Signing the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978)

Did they really sign it? That was my question. Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 9.37.18 AM

What am I talking about? The question is: back in 1978 did the faculty of the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches (now known as the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary) actually sign the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy or not? Readers of this blog and of the Reformed Academic blog will realize that the matter of inerrancy was put back into debate last week. Some discussion occurred over at Reformed Academic, with the author now acknowledging graciously that some corrections were in order.

One of the blog comments that gave rise to the corrections stated that the faculty of CRTS had, back in 1978, signed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. This statement put the words infallible and inerrant side by side, and stated, “We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture” (art. 13). Relevant to the topic of God’s creating work, the Statement also included this denial,

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood (art. 12).

My question was whether the professors Jelle Faber, Heinrich Ohmann, and Lubbertus Selles actually signed the Statement. Here’s why: If you consult the online documents, the typed list of signatories includes these three names, but if you peruse the copies of signatures you cannot find theirs.

In the interests of good scholarship, I decided to pursue the matter further. Counting, I found approximately 240 signatures compared to about 350 typed names. With this information in hand, I emailed the archivist where the documents are stored—the library at Dallas Theological Seminary.

This kind librarian, Lolana Thompson, replied to me the same day. She explained that only the original signing sheets, signed by those who were present at the meeting in the Fall of 1978 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago, were included with the online scans. Those who signed later also sent in their signatures, but many of these pages were not scanned and put online, perhaps because some of them include only one signature. In January 1979 a typed list was made of all the signatories up to that time. This list included Faber, Ohmann, and Selles. She also kindly sent me a scan of their signatures, which we are hosting here. Now, without question, you can see the signatures for yourself.

It’s remarkable that all three full-time faculty members signed the statement. None of them thought that the term “inerrancy” was contrary to their own confession’s term “infallibility.” All of them were educated in the Netherlands, where debate about the historicity of Genesis 2–3 had occurred (the historical reality of the events and figures in these chapters was confirmed as a teaching of the Reformed Churches when J. G. Geelkerken was deposed in keeping with the decision of Synod Assen 1926). They weren’t ignorant of the implications of their signatures. Finally, all of them signed under the typed heading, “Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches.” In other words, they didn’t merely sign as individuals, but as faculty teaching at the churches’ institution. I’m thankful for their commitment and ours.