Gordon Smith writes, in comments to Nate’s post on the Historian’s letter: “While the Historian is right about the official Church position — that the Biblical text is not inerrant — you would never guess that this was the Church’s position if you were an anthropologist visiting wards and seminaries. In my experience, many members of the Church have embraced the erroneous views of so-called Christians on this matter.”
Mormonism differs from fundamentalist Christianity by embracing error.
It recognizes transmission error and biased editing in the Bible.
It recognizes that the Book of Mormon contains errors (“the mistakes of men”).
It recognizes that prophets do not always speak with authority.
It recognizes that even authoritative prophetic pronouncements might be subject to revision as a people and a prophet outgrow cultural biases and the limitations of the natural man.
It recognizes that our own experience of the Spirit can be distorted by our emotional needs.
So, how do we escape differing from liberal Christianity, where we are blown about by every wind of modernity?
In practice, I think we do it by acting as if theses sources were presumptively inerrant. Even if a doctrine or a passage doesn’t make sense to us, we treat it as true and try as best we can to reconcile it. If we can’t reconcile it, we admit that it may be wrong, but also admit that our understanding might be flawed. Since some sort of reconciliation is usually possible, to an anthropologist we might well appear to to believe in inerrancy. Only in unusual circumstances do we have to resort to a hierarchy of authorities.
In my own experience, this presumptive inerrancy can be very fruitful. For instance, sections of the Old Testament may well be legendary or otherwise misconstrued (e.g., the Flood, Job). Other parts are parts that we would like to exclude (e.g., the massacres that God commanded on the enemies of the Israelites). But my understanding of the Gospel has been enriched by treating them all as true, so I will continue to act and think as if they were.