Trevin Wax|2:30 pm CT

The Peter Enns Controversy

enns_portrait.jpgOn March 27, the Board of Trustees at Westminster Theological Seminary announced that professor Peter Enns would be suspended from teaching at the conclusion of this school year.

Those of us who are outside the Westminster circles should be faithful to pray for Dr. Enns, as well as for the faculty and Board at Westminster. Surely this was a painful decision for all involved.

Many people are wondering what the fuss is about. Why has Peter Enns been suspended? What are the controversial issues surrounding his 2005 book, Inspiration and Incarnation? Why has he been criticized?

The point of this post is not to take sides, but to offer a brief summary of the discussion on Enns’ work so far, in order to see what the issues are and why there has been so much controversy. 

1. Enns has been criticized for emphasizing the human nature of Scripture over against the divine.
Enns has used the analogy of Christ’s incarnation in order to reflect the nature of Scripture. Just as Christ is fully human and fully divine, so also Scripture is God’s inspired Word to us. Yet it comes to us incarnated in the language, world, and culture of its human authors. Responding to the above criticism, Enns has expressed regret over not emphasizing the divine source of Scripture more in his book, though he maintains that the intention of the book was to shine light on the human side of Scripture, as he believes this aspect to be often neglected in evangelical circles.

2. Enns has written that the first chapters of Genesis are firmly grounded in ancient myth, which he defines as “an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins in the form of stories.”
Critics have been perplexed by Enns’ description of the early Genesis stories because his definition of myth seems to leave no room for actual historical accounts. Enns has expressed regret in not being clearer in his affirmation of the “basic historical referential nature” of the opening of Genesis. Yet Enns has not been clear in affirming just what Genesis tells us about what historical events he believed actually took place.

3. Enns claims that Scripture is inspired and inerrant, however the way he describes Scripture seems to counter that belief.
Enns believes we are wrong to have a preconceived notion of inerrancy into which we must fit the Scriptures. Instead, he believes we should define inerrancy based on Scripture. Enns’ critics claim that he is the one who is allowing extra-biblical sources to define the nature of Scriptural inspiration (for example, by defining the genre of Genesis as “myth” based on the conceptual similarities with other ancient literature).

4. Enns does not seek to harmonize seemingly-contradictory parts of Scripture because he believes the diversity of Scripture is complementary.
Enns appears to affirm that the diverse descriptions of Scripture form a tension within the canon that is God-inspired. God has placed surface “irreconcilable perspectives” in the texts on purpose. Enns’ critics have charged him with overstating the apparent problems in the Old Testament. Enns has expressed regret for not laying out more clearly the fact that there is no error in Scripture. His critics believe he is redefining inerrancy by saying, in effect, that the contradictions (i.e. “errors”) in Scripture are not errant because God placed them there by design.

5. Enns rejects the idea of objective unbiased historiography.
According to Enns, no historical account is a bare statement of facts. All history has an intended purpose and a certain bias. Enns’ critics agree. However, several critics have objected to the idea that bias necessarily negates the truth of the account in question. They worry that Enns’ rejection of objective historiography will communicate a disregard for the truth of historiography.

There are several other points of conflict, but I hesitate to go any deeper right now. I encourage my readers to read Enns’ book and his reviewers and critics for more detailed information. I hope my brief outline of the issues at stake will be a resource for the curious. (Since this is a blog post and not an academic paper, I have not included footnotes and a bibliography. Below are some of the resources from which I have drawn this material.)

Beale and Enns Debate
A Surrejoinder to Peter Enn’s Response to G. K. Beale’s JETS Review Article of His Book, Inspiration and Incarnation by G.K. Beale
Brenton C. Ferry’s review
A response by Pete Enns to Ferry’s review
Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament 
Enns’ response here. 
Three Books on the Bible: A Critical Review (N.T. Wright, John Webster, and Peter Enns) by D.A. Carson
Interview with Peter Enns at Solent Green 

April 1 Chapel Message regarding Enns’ dismissal

written by Trevin Wax. copyright © 2008 Kingdom People Blog. 

Categories: Christianity, Theology

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