Nazarenes Reject Strict Inerrancy

September 10th, 2013 / 30 Comments

Recently, the Church of the Nazarene reexamined its view of the Bible. A study committee recommended that the denomination retain its current doctrine of scripture and reject strict inerrancy.

The Church of the Nazarene is only a little more than 100 years old. Its theological roots are in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. And it has long held the Bible in high regard.

But at the 27th general assembly, a resolution was brought forward to change the denomination’s view on scripture. The resolution sought to remove the phrase “inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation,” and replace it with the phrase, “inerrant throughout, and the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach.”

This resolution was one reason why I directed a conference at Northwest Nazarene University called “The Bible Tells Me So” in 2011. From that important conference, my colleague in biblical scholarship, Richard Thompson, and I published a book of important essays from leading biblical scholars and theologians.  Several essays in the book deal with the inerrancy issue.

A study committee was commissioned at the 27th general assembly. Biblical scholar, Tom King, chaired the committee, biblical scholar, Alex Varughese, served as secretary, and ten others served. The committee’s report and recommendation were made public this summer at the 28th assembly. I want to walk through what I consider the report’s central and most important statements.

Opposed to Absolute Inerrancy

The report begins by dealing with the proposed change by talking about the strength of the denomination’s current view of the Bible. It emphasizes that the Bible is inspired by God.

The heart of the argument comes in the second strength mentioned, namely the phrase that the Holy Scriptures “inerrantly reveal the will of God in all things necessary to our salvation.” The committee notes that this phrase is “distinct from absolute ‘inerrancy’ in every factual detail.”

I especially appreciated the committee’s insistence that interpretation matters. We are not infallible in our interpretation of the Bible, they say. And while some Christians think that they are merely stating what the Bible says, this is naïve. “We interpret Scripture,” they write, “guided by the traditions of the Church, in the light of our experience as the people of God, and using sanctified reason.”

The committee argues that “the Bible is not to be treated as an almanac or a magic book or a text book of history or science.” But “God’s action in the history of Israel and supremely in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ was ‘necessary to our salvation.’”

The scripture study committee concludes this section by saying “The committee therefore believes that it is not only unnecessary, but that it would be untrue to the Wesleyan tradition, incompatible with Wesleyan theology, and unwarranted by the Scriptures themselves to add any assertion that the Scriptures are ‘inerrant throughout…’” They add that “to assert the complete detailed factual literal accuracy of every part of Scripture (‘inerrant throughout’) raises more problems that it solve and diverts people into unnecessary, distracting, and futile disputes.”

Nazarenes, not Calvinists

In the remainder of their report, the committee says there are important differences between strict/absolute inerrancy and the Nazarene view of soteriological inerrancy. “We are committed to the belief that the Scriptures give us a sufficiently accurate account of God’s action in the history of Israel and particularly in the birth, life, death, and bodily resurrection of the Lord,” says the committee. But “we do not think that highlighting the issue of detailed factual inerrancy is helpful or necessary to insisting on the full authority and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture.”

The Church of the Nazarene views scripture differently from other Evangelical groups. The committee has especially in mind the difference between Nazarenes and a particular Calvinist tradition. “This assertion of the complete inerrancy of Scripture in every detail (‘inerrancy throughout’) comes out of one particular Calvinist tradition,” they write. (Not all Calvinists are strict inerrantists.)

The committee notes two “severe” disadvantages in claiming the detailed factual inerrancy of scripture instead of its sufficiency. First, the concept of ‘error’ is not helpful, because it is impossible to define what constitutes an error. “The concept of ‘error’ is an absolutist word applied to something which is necessarily a matter of degree, and it is consequently a nightmare since it leads us straight into frankly silly and futile questions.”

Second, the misguided concept of absolute or detailed inerrancy diverts attention to unprofitable debates about unimportant details. “Because we are dealing with ancient literature, we frequently do not have enough information to determine whether an apparent contradiction is truly a contradiction or not.”

In the final section, the committee quotes many notable Church of the Nazarene scholars. Virtually all are opposed to the idea that the Bible is “inerrant throughout.” From this, the committee concludes, “Nazarene theologians as a whole, with few if any exceptions, are totally opposed to the idea that we need to assert the complete detailed factual inerrancy of Holy Scripture in order to defend its authority.”

