One of the great benefits of reading older churchmen is the experiential knowledge they can bring to bear on various topics. Dr. J.I. Packer has been around a long time and has seen a lot. In his book Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life, he writes about some of the changes he has seen in his lifetime toward God’s Word. In the midst of this he gives an apologetic for why he uses the word “inerrancy.” I have friends who believe the term “infallibility” is enough. I sympathize with this position. It should be. But unfortunately men are twisted and therefore precision is often necessary. He wrote this in 1996.
Once I too avoided the word inerrancy as much as I could, partly because I no wish myself to endorse the tendencies mentioned, and partly because the word has a negative form and I like to sound positive. But I find that nowadays I need the word. Verbal currency, as we know, can be devalued. Any word may have some of its meaning rubbed off, and this has happened to all my preferred terms for stating my belief about the Bible. I hear folk declare Scripture inspired and in the next breath say that it misleads from time to time. I hear them call it infallible and authoritative, and find they mean only that its impact on us and the commitment to which it leads us will keep us in God’s grace, not that it is all true.
This is not enough for me. I want to safeguard the historic evangelical meaning of these three words and to make clear my intention, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, to receive as from the Father and the Son all that Scripture when properly interpreted, that is, understood from within, in terms of its own frame of reference, proves to be affirming. So assert inerrancy after all. I think this is a clarifying thing to do, since it shows what I mean when I call Scripture inspired, infallible, and authoritative. In an era of linguistic devaluation and double-talk we owe this kind of honesty to each other.