Inerrancy, Nature and Scripture


While flipping through the radio stations the other day I came across a message by R. C. Sproul. He was speaking about philosophy, science and scripture and told an interesting story. In his seminary classes, whenever he asks who thinks the bible is inerrant every hand goes up. However when he asks if nature, as another revelation of God, is inerrant, there is a lot more hesitation. He raised an interesting question: why are some Christians so suspicious of nature as a means of God’s revealing Himself?

“Well because nature is fallen, dummy.”

“But even in it’s fallen nature, does it tell us something incorrect about God? Does nature lie?”

At first when I wrote that prior sentence I wrote “we” instead of “some Christians”, as I realize that not all Christians have an issue with viewing nature as inerrant. In fact it may be more the case that the opposite is true – many Christians may view nature as more inerrant than scripture is. But I’m already ahead of myself.

Sproul does consider nature as a revelation of God to be inerrant:

Inerrancy applies first to natural revelation: whatever the Lord says to us in nature is without error. Our interpretation of this revelation is not always without error, as the continual revision of scientific hypotheses demonstrates; nevertheless, what the created order tells us is true, whether or not we understand it.

When we speak of something being inerrant that means that it is “without error”. The notion of the inerrancy of scripture perhaps can be best summed up in the following quote from the 1978 Chicago Declaration:

Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

But what can we mean when we say that nature is inerrant as a revelation of God? Lest you think I’m making something up consider the following:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Ps 19:1)

The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory. (Ps 97:6)

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.(Rom 1:18-20)

Thus endeth the prooftexting. But for good measure throw in any parable Jesus used based on nature: the mustard seed, the sower and the seed, and so on.

The typical handling of nature, especially science, by those with a high view of scripture is that scriptural revelation trumps natural revelation. Always. The opposite is true with those with a low view of scripture. Hence the animosity between the left and the right regarding which revelation of God is more authentic if and when there are apparent differences between the two. One revelation has to err – you need to choose which one you side on.

But if Sproul is correct, you can’t play that game. If both nature and scripture are authentic and inerrant, they cannot tell different stories. If there is a conflict, we have to look at both sides of the equation in order to see where our understanding is incomplete or faulty. That goes for our interpretation of scripture as well as our interpretation of nature.

I want to pause and say that when speaking of inerrancy I don’t want to include that to mean that either nature or scripture are completely sufficient in and of themselves in terms of salvation. While nature may be an inerrant revelation of God, it is neither complete nor sufficient, otherwise we fall in to the trap of pantheism or antinomianism. But neither really is scripture. While scripture is sufficient in terms of relaying the gospel, the work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely critical in stirring the person to repentance and acceptance of the gospel it proclaims. Thousands of people read the bible without any conversion at all. Faith, then, is more than just an intellectual exercise in knowing the right things.

Anyway I’m far too tired to tax my brain on this much longer. But this does open up conversations, I hope, to see how both theology and science can see each other as partners in their respective considerations of creation and what it says about the Creator.

PS: Please don’t respond to my proof-texts with more proof-texts as counterarguments. That’s just boring.

 

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