What are “liberal, ” “neoorthodox, ” and “conservative” views of inspiration?
These terms refer to different views of the Bible’s accuracy, truth, and how the Bible was written.
When the Bible claims to be inspired, it means that God wrote the words in each book of the Bible. This is the message of 2 Timothy 3:16,
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (NASB) 2 Timothy 3:16-17
The Greek word for “inspired by God” is a single Greek word that means “God-breathed,” that is, God wrote it. 1 Peter 1:10-12 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us the prophets wrote the scripture under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 3:16 even tells us that scripture is accurate down to the word. Jesus claimed the same thing in Matthew 5:18. Is scripture true and trustworthy? God claims He does not lie (Numbers 23:19). Conservatives say scripture is verbally inspired – word for word truthful and calls it verbal (word) inspiration. Jesus Christ is the focus of scripture. This is the historic view of the apostles and the early church.
Karl Barth (1916) gave rise to neoorthodoxy. This view of inspiration says the Bible is a human book and contains historical and scientific errors. They do not believe the Bible is accurate word for word. Those who hold to this view believe the Bible contains the Word of God as opposed to being the Word of God. They believe Jesus Christ is the proper object of worship, and they criticize the conservative view of inspiration as “worshiping the Bible.” For them, the Bible is inspired when it exalts one’s own view of Jesus. In short, scripture is inspired when it provides a personal encounter with Jesus. Consequently, they would say the Bible becomes the Word of God as you read it and as it has meaning to the reader.
Simply put, the liberal view of inspiration says the Bible is not the Word of God. They believe the Bible was written by good men who made mistakes. They seek scientific or natural explanations for the creation account and miracles. For prophecy, they usually attempt to show the prophetic books were written after the event. They have attempted to show that the historically accepted authors of the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament) and the New Testament were not the real authors. Many liberals deny the Bible as having any historical value. In the past, they have claimed the Bible is not consistent with archeology and is therefore not historically accurate. Then some years later, an archeologist finds an ancient artifact that supports the Bible. In short, this view sees the Bible as having value primarily as a piece of ancient literature. What is the value of liberalism? Their concern for the poor, widows and the homeless. Liberalism is usually associated with the social gospel.
The liberal view of scripture rejects the Bible as coming from God. The neoorthodox view of inspiration accepts the Bible only as it exalts the Jesus you believe in. Inspiration occurs when one has a personal, emotional encounter with Jesus. The conservative view of inspiration accepts the claims of the Bible as being word-for-word accurate and written by God. They believe the focus of the Bible is Jesus. It is accurate because its author does not lie!
The liberal view rejects the Bible as the very words of God. The neoorthodox accepts a personal encounter with the Bible. The conservative view believes the words of the Bible are God’s words.