Inerrant the Wind: The Evangelical Crisis Book Summary

Title: Inerrant the Wind: The Evangelical Crisis in Biblical Authority
Author: Robert M. Price

TLDR: This book explores the diverse ways evangelicals are grappling with challenges to biblical inerrancy, showing how their approaches often mirror those of liberal theology and Catholicism, potentially leading to a new “Postevangelicalism.”

Introduction: The Surprising Range of Options

Robert M. Price’s “Inerrant the Wind” delves into the heart of a theological crisis within American evangelicalism: the debate over biblical authority. While doctrinal debates have always existed, this one cuts to the very core of evangelical epistemology, challenging the traditional reliance on scripture as the ultimate arbiter of truth. The introduction sets the stage for a complex and nuanced analysis of the various non-inerrantist viewpoints that have emerged, showcasing a surprising range of perspectives that often parallel mainstream Protestant and Catholic views previously considered unacceptable by evangelicals.

The traditional “battle for the Bible,” previously waged against external threats like higher criticism or secular humanism, has morphed into an internal struggle between evangelicals themselves. This crisis, sparked by Harold Lindsell’s “The Battle for the Bible” (1976), revolves around the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, with one side demanding absolute factual accuracy and the other questioning its applicability to scripture. Price argues that the debate often gets framed as a binary opposition, inerrancy versus errancy, when in reality there exists a spectrum of perspectives on inspiration, authority, and interpretation.

This book aims to dissect these diverse viewpoints and to explore their potential implications for the future of evangelicalism. Price identifies at least five distinct approaches to biblical authority within the non-inerrantist camp, each challenging the traditional evangelical paradigm in unique ways.

Chapter 1: Troubling the House – A New Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy?

This chapter explores the assertion made by prominent inerrantists like Harold Lindsell and Francis Schaeffer that a new fundamentalist-modernist controversy is brewing within evangelicalism. Price meticulously analyzes the claims and actions of both sides of the debate, drawing parallels between the current crisis and the original fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early 20th century.

Lindsell’s “The Battle for the Bible” served as a rallying cry for the inerrantist camp, launching attacks against fellow evangelicals deemed “non-inerrantists.” The book sparked a series of reactions, with inerrantists accusing their opponents of embracing biblical errancy and non-inerrantists asserting that the concept of inerrancy was simply not applicable to scripture. Price argues that the perceived threat of errancy stems from a fear of theological liberalism, often seen as synonymous with apostasy.

To bolster their position, inerrantists formed the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), mirroring the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA) founded during the original controversy. Price highlights striking parallels between the WCFA and ICBI, including their shared goals of purging institutions of “heretics,” pressuring educational institutions, and disseminating inerrancy through targeted publications and lay seminars. Both organizations also sought to establish creedal affirmations as rallying standards, culminating in the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” issued by the ICBI in 1978.

Further solidifying the parallel with the original controversy, Price identifies three major issues that constituted the battle lines then: the theory of evolution, the Social Gospel, and higher criticism. He meticulously compares the arguments and strategies employed in both eras, demonstrating that the core issues and anxieties remain strikingly similar. Price argues that the resurgence of “Scientific Creationism,” the emergence of groups like Sojourners advocating a broadened and social understanding of salvation, and the increasing acceptance of biblical criticism within evangelical circles all contribute to a recapitulation of the earlier theological battle.

This chapter concludes by showcasing the internal nature of both controversies, highlighting how the central conflict revolved around disagreements between fellow evangelicals, often over positions remarkably similar to those being put forth by contemporary non-inerrantists. Price convincingly argues that the inerrantist fear of a new fundamentalist-modernist controversy is not mere alarmism, but a genuine reflection of a theological shift occurring within evangelicalism.

Chapter 2: Prodigal Fundamentalists – The Neo-Evangelical Ferment

This chapter analyzes the neo-evangelical movement of the mid-20th century, demonstrating its pivotal role as a bridge between traditional fundamentalism and the contemporary “crisis of biblical authority.” While often characterized as a change in manners and tactics, Price argues that the neo-evangelical movement, with its call for theological creativity and intellectual engagement, unwittingly planted the seeds for the non-inerrancy movement of today.

