Can biblical authority be maintained if biblical inerrancy is denied? No! was the resounding answer from a conference of nearly 300 evangelicals who assembled in Chicago’s Hyatt Regency O’Hare Hotel October 26–28. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was prepared and then signed by four-fifths of those attending.
Its release is but the first of a series of proposed activities aimed at Christians who are uninformed, unconcerned, uncertain, or unconvinced about inerrancy. The goal is to win adherents to the belief that the doctrine is both true and important. The statement denies that belief in inerrancy is necessary for salvation, but rejectors are warned of “grave consequences both to the individual and to the Church.”
Advocates of inerrancy feel that many of those who do not affirm the doctrine misunderstand and caricature it. The Chicago Statement denies “that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose.” Contrary to what detractors suggest, inerrancy as a valid theological concept is not affected by “lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.” But lest it be wondered if that leaves more than terminological disagreement with those who limit inerrancy to matters of faith and practice, the statement also includes “assertion in the fields of history and science” within the purview of biblical inerrancy.
The Short Statement
1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.
3. The Holy Spirit, its divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation and the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.
5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.
The conference, called a “summit,” was sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), which was conceived in February, 1977, and launched eight months later. (See Nov. 4, 1977, issue, p. 51.) The council is a small group comprising forty or so advisory members and a sixteen-member decision making body. The latter has, in turn, a six-member executive committee chaired by James Boice, pastor of a United Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, and consisting of Norman Geisler (Trinity seminary), Harold Hoehner (Dallas seminary), Earl Radmacher (Western Conservative Baptist Seminary), R. C. Sproul (Ligonier Valley Study Center), and the full-time executive director, Jay Grimstead. CHRISTIANITY TODAY editor Kenneth Kantzer is one of the sixteen council members. Editor-emeritus Harold Lindsell and board chairman Harold Ockenga are among the advisors.
The ICBI received a $35,000 grant to fund the summit from an anonymous Christian organization, but expenses ran to $45,000, almost half of which was to help transport and house some of the conferees who came from all over the states and from as far away as Africa and India. The ICBI is also $10,000 in arrears for salaries and other expenses relating to its three-employee operation.
Production of the statement on inerrancy was the chief purpose of the summit. Invitations were issued by the ICBI only to individuals thought to be in hearty sympathy with its aims. The time for the meeting with others is later. Council members began assembling two days before the 48-hour conference and by the time the larger summit convened on a Thursday afternoon they had greatly expanded the preliminary statement that one of them had previously prepared. The crowded agenda included six sermons on what the Scripture says about itself. Among the preachers were Edmund Clowney (Westminster seminary), Robert Preus (Concordia seminary, Fort Wayne), and W. A. Criswell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. (The sermons on cassettes are for sale from the ICBI office, Box 13261, Oakland, CA 94661 and the complete text of the statement can also be obtained there.)
Fourteen position papers had been distributed in advance to the conferees. Two at a time were summarized and the author interrogated in hour-long sessions. Sample topics: “Christ’s View of Scripture” by John Wenham (formerly Latimer House, Oxford), “Legitimate Hermeneutics” by Walter Kaiser, Jr. (Trinity seminary), and “Human Authorship” by Gordon Lewis (Conservative Baptist seminary). (The extensively footnoted papers are to be published next year. Meanwhile Zondervan released at the summit the first ICBI-sponsored book, The Foundation of Biblical Authority, edited by James Boice.)
Individual conferees could submit proposals for changes in the statement, and there was one hour for small discussion groups and one for the whole assembly to ask questions of the summit leaders. At that time the only vote was taken, which indicated a clear preference of the majority to have the whole document immediately prepared for signing rather than waiting months for a longer, meticulously-prepared statement.
The nearly 5000-word statement has a preface and three parts. The preface explicitly acknowledges “the limitations of a document prepared in a brief, intensive conference,” invites “response from any who see reason to amend its affirmations about Scripture,” and proposes to maintain “a spirit, not of contention, but of humility and love.” Part one is the “short statement.” (See box.) Part two consists of nineteen articles, each with a one- or two-sentence affirmation and a corresponding denial. Part three, the longest, is an exposition largely written just before the summit by James Packer, a Church of England theologian.
The nineteen articles were basically drafted by R. C. Sproul, but amended more than the other parts throughout the summit. They treat, respectively, authority, revelation, inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy, the witness of the Spirit, and interpretation. The last article affirms “that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith.”
Assuming funds can be raised, the ICBI plans to produce both scholarly monographs and popular materials, including those suitable for training courses. The organization also wants to foster discussions and dialogues on seminary and college campuses, especially with evangelical scholars who do not affirm inerrancy. In the next few years ICBI hopes to host large conferences for lay leaders, for scholarly discussion of hermeneutics, and for exploring the practical implications of the inerrancy issue.
The first executive director of ICBI is Jay Grimstead, 43, who until about seven years ago believed that inerrancy could be limited to matters of faith and practice. He was for twenty years a worker with Young Life, a low-pressure youth evangelistic organization, along the way earning degrees as a master of divinity (1961) and doctor of ministry (1976) from Fuller seminary, the best known evangelical seminary with scholars who contend that full biblical authority does not require total inerrancy. In 1976 Grimstead began a small lay training center in the San Francisco Bay area and it was at a conference sponsored by that center a few months later that the idea for ICBI was spawned.
The drafters of the Chicago Statement “gladly acknowledge that many who deny the inerrancy of Scripture do not display the consequences of this denial in the rest of their belief and behavior.” But because of their conviction that biblical authority will not be long maintained if full inerrancy is denied, they have launched this essentially educational endeavor.
Associate Editor Donald Tinder is in charge of the Books section.
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