After noting that changing the current view from soteriological inerrancy to absolute inerrancy would go against the denominations Wesleyan heritage and against its leading theologians and scholars, the committee says that the proposed change would result in a “narrower fundamentalist view.” And this would create “very serious division in the denomination.”

Thankful

When I concluded my reading of this report, I felt a deep sense of gratitude. While no denomination is perfect, I’m so thankful to be part of a group that both champions Scripture but also recognizes its limitations. I appreciate being in a worldwide community that believes God’s purpose for the Bible is that we might use it to follow God’s call of salvation. 

(Find the full text of the report here on the Didache website.)

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Comments

Hans Deventer

Amen.


David Bostick

The only problem with your view is that it leaves the interpretation of, “what is necessary for salvation”, to fallible man.  So what human has that authority?  As a holiness denomination we would disagree with the theology that states that once an individual is saved, they cannot lose their salvation.  Which group of saints is the correct authority?


craig furusho

i agree wholeheartedly!  i am glad i am part of the church of the nazarene & its wesleyan roots.


Travis Young

Awesome, brother!


Joel

Your last comment on our church being champions of Scripture but also recognizes its limitations.  I agree with you if you’re referring to recognizing our limitations, as in people and our understanding and interpretation, but not scripture.  I believe scripture says precisely what God intended it to say.  The problem of interpretation is not God’s problem, but man’s.  Hence, there will always be debate this side of heaven.


John Hawthorne

One corrective to concerns about human interpretation alone is the more developed view Nazarene’s have on the work of the Holy Spirit. Because we believe the Spirit is active in our lives, leading us to all understanding, we have less need of rigid doctrinal frameworks.


Rich Schmidt

I, too, was glad to read the report of the study committee!  I love our view of Scripture, in part because it lets Scripture define itself & its purpose, rather than imposing some external criteria upon it.


Mark Ballew

Thanks for the thoughtful & careful way that you have explained the wisdom of the Weslyan theological perspective, as it relates to this subject. Please continue!


Jody

Good to see this. I think your Anglican heritage (via Wesley) is showing through.  I just have to ask… how did the language of sufficiency move from VI in the 39 Articles, to V in the Methodist Articles to IV in the Nazarene Articles of Faith? grin

Having grown up in a tradition that affirms strict inerrancy for scripture in all things, I think that position undercuts evangelism and intellectually honest faith. So, aside from noting the maintenance of some key phrases and concepts, I’m happy with what I believe will be the overall effect of this position: a more honest and faithful engagement of the church with the world.

God bless


John Dally

George Eldon Ladd sums it up very well in this book on Biblical Criticism he says “the Bible is the word of God in the words of men in history.” To get to the word of God we must go through the filters of history and the understanding that the writers had at the time of writing plus the meaning of the words they used at the time. We cannot always get through these filters (or refuse to try).

Adding to that, inerrancy is a philosophical position. First we do not have access to the original texts.  Second, it is a view from a flawed logical process, “WE say the Bible is the word of God. God is without error therefore his word must be without error.”  This conclusion does not come from actual empirical proof but from human reason and faith in the position.

The Nazarene position gives recognition to these limitations while validating what is able to be validated through personal experience.


Bob Diehm

Thanks for the great article and all the great comments. This blog consistently gives forum to many voices with the end result being thought and adventure rooted in God’s Kingdom love.
A word on a comment of Joel’s. He states, “The problem of interpretation is not God’s problem, but man’s.” while I think I get what Joel is saying, I also would add that if God truly loves us and His hopes and dreams for us are to bring us into loving relationship, then how we interpret scripture is BOTH man’s problem and God’s problem! Scripture is full of instances where God reaches to where His people are and He challenges, comforts, expands, clarifies, re-establishes, etc. so that we may know Him and His plans for us better and more fully. Man has always been brilliant at misunderstanding and missing the point of God’s plans for us! lol. How we ultimately interpret and understand God…if we believe in His faithfulness and loving care for us…is always important to Him. If interpreting what God has said is always and only a “man thing”…we’re in deep trouble! Love you all!!!


Rod@politicaljesus.com

Thank you Dr. Oord for this. I have been working through recovering a more positive, kataphatic outlook on the Bible.


