Nearly two years ago (wow…), I wrote an article questioning the usefulness and/or helpfulness of the concept of biblical inerrancy.  In this post, I argued that it seems apparent that the doctrine of inerrancy is actually inevitably harmful to a Christian understanding of the place and role of Scripture within theology for it unnaturally weds the doctrine of Scripture to modernistic conceptions of historicity and textual criticism by way of antithesis.  In doing so, I concluded, a theology that affirms the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is qualitatively indistinguishable from that which it seeks to overcome in that by necessarily affirming the starting premises of modernistic notions of historicity, biblical inerrancy unwittingly capitulates the legitimacy of said categories while (illogically) arriving at different conclusions.  In my understanding, such an approach is ultimately doomed because its entire attempt at substantiation will be (and is, consequently, being) washed away with the next great philosophical paradigm shift.

In the two years since writing about my thoughts on this perspective, I have engaged several who are opposed to my view and assert–nearly above all other things–the absolute necessity of the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture.  While I certainly do not wish to call into question the individual motivations of the protagonists of this viewpoint, I do think that there is a perhaps subconscious motivation driving the assertion of this doctrine.

Before getting to this, however, I think some introduction to the argument itself deserves mention. The first level of argument in favor of the doctrine of inerrancy, of course, is that the inerrancy of Scripture is necessary because, if otherwise, one would not be able to get at "truth".  And of course, in the minds of the defenders of this position, "truth" is not "truth" unless it can be absolutely asserted and, relatedly, absolutely possessed within some carrier (here Scripture).  The requirement of inerrancy is then seen as a given, for if truth must be asserted and possessed absolutely in order to attain to the criterion of absolute truth, then there must be some fail-safe buttressing the aforementioned assertions lest they be shown to be less than absolute in either their possession or proclamation.

But this of course begs the question of how the qualification of inerrancy is so authoritatively applied to Scripture.  After all, in the course of human history, there exist precious few prospects for that to which one could point as being "inerrant."  Moreover, even if the assertion of inerrancy could be so courageously applied to any bit of human history (written or otherwise), one must further probe as to the criterion to which one would submit said phenomena so as to adjudicate it as "inerrant."  

It must be understood (although is obviously often overlooked), of course, that applications of titles, descriptions and qualifications to phenomena require some comparative rubric lest its naming appear to be entirely arbitrary.   For example, an alien visitor to our universe might think it a highly spectacular reality that the sun does not immediately swallow the earth because of its proximity (as it would in her universe).  However, across consecutive days, she would come to realize that the consistent orbit of the earth around the sun is a statistically "normal" event in comparison to the uniform orbits of additional planets in our Solar System (and even across the universe as a whole).

With discussions of inerrancy, however, there exists no standard against which to judge the nature and form of the Scriptures whereby to determine the actuality of their presumed inerrancy.  More importantly, indeed, is the fact that the self-assumed inerrancy of Scripture is itself the standard of inerrancy to which advocates of textual inerrancy will point in the substantiation of their claims.

Now obviously such a position is hopelessly circular–as the presumed inerrant nature of the Scriptures forms the de facto criterion for determining inerrancy altogether (and consequently rules out the possibility of any other inerrant texts as all other inerrant texts must, by the modus operandi of the inerranists, be precisely identical to the Scripture), so any hope of finding an external rule or measure must be quickly abandoned.

Therefore, if the inerrancy of Scripture is not based on any measure of conformance to an external, determinable definition of inerrancy, upon what is the assertion of inerrancy made?  The only conclusion can be that such an infusion of belief must be based solely upon faith.  

However–and here is the most important argument of this post–if it is faith which drives the declaration of inerrancy, of what need is the doctrine of inerrancy?  Earlier, I argued what I believe to be the crux of the fervent support for the doctrine of inerrancy–the perceived need to buttress the Scriptures from apparent attacks in modern textual criticism and historical study.  Yet if the role and meaningfulness of Scripture within theology is–regardless of the presence of the doctrine of inerrancy in the milieu–ultimately based upon faith, then there remains no need to defend the Scriptures against the affronts of modern textual criticism and historical study.  As faith necessarily transcends current philosophical fads, any of its objects (whether Scripture, orthodox doctrines, etc.) are intractably rooted in the expression of faith, not the evaluation of the verifiability of faith by sources external to its professors.  Invariably, a faith that feels the need to defend itself against the milieu of philosophical antagonism by means of the very tactics of said antagonizers is no faith at all, for the descent of faith to the level of phenomenological verification is accompanied by a loss of transcendence, a divorce from the spiritual power and center from which its power and ultimate reality is derived.

