“If They Only Knew What I Thought”: The Sad Cycle of Evangelical Biblical Scholarship

“If They Only Knew What I Thought”: The Sad Cycle of Evangelical Biblical Scholarship October 6, 2013

I wish I had kept a list.

I’ve had far too many conversations over the last few years with trained, experienced, and practicing biblical scholars, young, middle aged, and near retirement, working in Evangelical institutions, trying to follow Jesus and use their brains and training to help students navigate the challenging world of biblical interpretation.

And they are dying inside.

Just two weeks ago I had the latest in my list of long conversations with a well-known, published, respected biblical scholar, who is under inhuman stress trying to negotiate the line between institutional expectations and academic integrity. His gifts are being squandered. He is questioning his vocation. His family is suffering. He does not know where to turn.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but it’s not.

I wish these stories could be told, but without the names attached, they are worthless. I wish I had kept a list, but even if I had, it wouldn’t have done anyone much good. I couldn’t have used it. Good people would lose their jobs.

I’m getting tired of hearing the same old story again and again. This is madness.

Folks, we have a real problem on our hands, and everyone has to bear some responsibility. Here’s the familiar scenario. The “best and brightest” students in Evangelical seminaries work hard and are encouraged and aided by their professors to pursue doctoral work. Many wind up going to some of the best research universities in the world.

This is a feather in everyone’s cap, and often they are hired back by their Evangelical school or elsewhere in the Evangelical system.

Sooner or later, these professors find out that their degree may be valued but their education is not.

During graduate school they begin to see issues from a different perspective–after all, this is what an education does. An education does not confirm what we already know, but exposes us to new things in order to broaden our horizons.

Once they start teaching, they bring with them the excitement of learning new things, some synthesis of old and new for their students, because they feel such conversations are necessary for intellectual and spiritual health.

But Evangelicalism does not exist to create these conversations, but to keep them from happening–or perhaps from getting out of hand. Decision makers are gatekeepers, and they rarely have the training or the inclination to walk the same  intellectual and spiritual path. A strong response is inevitable.

This leaves these scholars to ponder how to engage that conversation with their students carefully but with integrity–which is to consign themselves to a life of cognitive dissonance. Either that or they bury their academic and spiritual instincts for fear of losing their jobs.

This is what happens to the “best and brightest” Evangelicals.

I regularly hear the counter-complaint that such cognitive dissonance is their own fault. If they had only towed the line and stuck with the system, they wouldn’t be under this stress. Had these scholars been more mature, more spiritually self-aware, they would not caved in to the unholy nonsense they were hearing in their doctoral programs.

Had they been more capable of separating the chaff from the wheat, had they done a better job of plundering the Egyptians rather than imbibing their poison, they would have continued in the straight and narrow.

I have heard this many times, but it is gatekeeper propaganda. It is false. The scenario is too common in the history of Evangelicalism to be dismissed like this. It is a cycle repeated generation after generation, but not because there is something deeply flawed about the students. The problem lies, rather, in that the same apologetically driven, and inadequate, answers to perennially difficult questions keep being repeated in the classroom.

Once students leave the environment where such apologetics is valued, they find that the old answers are often inadequate, and in some cases glaringly so. When they return to an Evangelical context, they try to work toward some synthesis to bring old and new into conversation, but too often that very attempt, however gently put forward, is deemed out of bounds. And so, they either keep quiet or look for another job.

They often feel–and I’ve heard this many times–that they have been lied to by their teachers. I’d like to relay one anecdote. In one seminary I know a former student, now professor, felt ill-prepared by his seminary at the initial stages of his doctoral work. He had gotten straight As in seminary and done stellar work in his language classes. But he was lost in negotiating the new ideas he was encountering and had to do a lot of catching up.

He asked his former professor, now colleague, why he was sent to graduate school with so many gaps in his learning. The answer: “Our job was to protect you from this information so as not to shipwreck your faith.”

I would replace “your faith” with “our system” and then I think we are closer to the truth.

This sad, recurring, generational cycle in Evangelical biblical scholarship is not an indication of the incompetence of the dissenting biblical scholars, too weak or stupid to know not to get too close to the flame, too eager to drink from the wine cellars of unbelieving presuppositions.

It is, rather, an indication of the inadequacy of the Evangelical system, where the best Evangelical minds trained in the best research institutions have to make believe they don’t know what they know.

As long as that dynamic continues, this cycle will continue. I should probably start making that list–even if I can never use it.


This post originally appeared a year and a half ago, and it remains one of my most visited and shared posts. I thought this would be some new readers might find this of interest.