Barry Hall

Glad to be a part of a great Church that can hold to great truths with great integrity and wisdom.  I love my Church.


David Bostick

Another question:  Why would God protect the inerrancy of the things in the Scriptures that are necessary for our salvation and allow the rest of scripture to become corrupt with error?


DinkyDauBilly

Someone is thinking and applying some common sense to how we see the role of the bible in our lives! And they say there is no God …

I’m a creature of the 20th century, now living in the 21st century, and I see no reason why my relationship with God should be driven absolutely by the scribblings of Neolithic tribesmen who ‘wrestle’ with their experiences, trying to find something that ‘resonates’ with their worldview. I see no reason why I must ignore the truth of evolution and science because some fundie says so. Why do I suspect that entirely too many saints of the Naz have never read, much less thought about, Brother Al’s writings in “Square Peg: Why Wesleyans Aren’t Fundamentalists” or anything else he has written.

@DaveBostick, who asks, ‘what human has that authority?’ To which I reply, ‘You do.’ Else why did God give you a mind? Don’t you think he expects you to use it to develop an appreciation for his universe, rather than fail to recognize the true magnificence of all the works that he has wrought, by focusing on, and accepting as gospel, the limited views of those ignorant but lovably adventurous nomads as they sliced and diced their way across the Middle East?

Meanwhile … an expansion of that 21st century thing:

http://lajuntablog.blogspot.com/2007/05/more-water.html


Ben Duarte

What is the intrinsic difference between “inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation,” and “inerrant throughout, and the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach.” ?


Russ

As for me and my family, we’re going to stand on the truth – and when the Nazarene denomination we’ve been a member with for 40 years (my wife and children all their life) varies from God’s Word on inerrancy, then we’re going to move on.


Greg Crofford

Thank you, Dr Oord, for this excellent summary. I was at the General Assembly as an observer when the Chair of this committee read the highlights of their report, and remember thinking that is was a fine statement. Do you know whether it will be published or made available in electronic format via the internet? It would be useful for our educational work here in Africa.


Ron Zimmer

Thanks, Tom, for a thoughtful, cogent treatise on the holy scriptures! The more I teach the Bible the more I have come to cherish this 2 Timothy view. It bypasses the minutia to bring a stronger salvation message and more reverence for content of scripture itself!


Manny Silva

Quote: “And this would create “very serious division in the denomination.”

Seriously?  The rejection of inerrancy, which even John Wesley believed in (despite revisionist history) is already creating very serious division in the denomination.

To reject the Bible as being completely God’s inerrant word is to create two sides: those who do not trust His word, including the real account of creation which you don’t believe; and those who believe in God’s word.  There cannot be “peaceful co-existence” between the two views.

One is wrong; the other is not.  This is only one of the nails in the coffin that is finalizing the destruction of the COTN.  It is the critical nail though, that has brought in all sorts of doctrines of demons into the church.

I have been a lifelong member of the church, and my father and the old saints always believed in the Holy Scriptures inerrancy- all of it.


John Dally

David, You asked how we can view salvation as an errantly revealed in Scripture while the Bible is not in its totality inerrant. To answer your question we have to define between a micro and macro view of scripture. On the micro level of Scripture it is clear that there are many variants found in the Greek texts and many historical issues that are not substantiated by archaeology or historical studies.  On the macro side of it looking at the whole of scripture we can see an ongoing theme of salvation and repetition of the means of grace. This is why we can say the Bible as a whole gives us all things necessary for salvation while in details it can be flawed. This is the value of a plenary inspiration of Scripture, that is, the Bible as a whole being inspired.


Ty McCarthy

First of all, great piece.

So can it be argued that if the Bible is not a history book or a science text that it is not a handbook on sexual orientation, and therefore a basic* reading into the 6 verses that deal with “practice of homosexuality” is flawed, and thus throwing out our Manual Paragraph 37 because one’s sexual orientation, or one’s committed monogamous relationship is not necessary to salvation?

(But of course if one takes the time to do exegetical work on 6 verses they would quickly see that it doesn’t deal with homosexuality, so what really is at the core is an issue of translation not interpretation.)


