Peter Enns is an evangelical scholar of the Old Testament. Until recently he taught at Westminster Theological Seminary. Dr. Enns and the seminary recently reached an agreement for him to step down from his position. Westminster is a conservative theological seminary in the reformed tradition.
Why was it agreed that he would step down? (I use the passive voice here on purpose. The arrangements were done behind closed doors and no one really knows what settlement was reached, hence the passive seems safer). As near as I can make out this is what happened.
In 2005 Dr. Enns wrote a book entitled Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. The book centers around three main issues in dealing with the Old Testament from both a faithful and scholarly point of view. First, he discusses the problem of the stories of the Old Testament looking like and being modelled on stories from the ancient near east. If the Old Testament is a unique revelation to the Hebrews why does it look like it is copied from stories that other people are telling? Second, he discusses the fact that there are contradictory theologies in the Old Testament. If God revealed the Old Testament, why is God inconsistent? Third, he deals with how the New Testament uses the Old Testament. Put simply the New Testament often quotes and uses the Old Testament out of context and just does bad exegesis. Why did people in the New Testament get it so wrong?
Enns’ solution to the problem is to posit an incarnational model of scripture. By incarnational he is referring to the incarnation of Jesus Christ in orthodox Christianity. Christ in orthodox theology was 100% God and 100% man. Thus he was divine, but also got tired, angry. hungry, etc. Enns says the Bible is something similar, from God and also from man. Hence you can have a divine book that contradicts itself, borrows from its historical context, gets things wrong etc. The folks at Westminster decided that they didn’t like it, had some meetings behind closed doors, and Enns agreed to leave. Enns described the whole thing in a radio interview (the page has an mp3 of the complete interview).
While I think that it is sad that Enns left over the whole situation, and that the situation could/should have been avoided, several parts of the process stood out to me
- Enns’ peers gave him a 100% confidence vote and said that he was completely orthodox and qualified to teach at the seminary
- Enns was never branded as a heretic by his seminary
- No ecclesiastical action was taken against Enns
- The whole situation ended rather amicably. No one gave nasty interviews or said this was a repeat of Galileo and the Catholic Church
- Enns will most likely find another job, in the same field, rather easily
Anyway, now for the Mormon angle on all of this. When can our theological disagreements become this amicable? Can they become this amicable? Is this just a matter of time, when our church becomes more seasoned and mature will this kind of stuff will be normal? Are there structural impediments to our disagreements becoming this civilized? Specifically, Enns was in a much better bargaining position with regards to his seminary than an average BYU professor would be in regards to BYU. Enns could always go to another seminary, write books for a larger market, pastor at a church etc. Is this amicableness a product of economics?
Perhaps I am assuming too much. Should theological disagreements become this amicable? Is it desirable that in the future, incidents like those that happened to the September 6 and David P. Wright become a distant memory of a forgotten past? Or perhaps are incidents like these just the unfortunate by products of enforcing orthodoxy?
Per mogget’s request:
Satan Claims Responsibility for Westminster Decision by a critic of and graduate of Westminster
Old Testament Opening at Westminster Theological Seminary Another parody and ensuing discussion. The discussion presents both sides.
Blog with lots of links to all of the issues
Entry with lots of links to critiques of Enns