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  • Matt

    This is better than greasy, tasty, fried fish wrapped in British newspaper. If I can misquote Hurley from Lost: “Seriously prophetic, dude.”

  • Dave

    Good post. I think you could say essentially the same thing about many preachers. Churches hire pastors who are trained to search the scriptures, exegete passages and proclaim God’s word, as long as it fits with what they already believe. I wonder how long the list of Pastors would be, who struggle with the tension between their theological convictions and the expectations of their congregation.

    • Terry

      Dave, the list would be long and my name would be at the top.

  • Thanks Pete.

    Sorry that you must bear these burdens.

    This is related to why I exited evangelicalism, though not the Church.

    Question: are there any exceptions to this sad pattern you describe?


    • peteenns

      There are exceptions. Some schools are much better than others. But generally speaking, the Evangelical and critical paradigms are at odds.

      • j. t. campbell

        You represent something truly new, fresh, and different from within the evangelical spectrum…and perhaps this is part of the difficulty. “New, fresh, and different” (especially within Christian faith) does not come ‘out of the gate’ and win the Triple Crown – it slowly (it seems to me) agonizes its way toward future accomplishment. Does not something of this give you hope? I grieve for the sorrow that you feel.

        • Nice one – Triple Crown.
          How does one know that the bible is the word of God? Who decided which books should go in it and which should be excluded? Why, the Catholic Church! And who used to wear the Triple Crown? The head of the Catholic Church!

  • Jason A.

    Dr. Enns, as a student who just graduated Bible College (of they type that would fall under the paradigm you described as that typical of Evangelicalism) and who is headed to Seminary soon, what advice would you give someone such as myself who wants to be both both a faithful Christian, but also a credible scholar. I have personally seen the results the reactionary nature of these schools on those who don’t “tow the line” and it scares me to death as someone who would like to teach.

    • peteenns

      Decide where you feel most at home ecclesiastically and where you are seen more as an asset than a liability.

  • Thanks for your boldness, Peter. You’re 100% correct. I sympathize, because I recently lost my high school teaching career for (what one might call) a failure to tow the line in politically charged issues. We could probably start a national chain of job placement services for ex-teachers, ex-professors and ex-clergy.

    This page could be improved on, but it’s a good start at what’s needed for ex-clergy… and I include seminary professors as clergy. Whether clergy or scholar, we need to do a better job separating calling from professional vocation.


    • seijitsu

      Excellent link! Thanks so much!

  • Rusty Pritchard

    But isn’t there, in the best of circumstances, a critical tension between the generation of new ideas and the conservation of tradition? Isn’t the world better when there is a dialectic between critical paradigms and received wisdom? Take off the sideboards and you lose the power of the conversation. Contrast the insights of “enlightened” Evangelicals and mainstream relativists, for an example. Isn’t there some theoretical oomph that comes from playing tennis with a net, versus playing tennis without a net?

    • peteenns

      Definitely, yes. But both need to be willing to play the game.

  • Beau Quilter

    James McGrath once posted on a relevant question: Is it even possible for evangelical institutions to have true academic freedom?

  • It’s both unpleasant and gratifying to read this. Gratifying to see such agreement, but unpleasant because it reminds me of how true and soul destroying this can be. Were it not for this sort of thing happening, I would, right now, be putting my degrees and eight years of intensive study to work in an academic posting. Instead…. well, something else is happening. If I may quote myself (not that you need my validation!):

    “[T]he conservative Christian community wants its scholars as long as it can control them. It’s as though there are communities of believers who really think that they already know and understand as much as can possibly be understood about the Bible, theology, philosophy etc, and what they want is someone with letters after their name who can just give voice to what those communities already know. Of course, if someone has spent years studying this stuff and comes to a conclusion not shared by those particular Christians, then that’s no good and it must be false, and it’s fair game to turn on the poor graduate and shun them. But what’s the point of wanting qualified people if you won’t allow them to think for themselves? Maybe, just maybe, someone who has invested huge amounts of time into these disciplines might have learned something that you haven’t. And even if it turns out that they are mistaken, is it really fair game to (to stretch the family metaphor) take them out back and hose them down? Or to stand on the roof and announce to the neighbourhood that since your brother doesn’t share your beliefs exactly he’s a fool?”

  • hopaulius

    “But generally speaking, the Evangelical and critical paradigms are at odds.” So why, once having experienced both the apparent openness of academic inquiry in a great research institution, and having observed there the rampant hypocrisy of both institution and faculty, would one then subject oneself in a self-described Evangelical institution to the hypocrisy only without the academic freedom? I don’t feel sorry for such a person, but I do feel pity. No one owes him/her a living. No one.

