Mar

29

2008

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.)

Reviews:
Beale and Enns Debate
MYTH, HISTORY, AND INSPIRATION: A REVIEW ARTICLE OF INSPIRATION AND INCARNATION BY PETER ENNS by G.K. Beale
RESPONSE TO G. K. BEALE’S REVIEW ARTICLE OF INSPIRATION AND INCARNATION by Peter Enns
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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44 Comments

  1. I had heard murmurings about all this but didn’t know any details. This is a helpful starting point.

  2. [...] Wax has posted a brief introduction to the Peter Enns Controversy: On March 27, the Board of Trustees at Westminster Theological Seminary announced that professor [...]

  3. [...] Trevin Wax is accurate, I’m 5 for 5 with Peter Enns. I may know who will be available to run the BHT while I’m on Sabbatical. Posted by: [...]

  4. This is indeed a sad case. My thoughts on the issue http://cdero.wordpress.com/2008/03/29/bible-monopoly/

  5. sounds to me like this guy should have been let go a long time ago.

    david

  6. [...] Trevin Wax summarizes the controversy nicely: [...]

  7. Thanks for the post. It’s always an interesting path we take in balancing humanity and divinity, isn’t it? May the Lord’s grace sustain Dr. Enns as well as the faculty, staff and student body at WTS.

  8. Well I know from religious teaching in my school days that The Jews believed there was a dome over the Earth with windows through which God allowed rain to fall. Droughts were viewed as punishment for misbehaviour. The rainbow as a sign there would be no more floods.
    The Old Testament is full of beliefs we would not countenance today like sacrifice of animals ! The Universe is not 5000 years old but 14.7 billion and evolution has taken hundreds of millions of years so that the description of creation in Genesis reflects the understanding of reality at the time it was written.
    There is clearly progression in our understanding of the world and of the Bible.
    However if you read the first letter of John Chapter 4 verses 7 – 12 you see an enlightened version; ‘Dear Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love’.
    Fundamentalism does a great disservice to Christianity because it lacks all common sense and credibility and turns away bright children and even adults from the knowledge of Jesus. Peter Enns is well out of an organisation that is so closed to rational thought that it damages the one it represents.

  9. To David, Watmough you don’t have to be irrational or a “fundy” to reject macro evolution. Both Liberals and conservative Christians reject an evolution interpretation of facts.

  10. I have posted the facts surrounding the issues ongoing at Westminster. Hopefully, this will clear up some rumors going around the internet.

  11. Whether one is sympathetic to Enns’s constructive project or not, I think one needs to place Enns within the larger context of biblical studies at Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS).

    Among the founders of Westminster, NT professor Ned B Stonehouse engaged in creative work on the synoptic problem, exploring the ways in which the theology of the particular Gospel-writers shaped their accounts of Jesus, sometimes anticipating the work of later, mainstream scholars.

    In the 1940s, OT professor, EJ Young – a paragon of conservative OT interpretation – nonetheless, in his comments on Ecclesiastes, argued that the “author of the book, then, was one who lived in the post-exilic period and who placed his words in the mouth of Solomon, thus employing a literary device for conveying his message.”

    Neither of these scholars saw such conclusions as in any fundamental tension with inerrancy so long as we allow the Scriptures to define themselves as “inerrant” rather than bringing our own pre-conceptions of how Scripture must act and function in order to have the character of inerrancy.

    This tradition at Westminster was carried forward over the years, for instance, in Meredith Kline’s use of Hittite suzerainty treaties to illuminate the form of covenant that God takes up in the OT, Ray Dillard’s assessment of the Chronicler’s use and reworking of Samuel-Kings, as well as the faculty volume, edited by Harvie Conn, Inerrancy and Hermeneutic and Dillard and Longman’s Introduction to the OT, among other work their faculty produced.

    In biblical studies, therefore, Westminster has had a long tradition of creative fidelity – joining loyalty to a confessional tradition with pursuit of sound, contemporary scholarship. As WTS’s website puts it, “All of this to say that the Confessional fidelity of the WTS faculty has been deep and consistent, all the while being open to new and creative ideas emerging from authentic scholarship. WTS at its very best has found a way to be simultaneously deeply committed to both the highest level of scholarly inquiry as well as the wholehearted affirmation of Reformed Confessionalism and orthodoxy as expressed in the Westminster Standards.”

    As Enns says towards the beginning of his book, “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” (page 9).

    Perhaps Enns pushed that larger tradition of creative fidelity too far, overstepping some perceived boundary. Or perhaps the current administration and board wish to retreat from WTS’s earlier stance, drawing back to the security of a narrower orthodoxy. Whatever the case, I hope this at least provides some wider context.

  12. It’s also worth pointing out, I suppose, that the official statement from the Board does not speak of any sort of determination by the Board that Enns’s book departs from the Westminster Standards.

