Scholar Daniel Wallace is interviewed by Lee Strobel for The Case for the Real Jesus—Student Edition: A Journalist Investigates Current Challenges to Christianity; Strobel begins:
THE PROTECTIVE SHELL
I’ve heard people say, “Find me one error, and I’ll throw out the whole Bible.” I wondered what Wallace thought about that. “What if you found an incontrovertible error in the Bible?” I asked. “How would you react?” He thought for a moment, then replied. “It wouldn’t affect my foundational view of Christ. I don’t start by saying, ‘If the Bible has a few mistakes, then I have to throw it all out.’ That’s not a logical position. We don’t take that attitude toward any other ancient historical writings. For instance, did the first-century Jewish historian Josephus need to be inerrant before we could affirm that he got anything right?
“If we do that to the Bible, then we’re putting it on a pedestal and just inviting people to try to knock it off. We’ve basically turned the Bible into the fourth person of the Trinity, as if it should be worshiped. What we need to do with Scripture instead is say that it’s a great witness to the person of Jesus Christ and the acts of God in history. Now, is it more than that? Yes, I believe so. But whether it is or not, my salvation is still secure in Christ.”
“So it’s not necessary for a person to believe in inerrancy to be a Christian?” I asked.
“Personally, I believe in inerrancy,” he began. “However, I wouldn’t consider inerrancy to be a primary or essential doctrine for saving faith. It’s what I call a ‘protective shell’ doctrine. Picture concentric circles with the essential doctrines of Christ and salvation at the core. A little bit further out are some other doctrines until, finally, outside of everything is inerrancy. Inerrancy is intended to protect these inner doctrines. But if inerrancy isn’t true, does that mean that infallibility isn’t true? No. It’s a non sequitur to say I can’t trust the Bible in the minutiae of history, so therefore I can’t trust it in matters of faith and practice.”
I nodded as he talked to indicate I was following his line of thinking. “With that concentric-circle approach, then, a supposed error in the New Testament shouldn’t be fatal to a person’s faith,” I said.
“Absolutely,” he replied without hesitation. “It might affect inerrancy, which is an outer-shell doctrine. But dismantling that wouldn’t affect Christ, who’s a core doctrine.”
THE CORE OF THE GOSPELS
Wallace paused. “May I tell you a story about this?” he asked.
“Please,” I said.
“Some years ago I met a Muslim girl who was interested in Christianity,” he said. “She came to me with six handwritten, single-spaced pages of supposed discrepancies in the Gospels. She’d been taught by Muslims that if you can find one error in the Gospels, then you can’t believe anything they say. She said to me, ‘You’re going to have to answer every single one of these before I can believe anything about Christianity.’ “
My response was, ‘Don’t you think this list proves that the writers didn’t conspire and collude when they wrote their Gospels?’
“She said, ‘I’ve never thought of it that way.’
“I said, ‘What you need to do is look at the places where the Gospels don’t disagree at all. And what do you find? You find a core message that is revolutionary: Jesus was confessed as the Messiah by his disciples, he performed miracles and healed people, he forgave sins, he prophesied his own death and resurrection, he died on a Roman cross, and he was raised bodily from the dead.
“‘So now, what are you going to do with Jesus? Even if the Gospel writers have differences in their accounts—whether we should really call them “discrepancies” is a topic for later—then this only adds to their credibility by showing they weren’t huddled together in a corner cooking all of this up. Doesn’t their agreement on an absolute core of central beliefs suggest that they got the basics right, precisely because they were reporting on the same events?’”
“What happened to her?” I asked.
“Two weeks later she became a Christian, and now she’s a student at Dallas Seminary. My point is this: Inerrancy is important, but the gospel is bigger than inerrancy.
“As one British scholar said, ‘We should treat the Bible like any other book in order to show it’s not like any other book.’ That’s better than the opposite position that has become an evangelical mantra: ‘Hands off the Bible—we don’t want people to find any mistakes in it because we hold to inerrancy.’
“I’m not saying doctrines like inerrancy and infallibility aren’t important,” he went on. “I’m just saying they’re not necessary for salvation. However, they are important for spiritual health and growth.”
“If you doubt whether the Bible is an authoritative guide for faith and practice, it will inevitably affect your spiritual journey. You might begin questioning passages that are clear in their meaning, but they’re too convicting for you, so you reject them. You begin to pick and choose out of the Bible what you want to believe and obey.” Wallace summed up his perspective. “Whatever you do with this,” he urged, “don’t throw out Christ if you’re going to question inerrancy. Personally, I believe in inerrancy, but I’m not going to die for inerrancy. I will die for Christ. That’s where my heart is because that’s where salvation is,” he said with conviction.
“The Bible wasn’t hanged on the cross; Jesus was.”
Strobel, Lee (2009-07-14). The Case for the Real Jesus—Student Edition: A Journalist Investigates Current Challenges to Christianity (Kindle Locations 700-748). Zondervan/Youth Specialties. Kindle Edition.