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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Enns’


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.

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A recent theology exam included questions about the teolology and methodology of the Apostles’ use of the Old Testament in the New Testament.  The candidate agreed with their Christological  goal, but had some criticisms for their methodology.  This issue is part of the controversy over Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation.  His srgument in the book created quite the stir, resulting in his leaving Westminster Theological Seminary.  Enns and Bruce Waltke state their respective cases on the matter in the lastest issue of WTJ.

Good for us, Dr. Roger Nicole’s 1958 article New Testament Use of the Old Testament is now available online.  He addresses the range, authority and accuracy of the New Testament usage of the Old Testament. Dr. Nicole helps us to understand that we should not hold the New Testament authors to the standards of a doctrinal thesis.

Personally, I’m uncomfortable with criticism of how the Apostles used the Old Testament.  That is because I affirm the dual authorship of Scripture.  It is divinely inspired (2 Timothy 3:16), and God used real people in a way that they wrote in accordance with their personality, culture and circumstances.    This means that one cannot criticize the human authors without also criticizing the Spirit of Christ who inspired them.  That same Spirit inspired the original OT Scriptures which had an original meaning and a greater fulfillment in Christ.  The OT, in addition to having an original meaning, often has a typological function.  This explains why some verses seem to be taken out of context.

But who cares what the Cavman thinks- read Dr. Nicole!

HT: Between Two Worlds

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It was very strange not going to Synod this year.  It was the first I’ve missed since my first as a new pastor in 1999.  I chose not to be certified to vote as a pastor w/out call.

I’ve talked to a few of my fellow Presbyters about what happened in my absence.  Tonight I came across Dr. William Evans’ articleabout this unordinary meeting of Synod.  Apparently he has been busy, since he also has a piece there about Peter Enns’ book Inspiration and Incarnation.  He simply lays out so problems with the book.  But on to Synod where the issue of inspiration arose.

For the first time in years, more than one person was nominated to be Moderator of Synod.  It is interesting on a number of levels.  One, Barry Dagenhart, has deep roots in the ARP and would probably affirm the status quo and put a big priority on relationships.  The other, Dr. J.R. DeWitt, is a relative newcomer to the ARP (more recently than yours truly), but Drs. Evans, R.J. Gore and Sinclair Ferguson believed that his theological acumen are vitally important as the ARP addresses some important issues.  He would not maintain the status quo, and is quite fearful of a top-heavy denomination (which the ARP cannot be accused of having with any seriousness).

I agree that a man with theological acumen, and who will not seek to preserve the status quo but rather move us into the future, is greatly needed.  I’d humbly disagree with Sinclair Ferguson that Dr. DeWitt is that man.  One of the great things about the ARP, which I’ve needed to have modeled to me, is the emphasis on love as well as truth.  Our pursuit of truth must be done in love and hopefully preserve the relationships that already exist.  My experience with the Dr., limited as it is to debate on the floor of Synod, would make me hesitate in applauding his election as Moderator.  While I may side with him theologically, I fear that the price of winning the debate may be too great.  I really hope I’m wrong. 

I would like us to take our theology more seriously, and build stronger relationships with other conservative Reformed denominations.  We do need to repent of our in-grown ways.  But that is a product of spritual renewal.  I want us to be more than well-connected with the PCA, OPC et al.  I want us to grapple with the call to be missionaries to this culture and our communities.  I don’t sense that winsome, missionary spirit with Dr. DeWitt.  I think we had the right motives but not the best choice, if that makes sense.  Mark Ross probably would have been a better choice, but convincing him to serve would probably be difficult.

Regarding Scripture, 3 different motions were approved to strengthen our stance on the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  Since we are in the process of revising our Form of Government it is important that new ministers understand and affirm these things lest we drift off to the left over time.  Without these fundamental commitments, our ability to properly address the theological issues before us becomes weak and suspect.  To include these affirmations in the ordination vows, and as standards for Synod employees, is what was missing from our affirmation of these truths over 2 decades ago.

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