Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Inerrancy and Biblical Authority

Some who read this blog will be surprised that inerrancy, the idea that the Bible is free from any kind of error, is even an issue among evangelical Christians. Inerrancy is taken for granted by conservative Christians, but is coming into disfavor among some evangelicals.

Now I am not talking about people of liberal theology who deny the deity of Christ or His atoning sacrifice or bodily resurrection. I am talking about Christians with an orthodox faith who believe in the authority and inspiration of scripture. They believe that the scriptures are inspired by God and that it has full authority in our lives. But they see the seeming contradictions, such as the differences in the genealogy of Christ in Matthew and Luke and conclude that one or more of these lists must be in error.

They do not deny the truth that Jesus was born of the house of David, but they do not think that perfect historical accuracy is necessary to bolster the Bible's claims that it is God's truth. After all, they say, is not what is important the theological message of the Bible? A few facts wrong, to them, do not matter one iota. They want us to concentrate on the message and not on historical minutia. Why get caught up in defending historical details and trying to harmonize these parts of the Bible?

Because, as the saying goes, God is in the details.

I will now offer a good reason to desire perfect accuracy when it comes to historical detail and how it affects getting the 'message' right.

Some of you may remember a book called "I, Rigoberta Menchu". This book, that won the Nobel Prize for literature, is the autobiographical account of Ms. Menchu who became world renowned because of the story she told.

She wrote about the civil war in Guatemala, particularly about her family's involvement in it. She reports how the government forces oppressed and murdered members of her family. She said that the government stole their land and murdered her father who was on the side of the guerrillas. The most incendiary story was the one she told of her own torture at the hands of the army. She reports being tied to a chair naked for weeks while being beaten.

Once her story became widely known she was invited to many US colleges to tell it. She became a sort of superstar in left-wing circles because she exposed the evils that the guerrillas were fighting against. Then someone decided to investigate her story and find out if it actually happened. It turns out that much of the story was simply made up, including the part about her being tortured.

As for the land that was seized by the government, it seems that it was "taken" by a judge in a land dispute and given to her uncle. Her uncle and father inherited property next to each other, but there was a piece of land between them that was in dispute. Each claimed it for himself. The uncle, who took the government's side in the dispute with the guerrillas, went to the courts for a judgment. The father took the side of the guerrillas, perhaps because of the result of the judgment. Anyway, it is questionable that the government targeted her father and murdered him, since he died with other guerrilla supporters while occupying the Spanish embassy in 1980.

Ms. Menchu was eventually forced to admit "changes" in her story, in other words, falsifications. So, what was the reaction of the people in the US who brought her to the States for a tour of colleges? Did they publicly denounce her? Ask for their speaking fees back?

No. They continued to bring her in to tell her story. They continued to celebrate her for her 'speaking truth to power'. This astonishes me. To me, her falsifications undermine her claims to "truth". The left-wingers who still support her say that it's her message that is important, not mere historical details.

But I still think that God is in the details. If a person cannot tell the truth about mere "facts", then their "message" cannot be trusted. God's message and the inspired historical details in the Bible can be trusted. The two go together.

When we try to separate them (something only moderns do), we end with strange theologies like those of Karl Barth and his student, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They claimed faith in the resurrection of Christ, but did not believe that it actually happened in history.

This kind of thinking may seem "deep" to some, but to me it is self-defeating. (Theological) liberals use the so-called errors of the Bible to undermine its message. It is really not that difficult to harmonize all scriptures with historical fact and with other scriptures. Is God just a God of theology, or is He a God of history as well?

I hope that all orthodox Christians who have rejected the notion of inerrancy to reconsider the importance of the historical veracity of the scriptures.

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