Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Do people have to believe in inerrancy in order to be Christians?

What is inerrancy?

Here is the statement of faith that affirms inerrancy from the Evangelical Philosophical Society, which I think is a good statement of what belief in inerrancy requires:

The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and therefore inerrant in the original.  God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.

C. Michael Patton at Reclaiming the Mind is an inerrantist, but he thinks that inerrancy should be optional for Christians.

Excerpt:

Here is the question: Is the doctrine of inerrancy so central to the Christian faith that if one were to deny it, he or she should pack their bags and search for a new worldview? In other words (and let me be very clear), if the Scriptures are not inerrant, does that mean the Christian faith is false?

Most of you know that I hold to the doctrine of inerrancy. I call my view “reasoned” inerrancy which does not suppose a particular wooden hermeneutic to be tied to it. (You can read more about it here).

Having said this, I believe that this doctrine, while important, is not the article upon which Christianity stands or falls. I believe that the Scriptures could contain error and the Christian faith remain essentially in tact. Why? Because Christianity is not built upon the inerrancy of Scripture, but the historical Advent of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Christ became man, lived a perfect life, died an atoning death, and rose on the third day not because the Scriptures inerrantly say that these events occurred, but because they did, in fact, occur. The truth is in the objectivity of the event, not the accuracy of the record of the event.

Some people who believe in inerrancy respond to complaints about errors by arguing that New Testament writers were not obligated to list all the witnesses to empty tomb, nor to transcribe exactly/all of what people said, or to list all of the events in the life of Jesus in chronological order. They argue that if you relax the standards of reporting a little, the apparent conflicts between the sources often disappear.

My position

I’m an inerrantist, but I don’t think that a person has to be one in order to become a Christian, initially. I think that the list of non-negotiables do be a Christian shouldn’t include inerrancy. Now, I don’t think that people can just dump verses willy-nilly, based on personal preferences about particular sins, or presumptions of naturalism or religions pluralism.

Instead, I think that it’s ok for people to be agnostic on some stories (like the guard at the tomb or the earthquake resurrections in Matthew) because of historical concerns. I would hope that these new Christians would make an effort to read more about problem passages and see if they can move closer to inerrancy, though.

For more about inerrancy, you want to consider watching the debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman on the resurrection of Jesus, or you can download the transcript here.

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11 Responses

  1. Alisha says:

    Good post. I agree with you and Patton’s excerpt.

  2. Alisha says:

    Maybe… I’ve had people from church actually argue with me about this. They believe if someone does not believe in the inerrancy of Scriptures, they do not have “right belief” and cannot possibly accept Christ as Savior-even if the person truly believes in Christ’s atoning work.

  3. Stan says:

    I list inerrancy as essential, but not as in “necessary for salvation”. Perfect doctrine does not result in salvation. I believe that a person under the influence of the Holy Spirit will be convinced (by the Holy Spirit) of the truth of inerrancy. (By the way, the standard claim of inerrancy is not that the Bible has no errors, but that the Bible IN ITS ORIGINAL FORM had no errors. Of course, since we’re certain of about 99.5% of the text as a reliable representation of the original, well, you can draw your own conclusions there.) As a parallel, you don’t have to believe in the Trinity to get saved, but having seen the Trinity in Scripture, if you REJECT the doctrine, there is a genuine question to be asked.

    • Drew says:

      If Christians were incapable of denying true doctrine when faced with it, the church would be far more pure than it is today.

  4. Richard Ball says:

    “I’m an inerrantist, but I don’t think that a person has to be one in order to become a Christian.” Thankfully, neither does the Holy Spirit. I became a Spirit-filled, regenerate Christian through reading the New Testament and praying, and, let me put it this way, the question of inerrancy never came up.

    Let’s take the “minimum criteria” approach.

    Romans 10:9-10.

    “Do you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead? Do you accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord?

    Yes? You’re in.

    All the standard Christian beliefs — virgin birth, trinity, etc. etc. etc. came later.

    • Stan says:

      “Let’s take the ‘minimum criteria’ approach.”

      Just for clarification, the question of “essential doctrines” is not “What must I believe to be saved?” but “What basic doctrines are required to constitute Christianity?”

  5. Richard Ball says:

    Plus, the New Testament hadn’t even been written let alone compiled let alone canonized when the Church was birthed and got off to a rip-roaring start. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 was evidently a quite sufficient dose of facts to believe to result in regeneration.

    Haven’t read it lately, but I suspect it will include my minimal facts stated above.

    1. God raised Jesus from the dead.
    2. Jesus is Lord.

    Plus the requisite response:

    Confess Christ as Lord – confession with the mouth and/or baptism

  6. Paradox says:

    I personally disagree with believing we can reject the Trinity. If we deny the God-hood of any member, are we worshiping God properly? I’d think that this is the issue, as it is the result of answering the question, “Can a Christian believe that there is only one person in the Godhead?”
    Of course, I don’t know of any biblical proof that we must believe in the trinity (maybe that speaks badly of me, but at least I’m honest), and human tradition should not supercede the Bible, so it seems I’ll just have to agree to disagree. Of course, if Biblical Inerrancy wins out, we have numerous verses attesting to the omnipotence and omniscience of the Son, the Holy Ghost, and the Father, as well as their deserving worship, and their eternal existence.

    My brother was angry at me for holding Reasoned Inerrancy (and that was before I even knew of Michael Patton, though I didn’t call it that!), because I said the flaw with his rhetorical question, “Do you believe everything in the Bible?” was that the Bible also records Satan’s lies, and has statements that are hard to interpret; how can I believe something I don’t understand the meaning of?

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