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Inerrancy Isn’t Enough

Detractors from the overall program of ensuring that the Southern Baptist Convention does not forsake the principles regained during the Conservative Resurgence often note the absurdity of believing that Southern Baptists believe in anything less than the authority and infallibility of the Bible. In doing so, they miss the current point of contention. The concern is not, and has never been for the past twenty years or so, whether or not Southern Baptists are giving up on their stated belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. Nor is the worry over whether or not we have left behind the fundamentals of the faith, like the virgin birth and penal substitutionary atonement of Christ. Rather, the problem is something like this: we say we believe them while failing to apply them to all areas of life.

Consider the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention. While affirming the authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture, they also defended American slavery. Should we let them off the hook simply because they affirmed the inerrancy of the Bible? Or consider those who say they believe the Bible but are guilty of abuse or covering it up. We have also been told, repeatedly, that the SBC has a serious problem with racism in its ranks. If it will not do to say, “But, I believe the Bible!” in response to such things, then it will not do to say that when Southern Baptists question whether or not we are engaging the culture in such a way as most closely comports with Scripture.

Slavery, abuse, and racism are problems when we allow the application of the authority and infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture to take a backseat to our human attempts to address the woes of this world. The aforementioned approach only serves to undermine the sufficiency of Scripture. We think we know better than God. But either way, whether one progressively suggests we need to kowtow to cultural whims concerning psychological and sociological insights as an improvement over the ‘fundamentalism’ that always views them with suspicion, or we think the reason we face failure is because we lack faith in God’s word, in both instances we are saying that the mere affirmation of inerrancy is not enough to address our biggest problems.

For the past two decades or so, we worked overtime to situate the imago Dei in service to identity politics. An egalitarian ethic permeates everything to the extent that evangelicals read their Bible through its lens. The reference to egalitarianism here is not one that limits the discussion to so-called ‘gender roles’ in the home and church and society. Even complementarians are egalitarian in their thinking. The egalitarianism in view here is certainly one that has something to say about gender, but also race and homosexuality and the otherkin. We’ve centered the self so much that it’s gone.

These are just some of the cultural challenges with which we have to live in the 21st century. Many of the differences between how Southern Baptists address them fall out along generational lines. Indeed, much of the younger generation does not view these as “cultural challenges” in the first place, and if they do, they do not believe it fitting to try and fix them. However, if you stop talking about the ‘unpardonable’ sins of abortion and homosexuality and shift to discussion about the ‘unpardonable’ sins of racism and abuse you will gain an eager audience. Change the course title from “Culture Wars” to “Social Justice” and your enrollment will go up. Maybe some sort of common ground can be found right along these lines, but we are still talking past one another at this point, if not approaching these topics from vastly different worldviews. For that matter, some do not believe they approach such subjects from a worldview at all. They don’t believe in ‘worldview.’ That’s another relic of the culture wars.

Whatever we do, we must not make the mistake of thinking the common ground when it comes to questions of cultural engagement within the Southern Baptist Convention is found in an appeal to the inerrancy of the Bible. Not if you take issue with the inerrantist slaveholders. Inerrancy isn’t enough. We must focus on the sufficiency of Scripture, which means the Bible has certain things to say about the reality of sin and its results in this world, regardless of what that may look like in a given context. Praise God Southern Baptists affirm the authority and infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. But we seem to have hung these doctrines so high as to lose sight of them when they matter most. Affirmations of inerrancy are not enough to turn the tide of a slide toward liberal theology, but Scripture will be found sufficient to address even that.

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