Moody Professors Protest: Will Sign Chicago Statement but it “Means Nothing to Me”

Several Bible and theology professors at the Moody Bible Institute (MBI) are openly protesting the board’s decision about a month ago to adopt the Short Statement of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and to require all faculty to sign it. The professors, who all served on an ad-hoc committee on inerrancy, voiced their opposition in four documents recently sent to the entire MBI faculty via the administrative assistant of Associate Provost Larry Davidhizar.

The professors are upset because they believe the Moody Doctrinal Statement is sufficient and that the board’s new requirement confirms allegations that some faculty do not affirm biblical inerrancy. “If (trustees) make us sign (the Chicago Statement), we are concerned that it will communicate to the faculty and the public that you believe there is a problem,” wrote Bible/Theology Division Chairman Steven Sanchez.  

“The (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) means nothing to me.  I will sign it, and each time I do my signature will remind me of the wrong done and reopen the wound it inflicted.”

Similarly, Theology Professor Michael McDuffee complained that the trustees listened to allegations of theological drift brought by “certain faculty members – number unknown” and the advice of “outside power brokers” (identified in a separate document as President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Albert Mohler, Pastor Emeritus of The Moody Church Erwin Lutzer, and former MBI Provost Charlie Dyer). Instead, McDuffee said the board should have listened to the faculty inerrancy committee, which concluded that all members of the Bible/Theology Division sufficiently affirm inerrancy.

“(MBI trustees) have treated us as if we are at risk at picking up specious positions on inerrancy,” McDuffee wrote, “requiring an anonymous type internal affairs squad to keep a watchful eye on us, so that with an early enough warning they can reel us in and keep us from theological drift away from orthodoxy.” Though McDuffee said he subscribes to the summary statements and 19 articles of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, he added, “The CSBI (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) means nothing to me.  I will sign it, and each time I do my signature will remind me of the wrong done and reopen the wound it inflicted.”*

Does MBI Have an Inerrancy Problem?

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is a document created at an international summit of evangelical leaders in 1978 to defend biblical inerrancy against liberal trends within evangelicalism. It was signed by nearly 300 evangelical scholars and affirmed that the Bible is without “error or fault in all its teaching.”

The board adopted the Chicago Statement after I reported a controversy over inerrancy stemming from a Bible/Theology Division meeting last year. In that meeting, two MBI professors allegedly professed a postmodern view of truth that Theology Professor Rich Weber claimed was incompatible with “the conservative evangelical definition expressed in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.”

According to Weber, Drs. David Rim and Ashish Varma said they reject what’s known as a “correspondence view of truth” – the basic notion that truth corresponds with reality. They also reportedly said they reject the Chicago Statement’s view of inerrancy, which Weber said he had always understood to be the view affirmed in all MBI theology classes.

In the recent documents from some inerrancy committee members, no one outright denies that Rim and Varma made these statements, though Theology Professor Gregg Quiggle wrote, “Varma made a comment that raised concerns among some in the room. The exact nature and content of that comment are debated.”

McDuffee also accused me of waging a “smear campaign” against the two professors and chastised me for failing to ask Dr. Rim the “concise and unambiguous question” – “Do you affirm inerrancy as defined by the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy?” – thus clearing up any confusion about his stance.

“Varma now has ‘indicated he can and will sign the mandated Chicago Statement.’ Similarly, those who have talked to Rim . . . have concluded that ‘he could sign the mandated portions of the statement.'”

However, in an email to Rim on January 5, I wrote, “Is it true you do not affirm inerrancy as described in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy?”  Rim responded that he affirms the Moody Doctrinal Statement, to which I replied: “You didn’t answer my question, though. Do you affirm inerrancy as described by the Chicago Statement?” Rim never responded to my follow-up question, and Varma has not responded to any of my emails seeking clarification.

According to the recent documents, however, Varma now has “indicated he can and will sign the mandated Chicago Statement.” Similarly, those who have talked to Rim (presumably professors and/or administrators) have concluded that “he could sign the mandated portions of the statement.”

The documents do not explain what caused this apparent about-face by both professors. However, they do make two remarkable assertions. One, they argue that a correspondence view of truth is not necessary to affirm inerrancy. A mere “pre-theoretical claim about language and ‘correspondence,’” will do.  And two, they assert that adhering to a correspondence view is not required to sign the Chicago Statement, essentially rendering the board’s new requirement ineffectual.

