Inerrancy is heresy. Here are five reasons to reject it.
In the past, I have rolled my eyes or shrugged and walked away whenever someone in a theological discussion spoke of the Bible as “the inerrant Word of God.” I have assumed that this relatively new idea (codified in the Chicago Statement of 1978) would eventually collapse from the weight of its superstitious, idolatrous, intellectually untenable and dishonest presuppositions.
No doubt, it will, eventually.
In the mean time, it leads the Church and the world astray.
While I do not advocate burning anyone at the stake, I do think it is important to wall off, take a stand against, and defeat destructive theological ideas.
Here are five reasons we should argue against biblical inerrancy as forcefully as possible.
1. Inerrancy is an insidious form of idolatry. In claiming that the Bible is “the inerrant Word of God,” the doctrine of inerrancy claims perfection for something we can see, feel, read, and hold in our hand. It reduces the Creator of the World to a golden calfskin book.
2. Inerrancy is intellectually untenable. It reduces faith to Mark Twain’s description of “believing what you know ain’t so.” Contradictions between different accounts of the creation, the birth of Jesus, the crucifixion, the flood, and other important biblical narratives can be easily understood and appreciated through an historical approach to the development of these stories. Insisting on their literal accuracy requires an intellectual sleight of hand that blocks off the reader from the spiritual richness of the voices of our ancestors in the faith.
3. Inerrancy is superstitious. It places belief in a magic book rather than the grand and holy Mystery to whom the Bible points.
4. Inerrancy assumes that the Holy Spirit is dead, that nothing more can be revealed, that no ethical, moral, or theological progress has been made since the last word of Scripture was written around the end of the first century or beginning of the second. The doctrine of biblical inerrancy leads the non-believing public to assume that biblical inerrancy is a central tenet of the Christian faith, and that being a Christian means being against the equal rights of LGBT people, against women’s autonomy, and looking to the Bible for literal and accurate information about science and history. A century and a half ago, those who held to the precursor of inerrancy, biblical infallibility, led some Christians to use the Bible to justify slavery. While I would not argue that the American Civil War was a religious war, I can argue that the Bible became a weapon in the hands of those who waged an economic war and appealed to biblical infallibility in the verse “Slaves, obey your earthly masters.” (Ephesians 6:5 and Colossians 3:22.)
5. The quest for certainty shuts down the gift of human creativity. The appeal to the inerrancy of the biblical text reflects a need to achieve certainty about great mysteries that can never be fully known. Describing the text as sacred, holy, unique, and Spirit-breathed recognizes the deep mystery historical and contextual reading of the Bible leads us to explore and engage. It opens us up to deep understanding of the witness of our ancestors in the faith as we continue to seek the Spirit in our own lives. Claiming inerrancy or infallibility places a worldly standard on the text that it does not claim for itself. It shuts off the creative human spirit, the unique gift that has led to ethics, moral vision, and art.
To be clear, I am not arguing against the authority of Scripture in the life of Jews and Christians. I am arguing in favor of it.
I am arguing that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy has distorted the Christian faith, fed the delusions of violent mental illness, provided a (false) theological foundation for terrorists to bully, enslave, and kill in the name of God, and distracted the Church from its mission of loving God, loving our neighbors, proclaiming the Good News in word and deed, and making disciples.