A Developing Doctrine of Scripture: Inerrancy vs. Infallibility vs. ??? (Pt 2)

The views on Scripture I expressed in my last post leave me firmly out of the inerrantist camp, according to most, at least. I would not feel comfortable signing a statement of faith claiming the Bible’s inerrancy, in general, though I honestly might approach the question differently if it were to attend a school rather than to teach at a school or lead a ministry. I distinguish between these because I think the word inerrancy is completely vague and means different things to different people. It shouldn’t actually mean anything different than “infallibility” but these words have come to distinguish different positions to many. Some people use inerrancy just as a code word for “I’m an evangelical” and might actually accept that some can legitimately believe in the position often associated with “infallibility,” which doesn’t require the Bible report accurately on every scientific or historical detail.

In my mind, if a school I was thinking about attending (for ex, Wheaton) didn’t make it clear precisely what they meant and whether or not my view was acceptable to them, that’s their omission and not really my responsibility. (If I went to a school that used the word “inerrancy” it would probably be for something other than biblical studies or theology anyway, which to me reinforces my sense of freedom to do what I want—I don’t find the inerrancy/infallibility issue to be particularly relevant to any other field, even at a school that wishes students to be evangelical Christians.) On the other hand, obviously, many people still use inerrancy to draw strict boundaries between those with a fundamentalist understanding of Scripture and those without, so I feel that if I was being hired for something, I would need to further discuss my views with them, explain exactly in what sense I could agree with the word inerrancy, and I’m guessing most of the time, I would be immediately rejected as a heretic, which is fine with me.

I would easily sign something that says “infallibility,” because that is often code for a position like mine, but, again, in my mind, inerrancy and infallibility are equally vague words that intuitively should mean the same thing. I would prefer to define my position as believing in the inspiration of the Bible and its authority in matters of faith and practice. This seems to me to be a much clearer way of expressing “infallibility,” plus it emphasizes what the Bible is good for, rather than what it’s not (science/nitpicky details of history).

I find it discouraging that only a minority of evangelical institutions and organizations have decided it’s safe to omit the fundamentalist language of inerrancy. It’s sad to me that this is a debate that we’ve been having for nearly one hundred years, and it’s surprising that “inerrancy” would still be the word of choice at somewhat more moderate schools such as Wheaton (which is no Bob Jones University, for sure) or large evangelical organizations like Campus Crusade. I find no reason why strict inerrantists should feel compelled to excluded infallibility folks from the evangelical fold, even if they take a certain position themselves.

I understand that this issue has been historically important in the fundamentalist/liberal debates, but I would have hoped by now that people could observe the many moderate evangelicals that have taken non-inerrantists positions and not fallen down some slippery slope into extreme liberalism. (Of course, why should I be surprised when folks like Wayne Grudem also consider the most conservative egalitarians to be nearing hellfire?) Given these unfortunate circumstances, I feel somewhat more comfortable hanging out in mainline evangelical or post-liberal circles because the post-conservative side of the mainstream evangelical world seems so small—though I ultimately never wish to dissociate from evangelicalism.

At the same time, I ironically experience little life tension related to my position, as most of my friends seem to fall somewhere near here. Of course all of my Fuller professors are in a similar boat, and at my American Baptist church, our small group of 20- and 30- somethings approaches Scripture with reverence, as well as the occasionally joke about the complicated nature of the Bible. Almost all of us come from more conservative backgrounds—some truly fundamentalist—but have since adopted a more moderate position. Despite feeling like a minority within evangelicalism, within my little world, mine is actually virtually the only position around. It’s a strange existence, for sure.

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2 responses to “A Developing Doctrine of Scripture: Inerrancy vs. Infallibility vs. ??? (Pt 2)

  1. Brandon

    Hi Ashleigh,

    As a fellow UNC Alum and Religious Studies major, and a current volunteer with InterVarsity and Seminary student, I feel like you have been peeking in my diary….LOL!! I am really liking this series of posts. Growing up in the black church, leaving, and then returning, I fully agree with your frustrations concerning mainstream (i.e. white and conservative) evangelicalism’s commitment to continue to draw the heresy line between innerancy and infallibility. In many ways a school’s commitment to innerancy forecloses on the possibility of moving beyond this debate; thus continuing the sort of “identity crises” which I have and you seem to suggest you have had.

    • Ashleigh

      Brandon,

      How absolutely bizarre that you of all people found my blog. (Esp. since it’s not really where I’m blogging currently–I didn’t know anyone stopped by here anymore!)
      I would be fascinated to hear more of your story. When were you at UNC? Where are you in school? What has your journey been with all this stuff? How did you decide to go to seminary and what are your hopes for afterwards? Were you involved in campus ministry in college? What has your experience been like volunteering for InterVarsity, esp. given that many of the staff and students probably lean on the more inerrantist side of things–has that been a problem for you at any point? I am considering staff myself, and bridging the seminary/laity gap is something I’m very passionate about… but not always certain what it will look like or how it will be perceived.

      Find me on fb if you’d rather converse there. So cool to hear from a fellow UNC alum!

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