The End of Evangelicalism? Inerrancy as empty ideology

Allow me to restate the purpose of David Fitch’s new book, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology. He is using the “political” ideology of Slavo Zizek as a means to critique evangelicalism, of which he states he is a part. He is looking at the three cardinal beliefs of evangelicals and showing how they have lost their meaning within evangelicalism.

Let me say this: the moment we cannot handle the critic of our theology, we have demonstrated that it has become an ideology. Criticism of our theology is healthy as it can demonstrate how aspects of our theology have become meaningless to us in practice.

With that, allow me to continue looking at Fitch’s argument regarding the inerrant Bible. He notes that for most evangelicals, it is an empty ideology that is ultimately concerned about being “right”.

There are signs among evangelicals, according to Fitch , that reveal an emptiness behind our belief in an inerrant Bible. These signs appear as an “irruption of the real” – “episodes of overidentification or excessive jouissance (vengeful enjoyment) in the culture of evangelicalism that reveal the inner conflict and/or drives that lie behind our belief and practice.” These irruptions reveal how our belief in the “inerrant Bible” is no longer about the place of the Bible in our lives but about “inner antagonisms that have taken over our reason for being together.”

We would expect to see an increasing number of these irruptions if the unraveling ideology is losing its hold on people, according to ideological theory. The core of the ideology becomes unstable, as a core of a nuclear power plant becomes unstable, and a melt-down occurs. The irruptions increase in intensity as an ideology loses its grip.

Fitch notes a few recent signs of this irruption.

1. The irruption of over-identification occurred in 1970 when Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth became a huge best-seller with over 35 million copies sold. By proclaiming that the inerrant Bible could predict the future, Lindsey was carrying the logic of the inerrant Bible further than most evangelicals ever intended. When he revised and re-revised his predictions based on events in the Middle East, he revealed the danger of “believing inerrancy too much.” Inerrancy then was revealed to be more about who was right than “a belief that we inhabit with our daily lives.”

2. Henry Morris, the “creation scientist,” chastised the Chicago Conference on Inerrancy when the conferees refused to incorporate the “literal seven day creation” into their statement on the Bible. Fitch states that an over-identification took place. Morris had assumed that inerrancy meant we would all agree on interpretation – his interpretation, specifically. Morris revealed that for him, inerrancy was used to enforce a “right” interpretation, specifically in regards to how he understood creation.

3. Bart Ehrman and the publishing of Misquoting Jesus. Ehrman was at one time a good evangelical. Yet with his publishing of Misquoting Jesus, he slammed the idea of inerrancy. He was a true evangelical who tried and failed at proving the “inerrant Bible” and now he tells his personal testimony and makes a spectacle of the doctrine. The reaction of evangelicals was telling. According to Fitch, in “Zizek’s terms, the publishing of Ehrman’s books stirred up some ‘perverse enjoyment’. Evangelicals and ex-evangelicals (Protestant mainline people largely paid no attention) alike clamored around this piece of dirty laundry, in essence revealing that ‘the inerrant Bible’ is really about the drama as to whether the evangelicals get to tell the liberals ‘I’m right.'” Ehrman materializes for us a fear that says, “We have to believe in the inerrant Bible lest we become the victims of ‘the liberals’ (who don’t believe the Bible) or worse we become one of them.”

Particularly, “the liberals” became the objet petit a – the object that makes us want the ideology even more. The event also helps demonstrate how the ideology of the inerrant Bible plays on a jouissance that is aimed at the liberals – a perverse enjoyment we experience when we blame “them” for stealing our certainty. “The liberals thereby embody that elusive goal that we all seek: perfect certainty and control of the Truth. Them emulate the certainly we can only aspire to!”

In speaking of this objet petit a, Fitch says that there is

a perverse enjoyment we feel in being the ones who still believe the Bible over against ‘them’: the ones who do not. We foist on them our resentment and we ‘enjoy’ it. They are the ones who would steal the certainty of the truth from us. The doctrine of the inerrant Bible, therefore, originally created to fight against the modernist deterioration of the Bible’s authority perpetrated by Protestant Liberalism, has now become a badge by which we are defined as “not them”.

Evangelicals get giddy when a prophecy comes true or an esteemed professor agrees with the Bible or a discovery in science is made that “proves” something in the Bible. When that happens, instead of being content and confident in what we already knew – the Bible can be trusted – we shout with glee, “See! We were right!”.

This is what the modern day expression of the inerrant Bible is all about. It is about being right. It is not about the Truth, it is about being in control of the truth, possessing the Truth as an object instead of it possessing us. The liberal has become the symbol we resent because they have what we don’t have (and maybe shouldn’t have). As a result, evangelicalism comes off as an empty disingenuous politic whose very reason for existence is to fight against someone for something it really doesn’t have itself.

Fitch’s way out of this predicament with the inerrant Bible is to “fill the voice via a restoration of the incarnate Christ to the core of our political life together – via our belief and practice of Scripture. Scripture, in other words, must be practiced as a living political extension of the living incarnate Christ who lives and reigns within the triune relation and what God is doing in the whole world. Reclaiming the core of our politics in Jesus Christ in this way provides the basis for a politics of mission.” Fitch will expand on this in the final chapter.

Questions now for us:
1. How does the inerrant Bible impact your daily life? If we really believed in inerrancy, how would we live our life differently?
2. Do you see in yourself the perverse enjoyment that Fitch notes?
3. Do you find the focus of your study to be more about combating liberals or culture than enjoying one aspect of the revelation of Christ?
4. Is it all about being right? What do you think?
5. Is his prescription correct?

In chapter 4 of Fitch’s book, he takes on the idea of a “decision for Christ.” I will begin the look of that topic in the next post.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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