As I grappled with the nature of Scripture, its authority, power, and sufficiency, and the implications for my life and ministry, my world was rocked. I had been raised by a godly mother who taught her children to believe the Bible but I had never thought deeply about the nature and implications of divine revelation. As I did, I found myself coming to see the simple, clear testimonies of Scripture concerning itself
One of my growing concerns about American Christianity (and I include myself and the congregation that I serve in this analysis) is that we have been blessed with ready access to the Bible for so long and have seen reaffirmation of its full authority so boldly declared by many of our pastors, churches, and institutions that we have made the affirmation of its inerrancy almost meaningless. I am not saying that a full-throated affirmation of biblical inerrancy is unimportant. On the contrary, I contended for that very thing in the so-called “Conservative Resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention during the last two decades of the twentieth century.
I enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in May 1979, having been convinced by a prominent member of that faculty that inerrancy was at best unimportant and that the “Fundamentalists” were storming the walls with the intent of firing all of Southwestern’s faculty and turning it into backwater Bible College intent only to indoctrinate and not educate.
So I showed up to my first class loaded for bear with reassurances for my professors that I would lead my church and our ten messengers to Houston in a few weeks and would vote against that “young man from Memphis” (Adrian Rogers) who wanted to fire them. By God’s grace, my first class was a survey of church history with Tom Nettles. Early in the term I offered him my reassurance in his office. He cocked his head, got a consternated look on his face and asked me, “Who have you been talking to?” When I told him and explained how I understood the situation in the SBC he got up from his desk, walked to his door, and closed it. The moment he sat back down marked the beginning of my real theological education.
As I grappled with the nature of Scripture, its authority, power, and sufficiency, and the implications for my life and ministry, my world was rocked. I had been raised by a godly mother who taught her children to believe the Bible but I had never thought deeply about the nature and implications of divine revelation. As I did, I found myself coming to see the simple, clear testimonies of Scripture concerning itself such as Paul makes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Once convinced, I did my best to contend for this doctrine and to lend my small voice to those calling the SBC back to an unashamed affirmation of biblical inerrancy. I did so because I believe it to be true and vitally important for healthy Christianity. Consequently, I rejoiced to see the SBC turned around such that now all of the Seminary presidents, entity heads, seminary professors, and denominational leaders unashamedly affirm inerrancy. In fact, no self-respecting Southern Baptist pastor or leader would dare deny it.
However, in recent years I have come to a sad, yet unavoidable conclusion. When many Southern Baptist leaders and pastors of today affirm biblical inerrancy in theory but not in practice. That is, they will make the affirmation, sign the Baptist Faith and Message, Abstract of Principles, or Chicago Statement on Inerrancy without hesitation or mental reservation and then will go right on thinking and living in ways that are contrary to the Word.
They are theoretical inerrantists.