but a posteriori. If all you care about is truth and you research and find your view is wrong, that’s fine to you. You’ve done your homework and you’re better off than when you started.

The constant claims to recant only make this look like an Inquisition when it should be an inquiry. Also note some charges such as the idea that if one text is apocalyptic, then all will be, including 1 Corinthians 15 and the resurrection of Jesus.

It would have been nice if those making such a claim had noted that Licona wrote over 600 pages showing why the resurrection of Jesus is not apocalyptic. Thus, for him, not all resurrections are apocalyptic. He says the way to differentiate is by doing research.

As for 1 Cor. 15, that’s a resurrection at the final judgment and not in history. It’s not part of a narrative account of the NT then and would not be read as apocalyptic but rather as doctrine. Of course, there are apocalyptic themes with the final judgment, but that is not saying that there is no real final judgment. There are no doubt apocalyptic ideas connected with the resurrection, but that does not mean there is no resurrection.

It has been claimed that the enemies of Christ have been handed a powerful weapon. Indeed they have! That powerful weapon however is not from Licona. That powerful weapon is from the side that is telling Licona to recant. The powerful weapon is evidence that supposedly evangelicalism is against the investigation of evidence, free inquiry, and the pursuit of truth without begging the question.

This has also happened to one who is really still putting forward his foot in the scholarly world. He is new compared to others, and now the message is sent to others that they could be the next targets if they put forward a contrary idea. The message the unbelievers get then is “Evangelicals are not allowed to put forward contrary ideas, thus you cannot really say that their arguments are the ones they believe because of hard research. They believe them because they have to.”

What new scholar would want to be the target of a hunt by Geisler? Or Mohler? Or anyone else for that matter?

Of course, several of them would salivate over the chance of being challenged. Imagine putting forward a new resurrection hypothesis and being challenged by Gary Habermas. Imagine putting forward a new look at the Kalam argument and being challenged by William Lane Craig. Anyone in that position would be awfully nervous of course about facing such an expert, but would also be able to say “I’m doing enough to be taken seriously by this guy and if my argument can stand up to this, it is going somewhere!” It will be a welcome challenge.

The future of Inerrancy and evangelicalism should be based on a pursuit of truth and not living out of fear.

So what happens here? Our great hope can be that Geisler will finally offer an olive branch to Licona. Licona has already said that he would be ready to embrace him, forgive him, and be as if nothing happened. He should be willing to support a bright scholar making a powerful foray into the field of NT apologetics.

This must be an action that is done instead of something buried under the rug. There are still people noticing that the Ergun Caner debate may have ended, but they have not seen anything from Geisler on it even though he still has some questions to answer about his involvement in the issue. In the age of the internet, this becomes tougher and tougher. Some stories may be forgotten, but on the internet, once something is public, it is public. Once Geisler wrote an open letter, the genie was out of the bottle and was not going back in.

To not give an olive branch would only be seen as pride. Already, one can see on Geisler’s facebook page and on the blogosphere that Geisler’s stock is dropping and people are losing respect fast. The way to gain that respect is to be able to bite the proverbial bullet. It needs to be realized that this debate has caused great harm to Licona, his family, to evangelicalism, and in the long term to Christianity.

We also need to take a look at ICBI again and see what we can do to refine it, and this time we need more than just pastors by and large. We need people who are actually skilled in criticism of the New Testament. We need everyone who is signing that document to be a verified scholar in the field. We need long debate over the issue.

One of the great fears is that this will be something that will eventually lead to belief in an old-earth or a young-earth being essential to Inerrancy, or belief in Preterism or Dispensationalism being essential to Inerrancy. Naturally, not everyone will be pleased, but these could be the people we don’t need to please as they’ve already equated their interpretation with Inerrancy.

I still think the simplest statement would be that the Bible is without error in all that it teaches. So what does it teach? Well Inerrancy can’t tell you that. That is for you to find out based on doing your study. Inerrancy just tells you that when you find out that that is what the Bible teaches, it is true. It is so true you can stake your eternal salvation on it.

And indeed you do.

So where do we go? That’s not for me to decide. That’s for others to decide who are witnessing this debate taking place and for those who are participating in it. Right now, both sides need to be moving towards reconciliation and both sides need to be reaching for that. This can be a chance for evangelicals to show that they are interested in truth. They are against witch hunts and arguing by force. Let us seek the truth and may not one side win out, but may truth simply win out, and rather than asking if the truth is on our side, let us see if we are on the side of truth.

We shall continue next time.