the fundamental evangelical problem

Amidst all the pressure to make nice with evangelicals, there are some key issues that are often overlooked. You can pick up these key issues occasionally in commentaries, less often in bold clearly stated articles or sermons. To put it in a nutshell, I think the issues I am talking about can all be summed up in one word: inerrancy.

  • Do we believe in inerrancy or not?
  • Do we believe the Bible is without error, or not.
  • Do we believe the Bible never utters an errant word in fact or principle from cover to cover, or not?

I would say most who call themselves fundamentalists would say “Yes” to inerrancy and many evangelicals would also. In fact, many evangelicals have gone so far as to sign an official statement on inerrancy, The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Search for it on the web and you will find many references to this document.

So far so good, but only so far.

One huge problem is the many evangelicals who say they support (and some have signed) the Chicago statement but then go on to deny the details of Scripture at various points. You will see examples of this over and over again in commentaries. Today an article was drawn to my attention (HT: Sharper Iron) where the author lists 8 things that don’t make or break Christianity: young earth creationism, the authorship of the pastoral epistles, the inerrancy of Scripture, the universal flood, the character witness of Christians, the inspiration of Scripture, the unity of Christianity, the theory of evolution. In the discussion that follows, the author makes it clear that he also doesn’t think it really matters whether Jesus was born of a virgin or not (See comment #7).

Those who are familiar with my views will not be surprised at how offensive this document is to me. I addressed similar themes in my recent message at the Northwest FBFI Fellowship meeting. In my sermon, I was addressing the unity and inerrancy of the book of Proverbs (among other things). Proverbs, surprisingly enough, is under attack from evangelical scholars who accept liberal notions about the integrity and authorship of the book. It is the work, they say, of much later editors who stuck Solomon’s name on the front to give it the ring of authority, much the way charlatans have done with what we call the New Testament pseudapigrapha (false writings) such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Barnabas, and others. What they mean to say is that when Proverbs starts like this – “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel” – the words as stated are in error. They are not true, according to many evangelical scholars.

Though evangelicals make such concessions, they will frequently also affirm, “yea, verily”, they believe in inerrancy. Al Mohler brings to light such a case in a column entitled, “The Devil is in the Details: Biblical Inerrancy and the Licona Controversy”. In the column, Mohler commends Michael Licona for a well done (for the most part) defense of the doctrine of the resurrection. However, he takes him to task for conceding that one part of Matthew’s gospel is “legend” or “poetic language” – the part that refers to the veil being ripped and the dead rising and walking around in Jerusalem (Mt 27.51-54). Mohler points out that Robert Gundry was ousted from the Evangelical Theological Society for a similar (albeit more comprehensive) error of this nature. In fact, inerrancy and the Chicago Statement is one of only two doctrinal points the ETS insists upon (the other being the Trinity).

At the beginning of this post, I posed these questions:

  • Do we believe in inerrancy or not?
  • Do we believe the Bible is without error, or not.
  • Do we believe the Bible never utters an errant word in fact or principle from cover to cover, or not?

I call these issues “the fundamental evangelical problem”. The problem is that evangelicalism as we now know it has as a founding principle the willingness to dialog with liberalism. Some say there is no new evangelicalism anymore. Maybe so. But the influence of the new evangelicals lingers. Current evangelicals seem all too ready to cave in on issues that are not “gospel centered”. It is true that you can make many errors in your thinking and still be a believer. But no one should be satisfied with that. If contending for the faith (a biblical imperative) means anything, it should mean that we seek to root out such errors where we find them, not make concessions to them.


  1. Don,

    I think you mean Psalm 32. You must also be thinking about a different passage that Schreiner is commenting on because I can’t find anything remotely similar to what you have said in this section (Rom 4:1-8).

    I went to a talk by Dan Wallace not too long ago here in the Atlanta area and there was this guy sitting behind me that several people were talking to but I had no idea who he was. During the talk Dan mentioned this guy in the audience, the guy sitting behind me, as an expert on the resurrection. I’m pretty sure based on several things I overheard that this guy must have been Michael Licona. I didn’t even know about the controversy that Molher had brought up concerning him back then but now I’ve read some about it, and I would have loved to have talked to him about it.

    • argghh! I hate when that happens. I knew I should be looking it up. I think that the footnote might be in chapter 3:4. I’ll have to change my post. My apologies.

      Interesting that you should run into Licona. What kind of meeting was it?

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. It was an event I heard about via a Bibleworks post on Facebook. Basically it was part of a lecture series that this group, I forget their name, puts on that meets at various locations in the Atlanta area. He was speaking on the reliability of the NT and also on his recent work finding, cataloging, and digitizing NT manuscript evidence. I only briefly got a chance to speak with him after the meeting. I’d say there were about 75-100 people at the talk. It was held at this Presbyterian mega-church and it wasn’t the only thing going on at the time…there were boy scouts in one room, musicians practicing in the sanctuary, and ballroom dancing going on somewhere else!

