Sunday, October 3, 2010

Evangelical without Inerrancy?

Daniel Kirk just posted a blog where he argues, among other things, that someone can be an Evangelical and not hold to inerrancy. After reading his post a few things struck me.

First, Kirk never defines what he means by inerrancy. Although at times he does put scare quotes around this theologically loaded term, he never tells us exactly what it is. Granting that there are many views out there in the theological landscape that call themselves inerrancy, which I would not agree with. But it still remains unclear which "version" of inerrancy Kirk is saying a person can deny and still be an Evangelical. Perhaps he intends to address any and all views that go by the term. However, to be intellectually rigorous, one would hope he is referring to the view set forth in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which goes to lengths to clarify what inerrancy means, and especially what it does not mean.

Second, Kirk argues that the Bible does not teach inerrancy.
We believe this because of our commitment to scripture itself. Investigation of scripture will often, to many of us, provide indications that an “inerrant” Bible is not the way that God has chosen to speak to humanity. This is part of the good news because it means that we do not have to set aside the labors of critical scholarship to affirm that the Bible is the word of God in which the good news is articulated.
Again, we are left scratching our heads wondering what exactly it is that the Bible does not teach. But even more, this way of defining a movement seems somewhat problematic. Why does Kirk get to define what the movement known as Evangelicalism stands for? For example, the Evangelical Theological Society has a very short doctrinal basis, which includes a commitment to inerrancy. This seems to be a much better way of defining a movement. Allow the movement as a whole to define itself.

This argument by Kirk is akin to an Arian claiming they are Christian because of their commitment to the Bible, which does not teach the deity of Christ. Does is not seem proper to allow the Church in her confessions and creeds to define what it means to be a Christian? Even if a large number of people who claim to be Evangelical agree with Kirk, it is still best to allow the movement to define itself. Kirk's inviting himself into a redefined Evangelicalism is similar to the cafe which comes under different ownership. Whereas before they made a mean steak and potatoes, now all that they offer in the way of meat is 'Bocca Burgers.' Nothing against Bocca Burgers, it's just not the same cafe that it used to be. Sure the name is the same, but isn't the name meaningless if the management suddenly starts serving food only for herbivores? Especially, if the cafe is called "Steaky's"

Kirk is free to deny inerrancy by saying, "It is a response to the Bible that has shown itself to be something other than inerrant–with a faithful confession that God has chosen just this sort of book through which to reveal himself." But please, do not take it upon yourself to redefine a whole movement so that you can now be seen as fitting within its freshly redrawn boundaries. If Evangelical means anything, it means that a person is committed to the idea that "the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs."


  1. I think a valid question is this: does the word "evangelical" any longer have a meaning? Darryl Hart would probably say "no." And he might have a point now. Richard Mouw has used the term to embrace Mormons within the pale of "evangelical." The definition of "evangelical" has steadily eroded over the past three decades to the point where I'm not sure it is a useful term anymore.

  2. Isnt that the problem with every label these days.You cant call yourself a baptist or a presbyterian anymore without having to define exactly what you mean by it.Im not so sure that there is a solution to the problem. Kirk could come up with a "new" term to label his system, but then how long would it be before someone else buys that coffee shop and changes the menu.It seems that there is a neverending cycle of robbing labels and using them as your own...Do you think there is a solution???

  3. Re: Labels, I think labels are useful as long as they are still useful. Meaning, if I refer to myself as a Reformed Baptist, some will understand my meaning, and the conversation continues. Others will throw a hissy fit over my use of the word "Reformed". When that happens, I find that it's best not to wrangle over words, as long as the correct idea is communicated.

    Just like language. English is great, until you talk to someone who only speaks Spanish. At that point, the only thing that's important is the idea that's being communicated, not the words (or hand motions) used.

    -Patrick T. McWilliams

  4. It seems to me that Daniel Kirk was desperate for a way to prove his faith by making room for critical scholarship. Instead of believing the truth proclaimed by Scripture, Kirk sought human approval for justification of his faith. However, faith is an absolute tranference of trust from ourselves to another. Namely, a complete surrender to God. As Berkhof puts it, "Faith denotes a positive knowledge that does not rest on external evidence nor on logical demonstration, but on immediate and direct insight which is from God." Though innerancy was the topic of his essay, his faith seems to be the root issue.

    - Tyler Godwin


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