    The only sort of reason given by the Board is “the disunity of the faculty,” though that disunity is said to involve “theological issues related to” Enns’s book. Whether Enns’s book conforms to the confessional stance of the Seminary may have been part of faculty disunity, but no communication from the Board indicates that it was a reason for Enns’s pending suspension.

  13. [...] For a run down of what the hub-ub is all about, check out Kingdom People :: The Peter Enns Controversy: [...]

  14. In the last days there will be a great big whopping lie, that would deceive the elect, if that were possible, (thanks be to God the elect are safe).
    Let’s see, should I believe 2000 years of ancient Biblical faith founded upon Christ’s word and the Apostle’s teachings? , or should I believe the new stuff delivered very carefully with much praise from men in these, the last days? HMMM….

  15. [...] For a run down of what the hub-ub is all about, check out Kingdom People :: The Peter Enns Controversy: [...]

  16. [...] Trevin Wax at Kingdom People outlines the Enns controversy from outside of the Westminster circle, urging readers to “pray for Dr. Enns, as well as for the faculty and Board at Westminster.” [...]

  17. [...] Trevin Wax provides a helpful overview of the problematic issues surrounding the situation. [...]

  18. I was surprised and saddened to hear that Peter Enn is suspended as a result of his views on the divine inspiration of the Scripture: not that he denied it but he hasn’t stress it to the satisfaction of his critics. Seems to me WTS has overreacted and, in the process, exhibited a kind of narrow and extreme fundamentalist view.

    There was a time I seriously considered joining the WTS. With hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t.

  19. I’m an alumnus of Westminster of 50 years ago; studied under E.J. Young, Van Til, et al; a Reformed pastor for over 35 years. That, to say, having read his book, I’m puzzled how he could have stated the truth more faithfully. It was very helpful to me; and I find his thesis reflects the early church’s incarnational perspective quite accurately. He has done the Faith a great service. His dismissal reflects poorly on Westminster.

  20. ReformedSinner (DC)

    Dear poster #20,

    I am thankful for your response, and it also reminded me of another similar “helpful Reformed theologian” that also caused much controversy around your time. Karl Barth ring a bell?

    The most difficult part about saying something “provisional” and “new paradigm” as the way Dr. Peter Enns have said it is that no matter how much he claimed (or his supporters claimed) that he’s merely taking Reformed Theology into a new terroritory, but at the end of the day it is just that: NEW and no longer Reformed. Which is fine in today’s “Evangelicalism”, but don’t insult the rest of the Reformed camp by claiming he’s still within the “Reformed Tradition.” The issue is not whether he’s helpful, like I said Barth was considered by many to be helpful, but at the end of the day he’s not within orthodox Reformed, and neither is Dr. Enns.

  21. [...] Second, leaders in the church (pastors, etc.) often live in a fishbowl existence where they must toe the party-line. As a result, there is no outlet for honest, inquisitive doubts, creative speculation, and/or unconventional thinking. Online anonymity provides the space and room to air out some of these thoughts. Pastors have to be encouraging and uplifting, even when their personal world might be crashing and dark clouds might be churning in them; to preach sermons with conviction (out of love for the congregation) even when such conviction might not quite be there; to deal with diplomacy and courtesy those members of the congregation who have betrayed us. Whether we admit it or not, we have to bite the bullet and “perform” our jobs. It is stressful. It creates some disconnect. To finally share some honest thoughts – which, if known, would cause us to be demoted or even let go – is refreshing and renewing. (I know that many of you will respond that a true pastor should be able to disclose honest reflections, but before you do, just click on Peter Enns). [...]

  22. This is a real question, I ask it in love, and I would appreciate a loving and thoughtful response:
    Jesus told us that parables were parables “the kingdom of heaven is likened unto…”
    and although we tell our kids that there is a Santa Claus when they are little, we don’t try to pass that off as they get older, “it is a myth” we tell them.
    And since we know how to give good gifts to our children.
    and since Jesus is the Word of God and if we have seen Him we have seen the Father,
    How can people believe that Gen1-11 are myths?
    Wouldn’t God have told us they were myths? Wouldn’t the Apostles? Wouldn’t Jesus?
    Or are we insinuating that Jesus didn’t know they were myths either?

  23. [...] sabbatical, I’ve decided that although I’d LOVE to delve into the controversial Inspiration and Incarnation? by Peter Enns I have neither the monetary support nor the time necessary to sift through what I am [...]

  24. PETER ENNS RESIGNS! Bitter and Sweet…here are my thought at http://cdero.wordpress.com/2008/07/23/bitter-sweet-choice-peter-enns-resigns-from-wts/

  25. [...] Feel free to omit this post if this gut’s summation of the controversy is errant. This helped me understand in general what the Enn’s hub-bub was. __________________ Bryan Wiley [...]

  26. A. C. Rathburn

    Thanks for the helpful summary.

