“Accusation is Not Proof”

It’s old news now – Mark Driscoll, founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, tweeted about President Obama during the Inauguration.


I’ve stared at this tweet off and on, not knowing how to respond. Not knowing if I should respond.  “Some thoughts are better left unexpressed,” I’ve told myself. “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt,” advice I obviously have not followed in the past.

News came to me this week, however, that made the tweet personal.  Driscoll lobbed a bomb at the President.  The pastor, along with all Americans, has a right to criticize our leaders and their policies.  It’s the American way.  No problem there.  Driscoll’s tweet though was the delivery of a spiritual slam.

“…who today will place his hands on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

Several months ago a message began circulating that “Phillip doesn’t believe the Bible.”  Like the Energizer Bunny the message keeps going and going.  I heard it again this week. I thought, “Really?”

The charge came as a result of a teaching I gave in September 2012.   I’ve listened to the audio of that teaching three times  – I never said what was said I said.

I did say this: “We can’t build our faith on the foundation of the Bible, but on the person of Jesus” (1 Corinthians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 1 Corinthians 15:14)

And I said the following in response to an earlier comment from another teacher at the same seminar concerning inerrancy: “Every inerrantist I know, or have read, believes that only the original manuscripts are inerrant.  So if you base your trust in the Bible on its inerrancy then you won’t be able to trust this book (the one I’m holding in my hand), because the Bible you have right here is not the original manuscript.  And if you base your trust in the Bible on whether or not it is inerrant then you can’t trust what you have here…”

The claim is made by those who hold an inerrantist view, that the trustworthiness of the Bible stands or falls with inerrancy.  If the Bible contains any real errors it cannot be trusted.  Then there is the admission that every Bible that exists probably contains errors.  Only the original manuscripts can be considered perfectly inerrant.

So…think along with me…if the Bible’s trustworthiness is based on inerrancy- as defined as “without error” –  and only the original manuscripts – which no one has – are inerrant, then that does not bode well for the trustworthiness of the Bible we do have.

That is why I like and hold the definition of inerrancy given by John Piper – “Perfect with regard to purpose.” The Bible’s main purpose is transformation, not information (2 Timothy 3:16), and it’s unfortunate that so many people spend their time arguing over the “information” part.  The Bible is absolutely trustworthy to do what it is intended to do.

Back to the tweet.

I do not know why the President is accused by Driscoll of not believing the Bible.  I do know that in the words of Edward R. Murrow, the pioneer of television news reporting, “Accusation is not proof.”

Yeah, it’s a bit personal.

8 thoughts on ““Accusation is Not Proof”

  1. its really too bad that the elders of Fellowship Bible have destroyed a warm and wonderful community and I feel certain they will pay in some way. Several years back we watched a tape series by John Wimber of the Vineyard Church in California. On about tape 8,9 or 10 John talked about his close friend who was suddenly reported to have cancer. John did everything the Bible said to do but his friend died anyway. As he went on he began to question himself, his faith and his process with the elders and others. In the end he concluded he had done all he could and God was still in control. It had been healthy to doubt and check on his own faith; painful to see his friend die, but his faith was still alive and well. Blessings to you Bill Achor

  2. How does one man know another man’s heart? It is between that person and God. I am tired of the hate message of politics. It is more about hate and less about issues. LOVE TO HATE. HATE TO LOVE.

  3. This is one of the main reasons that I love your take on things. You are not afraid to make us
    think for ourselves. Knowing that the Prophets interpeted the word of God, whose to say that their interpetation might also be in error. There is sometimes a fine line between literal and symbolic translation. I was raised Catholic and I can tell you that the priests did not encourage us to read
    our bibles because we would not interpet the message the way they wanted it to be interpeted.
    Thank you Phillip for encouraging us to take up our Bibles, read and search. The Bible is merely a
    guide, Jesus is the Light of that path.

    In His Grip…..HH

    • I’m Catholic and my priests strongly encourage us to read for ourselves and let the spirit guide us. I’ve known plenty of protestant pastors who discourage the very same things you state. Sounds like more of a faith formation/pastor issue than an institutional one.

  4. Hey Phillip,
    I have a couple of thoughts. Sorry, if I am a bit longwinded, but I think you bring up some important things to think about.

