"I don't use the term ‘inerrancy'," you say. "It's got too much baggage."
"What kind of baggage?" I ask.
"Well, you know a lot of people equate ‘inerrancy' with belief in a literal 7-day creation, and I'm an old-earther myself."
"People who hear the word ‘inerrancy' think about the hyper-rationalistic, hair-splitting theology of the ultra-conservative Reformed wing of the church. I don't fit there, so I don't use the term."
"Some inerrantists harmonize the Gospels in a way that is historically implausible, like making Peter deny Christ seven times instead of three. You know what I mean. I'm not one of those inerrantists, so I'll just stick with calling the Bible ‘inspired' and ‘infallible'."
It's popular right now for evangelicals (especially younger ones) to dismiss the term "inerrancy." Even if the majority can affirm everything in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, a number of evangelicals dislike the term because "it has too much baggage."
But what term doesn't have baggage?
If I call myself a Baptist, there's the possibility that someone might mistake me for the cultish folks in Westboro who protest military funerals. Should I shed myself of the term and abandon the word "Baptist" to Fred Phelps? Or do I reclaim and renew it?
If I call myself a pro-life activist, there's the possibility that someone might mistake me for an abortion-clinic bomber. Should I stop calling myself "pro-life"?
If I call myself a Christian, there's the possibility that a devout Muslim will think I have loose morals and standards. Should I stop calling myself a Christian?
No label comes without baggage. The question is not whether we will claim labels for ourselves, but whether we will be courageous enough to stake out our positions clearly.
If I uphold the idea of inerrancy but want nothing to do with the term, I'm unintentionally loading myself up with a different kind of baggage. Sure, people may equate an affirmation of inerrancy with a literalist interpretation of Scripture. But disavowing the term inerrancy also has baggage. I group myself with people who may not believe in the historicity of miracles, the Old Testament records, or the authority of Paul.
We're not choosing between using terms that have baggage or not. We're choosing what kind of baggage we want to carry.
I'd rather run the risk of being associated with those who hold a literalistic interpretation of Scripture than with those who deny central articles of the faith. (And without seeking to demean the motives of people who don't like "inerrancy," I wonder how much of our current aversion to the term is a self-conscious attempt to distance ourselves from some of our forefathers in the faith.)
Dumping the term while upholding the content may appear sophisticated and nuanced, but I believe it breeds more confusion than clarity. So, I'll continue to affirm inerrancy. I"ll continue to teach it, to properly qualify it, and to reclaim it. To my friends who still don't like the label, your baggage looks heavier to me.
Trevin Wax is a pastor, author and avid blogger at "Kingdom People." His recent book published by Crossway is entitled: Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals. Read our excerpt here. Visit his site for further information about his writing and ministry.
© Copyright by Trevin Wax