Stephen M. Garrett, associate professor at the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences, and J. Merrick, assistant professor at Grand Canyon University, present Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy much like the climate of the evangelical church: Can’t we agree to disagree and still get along? Five authors give five different interpretations on biblical inerrancy and the editors do not side with any of the contributors in the conclusion. Instead, “this book hopes to generate conversations on the doctrinal commitments that determine inerrancy” (12). The general editors feel that biblical inerrancy has been wrongly placed as the doctrine on which the evangelical church rises or falls. Justification should be the foundation. When one camp “seems to teach that Christian beliefs are of the order of facts…people who believe in [justification] are not forced to behold its true depth as a fundamentally self-shattering reality” (14). But if inerrancy were to be removed, “it could prove distortive of the doctrine of revelation.” So the purpose of the book is to bring a variety of perspectives to the debate table without leaving it scorched from fiery diatribe.
Each contributor is asked to give a historical perspective on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. They were also “instructed to supply suggestions for the texts for three categories: 1) the factuality of scripture, 2) canonical coherence, and 3) theological coherence” (22). The first category asks the author to reconcile how archaeologists use evidence to say the fall of Jericho as presented in Joshua 6 is not accurate history. The second category asks why there is a discrepancy between Paul’s conversion retelling in Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9. The third asks the contributors to reconcile God’s Old Testament directives to annihilate the Canaanite nations with Jesus’ New Testament command to love your enemy (Matt. 5:38-48). At the end of each essay, the other four contributors respond to the claims presented. It was helpful that each writes on the same questions so readers can make accurate comparisons.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president and professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, presents what the church has historically understood to be inerrancy. “When the Bible speaks, God speaks” (29). Any attack or deviation from that truth will be flagged as fake news. So when archaeologists, even though there be many, say that the conquest on ancient Canaan and the destruction of Jericho didn’t happen as the Bible tells it, “I do not allow any line of evidence from outside the Bible to nullify to the slightest degree the truthfulness of any text in all that the text asserts and claims” (51, emphasis original). How can the integrity of God’s truth be maintained if historical accounts aren’t accurate? As for the discrepancy in Acts, “any problem with our understanding of these two verses lies in our interpretation and not in the texts themselves” (53). Mohler sees God’s judgment on the Canaanites as being done “in order to fulfill his saving purpose” (57). It is for the sake of the Gospel.
Peter E. Enns, professor at Eastern University, believes “the Bible is a book that tells one grand narrative, but by means of divergent viewpoints and different theologies” (83, emphasis added). But this reviewer appreciated Enns’ encouragement to remove cultural assumptions that can easily become “petrified and immune to criticism” (87). Enns criticizes the “slippery slope argument” of biblical inerrantists with a slippery slope argument of his own that such beliefs lead to fear and responding in anger, ultimately leading to manipulation and emotional blackmailing (89). Enns compares the writings of Joshua to Near East legends and so he does not see the need to take it as exact history (93-99). He states that Luke’s purpose was not to tell an exact event in detail but rather to show how Paul was all things to all people. “The fact that Luke describes Paul’s Damascus road experience in different ways already alerts us to the likelihood that recording ‘what happened’ is not his primary focus, whereas interpreting Paul for his audience is” (102). Enns interprets God’s command to Joshua to destroy the Canaanites similarly. “It can be viewed only as part of a larger picture of Yahweh as a tribal warrior god who commands not just the killing of enemy soldiers but also the killing and/or enslaving of civilians, including women and children” (107, emphasis original). This he says is more historically consistent with the writings of that time. But as Bird reacts, “Enns’ views on Scripture and inerrancy have courted more controversy than Kim Kardashian’s attending a Jihadist-for-Jesus fundraiser” (124).
