Dan Fuller and Inerrancy

From the following quotations it would appear that Daniel P. Fuller holds to inerrancy (quotations from The Unity of the Bible, 1992):

“. . . rather than simply stating at the outset that the Bible is indeed the verbally inspired, inerrant Word of God, I arrive at this conclusion by beginning with facts and axioms and then work upward from these to establish the Bible’s verbal inspiration” (xvii).

“. . . I have felt that to follow this method was most appropriate in establishing the Bible’s inerrancy and unity” (xviii).

“In chapters 3 and 4, then, I conclude that the twenty-seven books composing the New Testament canon are also [with the OT] inerrantly and verbally inspired by God” (24).

But in describing “Black Saturday,” December 1, 1962, in Reforming Fundamentalism George Marsden recounts that

While Ockenga, as chairman, could have left it at that, he opened the door for major debate by asking immediately, ‘But why do we need a new creed?’ He could see no such need. Dan Fuller, the model of candor . . . saw his chance to assume his new leadership role. He pointed to what he saw as a vital need to revise the statement on inerrancy. ‘Dr. Ockenga,’ he asserted before the whole faculty and board, ‘there are errors which cannot be explained by the original autographs. It is simply not historically feasible to say that these errors would disappear if we had the autographs.’ He went on to explain his whole theory of the nature of biblical inerrancy—essentially, that the Bible claimed inerrancy only for its ‘revelational’ teachings, that is, matters that make one wise unto salvation. . . .

Ockenga responded with thinly veiled indignation. 'Well, what are we going to do then? Dan Fuller thinks the Bible is just full of errors' (211–12).

Then Marsden records this fascinating detail: “As a matter of course, stenographers had made a shorthand record of the entire planning conference. Within a few days the elder Fuller [Dan’s father, Charles, the evangelist who with Ockenga founded Fuller Seminary] had gathered all the notes and the transcripts typed from them and placed them in his safe. Eventually they disappeared” (215).

The account goes on,

A few days later Ockenga called him [Dan Fuller] in and asked him if he could sign the statement of faith. Fuller said ‘sure’ he could. He observed that Article II of the creed, that concerning Scripture, combined the statement that the Bible was inerrant with the classic formula that it was ‘the only infallible rule of faith and practice.’ That phrase, Fuller argued, implied that it was as a rule of faith and practice that the Bible was ‘free from error in the whole and in the part’ (216).

It seems to me that this is a classic case of “equivocation,” which exploits the ambiguity in the meaning of words or phrases. On the one hand, Fuller asserts that the Bible has errors, and on the other hand, he signs a statement saying the Bible has no errors. Then, 30 years later he publishes The Unity of the Bible and defends “inerrancy”! Did his mind change or does he mean by “inerrancy” what he meant in 1962? What Fuller meant by the term was clearly not what the conservatives at Fuller (e.g., Ockenga, Carl Henry, Harold Lindsell, Wilbur Smith) meant by the term.

Marsden recounts that in the view of at least one of the Fuller trustees, “Those who were not in accord with the creed should, in honesty, leave” (215).

Unfortunately, those who disagree with creeds are apparently never willing to leave. They stay around and either change the creed or ignore it. As Marsden notes on the previous page,

Beginning with the gradual slippage of Harvard into Unitarianism, the past two hundred years had seen an endless repetition of the same story. Most of America’s greatest academic institutions had been founded by conservative Bible-believing evangelicals. But nearly every one of these schools had eventually fallen to the onslaughts of theological liberalism, and then to outright secularism. A vast empire lay in ruins (214, and see further Marsen’s The Soul of the American University).

Those interested in a full explanation of Inerrancy should consult “The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy,” which in my view accurately represents what the Bible claims about itself.

12 Comments

Filed under Bible and Theology

12 responses to “Dan Fuller and Inerrancy

  1. Dr. Hamilton, who are you positing “equivocated?” Dr. Fuller? Marsden? The Fuller Conservatives? Are you saying that Fuller’s views on inerancy were the same in ’65 as they were in ’92, or that his view in ’92 is really the one he was holding in ’65. (that sentence might be tautology) Also, is the conception of inerancy that Ockenga, Henry and Lindsell held in line with the Chicago Statement? And, are you in line with Fuller’s (’92) understanding of inerrancy. Sorry for the deluge of inquiries…I enjoy your site.

  2. Jim,
    I’m enjoying your series on Marsen’s book. Please keep posting on it.

    PS How did your evangelical-baptist liturgy service go?

  3. Miles Mullin

    Jim,

    Good job reading Marsden’s REFORMING. It is probably the best institutional history ever read. Did you know that Dan Fuller was something of a mentor to John Piper when the latter attended Fuller? It was because of Fuller that Piper starting reading Edwards (and probably Barth, too) and eventually went on to Germany for his Ph.D.

    In response to Ched… Henry and Lindsell were both supporters of CSBI. I am pretty sure that Ockenga was dead by the 1978. I feel pretty sound in saying that Fuller’s view in 1962 was very close to the one in 1992.

    Yours,

    Miles

  4. Ched,

    Sorry I’m only now getting back to you. Dan Fuller equivocates by saying that there are errors in the Bible, and then signing a statement saying there are no errors in the Bible because he has his own private understanding of what the statement means.

    I think Prof. Mullin is right that Fuller’s views in 92 are the same as his views in 62.

    I think the Fuller conservatives would be in agreement with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

    Hope this helps!

    JMH

  5. Ockenga died in 1985, there’s a good wikipedia article on him.

  6. These comments clear up the initial confusion I had, thanks for your replies…

  7. Jim, is this the same Dan Fuller that John Piper adores? I’m assuming it is.

  8. It is my understanding that Piper’s enthusiasm for Fuller and his book, UNITY OF THE BIBLE, has waned significantly in recent years. . .

    JMH

  9. Really? I would like to know more about why this waning has taken place…

    Does it have anything to do with the differing views on justification?

  10. Yes, back in the old days, before the New Perspective became a controversy, I think Piper was closer to Fuller’s critiques of Calvin’s understanding of law and gospel and justification in UNITY OF THE BIBLE.

    Fuller wasn’t explicitly arguing for the New Perspective on Paul in that book, but there are some common themes.

    My understanding is that Piper worked more thoroughly through the issues of justification, largely in response to the New Perspective developments, and came to disagree strongly with the approach to it in UNITY OF THE BIBLE. The result is Piper’s book on justification, COUNTED RIGHTEOUS IN CHRIST. . .

    That’s my impressionistic take on the waning,

    JMH

  11. It appears that as of last week Piper still has some great respect and enthusiasm for Fuller: http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/891_praise_god_for_fundamentalists

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