Inerrancy as the Queen Mum of Evangelicalism

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Introduction

Secularists scoff at Bible. Postmodernists sneer at the metanarrative for not being their own. And liberals cherry pick what they find to be of lasting spiritual value, according to the canons of the very latest contagions from the academy. And in the face of such manifest unbelief, conservative inerrantists draw themselves up to their full height in order to pretend to believe the Bible. And of course, the appearance given by such stated conviction also provides an appearance of courage, which was perhaps the point.

Inerrancy is the queen mum of evangelicals—honored, respected, and praised in the abstract, while entirely ignored when it comes to practical obedience. Ignored, that is, unless it is one of those special holidays where she is trundled out onto a balcony to wave at her loyal sons and daughters below. Correction: make that her disloyal sons and daughters. Folks are willing to show up periodically to be waved at by the Chicago Statement, but that is the full extent of their commitment. Inerrancy appears to have nothing to do with issues like authority and obedience. Inerrancy is only there to beam at us while we continue to do whatever we took it into our heads to do.

Cooking for Pigs

Let us suppose—and these dark days it is not that big a suppose—that you wanted to advance some godforsaken pig’s breakfast in the name of Jesus, and there was an outcry from some of the predictable types—you know, the ones with a critical spirit and a censorious eye. And so it suddenly became your desire to get them to lay off. All you have to do is get out your tube of Critic-B-Gone, now available at Walgreens, and slather a bit of that “I am deeply committed to inerrancy” cream on your forearms. Ta da, as the kids say.

So long as you are committed to the inerrancy of the Bible you never have to do anything that it says.

This is why secularists and liberals, who are not committed to inerrancy, are often more to be trusted with what the Scriptures actually say because they are not ever stuck with defending the final results. They can say, for example, that the apostle Paul told certain busybody women to “go home” (Tit. 2:5) and wasn’t that just a laugh riot? So the unbeliever can just flow with the spirit of the age. He can simply walk along in step with that spirit, letting his arms swing free. The professed evangelical, on the other hand, has beads of sweat appearing upon his brow as he breaks out the usually reliable Greek word study. Unfortunately, he has needed to rely on these things more and more as the madness of our age has been moving into its more frenzied and spastic stages. And speaking of stages, what stage is it when your exegesis is flat on its back, heels drumming on the floor?

But fortunately, the word there in Titus is oikourgos, which one could perhaps even render as “bossy pants.” Indeed, Twila Fitz-hearst Simmons, EdD, has made precisely this application, both in her monographs and in her personal life.

The Law is Holy, Righteous, and Good

Fortunately for those engaged in this strategy of sanctified shiftiness, they can rely on massive amounts of biblical ignorance in the evangelical ranks. You can get away with a lot when nobody is reading their Bible. You hardly ever have to answer any questions.

“As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their clans that are with you, who have been born in your land, and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever. You may make slaves of them, but over your brothers the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another ruthlessly”

Lev. 25:44-46 (ESV)

Let us ask and answer some exegetical questions now, and try not to make any faces while we do this. Was it lawful and proper for an Israelite—let’s call him Jonathan Edwards, or perhaps even @johnhsather, just for grins—to buy an Amalekite for a slave? Further, was it lawful and proper for an Israelite to buy an Amalekite slave whose family had lived in Israel for three generations already? Why yes, it was. And if such a transaction occurred, what relationship would have then existed between the master and his slave? Would it be appropriate to say that v. 45 says that the Israelite owned an Amalekite as his personal property?

“Let us continue,” the Sunday School teacher says, even though the eyes of the class are now the size of teacup saucers. Was it lawful and proper for whichever Jonathan to bequeath these slaves to his heirs and assigns? And how long was this state of affairs to last? Can we find the word forever in the text? Well, yes, right there in v. 46. So we are talking about a form of permanent slavery, is that correct?

Oh, but we have various devices to deal with this. We have our hand-waving strategies down pat. We say, and all together now, but that’s in the Old Testament. Okay, that is in the Old Testament. I knew that because I put the reference down. It is from Leviticus. But was it, for that time, under those circumstances, holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12)? This is a law, straight from God. Was it a good law? Or a bad law? Do you approve of it? Or does the holiness of God conflict with all your Enlightenment assumptions that you mistook for holiness?

