Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Irrelevance of Inerrancy

Liberal Christians often seem hellbent on ramming through the idea that the Bible is not the inerrant word of God, and it's pretty easy to come to the conclusion that they insist on this because they see an inerrant gospel as leading (for a sincere Christian) to views and stances they find distasteful. It's easy to imagine conservative Christians at least sometimes oppose the idea of an errant Bible for that very reason as well. That's a great recipe for a whole lot of back and forth fighting between liberal and conservative Christians over whether or not to regard the Bible as inerrant.

The problem is, the mere existence of error in general in the Bible doesn't get the Liberal Christian where they soften want to go. Grant, for the sake of argument, that the Bible contains errors - it is not an inerrant gospel. Okay; now, how exactly does one intend to get from that point to (say) regarding sodomy, abortion, etc, as morally good?

That part is typically skipped by the LC altogether, save for fallbacks to mere moral intuition. But the conservative Christian is (putting aside for a moment philosophical, traditional, etc arguments and evidence) just as entitled to their intuitions as well on these same questions. What's needed, and what is almost never supplied, is an argument for error *on the specific topics which the LC wishes to object to*.

A good way to think about it is like this: LCs tend to not just accept evolution, but fall over themselves praising Darwin and evolutionary biology in general. Will they say the Origin of Species is inerrant? I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say no, they would not. But does a lack of inerrancy for the Origin of Species mean that we can therefore doubt the existence or effectiveness of Natural Selection?

Note that any supporting book or document will have the same question of inerrancy applied to it. At the end you're going to reach the conclusion that, no, just because these documents are not wholly (or even partly!) divinely inspired doesn't mean you can just discard whatever doesn't appeal to you. But the same situation applies to the Bible itself.


malcolmthecynic said...

C.S. Lewis was not an inerrantist.

The Deuce said...

It's really about authority more than errancy. For my part, I subscribe to the "that which is asserted by the human author is asserted by the Holy Spirit" version of inerrancy. It allows for various imprecisions or "errors" in human speech, reconstructions of history, and so forth, without there being error in the teaching of Scripture.

To give an analogy, the movie Downfall, which chronicles the fall of the 3rd Reich (and has spawned countless YouTube "Hitler learns that..." parodies) is undoubtedly inaccurate in the exact wording it ascribes to Hitler and his men, the exact order some things happen in, and so on. But we wouldn't call those things "errors" because the movie never purported to have that kind of exactness. Nobody was following Hitler and his guys around with video cameras, after all, and nobody claimed to. The movie is accurate for what it's meant to be.

So you can allow that Scripture has "errors" in some sense, but that its teaching is still authoritative and trustworthy (I think CS Lewis would probably ascribe to that), and hence inerrant in the relevant sense. IMO, the Church Fathers who came up with the doctrine probably had that same basic idea in mind, because they weren't unaware of various little discrepancies and so forth.

What the liberal Christians are trying to deny, really, is the teaching *authority* of Scripture. The point of errancy, for them, is to say that Scripture has no moral authority because of its errors, but is ultimately just some human books written a long time ago, and that it is therefore trumped by the authority of the progressive zeitgeist's teachings (the chief of which is that new, aka "progress," trumps old) at every point at which they come into conflict.

That's why I say that progressive "Christians" aren't Christians at all, but that their actual religion is progressivism: the progressive zeitgeist is their sole source of moral authority, and Scripture is only good for feel-good stories, to the extent that those stories don't get in their way. They're no more Christians than I am a Muslim for thinking the Koran probably contains a few passages of some literary merit or sound advice.

Btw, as a Protestant, I must admit that this is *particularly* the case for Protestants. After all, if you start with Sola Scriptura, and you remove the Scriptura, you've got nothing left of Christianity at all (although, technically, if a Catholic rejects inerrancy, he's rejected the authority of Tradition as well, which affirms it).

DungeonHamster said...

CCC 107: "The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."

Essentially, as near as I can tell, this means that the Catholic position on the truth of scriptures is the same as that of my old denomination before I converted, namely, that they are "an infallible guide to faith and life." On matters not pertaining to such things, a Catholic is permitted to doubt some error. For instance, that Christ died and rose again is key to our faith, so must be accepted. Whether he literally spent 40 days in the wilderness or 40 was just being used to mean "a lot" is fairly irrelevant to faith, so Catholics are permitted discretion in the matter. Inerrancy as it seems to be being used here (no errors of any kind whatsoever) is not a required belief.

The Deuce said...

I think this part is key:

all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit

In other words, everything the authors of Scripture assert to be true, regardless of topic, is asserted by God to be true, and so is true.

As it pertains to Christ's time in the wilderness, if the number 40 was simply being used by the author to mean "a lot" when it wasn't literally 40 days, then it wouldn't constitute an error, because the author wasn't asserting that it was literally 40 days, but was using a figure of speech (whether that's the case or not is open to question, but if it is, it doesn't contradict inerrancy).

DungeonHamster said...

Fair enough. And I have no objection to Scriptural inerrancy by such a definition. But inerrancy is a word I have all too often seen conflated with literal; infallible tends to result in less confusion, and I uncharitably assumed the two were being conflated here as well, despite no evidence for such a poor opinion of either your mental habits or those of our host, and then further sinned by arguing against what I assumed you meant (thereby committing the very error I had imputed to you) rather than clarifying. My apologies.

Although the pedant in me, honed by years of rules lawyering in tabletop RPG's, feels compelled that a Catholic desperate to escape such a teaching and willing to foment discord within the church still have a loophole, at least in the above quote (I'm fairly new to Catholicism; perhaps elsewhere the Magisterium addresses this), in that we are only required to believe that truth which God "wished to see confided in the Sacred Scriptures."