It is this which has happened in the debate over inerrancy of Scripture.  In their zeal to preserve this "glorious" doctrine, the professors of biblical inerrancy have lost the transcendent power of faith, seeking rather to legitimize their views of the absolutism of Scripture on the level of historical and textual criticism.  Here, faith is no longer the “evidence of things unseen,” but is rather transmuted into the object of scientific examination.  However, in doing so, they are fighting a losing battle, for the more closely they wed the authority of Scripture to their abilities to shore up the bible against the inevitable victory of historical and textual criticism, the more they undermine and erode the very authority they seek to establish and perpetuate.

So what, in the final analysis, is the core motivation for such a fervent defense of the doctrine of inerrancy?  After all, faith–whether the transcendent kind or the blind kind that unwittingly capitulates to the paradigms of philosophical faddishness–is required for any assertion of a meaningful place of authority for Scripture within Christian theology; so why go to such ruinous ends?

The only conclusion that I can reach is that such an approach is motivated by a desire for power, whether or not the same is overtly pursued or only subconsciously perceived as a need.  In this regard, I believe the doctrine of inerrancy is wielded so that the assertion of theological perspectives from Scripture will be authoritatively received.  Whether it is a loss of the transcendent faith in those who receive teaching from Scripture, or an enhanced need for authority by those who profess it, the doctrine of inerrancy appears to be a means to an end of power.  

Such is painfully obvious in the lost battle against textual criticism and modern historical methodology. 

As mentioned above, a transcendent faith in Scripture cares not for the opinions of the current philosophical elite, for such a faith recognizes that the authority of Scripture is for the formation of theological thought, not the authoritarian imposition of epistemological paradigms upon all systems of thought.  But this is precisely what the doctrine of inerrancy seeks (or at least appears to seek) to do.  By artificially setting the Scriptures as epistemologically and methodologically untouchable by any other external authority, it is presumed that from this vantage point the expositor of Scripture can reign down absolutism without question.  And indeed, such a position appears quite powerful, for if one can be convinced that the Scriptures are inerrant, what seemingly transcendent power must the interpreter of the inerrant wield!

Yet inevitably, the power is being shown to ring quite hollow.  As textual criticism and modern historical study continue to become entrenched in the pysche of the general populace, the meaningfulness of Scripture–which has for decades now been antithetically wedded in unnatural union to these now overtaking sciences–is degraded and disgraced, hardly worth a thought in the minds of all but the most fervent defenders of the lost fight.

The remedy, to the chagrin of the defenders of inerrancy, is not a more forceful exposition of the more salient points of the doctrine.  Nor is the savior an earth-shattering archeological discovery that will instantly overturn the assertions of all objectors.  No, quite to the contrary, what is desperately needed is a return to the transcendent faith in Scripture.  This faith, as mentioned before, is not one rooted in the need to wield Scripture for power to dominate ideas.  Nor is it a faith which can only be satisfied if the canons of Scripture are pressed to a place where they become the thought-police for all systems of human thought.  Rather, this is a faith which radically embraces the Scriptures for what they are–the formative witness of the people of God to the revelation of very God in the history of salvation and in the person and work of Christ.  It is a faith which does not seek to ply the Scriptures to become a rule-book nor a absolutist how-to manual for Christian behavior.  Rather, it is a faith that seeks to inculcate the collective history of God's people contained within into one's own personal and corporate history.  

In this embrace there is no absolutistic proscription, yet transfigurative formation is always the result.  The Scriptures, after all, are the book by and for the people of God.  When we allow them to speak freely and without artificial qualifications, they speak prophetically and transformatively about the kingdom of God within the life and history of God's people.  It is only when we seek to press them into the service of our own agendas–as virtuous as they may seem–that the transcendence of faith is lost and we are left with only our own words.  Let us leave behind the artificial need to defend the Scriptures against threats to what is ultimately our own philosophical insecurities and re-embrace the transcendent faith wherein the Scriptures can powerfully work in our hearts and lives.