    • peteenns

      I’m not talking about anyone owning anyone anything.

    • Michael

      Hopaulius: you completely missed the point. Reading comprehension skills are a wonderful thing; perhaps you should learn some before commenting.

  • brettongarcia


    By the way? I was excoriated for suggesting the same thing a month or two ago, on another blog.
    I think that gradually however, the more critical paradigm is catching on.

  • Andy Lord

    Maybe it is easier in the UK to combine Evangelical and critical paradigms… I have benefitted from people and institutions able to bring these together. This does mean that we need to sustain a vision of renewing Evangelicalism and renewing critical scholarship.

  • I’m seeing the cognitive dissonance everywhere. Just look at the comments to almost any of Rachel Held Evans’s blogs, especially the one on egalitarianism/complementarianism. The laity is floundering, just as your young academics are. They know something’s wrong. Or the pathetic new organizations made up of pastors now declaring themselves to be “atheists” because they don’t know how else to interpret their more mature ways of thinking about their faith. It may be blogs like yours and Richard Beck’s, to name only two, or at the progressive end, John Shuck and Bo Sanders, that help save Christianity from itself.

    • I’m seeing the cognitive dissonance everywhere. Just look at the comments to almost any of Rachel Held Evans’s blogs, especially the one on egalitarianism/complementarianism. The laity is floundering, just as your young academics are. They know something’s wrong. Or the pathetic new organizations made up of pastors now declaring themselves to be “atheists” because they don’t know how else to interpret their more mature ways of thinking about their faith. It may be blogs like yours and Richard Beck’s, to name only two, or at the progressive end, John Shuck and Bo Sanders, that help save Christianity from itself.

      Have to add a blog: David Williams at NC State, whose Brick by Brick you’ve commented on recently. Doing brilliant work in helping people make the transition from knee-jerk evangelical to thinking evangelical.

  • Yes. This is me and close to the heart of why I’ve left the ministry of the Christian Reformed Church for the United Church of Canada this year. But with a lot of sadness left over.

    • peteenns

      Sorry to hear that!

  • Pete,
    Thanks for the great article. I can resonate with this, as my experience has been similar in many respects. However, I do think the problem starts with fundamentalism, not evangelicalism. Fundamentalism has haunted evangelicalism in modernity and has once again shown its ugly face even in post-modernity. I think the real work to be done is to distinguish evangelicalism from fundamentalism. If we do this then room will be had to maintain a general conversation within orthodoxy while challenging and opening up new door that may need to rework orthodoxy in order to be, “always reforming.” This is the freedom we should have in the academy, and the honesty we should have as thinking Christians.



    • Reynold

      Would this be at all related to the kind of thinking that leads young earth creationist christian groups to have in their respective “statementf of faith” (ex: http://creation.com/what-we-believe) clauses like this:

      “6.By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record. Of primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all information. ”

      Those are the kind of things they have to agree to abide by before they are even allowed to join, much less do research. I remember reading in Ronald Numbers book “The Creationists” that Henry Morris, the guy who founded the Creation Research Society, I believe, was upset that the people they were sending off to college to get degrees kept renouncing their young earth views.

      Hence, the “statements of faith”.

      Glenn Morton, himself a former young earth creationist has several stories on his website of people who almost lost their faith entirely becuase once they got out in the field, they found that the young-earth views they were taught didn’t match up with reality.
      Ex) http://home.entouch.net/dmd/robertso.htm

  • Michael

    Can you give some specific examples of this happening? What are the arguments and/or “new ideas” these scholars are seeing black-listed by institutions?

    • Rick

      Yes. Without some more specifics, it is difficult to focus in on solutions.

  • Valekhai

    “In one seminary I know where a former student, now professor, felt ill-prepared by his seminary at the initial stages of his doctoral work. He had gotten straight As in seminary and done stellar work in his language classes. But he was lost in negotiating the new ideas he was encountering and had to do a lot of catch-up.

    He asked his former professor, now colleague, why he was sent to graduate school with so many gaps in his learning. The answer: “Our job was to protect you from this information so as not to shipwreck your faith.””

    This surprises me. I’m familiar with the struggles that young Christians (perhaps Evangelicals in particular) face when they go off to college and have to wrestle with questions that were deflected or ignored in their high school youth groups, and I’m surprised to learn that this keeps happening in higher levels of education.What are the issues raised in a doctoral program that wouldn’t have been adressed in a seminary?

