A remarkable gathering of minds met in Chicago on October 26, 1978. For three days they met, studied, prayed, and deliberated—268 participants, including representatives from thirty-four seminaries, thirty-three colleges, forty-one churches, and thirty-eight Christian denominations. They gathered to address a critical topic: the inerrancy of Scripture.
The conference was convened by the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy, a group that consisted of scholars such as Dr. R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, James Montgomery Boice, Earl Radmacher, Edmund Clowney, and many others. This group not only met as a council, but they also invited leaders from across the evangelical spectrum. The result is what is known as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, a landmark treatise on the doctrine of Scripture. This statement consists of a preface, a five-point statement, and nineteen articles of affirmation and denial.
The 1960s were a time of crisis in the church, one that centered on the doctrine of the authority of Scripture. Among many Baptists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, there was a drift away from the position of inerrancy, which states that the Bible is without error. This drift would untether the church from her moorings; it would move the church out from under her authority in life and worship. The implications of moving away from holding to the inerrancy of the Bible are vast. Therefore, these godly theologians, pastors, and missionaries gathered in Chicago to define inerrancy and also to make a statement warning of the dangers of drifting from inerrancy. The first statement of the preface reads:
The authority of Scripture is a key issue for the Christian church in this and every age. Those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are called to show the reality of their discipleship by humbly and faithfully obeying God’s written Word. To stray from Scripture in faith or conduct is disloyalty to our Master. Recognition of the total truth and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture is essential to a full grasp and adequate confession of its authority.
Christians who are committed to the Bible agree that Scripture is authoritative. The question is, How do we develop that doctrine? What do we say after we affirm the authority of Scripture? The conclusion of those gathered in Chicago was that the best way to honor this doctrine and think about the authority of Scripture lies in holding to inerrancy.
As the statement unfolds, it begins with the doctrine of inspiration. The Bible did not originate from the bottom up; that is, it is not from humanity, representing our understanding of the divine. Rather, it is top-down—the Bible comes from God to us and it is God’s inspired Word. Once the doctrine of inspiration is established, the next piece is inerrancy—if it is God’s inspired Word, then it is true. This is what the doctrine of inerrancy states, and the council gathered in Chicago to define and affirm this doctrine.
The conclusion of this council is rather miraculous. If one were to lock three hundred evangelical leaders in a room today, it would be surprising if they all came out agreeing on the color of the paint on the walls. Crafting a theological statement with five points and nineteen articles of affirmation and denial would be a miracle. But that is precisely what happened in Chicago in 1978. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy sustained a generation of churchmen, pastors and theologians. It brought this view of inerrancy back to the center of the church, and doctrinally affirmed it—for the life of the church and the life of the Christian.