Thomas King

Just to clarify: the title of this blog may lead some to conclude that the Church of the Nazarene just recently decided to reject strict innerancy. Also, a couple of the responses to this blog entry imply that the Church of the Nazarene has historically held to a strict innerancy view until the recent General Assembly. This is not the case. Recall, the report from the Scripture Study Committee defends and affirms the “current wording” of the Nazarene Article of Faith on Holy Scripture. That current wording (“inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation”) has been in the Nazarene Manual since 1928. Thus, the recent General Assembly merely made more explicit that which has been the Nazarene view of Scripture for generations.


Christopher

I am perplexed that the report would say that it goes against our theology to say the bible is inerrant on all things. Here’s a quote of John Wesley which is our heritage right?

“I read Mr. Jenyns’s admired tract, on the “Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion.” He is undoubtedly a fine writer; but whether he is a Christian, Deist, or Atheist, I cannot tell. If he is a Christian, he betrays his own cause by averring, that “all Scripture is not given by inspiration of God; but the writers of it were sometimes left to themselves, and
consequently made some mistakes.” Nay, if there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may as well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth.”

So how is it that we only affirm that the bible is inerrant on salvation? Clearly, John Wesley was not a Calvinist!


Mark W. Wilson

If one hangs around those who support inerrancy much, it becomes clear that they have escape hatches for Scriptures whose authority they want to avoid. Many who support innerrancy escape all the verses about signs, wonders, and gifts of the Holy Spirit by insisting these belong to a different dispensation—an apostolic one. When they encounter verses about God changing his mind, or responding to intercession—they escape the openness of God by dismissing these verses as anthromorphisms.

So much depends on our heart and motives. Some love denominational traditions more than the Word of God. Some value being hip and inoffensive more.A very narrow interpretation of “things necessary for salvation” could silence the Scripture concerning sexual morality, social justice, the environment, and godly living in general. As Ty McCarthy has suggested,approvingly it seems, this approach to Scripture may open the door to the Church accepting same-sex marriage.

The statement on inspiration in the Manual may have provided adequate guidance when a general consensus existed about morality and holiness. But I wonder if it provides the help the church needs in a more diverse and thoroughly secularized culture. Right wording of a statement is not as important as a commitment to conform to all the Scripture clearly teaches even on things not necessary to salvation. Does the Church still have this heart? Or are we looking for escape hatches that will allow us to accommodate science and culture more easily?


Todd Risser

Thanks Tom, excellent as usual.
I’ll post a link on my blog


George Berg

De 8:3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.

Mt 4:4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Lu 4:4 And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.


Jason Cunningham

This seems to me like a somewhat complicated stab at rationalization. It seems to me that a lot of today’s Christians want to appear cool and hip and be accepted by the larger society, and not viewed as strange, so they devise various methods that, in their minds, allow them to accept things such as evolution, same-sex marriage, etc., while still remaining a Christian. This article speaks of not splitting hairs over “unimportant” details, yet the Nazarene Church is itself splitting hairs over the meanings of “inerrant” and “error.” Itching ears, people.


Jacob Roberts

I know some have mentioned how then do we address controversial issues of same sex-marriage, evolution, or even something as divorce and re-marriage if the bible is a little more open ended than what some would wish to admit. I think here is where we as a Church have a strength because we are a body who makes decisions as a whole through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Here where the bible may be grey on an issue, we as a church can come together like the many saints before us and make collective decisions. I have no issue with our stance as a church as it has been our stance, and you may have to correct me, since 1928. I think through this we affirm that God continues to work incarnationally through his people, and that should be reasurring to us all. I believe we have some very tough days ahead of us as a denomination, but I also believe we as a “whole” will continue to let the Spirit guide and direct us to make those judgement calls when the time comes.


Kevin Carney

What part of all all Scripture is God breathed do you not get? It is a strange God that breathes out falsehoods and errors. Every major Christian doctrine from justification to the Trinity is a biblical doctrine. All of these doctrines are based on the presupposition of the inerrancy of Scripture. A high view of scripture is not optional for a Christian. How can Christian ministers Shepherd men’s souls when they can’t completely trust the truthfulness and accuracy of Scripture? These men who are under meaning the authority of Scripture are disgraceful. They should be ashamed of themselves and they will answer to God for their folly.


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