Here is the fourth installment of our interview with Pete Enns. Immense thanks for the time he is taking to respond to my questions!
You can read the earlier ones at the links below:
#1 Who are you?
#2 A Good Calvinist?
#3 How about them Nazarenes?
Question 4: Some of us at Indiana Wesleyan read through your book, Inspiration and Incarnation, and I blogged through it. Are there any points of our review that you would like to clarify or correct?
I enjoyed reading the interaction on your blog, Ken. You had three posts, and I’d like to go one at a time and make some comments. Hope it spurs further discussion.
On the January 12 post:
1. I would like to make one correction concerning my departure from WTS. I was not “forced” to resign from WTS. I was never asked to resign. Rather, I resigned of my own accord and on my own initiative because I could not support the theological direction the school was taking, which in my view represented a decisive shift away from how I was taught at WTS in the late 1980s and the theological climate of most of my years on the faculty. I also saw where the momentum was heading concerning my place on the faculty, and felt that some form of separation was inevitable. Now, that might be what you mean by “forced,” but there you have it.
2. I very much appreciate the discussion on your blog about the tone of the book. Striking the right tone is hard with a book like this. Thus far, now almost 4 years after I&I came out (summer 2005), I can say the comments I have received are almost exclusively positive on the tone, even if some disagree with content. That was important to me. Still, I am always appreciative when friends tell me where I could have done better.
I would not say, though, that I was “rubbing it into the noses of Westminster.” It is important to keep a couple of things in mind. First, I had been teaching with complete transparency more or less the general content of I&I for a decade before it became a problem. Toward the end of that period, the composition of the faculty and administration changed, and these changes were concurrent with how my views were perceived.
Second, as has been well publicized, there was a strong majority of the faculty supportive of me throughout this period of conflict. They clearly did not at all feel like their noses were being rubbed in anything. My thoughts expressed in I&I may not represent precisely what everyone thought, but that is hardly worth pointing out, as thinking people engaged in the world of ideas will naturally differ on matters.
3. I agree with you that I&I looks to reframe issues that have been mishandled over the past 150 years or so in the fundamentalist and evangelical worlds. Evangelical theology is (still) at an impasse because it did not handle well some true developments and advances in biblical scholarship early on. In some quarters of evangelicalism, these same patterns are being perpetuated.
What was needed in the 19th century when new data came to light was a discussion on the doctrine of Scripture that could account for these data in a theologically constructive way. In my view, an almost entirely defensive posture was adopted (despite some real positive kinds of articulations from Old Princeton).
It is clear that some critical scholars at the time were using these data to discredit the Bible, and this prompted a reaction to protect the faith. I certainly understand that dynamic, but the conservative reaction took a wrong turn when it sought to protect the Bible FROM the data rather than engaging in synthetic thinking. In my view, much of the struggle today is over whether evangelicalism should have a synthetic model of biblical scholarship or a “separatist” model.
What is particularly disappointing to me in all this is that the Reformed tradition has very deliberate, well thought out, theological categories in place to support a synthetic model, but these categories were not deliberately employed to specific issues in the 19th century as much as they were needed. This set up a conflict between different articulations, even within a very conservative Reformed faith, where one side emphasizes the separatist model and others the synthetic model, both claiming (with a certain degree of truth) a conservative Reformed pedigree.
In my opinion, a theological paradigm was in place—be it incarnational (Bavinck), concursis (Warfield), or accomodationist (Calvin). But this paradigm remained on the level of theory rather than being applied to the many pressing issues of the day (e.g., Genesis and ANE myth, etc., etc.). That is a shame, for the theological potential of Old Princeton in this regard was never realized, and now, among conservative confessional types, a wholly defensive posture is quite common. I and the faculty majority have written on these matters, explaining the dynamic and progressive element present in the Old Princeton and Westminster tradition. I have not yet seen critics of our position defend their views against these writings.
