Category Archives: Chicago

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy forty years on

In late 1978 evangelical theologians met in Chicago to discuss the inerrancy or not of the bible. Inerrancy was a hot topic in the 1970s as Harold Lindsell pushed it so far as to have SIX denials of Jesus by Peter to retain Inerrancy. Others were questioning it.

It was more of an American issue as British evangelicals were less concerned about it. In Britain it is the most conservative evangelical who insist on it.

What follows is my largely historical discussion in my book Evangelicals and Science.

For myself I was encouraged to believe it but by 1978 had come to reject inerrancy.

This issue is still worth considering as it lies beneath so much evangelical understanding of the bible and especially science and the bible,perhaps less so in Britain.

INERRANCY

Most evangelicals today hold that the Bible is Inerrant. This means that

the Bible is absolute truth and does not err in its statements. It is easy

to conclude that evangelicals, who believe in biblical inerrancy, equate

it with literalism and thus YEC. Though this is often the case, there are

many exceptions. Evangelicals who espouse YEC adopt both literalism

and inerrancy and this is often written into credal statements of evangelical

churches and colleges, as well as YEC groups like AIG and ICR. However

to leave it at that would be misleading.

Answers magazine, Oct-Dec 2014 issue

It is a matter of debate whether inerrancy has been the main protestant

doctrine of the Bible since the Reformation or not. In 1979, at the height of

the inerrancy debate centered on the writings of Harold Lindsell, Rogers

and McKim (Rogers and McKim, 1979) argued that inerrancy was introduced

by the Haldane brothers in 1828 and developed by the Princeton

theologians Hodge and Warfield after 1860. Calvin along with most Reformers

and Doddridge, Thomas Scott and others in the eighteenth century

allowed some error in the Bible,without questioning its absolute authority.

The classic nineteenth-century expression of inerrancy is in Hodge’s Systematic

Theology of 1870 (Hodge, 1870) and Warfield’s (1851–1921) many

writings (Warfield, 1951) on the authority of scripture. Hodge likens the errors

in the Bible to tiny specks of sandstone in the marble of the Parthenon

(Hodge, 1870, vol. 1, p. 170). Both theologians accepted geological ages and

Warfield reckoned himself a Darwinian. Thus in its classic formulation, Inerrancy

embraced a nonliteral interpretation of Genesis. Biblical inerrancy

became a central belief among the early twentieth-century American fundamentalists,

often with an acceptance of geological time.

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With the growth of the “New Evangelicals” after 1950, some, like E. J. Carnell and others

from Fuller seminary, began to question inerrancy. D. P. Fuller put forward

the case for a limited inerrancy, in which the Bible is not inerrant on

matters of history and science (Marsden, 1987). This came to a head in the

1970s with Lindsell’s books, notably The Battle for the Bible (Lindsell, 1976),

followed in 1978 by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy which met

in Chicago in October 1978.

 

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy

 

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was signed by nearly 300 noted

evangelical scholars, including James Boice, Norman L. Geisler, Carl F. H.

Henry, Harold Lindsell, John W Montgomery, J. I. Packer, and Francis

Schaeffer. Most of these accepted geological ages and Packer accepted

Evolution (with reservations).

Article 12 of the Chicago Statement refers to earth history:

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood,

fraud, or deceit.

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy is limited to spiritual, religious, or

redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science.We

further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may be properly used

to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and flood.

 

In 1982 the council met again to discuss the hermeneutics of the Bible and

produce a second report—the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.

This contained twenty-five articles and the twenty-second dealt with the

early chapters of Genesis.

WE AFFIRM that Genesis 1–11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.

WE DENY that the teachings of Genesis 1–11 are mythical and that scientific

hypotheses about earth history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to

overthrow what Scripture teaches about creation.

Since the historicity and the scientific accuracy of the early chapters of the Bible

have come under severe attack it is important to apply the “literal” hermeneutic

espoused (Article XV) to this question. The result was a recognition of the factual

nature of the account of the creation of the universe, all living things, the special

creation of man, the Fall, and the Flood. These accounts are all factual, that is, they

are about space-time events which actually happened as reported in the book of

Genesis (see Article XIV).

The article left open the question of the age of the earth on which there is no unanimity

among evangelicals and which was beyond the purview of this conference.

There was, however, complete agreement on denying that Genesis is mythological

or unhistorical. Likewise, the use of the term “creation” was meant to exclude the

belief in macro-evolution, whether of the atheistic or theistic varieties.

This affirmed the factuality of Genesis and denied that it could be either

mythical or that “scientific hypotheses” could “overthrow what Scripture

teaches about creation.” The article seems to point to a literal Genesis, but

Norman Geisler made it clear in his commentary that “The article left open

the question of the age of the earth on which there is no unanimity among

evangelicals” but “the use of the term ‘creation’ was to exclude macroevolution.”

In the volume Hermeneutics, Inerrancy and the Bible produced

for the Council, Walter Bradley and Roger Olsen claimed that Progressive

Creation was the best combination of “the biblical and scientific particulars,”

thus giving semi-official support to the refusal to espouse YEC.5

However responding to Bradley and Olsen, Henry Morris called progressive

creation an “old time-worn, compromising hermeneutical system”

and refused to sign the declaration.