Following the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, a new generation of evangelicals, dubbed “neo-evangelicals” by Harold Ockenga, emerged. These figures, including Carl Henry, Edward Carnell, and Bernard Ramm, advocated for a reassessment of fundamentalist priorities, pushing for social reform, ecumenical dialogue, and theological renewal. This new openness, particularly exemplified by Billy Graham’s “cooperative evangelism,” drew criticism from both conservative fundamentalists and liberal theologians. While the former accused neo-evangelicals of compromising doctrinal purity, the latter questioned their sincerity in seeking genuine dialogue.

Price argues that this period marked a subtle but significant shift in evangelical thinking on biblical authority and inspiration. Carnell, for example, highlighted the stagnation in discussions on inspiration and acknowledged the challenges of reconciling scriptural authority with admitted biblical errors. This questioning paved the way for a reassessment of traditional fundamentalist dogma.

Price then examines the works of prominent neo-evangelicals such as Dewey Beegle, Bernard Ramm, and Everett Harrison, showcasing their attempts to grapple with biblical inconsistencies and to formulate a more nuanced understanding of inerrancy. While Beegle outright rejected inerrancy, both Harrison and Ramm sought to refine the doctrine, taking into account the historical and literary context of scripture and arguing for the necessity of judging biblical claims based on the author’s intended purpose.

This chapter culminates in a discussion of the “canonical adoptionism” model, a concept tentatively suggested by both Carnell and Harrison, which posits that inspiration occurs at the point of canonization, not composition. This model, though never fully embraced by neo-evangelicals, serves as a stark example of the theological innovation and questioning that characterized this transitional period.

Chapter 3: “Inerrancy, Ltd.” – The Inerrancy of (Some) Assertions

This chapter delves into the specific strategies employed by contemporary evangelicals seeking to retain the concept of inerrancy by limiting its scope. Price focuses on the proposals of Daniel P. Fuller and Clark H. Pinnock, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of their approaches and showcasing the surprising parallels with earlier Catholic attempts at limiting inerrancy.

Fuller, like Pinnock, sought to reconcile his commitment to both Warfield’s evidentialist apologetics and biblical inerrancy. Recognizing the inherent tension between the two, Fuller argued for a “limited inerrancy,” restricting the doctrine to “revelational matters” while allowing for factual inaccuracies in non-revelational statements. This approach, while attracting criticism from both inerrantists and non-inerrantists, aimed to maintain the theological integrity of scripture while acknowledging its historical limitations.

Pinnock, on the other hand, criticized Fuller’s use of 2 Timothy 3:16 to justify the separation of “revelational” and “non-revelational” material. Instead, Pinnock championed the criterion of “intentionality,” arguing that each biblical passage should be judged based on the author’s intended assertion, not on incidental details or assumptions. Pinnock’s early position allowed little room for factual errors, but later broadened to accommodate more “errors” by interpreting them as non-intended components of the text.

Price then compares the seemingly divergent positions of Fuller and Pinnock, demonstrating their shared tendency to make historical details negotiable while safeguarding doctrinal texts. Both approaches, however, ultimately fail to provide a clear criterion for safeguarding the historical reality of crucial biblical events like the resurrection. Fuller’s apologetic approach dehistoricizes revelation by making it non-falsifiable, while Pinnock’s hermeneutical approach suffers from an increasing ambiguity in the concept of “intention” as more errors are recognized.

The chapter concludes by proposing an alternative model of “limited inerrancy” that distinguishes the various grounds of assent implied in different kinds of biblical assertions. By recognizing that only revelational statements implicitly invite automatic belief, this model offers a more nuanced and consistent way to differentiate between claims that invite faith and those that call for investigation or evaluation.

