Friday, May 02, 2008

WTS Statement on Enns

Westminster Theological Seminary has came out with an official report concerning Peter Enns' theological work on Scripture relating to his suspension.

I'll take a look at it in the weekend. But before that, Ben Myers has given a review on the report. And Myers is rather sad in his review:

"The Report makes it clear that Enns’ heterodoxy was already a settled issue for these colleagues; there is no real engagement with his book, no reflection on the theological questions, and certainly not even a glimmer of self-critical humility."

"...[Peter Enns'] colleagues at Westminster – somehow still entrenched in the old modernist controversies of a century ago – react with a defensiveness that is painful to witness."

"[The report's committee members] counter Enns’ whole approach by asserting that “Scripture’s author is God, who uses ‘actuaries’ or ‘tabularies’ to write His words,” so that “what men write down is as much God’s own words as if He had written it down without human mediation.” (Am I dreaming? Did a committee of theologians really produce that statement?)"

"No reflection on what Enns is saying. No engagement with his proposal. Not even a pretence at actually listening to him. Just a series of assertions about the self-evidently unacceptable nature of Enns’ book."

"None of it demonstrates why Enns’ approach is wrong. None of it has any relevance for the doctrinal question which the Committee is ostensibly addressing. On the contrary, the Committee simply relies on the invocation of cheap slogans – “post-conservative!” “neo-orthodox!” – in order to produce guilt by association."

"Unfortunately, that’s the flavour of this “Theological Field Committee Report.”... the fact that it was written by professional theologians – by Peter Enns’ own colleagues – is simply depressing."

8 comments:

localhist said...

The civility of the debate over Professor Enns' (PE) work has been affected by the apparent defensiveness in the responses by his defenders, including the authors of the Hermeneutical Field Committee (HFC) report. Neither side seems to be able to appreciate the concerns of the other. This is not to say that the Historical Theological Field Committee (HTFC) report is beyond criticism. The report is marred by its misquoting Inspiration and Inerrancy (I&I). The HTFC report does engage I&I and asks important questions of it.

The most basic question concerns PE's view of Scripture. He believes that Scripture is the Word of God. However, he does not spell out the traditional view of Scripture that he suggests is wanting. If he wants to stand in the tradition of the Old Princeton, Old Amsterdam, and W
TS regarding Scripture, spelling out that doctrine would be appropriate, even for (and especially for) a non-specialist audience. Nor does he say why the traditional view is lacking, or how the phenomena he discusses affect the traditional view.

By not including the traditional view and his own critique of it (including those scholars he implies who have not dealt adequately with these matters) he leaves himself open to two charges: creating straw men for his own position; and poor scholarship. He also implies that he will be the first to deal with these matters in a meaningful way.

However, since these challenges to Scripture have been around for 150 years, there is a good chance that evangelical scholars have addressed them in a way consistent with the traditional view of Scripture. One who has done so is E.J. Young (PE's predecessor in OT at WTS) in Thy Word is Truth, and Studies in Genesis One. So have Leon Wood and Gleason Archer in their OT writings.

To bring this to a close, the tradition of Old Princeton, Old Amsterdam, and WTS is to make progress in understanding Scripture without sacrificing the doctrine of Scripture. This is apparent in the work of Young, Stonehouse, and Kline who recognized the phenomena of the human writers and yet believed in the inspiration of Scripture. They did it without using the argument of the analogy of the incarnation which Warfield, Young and others have found problematic. PE's approach to Scripture in I&I opens him to legitimate criticism which the HTFC has offered.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Richard,

Thank you for your comment.

I think the issue lies not in Peter Enns and the HFC 'sacrificing the doctrine of Scripture' to give way for progress to understand Scripture.

It is the sacrificing of humans' provisional articulation of the doctrine of Scripture that they are trying to contribute towards. Not the veracity of the doctrine of Scripture itself.

localhist said...

