How would I defend the doctrine of biblical inerrancy to either a skeptic or a non-evangelical Christian? Although the aim of my discussion with either party would be the same, the approaches would need to be different. However, there would be some overlap in my method of debating either persuasion.
For example, you should practice active listening because it is twice as important to listen as it is to speak. Often, when we are in a defensive posture during a conversation, we will not truly listen to the other side’s argument. We should listen not to be convinced of the claims, but to realize where their objections originate. For the skeptic, listen to find out if they are atheist, agnostic, or a person with religious leanings. On the other hand, listen to the non-evangelical Christian, to determine their objections to the doctrine of inerrancy? What passage(s) are problematic to them? Actively listening to your counterpart with respect will only improve your ability to convince the other person. What good is it to “win” the argument and lose the opportunity to win a person to Christ? Even people with whom we disagree are created in the image of God, considered valuable by the cross of Christ, and are worthy of our listening ear.
Secondly, beyond my undivided attention, I would present to both parties a clear definition of what I mean by the term inerrancy. Millard Erickson defines inerrancy as, “the Bible: when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms.” By listening to make sure I understand their objections and defining my position, I lay the foundation for a potentially fruitful conversation.
How would my conversation with a skeptic differ? No matter if the skeptic is an atheist, agnostic, or a person with religious leanings, the conversation needs to begin on common ground. General revelation is this common ground. As Scripture declares, a person that denies the existence of God has suppressed the truth (Rom 1:18) revealed through nature and the constitution of man as a moral being.
Therefore, after making a case for the existence of God, one can progress to arguing this God has revealed Himself to humanity through not only the Incarnation of Christ but the written word as well. One can look to the uniqueness of the Holy Bible. Its composition from over forty authors from all walks of life, written in approximately 1,500 years, its accurate prophetic utterances, and the unifying theme of Christ’s redemption is present throughout its pages. This argument fails to mention the longevity of the Bible, despite severe opposition. Therefore, when speaking with a skeptic who clings to logic and reason, it is paramount that the Bible’s claims of being the very word of God are neither illogical or unreasonable. However, it still must be received by faith, but not a blind faith.
As far as the skeptic, is adherence to biblical inerrancy necessary for Christian belief? This question is a slippery fish. The Bible is clear faith in Christ alone is what brings salvation to sinners (Jn 1:12; Jn 3:16; Rom 5:1). However, how would a person hear and receive the gospel message, if the means of the message (a.k.a. the Bible) is not fully reliable? Of course, the Spirit of God is what quickens our hearts through the hearing of the message, but would not the Spirit also convince of inerrancy too? Regardless, faith is given by the Spirit, which draws sinners to the Father (Jn 6:44,63).
Therefore, in theory, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is not necessary for Christian belief. A person convinced of the Gospel’s simple message of faith may not be fully persuaded that record of Scripture was accurately preserved. Nevertheless, that fishy question is quite slick, because how would you know the message of salvation was preserved? How could one be assured of their right standing with God? What kind of God could not preserve an accurate revelation of Himself? As one can witness, the denial of biblical inerrancy does devolve into endless questions and doubts. This notion brings us to the next point of discussion concerning the non-evangelical Christian and their objections to biblical inerrancy.
First, for clarity’s sake, the non-evangelical Christian is one that acknowledges Jesus Christ and accepts the claims of the Gospel but admits the Bible does indeed contain errors. Thus, God has not pristinely preserved His special revelation to humanity. Much of the previously stated argument applies to this situation as well. Evidently, a non-evangelical Christian would affirm the authoritative nature of the Bible (or at least to some degree), but how could the God-breathed Scriptures be divorced from inerrancy? Again, the fish flops!
For this individual, I would argue that one’s position on the doctrine of inerrancy greatly affects what one believes (doctrine). What if the inspired biblical writers “fudged” on the details included (regardless if intentional or not)? What would that say about the nature of the inspiring Spirit? How could we trust God? Although, in theory, I have proposed one could be a Christian without adhering to the inerrancy of Scripture, how could you define what is Christian? For all that we know about Christ is taught through Scripture. It is possible this individual would appeal to the traditions of the Church, but historically the Church they appeal to has affirmed the doctrine they are attempting to refute! I still smell something fishy. It’s clear the denial of the Scripture’s truthfulness is frustrating to faith or doctrine.
Furthermore, how does this repudiation of an inerrant Bible affect their lifestyle practice? How could a person define what a Christian lifestyle is? Historically, the Bible has been the standard by which Christians have measured there walk with God. The Apostle James gave the analogy of the Word being a mirror (Jam 1:23). If the Bible’s message contains errors, I assume the image depicted in its reflection would be distorted; much like one’s reflection in a carnival mirror. A brief look at the history of any Christian denomination or sect, which rejects the inerrancy of the Word, reveals they ultimately begin to apostatize. Therefore, the belief that Scripture is, not only authoritative but inerrant is pivotal to the practice of fruitful Christianity.
How does this issue touch ministry practices? It will disturb ministry efforts as well. As already stated, the person is a non-evangelical. This title designates that the proclamation of the Gospel is not at the forefront of their effort. How could this be if they believe the Word of God to be an accurate depiction of God’s commands? What one believes determines what one does. When the trustworthiness of Scripture is in question, all begins to crumble because the foundation has shifted.
In conclusion, the doctrine of inerrancy is vital to the Church and Christian life. Although one may believe the Good News and be a Christian, while denying the inerrancy of the Bible, complications are bound to follow. During the writing of this post, I referred to the questions being as slippery as a fish, but I do not think a flopping fish is the issue at all. Instead of struggling to handle slippery questions, we need to realize the slithering serpent that is at the root of the debate, who from the beginning, posed the poisonous question, “Did God really say…?”
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 201-202.