Suggestions on errantist friends

What can we do with those who are strongly errantists, actually disputing and arguing with large sections of the bible?

To begin with, we have to be clear what situation such a friend is in. If Paul or any of the NT writers is reduced to an opinion column or worse, that is, any position of inerrancy based on some sort of philosophical rather than textual objection, then there is certainly no reason to allow in any of the epistles. Worse, once the gospel writers are seen to have a theological agenda of their own, the same reasoning must exclude applications taken from the gospels too. How much of the OT survives? By extension, rather little. In my experience, it seems that most friends in this situation are initially more optimistic of their opinions than they actually are, saying ‘Oh, the minor prophets are alright; I don’t mind listening to them’, but if they will reject Paul find it just as easy to dump Amos when something challenging is presented to them.

So, as far as I can tell, unless it is an objection based on some very specific or textual argument, anyone who bumps off even one book of scripture has a pervasive problem.

What are the consequences for the individual? Doubt becomes unmanageable when we find ourselves rating our opinion over Paul’s ‘opinion’, a disease with its medicine poured down the toilet. Also, tough discipleship is hard to motivate, even totally stymying growth with the supreme authority knocked down. You might be left with charm, kindness, and plenty of goodness, but I am convinced that whatever confusion leads to errantistism is strongly damaging.

What are the consequences for how we relate to our friends? The doctrines of God, Trinity, God’s word, man, salvation, the church, the future, and so on really are the bare minimum to make realistic Christian interaction possible. What are the things that really set apart a Christian friendship from a non-Christian one? There are the conversations and the shared salvation and worship; the automatic trust and respect; the responsibility to be church together by having the duty of care and towards others and wonderfulness of brothers who care for us; and even the innocuous little words which are specifically Christian. All of these come under threat with someone who has lost (or never had) trust in the bible. The shared worldview and vocabulary that enable conversations in real life does turn out to have holes in it, where part of the common basis for communication has been chipped away. Worship becomes risky when a biblical act or praise turns into a disagreement, with no basis for appeal or way to resolve it. The church’s work is made massively more difficult, given how word-centred men’s discipleship is in particular. Evangelism takes a huge hit, and presuppositionalists will perceive the damage to be double. Just mentioning things you think are simple in ordinary conversations becomes a danger when we feel too tired to risk one clause turning into a half-hour debate (‘…because it’s good that we can praise God in adversity.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Well, Paul–’ ‘Oh, but you know I disagree with that part.’ …); the lack of a common basis for fellowship eats away at it. I have experienced this, and it is not theoretical.

How do we respond in the way we treat our friends? I would love to be more positive, but I find it really hard to respond sometimes with anything more than treating the person essentially as a non-Christian, with an unusual particular set of apologetic issues. Unless their testimony is unusually strong, losing this one of the central historical doctrines makes it too hard to show Christian fellowship. We used to burn non-Trinitarians at the stake, and knocking off another central pillar, though a less serious offense for any other doctrine, is just too large an impediment, putting almost all specifically Christian things at risk.

Where does that leave us? We have to be committed in practice as well as theory that it is vital to have confidence that God really did speak to his people the Jews, and really does speak to his church now by the apostles as well. Where that is lacking, it cannot be meddling to work to help the friend involved. If they do profess faith in Christ, then they have actually opted in to the church and all its mutual encouragement and rebuking, so we have every right to take him up on his profession and target these vital areas. Secondly, if we instinctively think that treating someone mostly as a non-Christian is somehow a raw deal or represents any less engagement, we need to make sure we are being genuinely as nice and caring towards all our non-Christian friends. Finally, in our prayers, we can at least thank God that he may have saved our friend, even though they do not yet trust his word nor are likely to have the same confidence in the OT Jesus himself had.

Update: Tim Challies as always copies me, and posted this the next day in his article On personal bible study:

I think I am led this way [about assurance] because the Bible is so central, so integral to the Christian life, that to feel no love for it, no desire to study it, must be a sign of spiritual sickness. I would certainly never say that a person who does not want to study the Bible or who does not enjoy studying the Bible is not a Christian. But I would venture to say that the Christian life is so dependent upon Scripture that a person who has no regard for the Bible and who shows little interest in it would have good reason to seriously consider his salvation.

Secondly, I would like to point to Titus 1:3, a verse perhaps under-quoted in this area which came up yesterday when reading Titus at breakfast before going to Peter Edward’s ordination service.