The Debate Over Inerrancy: Comparing B.B. Warfield and Harold Lindsell – Part 5: Fuller Seminary

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 give a quick overview of the “battle” waged over the inerrancy of Scripture at Fuller Seminary in the 1960’s.

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The Context

Fuller Seminary

Just like Union in the 19th century Fuller was faced with professors who wanted to move away from a doctrine of inerrancy towards a more moderate position, one which recognized the authority of scripture but limited its inerrancy to matters of faith and practice. Fuller had opened the school with four faculty members: Wilbur Smith, Carl Henry, Everret Harrison, and Harold Lindsell. Under the oversight of Harold Ockenga, the seminary attempted to implement the dreams of Charles Fuller. Charles Fuller had desired a school that would be in line with the tradition of Princeton and would be faithful to the fundamentalist tenets but would not take a separatist stance. According to Lindsell one of the chief purposes of founding the seminary was that it would provide “the finest defense of biblical infallibility or inerrancy.”[1] Whether or not this was an explicitly stated goal is a matter of debate, but what is not a matter of debate is that Fuller initially held a position which affirmed inerrancy. This position was seen during a controversy that evolved when the seminary tried to higher Bela Vassady, a European theologian who taught at Princeton.”[2] In a statement of faith draw up around this time by E.J. Carnell, Fuller Seminary stated that it believed that “the original Scriptures are plenarily inspired and free from error in the whole and in the part.[3]’” But eventually it came to be that there were some people on Fuller’s board and faculty that no longer believed in the inerrancy of scripture. One such person was Charles Fuller’s son Daniel Fuller. Daniel Fuller had gone to Princeton and went on to do further studies in Europe.

In December of 1962, at the Huntington Sheraton Hotel, the issue of inerrancy debate over at Fuller reached a climax. The seminary had a policy of having an annual retreat, in which faculty and board members would plan out the year. On Saturday December, 1st  the faculty had been discussing business as usual but late in the afternoon the tense issue of the statement of faith came up. As the new dean, Daniel fuller was asked to bring up the issue. In a bold move Daniel Fuller told the committee and President Ockenga that “there are errors which cannot be explained by the original autographs” of the Bible.[4] Fuller believed that although the Bible contained errors, these were incidental and had no bearing on God’s revelatory purpose. In essence he was arguing for a position similar to that of Briggs. Thus it seemed as though the case at Union Seminary over the inerrancy of scripture was opening up once again, this time it was in the 20th century at Fuller Seminary. This Saturday evening meeting, which would later come to be called Black Saturday, kicked off a new debate within conservative Evangelicalism. Once again the lines were drawn between Christians who believed in the inerrancy of Scripture and those that did not. Eventually some of Fuller’s board members and faculty resigned. Among those who eventually left Fuller was Harold Lindsell.

The debate over the inerrancy of Scripture left a bad taste in the mouths of many of the participants. In fact, an attempt at reconciliation was made in June of 1966 at a conference in Wenham, Massachusetts. The organizers of the conference, C. Davis Weyerhaeuser, Howard J. Pew, Billy Graham, and Charles Fuller hoped that reconciliation would occur but it did not. In fact many of the key players in the Fuller controversy did not attend. Although Daniel Fuller attended Harold Lindsell, C.H. Henry, Gleason Archer, and John Montgomery made it clear that they would not participate in discussions with those who did not affirm inerrancy.[5]

Eventually, under the presidency of Daniel Hubbard, Fuller changed its statement of faith, moving away from inerrancy to a position that affirmed that all of the books of the Old and New Testaments are “given by divine inspiration, are the written Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.”[6] In other words the seminary no longer affirmed that the Bible was free from errors in matters pertaining to science and history, it was only infallible in matters pertaining to faith and practice. It is within this context that Lindsell launched his polemic against those who did not hold a position of inerrancy, especially Fuller Seminary.


[1] Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 209.

[2] Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, 114.

[3] Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, 113.

[4] Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, 211.

[5] Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, 228.

[6] Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, 116.

 

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