Is Evolutionary Creation Compatible with Biblical Inerrancy?
Is it possible to accept both biblical inerrancy and an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation?
Yet some Christians who wholeheartedly affirm the truthfulness of Scripture feel that they cannot embrace the Chicago Statement in its entirety. Consider this passage:
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.6
This assertion raises important questions: What is the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood, and can science ever be appropriately used to inform our understanding of Scripture? The true teaching of Scripture remains a matter of dispute among even sincere and informed Christians. This allows many to affirm that Scripture itself is inerrant even though they come to very different conclusions about what the Bible teaches regarding the age of the earth, evolution, and Noah’s flood. Does the Chicago Statement have the Young Earth position in view by the phrase “the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood” [emphasis added]? Some Old Earth and Evolutionary Creationists think so, and for that reason they do not affirm this statement.
Inerrancy does not tell us what the Bible affirms
The example above helps us to see that affirming the truthfulness of Scripture is separable from our ability to articulate the true teaching of any given passage of Scripture. Stated another way, inerrancy does not settle (nor was it intended to settle) the question of what a given portion of Scripture teaches. As theologian Kevin Vanhoozer says,
To say that Scripture is inerrant is to confess faith that 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).7
Vanhoozer’s definition reminds us to be humble and encouraged. Inerrancy is (or ought to be) the posture of believing the Bible to be true when heading into the challenging task of interpretation. We can enter into the difficult work of resolving apparent contradictions or textual difficulties without cynicism and with the hope of ultimate truth being found in God’s word.
The Bible contains obviously figurative language (e.g., Jesus said, “I am the vine” and “I am the bread of life”) as well as obviously historical claims (e.g., Jesus was raised from the dead). Between these extremes is a more difficult (and substantial) gray area that demands the hard work of careful interpretation. Christians who affirm biblical inerrancy do not agree on whether infants should be baptized, or whether women can serve in all ministry capacities, or whether Adam and Eve were historical figures. These are not disagreements about the inerrancy of Scripture, but disagreements about the proper interpretation of Scripture.
Evolutionary Creationists do not believe the Bible affirms and teaches that Earth is only a few thousand years old, nor that human beings are biologically unrelated to the rest of life. The human authors of Scripture may have believed these things, just as they believed that Earth is in the center of a three-tiered universe and that emotions come from our kidneys. Given their time and place, we would not expect them to believe differently about such things. By inspiring Scripture, God did not elevate the human authors from their specific cultures to some universal perspective. Instead, God taught through them. What Scripture affirms in the creation accounts is not a scientific explanation of how God created, but that the one true God did create and considered his creation good. Therefore the doctrine of inerrancy can be fully consistent with the acceptance of contemporary science—including evolution. Theologian J.I. Packer once wrote,8
I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and I maintain it in print, but exegetically I cannot see that anything Scripture says, in the first chapters of Genesis or elsewhere, bears on the biological theory of evolution one way or the other.
Other ways of describing Scripture’s truthfulness
While inerrancy is a helpful term to many, for other Christians—who are just as committed to the authority and inspiration of Scripture—inerrancy has been linked with certain interpretations of Scripture and used as a litmus test for orthodoxy. Unfortunately, battle lines have been drawn, and because of the baggage the term “inerrancy” carries, many people prefer to find other ways to describe their commitment to Scripture’s trustworthiness.
The Lausanne Covenant, which predated The Chicago Statement by four years, uses the phrase “without error” but does not go on to make stronger claims about science:
We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
Fuller Theological Seminary was at a center of controversy in the 1970s when it removed “inerrancy” from its statement on Scripture. The Fuller statement of faith now reads:
Scripture is an essential part and trustworthy record of this divine self-disclosure. All the books of the Old and New Testaments, given by divine inspiration, are the written word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. They are to be interpreted according to their context and purpose and in reverent obedience to the Lord who speaks through them in living power.
Because these labels are understood in so many different ways, Christians sometimes have more in common theologically with those who use different labels for biblical authority, than they do with some who use the same label.
Many people who are committed to these descriptions of Scripture hold to the same interpretations as those who use “inerrant.”
Does BioLogos affirm inerrancy?
In our desire to remain as inclusive as possible, within the bounds of orthodoxy, BioLogos does not take a position on whether Christians should or should not use the term “inerrant” to describe the Bible.
This topic is often highly charged. We urge people on both sides to begin with the presumption of goodwill in the people on the other side. Just because someone holds to inerrancy does not mean they have a wooden, unsophisticated interpretation of Scripture. And just because someone does not choose to identify as an inerrantist does not mean they have compromised on the integrity and trustworthiness of Scripture. We aim to provide resources and host conversation for those interested in exploring this important topic further.
BioLogos strongly affirms that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. As followers of Jesus we order our lives by God’s word and seek to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is only possible if we are regularly reading, hearing, and meditating on God’s word.
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Charles Foster | Inhabit the World