    (1) I’m not condoning Driscoll’s tweet. And, I’m bummed that someone was saying that you don’t believe the Bible behind your back. I’m sure that’s hurtful. But, I do have a question related to that. I was at Fellowship when the elders explained why you were let go. They didn’t say that you didn’t believe the Bible.
    They said that, if you were going to remain the pastor at Fellowship, they would have to change the statement of faith with regard to the Bible and that they had chosen to take a stand on Fellowship’s statement of faith. Here is the Fellowship statement of faith copied and pasted from the website:
    “We believe that Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) is the inspired Word of God, in whole and in part, and is the supreme authority of faith and practice for believers in Jesus Christ.We believe original Scripture is error-free.”
    So, straight up, Phillip, would this statement of faith have had to be changed for you to stay the pastor?
    This statement is more or less the same as every other orthodox Christian statement of faith that I have seen. I don’t see a statement of faith on the website for your new church. So, I would love to hear your thoughts.

    (2) I think you are either misunderstanding or misapplying (or both) John Piper’s view on inerrancy. Phillip, I haven’t found the words, “Perfect with regard to purpose,” on Piper’s website. But, here are words that I did find:
    “To the degree that we come close to the wording of the original we come close to the very words of God. We are there [at the very words of God] for all practical purposes.”
    You can read for yourself here: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/seminars/why-we-believe-the-bible-part-1#VeryWords
    Or how about this one, also from his website:
    “I love the Bible the way I love my eyes … I praise God that we have the Bible in English. What a gift! What a treasure! We cannot begin to estimate what this is worth to Christians and churches, and even to the unbelievers and the cultures of the English-speaking world.”
    I think it’s interesting that Piper’s view of inerrancy leads him to love the Bible and to confidently call his church to read it and love it as well. While, your view of inerrancy seems to lead us to not “trust the book we hold in our hands.” Maybe you and John Piper don’t have as much in common as it seems.

    (3) I think you might be misunderstanding the Bible’s purpose. You say the Bible’s main purpose is transformation not information. That’s not what I see. I think the Bible’s main purpose is transformation through Spirit-empowered information.
    This is what John Piper says:
    “When we seek to enjoy communion with the Lord — and not to be led astray by the ambiguities of religious experience — we read the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s words and God’s deeds reveal God himself for our knowledge and our enjoyment.”
    The words matter because the words (inerrant and inspired) point us to Jesus. If the words aren’t trustworthy, you have to wonder if your Jesus is trustworthy, right?
I mean, the apostles didn’t say, “Friends, don’t worry about our words just have a spiritual experience of Jesus.” They said, “Listen to my words because through these words you encounter real information about Jesus and only in Jesus can you be saved.”

    (4) I think it is interesting that you say in your blog post that we can’t build our faith on the foundation of the Bible but we must build it on Jesus. But then, you use the Bible as the foundation for proving that we must build our faith on Jesus. That seems circular to me.
    And, even in the verses you cite, the inerrant Word is important. In First Corinthians 15, Paul says we must know that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. The foundation for knowing who Jesus is and what He did is the Scriptures. Without them, according the the verses that you cited, we have a groundless faith.

    Fifth, Jesus loved the Bible. Here are some verses:
    “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) It is interesting that the Bible seems to be Jesus’ foundation.
    “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18) Jesus seems very concerned here with the actual words of the Bible.
    “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:47). Jesus seems to be saying that if you don’t believe Moses’ writings or the Old Testament Scriptures, you can’t really believe Jesus’ message.
    I could keep listing verses, but it is getting late. Here’s what I wonder. Jesus loved the Bible (it is absolutely clear from His ministry). If we love Jesus and Jesus loved the Bible, then surely we should love and be confident in the Bible that Jesus loved.

    Phillip, to be honest, I am worried that blogs like the one you wrote are leading people away from the truth. Something to think about.


    • Hi Justin,
      Thanks for your thoughtful, kind reply. I’ll respond point by point.

      I have a recording of the announcement made at the 9:00 service. The elders announced clearly that “Phillip believes that the only thing we can truly believe in are the four gospels.” While I don’t have a recording of the comments made to the small group leaders at the 8:00 meeting, witnesses tell me that the same statement was made.

      The elders and I met on Tuesday night before the announcement made on Sunday. At that meeting, I plainly stated that I am good with the statement of faith but requested that we discuss and determine what we mean by the words. You left off the last part of the statement concerning the Bible: “and that there is only one true interpretation of any Biblical passage, found when one accurately applies the literal-grammatical-historical method of interpretation.” How one defines this hermeneutical method determines how one defines “error-free.”