4. You mention your disagreement with my use of the term “evangelical” to refer to my “detractors at Westminster and elsewhere.” You make a good point, if anything because of the fluidity of the term “evangelical.” I do think, though, that the views I am contending against in I&I are represented by more than “Calvinist fundamentalists.” There are many in the evangelical world who are very supportive of the type of theological project represented in I&I (e.g., Wesleyan evangelicals), but there are many others who would claim the general designation “evangelical” who are neither self-consciously Wesleyan nor “Calvinist fundamentalists.” I am wondering just what to call all these people who have some connection to an evangelical faith at a time when identity markers are clearly shifting. My use of the terms was an attempt to be as inclusive as possible.
Having said all this, I understand how frustrating and/or annoying it must be to you to be lumped into the same category “evangelical” as some of my critics. I agree with your view that many of my critics espouse positions that are more fundamentalist than evangelical, and it is good to call it for what it is. I am open to different terminology to describe unabashed “evangelical-ish” theology that rejects outright fundamentalism, but I don’t know what that would be. Perhaps it would be better to describe the more progressive articulations of evangelicalism as “evangelical” (which I would prefer) and invent a new term for the mixture of evangelicalism and fundamentalism with which I am contending, e.g., “fundagelicals.”
I kid because I love, of course, but the matter of terminology is very important. Because the theological expectations of someone calling him/herself “evangelical” is not at all fully outlined, people will continue to use the term assuming the validity of their own self-definition. This is one way where the exchanges between me and Greg Beale have some value: Beale is defending his understanding of the proper parameters of evangelicalism, where things like ANE myth and “non-contextual” exegesis of the OT by NT authors are out of place.
I think Beale is quite wrong, but expressing himself as he does brings matters of definition to the surface. Contrary to Beale, I am saying that evangelical theology must adapt to what is, rather than resist what it is in an effort to maintain familiar identity markers. Beale has in my opinion either left the evangelical spirit to espouse a fundamentalist posture, or is reflecting the inherent and inextricable fundamentalism in evangelicalism that could not stay hidden for long. This could be an interesting discussion, indeed.
All of this illustrates the problems with using the term “evangelical” for anything, and in retrospect I might have tried to use a different designation in the subtitle of I&I. I could have used the term “fundamentlist,” but the problem with that is that many evangelicals who pride themselves on not being fundamentalists in name nevertheless espouse a fundamentalist theology in approaching such things as ANE background, theological diversity, and the NT/OT problem. I wanted to address a problem that moves beyond fundamentalism proper and so the term evangelical had to do.
5. You mention that I “underplay the possible uniqueness of revelation” in keeping with the goals of I&I. I just want to underscore that you are correct in goal driving presentation, and I am still not entirely clear why some of my critics seem reluctant to see this. I have addressed this matter elsewhere.
My perception is that trouble for evangelicals arises not from a failure to appreciate the revelatory character of Scripture, but in how a commitment to revelatory uniqueness can co-exist theologically with the Bible’s very “human” face. The tendency to minimize the theological importance of the latter sets evangelicals up for unnecessary challenges to their faith, where, in perhaps more hostile settings, the “humanity” of Scripture is paraded front and center as evidence of its non-revelatory character.
My goal in I&I is to emphasize how at home the Bible is in its historical contexts (such a truism should not even need to be mentioned), and how that very factor is a theological positive rather than a problem that needs explaining. Scripture’s revelatory content is not something we see when keeping the cultural setting at a safe distance. Rather, like the incarnation of Christ, we see Scripture’s glory by embracing the lowly, encultured manner in which God chose to speak.
6. You mention that “myth” is not a word that can be redeemed. Perhaps. I use it, though, to co-opt it from those (liberal or fundamentalist) who assume that ANE mythic categories are unbecoming of Scripture. People lose their faith over this sort of thing, so my decision to use the word was very deliberate, to say “EVEN HERE you can see God’s wisdom in how he speaks.” It is not God’s word because it somehow manages to extricate itself from its historical setting or ancient conventions of communication, by the skin of its teeth. We are in no position to declare what genres of literature the Spirit can or can’t use, and our theological comfort level is not a determining factor in how God elects to speak.
More to come!