On the issue of inspiration and inerrancy, I came across an interesting phrase that I believe helps put the issue in perspective for me.  I found this on Fuller Seminary’s website where it differentiated its evangelical view from neo-orthodox and liberal views of inspiration.  Here is that statement:

In our attempt to discover what the Bible says about itself we have clearly distinguished our position from non-evangelical approaches. When we affirm, for instance, that “Scripture is an essential part and trustworthy record of this divine self-disclosure,” we separate ourselves from the typical view of neo-orthodoxy that sees Scripture not as a revelation but as a witness to the revelation that took place when God encountered his people in the course of history. Similarly, our belief that “all the books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, are the written Word of God” stands in sharp contrast to the usual neo-orthodox affirmation that the Bible only becomes the Word when the Spirit brightens its truth for the eyes of a believer. (https://www.fuller.edu/about/mission-and-values/what-we-believe-and-teach)

The phrase that stood out to me is “neo-orthodoxy… sees Scripture not as a revelation but as a witness to the revelation that took place when God encountered his people in the course of history.”  There you have it. There are three major views on the inspiration of the Bible if one accepts this classification.

  1. EVANGELICALISM/CONSERVATISM/FUNDAMENTALISM:  Scripture is inspired revelation and is therefore inerrant and infallible.
  2. LIBERALISM:  Scripture is solely the witness of the religious community as it understands religion and society without aid of any supernatural revelation.
  3. NEO-ORTHODOXY:  Scripture is an inspired witness of revelation and is therefore contains the possibility for both truth and error.  Jesus Christ alone is the inerrant, infallible revelation of God. Scripture is a witness to Jesus Christ.

I would say that the neo-orthodox view articulates my perspective most closely.  I am not sure I understand and accept the idea that the Bible itself “becomes the Word of God” when something happens in a transrational encounter between the reader and the Holy Spirit as often ascribed to neo-orthodoxy by its proponents and critics, but I accept that this dynamic in some measure does indeed exist because I believe in the revelatory ministry of the Holy Spirit whose capacity for knowledge far exceeds human cognition and comprehension.  I also accept the idea that the human spirit has a higher capacity for a revelational relationship with God as Spirit than does human intellect alone. Revelation, therefore, can happen at a transrational level, but whether or not this alone defines what is and isn’t the Word of God is, to me, dubious.

At this point I imagine that discerning the truth (revelation) within the witness of the Bible is about exercising a prayerful, Spirit-led reading that seeks to evaluate everything against the person, teachings and work of Jesus Christ.  As this standard itself comes from Scripture, there is admittedly a degree of circular reasoning involved here, but it is informed by belief in the reality of the incarnation. God, actually and historically, became a human being and lived among us for the purpose of revealing his Father and effecting his rescue of humanity and reclamation of the kingdoms of this world.

Such a view, in my estimation, must reasonably consider the possibility that later editors collected, selected, revised and collated both Old and New Testament texts.  For OT texts, this would most likely have occurred during the years of captivity and post-exile as Israel sought to recover its ancient faith contained in the writings of law, poets and prophets.  It might very well contain influences of various editing schools and philosophies such as those proposed by the Wellhausen Theorists (Jehovist, Elohimist, Deuteronomist, and Priestly). For NT texts, this would likely have occurred in the second and third centuries as the church, in its various geographical and theologically diverse schools, sought to codify the witness of Jesus Christ and the greater and lesser apostles into an authoritative collection of writings.  

Perceiving truth, therefore, must be approached both rationally and trans-rationally with a faith-informed by the witness of Scripture, led by the Holy Spirit, supported by the historical witness of the church and in full, open-minded consideration of the available empirical knowledge and theories provided by science, philosophy, and psychology. It deepens as one is able to increasingly personally trust in the faithfulness, love, and goodness of God who always unconditionally loves and cares for his creation and gains insight into truths revealed in its witness.

Anything less (a demand for inerrancy and infallibility) is based on an insecure, fear-based need for control and subsequent religious manipulation that requires others to believe as we believe and excludes and even persecutes those who do not.  This insecure perspective is actually a fairly common voice within Scripture and only the Bible effectively exposes this voice by vindicating the innocent victim whose story throughout history has largely been silenced by the histories written by the victorious power holders. This uninformed view is the product of failing to accept the unconditional, non-contractual gospel that discloses God’s agenda of universal salvation based upon the faithfulness of Christ alone.  It can only comprehend an arrangement between God and humans that is conditional and contractual, and any human failure to meet these conditions brings the judgment of God required by a holy justice. Scripture becomes an authoritative tool, weapon really, for reinforcing this false view of God and vindicating the practices of sacred violence and retribution.

God however, as Jesus has revealed his Father, loves and forgives his enemies and is not violent and retributive.  He is not beholding to a form of justice that must satisfy wrath by demanding death as punishment for sin. He does not, in fact, layout conditions that affect the salvation of those who are in Adam, and therefore weak and ungodly.  Death is the natural consequence of being relationally separated from the source of life within God: a relationship built on mutual trust and acceptance.

One of the things that Bible actually reveals is this very scapegoat mechanism, born of mimetic rivalry, as the organizational principle of all human society, and particularly religion and power politics that require sacrifice for appeasement of the gods and general control of society. It is the principality of power and control that justifies violence and killing to establish peace and order as defined by the ones with power.  This dynamic principle of accusation and killing has been hidden from the foundation of the world and required divine vindication of the innocent victim (from Abel to Christ and beyond through the Christian martyrs). The resurrection of Christ expose it as false.

As Jesus was dying, he forgave his executioners and attributed their action to an inability to perceive the dynamic of scapegoating that had been put into effect through the principalities and powers of religion and government.  Jesus returned from the grave and forgave those who had forsaken him. Jesus had willingly become the victim led to slaughter to show that we are the ones with a need to blame and kill others who violate our social contracts and do not meet our conditions.  God is not like this at all. God accepts us one-and-all all as his children. We have become a false Adamic version of our true selves created in the image of God, and God’s justice merely demands that he rescue us from the domination of sin and death. Jesus has accomplished this in his ministry, death, resurrection and ascension.  God, is both capable and willing to forgive us without any compensation required, and he always has been and will always be, just like this.

Jesus commanded his disciples to go forth and proclaim this good news. He knew that those who were willing to join him in the revelation of this hidden dynamic, that God is not like us and that we are the ones who justify murder and exclusion to satisfy our own need for retributive justice, will face persecution and violence themselves.  They will join the prophets and martyrs who will likely fall victim to the scapegoating mechanism as they stand with Jesus Christ as willing participants in the practice of self-sacrificing love that refuses to participate in retributive violence in any form and calls the world to love its enemies.

So, how one views the Bible affects how one understands the gospel, and ultimately how one approaches life and ministry.  I have now fully embraced the idea that God the Father is exactly like Jesus.  I now try to read the Bible the way that Jesus and Paul read the Bible and to proclaim the truth as I understand it: God is not like us!  Images and ideas of God found in the Bible that are incompatible with the person of Jesus Christ are actually the viewpoint of those with a lesser view of God–a perspective unwittingly informed by an acceptance of mimetic rivalry, the scapegoat mechanism, and images of God formed in our own violent, retributive likeness.  The gospel exposes these images as false and heralds a message that is truly good news:  God loves us and accepts us unconditionally!  Believe the good news and begin participating in the kingdom of God that has broken into this age in Jesus Christ!

Blessings,

David Griffith, IAB, Pangonu Kampse