Review: R. Albert Mohler Jr., Peter Enns, et al’s Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy

If you’ve never reading any of Zondervan’s Counterpoints books, Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy is great place to start (I also enjoyed their Pauline theology four views). I was introduced to Michael Bird and Kevin Vanhoozer this last year and have thoroughly enjoyed reading their writing. Also, Al Mohler is always engaging. I hadn’t read Peter Enns or John Franke until now. They may have been the two I had the most disagreements with, but their sections were still sharpening and engaging.

I grew up in Fundamentalism proper and experienced first hand how “inerrancy” in the wrong hands is “a blunt instrument” (p. 201). It’s providential that you can see some of this blunt force exegesis in the current blood moon non-sense. I’ve read many places, “Scripture says x, y, or z about the moon turning red and look blood moons!” Totally tone deaf to the literary flourish involved in those passages, which brings me to my next point. I also have a background in literature. It’s always alarming how many pastors and laypersons are completely tone deaf to the literary elements in Scripture. Vanhoozer says, “Biblical inerrancy in the context of biblical illiteracy makes for a dangerous proposition” (p. 205 see also p. 211).

Many people think inerrancy means stringent literalists--and it’s not. The Church as a whole has a wonderful tradition of reading the Scripture within its genre, style, authorial intent, and redemptive history. On the flip side, it’s not only conservatives and inerrantists who are tone deaf. The progressives and liberals aren’t much better. Parts of Enns sections exhibit this. He suggests parts of the Old Testament might be “mythologized history” (pp. 96-97) and so the Exodus might just be a small band of freed slaves crossing a small pond or something like that. Bird rightly replies “Well, if so, prove it” (p. 125). That kind of reading of the text strikes me as completely tone deaf to the what’s actually said in the text.

Kevin Vanhoozer’s chapter resonated with me the most. He describes the doctrine under discussion:

“A well-versed doctrine of inerrancy that takes its bearings from Scripture understands truth not merely in terms of the philosopher’s idea of correspondence but, biblically first and theologically foremost, in terms of covenant faithfulness and testimonial endurance. . . .

[Confessing inerrancy means believing] the authors speak the truth in all things they affirm (when they make affirmations), and will eventually be seen to have spoken truly (when right readers read rightly)” (pp. 205, 207).

I appreciate how he sets forth his definition for inerrancy and demonstrates in the brief space he had how that works itself out. He also roots this doctrine to God’s covenant faithfulness (pp. 216-17) and God as trinity (pp. 214-15).

I had the least agreement, as you might expect, with Peter Enns. The majority of his chapter was deconstructive arguing against inerrancy. And when he does introduce his incarnational model of reading Scripture (p. 87), he never constructs what that looks like. Bird rightly notes how disastrous this model of reading Scripture is for Christology (p. 125).

“It threatens the uniqueness of the Christ event, since it assumes that hypostatic union is a general characteristic of divine self-disclosure in, through, and or by a creaturely agent. Furthermore, it results in divinizing of the Bible by claiming that divine ontological equality exists between God’s being and his communicative action” (p. 125).

Ironically, the claim of biblical idolatry is regularly laid at the feet of those holding to inerrancy. I can’t keep count of how many times I’ve heard someone say inerranists make the Bible the third member of the trinity--all said without any self-awareness.

Mohler and Bird both had chapters that were helpful. I found Mohler’s chapter needing nuance (distinguishing between inerrancy of authorial intent and our interpretation and our modern expectation of truth verifiable in ways we deem fit), and Bird’s needing less nuance--like a crème brûlée that didn’t set. I did appreciate Mohler plainly stating denying inerrancy doesn’t make one not a Christian, while reminding it does impair the authority of Scripture in one’s life (p. 48, 58). I thought Bird provides some of the more thoughtful pushback to the other chapters and he definitely wins for the most engaging and fun writing (“Vanhoozer’s engagement with the CSBI was critical and yet constructive. In terms of his opening question (“Can anything good come out of the 1970s?”), I would have to reply, ‘Yes, the movie Star Wars and the musical Evita.’ But before I sing, ‘Don’t cry for me Chewbacca’” p. 252). I could spend an entire review on each chapter, but time and energy do not permit. An excellent volume that I would highly recommend. It would be useful for lay-Christians to better grasp what inerrancy does and doesn’t mean.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and has written for CBMW Men’s blog, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and Servants of Grace. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.