The Debate Over Inerrancy: Comparing B.B. Warfield and Harold Lindsell – Part 1: Introduction

If you are an Evangelical Christian (or you know any) then you know how divisive the debate over the inerrancy of scripture can be. However you might not know that every generation this battle comes up over and over again. In this blog series we will be taking a look at to iterations of this debate, then we will be comparing them. Hopefully there is something to learn from the past…..

In this post I will introduce the issue.

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Introduction

The Bible has always been central in evangelical thought and in the lives of evangelicals. In fact some people have sought to define evangelicalism as a movement that places the Bible at its center.[1]  Because the Bible has been central to the faith of evangelicals, it has often been the catalyst for many battles within the tradition. For instance In the early 18th century Jonathan Edwards fought against Arminian trends that were becoming popular in America due to the teachings of Englishmen like Samuel Clarke, John Tillotson, and Isaac Barrow. Participants on both sides of the debate argued by making biblical arguments, they showed that Scriptures supported their position. Specifically Edwards made use of Scriptures in his sermons like “Living Unconverted under Eminent Means of Grace” to show that the Bible taught that any type of theology that placed any aspect of salvation in the hands of humans was wrong. However towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century a new battle was brewing. Once again this battle was within the Evangelical family, but this time instead of being a battle about a doctrine or position taught in the Bible, it was a battle over the nature and authority of the Bible itself. This seemed to be foreign territory for Evangelicals to tread. Yes, evangelicals had been challenged about the veracity and authority of the Bible, but usually these challenges came from the outside; atheists, deists, and heretics brought up these challenges, but to have pious evangelicals question the nature and authority of the Bible was unprecedented.

It has been years since this battle was first waged, yet I some ways it still carries over today. Conservatives are quick to label schools like Fuller Seminary liberal because they hold a particular stance on scripture. And some liberals argue that conservatives are either intellectually dishonest or ignorant to hold their conservative position. But in reality the battle is more complex than the various sides tend to realize. Some inerrantists often hold nuanced definitions of inerrancy, and those evangelicals that don’t believe in inerrancy are often just as or even more pious than some inerrantists.

In this series of blog posts I hope to take a closer look at the debate over inerrancy by comparing two battles over the inerrancy of Scripture; the battle between B.B. Warfield and Charles Briggs and the battle between Harold Lindsell and Fuller Seminary.  By comparing these two battles hopefully we will be able to glean some insights as to how evangelicals should push forward with this issue. Let us begin by looking at the two main players in these debates: B.B. Warfield and Harold Lindsell.


[1] Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (History of Evangelicalism) (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2010), 19.

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