A few days back, my colleague Bill DeJong wrote the following observation in the meta of a previous post:
“The term “inerrancy” seems inherently tied to a rationalistic, positivistic, precisionistic worldview and therefore plays into the hands of higher criticism.”
The key word there, I think, is inherently. Is inerrancy inherently rationalistic and all those other nasty things? A couple of related thoughts come to mind.
I’ve heard the same thing said about apologetics. Reformed folks only aware of the evidentialist or classical schools of apologetics might be led to conclude that apologetics is inherently rationalistic and tied to positivism and precisionism, etc. If they were speaking only about those schools, they would be right. However, to tar apologetics as a whole as rationalistic neglects the fact that there is at least one school of apologetics that may not be fairly characterized in that way.
The second thought is related because Greg Bahnsen was both a proponent of that non-rationalistic school of apologetics and a proponent and defender of inerrancy. Bahnsen regularly and vociferously assailed rationalism in Christian philosophy, apologetics, and theology. Similarly, he went after Edward J. Carnell’s rationalistic formulation of inerrancy. For instance, in Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, Bahnsen took issue with Carnell’s proposal to subject Scripture to critical analysis and rationally work towards the conclusion of inerrancy:
…[W]hen Carnell views the doctrine of Scripture’s inerrancy to be an inference that must be based on empirical investigation and inductive authentication, we can clearly see what it is that has highest epistemic certainty for him. (205)
Along with Bahnsen, I categorically reject that kind of an approach to inerrancy and I agree with my colleague Bill that this indeed emerges from a rationalistic, positivistic, etc. corruption of the Christian worldview. Bill is exactly right that this plays into the hands of higher criticism. It happened with Carnell. Higher critics couldn’t figure out why Carnell didn’t just join them:
The outcome of Carnell’s favorable attitude to the thought of such unorthodox men as Plato, Kant, Kierkegaard, Brightman, and Niebuhr was his failure to present a solid challenge to liberal thinking in general. William Hordern felt that Carnell’s method of verifying Christianity like a broad hypothesis in the tradition of the scientific method was the same as liberalism’s procedure. L.H. DeWolf thought it odd that Carnell would, with his endorsement of testing all putative revelations, reject the method of higher criticism. (233-234)
However, together with Bahnsen, Young and other Reformed stalwarts past and present, I don’t think Carnell’s unsatisfactory version of inerrancy requires us to dispense with inerrancy altogether. A wrong formulation of a doctrine doesn’t necessarily mean that one throws out the doctrine — instead, we strive for a more correct and biblically faithful formulation. Isn’t that exactly what has happened in the history of theology with doctrines like, say, the Trinity?