Thoughts on the Enns Suspension

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As expected, there is a wide variety of internet comment on the WTS board's suspension of Old Testament Professor Peter Enns.  I would highlight Scott Clark's counsel to current students and the discussion taking place at Green Baggins.  Both of these, and most others, express sincere expressions of good will towards Pete Enns as a brother in Christ.  This I share and I will undertake in prayer for Pete, his family, and friends. 

Undoubtedly, this is not only a crossroads for Dr. Enns but I think it is something of a seminal event in our times.  The reason is that this really is not about the publishing of a single book, although those who publish controversial views obviously bring attention to themselves and the institution they represent.  The bigger issue has to do with a number of important questions, including the relationship of a seminary like WTS to the confessional churches it serves and to the academic profession of which it seeks to be a part. 

What we have seen in recent years is a significant shift whereby many on evangelical seminary faculties -- biblical scholars especially -- seem to have a far greater affinity for the perspective of the higher critical scholars with whom they have trained in their Ph.D. programs than for the perspective of the confessional churches.  To this end, I think Pete Enns's interactions with critical reviews of his book (found on his website) are most illuminating (and I think Richard Pratt's assessment, along with Enns's interaction, is particularly poignant).  In short, Enns represents a wave of evangelical (and Reformed) academics who simply have been persuaded by the arguments of critical scholarship against the formulations of previous evangelical and Reformed scholars (the earlier WTS faculty, for instance).  Thus, Pete constantly refers to the "new evidence" that we have to account for.  In this respect, I think that Paul Helm's criticism was exactly right: Enns and those like him are demanding a new theory of Scripture not because of the biblical data but because of the extra-biblical data emphasized by higher criticism.  When Helm charged that Enns's book I&I seeks to build a doctrine of Scripture "from the problems," Enns objected strenuously.  Yet I think Helm's assessment is difficult to deny.  Enns's own testimony is that he started out with the evangelical and Reformed view of Scripture, but the "new evidence" of critical scholarship brought him to a crisis that demands a new paradigm.  (I have personally heard versions of this from Pete many times, both in the classroom and in personal interactions when I was a student.)  Pete is not a liberal.  Students who have written that Pete has defended Reformed doctrine in the classroom are undoubtedly speaking the truth.  But, in my view, he stands in the great tradition of demanding that the church's doctrine change to accomodate the "new data" of the times.  History shows that the result of this approach is, well, liberalism. 

To Enns -- or at least to his vocal defenders on the internet -- the opposition against him is simply a reactionary anti-scholasticism that wants to enshrine a static confessional tradition.  This is far from a fair or accurate assessment, although I think it likely that they sincerely do not understand our objection.  Those of us in the confessional camp do not believe that all the conceivable questions were answered in the 17th century.  We believe in constructive theology, though we are admittedly watchful against innovation.  But consider our widespread embrace of Geerhardus Vos and his biblical theology, that advances beyond our confessions but is faithful to them.  We believe that so far as our confessions go they are right, and the reason we believe they are right is because of the testimony of Scripture.  There may be advances.  But when scholars come along and say that the confession is wrong (and that is what it means to say that we need "new" and "different" answers or paradigms) and when they argue this not primarily from the testimony of Scripture but from the "new evidence" of critical scholarship, we strenuously object and seek to take a stand.  My own opinion is that current evangelical scholarship is like the man of God from Judah in 1 Kings 13.  Having stood up courageously to the Jeroboam of modernity, they are carelessly giving ear to the new prophet of postmodernity along the road.  The point of 1 Kings 13 is that a purported "new" word of the Lord must not conflict with the "old" word of the Lord.  There may be development, but "new truths" must have fundamental continuity with "old truths."  It is this that we are insisting upon as current scholarship builds upon our confessional heritage.  This is not static theology.  It is confessional theology and, in my view, true biblical theology.  From this perspective, we respond with alarm to those who wish either to discount or discard the doctrine of the confession on the grounds that "new evidence" has arisen that the older divines could not have foreseen.  We believe that the "old evidence" of Scripture is sufficient and authoritative.  We believe this because we believe in the perspicuity of Scripture (a doctrine under serious attack today from the same academics), since it is the revelation of an all-wise, eternal, and sovereign God of grace.

An important example of this broader debate is the very issue under consideration in Enns's I&I.  I do not claim that Enns and his supporters deny the divine authorship of Scripture.  (Neither should they claim that we deny human authorship, constantly deriding us as crypto-Mormons.)  But we ask, what is the weight of their emphasis in considering Scripture, especially when it comes to exegetical method?  I think it is hard to deny that the emphasis in most current academic scholarship (overwhelmingly so in critical scholarship and increasingly so in evangelical biblical scholarship), is on human authorship.  This is one reason why systematic or canonical theology is so down-played today: an emphasis on human authorship will be concerned with Paul's doctrine versus John's doctrine versus the Synoptic doctrine, versus I Isaiah versus II Isaiah, etc, whereas an emphasis on divine authorship will be concerned with the Bible's unified witness, in which we will have confidence.  But here's the rub.  While current academic biblical theology so strongly emphasizes the human perspective of biblical authorship, which perspective does the Bible itself emphasize?  Does the Bible emphasize the individual perspective and opinion of the human authors?  Far from it.  The Bible emphasizes, "Thus says the Lord."  "God spoke through the prophets," says the writer of Hebrews, giving his perspective on these issues.  Thus the direction of thought and method in much of the newer scholarship is exactly opposite of that of the Bible.  It is also opposite of that of our confessions and of most classic Reformed scholarship up until post-modernity.  Those of us who have been alarmed by the in-roads of critical scholarship into our conservative, Reformed seminaries are not, therefore, merely enshrining a static tradition.  We are, instead, seeking to preserve a witness to theological truth that is founded on the perspicuous Scriptures rather than on the skepicism of critical scholarship and the questions arising from its "new evidence."

Posted March 29, 2008 @ 8:51 PM by Rick Phillips
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