Inerrancy and Scripture in the Arminian Tradition

Recently, Steve Hays of Triablogue highlighted an interview of Dr. Craig Blomberg on his recent, excellent book, Can We Still Believe the Bible? (Brazos), hosted by Wesleyan-Arminian theologian Dr. Ben Witherington, author of The Living Word of God: Rethinking the Theology of the Bible (Baylor), and the forthcoming, Reading and Understanding the Bible (Oxford). The question regarded the doctrine of inerrancy being primarily a Calvinistic rather than an Arminian concern (link). I think some Calvinists wear this assumption as a badge of honor, but without proper historical warrant.

Neglecting to properly parse the positions on the doctrine of inerrancy -- the inductive approach, the deductive approach, which comprises the evidentialist and presuppositionalist approach1 -- we are left without a proper complaint from Calvinists. Which approach to inerrancy do Arminians allegedly reject or deny? We are not told.

Even Dr. Blomberg admits that there are nuanced positions among self-proclaimed inerrantists;2 and, as we have discovered relatively recently, not even all inerrantists agree among themselves on the issues of the doctrine. Non-Calvinist Dr. Norman Geisler and Calvinist Dr. Al Mohler have heavily criticized Calvinist Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer and Dr. Mike Licona; who lists inerrantists Drs. Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, Michael F. Bird, William Lane Craig, Craig Evans, Craig Keener, Dan Wallace and Robert Yarborough among those whom Geisler has personally, verbally, theologically attacked. (link)

Dr. Blomberg relies on Dr. Mark Noll for a partial explanation as to why more Calvinists, allegedly, hold to inerrancy: "the more Calvinistic wing of Christianity valued higher education and theological education earlier and more widely in the settling of America than the more Wesleyan-Arminian wing." (link) I think this partial answer ignores an entire wing of the oft-neglected Pentecostal and Wesleyan-Holiness scholarship which has, traditionally, held God's word as being infallible, authoritative, and God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16 NIV). Examples are given below of notable Wesleyans who treasured God's word as inerrant, sacred, having God for its divine origin.

Dr. Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in his address entitled, "Why All Southern Baptists are Calvinists" -- a title which betrays Baptist history as well as present reality -- stated, "It is not by accident that there are no great Arminian testimonies to the inerrancy of Scripture." (emphasis added) (link) Since he has yet to retract his statement, we conclude that he still believes the tenor of the argument. What he means stating "not by accident" is not difficult to decipher: Arminianism leads ipso facto to a denial of Scripture as being inspired and inerrant.

I think Dr. Mohler's first error is his over-generalization: "there are no great Arminian testimonies." None? Not even one? His second error is the assumption that one's theology directly corresponds to one's bibliology. I personally knew some progressive, five-point Calvinists who deny the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. Is the theology of Calvinism to blame for this denial? Is it "not by accident" that such Calvinistic progressives deny the inerrancy of Scripture? Refuting Dr. Mohler's argument is quite simple: all one need do is employ ad fontes -- a reaching back to the original sources of Arminianism, the anachronistic theology of the early Church,3 and let the reader see for him- or herself some great Arminian testimonies to the inerrancy of Scripture.

We must begin with Arminius himself (1559-1609) if we are to investigate great Arminian testimonies to the inerrancy of Scripture -- that Scripture is divine, divinely-inspired, and without error. On this site one can read Arminius' "On the Authority of the Sacred Scriptures" in its entirety. From that Disputation, Arminius affirms that the authority of Scripture is "nothing else but . . . the worthiness according to which it merits . . . credence, as being true in words and true in significations, whether it simply declares any thing, or also promises and threatens;" as a superior, "it merits obedience through the credence given to it, when it either commands or prohibits any thing." (Works, 2:80) Keep in mind that in Dutch, a word such as inerrancy did not properly exist. So, when Arminius and others wanted to convey the same concept, the words perfect, perfection, and divine were employed.

