|Bible Research > Interpretation > inspiration > Peter Enns > Minority Report|
The following is a summary of reasons why eight faculty members were unable to support and believe they were obligated to vote against the faculty action of December 6, 2007, which affirms that the views expressed in Inspiration and Incarnation (I&I) are biblically sound and confessionally acceptable. These points are derived from considering this book and some other writings of Prof. Enns, as well as the HFC Reply and faculty discussions.
We stress that this statement is brief. Its purpose is to list, not to elaborate. For elaboration we refer primarily to the HTFC document of April 2006, and to the Précis of concerns expressed in that document, presented to the December 2006 board meeting. Some of the points interlock, but they have been seperated and grouped for convenience. All, we believe, are important, but they are not necessarily listed in order of relative importance.
Before enumerating these points, we wish to indicate briefly, contrary to the perception of some, what is not at issue in our opposition to the faculty’s action:
1. We do not deny that careful study of the Bible does raise problems, some difficult and intractable. We affirm the need for a resolute facing of these problems and wrestling for solutions. But we also affirm that the right way of addressing such problems is crucual. Solutions wrongly arrived at only compound the problems.
2. We are not committed to a rigid subscription to the Westminster standards that precludes or inhibits growth in our understanding of Scripture beyond that of the generation that produced those standards and of subsequent generations, until Jesus comes. Our committment to these standards, as they themselves require (Westminster Confession of Faith [WCF], 1.10; 20.2), is to them as subordinate to the supreme standard of Scripture and as they must always be approved in the light of Scripture. However, we do not believe ourselves free to subscribe to the Westminster standards in a way that claims that they only narrowly addressed the ecclesiastical dangers of their immediate time, or that gives latitude for us to decide at will what to accept or reject in them in addressing our own time.
3. We do not reject biblical theology (as inaugurated by Geerhardus Vos), nor do we deny that systematic theology is dependent on sound biblical-theological exegesis. What we do reject is an understanding and doing of biblical theology that is at odds with historic Reformed theology, as it has received its ecclesiastically sanctioned confessional summary (“the system of doctrine”), for instance, in the Three Forms of Unity and, especially, the Westminster standards.
Finally, we are burdened and deeply saddened by the division there is within the faculty. We want to live peaceably with all, so far as it depends on us. But we must act in accordance with the truth, as we have become convinced of it.
1. I&I, by its all-controlling utilization of the incarnational analogy, with the particular understanding it has of that analogy, stresses the Bible’s human authorship and conditioning in such a way that the primacy of God, as its divine author, is left so much in the background as to be nonfunctional. The humanness of a biblical document is mistakenly equated with historically and culturally confined meaning and implications. The result is an effective “kenoticism,” a divine emptying, in the origin of Scripture. Especially in the case of the OT documents, the meaning of each, as it originated and in its original context, is treated as if it were exhausted by what its human author/final editor would have intended and understood of what he wrote, when that author is considered as a child of his times. Through this approach I&I creates perceived “tensions” and disharmonies within and among the various documents.
2. I&I, commensurate with its understanding of the incarnational analogy, leads to an epistemologically kenotic Christology. For instance, it implies that Christ, as a child of his time, is limited by and accepts as valid the interpretive methods of Second Temple Judaism by finding in Exodus 3:6 an implication to the resurrection (Luke 20:7-40), when in fact the Exodus passage has no persuasive connection with such an implication (I&I, 114-15). Any approach that presumes not to submit without reservation to Christ’s own pronouncements concerning the OT undermines meaningful Christian discipleship and submission to Christ as Lord.
3. I&I adopts an approach that has the serious consequence of subjecting Scriptural self-affirmations to the limitations of their cultural environments. This effectively removes the basis for the doctrine of Scripture itself. On this approach texts that teach Scripture is the written word of God, such as 2 Tim. 3:16-17 and 2 Pet. 1:21, can themselves be interpreted as doing so merely because they are “accommodated” to the human authors and the cultures where the Jews so believed. Scripture “accommodated” in this way leaves us without a clear voice of the Lord to obey, and renders submission to Christ’s Lordship confused, even meaningless.
4. I&I, in its interpretive approach, denies the pertinence of certain divine attributes. Specifically, God’s omniscience, immutability, self-consistency, and truthfulness become nonfunctional, in the sense that they are dismissed, backgrounded, and virtually denied in the process of expounding what a particular passage means. This approach is inconsistent with the implications of Chapter 2 of the WCF.
This backgrounding of divine attributes has a practical effect similar to neo-orthodoxy, in that the Bible as God’s address to man (in distinction from what a human author may have meant or what he and his original readers may have understood of what he wrote, in their allegedly limited and culturally confined context) becomes indirect and veiled in its content.
5. I&I creates a false dilemma when it argues that various passages of Scripture cannot be authentically and thoroughly understood unless the reader puts to one side what he knows about the omniscience and self-consistency of God. By so arguing, I&I at a practical level forces God’s children to deny the omniscience and self-consistency of God, if they are to affirm what I&I claims is the meaning of a particular Scripture (contra WCF 2.2). I&I is a danger to the church because of this dilemma, which tends to destroy the confidence of the saints, and the intimacy with God that God designs for them to have in the reading and study of Scripture (contra WCF 1.8).
