Ironic Faith: Introduction and Inerrancy

Well, I just stumbled across another article about the Emerging Church Movement by Scot McKnight, a leading intellectual within that element of the evangelical churches. The article, “Ironic Faith,” recently published in Christianity Today, raises some tough questions. I wasn’t going to talk about it, but then the Christian Chronicle published two reviews of the Transforming Word, a book from ACU Press that raises questions about the inerrancy of scripture.

I guess we have to talk about it now, and I’d really rather talk about something that’s interesting, that is, that matters to the work of Jesus.

McKnight describes the emerging movement as a “third way” between neo-fundamentalism and theological liberalism.

For what it is worth, I, too, have been through the experience of ironic faith, for some of the reasons I’m about to mention, but I have come out of that experience with a modest, moderate, and chastened form of evangelicalism. For this reason alone, I stand alongside the emergent and emerging crowd as a fellow traveler. Consequently, I have as much concern with the strictures of neo-Fundamentalists as I do with the loss of theological clarity in the emerging movement. For me, the emerging movement offers the hope of a third way.


McKnight then describes 8 ironies of the emerging movement. He begins with the orthodox doctrine of inerrancy —

First, emergents believe the epistemic foundation of conservative evangelicalism, the doctrine of Scripture’s inerrancy, does not sufficiently express the truth about the Bible. Inerrancy is for them the wrong word at the wrong time, though it may have been the right word for a previous generation.

In his blog, “Jesus Creed,” McKnight explains his views on inerrancy in more detail.

My response to using inerrancy as a litmus-test is nearly always the same: “inerrancy” is not enough. That word, by itself, though clearly a watershed for many and lightning rod for others, means “without error.” It thus means that there are no mistakes. David Dunbar, a colleague in the Theology Dept when we were both at TEDS, used to say that some phone books were (or could be) “inerrant.” I’ve trusted them for years, and don’t recall ever finding an incorrect number in a phone book. Nor did I go through them to prove their inerrancy. What I most care about a phonebook is if it will get me the number I need. But this is clear: I don’t stake my life on a phonebook.

What I’d rather confess about the Bible is that the Scripture is true — and then I want the confession to go further to the point where the Scripture is trustable truth. And then we need to go yet further: do I live it out? Living trustable truth.

That is, God speaks and we can trust that God is speaking to us in Scripture. But, believing that is designed so we will trust it and live it out. I believe the Bible is trustable truth. We can trust what is said. If you tell me that you think Scripture is true, well and good — what I want to know is if you trust it by living it out. This is what Scripture is all about: it is God’s story that we enter into so that God’s story becomes our story. This only happens if we trust it by embodying it — in how we live. Living trustable truth.

Ps 119:160 (your word is true/emet: reliably true)

John 17:17: sanctify… your word is truth.

Those of us who let the Scriptures shape our identity affirm that the Scripture gives us the true word of God in order to shape us and make us Eikons [Greek for “image”] who love God and love others.

As you know, inerrancy has been taught in one form or another throughout the Church history, and cannot be dismissed (as some have tried to do so) as a modernistic notion of zealous Christians who think they can prove rationally that the Bible is the Word of God.

But, the form that you and I grew up with comes to us through Hodge/Warfield and then through the Scripture Wars of the 70s and 80s where it was used as a litmus-test of faithful evangelicalism. I don’t dispute that inerrancy, by and large, esp those who were highly prized by the spokespersons of the Scripture Wars, was characteristic of that movement.

But, the apologetic drive that accompanied all this has led to some distortions that need to be corrected by re-shaping the idea so that it fits into a larger, more biblical, view of the Bible: it is the story of God’s work that we are invited to join. The fight, from this angle, is doing it and that fight transcends the Scripture Wars.

Interesting. And that’s about where I am, I think.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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One Response to Ironic Faith: Introduction and Inerrancy

  1. Does not the need for "inerrancy" grow, in part, from a view of the Text as law, which must be obeyed?

    Because, if the Text is Law, then it must be clear, consistency and unambiguous, so that no can question what must be obeyed.

    Since I do not view the Text as "Law" so much as I do revelation, I tend to focus on the consistency of the message, or as McKnight says, it's trustworthiness.

    I trust the Text.

    And, as you say, if we get too caught up in this "debate" then, we've probably missed the much more important aspects of faith.

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