Perhaps Professor Enns and others think our doctrine of Scripture should be considered to be "provisional," but I do not. Calling the doctrine "provisional" is very self-serving, geared to their own ends. That is somewhat dishonest. If our doctrine of Scripture is based on factors outside Scripture's self-witness, maybe it is provisional. If our doctrine of Scripture is based on Scripture's self-witness (which includes self-swareness of the role of human authors, e.g. Luke/Acts) then I fail to see how the doctrine can be called provisional.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Richard,

I think the reason why Peter Enns et al think that our doctrine of Scripture provisional is because they are aware of the gap between our understanding and Scripture's self-witness.

And the gap is caused by our falleness and finitude. Hence we need to hold ourselves from providing any absolute conclusion on how Scripture is witnessing about itself.

Unless we are aware and settle the issue of this gap, all attempts to provoke 'Scripture's self-witness' is as dishonest and self-serving.

And besides the term 'Scripture's self-witness' is difficult simply because of the mentioned gap. I have encountered a group of Korean 'Christians' that say the Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son, and God the MOTHER. All of these they said are from Scripture's self-witness, quoting from Gen 1.27 to Gal 4.26 to Rev 21.2 - walking from the first book till the last book of the Bible (their sort of 'biblical theology').

localhist said...

Hi, Sze Zeng,

I understand your point about the connection between our fallenness and our understanding of Scripture. Yet, as Cornelius VanTil and John Frame following him make clear, that does not mean that we cannot know what Scripture teaches. The teaching of Scripture can be understood by anyone even with our fallenness. The Law was clear to Israel, yet they are judged by the Law because they did not get it. Those who misread and misinterpret the teaching of Scripture, like the Koreans you mention, will be judged by the Lord of Scripture.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Richard,

What VanTil and his faithful interpretor Frame say is true. Yet I deem that as a sort of 'domestication', simply because that principle apply on both sides. Anyone from either sides can invoke this principle to justify their own conclusion. The Koreans can invoke this principle to say that they are right. If they are right, then it is you and I who misread and misinterpret the Scripture. And it is us that will be condemened by the Lord of Scripture.

Peter Enns et al are simply asking us to re-examine those knowledge that we in our fallen state achieved. They might be wrong too, but at least they took a step to examine their previous beliefs.

To invoke that principle of VanTil is really saying something like this,"Yes, I'm fallen yet I don't need to re-examine my position because I'd got it right on this and that".

The question is whether does VanTil leaves it open that his assumption might be wrong?

If he and his current colleagues at WTS do, then they shouldn't be so strict on Enns because they in their fallen state might be wrong even though there is possibility for true knowledge. I cant help but to see that the only reason they took drastic measure on Enns is because they believed that they are absolutely right that Enns is absolutely wrong.

localhist said...

Too much emphasis on our fallenness can lead to skepticism about what we believe. We are also regenerated and led by the Spirit who gives us faith to believe what we believe. Moreover, as John Frame points out in his essays in The Infallible Word, the language of Scripture is clear, even to sinners.

It is always possible and necessary to grow in how we understand Scripture. If that is what PE means by provisional, fine. However, I think he means more than that. I would not go so far as to say he is wrong, but his intent in I&I is misguided and not consistent with the Westminster tradition. WTS professors in OT and NT have made great contributions to our understanding of Scripture but without seeing a need to rewrite the doctrine of Scripture. This is clear from reading Inerrany and Hermeneutic which the seminary published in 1990. To suggest that the doctrine of Scripture needs to be rewritten is a liberal position at worst, and a neo-evangelical position at best, to use a couple labels.

PE's use of provisional suggests that our doctrine of Scripture always needs more evidence to support it. What kind of evidence? How much more? What is important is not the evidence; it is how we interpret it. There are no brute facts as Van Til has often pointed out. There are no uninterpreted facts. We must interpret the phenomena of Scripture and extra-biblical material within the realm of faith.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Richard,

I can see there are a lot of agreement here. We know that all human readers of Scripture are fallen and limited. And all readings are interpretation.

Where we differ is on whether Peter Enns is rightly or wrongly being suspended by WTS, pioneered by its HTFC.

And concerning that, WTS's HFC has responded well to the HTFC. You may want to re-read their reply.

On HTFC's absolutist stance, HFC's response on page 30.

On Westminster Confession's irrelevance on Peter Enns' case, HFC's response on page 46-55.

On Peter Enns being consistent with WTS's academic pursuit is on page 58-59.