1. I&I adopts what in effect is a hermeneutics of isolation. This interpretive approach wrongly implies that it is legitimate to determine the intended meaning of a particular problem passage in Scripture without reference to what God has revealed elsewhere in Scripture (contra WCF 1.5, “consent of the parts”; 1.9).
2. I&I undercuts seeking a harmonious, doctrinally unified and coherent overall understanding of Scripture. Particularly within chapter 3 difficulties of harmonization within Scripture lead in some cases to denying for practical purposes that we ought to seek, through knowing more deeply the mind of God, how the different parts of Scripture fit together in harmony in his mind, as revealed in Scripture (contra WCF 1.9).
I&I, by undermining confidence in the systematic-theological harmony of the teaching of the Bible, dishonors Christ, who as the Logos is the ultimate divinely rational harmony for the harmony reflected in the Bible (cf. WCF 8.3, “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”).
3. I&I undermines and effectively denies a meaningful affirmation of the inerrancy of the Bible. Prof. Enns maintains that he believes in inerrancy. But that assertion is inconsistent in practice with what I&I alleges that the Bible does, as when it maintains that the Bible implies at one place that God did not know until after Abraham had passed the test (p. 103), and yet at other places implies that God knows all things beforehand (contra WLC 145, “to the prejudice of truth or justice.”).
1. I&I tacitly approves an autonomous exercise of reason. It fails to distinguish and so is not clear about the difference between sound historical study of the Bible based on the presuppositions of biblical theism and the historical-critical method based, in its most epistemologically self-conscious practitioners, on the presupposition of human autonomy. It fails to criticize the interpretive assumptions and methods of mainstream historical-critical scholars, but rather commends them for their “honesty” in dealing with the humanity of Scripture.
On the other hand, systematic-theological and confessional summaries of biblical teaching concerning God are depreciated as interfering with accurate understanding of difficult texts. The result is that autonomous reasoning about the nature of humanity, history, narrative, myth, genre, and rational consistency are tacitly commended, and the voice of God in Scripture transforming our minds (cf. Rom. 12:1-2) is in practice silenced (contra WCF 1.10).
2. I&I implicitly commends false views of inspiration and inerrancy. Its unqualified commendation (p. 22) of the 19th century work of J. Patterson [sic; Paterson] Smyth, How God Inspired the Bible: Thoughts for the Present Disquiet, is unsettling because, as Warfield pointed out in a review at the time of its publication, the view of inspiration it presents is defective, and it also rejects biblical inerrancy, especially the view of Warfield and A.A. Hodge and others.
Recently, on his website Prof. Enns has commended reading, for its affinities with I&I, Craig Allert’s A High View of Scripture?, a book that denies plenary verbal inspiration and questions inerrancy. Yet Prof. Enns is silent about this denial and questioning.
3. I&I by its method compromises the clarity of Scripture. Human interpretation must necessarily stand somewhere. If it does not have confidence in the doctrinal clarity of Scripture, it will end up putting its confidence in adjudicating human rationality. The mind of man then virtually displaces the role of Scripture as our supremely reliable guide (contra WCF 1.7, 10).
On Prof. Enns’s website (in his “Conversation” with Richard Pratt) the doctrinal force of chapter 1 of the WCF is reduced to an affirmation for its time of the Bible’s authority. This minimizing interpretation is especially problematic for the view of Scripture in I&I, because the Confession’s assertion of biblical authority is rendered largely vacuous apart from Scripture’s unique divine authorial origin (“God ... the author thereof,” 1.4), on which that authority is seen to rest, and apart from the perennially valid principles of interpretation that stem from that unique divine origin (1.9).
It is true that chapter 1 of the WCF does not specify everything that belongs to a fully developed doctrine of Scripture. But in contrast to the minimizing stance toward this chapter reflected in I&I and on the Enns website, it does express what are permanent non-negotiables at the heart of that doctrine in terms of Scripture’s divine origin and consequent authority, nature (“what the Bible is”), function (“what the Bible does”), and interpretation, as that doctrine is to be maintained and elaborated today.
I&I’s proposed approach can give an immediate “solution” to almost any difficulty in the Bible by merely saying that it is an example of Scripture’s humanity, and that this humanity ultimately points to the humanity of Christ. But such “solutions,” in their absurd easiness, do injustice to the genuine suffering that the children of God do and must experience when they try to understand, as did Abraham, Job, and psalmists, apparent discrepancies in the promises and the deeds of God. I&I’s proposal, in the end, bypasses the crucifixion of Christ, whose effects in Christian suffering are to be worked out in our lives, including our intellectual lives (cf. WCF 13.1 “mortified”).
1. I&I is a danger to the people of God because of ambiguous and vague expressions. Ambiguous expressions in themselves are more prone to produce conflict. And in this case the conflict is fundamental, because some of the expressions can be taken in a way that either affirms or undermines the presence of God in both his majesty and truthfulness in his speaking in Scripture (WLC A. 145, “doubtful or equivocal expressions”).
2. If Prof. Enns’s view is new, it needs to be stated clearly, and not presented first of all to laypeople in a vague way. If it is not new, it needs to be stated in a way that guards laypeople from taking it in a neo-orthodox way or as a blanket endorsement for a mainstream historical-critical approach to the Bible’s human side, or in a way that in practice evaporates a reckoning with divine attributes present when God speaks.
|Bible Research > Interpretation > inspiration > Peter Enns > Minority Report|