At the General Assembly 2013, the Church of the Nazarene’s Scripture Study Committee rejected a proposal to strengthen the statement on Scripture and affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. I believe that this will prove to be a catastrophic decision for the denomination. We reported on this decision and commented on its many weak statements and inaccurate reasoning and excuses. The following is a response to the report by a Wesleyan professor at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. There is a serious divide right now between the Wesleyan Church, and the Nazarene Church, in their official positions regarding the infallibility of God’s word. Leaders of the church should take note. (The full text of the Committee Report, including critiques, can be read in the Final General Assembly Report I posted).
THE NAZARENE SCRIPTURE STUDY COMMITTEE’S REPORT ON INERRANCY: A WESLEYAN RESPONSE
By E. Jerome Van Kuiken
Asst. Professor of Religion and Philosophy
Oklahoma Wesleyan University
WHAT’S INVOLVED AND WHY IT MATTERS
The 2009 General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene received a proposal to change the denomination’s Article of Faith on Scripture. The proposed change would have strengthened the Article’s statement on the inerrancy of the Bible. The proposal was sent to the Scripture Study Committee, which reported back to the General Assembly this past summer. In its report, the Scripture Study Committee recommended against adopting the proposal and gave a rationale for its recommendation. The report has been published at http://didache.nazarene.org. This report deserves the attention of Wesleyan leaders for two reasons: first, The Wesleyan Church and the Church of the Nazarene have considered merger in the recent past; and secondly, the report is being discussed on the Wesleyan Pastors Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/WesleyanPastors/. In what follows, I will describe the context of the report and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses.
THE CONTEXT OF THE REPORT
The proposed revision to the Nazarene Article of Faith on Scripture needs to be seen in light of the merger talks that have been going on between the Church of the Nazarene, The Wesleyan Church, the Free Methodist Church, the Churches of Christ in Christian Union (CCCU), and the Evangelical Friends Church. If the Nazarene Article of Faith were revised to say that Scripture is “inerrant throughout, and the supreme authority on everything the Scriptures teach,” it would bring the Nazarene Article in line with the Wesleyan, CCCU, and Evangelical Friends’ statements of faith:
“We believe that the books of the Old and New Testament . . . are the inspired and infallibly written Word of God, fully inerrant in their original manuscripts and superior to all human authority” (Wesleyan Art. 5)
“The Spirit of God guided the Bible writers so that they wrote without error. The Bible contains all we need to know about God, about ourselves, and about life here and hereafter.” (http://www.cccuhq.org/explore/who-we-are/what-we-teach)
“We believe the Bible is the written word of God accurate and fully authoritative in all it says.” (http://www.evangelicalfriends.org/beliefs)
By recommending against the proposed change, the Nazarene Scripture Study Committee has allowed an obstacle to merger to remain in place.
STRENGTHS OF THE REPORT
The report’s rationale for its recommendation begins by building bridges to those who believe that the Bible is “inerrant throughout”: the committee agrees that the Bible is foundational to Christian believing and living. Section 1 of the rationale describes the strengths of the current Nazarene Article on Scripture. This whole section is full of sound teaching on the reliability and sufficiency of Scripture – except for the last two paragraphs, which begin the critique of the “inerrant throughout” position. This critique continues through the remaining three sections of the report. The report’s critique suffers from one major missing piece and several misrepresentations.
THE MISSING PIECE
The report nowhere quotes or cites any statement by supporters of “inerrancy throughout.” This leaves the report’s writers free to describe the “inerrancy throughout” position any way they like and leads to several misrepresentations (to be described shortly). In particular, the report never deals with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (accessible, among other places, here: http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html). The Chicago Statement is the most enduring, ecumenical authority on the “inerrancy throughout” position. It directly addresses a number of the alleged problems with “detailed inerrancy” (round numbers, topical ordering of events, etc.) listed in Section 3 of the Nazarene report.
At the end of Section 1, the Nazarene report equates “inerrancy throughout” with “factual literal accuracy of every part of Scripture.” No one who accepts the Chicago Statement will make that equation: the place of metaphor, hyperbole, and other literary devices in Scripture is recognized. Belief in full inerrancy doesn’t require a flat-earth view of Genesis, a “Left Behind” view of Revelation, or a hyper-literalistic view of any biblical book in between the two.
Throughout Sections 2-4 of the report there’s a tendency to equate belief in “inerrancy throughout” with Calvinism and fundamentalism, and so as contrary to Wesleyan theology. I’m afraid that this is a caricature. First, on Calvinism: Belief in full inerrancy is held by a number of non-Calvinist denominations, such as:
· the Wesleyan and Friends bodies named above (plus others)
· the Free Will Baptists (http://nafwb.org/?page_id=325)
· the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) (http://www.lcms.org/doctrine/scripturalprinciples#IV)
· The Roman Catholic Church up to, and arguably including, Vatican II (http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8441)
Even if Calvinists pioneered the term or refined the concept, that doesn’t make the doctrine any more Calvinist than using the term and concept “Trinity” makes us all Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. John Wesley learned much from Catholic mystics and Lutherans; did that make him Catholic or Lutheran? Nazarenes and Wesleyans didn’t get believer’s baptism from Wesley; does that make them Mennonite?
Secondly, on fundamentalism: This is a slippery word. To more liberal Christians, anyone who believes in the bodily resurrection of Christ is a “fundamentalist.” The term connotes anti-intellectualism and disengagement from society. Does belief in full inerrancy automatically mean that kind of fundamentalism? Not unless Wheaton College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary are “fundamentalist.” The statements of faith of these institutions affirm the full inerrancy of Scripture, yet they are centers of evangelical thought and cultural engagement. I read literature by self-avowed fundamentalists and I find overwhelming differences between them and myself on any number of issues.
BOTTOM LINE: “BIG TENT” OR “BIG BROTHER”?
Near the close of its last section, the Nazarene report quotes from an editor of the denominational periodical, the Herald of Holiness. The editor claims that there’s room enough under the present Nazarene Article on Scripture for both those who believe in full inerrancy and those who don’t. This sounds like a tolerant, “Big Tent” approach to the issue. The problem is that the editor, like the report itself, also describes believers in full inerrancy as Calvinist, fundamentalist, and outside the bounds of Wesleyanism. The underlying message is clear: “You can belong to our denomination and still believe in full inerrancy – as long as you accept that you’re wrong.” This demand for doublethink is closer to “Big Brother” than to “Big Tent.” So long as The Wesleyan Church’s affirmation of full inerrancy is viewed by Nazarene leaders as un-Wesleyan, a tragic tension will remain in the relationship between the two denominations. This tension can be relaxed by clearing away the misrepresentations and listening to what responsible, representative teaching on full inerrancy (like the Chicago Statement) has to say.