For Arminius, Scripture derives its authority from God alone; hence people cannot declare it authoritative in and of themselves because they do not give it authority. Scripture is authoritative because God is its Author (2:81). The Church can only attest to the Bible's divinity. For Arminius Scripture is divine (2:80, 81, 82, 84, 86, 87), canonical (2:82), the rule of our faith (2:82), the rule of truth (2:82, 84), and all its parts "will prove that the perfect agreement which exists between the various writers is Divine." (2:88)

The scriptures are also perfect and without error, according to Arminius, having derived its perfection from its Author, who alone is perfect (2:92, 93, 100, 101). The perfect scriptures "serve for the instruction of the ignorant and of babes in Christ, and for preparing their minds," as well as "for perfecting adults, and for imbuing and filling their minds with the plenary wisdom of the Spirit." (2:93) Regarding Scripture's perfection, Arminius concludes:
(1) All things which have been, are now, or till the consummation of all things, will be necessary to be known for the salvation of the Church, have been perfectly inspired and revealed to the prophets and apostles.

(2) All things thus necessary have been administered and declared by the prophets and apostles, according to this inspiration, by the outward word, to the people who have been committed to them.

(3) All things thus necessary are fully and perfectly comprehended in their books. (2:94)
The inerrancy of Scripture also renders as useless any new revelation (2:96-102). The Church has in the Bible all she needs to know regarding God, Christ, His Spirit, sin, grace and salvation, etc.



His followers the Remonstrants (including Jan Uytenbogaert, Simon Episcopius, Hugo Grotius, Gerhard Vossius, Caspar Barlaeus, Johann Oldenbarneveldt and Conrad Vorstius, among others) were in full agreement, noting in their Arminian Confession of 1621:
The entire declaration of the divine will pertaining to religion is contained in the books of the Old and New Testaments, and indeed authentically only in those which are called canonical. And there is no just reason to doubt that they were written and endorsed by those men who were inspired, instructed and directed by the Spirit of God.4
For the early Arminians, Scripture was "written and approved by inspired men,"5 "completely true and divine,"6 "altogether authentic and indeed of divine authority."7 They conclude:
Because such divine authority as this belongs to these books alone, it is therefore necessary that controversies and all debates pertaining to religion be examined by them alone, as touchstones and firm and unmovable rules, and to be disputed from them only, and so leave them to be decided by God and Jesus Christ alone as the one supreme and infallible judge.8
Are there no great Arminian testimonies to the inerrancy of Scripture? So far we have Jacob Arminius himself, as well as the early Arminians, the Remonstrants, spanning the era from Arminius' death in 1609, to the Synod of Dort in 1618-19, and after the 1625 reestablishment of Arminian ministers in Holland.

Philipp van Limborch (1633-1712), a later Arminian-Remonstrant pastor and Professor of Theology at the Remonstrant Seminary -- who, concerning certain Arminian doctrines, drifted from their orthodoxy -- carried on the torch and great Arminian tradition of the divinity of Scripture into the early eighteenth century, as is evinced in his systematic theology, in which he declares the scriptures to be holy, authorial, true and divine. He writes:
That the Rule of our Faith and Religion is the Books of the Old and New Testament, or the Holy Scripture, we have already declared; and are next to evince the Authority of this Rule, which depends on the Truth and Divinity of those Writings. To say that they are the Word of God, is a sufficient Proof of their Truth and Divinity, to an honest and humble Mind. . . .9
He affirms a basic Christian notion that all we as believers in and followers of Christ need to know for salvation and godliness are contained in Holy Scripture: "so that no Opinion or Doctrine is to be reckoned as necessary, which is not contained therein."10 In such affirmations, he assumes to be defending Scripture's absolute perfection and divine origin.

Later Wesleyan tradition evinces a thread of inerrancy in the Arminian form. The Methodist-Episcopal's first Bishop Thomas Coke (1747-1814), Wesley's successor, for example, though a lover of literature was first and foremost a lover of God's sacred word -- himself often found with his Greek New Testament in his hand (link). Francis Asbury (1745-1816), self-taught in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, treasured God's infallible Word, keeping it always by his side (link).

