In the book A Hill On Which To Die, author Paul Pressler describes his encounters in the Southern Baptist denomination during the 1970s and 1980s as he and a handful of other conservatives attempted to instill the inerrancy of scripture within the Southern Baptist Convention, specifically ensuring the seminaries did not teach views which contradicted the inerrancy of the Bible. The discussions at the time were quite divisive, and came very close to splitting the Southern Baptists, which is the largest protestant denomination. As Pressler states in the book:
What was the issue? The issue was Scripture, not an interpretation of Scripture but rather the nature of scripture. Is all Scripture given by inspiration of God, or is Scripture the work of humanity reaching up to conceive the idea of God? . . .
Conservatives will always stand on the truthfulness of the Word of God because it is absolutely essential to all sound doctrine. . . .
The issue was not an interpretation of Scripture, but the nature of Scripture—the complete, absolute reliability of Scripture: the complete truthfulness of Scripture and—may I dare say—the complete infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. Inerrancy is a word that the liberals do not like because they have not yet been able to redefine it to give it a less than exact meaning. It once was sufficient to say that Scripture was inspired, which meant that it was God-breathed. . . . As the liberals find new definitions for old terms, we must constantly be finding new terms, the meaning of which is absolutely understood.
Russell Dilday, former president of Southwestern Seminary, has tried to use inerrancy in a different way. He has talked about “inerrancy of purpose” rather than “inerrancy of the text.” This use of the phrase “inerrancy of purpose” implies that the purpose for which Scripture was written was true, but it does not necessarily mean that the entirety of the text is true. We must watch for redefinitions. The issue was and is the complete, absolute, total accuracy and integrity of the revelation that God has given us in His Book—the Bible. This is the hill on which to die! (pp.159-160, emphasis in original)
To put this in perspective, Russell Dilday was a well-respected leader and academic. He spent his career serving the Lord, as did many of the other people who disagreed with the inerrancy movement. I never met him, but I am sure he was a nice guy. But none of this was the point, for Dilday and many others who did not agree with inerrancy taught that the purpose of sections of scripture were not to present a factual account of historical events, but rather to present spiritual truths. Those who held to inerrancy disagreed, and the divisions lasted until the conservatives took over the Southern Baptist denomination and eventually the seminaries. The reactions from the non-inerrantists were something like, ‘Why are you causing so much division over interpretation?’ As Pressler says, the issue is not interpretation, but rather the nature of scripture in the first place.
Today, ten years after Pressler wrote his book and 30 years after the inerrancy wars were fought in conservative denominations, we again appear to be heading toward another heated discussion of the same issues. Apparently Michael Licona and William Craig and others today are claiming that scripture is inerrant, but not always factually true, for the intention of the author might have been to present embellishments within the historical accounts. These men are well-respected, hard-working, likely equally nice people and have equally strong Christian motivations as Dilday did. But their position is the same as those who disagreed with the inerrantists 30 years ago, and will probably result in similar controversies.
Along with Pressler, we claim that the issue is not interpretation, but rather the nature of the Bible itself. Those of us who hold to the view of scripture as being completely accurate, without human embellishment, will never agree with those who hold otherwise. We will perhaps have to come up with a different word than inerrancy to describe what we have always held, to separate from those who are again introducing the views held a generation ago. Hopefully we can avoid the highly-contentious atmosphere that surrounded Paul Pressler, Paige Patterson, Adrian Rogers, and Charles Stanley in the 1980’s.
But we must take a stand to state what we believe about the accuracy of the Bible, whatever be the costs and whatever be the price. For the accuracy of scripture is indeed a hill on which to die.