      There was no desire for such a discussion.

      “Inerrant” or “error-free” is commonly used in churches and organizations today – but not throughout the history of the church. The word came to being in the late 1800s out of Princeton but rose in popularity in the 1970s due to the book Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell.

      “Inerrancy” became a test case as to one’s orthodoxy as a result of that book and the subsequent movement. I had asked the elders 10 years ago to discuss whether that word best described our regard for Scripture. They refused. My request came as result of my conversations with non-Christians who asked “If the Bible you presently have is not error-free, why use the word?” The concept became a stumbling block between them and Christ.

      I preferred the Biblical term “inspired” to describe our view of the Bible and was ok with the word “infallible” which speaks to the “perfect with regard to purpose” approach.
      If you read the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, which is the unofficial definition of the term used by those who hold to inerrancy, you will discover the many qualifications of inerrancy. My question, and the question of many non-Christians with whom I talked is, “What good is the word inerrant if we qualify it to death?”

      My wish was to use a word that explains clearly, a word that doesn’t need qualifications and exceptions, that describes the authority of Scripture. But as I said, the topic was not to be discussed.

      You will find Piper’s “perfect with regard to purpose” statement at the following: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/how-are-the-synoptics-without-error/

      Did you follow this link? It was found in my post about Driscoll.

      Purpose of the Bible? Its purpose can not be stated more plainly than by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:15-16.
      I agree with your statement of “transformation through Spirit-empowered information.”

      My point is that looking to the Bible for information on history, science etc is not the purpose of the Bible. Let’s not therefore approach it in that way. To require the Bible to be an exact record of historical, scientific, chronological events is ask something of it for which it was not intended. The Bible can “err” -not be exact- on one of those points and still be true to it’s purpose. The Bible is not an encyclopedia, or reference book. Since it is not primarily a book of information, don’t let some of its confusing information mess you up. In the words of Tim Keller as he speaks of the details of the Genesis account of creation, “…I don’t have to figure this out before I figure out is Jesus Christ raised from the dead.”

      Foundation of faith?

      I have always said that regardless of the struggles people may have with certain Old Testament passages, there is credible evidence of the historicity of the gospel accounts of Jesus that one will have to honestly answer the question, “What will I do with Jesus?”

      Having said that, I do think it is important to build our faith and lives on Jesus – not the Bible.

      You can know the Scripture and never be “in the faith.”

      John 5:29 – The Bible experts knew the Bible backwards and forwards but didn’t know Jesus – the true Word.

      James 2:19 – The devil is orthodox, in that he mentally adheres to the correct doctrine, yet certainly is not a Christ-follower.

      My hermeneutic professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary told us that those who insist on “inerrancy” as it is used today, are guilty of turning the Bible into the 4th member of the God-head. Indeed, it is a dangerous thing to ascribe to anything the characteristics of God.

      Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, is pointing out my point that the Bible is a narrative of how God interacts with people to ultimately bring to us Jesus. It is a story – not an answer book or reference guide. Yes, the Old Testament points to and prepares us for Jesus in so many ways – the sacrificial system, the prophecies etc.

      No disagreement with you that Jesus loved the Bible. That, again, is a point I have made in speaking and writing. If we love Jesus, we will love the Old Testament because we will love what He loves.

      Church history has seen great people with various ways of interpreting Scripture. Origen took an allegorical approach toward Genesis (as did Augustine), the genocidal passages of the Old Testament and several other passages. Martin Luther, the reformer, while holding the view “sola scriptura” tried to remove the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the canon (I’m glad he didn’t) – yet I don’t see anyone questioning Martin Luther’s love of God or high regard for Scripture.

      You closed by expressing “worry” that I’m leading people astray. While I have not done a scientific study, anecdotal evidence has indicated that people have drawn closer to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, through the writings.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful response.

      • Hey Phillip,

        I appreciate your willingness to have an electronic conversation. Your church’s website says that you love questions and conversations. And, I appreciate your willingness to do that with me.

        I have several thoughts and questions about your response. So, I am just going to go down in order if you don’t mind.

