Review of Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear by Carlos R. Bovell

This is a follow up to Bovell’s earlier work, Inerrancy and the Spiritual Formation of Younger Evangelicals,¬†where the goal was to call for giving younger evangelical scholars doing work on bibliology breathing room to formulate their own views regarding the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. This work continues that call.

The book is composed of six chapters and a conclusion where Bovell outlines inerrancy in relation to psychology, philosophy, theology, and biblical studies.

In the first chapter Bovell argues two points, the first is that “reconciliation appears to be the primary¬†religious value of those who devote their lives to the establishment and maintenance of peace and social justice” and second that the “habits of fundamentalist and evangelical inerrantism are fundamentally at odds with a spirit of reconciliation.” The rest of the chapter we find discussions about such luminaries as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and others and how young evangelical scholars are being impacted by their social justice sympathies on the one hand, and the stridency and absolutist mindset of inerrancy on the other that are often centered in an “us” versus “them” mentality.

Bovell argues in the second chapter for reestablishing hermeneutical distance between believers and the Bible. What this entails are the incorporation of hermeneutical considerations in the light of critical scholarship in work of doing bibliology. This results in the student not being locked into a straight-jacket of certain principles by which they approach and interpret the Bible based solely on strict inerrancy.

In chapter 3 Bovell directly engages with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in relation to the question of the truthfulness of biblical narratives. Much of the discussion surrounds the philosophical and theological concepts of truth, including the notion of God as Truth. Bovell challenges the concept of propositional truth-claims and correctly criticizes inerrantists for not going far enough in incorporating critical postmodern insights in understanding how biblical narratives relate to reality.

Speech act theory in relation to biblical narratives is next examined. Bovell uses 1 Sam. 5 and 2 Sam. 12 to illustrate the difficulties with inerrantists’ notions of truth and narrative speech acts. Several language games are offered in the hopes of reconceptualizing biblical narratives.

Chapter 5 Bovell calls for giving students breathing room to formulate their own notions of inspiration and inerrancy without fearing being ostracized. Bovell argues that these new formulations need to be done separate from apologetic concerns. One of the major criticisms that Bovell focuses on here but is mentioned throughout the work is how inerrantists bring their notions of inerrancy to the biblical text before they have actually analyzed and examined the text and then how they conveniently read inerrancy out of the text.

In the last chapter Bovell takes a look at the notion of biblical phenomena and inerrancy in light of Old Princeton and specially the writings of Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield. Ultimately the question boils down to does one begin with the notion of inerrancy and then move to the phenomenon and teachings of the Bible, or does one begin with the phenomenon of the Bible, and look at the teachings which may or may not end with a doctrine of inerrancy? Reformed theologians and evangelicals in the main take the former view while Bovell, and other post-inerrantists argue the second.

To conclude his work Bovell discusses Avery Dulles’s criticism of propositional revelation within conservative Catholicism in his book, Models of Revelation, and shows how they parallel the criticism that he has towards Protestant evangelicalism’s view of biblical inerrancy. Bovell isn’t personally ready to give up on inerrancy quite yet, but is willing to allow the new generation of scholars to evaluate and come to their own conclusions and profit from their research.

One may ask, what is the difference between this work and the earlier one by Bovell? Bovell writes in a footnote to chapter 2 that he had come to the realization that change could not be achieved top-down but would have to come from students themselves, he writes, “[t]hey are going to have to create their own public theological space where they can dialogue and decide whether a workable bibliology for the twenty-first century should include inerrancy or not.” In this second work Bovell attempts to lay out some of that space for the dialogue to take place.

This work is highly recommended especially as it challenges individuals to think independently and to come to their own conclusions on whether the Bible is inerrant or not. I personally went through this struggle and came out the other side wholly rejecting it.