Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Enns of Biblical Studies in Reformed Circles

By now news that Peter Enns has been suspended from his position as Associate Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary as of 23 May 2008 is well and truly on the blogsosphere. Like Dave Miller I was at the Institute for Biblical Research in Philadelphia in 2005 when Baker handed out free copies of his book. And it is a good book, esp. for anyone wrestling with biblical criticism and Christian faith (though like all books on Scripture it is not without its shortcomings, see reviews listed here and here). But if Bart Ehrman had read a book like this before he went to Princeton then he might not have apostacized (but that is admittedly a conjecture).

My biggest question right now is what does the happenings at WTS mean for biblical scholars working at confessional institutions in the USA? The problem is the link between historical study of the Scriptures and the theological intepretation of the Scriptures - both of which should be valued and esteemed! Schreiner (see the post below) writes that: "[S]ystematic theology looks at the canon as a whole from an atemporal perspective". That is fine in and of itself, but there are some theologians who have a system that simply cannot cope with the historical and cultural contingency of the origin and development of the Christian Bible. For them, to use ancient near eastern writings, Greco-Roman texts, or second temple literature to assist in biblical interpretation is supremely offensive. The two issues here are: (1) Do theologians take the historical content and context of the Bible seriously? And (2) what are the boundaries of Reformed confessionalism? That said, I am unsure about some of Enns' conclusions in his book esp. his "incarnational model" in light of criticisms by Andrew McGowan and John Webster. But Enns is asking the right questions and coming up with some cogent answers that I (personally) think are consistent with Reformed Orthodoxy. But there is certainly one passage in the book that must change with a second edition:

"Also influential has been my own theological tradition, represented by my colleagues at Westminster Theological Seminary, past and present, and the wider tradition of which that institution is a part. This is not to imply that I speak for that institution or tradition. Nevertheless, I am thankful for being part of such a solidly faithful group that does not shy away from some difficult yet basic questions and with whom I am able to have frank and open discussions. This does not happen at every institution, and I do not take that privilege for granted....I believe with all my heart that honesty with oneself is a central component to spiritual growth. God honors our honest questions. He is not surprised by them, nor is he ashamed to be our God when we pose them. He is our God, not because of the questions we ask (or refrain from asking), but because he has united us to the risen Christ. And being a part of God's family is ultimately a gift to us, not something to be obtained by us. God has freed us in Christ and made us his children. And, as all children do, we ask a lot of questions" (p. 9).


Andy Rowell said...

Thanks Michael. I saw your name on the IBR site - I was there too in 2005 - sitting in the back left corner with Enns - both of us were sitting on the floor.

I thought I would recommend the very interesting lectures Dale Allison has just done at Duke. Allison who has done a major commentary on Matthew (which we used in Richard Hays's course last semester), discusses the biblical and theological. His lectures would be disturbing for the average Christian unfamiliar with historical criticism but refreshingly candid and confessional for biblical scholars.


You will need the free program iTunes installed on your computer for the following link to work:

They are well-recorded so clear and loud.

Grace and peace,


Andy Rowell
Th.D. Student
Duke Divinity School
Blog: Church Leadership Conversations

Jordan Barrett said...

Could you point me to the source where Webster critiques this model? Thanks.

Michael F. Bird said...

Check out the book "Holy Scripture" by Webster.