Chapter 4: Enigma and Kerygma – An Infallible Central Message

This chapter explores the “partial infallibilist” position, a non-inerrancy approach that acknowledges theological contradictions within the Bible while seeking to establish a normative core of teachings known as the “central message.” Price analyzes the historical and theological roots of this model, drawing parallels with the “Biblical Theology” or Heilsgeschichte School of the 1940s and 1950s, while also addressing traditional evangelical criticisms of this movement.

The concept of Heilsgeschichte, meaning “sacred history” or “history of salvation,” served as the thematic framework for biblical scholars seeking to identify the unifying message of scripture. The emphasis shifted from propositional revelation to a focus on God’s “mighty acts” in history culminating in the redemption in Christ. While recognizing the diversity of expression within the Bible, scholars like Joachim Jeremias and A.M. Hunter argued for a central message focused on God’s saving purpose, a view embraced by several evangelical scholars including George E. Ladd and G.C. Berkouwer.

This chapter analyzes the reasons behind traditional evangelical opposition to the Heilsgeschichte model, primarily their fear of dehistoricizing revelation and of denying propositional revelation. Traditionalists like J.I. Packer criticized the movement for relegating scriptural interpretations to mere human inference, while figures like Kenneth Kantzer expressed concern about the movement’s ambiguous stance on supernatural miracles. Price argues that while these criticisms were justified in the context of certain Heilsgeschichte proponents, contemporary “partial infallibilists” have addressed these concerns by clearly affirming the supernatural character of biblical miracles while still acknowledging the human element in interpreting these “acts of God.”

However, the “partial infallibilist” model also faces significant challenges. The separation of the normative “central message” from the “peripheral” material inevitably leads to a downgrading of the latter’s authority, potentially relegating large sections of the Bible to a “deutero-canonical” status. Price highlights the inherent difficulty in justifying the Old Testament’s canonical standing in this framework and questions the practical implications for systematic theology, which traditionally relied on the now-negotiable “peripheral” material.

The chapter concludes by raising crucial questions about the future direction of the “central message” approach. Can evangelical theology survive the relativization of large portions of scripture? Will the “partial infallibilists,” unable to appeal to normative biblical thought-forms, find themselves compelled to embrace theological approaches like demythologizing previously considered unacceptable by evangelicals?

Chapter 5: Through a Kaleidoscope Darkly – Authority as Authorization in a Pluriform Canon

This chapter investigates the “pluriform canon” model, a non-inerrancy approach that acknowledges far greater disunity within the biblical canon than the “central message” model, with a minimal unifying center and a vast periphery of diverse theological perspectives. Price analyzes the ideas of John Goldingay, James D.G. Dunn, and Charles Kraft, who champion this model, exploring the implications for the doctrine of inspiration and hermeneutics.

These scholars challenge the notion of a singular, comprehensive biblical kerygma, arguing instead for a multiplicity of voices and viewpoints within scripture. While acknowledging a basic agreement on the nature of God, they emphasize the situational nature of biblical teachings, with each writer applying core beliefs to specific cultural and historical contexts. This situational approach leads them to admit genuine theological contradictions within the Bible, for example, the divergent views on justification between James and Paul.

Price analyzes two primary factors contributing to biblical diversity as understood by pluriform canonists: situational application and progressive (or regressive) revelation. Dunn, Goldingay, and Kraft agree that the Holy Spirit inspired biblical writers to reinterpret faith and life-style for their specific circumstances, leading to variations in theological expression. While some advocate for a hierarchical evaluation of these expressions, prioritizing certain teachings over others, others argue for the equal normativity of all viewpoints within the canon, even those deemed less developed or seemingly regressive.

This chapter then explores the implications of this model for the doctrine of inspiration. Goldingay, for example, distinguishes between “prophetic” and “scribal” modes of inspiration, echoing the Catholic distinction between revelation impacting speculative judgment and inspiration prompting the practical judgment. Kraft, influenced by his background in anthropology, stresses the human medium of inspiration and emphasizes the limitations of language in communicating divine truth. This view, while acknowledging the adequacy of scripture as a vehicle for God’s working, implicitly relativizes its authority by accepting a less immediate connection between divine truth and human expression.

