Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Enns/Westminster Follow-up

Alot has been blogged on the Enns/Westminster melee at the moment. The most significants parts are:

1. WTS release of the Official Theological Documents surrounding the discussion that took place at WTS-Philly about Enn's book (I think releasing these publically has been a generous act by the seminary and makes their decisions and actions transparent to some degree).

2. Peter Head blogs on: Peter Enns, Westminster, Inerrancy, and Textual Criticism. Peter hits the nail on the head when he says: At a fairly basic level this reflects an important debate about the role of the phenomena of Scripture in clarifying and modifying a doctrine of Scripture derived initially from Scripture's direct self-testimony; with a predictable division between the biblical scholars ('yes the phenomena are really important' - see the Hermeneutics Field Committee's Reply to the HTFC, pp. 28-97) and the systematicians ('phenomena? ha! they didn't pose a problem in the 17th century so why worry about them now?').

3. Ben Myers offers some brief reflections The theological basis of Peter Enns' suspension where he says this: They counter Enns’ whole approach by asserting that 'Scripture’s author is God, who uses actuaries’ or ‘tabularies’ to write His words,' so that 'what men write down is as much God’s own words as if He had written it down without human mediation.' (Am I dreaming? Did a committee of theologians really produce that statement?) You can see why Enns felt it was necessary to write a book like this. If this is right, and I haven't read the whole report yet, then you've got to say that this is simply bizaar. Can we even conceive of Scripture without human mediation? Would God himself directly write 1 Cor. 1.16 about Paul forgetting who he baptized? If one conceives of Scripture as the dictation of divine propositions about theology (i.e. a confession) then that view could work, but it sure doesn't work with what we have before us in narratives, letters, homilies, apocalypses, psalms, proverbs, and prophecies.

4. Ben Byerly offers some insights (as an ex-WTS student) entitled, Lillback's attack on Enns. Ben's not exactly objective on this one (he should probably drop the rhetoric a gear or two), but he does point out some elements of the report that are questionable.

Let me state my interest in this matter. I'm not trying to accuse or exonerate any one. I'm concerned exclusively with what this entire debate means for evangelicals working in the field of biblical studies.


Ben said...
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Ben said...
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Ben said...

I think the "as if" is the key portion of this statement: "what men write down is as much God's own words as if He had written it down without human mediation" (p.7 of the report).

I can't speak for the HTFC, but I am fairly certain that the purpose of this statement is not to speak to the issue of instrumentality (i.e. "Every single utterance in the Bible was written down without mediation.") but to speak to the issue of authority (i.e. "Every single utterance in the Bible is written through the instrumentality of human authors in such a way as to guarantee that every word of Scripture is just as authoritative as if God himself had directly dictated them.")

In other words, the point was not to deny the human instrumentality of Scripture, but to firmly maintain than this secondary instrumentality in no way subtracts from the full authority and infallibility/inerrancy of the words actually written down by the human authors.

On a side note, the Bible shows obvious signs of its human instrumentality (such as the example you give from Paul), but it also contains quite a large amount of records of divine dictation as well (most of the prophetic books, much of the book of Revelation, etc.). There surely is nothing undignified in human beings receiving divine dictation from the creator of the universe, is there?


Michael F. Bird said...

1. If the emphasis is on divine authority, fine, and for that matter I doubt that Enns would disagree.

2. Nonetheless, it does strongly suggest a certain view of instrumentality which is precisely the problem.

3. If God dictated the Revelation to John (or parts thereof), then he seriously needs to revise his understanding of Greek Grammar. I don't think dictation works even in Revelation, at least not woodenly.

J. B. Hood said...

R. C. Sproul tells the story of one of his brighter students apostasizing after reading (or trying to read!) Revelation in Greek, on the grounds that God-speech could not have been 'this bad' or that error prone.

He apparently did not pay enough attention to Calvin, who notes that God lisps in 'baby-talk,' i.e., that (to some extent) he condescends to us, (to some extent) our language (to some extent) what we know, etc.

The question then becomes, what is 'lisping'/accomodation, and what is not? And to what extent do we dis-accomodate, so to speak?

Tricky stuff...

Ben said...

With regard to 2-3 I don't think anyone on the HTFC would argue for a type of instrumentality that demands John's record of the divine revelation (parts of which are at least recorded as dictation) must have been recorded with infallibly perfect Greek grammar. In fact I don't know of anyone that has ever argued such a thing, although I'm sure such a person could be found.

I'm not sure I understand what the problem is with arguing for a view of instrumentality that posits that the human words of Scripture are as authoritative as if God had spoken them himself. This kind of instrumentality does not deny the particular distinctives of the individual authors of Scripture (such as John's poor grammatical abilities, or Paul's inability to remember how many people he baptized), but it does deny that such human distinctives subtract in any way from the full, divine authority of Scripture. I read the HTFC report as saying nothing more than that.

You probably don't have time to do this, but maybe you could flesh out precisely the problems you see in the view of human and divine instrumentality that you see in the HTFC report, if they are in fact simply attempting to affirm that Scripture is equally authoritative/infallible as if it had been dictated by God.

localhist said...

I've read most of the documents released by WTS. The HTFC report could have been better, but defending a dictation theory is not one of its failings, especially if Dr. Gaffin is one of the main authors of the report. The report does dwell on the divine origin of Scripture a bit much. The role of human authors is not the issue; what they did or how they did their work is one of the issues in Professor Enns' work.

Since I am a grad of WTS, I went back over my OT reading material. It is interesting to re-read the intro to E.J. Young's Thy Word is Truth. You would almost think he had read Inspiration and Inerrancy the way he puts his work into the context of those scholars (even conservative ones) who seek to explain Scripture without reference to its witness.