That Amalekite slave, and his children, and his grandchildren, have all been dead for a long time now. But they all died in slavery. So I would like ask my fellow inerrantists to step up to the microphone and tell everyone—particularly the atheists, about whom a bit more in a few minutes—whether they approve of this law in its original setting. If you don’t, your commitment to inerrancy is what men of another age would have called a Joke. If you do approve of it, then let us pause for a few moments while all the evangelical thought leaders block you on Twitter.

Those guys crack me up.

And Jesus Was No Woke Buttercup

In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35)—“but-that’s-in-the-Old . . . wait”—we should begin by noting how often our translators pitch in to help us out of our sob-sister difficulties. The word servants brings to mind the halcyon world of Downton Abbey instead of slaves from the grim world of Simon Legree. But these are not servants in the sense of the hired help—they are slaves. Notice how the master was going to resolve the problem of indebtedness by selling his slave off, along with the wife and kids (Matt. 18:25). You don’t sell off the hired help. Or, if you do, it is generally frowned upon.

In addition, at the conclusion of the story, the master, instead of selling him, turns him over to the basanistes. In the ancient world, torture of slaves was not uncommon, but it was not so common that that every master felt he had to own his own gear. So what developed was a system of renting a professional—someone who owned the thumbscrews and all, and who could bring everything around to your place whenever it was needed. Kind of like Windshield Doctor. These professionals with the right equipment for every slave-owner’s needs were called the basanistes. The ESV helpfully obscures this for tender inerrantists by calling them jailers.

And so we mutter, sotto voce, that of course Jesus did take illustrations from everyday life, from time to time, and which could include things like this, which does not necessarily imply endors . . . but then He interrupts us, wrapping the parable up like this.

“So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matt. 18:35).

Atheist for a Year?

If I ever attained to the seared conscience that some folks think I already have, and if I wanted to pay off the mortgage of my house really quick, I could renounce the faith (but only for a year or two), declare myself an outspoken atheist, and challenge evangelical believers everywhere to debate, to come and defend their precious Book. “Tell me,” I would say in my opening statement, “are you committed to inerrancy? Because I would like to use the remainder of my time by reading some Bible verses out loud.”

Now the Faith as it stands in its glorious historical reality is solid and massive, immoveable, and quite capable of making every orc in Mordor quail. The gates of Hades will not prevail against her. But the kind of jiggery pokery that goes on in modern apologetics presents quite a different picture. It is rare to find true biblical apologists anymore. Instead we have PR hacks, with one eye on the authoritative vagaries of public opinion and the other eye on the main chance. That is not the fortress of the true faith. No, that is a Disney castle, with gigantic Styrofoam blocks, and one that could probably be taken out by an aggressive atheist sophomore with some kindling and a Bic lighter.  

So claiming to believe in inerrancy—that glorious abstraction, all rise!—whenever you are called on to explain your most recent tomfoolery is not the same thing as living under the authority of Scripture. The Bible is not simply “without error.” The Bible is without error and is the final and complete and ultimate and absolute Word of authority that supersedes all the dumb stuff that our theological thought leaders manage to cook up with such regularity. But also remember that the only reason they can cook so much is that the pigs are always hungry.

So while Christians should of course work through the challenge of harmonizing Scripture with Scripture, and one scriptural principle with another, we have no obligation whatever to harmonize Scripture with the bruised feelings of the bed wetters, the harpies, or the bellygods.

But in the meantime, all the modern Christians lament together. Why do secular nonbelievers refuse to believe the Bible? I hate to break it to everybody, but they refuse because the Christians are also refusing to do so. Nobody wants to deal with the Bible as it is. Why should unbelievers believe what the believers won’t believe? It seems to me that when it comes to believing, the believers should go first.

Non-Christians don’t believe the Bible. So? The Christians don’t believe it either. When the unbelievers decide together not to pay any attention whatever to our do-as-we-say-and-not-as-we-do shtick, one must acknowledge that they kind of have a point.

Haven’t they?

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