The chapter culminates in a discussion of the “canonical” function of the diverse biblical materials. Dunn, Kraft, and Goldingay present two potential pathways: seeing the canon as an example of an open-ended, continuing process of theologizing, or as a limited range of authorized possibilities for belief and practice. Price explores both approaches, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each and demonstrating how the shift from “authority” to “authorization” opens the door for a greater degree of hermeneutical pluralism within evangelicalism.

Chapter 6: “It Ain’t Necessarily So” – Do Evangelicals Demythologize?

This chapter delves into the hermeneutical approaches employed by non-inerrantist evangelicals, demonstrating how their engagement with biblical criticism and cultural relativity can lead them to positions that mirror, if not embrace, the demythologizing program of Rudolf Bultmann. Price argues that while strict inerrantists have legitimate cause for concern about this trajectory, their own hermeneutical strategies, designed to safeguard biblical authority, inadvertently pave the way for a demythologized faith.

The chapter begins by analyzing the anxieties of strict inerrantists concerning the hermeneutical “fuzzification” of biblical authority. They fear that non-inerrantist interpretations will evacuate scripture of its historical veracity and its direct applicability to faith and practice. This concern is manifested in the emergence of creedal affirmations seeking to limit interpretive freedom, for example, the hermeneutical loyalty oaths adopted by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Melodyland School of Theology. Price highlights how this trend represents a shift from sola scriptura towards a reliance on ecclesiastical authority for defining the meaning of scripture.

The chapter then examines several instances of “evangelical demythologizing,” where attempts to accommodate scripture to modern knowledge inadvertently bracket off biblical supernaturalism from present experience. These examples include: the restriction of miraculous gifts to the “apostolic period,” the dismissal of charismatic biblical reinterpretation as culturally bound, the insistence on the inerrancy of lost autographs, the explanation of the earth’s age through non-uniformitarian processes, the de-emphasis of demon activity, and the naturalistic interpretation of conversion experiences. Price argues that these strategies, while claiming to uphold biblical authority, effectively demythologize it by confining its supernatural claims to the past.

This sets the stage for a discussion of the hermeneutical approaches employed by non-inerrantist evangelicals like Virginia Ramey Mollenkott and Paul Jewett. Influenced by the concept of cultural relativity, these scholars argue for a deabsolutization of biblical cultural assumptions, particularly regarding the status of women. They engage in a form of content criticism, similar to Bultmann’s Sachkritik, by comparing problematic passages with the overall thrust of biblical teaching and by attributing contradictory views to the influence of the author’s cultural context.

The chapter concludes by examining Charles Kraft’s “contextualization” approach to missions and theology, which advocates for the re-articulation of the gospel in the religious concepts of different cultures. While Kraft maintains his own belief in biblical miracles, his emphasis on the “appropriateness” of theological expression over “absolute correctness” implicitly allows for the legitimacy of demythologizing as a form of contextual adaptation for secular Western audiences. This chapter, in highlighting the potential for evangelical hermeneutics to dehistoricize and demythologize biblical teachings, presents a stark challenge to the traditional inerrantist paradigm.

Chapter 7: The Orthodoxford Option – The Canon Outside the Canon

This chapter analyzes the “Orthodoxford” movement, a group of evangelicals seeking refuge from the perceived exegetical and hermeneutical chaos of non-inerrancy by embracing a creedal “rule of faith” or a “canon outside the canon” of scripture. This movement, exemplified by figures like Peter Gillquist and Robert Webber involved in the Evangelical Orthodox Church and the New Oxford Movement, represents a shift away from sola scriptura towards an increasing reliance on ecclesiastical and creedal authority.

The chapter begins by tracing the historical development of the threefold canonical system of bishops, creed, and text, which emerged in the early Church to safeguard orthodoxy against competing interpretations. While this system, as championed by Tertullian and others, effectively protected core beliefs, it also excluded those who did not align with the Church’s authoritative interpretation of scripture. The Protestant Reformation, spearheaded by Martin Luther, challenged this system by rejecting the authority of both the bishops and the creed, placing the weight of theological authority solely on the Bible.

