April 1977 · Vol. 6 No. 2 · pp. 39–40 

Book Review

The Battle for the Bible

Harold Lindsell. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976. 288 pages.

Reviewed by David Ewert

Clark Pinnock wrote recently, “The important discussion amongst evangelicals on the subject of biblical authority is marred somewhat by internecine strife and dark suspicion.” Harold Lindsell’s recent publication, The Battle for the Bible, is another illustration of Pinnock’s sad comment. Pinnock’s observation was not made with reference to Lindsell’s book, but he has already favored us with a penetrating (gracious, but devastating) review of The Battle for the Bible (published in Eternity, June, 1976).

It is disheartening when brothers within the evangelical tradition confront each other as enemies or rivals when they discover that not everyone understands the Bible exactly as they do. But it strikes me as unspeakably sad when someone feels “called” to divide the evangelical movement, in which the Bible is confessed to be inspired and authoritative for doctrine and practice, by demanding that everyone use the same vocabulary when defining inspiration (other than that which the biblical writers use).

Lindsell makes inerrancy—that is, as he understands inerrancy—the watershed between the faithful evangelicals and those who have no right to use that name. While “inerrancy” is an inference which has been drawn from the doctrine of inspiration (for certainly the Bible teaches no error), it is not really part of the Bible’s vocabulary. The New Testament writers simply confess that the Scriptures are God-inbreathed (2 Tim. 3:16. Strictly speaking, this reference has only the Old Testament in mind). Our Mennonite Brethren confession of faith is content with using biblical phraseology: “We believe that all Scripture is inspired by God as men of God were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Tim. 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21).

Obviously Lindsell is not content with the Bible’s witness to its own inspiration. After making it clear what inerrancy means for him, he sets himself up as judge over other Christian denominations and institutions. In one chapter the Missouri Synod is pulled apart; in another, the Southern Baptist Convention takes a beating. The saddest chapter is the one in which he writes devastatingly of that fine evangelical institution, Fuller Theological Seminary (where he himself taught at one time).

Lindsell has the right, of course, to define inspiration in whatever way he wishes. But when he makes his understanding of it (as if we could ever really understand this mystery!) the measuring stick for determining {40} who is evangelical and who is not, he goes too far. In the opinion of this reviewer, he has done neither himself nor the evangelical cause a service by writing this book.

Moreover, there are errors of fact in this book of which one, at least, is incriminating. Lindsell accuses Dr. Robert Mounce, who writes regularly in Eternity magazine, of “looking hard to find an error” in the Bible (p. 167). But, as Mounce explains in the August 1976 issue of Eternity, he has said the exact opposite in the article which Lindsell uses to denounce him. One would hope that Dr. Lindsell would correct this error. But how can he when the book is in print and is being read all over the world?

The real test of whether we hold to the doctrine of inspiration is not to be found in man’s inadequate attempts to define the mysteries of God’s revelation in the Scriptures but in our willingness to live according to the teachings of the Word of God. Leon Morris, who has been a staunch defender of a high view of inspiration, writes in his recent book, I Believe in Revelation, “It is authority that is important, rather than inerrancy” (p. 137). Obviously an errant Bible could be no authority for us; but the real “battle for the Bible” is fought in the daily life, where the believer either lives by the Word of God or according to human standards. Lindsell’s book is of no help in this arena. Indeed, the reader can easily be deceived into thinking that if only he has the right definition of inerrancy, he is already a true and faithful follower of Jesus, the Lord of the Scriptures.

The Word of God encourages us to “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). But that same Word also speaks some sharp words to those who sow discord in the Brotherhood. Let me conclude with the words of Pinnock, who is well known in evangelical circles for a high view of inspiration: “(Lindsell’s book) conveys a spirit of suspicion and hostility which ought not to characterise our intra-evangelical discussions about inspiration. It certainly will not help to bring about reconciliation amongst the evangelical brethren, or do much to change anybody’s opinion who is not yet convinced” (Eternity, June, 1976, p. 40).

Dr. David Ewert
Professor of New Testament
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary
Fresno, California