Yesterday, thousands of people packed into Grace Community Church in Sun Valley California for the 2015 Summit on Biblical Inerrancy (aka – 2015 Shepherds’ Conference). Many people are questioning the reason for such a summit while others insist that the “Battle for the Bible” is over. It only takes a brief review of the current news regarding the Bible to see that the battle over inerrancy is far from over, and if history is any indicator, it is likely to repeat itself.
Rob Bell, a former megachurch pastor (Mars Hill Bible Church), has now departed from the church and is now “churching” with a group of friends as they now journey through life together and serve their community. Bell has turned into somewhat of a spiritual advisor for Oprah Winfrey and she is promoting Bell as a spiritual leader, coach, and expert on spirituality. Oprah has herself stirred up a dust cloud with her troubling beliefs about Christianity. Oprah’s views about God have been raising eyebrows for years. A video posted on Youtube titled, “The Church of Oprah Exposed” has been viewed literally millions of times. In that short video, Oprah denies the exclusivity of Christ. Bell, like Oprah, has been creating quite a cloud of controversy with his bold inclusivism and a clear departure from the church and the Bible as the Word of God. His book, Love Wins, created quite a stir in the evangelical world. In his book, Bell basically argues for a form of Universalism (Tim Challies’ review of his book was helpful). In his teachings on the Bible, Bell writes:
First, circular arguments are not helpful. For example The Bible is divinely inspired because it says it is. Any book could say that. Not only is this argument not helpful, but it’s terribly confusing for people who have never read the Bible.
Second, insisting that this book was written by God is not helpful. It was written by actual people. For people who are new to the Bible, telling them that it wasn’t written by people is terribly confusing as well. Start with the human, claim that first, then work your way to the divine.
Third, the Bible is not an argument. The people who wrote these things down had very real experiences of the divine and did everything they could to put those experiences in words. Those experiences were filtered through their consciousness, culture, worldview, and personal history. The stories in the Bible were told because they meant something profound to the people who first wrote them.
All doctrine and dogma and theology was first mystical experience. Someone had an encounter with the divine. And then they set out to articulate what happened.
What is really confusing and unhelpful is to suggest that all theology was first a “mystical experience” that was later written down. Theology is the study of God and it begins with God – not experience. God is revealing Himself through His Word, and the Bible is not the product of mystical experiences as Bell suggests.
In a recent interview with Oprah, Bell issues a warning to the churches that refuse to accept homosexuals into their membership. He said:
I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters, and aunts and uncles, and co-workers and neighbors, and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.
The point is clear, in a world full of progressive thinking, shifting politics, and a combination of postmodern and new age mysticism, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy matters. For those men and women who have never known what it means to battle for the Bible, it’s important to know the issues at hand and to be able to give an answer to the skeptic who asks, “Why do you believe that book – the Bible?” The doctrine of inerrancy is directly connected to the core of Christian truth. Is Jesus the only way to be reconciled to God? Did Jesus really rise from the dead on the third day or is that just a nice little story for children’s church?
In Paul’s final letter before he was beheaded for preaching the gospel, he took time to address Timothy – his son in the faith. As you read Paul’s letter, he doesn’t sound anything like Rob Bell. There is conviction and urgency in his tone. Before he arrived at the climatic passage in his letter found in 2 Timothy 4:1-5, he wrote these words in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The Greek term, “breathed out by God” is “θεόπνευστος” and it’s a unique word that contains “θεός” (God) and “πνέω” (to breathe or blow). The literal rendering could be – “the breath of God.”
Paul instructs Timothy by using this word, which was found only in that one place in the New Testament and no other place in all of Greek literature prior to Paul’s usage. Many scholars believe that Paul coined the term himself. Nevertheless, the point was clear to Timothy and has remained so through church history. From Clement to our present day, the term “θεόπνευστος” has been used as a technical term to describe the divine origin of the Bible.
To “tone” down our preaching and to become more inclusive in our approach as opposed to quoting “letters from 2,000 years ago” would be tragic. Yet, that very thing is playing itself out in the American culture today. It’s more than homosexuality. That is merely one issue among a lengthy list of ideas that are standing in line to test the waters among the evangelical church. Will the pastors today have the backbone to remain steadfast and immovable in the face of growing hostility? We must remember the conviction for God and His Word that men such as William Tyndale and John Rogers once possessed. Where are those faithful men and women who would rather be stoned or burned at the stake for God’s Word than to compromise in one jot or tittle? Once upon a time such men roamed the earth. As I stated in my sermon in the 2015 G3 Conference, we can trust our families, our churches, and our souls to the truth of the Bible. Rob Bell’s world may be increasing, but the promise of God delivered to us by Isaiah remains true, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Rob Bell’s world may seem far away from your world, but just a glance at the evening news or a conversation with a teenager will reveal why inerrancy matters.
B. B. Warfield writes, “θεόπνευστος is ‘God-breathed,’ produced by the creative breath of the Almighty. And Scripture is called θεόπνευστος in order to designate it as ‘God-breathed,’ the product of Divine spiration, the creation of that Spirit who is in all spheres of the Divine activity the executive of the Godhead…What it affirms is that the Scriptures owe their origin to an activity of God the Holy Ghost and are in the highest and truest sense His creation. It is on this foundation of Divine origin that all the high attributes of Scripture are built.“1
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1. B. B. Warfield, The Works of B. B. Warfield, Vol. 1, Revelation and Inspiration, 280.