Michael F. Bird, lecturer at Ridley Melbourne Ministry and Mission College, watches Americans’ battle for the Bible from the perspective of a football spectator who would rather be at a rugby game. He states, “The American inerrancy tradition is not an essential facet of the faith, because most of us outside of North America get on with our mission without it…. Our churches uphold Scripture as the inspired Word of God…without the penchant to engage in bitter divisions over which nomenclature best suits our theological disposition” (146). He further comments, “Only American evangelicals use Scripture to argue against gun control, against environmental care, and against universal healthcare” (156). Bird can neither deny nor affirm the historicity of Joshua 6 in comparison to the archeologists’ criticisms. “Nothing here falsifies the biblical account that it was conquered by the Israelites during the Late Bronze Age, but neither can much evidence for such a conquest be found” (167). Bird is not too concerned about the details of Luke’s recording of Paul’s missionary journey. “I doubt that either Luke or his readers were quite so befuddled with such details, as ancient historians were more concerned with the reporting the gist of events than with describing the minutiae with pinpoint precision” (168). Bird comments on God’s handling of the Canaanites as “a less-than-ideal option but a necessary pathway for the survival of Israel…and a way to prevent Israel from worshiping pagan deities…. I trust God, in his infinite sense of right, to do what is just and proper, even when I do not understand it myself” (170-171). Bird also cites numerous examples of God’s mercy in the Old Testament (171).
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, research professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, quotes Shakespeare in his optimistic view over the fight. “‘The truth will win out’ and this gives us a reason to endure critical questioning, to continue trusting each and every part of God’s word, and humbly yet boldly to read again” (202-203). He elevates scripture being inerrant over the interpreters (212) and encourages, “Only in the context of its particular use can we determine what is said” (220, emphasis original). Vanhoozer doesn’t want the facts pitted against the theological applications. “Reading Joshua simply to discover ‘what actually happened’ is to miss the main point of discourse, which is to communicate a theological interpretation of what happened (that is, God gave Israel the land) and to call for right participation in the covenant” (228). Rather than seeing a problem with Luke’s contradiction, he sees the benefit to serve “Luke’s purpose by progressively reducing the role for the companions, eventually excluding them altogether from the revelatory event, which turns out to be not merely a theophany but a commissioning service…. Paul alone will serve as Christ’s witness” (230, emphasis original). In Vanhoozer’s reaction to the third challenge, finally the Gospel breathes. “The violence we see in the Old Testament, though real, is also typological, in anticipation of the bloody violence directed to Jesus on the cross, and thence peace for all the nations” (233).
John R. Frank, professor at Yellowstone Theological Institute, recasts inerrancy in light of God’s “plurality-in-unity and unity-in-plurality” (266). Since God is one yet plural, so too the variety of perspectives and people used to convey the word are one. “By inspiration, they bear a proper relationship to God, but inspiration does not enable them to transcend their limitations as a finite creaturely medium” (269). So the discrepancies and errors are part of the plurality in the unity of God’s word. If God is Truth, scripture is truth but is not absolute (270). Frank gives a good warning about human interpretations being equated with inerrancy (278). In both Joshua and Acts, Frank does not feel the need to have exact details correct to maintain inerrancy. “The various attempts at harmonization are touted in apologetic concern to demonstrate the inerrancy of Scripture as the basis on which to defend the truthfulness of Christian faith. The result…has been increasing cultural skepticism about the bible as well as an artificial approach to interpretation that often disables readers from seeing what the texts actually says” (238). Frank quotes God’s directive to not oppress foreigners and to defend the cause of the outsider in the Old Testament to show God’s love has remained constant throughout both testaments and sees no discrepancy between Jesus and God.
This reviewer thought that the battle for the bible was mostly lost in evangelical circles. Now he is confident that the Holy Spirit is still fighting for the truth of his word in the broader Christian Church and it is not up to the Lutherans to hold down the fort. God wins again.
This book will help a pastor respond to many Christians who leave the evangelical church to find something more substantial saying, “Something wasn’t quite right but I couldn’t articulate it.” A pastor who reads this book will know how there are a variety of interpretations on biblical inerrancy, more than simply you believe it or you don’t. While the purpose of the book is to allow for meaningful discussion, at the end of the day, false doctrine is still false doctrine; poison is still poison. However one feels about niceties, he must follow biblical directives about those who preach differently than the gospel previously presented. Mark and avoid (Rom. 16:17). Reading this book will equip the pastor to do just that in all gentleness and love.