  • Scott Wolcott

    I am a pastor and I’ll be sharing this on my wall AND in my sermon on June 24 (in which I start a series on this issue). This problem has been around so long in evangelical universities and its foundations have been so firmly laid, that it has trickled down into our churches and drives much of the way we “do church”. Pastors, not to mention many theologians, are some of the least well informed, least educated, and most ill prepared in these matters. As a result, those in my profession (men more so than women), tend to discourage the sorts of ministries, outreaches, classes, and other efforts necessary to combat the perpetuation of such idiocy. It challenges us and we don’t like to be challenged. It forces us to spend more time studying, but we have no time for studying. It requires us to change what we think, ask questions about what we believe, and live a different sort of life; none of which is acceptable to us. Instead, we hang on to our authority instead of embracing humility. We hang on to our pride instead of embracing our finitude.

    The fault for much of this lays at the feet of the “pastors” we have entrusted our spiritual well-being to and their abuse of that position. The solution will lie in the combination of a raising up of a new generation. We’ll need a new generation of pastors brave enough not to settle for “Not a fan” or “Crazy Love”, but who rather thirst for the Summa Theologiae, the Confessions, Hauerwas, and Macyntyre. We’ll need a new generation of scholars willing to stand up to the “old school” (though its only a century old) and say we demand more academic liberty, freedom, and above all, accountability and then we’ll need have THEM teach our Sunday school classes and preach our sermons. We’ll need a new generation of church goers that demand their pastors justify their claims, document their sources, and broaden their fields of specialties. We’ll need a new generation which will train its young people to take up the challenge of hard and difficult thinking and who instill in them a value for reason as well as a value for faith. We’ll need a new generation that will stop fearing the evidence we might discover and begin to embrace all that God will continue to reveal to us about His world. In short, We’ll need a new generation that cries out with the apostle, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind”.

    Thus endeth the rant. Thanks Pete.

    • Justin Staller

      Count me in, Scott.

      We’re out there–a few of us, anyway :). I just finished my undergraduate work and I’m headed into seminary this fall. We’ll see how it all sorts out.

      There is an underlying tone in this article that really got me thinking about the relationship of the scholar to the church. There seems to be a resentment in the author’s voice, that the “Gatekeepers” of establishment would squelch academic innovation and insight into the evangelical or Christian project. I wonder if perhaps the scholar with a passion for the church might be better served by working outside of a religious organization she disagrees with–not by appealing to the people who pay her bills, but to the people who do not–Jesus didn’t rely only on his righteous contemporaries or the ones who had no need of his answers, but also upon the corrupt, and at times entirely upon them. In a perfect world, I imagine, one could easily be a scholastic progressive and the pastor of a conservative people. Perhaps the next big step would be to teach the church to separate its political and its spiritual ideologies, and to challenge that conflation when it appears, even at personal expense. You cannot lead an unwilling people–you can only chase them.

      But a paycheck is a paycheck, and everyone is wrong about something.

  • StillWondering

    Let’s call a spade a spade here. If someone even asks a question that challenges Reformed Calvinism, they are basically cast-out. It’s equivlant to a professor at a secular university challenging global warming or evolution. You simply can’t touch the issue – maybe a bit in seminary, certainly not in church. On most other issues I’ve seen openness, but not on that one issue. I think that links to a lot of the others (view of the gospel, concept of salvation, purpose of life, etc.). The core problem is this – those of us in full-time ministry are PAID by the very system that we may at times wish to challenge. So should I risk losing my income just to be the one who says, “Guys, could we rethink this slavish devotional pride to what we call “reformed theology”? Or should I just keep my head down and hope that the average person doesn’t read enough to understand the implications anyway?

    • Barry

      “It’s equivlant to a professor at a secular university challenging global warming or evolution. ”

      It’s not equivalent. In both cases, they did. Those theories had to win over scholars by the weight of the evidence and explanatory/predictive power. In both cases, the evidence and power came from scholars in a vast array of scientific disciplines[1]. In both cases, you can as a professor challenge it successfully. You just have to bring to bear evidence strong enough to overpower the existing evidence (which means ‘vast amounts’).

      [1] For evolution, the disciplines would be biology (from macro down to biochemical) and geology.
      In the case of global warming, the disciplines would be climatology, biology, epidemiology, agriculture and geology. That I know of.

  • Michael Bush

    This dynamic also happens among pastors. I have a mental list of the PCA, OPC, and ARPC pastors who have wanted to go behind the closed door of my office or somewhere else away from prying ears and talk. They either want to talk about what they really believe, or about how to move into the PC(USA), or (usually) both.