  3. Ok, I found it and it is related to Romans 3:4 and it does concern Ps 51. He writes in the main body, “First, the citation comes from Ps. 51, where David confesses his sin and pleads for divine forgiveness.” He footnotes this sentence with, “Whether the psalm is actually by David is irrelevant for our purposed since Paul presumably believed it was Davidic.” It’s unclear to me why this comment is necessary at all. Is the Davidic authorship of Ps 51 questioned by anybody?

    • Thanks Andy,

      I am embarrassed that I misremembered the footnote. I went looking for my copy of his commentary a few minutes ago, but it is hopeless. I need to get an office built in our new house so I can unpack my library.

      You are right that the statement is completely unnecessary. It made me so disgusted that I quit using Shreiner at all for my Romans series. Why he would make the comment is beyond me.

      It is amazing how often evangelicals do things like this – little concessions to unbelief. The sop they have to pay for recognition as “scholars”, maybe? I don’t know. The consistent occurrence of this kind of willingness to give over the doctrine of inspiration is astonishing.

      As for Ps 51 itself, I am not aware of authorship disputes in particular, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I was surprised when teaching Proverbs recently that many evangelicals deny in part or in the main Solomonic authorship for Proverbs. This in spite of three specific references in the book that Solomon is responsible for the contents. I suppose inerrancy doesn’t cover those verses.

      Anyway, thanks for looking it up and recovering some of my credibility. I still am embarassed to have associated the footnote with chapter 4 instead of chapter 3.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. Brian Ernsberger says:

    With an attempt at humor, well Don, some would just attribute your misremembering to old age and leave it at that.
    What’s even more amazing than the concessions that evangelicals do with doctrine, is the following (sometimes loyal following) of fundamentalists of these same evangelicals without any pretense, disclaimer, or whatever with this “soft” approach to Scriptures. While I fully understand, evangelicals aren’t the enemy, I also understand, they aren’t really my friends either. Discernment certainly seems to be on the wane by many in fundamentalism when it comes to things like this and so much more within evangelicalism.

  5. Don,

    I know this could take a little while, so it’s up to you, but what do you think of Daniel Wallace’s take on inerrancy? At some point is “inerrancy” not inerrancy?

    • Interesting… I’ve gotten about half-way through the article, at the point where he lists his 4-point taxonomy of doctrine. I’ll try to finish it off and maybe do a follow-up post at some point. I take issue with his description of fundamentalists, however.

  6. Hi Don,

    He really gets into his view with the Christological Grounds section, after where you’re at right now.

    • Hi Kent, got through the whole thing.

      I would say that Wallace would be an example of what I am talking about. The academic largesse, the willingness to concede ground for the sake of dialog. It’s really the new evangelicalism all over again.

      On his specific points, I would like to be able to write a blog about it, but I am afraid I won’t have time, so I’ll make a few comments here.

      First, I have often said you don’t need to know everything about orthodox theology in order to be saved. The bare minimum, it seems to me, is knowledge of and personal conviction of sin and hell, an understanding that Jesus is able to save from our sins because he is our perfect substitute on the cross, and that we call out to him for salvation. How much of his deity, the hypostatic union, the virgin birth, etc, do we need to know/understand? Not a lot, according to Romans 10 and other passages. But!!! But a new believer will not deny orthodox doctrine if he is truly a believer. By deny, I don’t mean misunderstand or poorly state. I mean outright denial after having been clearly taught. So you couldn’t have faith in Christ if you out and out denied his deity, saying he is just a man.

      And I believe that some doctrines, like inerrancy, would not be required for saving faith to exist. However, the person who denies inerrancy has a deficient statement of faith, at least, and is leaving the door open to lots of problems down the road.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

      • Hi Don,

        About four or so years ago, an evangelical wrote a blogpost about me, and there and in the comment section, some things untrue were written, so I commented, and somehow Daniel Wallace came up, and I mentioned he denied inerrancy, knowing his view. And I wrote that with the knowledge of the most common conservative position. The guy kicked me off his blog for saying that, even with that explanation up front. Dan Wallace is kind of an untouchable, it seems, because he is so important to eclectic text guys, and his grammar is commonly used in most fundamentalist seminaries. I was separating my like for some of his work from the errors, because I use his grammar and find it helpful. Anyway, I thought I could actually get an honest take from you. Thanks.


  1. […] Johnson has a helpful post here. Don’s assessment is that the lingering influence of new evangelicalism is seen in […]