(As a Disclaimer: I really don’t like writing articles about specific individuals…like, I really don’t like it. I prefer to usually put things in more generic and abstract terms and treat the ideas themselves, without names attached except perhaps by mere citation. Unfortunately, there comes a point though where the idea and the person become almost indistinguishable and must, therefore, be addressed singularly. Though I don’t know Geisler personally, I have met him a number of times and even used to work for his former institution. I had him once even speak at an event I co-directed. However, in recent years (as in years past) Geisler’s actions have turned incredibly personal, resulting in job loss and reputation damage, and, as I see it, trying to create division within the evangelical Church. His targets have been individuals and, along with it, communities of individuals which are judged to be compromisers, cowards, and enemies. This post is, in my opinion, a necessary one.)
You know that feeling you get when you step outside sometimes and you can tell that a storm’s coming? You don’t need a weatherman or scientific instruments to tell you that something’s on the horizon; you just feel it on your skin as the air pressure oh so slightly drops.
Over the past several years, I’ve been convinced that we’re in for another Battle for the Bible. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, in the late 1970s Harold Lindsell wrote a book by that exact title and, quite correctly, foresaw (and, probably more likely initiated) a massive theological dispute in the following years on the issue of biblical inerrancy. This Battle for the Bible ultimately culminated in the formulation of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) which attempted to define and defend the nature of an inerrant Bible against what the signers saw as un-Biblical and even heretical doctrines of Scripture’s nature and function. The effect of the matter, however, was not simply the formulation of a particular theological conviction. It started a massive theological battle in which many institutions, schools, churches, and Christians were caught in the cross fire. People lost jobs, were removed from theological societies and academic appointments, and it ultimately helped drastically increase the demarcation of Conservative vs. Liberal while, at the same time, narrowing the actual depth and progress of any legitimate conversation. The CSBI drew a line in the sand and defined “evangelical”, if not Bible-believe Christian, on the single issue of biblical inerrancy.
Things died down for awhile, but in recent years the tides have started to get a tad higher. The storm was brewing. More books started to be written on the topic, both for and against. In the past few years, I’ve watched as friends of mine and scholars I’ve respected lost their jobs over the issue. John MacArthur has called for a national biblical inerrancy summit to defend what he considers “spiritual AIDS.” ETS recently made it their topic for the 65th annual meeting, with Zondervan putting out a 5-point book on the topic; and, as expected, Norman Geisler has been on somewhat of a witch hunt on this issue, going around with a petition asking, or imploring, people to sign the document.
So, I wasn’t surprised to log on to my FB feed today and see a promoted new website devoted to the issue: www.defendinginerrancy.com. And, as I anticipated, Geisler was the spearhead on the project.
Why the need to defend inerrancy? Well, according to the website (created by Geisler and a few other people that used to be his students or work for him):
It’s been said that a table must have at least three legs to stand. Take away any of the three legs and it will surely topple. In much the same way, the Christian faith stands on three legs. These three legs are the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. Take away one, and like the table, the divine authority of the Christian faith will surely topple.
But of course, here’s where Geisler (et al) gets it wrong. The Christian faith does not stand on three legs. It stands on one: Jesus Christ, alone. This is not a subtle point and misunderstanding it has serious consequences. If Geisler believes that the authority of Christian faith hinges on the inerrancy of Scripture, he holds a position which puts The Bible in Jesus’ place. Is it possible to make the Bible an idol? Absolutely. And I believe that Geisler and those that have jumped onto the bandwagon of “inerrancy or die” have done just that. For them, it is more than a theological distinctive; by the overuse of such militaristic terminology, it is a war.
So, when their website tagline says “Defending Inerrancy, Before it’s Too Late”, Geisler and his crew believe that we are on the verge of the collapse of orthodoxy. This puts the CSBI in a sort of creedal status that the historic creeds (Apostles, Nicene, etc) exist and, along those same lines, Geisler likely sees himself as the divinely appointed arbiter on the issue. Indeed, his personal website offers him the narcissistic sounding self-endorsement, “I am put here for the defense of the Gospel.”
I don’t like to say that, of course, for in one breath I feel like I’m passing a judgment. But Geisler’s recent attempts to define orthodoxy by the standards of the CSBI, to kick out of the evangelical fold (which he considers to be in line with the earliest church) those that disagree with him, and his insistence that there is a war going on that will collapse the foundations of Christian authority (which, according to him is not Jesus but the Bible)–well, as far as I can see it, it looks like Geisler sees himself as the prophetic voice standing between true Christian faith and the collapse of Christianity.
This is already longer than I wanted it to be, but let me say three things to end off on: First, I don’t really care if you believe in inerrancy or not (I’ll post on why I don’t in coming weeks), but to exalt it to the supreme docetic status that Geisler and his kin have is itself the real heresy. Secondly, to see yourself in such an important light, as if you are the arbiter of true scriptural justice, is itself extremely dangerous. If you want to let history decide that, then fine; but claiming it for yourself, explicitly by tag-lines or implicitly by your actions is just wrong-headed. Third, it is not “the enemies within” that are creating dysfunction and casualties within the Christian community; the fact that so many evangelical scholars went to support Mike Licona in the midst of Geisler’s launch to get him fired and publicly attack him shows where the real attempt at Christian unity was. The Battle for the Bible is heating up because Geisler realizes his CSBI ship is sinking in both the scholarly world and in personal conviction. Geisler’s war is not so much a war to defend inerrancy; if I might be so bold, at least from every appearance on the matter, it’s a war to defend himself.