Back in 2009 I was a spectator in a Presbytery debate about a pastor wanting to transfer into said Presbytery. The concerning symptoms were doubting the historicity of Job and Jonah as well as uncertainty about the number of authors for his favorite book of the Bible, Isaiah. There were some men from Westminster who were very concerned about the influence of Peter Enns on this young man though he didn’t go to Westminster. They were trying to get to the root cause of these symptoms, the erosion of inerrancy. Peter Enns, thanks to his books, has become something of a poster child for the erosion of inerrancy. If there was a wanted poster in a conservative church office, his face would be on it.
G.K. Beale’s The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (ebook) does not exist apart from Peter Enns. The first four chapters, over 120 pages and over half the books, are taken up in “dialogue” with Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation.
I have not read Enns’ books though I probably will at some point thanks to the lessons I learned from Dr. Roger Nicole. I know people who love Peter Enns as they react to perceived “fundamentalism” or rigidity with respect to perceived problems with regard to the Old Testament and inerrancy. Beale quotes extensively from Enns, usually giving the context, not just a sentence that can be taken out of context to put him in an unnecessarily bad light. Beale’s argument is that there are better ways to understand those passages that do not compromise the historicity of the text and therefore the inerrancy of the Scriptures. The point being that once you are able to discredit the historicity of the Scriptures you begin to lose the foundation for the theology of the Scriptures. Enns, and others, seem to think the theology remains even if the historicity is suspect our flat out absent (note the recent debates about the historicity of Adam). At some point I may come back and blog in a deeper fashion about these chapters. It was my intention to do so but life only allows so much time and energy.
I suspect that the other half of the book also has Enns in view, but no direct appeal is given to him. The questions addressed there are the authorship of Isaiah and the phenomenological language used with regard to creation (this is basically a summary of Beale’s Temple and the Church’s Mission). He provides more than sufficient arguments, to my mind, for believing there was only one author behind Isaiah (this does allow for an editor to arrange material or add a historical statement like we see in Deuteronomy about Moses’ death). He also provides a compelling, to me, case for seeing much of the phenomenological language in light of creation as a cosmic temple. While there may be overlap with other ANE traditions (due to the remnant of the imago dei and therefore knowledge of God) there are marked differences that show Israel was not just copying them.
This is not easy reading and comes across as far more “academic” than Enns’ more popular style (which he seems to use to excuse failing to provide other legitimate understandings of passages or genres that preserve inerrancy). I do think this is important reading for pastors and others involved in church leadership (oversight of the ordination process in particular). If one likes Enns this will provide food for thought, the other side of the argument so to speak that Enns doesn’t normally offer. If you aren’t a fan of Enns this should validate your concerns that he gives too much away. In fact his more recent book seems to go farther down the road than the one Beale discusses here.
Chronologically, this was written before Enns was removed from Westminster Theological Seminary and therefore before Beale ended up replacing him. On the basis of this book, and his commentary on Revelation, I’d say that was a good choice to bring academic rigor and a high view of inerrancy to the post.
This book is well worth the investment of time and mental energy. This is an important topic and one that won’t go away. It is best to be prepared for those moments when that nice guy being examined begins to say things that ultimately undermine the faith of the sheep, even if they won’t recognize it.