Is a “correspondence view” necessary for inerrancy?

According to leading evangelical apologist, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, a correspondence view “simply means that what one says fits the reality of the world.” So, if the Bible describes a historical event or detail, those who adhere to a correspondence view believe the event or detail is real.

However, some who reject a correspondence view, like evangelical scholar Peter Enns, deny the historicity of some biblical narratives. Enns argues that one could affirm a certain “truth” expressed in the story of the collapse of Jericho’s wall, for example, while simultaneously denying the “real” existence of a wall.

Similarly, postmodern scholar Myron Penner argues that no human statements, even those in Scripture, are absolutely true because they’re expressed in human language, which is inherently flawed. During the division meeting, Varma presented an article by Penner, and according to Weber, both Varma and Rim affirmed Penner’s view.  It’s not surprising, then, that some professors expressed concern about their colleagues’ view.

Yet McDuffee argues in his paper that though Rim and Varma reject a “philosophical correspondence view or theory of truth,” they still qualify as biblical inerrantists because they embrace the “common usage” of correspondence reportedly espoused by Kevin Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

McDuffee writes that Varma told him, “We generally affirm a pre-theoretical claim about language and ‘correspondence,’ about truth and its relationship to reality by the commonplace and everyday meaning of these words without affirming a correspondence theory of truth.”

“The only people who are bothered by correspondence theory are either philosophical existentialists or they are liberal theologians, or both.”

However, Dr. Montgomery challenged the notion that one could have a valid “pre-theoretical intuition” about correspondence without also affirming a philosophical correspondence theory. In a phone conversation, he told me, “If it’s a sound intuition, then it can be expressed in propositional form. And the minute that you do this, you’re expressing a correspondence theory.”

He added, “The only people who are bothered by correspondence theory are either philosophical existentialists or they are liberal theologians, or both. . . . (Rejecting a correspondence view) doesn’t sound like heresy yet, but that’s exactly the kind of thing that opens the door to heresy because once you have said that you deny the correspondence theory of truth, how under the sun can you claim that the Bible is objectively true, to say nothing of its being inerrant?”

I emailed Dr. Vanhoozer and he confirmed that he embraces a “pre-theoretical intuition (definition) of truth as correspondence.” He added, however, that he also embraces a “chastened or modest correspondence theory.” “If I have a hesitation (about correspondence theory), it’s not about the nature of truth,” he said. “It’s not about whether or not some of our language corresponds to reality. Of course, it does.”

What’s required to sign Chicago Statement?

The documents authored by Sanchez, Quiggle, and McDuffee all assert that signing the Chicago Statement does not require adherence to a correspondence view either. McDuffee bases this view on the fact that the Chicago Statement “does not include any mention of a correspondence view of truth.” In addition, he notes that commentaries written by some of the creators of the Chicago Statement, asserting that correspondence view is required, were written years after the statement was initially signed. Therefore, they may not have represented the consensus view.

However, one of the original signers of the Chicago Statement, former Moody Professor of Bible and Theology William Luck, said he knew more than 100 of the signers personally and believes every one of them would have affirmed a correspondence view. He added that “it should be assumed that the signers do concur unless they state otherwise, since the same people produced the (Chicago Statement) that produced the commentaries.”

““(I)t should be assumed that the signers do concur unless they state otherwise, since the same people produced the (Chicago Statement) that produced the commentaries.”

Luck also said that those who signed the Chicago Statement attended meetings on the statement prior to signing, and “weren’t simply asked to sign the short statement without understanding what it meant.” Luck added that he couldn’t recall any signers who made any “post-signature statements against the (Chicago Statement) or the commentaries . . . having second thoughts or writing ‘how my mind has changed.’”

Montgomery, who also was an original signer of the Chicago Statement, agreed with Luck’s assessment and called McDuffee’s argument that the Chicago Statement doesn’t necessarily affirm correspondence view because it isn’t explicitly mentioned “nonsense.”

“Let’s say we have a doctrinal statement that talks about the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, but doesn’t use the word ‘Trinity.’ Does that mean that the people who signed that hypothetical statement were not saying anything about the Trinity? Of course they were because everything that’s said about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit requires exactly the same picture of God.”

Likewise, Montgomery said those who signed the statement were affirming correspondence view, even though many of them may not have been familiar with the term.  “The assumption in signing the statement is that you can compare what people present theologically with what the Bible says and say it either corresponds or it doesn’t.”

