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Today we have a second guest post from Carlos Bovell. Carlos is becoming a leading critic of the evangelical notion of biblical inerrancy, but unlike other such critiques, his is not the rant of an outsider, but the careful, nuanced, and compelling observations of one coming from within an evangelical paradigm, drawing on his own experience.

His main concern is not simply the intellectual difficulties of this theological position, but the spiritual destruction that occurs in the lives of young Christians when they are given no viable alternative.

Yesterday’s post reflected a bit on his own journey and gave the background to his edited work, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Authority of Scripture (Wipf & Stock, 2011). Today’s post is an edited excerpt from his most recent book, Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear, a book where Carlos addresses head on the culture wars surrounding inerrancy.

Carlos is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary and The Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto. He is also the author of Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals (Wipf & Stock, 2007) and By Good and Necessary Consequence: A Preliminary Genealogy of Biblical Foundationalism (Wipf & Stock, 2009).

Everywhere I turn, I hear evangelical leaders speak out about how vital it is to have a Bible that’s inerrant.

Well-intentioned or not, so long as institutions and denominations identify and advertise inerrancy as a component essential to evangelicalism (by listing it, for example, as a first or second tenet in their statements of faith), the popular perception will be that inerrancy is central to Christianity itself.

Is it any wonder, then, that in conservative circles a believer’s willingness to submit to inerrantism is seen as the flip side of submitting to Christ himself?

Conversely, being critical of inerrancy—or even bringing up the question—is seen as a slide down the slippery slope to apostasy, or that the slide has already been completed.

What one believes about the Bible is taken to be the foundation for the faith itself. And such a foundation can only be guaranteed by believing in inerrancy.

Hence, the inerrantist expectation is that those serious about their faith will—indeed, must—gravitate toward inerrantism. In conservative American evangelicalism and fundamentalism, inerrancy is an important symbol of social and spiritual belonging to God’s inner circle.

Some inerrantists claim even further that the Holy Spirit is actually guiding true believers to accept the inerrancy of scripture. To wit, the Spirit actively disciplines believers toward the result that they can learn to “take God at his word.”

If inerrant scripture is believed to be impugned in any way, the integrity of the entire faith construct becomes irreversibly compromised. Hence, the persistent need to defend scripture from outside “attacks” by those who question or deny inerrancy.

So, as I argued in an earlier book, inerrancy has become part of evangelicalism’s salvation equation. An inerrant Bible has become a cultural symbol for that person’s salvation. How often have I heard from proponents of inerrancy that I am being disobedient and “grieving” the Holy Spirit because I am critical of inerrancy.

Scripture is a core element in the life of the church, but we must ask whether conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists are asking of it what it is not designed to do–be an article of faith.

Fundamentalism’s and conservative evangelicalism’s social identities have become wholly intertwined with this one doctrine. When inerrancy comes under serious scrutiny—even if in healthy and constructive ways—preserving its truth begins to take on a grandiose, all-consuming significance.

Inerrancy simply cannot be found wanting; everything (with respect to faith) literally depends on it.

“We believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures.” When this starts sounding right among inerrantists, it’s time to do some rethinking.



Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.