What’s the Appeal of Inerrancy?

Outreach Magazine recently published a list of the “Fastest Growing Churches: 2015.” A link to the list can be found here:  http://www.outreachmagazine.com/outreach-100-fastest-growing-churches-2015.html

The list intrigued me, so I began taking a look at these fast growing churches. I didn’t have time to do an exhaustive search of the list, but I was curious. So, I visited the webpage of each of the top ten churches.

Of the Top Ten Fastest Growing Churches, according to Outreach magazine, all but one contain strong language on their approach to the Bible. I noticed words such as “inerrant,” “infallible,” “without error.” One church went so far as to offer this statement: “God Himself chose every word of Scripture.”

It’s not a new question for me, but one that certainly got sparked again when I went looking at these top ten churches: what is the allure of the Bible as the inerrant, infallible word of God, without error or blemish of any kind?

I remember when I was first exposed to this bold claim. I was a young adult, a fresh college graduate, returned home without decent employment. I started attending the church I had attended as a child, a church that had changed considerably with new pastoral leadership. I remember a conversation I had with a new church member, who let me know in no uncertain terms, that it was important to understand the Bible as the inerrant word of God. But, I replied, the Bible wasn’t even written in English and there is no “original.” The new church member responded, “The King James Version—that’s the one God inspired.”

My jaw probably dropped (I don’t remember exactly; it was a long time ago). I had taken a yearlong Bible course in college and knew that I knew at least a thing or two about the Bible. It never had occurred to me to approach the Bible with such a strong sense that, though written by humans, it had somehow dodged human inadequacies.

There began a quest, of sorts (not one that consumes a lot of my time, I’ll admit), to understand the allure of the Bible as the inerrant word of God. Why and how? Even if we consider the Bible in English as the inerrant word (which seems so completely far-fetched to me, and a clear sign of the folly of this whole enterprise; how can we possibly believe that English is God’s preferred language??), what about those places that contradict each other? What about the stories that are in tension with each other (the birth stories of Jesus, for instance)?

And, more than that, what about the notion of the enormity, mystery and wonder of God? How can the wonder of God be contained in the limits of human language?

If we comprehend God to be both close as well as far, to be understandable but also beyond our understanding, to be the architect of this universe but also interested in the affairs of people (and so many of them) on this earth, how can we think of the Holy Bible in such a literal, inerrant, without error sort of way?

If we believe the Bible to be written by human beings, then it seems impossible that, even though inspired, that those human beings could possibly be able to write something without error. If God had wanted the books of the Bible (written over a considerable amount of time by different people) to be believed as inerrant and without blemish, wouldn’t God have chosen a different format for conveying the Holy Book to the people?

Why is the inerrancy of the Bible seemingly so important? Is this claim part of the path to fast growth for churches? Why do churches, and their leaders, feel the need to possess such control on the Holy Scriptures?

It is a question for me, to be sure, and I can’t help but think that the quest for infallibility is simply a quest for human control of the God we worship, when it really ought to be the other way around. It seems a sad business, then, that these are the churches that appear to be growing so quickly. Perhaps inerrancy is not the hallmark of their work, mission and identity (I have not visited any of these churches), but it is clearly cast as part of the foundation for most, if not all of these churches. The bold claims of inerrancy, I wonder: do they fulfill the wishes of a wondrous, amazing God, or do they fulfill the needs of people, who may desire certainty and answers over questions and ambiguity?

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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