Owen Strachan, director of the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, agreed. “If you affirm inerrancy, you cannot deny correspondence theory in any form – historically, philosophically, theologically, emotionally, perspectivally, or mystically,” he said. “You either agree with God that biblical history is actual history, or you deny it. . . . Like the (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) and (Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics) make clear as crystal, either the Bible presents historical truth in its historical sections or it does not. We cannot separate the Bible of history from the Scripture of faith.”

Trustees Must Clarify

Soon after Moody adopted the Short Statement of the Chicago Statement, I interviewed Dr. Norm Geisler, an original framer of the Chicago Statement. He said he was happy with the board’s action, but feared that by adopting the short statement, as opposed to the full Chicago Statement, the board left some wiggle room for those who want to deny correspondence view.

“I can tell you from experience . . . that’s what they do. They try to talk around (the issue) and say it didn’t explicitly say ‘correspondence view of truth.’”  He added, “It’s a crucial issue and I know why they don’t want to accept a correspondence view of truth – because they want to believe the Bible can have errors, factual errors, and still be inerrant. . . . But to do that, they have to forsake the historic view and the view that was intended by the founders and framers (of the Chicago Statement).”

“I know why they don’t want to accept a correspondence view of truth – because they want to believe the Bible can have errors, factual errors, and still be inerrant.”

I can’t speak to the professors’ motives, nor can I, given such limited information know for sure what Rim and Varma mean by their denial of correspondence view. But clearly, the Chicago Statement was created, clarified, and re-clarified repeatedly to prevent professors from doing precisely what the MBI inerrancy committee is doing.

Signing the Chicago Statement does require correspondence view. And though the statement may mean nothing to McDuffee and some of his colleagues, it meant a great deal to the original framers and signers of the statement – and presumably to the Moody board, as well.

The signers and framers saw the danger of stripping words of their apparent meaning and denying the reality of certain parts of Scripture. Though clearly not everything in Scripture is meant to be taken literally, certainly those parts that are historical must be interpreted as historical. And once theologians begin allowing error in any part of Scripture, it’s just a matter of time until they allow error in all of it.

The documents distributed by the inerrancy committee pervert the meaning and intent of the Chicago Statement and present a deceptive argument for anyone who wishes to do likewise. Contrary to these committee members’ assertions, they have not shown that there’s no inerrancy problem at Moody, but the exact opposite.

I understand professors’ desire to defend their colleagues. And perhaps there are good arguments supporting Rim’s and Varma’s view, which have not yet been expressed. But as Montgomery told me, “sympathy for the dissident” is “exactly how Princeton Theological Seminary went down the drain.” Professors and administrators must keep in mind that there is something far greater than men’s reputations at stake. This is about upholding inerrancy and protecting the future of Moody. 

Given the inerrancy committee’s response, it’s clear that the board needs to affirm the original intent of the Chicago Statement and explicitly require a correspondence view. I pray the board will do so when it meets next Thursday and Friday.

*An earlier version did not include the first part of this sentence, which was added to provide clarity on Professor McDuffee’s position.

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69 thoughts on “Moody Professors Protest: Will Sign Chicago Statement but it “Means Nothing to Me”

  1. Ron R

    The key issue is the definition of “inerrancy”. The Chicago Statement defines it from a traditional & conservative perspective. This has been the position I had always presumed Moody held.

    There are others who claim to be “inerrantists”, but it doesn’t take long to realize they use the word in a much looser fashion. I had one of the above listed evangelical profs for a course I took many years ago. Something was amiss. But I could never put my finger on it. It was slippery. Something about this approach to the Scriptures was different. I felt like I was in a literature, not a Bible class. In all of this, it was as though the reverence for the Book had been lost. And it cast doubts on holy writ. It loosened faith; didn’t solidify it. At least that was my experience.

    Moody is Bible – traditionally so. Discern who is on side (via the expanded Chicago Statement). Reset the stake. Wish those who want to debate the definition well, but Moody is not the school for them. Anything short of this, and I’m afraid for its future. Stakeholders are of the traditional sort.

  2. Russell

    Ah… rbthissell; Regarding your statement from May 3, 2018 at 3:28 pm; “people are reading too much into your quotes which they don’t understand (anymore than they seem to understand the issue being discussed).” Thank you for alerting me to this. I had no idea I did not understand so much. Maybe in your next post you can share some more wisdom to assist me in life. :)

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