The_Genesis_Flood

Thus on early Genesis the 1982 Council failed to resolve anything, as

evolution was stated to be contrary to inerrancy but old-earth ideas were

not excluded. This, in itself, marked a considerable hardening of the definition

of inerrancy from that of Warfield a century earlier and also James

Packer, who wrote a classic defense of inerrancy in the 1950s. Though

the statement was equivocal, it undermined those who accepted evolution

and gave YECs confidence. Since then, if not before, YECs have insisted

that the only right view of the Bible is inerrancy and inerrancy implies

YEC. This is a powerful debating tactic and gives immediate advantage to

the YEC, who can then charge any “Old Earther” as “Liberal”

 

Inerrancy Today

In the United States, the majority of evangelicals hold to inerrancy today,

Which makes the total acceptance of geology and evolution extremely

difficult.6 Where the Chicago Statements are regarded as authoritative,

evolution is out. There are some evangelicals who hold to both evolution

and inerrancy but that goes against the general opinion. For many

evangelicals, to accept evolution is to reject inerrancy and thus to have a

weakened belief in the Bible. This outlook is increasingly being accepted

throughout the world, including Britain.

Definitions of inerrancy vary considerably. At the popular level inerrancy

is assumed to imply literalism and a young earth. Thus scientific

evangelicals may reject inerrancy for scientific reasons, being oblivious of

more nuanced treatments. Among those who have gone through Evangelical

seminaries, there is a considerable range of opinion but most will

recognize the literary nature of the Bible. Even so, seminary professors

may disturb students’ notions of inerrancy by pointing out that there are

many grammatical errors in the Greek of Paul’s letters. After all, if the

Bible is inerrant, the grammar must be also!7

Today Inerrancy is held in a variety of forms. Some evangelicals continue

in the tradition of Hodge and Warfield, which recognizes the variety

of literary forms in the Bible and accept evolution. These include both theologians

like Jim Packer and John Stott and scientists like Oliver Barclay

and Denis Alexander.

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This is not by shared by many YECs who argue that

acceptance of an old earth is “theological compromise” as it destroys inerrancy.

As the correct hermeneutic of the Bible is to read in it a literal way

This means that Flood must be universal and that Creation took place in six

24-hour days.

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However as no one can deny that the earth is spherical, then

all references in the Bible to the shape of the earth must be inerrant. Thus

every biblical passage in the Old Testament, which can possibly be taken

to imply a flat earth, must be taken to support the earth’s sphericity, or else

inerrancy would be denied. Thus the natural meaning of passages like Genesis

1 vs 6–8, Exodus 20 vs 4, and Isaiah 40 vs 22 is ignored (see below) and

taken to support sphericity contrary to the usage of Hebrew words.

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This is the logical conclusion of attempting to extend inerrancy to “scientific”

matters and not recognizing that the Biblical writers were limited to the

“scientific” understanding of their day and in the words of Calvin “Moses

wrote in a popular style” for “the unlearned and rude as of the learned.”

Because of these types of questions, some evangelicals avoid the use

of inerrancy and prefer to speak of the supreme authority of Scripture.

Others simply reject inerrancy altogether and happily affirm that the Bible

though authoritative contains minor errors. That in turn elicits opposition

from those who adopt the extremer forms of inerrancy and so the

internecine conflict between evangelicals continues. Because of the voices

for inerrancy, especially in America, the large number of evangelicals who

either reject it are often not heard. Howard Marshall, professor emeritus

of theology at the University of Aberdeen, discussed inerrancy at length

and rejected it as unhelpful as it tends to make people expect the Bible to

be “literally” true. (Marshall 1982, p. 49ff) Gerald Bray, a British scholar at

Beeson divinity school in Birmingham, Alabama, has similar reservations

(Bray, 1996, pp. 539–563). It is also true to say that most evangelicals in

Britain reject or avoid inerrancy. Risking oversimplification evangelicals

can be divided into three groups:

  1. Those who do not accept inerrancy and prefer to speak of the trustworthiness

of scripture. This includes a large minority of evangelical scholars, who would

not be found in the most conservative schools.

  1. Those who accept a nuanced form of inerrancy and allow for accommodation.

This would include most evangelical scholars in more conservative schools.

  1. Those whose inerrancy is decidedly not nuanced and dependent on the scientific

accuracy of the Bible. This is the stance supported by colleges affiliated to TRACS

and includes many “popular” evangelicals.

The most strident defenders of Inerrancy come from the third group,

who as Noll says often have “lush but eccentric interpretations” (Noll,

1994). Some will be discussed in the chapter on Young Earth Creationism.

They are probably the largest group in the United States. It is important

to realize the differences among evangelicals to understand the “biblical”

reasons evangelicals have for adopting particular attitudes to science.

The whole subject of inerrancy may seem to a side-show on evangelicals

and science, but it is crucial in the understanding of controversies over

evolution, issues of medical ethics (like stem cell research) and the nature

of what it is to be human and whether a body–soul dichotomy is tenable. It

is surely no accident that the earliest attempts at ID from Olsen and Bradley

came shortly after their attempts to harmonize the Chicago Statement,

which tentatively allowed an old earth but not evolution.

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This raises the main issue whether the earth is ancient and whether we are evolved.

All the evidence points to both!