  27. My name is Mehboob Alam and I am student at KCU. I am doing Masters in ‘Christian Leadership’ I have read Inspiration and Incarnation. I do not feel that Peter Enns has made a mistake by writing this book. He has just given ansers to conservative christians. Enns love Jesus and he know how to balance in his writing.

  28. 30,000+ protestant churches = 30,000+ truths. One God, One Truth, One Church founded by Christ.
    2Peter 1:20 – Understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation.

  29. One Church – One Bride of Christ – Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

    Revelations 19:6-10
    And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunders, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord our God the Almighty hath reigned. 7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give glory to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath prepared herself. 8 And it is granted to her that she should clothe herself with fine linen, glittering and white. For the fine linen are the justifications of saints. 9 And he said to me: Write: Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith to me: These words of God are true. 10 And I fell down before his feet, to adore him.

    Matthew 7:21 Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

    John 17:21 That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

    One Church founded by Christ, one Church that compiled the blessed inspired scriptures, one Church given the keys to the kingdom of heaven and whatsoever they shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven.

    What “churches” would throw out inspired scripture centuries later? God is truth and unchanging.

    One God, One Truth, One Church. God bless those called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!!! Pray for the others so that they too may be one.

    The unblemished Bride of Christ, the Catholic Church!!!

  30. [...] (More on the Peter Enns controversy here.) [...]

  31. You have performed a valuable service by summarising the Enns controversy.
    The spirit with which you did this as well as the clarity of your summary are of great help to the people of God.

    Thank you.

  32. I have to agree with Annie, at least in theory. The Protestants do need a united front to shore up the foundations. I do not think it matters if the scripture is to be taken literally, figuratively or left to the interpretation of each individual reader, as long as there is consensus from all the leaders. If the Trustees were not comfortable with the message, they were right in their actions, and actually delayed executing their responsibility much too long in my opinion. That being said, I believe far more people can accept and relate to Enns views, at least as they were presented above. I have never personally read his writing.

  33. [...] produced a 300-page rejoinder, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism.  Trevin Wax  also evaluates Enns doctrine of Scripture while providing a host of links that extend the [...]

  34. [...] rejoinders, in order to understand what the controversy was all about. I summarized the issues in a brief blog post back in [...]

  35. Annie, as a former Reformed Presbyterian, now Catholic, I had similar thoughts regarding Holy Scripture; I might not use the word “spotless” to describe our rag-tag bunch, however, but I’m hopeful. Thankfully, Jesus loves us anyway, and will present us spotless someday. May we seek to be a lovely Bride.

    Congratulations to Mr. Enns! It must be terribly sad for you, sir, but there are Christians that live grace, not just claim to know a whole lot about it. I was meaner than a snake when defending TULIP back in the day! And oh, Lord have mercy, forgive me for the chats I had with fellow Calvinists as I slammed my brothers and sisters in Christ into the ground. It was a shame I had a very hard time acting out the teachings I claimed to love and defend. Hopefully a lot of the people at WTS are not like I was and are coming around you, even if they don’t agree with your words.

  36. Peter Enns has joined the ranks of those desirous of the truth.It was said to our Lord that he “stirreth up ” the people .This is what truth seekers do …they make people think, if necessary out of the box and out of the comfort zone .Once upon a time this once rabid fundamentalist fell upon James Barr’s book Escaping Fundamentalism.It was the only book I had found that faced tackled the issues head on…and there ARE issues !Peter Enns has taken this one stage further and I thank God for him.Westminster should be making him Principal of their faculty…not suspending him !

  37. [...] inerrancy in his book Inspiration and Incarnation (for a good summary of the Enns controversy see here ). Miraculously, even the WTS trustees could see  Enns is selling poison and voted 18–9 to [...]

  38. Thank you Pat. Your rhetorical questions make biblical sense. There is one illustration, however, I would call to question. I never taught my children about the myth of Santa clause. I told them the truth from the beginning. I did not have to back pedal later. I think we both agree that God told us the truth from the beginning. God made the cosmos in six literal days, complete with evenings and mornings. Our seven day week (beginning with Moses) is patterned after the creation week. No complications here, right? God bless!

  39. Sounds more like your digressing rather than progressing. As far as love, you must first know God, and love God, before you will ever love anyother in a godly sense. But hey you think this world is billionssssss and billionsssss of years old and you come from a monkey, so I can see where you are not capable of understanding Scripture. Did you want another nanner?

  40. Well said Pat!

  41. John Hendrickson

    Thanks for this overview. I recently saw an article by Enns and was wondering where he is coming from. You have helped fill that in.

  42. [...] and worldview are narrow and sharply imprisoned by their interpretation of Biblical theology. Pete Enns, was suspended, then asked to leave Westminister Theological Seminary in 2008 , according to a fundamentalist evangelical source, for calling Genesis "myth, and " [...]

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