As we read the pages of church history, we will first see the reverence our predecessors had for the Bible and their view of its complete truthfulness and unadulterated authority. We will also be led back to the pages of the Bible itself, back to the Word of God, the Word of truth for all ages.
If you read church history, you have seen it all. That’s not entirely hyperbole. Many of the challenges and questions we face in the church today have been met by past generations of believers. Did not a wise man once say, “There is nothing new under the sun”? This holds true regarding the doctrine of inerrancy. In 1979, Jack B. Rogers and Donald McKim wrote a book titled The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach. The central idea or thesis has come to be known as the Rogers/McKim proposal, which is this: The Bible is authoritative in matters of faith and conduct, but it is not infallible when it comes to historical or scientific details. Further, the doctrine of inerrancy is an innovation of the nineteenth century. Rogers and McKim argued that the Princeton theologians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most notably B.B. Warfield, created the doctrine of inerrancy, which teaches that the Bible is entirely without error in all that it affirms.
The Rogers/McKim proposal was a counterpunch to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy from 1978. That statement was the work of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), led by such figures as R.C. Sproul, Edmund Clowney, J.I. Packer, James Montgomery Boice, and others. The council produced a statement of five short paragraphs, a list of nineteen articles of affirmation and denial, as well as three pages of further exposition.
The Chicago Statement
The Chicago Statement was presented over four days in late October 1978 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The leaders of the ICBI signed first, then the others at Chicago; 268 signatures in all. In the ensuing weeks and months, hundreds more signatures were added from across the nation and around the world by representatives of numerous denominations, ministries, colleges, and seminaries. Over the next decade, the ICBI published books and booklets, sponsored conferences and meetings, and promoted the doctrine of inerrancy in the church and in the academy.
If you were to poll the attendees at the summit on inerrancy in Chicago, you would likely find that they had indeed been influenced by B.B. Warfield and the other Princetonians. It was Warfield, after all, who helped the church by offering a very straightforward and simplified argument for inerrancy.
Medieval philosopher William of Ockham is known for his principle of parsimony, or simplicity. The argument with the fewest assumptions is the better argument, the principle states. The argument that does not rely on a complex web of arguments and sub-arguments is the better argument. Warfield used Ockham’s razor well. The simple, but not simplistic, argument he made was this: If God is the author of Scripture, then Scripture is true.
We would use the theological terms of inspiration and inerrancy here. If the Bible is the Word of God, if it is the inspired text breathed out by God, then it stands to reason that it is true. If it is inspired, it is inerrant. This simple but precise argument is the gift of Warfield to the church.
The Chicago Statement expands on this basic argument and, quite importantly, draws out the boundary lines of what inerrancy means and what it doesn’t mean through its nineteen articles of affirmation and denial. The Chicago Statement sustained an entire generation in the battle for the Bible. It lent stamina to the theological conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention as they entered the arena in their seminaries and denominational agencies and structures, to the theological conservatives in Presbyterianism and in other traditions, and to many other evangelical leaders.