The Debate Over Inerrancy: Comparing B.B. Warfield and Harold Lindsell – Part 7: The Battles – Differences

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 two iterations of this debate, then we will be comparing them. Hopefully there is something to learn from the past…..

In this post we will look at some of the differences between Warfield and Lindsell as they waged their respective “battles” over the inerrancy of scripture.


The Battle: Warfield and Lindsell Compared – Differences

Besides these superficial similarities between Warfield’s and Lindsell’s battles for inspiration there are some major differences. I would like to point out two major differences: 1-their arguments and 2-the manner in which they argued.

Warfield’s argument for the inerrancy of Scripture is quite different from Lindsell’s argument. One could say that the major difference is that Warfield’s arguments are offensive while Lindsell’s arguments are defensive. Lindsell begins his argument for inerrancy in The Battle for the Bible by defining what he means by inerrancy. He then goes on to show that historically the church has always affirmed inerrancy. Elsewhere he makes a similar point, stating that “There is no evidence to show that errancy was ever a live option in the history of Christendom for eighteen hundred years in any branch of the Christian Church that had not gone off into aberrations.”[1] He then goes on to show that the belief that the bible could be full of errors is a recent innovation which has infiltrated American mission boards, denominations, and schools. He names The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the Southern Baptist Convention, and Fuller Seminary as examples of organizations that have abandoned inerrancy. The final step in his argument is to show that organizations that abandon inerrancy, including Fuller Seminary, eventually end up abandoning orthodoxy and end up in apostasy. Thus Lindsell’s argument for inerrancy is not that it is an accurate position to hold, although he would have believe that is the correct position, his argument for inerrancy is that if one abandons inerrancy one ends up in apostasy.[2] Therefore unless the Church wants to become apostate it must fight for inerrancy. So we can describe Lindsell’s argument as defensive because he sets himself up against opponents who are being successful in their intentions; Lindsell is calling his readers to take a stand against the oncoming tide of opponents who deny inerrancy. He argues that unless Christians defend their position they will lose the battle.

Contrasting Lindsell’s defensive stance is Warfield’s offensive stance. Although Warfield recognizes that many scholars are beginning to believe that the Bible contains errors, he sees himself on equal ground as his opponents and tries to argue on the basis of reason rather than on the basis of possible consequences. In the essay “Inspiration” Warfield tried to show that “proper scholarship on Scripture and its background supported, rather than undercut, a high verbal view of inspiration.” Warfield argues for inerrancy based upon the Bible’s witness to the doctrine and appeals to the doctrine of providence to show that the Bible can contain both God’s words and human words and still be without error. Anticipating his opponents’ objections he qualifies the argument by stating that the autographs and not the manuscripts are free from errors, and that the Bible must be interpreted after the intent of its authors.[3] Although his argument does contain some defensive elements, it should be noted that Warfield argues not by appealing to consequences but by presenting reasons why Christians should hold to inerrancy.

Another area in which Lindsell and Warfield are dissimilar is in the way they conduct their arguments. Warfield could be “blunt and relentless in his critique of his theological opponent, but he maintained a sense of fair play and gamesmanship even when the issue at stake was very dear to him.”[4] Warfield rarely resorts to ad hominem arguments and is able to separate his opponents and their character from their positions. Take for example two of his articles “The Biblical Idea of Inspiration”[5] and “The Real Problem of Inspiration.”[6] In the first article Warfield presents an argument for the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible, not once does he name any opponents; he presents his argument and the arguments of others without naming names. The second article,“The Real Problem of Inspiration” is a polemical work, and he names various opponents, but even then he treats them with respect. Speaking of Scottish theologian James Stuart he says that his position is poorly stated but overall his book is written with “a force and logical acumen which are far above the common.”[7]

Lindsell on the other hand does not make his arguments in a polite and considerate manner. Lindsell resorts to ad hominem arguments and judgments on people’s characters to make his arguments. Even though he begins the book by saying that he wishes “to avoid dealing in personalities” and that he wants to avoid giving “the appearance of sniping at any person, or seem to be attacking anyone’s person” because that is not his intention,[8] that is exactly what he ends up doing. He says that soul of the Missouri Synod is at stake, thus implying that certain leaders within the denomination are the problem. He names certain people within the Southern Baptist Convention as the root of the disease which is “now eating at the vitals of the Convention.”[9] He also makes snide remarks about Daniel Fuller, sarcastically suggesting that maybe Daniel Fuller can tell readers which parts of the bible are inerrant an which parts are not, because Daniel Fuller has the authority to make those kinds of decisions.[10] Finally, and perhaps worst of all Lindsell suggests that Christians who fight against inerrancy are somehow working for Satan. Lindsell says that the Holy Spirit bears witness within our spirit that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, thus those who cannot say that the Holy Spirit informs them of this fact are either listening to their “old nature” or are listening to the voice of Satan and proclaiming what Satan wants them to believe.[11] Lindsell ends the book by saying that those who abandon inerrancy cannot technically be called evangelicals, they might be saved, but they are not evangelical Christians.[12]

[1] Harold Lindsell, “Biblical Infallibility: The Reformation and Beyond,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 19, no. 1 (1976): 37.

[2] Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, 142.

[3] Noll, “Introduction,” In B.B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought, 6-7.

[4] Gary Johnson, “Warfield and C.A. Briggs: Their Polemics and Legacy,” In B.B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought, ed. Gary Johnson, (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007.), 208.

[5] Warfield, “The Biblical Idea of Inspiration,” 131-66.

[6] Warfield, “The Real Problem of Inspiration,” 169-226.

[7] Warfield, “The Real Problem of Inspiration,” 189.

[8] Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, 27.

[9] Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, 104.

[10] Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, 115.

[11] Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, 183.

[12] Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, 210.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

One thought on “The Debate Over Inerrancy: Comparing B.B. Warfield and Harold Lindsell – Part 7: The Battles – Differences

  1. I have no doubt that you are correctly describing some of the characteristics of the debate but because you are keen to be fair, you dont seem to represent the debate in such a way as to do justice to current modern understandings of the Bible which suggest that even faith has shown itself to develop through a convoluted and at times tortuous path and that truth is yet to emerge in many areas. May I suggest you Google my article on the topic under the subtitle: “The Shaping of God”

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