Was God’s public display of Jesus Christ, “as a propitiation” for sinners (Romans 3:25), the very foundation of Christian proclamation, or divine child abuse? Did Paul teach the imputation of Christ’s righteousness justifies the ungodly (Romans 1:17), or is it time for a new perspective on Paul? Is the gospel of God the power of God for salvation; to all who believe (Romans 1:16), or is are good deeds, a more effective draw than old creeds? Today the Church is wrestling with a whole host of challenges, and once again the foundations of authority are being questioned.
The vital question of authority has traditionally been framed by the question, “Is the Bible our inerrant authority for all matters upon which it addresses?” Some today make plain that it is not, whether they come at it from the perspective of skepticism in the emergent movement, by some sociological driven segments of the missional movement or the pragmatism that continues to be an authority for those in the seeker movement. One of the leaders of the emergent perspective is Tony Jones, who argues:
Inerrancy is the doctrinal position that the Bible is without any factual error in any category, including scientific, historical, and geographical statements. I think that the number of intellectual gymnastics that one has to do to hold this position makes it ultimately untenable. The Bible does contain contradictory statements and it is sometimes inaccurate in its descriptions of geography and historical events.
Is Jones correct? Is this a new challenge to the Bible, which should change the way that evangelicals have traditionally views the Scriptures? A historical survey of three era’s the reformation, the age of enlightenment and the post modern period all show that this sort of doubt is nothing new. The Church is called today to reaffirm inerrancy because it is the believers deep and personal devotion to Jesus Christ Himself that will not enable them to assume any other view. The evangelical movement from the time of Luther has clung tenaciously to authority of an inerrant Bible.
Let’s consider one example of the cyclical nature of this old argument that evangelical belief in inerrancy is in error.
The Victorian Conflict
Just before the end of the 19th Century, the “Prince of Preachers” and pastor of the world’s first mega church, Charles Haddon Spurgeon became alarmed at a massive shift in belief regarding the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. He wrote:
[At the end of the Puritan age] by some means or other, first the ministers, then the Churches, got on “the down grade,” and in some cases, the descent was rapid, and in all, very disastrous. In proportion as the ministers seceded from the old … form of doctrine, they commonly became less earnest and less simple in their preaching, more speculative and less spiritual in the matter of their discourses, and dwelt more on the moral teachings of the New Testament, than on the great central truths of revelation. Natural theology frequently took the place which the great truths of the gospel ought to have held, and the sermons became more and more Christless. Corresponding results in the character and life, first of the preachers and then of the people, were only too plainly apparent.
This quote opened the door on what was to be called “the downgrade controversy”. Spurgeon commissioned a couple of special articles in his magazine The Sword and the Trowel in 1887. This became the defining moment of Spurgeon’s illustrious career, and set the stage for what has become known as the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of the 20th Century. The problems were severe, and would devastate the church in Spurgeon’s time and place. The new Christless doctrines flooding into the church began with the tolerance of unorthodox teachers in the pastoral training centers. This tolerance eventually allowed the institutions to succumb to Socinianism, a heresy that rooted in skepticism, denied the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the Atonement of Christ and original Sin. It is perhaps remarkable to note that this upcoming controversy of the next century centered on skepticism and liberalism looked very much like this old heresy reborn and the “so called” five fundamentals of the faith seen to be under threat included both the deity and substitutionary atonement of Christ.
But what Spurgeon had identified, and what was drawn out in the articles he printed were the roots of this new socinianism. The skepticism it was argued was rooted in “Darwinism,” another major issue of the Fundamentalist movement, which undermined God’s central role in creation, but also and especially in history and society. If it was not that holiness blessed a nation, but rather Darwinian survivalism, cultural ethics and mores needed to be adjusted. Salvation became not a matter of spiritual repentance, but social change and social justice. This in turn was a symptom birthed by the root of it all, the “first bad step”. That first wrong step is articulated:
The first step astray is a want of adequate faith in the divine inspiration of the sacred Scriptures. All the while a man bows to the authority of God’s Word, he will not entertain any sentiment contrary to its teaching… In looking carefully over the history of the times, and the movement of the times, of which we have written briefly, this fact is apparent: that where ministers and Christian churches have held fast to the truth that the Holy Scriptures have been given by God as an authoritative and infallible rule of faith and practice, they have never wandered very seriously out of the right way. But when, on the other hand, reason has been exalted above revelation, and made the exponent of revelation, all kinds of errors and mischiefs have been the result.
This view of Scriptures as the “authoritative and infallible rule of faith” was of course the most fundamental doctrine of the Fundamentals, usually given first in the list of the five “basics” of that movement. It is further instructive that during the 1890’s and basically contemporary with Spurgeon’s British conflict, the American Presbyterians were going through their own trials and several general assemblies affirmed the inerrancy of Scriptures was a fundamental church teaching.
In the inerrancy issue: “we’re basically talking about two different versions of Christianity”. Inerrancy, as Spurgeon understood it and as the Fundamentalists explained it, has been the “main line Evangelical” position for centuries. Thus as the 20th century dawned, the battle ground was already set, the positions clearly established, and the implications were becoming more fully understood. Was skepticism, Darwinism and the new socinianism going to reign, or would the faithful church of Christ revitalize the foundation of inerrancy and thus ensure the defeat of these basic errors?
In a follow up post I hope to show how the conflict over inerrancy with modernism demonstrated in this post, sets the stage for the new conflict with post modernism discovered in the emergent, missional and church growth movements in the present day, and then to demonstrate a biblical perspective on how the church should view inerrancy in a second sequal.
 Tony Jones The Journal of Student Ministries, vol. III no. 3 (May/June 2008)
 Robert Shindler, “The Down Grade,” The Sword and the Trowel (March 1887), 122.
 “The Down Grade,” (second article) The Sword and the Trowel (April 1887), 167.
 Grudem, Wayne Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 581-582.
 Sword and Trowel (April 1887), 168.
 Ibid., 170
 Ibid., 170
 Dobson, et al., The Fundament Phenomenon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Press, 1993), 7.
 George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, rev. ed. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press 2006), 117