Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Redefining the Infallibility-Inerrancy Conflict

Over the past few weeks, there have been several discussions I have involved myself with regarding infallibility and the inerrancy of the biblical text. Some have gone well. Others have been contentious and resulted in separation and enmity on the part of some. I share in the responsibility for some of these end results and certainly acknowledge the issues should have been discussed in a more amicable manner on my part as well as by others. The experience has caused a redefinition of the issue. While this conflict has been among the church for some time, there has been considerable discussion in several venues recently regarding inerrancy and its relationship to what the Bible actually presents as revealed divine truth. What seems to be missing in much of the debate is an acknowledgement in some quarters of the close agreement that both inerrantists and infallibilists share with regard to the truth of scripture. Conservative, evangelical Christians who prefer the term infallible will likely agree with nearly every position of the same who prefer “inerrancy”. I am baffled as to why this simple observation escapes some. To that end, I’ve redefined this conflict with the use of a simple line chart that I think expresses a realistic representation of how these two terms interact.

Those who find themselves on the far edges of this line most likely would not acknowledge it as such but I know from my own experience with such people that it is a fair representation of my perception of them. Liberals and many emergents would reject the notion that they suffer from unbelief of much of scripture but I think an examination of what they espouse argues otherwise. Of course, this is again from my own perspective which is theologically conservative. The same is true on the other direction. They do not regard themselves as separatists yet their actions witness that very thing. Recently, a disgruntled inerrantist took offense at my suggestion he was acting like a fundamentalist with his responses to my inquiries. I was not suggesting he is a fundamentalist but rather he was using fundamentalist tactics with his replies. Nonetheless he broke off the exchange in anger. True to separatist mindsets, he has since deleted me from his “friend” list on Facebook even though he likely has not considered that as such. I personally do not give two cents one way or the other regarding social networking media but it confirms for myself that this simple chart can be validated.

As a conservative evangelical, I strongly believe we need to be as a body united in the circle in order to avoid the unpleasant extremes of inerrancy and infallibility. Whether that collective of believers can grow depends much on amicable discussions without the animosity and misrepresentation from either side. I believe it can grow in fellowship and at the same time keep the church from straying into reactionary camps.


The Seeking Disciple said...

I would line up toward the left (Ha!). I strongly advocate both infallibility of the Bible as well as inerrancy although I would not classify myself as a "hyper-literialist." I am not sure I have met one except when it comes to prophecy.

A.M. Mallett said...

For myself I would tend to lean toward the same direction. There are some aspects of fundamentalism I have little problem with but separatism leaves a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth (with regard to separating from orthodox believers).
I've met a couple hyper-literalists who struggled with accepting that sometimes the Bible makes use of allegorical means to teach. I don't recall the specific issues at the time but I remember a bruiser about sinless perfectionism where rote passages were repeated verbatim and that was all that was offered. Any counter was met with "Are you saying the Bible is lying?". It became a cross between hyper-literalism and Bibliolatry. Nothing broke the defense.

Kevin Jackson said...

Good post, I like your explanation. Harold Camping is a good example of someone who holds to innerancy and is a hyper literalist.

I agree that seperatism is a big problem among the more staunch inerrantists. It's damaging to the body of Christ to break fellowship over issues like this.

In fairness, I also have a former friend who left my church because he was disgruntled that it was too conservative. So it can go both ways.

A.M. Mallett said...

It can certainly go both ways. Our UMC fellows have strayed far to the liberal, emergent camp and forsaken the inerrancy aspect of infallibility while giving lip service to the latter. The separatists on the other end have done much the opposite. Personally, I do not think conservatism has much to do with the inerrancy dispute. I am likely more conservative than many strict inerrantists. At the end of teh day it all comes down to faith or unbelief.