Saturday, June 14, 2008

Inerrancy and Biblical Authority

My church did a survey of itself recently as part of a larger study that Willow Creek is conducting regarding the beliefs and practices of various evangelical churches. My church has about 1200 attendees and roughly 300 responded to the survey.

One point that I thought was interesting was that, according to the results, amongst people who consider themselves committed believers, only about half scored the Bible as having high “authority”. It made me think about the many ways that one could interpret that result.

First, I do not remember much from the survey on biblical authority, but I do remember a lot being said about inerrancy. To me, that shows a huge bias. To the writers of the survey, it seems that anyone who subscribes to biblical inerrancy gives the bible high authority; whereas anyone who does not must give it low authority. I do not believe in biblical inerrancy, so I must have gotten low marks on biblical authority.

However, I often find the opposite to be true. Many people I know who would give a resounding YES to biblical inerrancy often have very weak biblical justifications for the points of theology that they hold. Usually, they believe this or that based on a preacher they have heard or a book they have read or what their church teaches. I see this as giving high authority to people or institutions, but low authority to scripture.

I probably scored low on biblical authority, yet on pretty much everything I believe – orthodox or not – I have a biblical justification as to why I believe it. People may think I hold some wrong views, but those are views I hold while looking through the lens of scripture. In that light, I think I give the scriptures high authority in my life.

I think biblical authority should be measured by how an individual uses scripture to guide their theology, not by their position on inerrancy.


didymus said...

Interesting. I wonder how I'd fair on such a survey.

Now, if what your saying is true, that the survey is relating “biblical inerrancy” with “biblical authority”, then wouldn’t the survey results that you mentioned kind of show that at least a 150 people at your church agree with you, and maybe even up to 50% of your church disagrees (along with you) with "biblical inerrancy"?

Andrew said...

That is quite possible Thomas. I think there is probably a large variance in how people define these things, so I would be curious to pursue more discussion on this point. I think there are a lot of people who have doubts they rarely give voice to them because to utter them amongst the church community will get you placed on the outsiders list quickly. You will go from being part of the community to being an outsider to be ignored or reached out to - but you will no longer be valid or trusted if you are not saying the "right" things.

Adam Gonnerman said...

I wouldn't be surprised if the questions and scoring end up given non-innerant answers a low authority evaluation. That's too bad. I no longer hold to inerrancy, but have far more respect for the written Word and the God who inspired it (and the Lord to whom it points) than I ever did in my more literalistic days.

Redlefty said...

Andrew and Adam, I'm right there with you guys. Long removed from inerrancy, but absolutely love the texts and refer to them regularly!

Steve Sensenig said...

Andrew, I see in your sidebar that you read my post the other day about "evidence" for inerrancy, so you probably know that I'm pretty much with you on this, too.

And like you and others have said before me here, I refer to and love the scripture very much. It doesn't have to be put in a particular box (definition of inerrancy, for example) in order for me to love it and give it weight in my life.

But I love the Author of it even more!! :)

Andrew said...

Hey Steve - Welcome! I enjoyed your piece on inerrancy. I think I have felt for a long time that the bible was not inerrant in that way, but I was afraid to say it out loud. Many Christian circles consider such views a sure sign that your are backsliding. :)

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