        You said in your response that you told the Fellowship elders that you are “good with the statement of faith.” I’m confused. You have spent several blog posts saying that you are not good with inerrancy, so surely you weren’t good with that part of the statement of faith, right? Also, you seem to imply that you don’t agree with the literal-grammatical-historical method. And, in other blog posts, you seem ambiguous (at best) about whether the Old Testament is inspired in the same way as the New Testament. I’m not sure what to make of the statement that you were “good with the statement of faith.”

        Phillip, I’m not sure you have your history of inerrancy right. As far as I can tell, inerrancy has been assumed to be true for much of church history and only recently come under fire. It seems to me that from the church fathers forward the logic was that the Bible in its entirety is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and, since God is perfect, the Bible is inerrant and infallible. I have found some quotes, if you are interested:

        – Clement of Rome (90 AD): “You have searched the Scriptures, which are true … you know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them.”

        – Irenaeus (180 AD): “The Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and his Spirit.”

        – Augustine (~380 AD): “I have learned to yield this total respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture. Of these alone do I most firmly believe that their authors were completely free from error.”

        – Augustine (again): “It seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books”

        – Thomas Aquinas (1270 AD): “Specifically for Aquinas, theology is found primarily on the Word of God, which never errs but is ‘infallible truth.’”

        – Martin Luther (~1530 AD): “Not only has Scripture ‘never erred’, it ‘cannot err.’”

        I could keep going, but I think that will suffice.

        In fact, the book you cite in your blog post by Harold Lindsell wasn’t introducing the new doctrine of inerrancy. Rather, Lindsell was responding to Fuller Seminary removing inerrancy from its statement of faith. You see, at Fuller, the historic doctrine of inerrancy was being replaced by a newer doctrine that the Bible could be authoritative but not necessarily inerrant. And, Lindsell was responding to that.

        Phillip, I am bummed that the non-Christian you were talking to had trouble understanding inerrancy or that they found that doctrine to be a stumbling block. But, to be fair, the test of truth is never really whether or not it might be confusing to some or hard to believe for others. I have talked to non-Christians who have struggled with the doctrine of the Trinity. You believe that one, right? I have also talked to non-Christians who are repulsed by the idea of substitutionary atonement (that Jesus died in our place to atone for our sins). I am assuming you believe that one too, right? In fact, Paul says that Jesus Himself is a stumbling block to some (1 Corinthians 1:23). There are certain things that are just true, right?

        I just got done read the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I was surprised. It is actually pretty short and it has a summary statement right at the beginning that is only five points. I don’t see a ton of qualifications in there. I mean, I see clarifications, to be sure. But, there is a difference between clarifications and qualifications.

        I did read the Piper post just now. I didn’t see that it was a hyperlink the first time I read your post. I’m still confused about your use of Piper to support your position on the Bible. Piper affirms inerrancy several different times in the article. And, in a recommended link at the bottom of the page called “Why We Believe the Bible,” he cites the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. I’m pretty sure that he has a different view of Scripture.

        Also, I saw that Dr Bill Tolar (who you reference in an earlier post) supports the Chicago Statement as well. You can see that here: http://www.founders.org/journal/fj11/editorial.html

        Phillip, I am pretty sure that Tim Keller’s issue with Genesis 1 isn’t about inerrancy. It is about literary genre. That’s different. And, I have seen Keller affirm inerrancy several different times.

        You seem to be saying that the foundation for our faith needs to be Jesus, not necessarily the Bible. I am still struggling with this question: How do you build confident faith in Jesus without being confident in the Bible? What if some of the errors that are in the Bible are in the parts about Jesus and not just in the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament? Or, are you saying that the Gospels are the truly reliable (trustworthy) part of Scripture while the rest of the Bible might have problems? Isn’t that exactly what the Fellowship elders said you believed? You quoted them at the beginning of your post.

        Finally, I appreciate that there have been a ton of different interpretations of the Bible in church history. And, I probably think some of them are wrong (like the allegorical ones). But, Origen, Augustine, and Martin Luther all affirmed that the Bible was inspired, infallible, and inerrant. That’s what we are talking about now.

        Thanks so much for listening to me.

  5. Phillip, you have always been a “cutting edge free thinking pastor” since before it was stylish. It is about transformation not information. When I read your blog, it transforms some of my thoughts, but I can’t rely on it 100% for pure information because it is written, and put together by a human. I almost find The Bible to be Wikipedia for Christians, mainly be ause of the ever changing content, and translations that come out put together by humans. God inspires your words here, but he did not physically write them. Any similarities to how the bible is?

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