Price argues that this shift to sola scriptura, while liberating, also opened the door for hermeneutical diversity and ambiguity. The absence of an authoritative interpreter led to a proliferation of interpretations, exemplified by the “Biblical Theology” method of the 18th and 19th centuries, which emphasized the historical context of biblical teachings and questioned the notion of a uniform, authoritative canon. The current resurgence of non-inerrantist interpretations, particularly the “pluriform canon” model, has further destabilized traditional evangelical biblicism, prompting a renewed interest in seeking an external, authoritative source for theological guidance.

This chapter then examines the “Orthodoxford” response to this perceived crisis. Recognizing the diversity of interpretations arising from sola scriptura, figures like Michael O’Laughlin and Peter Gillquist advocate for a return to a “timeless Church” as the necessary guide for interpreting scripture. They emphasize the importance of standing within the Church’s tradition, effectively making the Early Church an authoritative commentary on the New Testament. Robert Webber, while sympathetic to this view, argues for greater critical freedom in biblical scholarship, albeit within the bounds of an ecclesiastically defined “rule of faith.”

Price critically analyzes the “Orthodoxford” movement, highlighting the challenges of appealing to an idealized Early Church that, upon closer historical examination, exhibits the same theological diversity found in the New Testament. He also points out the inherent difficulties in applying a generic “creed” without aligning oneself to a specific church tradition. The chapter concludes by questioning the viability of the “Orthodoxford” option as a solution for non-inerrantist evangelicals, suggesting that it involves more than simply accepting an answer to the question of biblical authority. It also entails embracing a whole new set of theological assumptions and practices that may ultimately be incompatible with traditional evangelical convictions.

Conclusion: Onward to Post-Evangelicalism

This concluding chapter offers a thoughtful reflection on the future of non-inerrantist evangelicalism, acknowledging both the validity of Lindsell’s prediction about their theological trajectory and the potential for a positive contribution to the broader Christian community. Price argues that non-inerrantists, having moved beyond traditional evangelicalism, are now positioned to become “Postevangelicals,” forging a new synthesis that draws upon the strengths of their past while embracing the insights of other theological traditions.

Price reiterates the central theme of the book: the surprising range of hermeneutical diversity within non-inerrancy. He summarizes the five distinct approaches analyzed in previous chapters, highlighting how each represents a significant departure from the traditional inerrantist paradigm. He acknowledges that Lindsell’s prediction about their “modernist” trajectory is largely accurate, as non-inerrantist evangelicals are increasingly adopting approaches to scripture and theology previously considered unacceptable by conservatives.

However, Price argues that the simple rejection of inerrancy does not tell the whole story. Evangelical identity is more complex than a belief in biblical inerrancy, encompassing distinctive elements of religious style, theological agenda, and fundamental categories. These elements, Price suggests, can be preserved in a “Postevangelical” form, allowing for continuity with the evangelical past while embracing new theological frameworks.

This chapter then outlines the distinctive features of Postevangelicalism. It begins with a discussion of a “surviving evangelical style,” characterized by a continued emphasis on evangelism, personal piety, and a biblically informed worldview. Price argues that these elements can be retained, albeit in a modified form, even within theological frameworks that reject traditional conceptions of conversion, biblical authority, and the nature of God.

Price then proposes an “evangelical method” for Postevangelicals, advocating for a theological approach that prioritizes logical deduction from broad theological categories over strict adherence to biblical texts. This method, already implicit in much evangelical thinking, allows for a more flexible and nuanced engagement with scripture and tradition, enabling Postevangelicals to draw upon the resources of other theological traditions while remaining true to their fundamental concerns.

The chapter concludes by suggesting that Postevangelicals, having moved beyond traditional evangelicalism, are now positioned to make a unique contribution to the broader Christian community. By engaging in genuine dialogue with other Christians, they can challenge existing paradigms and inject new life into existing traditions. This movement, already evident in the popularity of the Charismatic Renewal within mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, has the potential to reshape the theological landscape of Christianity in the years to come.

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