When I was younger, I attended a Christian University. I took several religion courses, some as requirements, and some for my own personal interest. I probably would have majored in Religion if I had belonged to a denomination in which women were valued in leadership roles. However, I belonged to the SBC which has been, and continues to be, disproportionately obsessed with enforcing traditional gender roles in the Church. As such, it seemed like getting a Religion degree would serve no purpose in that particular denomination for me. It would be useless as far as pursuing any official role in ministry. I wasn't really open to other denominations at that point, convinced that while the SBC wasn't perfect it was as close as possible to what I thought of at the time as "biblical" Christianity.
I wasn't ignorant of New Testament studies, or even the knowledge that the compilation of the Canon was not as straightforward as it seemed. I had a divided mind on the issue without realizing it. That divided mind was reinforced and affirmed not only by my fellow students, but by most of my professors. I was blind to the fact that the ways in which we spoke about Scripture were contradictory. On the one hand, we would have great discussions about conflicts surrounding the formation of the Canon, or particular doctrines, noting the uncertainty of what it all meant. On the other hand, each Sunday would find most of us in very conservative churches affirming that Scripture was the "Word of God" in that mystical, magical way that imported great meaning into every verse we read.
Some of my professors were also ministers in local churches who, without a doubt, taught their congregations the doctrine of inerrancy. I didn't think it at all unusual.
The two prongs undergirding inerrancy, without which it can't stand, are the beliefs that everything that happens in history happens by God's purposeful, sovereign will, and secondly that the writers of Scripture were somehow more holy and peculiar in their relationship with God, passing along insights which were given only to a very elite group of people. Without belief in those two ideas, inerrancy cannot hold up.
I've recently connected the first idea to Calvinism, finally understanding the ways in which it interacts with that strain of Christianity. It is no coincidence that Calvinists and the doctrine of inerrancy are so interlocked. It's hard to tell which came first; the belief in inerrancy causing the formation of Calvinist theology, or the idea of God's far-reaching, sovereign, active control of every aspect of the Universe causing a belief in inerrancy. Because the Church assembled these texts, it must be God's will that The Bible we have is the one we were meant to have and has been carefully inspired and preserved by God. In other words, it happened in a particular way, so God must have willed it to happen that way because nothing happens, in this view, that God hasn't willed to happen.
Is that clear as mud?
If you're a Calvinist, then you have no problems that can't eventually be solved through this circular logic. I don't mean to sound uncharitable, because to be truthful I can't find any belief system which doesn't at some level have circular, self-validating logic. We can't know all things, so any comprehensive opinion on the matter will always have some basic presuppositions guiding it. Some presuppositions are simply more sweeping in scale than others.
Now I have long glanced down my nose at Calvinism ever since my freshman year in college when one of my new friends explained that her pastor taught that Christ didn't die for everyone's sins, but only for those whom he chose beforehand. Everyone else was just plain out of luck and better bring some marshmallows to roast during their long stay in Hell. I was outraged, aghast, revolted, and convinced that this was the worst heresy I had ever heard of. Slowly, I began to realize that not only did this particular friend believe this, but so did many other people, including some of the professors I knew. There were variations in how strongly individuals held to TULIP(only follow that link if you're up to tasting some strong Calvinist Kool-Aid), some expressed a weak assent, while others wholeheartedly viewed it as the "theory of everything" making sense of the Cosmos for us lowly humans.
I was young and earnest in my faith. While never completely reconciling myself to Calvinism, I did begin incorporating some of its theology into my view of God. I was proving the principle that humans, despite their best intentions to be objective, are notoriously easily influenced through time, repetition, and the appearance of authority. Because pastors and professors were communicating these concepts, they must be at least partly true...right?
To concede that they were completely wrong would have shaken my faith to its core. I wasn't at a mature enough age to handle that kind of dissonance and keep any shred of belief intact. It was all or nothing. To believe that the people who were teaching me were gravely mistaken would have called into question any trust I might have had that I knew anything about God, or that my experiences with Him had any merit to them.
So what changed?
Well, I could never get around the Calvinist version of God's Sovereignty and the horrific tragedies throughout history. There are really only two ways to reconcile them. One way is to dispassionately declare that God willed even the most terrible things to happen because he had some higher purpose, or just because he wanted to. He has some master plan going on and even The Holocaust was a part of that plan. Another way is to consider that much of what transpires on this blue planet is in no way connected to God's divine will. Evil is perpetuated by people who make evil choices. Not everything that happens occurs on the basis of God's active choosing.
I could never, in any way, make God the author of Evil in the way that Calvinism does. Calvinists will say that's not what Calvinism teaches, going to great lengths and producing voluminous works to try and redefine very basic ideas of good and evil and causes in order to portray God as both Sovereign and guiltless of evil.
It doesn't matter how many words are used to do this. Even my 9 and 7 year old children would be able to see through that kind of reasoning in a few minutes....see my last post for more evidence of that. (As an aside, I think it's funny that people always tell us to "be as little children" when we question things, implying that children readily believe whatever they are told. My experience with children is that they are the most severe critics and detectors of BS....hardly unquestioning drones. They naturally poke and prod at most everything they are told.)
If God doesn't cause everything to happen...if circumstances aren't the way they are because God caused them to be...if events happen in history which aren't God's will....then on what basis can we declare Divine intervention in the compilation of the Canon? It doesn't mean that God couldn't have intervened and caused the Church to assemble this particular set of Scriptures. It doesn't mean that God couldn't have inerrantly inspired the biblical writers. However, it does mean we can't appeal to the logic of " it happened in this way, so it must have been by God's will."
So, if you're not fully Calvinist in scope, you can't rely on that presupposition to support inerrancy.
I'll work on another post about the second prong of upholding inerrancy next.