John R. Franke on Inerrancy: The Bible as Witness to Missional Plurality

5 Views on Biblical InerrancyToday is the fifth and final voice in our week-long discussion of biblical inerrancy. If you haven’t read the previous entries, here’s the ground we’ve covered so far:

  1. Al Mohler: Inerrancy is Critical to Understanding the Bible
  2. Peter Enns: Inerrancy Doesn’t Describe What the Bible Does
  3. Michael Bird on Biblical Inerrancy: Is Inerrancy Needed Outside the U.S.?
  4. Kevin J. Vanhoozer on the Dangers of Biblical Inerrancy Without Biblical Literacy

Today’s post is by theologian John R. Franke, and adds yet another nuance to the discussion.


Recasting Inerrancy: The Bible as Witness to Missional Plurality

By John R. Franke. Excerpted from Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Copyright © 2013 by Zondervan. Use by permission of Zondervan. Some footnotes were removed from this text for ease of online reading.

John R. FrankeAs a whole, the Chicago statement is reflective of a particular form of epistemology known as classic or strong foundationalism. This approach to knowledge seeks to overcome the uncertainty generated by the tendency of fallible human beings to error, by discovering a universal and indubitable basis for human knowledge…

The problem with this approach is that it has been thoroughly discredited in philosophical and theological circles. There are other forms of foundationalism, often termed weak or modest foundationalism, and these are often in conversation with nonfoundationalism. Many, perhaps even most, of the philosophers in the Evangelical Theological Society subscribe to this chastened form of foundationalism. The details of these various positions need not detain us here; suffice it to say that all of these alternative epistemologies are characterized by fallibilism. Fallibilism is the philosophical principle that human beings can be wrong about their beliefs and that absolute certainty about knowledge is impossible.

I have little doubt that the Chicago statement was drafted with no intention of conforming to classic foundationalism, but I am concerned that it is nevertheless indicative of the assumptions of this approach. Inerrancy has certainly been used in a manner consistent with classical foundationalism. And yet most evangelicals these days appear to claim that they are not strong foundationalists but weak ones. In the framework of weak foundationalism, inerrancy could be mistaken and should be subject to critical scrutiny…

I believe that [burdening Scripture with the commitments of classical foundationalism] is “to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage.” Scripture provides us with knowledge of God that is reliable and truthful and yet not axiomatic. For this reason, I do not believe that the Chicago statement is able to serve as the standard-bearer for inerrancy. I will offer an alternative model…

In articulating an understanding of the Word of God, I believe we must keep the infinite qualitative distinction between God and ourselves at the forefront of our concerns, lest we fall into the idolatry of imagining that our thoughts and conceptions of God and truth correspond to those of God. As finite creatures, we are not able to grasp the truth as God, who is truth, knows that truth to be…

Through Scripture, the Spirit continually instructs the church as the historically extended community of Christ’s followers in the midst of the opportunities and challenges of life in the contemporary world. The Bible is the instrumentality of the Spirit in that the Spirit appropriates the biblical text for the purpose of speaking to us today…

What does the Spirit seek to accomplish in the act of speaking through the appropriated text of Scripture? An appropriate response to this inquiry suggests that through the process of addressing readers in various contemporary settings, the Spirit creates a world… The world the Spirit creates is neither the world surrounding the ancient text nor the contemporary world but rather the eschatological world God intends for creation as disclosed, displayed, and anticipated by Scripture.

A final element of the witnessing community that the Spirit forms through the agency of Scripture is plurality… This stands as a powerful reminder that the witness of the Christian community to the gospel of Jesus Christ can never be contained in a single universal account. Instead it is always situated in and characterized by a diversity of forms and perspectives, in keeping with the tradition of the biblical canon.


Like Michael Bird, Franke approaches the question of inerrancy from a perspective of missions and the growth of the global church. What do you think of his perspective? Does it make you reconsider any of your own views on this topic?

Franke’s account wraps up our discussion on this topic (for now!). We hope you’ve found it interesting and edifying. If you want to explore this issue further, we’d point you to Five Views on Biblcial Inerrancy, from which all five of these essays have been drawn; and to Zondervan Academic, the publisher!

Related posts:

  1. The Inerrancy Debate, Part 2: Peter Enns on Biblical Inerrancy
  2. Michael Bird on Biblical Inerrancy: Is Inerrancy Needed Outside the U.S.?
  3. Biblical Inerrancy Live-blogging Tomorrow!
  4. Is the Bible Inerrant? Al Mohler on Biblical Inerrancy
  5. Perspectives on Biblical Inerrancy: Live-blogging the ETS Inerrancy Discussion

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