Thursday, April 10, 2008

Who's next on the Chopping Block?

On March 27, the governing board of Westminster Theological Seminary chose to suspend tenured Professor Peter Enns because of the views he advances in his watershed book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. In his book, he explores implications of using the analogy of Christ's incarnation for understanding the nature of Holy Scripture. An incarnational bibliology can both hold firmly to inerrancy of Scripture, yet stand un-phased by studies revealing its human composition. Because this assertion fell outside of the board's view of classical Reformed bibliology, they declared Enns' views as "heterodox" to the Reformed confession, and fired him.

Let others who minister in confessional institutions remain aware, then, that the degree to which you agree with Enns view can result in a similar drastic experience. I find the proceedings at WTC very unfortunate. Enns has not marginalized or minimized the divine nature of Holy Scripture at all, only brought greater and much needed attention to the human nature of Scripture. I'm in agreement with the general direction of Enns' analysis that evangelicals have been guilty of marginalizing the human composition of Scripture to our own peril. Instead, the analogy of orthodox Christology is appropriately instructive for developing a more orthodox Bibliology.

If we examine the Christological creed of Chalcedon written in A.D. 451, we find the orthodox confession regarding the understanding of the nature of Christ that Christians must hold to now. They affirmed that Christ was indeed fully God and fully human, that he holds these two natures in perfect tension without mixing the two natures, confusing them or allowing one nature to swallow up the other. He is both human and divine. Not part human and part divine. Not sometimes human and sometimes divine. He is simultaneously fully both. This is the orthodox confession regarding the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If such is the orthodox understanding of God the Word, it is hardly a leap to have a parallel understanding of the Word of God. But many do not function theologically with this understanding. Some hold to an "Arian" view of Scripture, that it is less than divine because it possesses such human characteristics. This is common among liberal biblical scholarship. On the other hand, others can be guilty of holding a "Eutychian" view of Scripture, emphasizing the divine nature of Scripture to the extent that they marginalize its human nature. While liberals would be guilty of the former, Enns' assertion (and I think he's right) would be that Evangelicals have been guilty of the latter. What is called for then, by the analogy of orthodox Christology for our view of Holy Scripture, is to pursue a "Chalcedonian" Bibliology.

Peter Enns is not heterodox. On the contrary, he and voices like his may help us be more orthodox regarding the Scriptures than we have been. His dismissal is somewhat alarming though, for he might be the forerunner of a future line of misunderstood evangelicals who, though remaining faithful inerrantists, are not thought to be by fundamentalists. I could easily be found standing in that line. Certainly my old Bible college would think so. The ripple effect from Westminster might be felt at other confessional schools too. Dallas Theological Seminary is certainly not immune. Nevertheless, I still recommend Peter Enns book. Not only should his approach be examined and wrestled with, but his analogy of Christ for understanding the nature of the Word should be explored for further implications that hold potential for returning our view of Holy Scripture to a pre-modern orthodoxy.

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