Adam Clarke (1760-1832), that British Methodist theologian, a godly, liturgical man steeped in the practice of praying the hours (link), argued for God's word being divine revelation, "the sole Fountain of light and truth" (link): "Who then are they who cry out, 'The Bible is a fable?' Those who have never read it, or read it only with the fixed purpose to gainsay it." (link) Clarke comments: "The men who can despise and ridicule this sacred book are those who are too blind to discover the objects presented to them by this brilliant light, and are too sensual to feel and relish spiritual things" (link).

Methodist-Episcopal minister Richard Watson (1781-1833) argued for the divine authority of the sacred scriptures in his Theological Institutes (link). H. Orton Wiley (1877-1961) affirmed the doctrine of inerrancy: "The term 'inspiration' is derived from the Greek word theópneustos, which signifies literally, 'the breathing of God,' or 'the breathing into,' and is therefore 'that extraordinary agency of the Holy Spirit upon the mind in consequence of which the person who partakes of it is enabled to embrace and communicate the truth of God without error, infirmity, or defeat.'" (link) Are there really no great Arminian testimonies to the inerrancy of Scripture?

Arminian and Free Will Baptist theologian Dr. F. Leroy Forlines states that the "Scriptures are a product of the breath of God. They are of divine origin." He argues (emphases original):
I know that there are those who say that they do not believe in biblical inerrancy, but I am reasonably certain that such people have at least been faced with the question of inerrancy from their own inner being. For a person to entertain the idea of a less than inerrant Word of God, in my opinion, does violence to his personality as a functional unity. I think it would be interesting to know how many people who reject inerrancy did accept it at one time. You do not have to teach people to believe in the inerrancy of whatever they call the Word of God. If they reject it, they have to be led away from it. Our whole being is repulsed by the idea of a book that is the Word of God being less than inerrant.11
Dr. Ben Witherington claims that the Bible "as God's Word is making not only a truth claim but an objective claim on human beings in general, whether they are aware of it or respond to it or not."12 He continues: "Theories about the Bible that try to finesse or diminish the objective quality of the claim made in 2 Timothy 3:16 do not help us all that much."13 For Dr. Witherington, there are claims in Scripture that both individuals and texts
are inspired, and that when an individual is inspired he or she is inspired to speak God's word in the words of human beings, which sometimes involves a verbatim transfer of an oracle heard, and sometimes involves more of a human component [cf. Ps. 137:9]. Sometimes it can even involve God giving a person a miraculous (and presumably temporary) ability to speak in a foreign language that they have never spoken before, as we see in Acts 2:4-12.14
Still, when we think about "the word of God" (cf. 1 Thess. 2:13), we are "talking about divine speech that changes human lives."15 Though Dr. Witherington adheres to a cautious view on the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, what cannot be denied is his insistence that what we find in the Bible does not merely contain God's word, nor become God's word, since such theories "are far from the claim made in 2 Timothy 3:16 that every Scripture is God-breathed, and therefore, because of the very character of the document itself that it is truthful as God is truthful, the Bible is the word of God written."16

This very brief survey exposes Dr. Mohler's error that there are no great Arminian testimonies to the inerrancy of Scripture -- an error promulgated either by ignorance, or by the motivation to promote his own Calvinistic theology as the sole underpinning for proving the divinity and inerrancy of Scripture, while undermining Arminianism. That is poor scholarship.

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1 This list is taken from Craig L. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2014), 121-22.

2 Ibid., 142.

3 Dr. Kenneth D. Keathley correctly notes: "What is called Arminianism was nearly the universal view of the early church fathers and has always been the position of Greek Orthodoxy." See "The Work of God: Salvation," in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 703.

4 "On the Sacred Scriptures," in The Arminian Confession of 1621, translated and edited by Mark A. Ellis (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2005), 35.

5 Ibid., 36.

6 Ibid., 37.

7 Ibid., 39.

8 Ibid.

9 Philipp van Limborch, A Compleat [sic] System, or Body of Divinity, both Speculative and Practical, trans. William Jones (London: Publisher Unknown, 1702), 7.

10 Ibid., 11.

11 F. Leroy Forlines, The Quest for Truth: Answering Life's Inescapable Questions (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2001), 56.

12 Ben Witherington III, The Living Word of God: Rethinking the Theology of the Bible (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007), 23.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid., 21.

15 Ibid., 5.

16 Ibid., 23.