Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"The danger of inerrancy"

In his post I’m going to document Michael Patton’s position rather than evaluate his position. Patton has accused his critics (“watchblogs”) of missing the point he was trying to make. But it looks to me like Patton himself has muddied the waters regarding his position. Patton is making at least two different points rather than one.

Apologetic/evangelistic methodology:

These two stories are illustrations of the importance of keeping to the “make or break” issues of our faith when sharing the Gospel. The issues of origins, inspiration, and inerrancy are very important. We eventually need to discuss them. But they are not ”make or break” issues. And they can be used to sidetrack discussions of the Gospel into endless and fruitless debate. They can often keep you from getting to Christ. The two people above may have never really heard an actual argument for the Gospel. They were both intellectual types who were ready to debate so many things that did not matter. I don’t need to convince an unbeliever that the Bible is inspired or inerrant. The issue of evolution does not matter if it is only keeping you from sharing the Gospel. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes people will have legitimate hang-ups about these and other things that need to be dealt with. But sometimes we need to deal with them by explaining that they have no bearing on whether Jesus rose from the grave. Once we establish Christ’s resurrection, you can get back to those things. But in our apologetics, we need to do everything we can to get to the historicity of the resurrection.

Here Patton is talking about how to witness to unbelievers. He’s talking about how people come to the faith, how to bring them to the faith. This is directed at outsiders.

And he’s asserting that in those situations, inspiration, inerrancy, the historicity of Gen 1-11, are inessential.

Fallback position:

It is my argument that often – far too often – conservative Christians become identified with issues that, while important, do not make or break our faith. This creates extremely volatile situations (from a human perspective) as believers’ faith ends up having a foundation which consists of one of these non-foundational issues. When and if these issues are significantly challenged, our faith becomes unstable. I have seen too many people who walk away from the faith due to their trust in some non-essential issue coming unglued.

One of the first things that I have to teach my students this: The Christian faith is not a house of cards.

Most assuredly, there are foundational issues of the faith that, if taken away, will destroy Christianity. Issues like the existence of God (there is no such thing as a “Christian atheist”), the resurrection of Christ, the reality of God’s judgment and grace through Jesus Christ, and Christ’s atoning death on the cross. However, there are many details of the Christian faith that can suffer adjustments without destroying the entire faith. Christianity is not like a house of cards where you can take any one card away and the rest fall.

I have seen many people leave the faith and the catalyst of their departure was a rejection of inerrancy (the belief that the Bible does not have any errors, historic, theological, or scientific). I have seen others leave because they felt they had to adjust their view of the early chapters of Genesis, creation and the flood. I have seen others who thought that if there was any redacting (editing by the authors) of the Gospel narratives, their faith was destroyed. Still, I have actually been in contact with one who was shaken to the point of petrification because he was starting to consider the multiple author theory for Isaiah. These are issues to be sure. But they are not issues which can cause any harm to the essence of Christianity in any way.

It is normally those who are brought up in rigidity who are susceptible building this house of cards theology and to letting non-cardinal issues crash their faith. This is why you see so many who are “former fundamentalists.” Fundamentalism feeds on unnecessary rigidity and therefore, unfortunately, is quite a seedbed for graveyards of Christians. As well, this type of thinking makes education—true education—virtually impossible.

While I believe strongly in many issues that are of non-cardinal value, I don’t hold on to these too tightly. This is a fundamental philosophical precursor to dealing with so many theological problems today. The inability to identify, isolate, and distinguish between essentials and non-essentials often causes the entire house of cards to fall.

Greg Jones was an evangelical Christian, active in his church, a regular preacher, teacher and served on the elder board. He says that he was addicted  to fundamentalism. He slept, ate, and drank the truths of Christianity. After a decade of faithful service to the church, he is now a professing atheist who rejects the naivety  of all that he held to so dearly. Why? Well, as he tells the story, he says that he was awakened out of his slumber of fundamentalism through many encounters with the truth. Chief among these encounters was when he finally realized that the Bible was full of errors. 

This description is a common testimony of many who have  walked away from the faith.  But this blog is not about  walking away from the faith  per se, but with the dangers of the doctrine of inerrancy.

Here he’s talking about staying in the faith. This is directed at insiders. To those who are already in the faith (in some sense), but at risk of losing their faith.

And he’s asserting that in those situations, inspiration, inerrancy, the historicity of Gen 1-11, are inessential.

So he’s claiming that many Biblical teachings, which he himself considers to be Biblical, are equally expendable in evangelism, apologetics, and discipleship.

1 comment:

  1. Michael and I exchanged some words on the essential vs. non-essential blog entry. See comment #19 and forward:


    I just don't think he fully understands the issues and the damages that are done in his "Mere Christianity" approach.

    I am probably on his B-list now, too. Sigh.

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