The following blog post was originally published on March 2, 2015. —ed.
In October 1978, 334 evangelical leaders gathered in the city of Chicago to formulate what is now known as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. One of the younger attendees at that gathering was John MacArthur, who was just shy of a decade into his pastorate at Grace Community Church.
Those who formulated and signed the Chicago Statement did so in response to the large-scale assaults on biblical authority by theological liberals. Many of the signatories have since gone to heaven, but the statement lives on as their legacy. To this day, it continues to set the benchmark for what it means to hold to biblical inerrancy—Holy Scripture is God’s written, errorless witness to Himself.
The great peril that the Chicago signers saw in 1978 was from an easily identifiable enemy—theological liberalism. The battle lines were drawn with two clear positions to choose from: evangelicals who submitted to the authority of Scripture or liberals who rejected it. But in more recent times, the battle has shifted increasingly away from conventional warfare to stealth attacks from soldiers wearing the same uniform.
Conservative evangelicals still love to open their doctrinal statements by professing their allegiance to biblical inerrancy. But as this series has demonstrated, making Scripture subservient to the demands of scientific theories, feminism, psychology, and other cultural pressures makes the truth of God’s Word subjective and robs inerrancy of significant meaning.
Moreover, the propensity of so many evangelicals toward ecumenical compromise, and their reluctance to preach man’s depravity, reveals an abject failure on their part to take the Bible seriously. What exactly does their professed allegiance to Scripture mean when they are so willing to either alter or ignore it?
In Defense of Inerrancy
Those who formulated the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy knew enough of church history to envision future attacks. They recognized the need to protect the doctrine by making it explicitly clear how they defined it. Two articles in particular reveal their foresight:
We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.
We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.
We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.
Those affirmations and denials erect a protective perimeter around the doctrine of inerrancy. The examples of evangelical syncretism we have highlighted these last two weeks are obvious breaches of those guidelines, compromising the truth of Scripture and capitulating to worldly wisdom.
Statements Don’t Invent Doctrine, They Declare It
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is not inerrant. Its intent was to point people toward God’s inerrant Word by helping define and shape the way we understand it.
Nor was inerrancy the invention of those 334 men who assembled in 1978. They codified the standard belief held throughout church history in response to heretics who denied it. Athanasius defeated Arius, Augustine defeated Pelagius, Luther defeated the Catholic Church, and Christ defeated the temptations of Satan in the wilderness—all of those victories were won by wielding the sword of the Spirit, as godly men relied on the plain and perfect teaching of God’s inerrant Word.