    • peteenns

      Indeed. Tell me about it. They sometimes come talking to me because they feel they can trust me.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I agree that this junk happens way too much at fundamentalist Bible colleges and Evangelical schools, but I have not heard one word about liberal universities? There can be a kind of Political Correctness (PC) where if faculty don’t tote the theological or political line or watch even using the wrong phrases or words, they may be fired. Do people actually think liberal universities that are supposed to be promoters of academic freedom are free from these kind of problems? I was told by a friend many years ago that if someone wanted to teach theology at Chicago University divinity school, there was a kind of litmus test of uniformity (ie pluralism) that all profs had be on board with. C’mon all, this is not just a “conservative problem.”

    • Tracy

      As to whether it is just a “conservative” problem or not, one would have to compare the actual contracts at a secular or more liberal church-related university. Most of these schools have tenure systems — in place, specifically, to allow for academic freedom So, I can think of one premier secular university with a Holocaust-denier on its faculty. Is it proud of that fact? No, but it has no recourse after tenure has been awarded. So it is just silly to say that “political correctness” is “enforced” on a secular campus in quite this way. One may lose out on invitations to the best cocktail parties, but you will not lose your job for an unpopular, or even an outlying opinion.

  • Forrest Long

    This is interesting. I read this post just after I read one on another site about clergy leaving the faith and becoming atheists. There’s something drastically wrong! Is it the academic system that prepares people for ministry, a system of misinformation, an illusion of truth? Or are we at the final outcome of a church loosed from its moorings at the Reformation and coming to it’s final state of unwinding and falling apart? I have thirty years in pastoral ministry and I have far less hope in the present day church than when I began in ministry. It is sad and I’m not sure what the answer is.

    • Justin Staller

      Hi Forrest,

      In a nutshell, I wonder if the church hasn’t become so politically entrenched that it cannot grow as it should. There is a hostile relationship between the church and the sciences, but the church is not the only casualty of the war between them. There is a sort of crushing existentialism in they very liberal academic circles I have been a part of–certainly outside the church and perhaps even within–and many well-intentioned and sincere scholars are coming to the stereotypical and soul-numbing conclusion that nothing is real, and that we don’t exist (cf “The Astonishing Hypothesis”). While I am inclined to answer your question–“Is the academic system that prepares people for ministry, a system of misinformation, an illusion of truth?”–with a reluctant affirmative, I must admit that this has not been my experience. I come from a liberal college; I go to a liberal seminary, and because I have no intention of professionally pastoring, perhaps I do not understand the distress of professional pastors. Like you, I am not sure what the answer is, but it seems like the academics are hoarding substance while the church is hoarding meaning, and both parties are confusing their respective piles of knowledge with truth, and that is what makes me sad, because it seems like we ought to be helping each other, rather than letting each other squirm in agony.

  • no name today

    Honest question here, but do Christian college students read any of the blogs where these things are discussed? If it weren’t for the internet, I would be blissfully unaware of most of it. But since I discovered the blogosphere about a year or two ago, my happy evangelical world has been shaken-up rather significantly. The blogs led me to the comments, to the links to other blogs, to books, to other streams of thought and to an ever-widening circle of conversation I had no idea existed. I am a Christian college graduate whose kids who are Christian college graduates or attending now. They are crazy busy with studies and activities and a world of their own. But they don’t seem to be asking the same questions that I am – at least not with the same intensity. They are busy constructing a world within the boundaries they have. Boundaries that bear a striking resemblance to the ones they grew up with – expanded, of course, as is the nature of generational shifts. But it’s disconcerting for me when my own mind is exploding and feels like it is pushing far, far beyond those familiar confines.

    Do you think this is partly a function of age, of encountering anomalies that stirs a person to look over the wall, so to speak? To be willing to do the uncomfortable work of moving from one paradigm to another to another? As a second-half-of-lifer, I am engaged in DECONSTRUCTING – and hopefully rebuilding. When I read of university and seminary students being ill-prepared for the challenges they will meet when they do further studies, I can’t help wonder why that is so – when so much of this information is available freely to anybody who cares to pay attention to the conversation online. OK, maybe not the highly academic stuff – but at least the issues, the concepts, the IDEAS that will need to be grappled with. Seriously grappled with. Issues beyond what their pastor or the folks in church are talking about. Issues that will rattle their cages.

    I wonder sometimes if other things are going on. The shrinking multicultural world and pace of change being as rapid as it is – people either need to become entrenched and solidified in what they believe and “know”, or they need to look for another more open way of doing things altogether. Evangelicals have pretty much taken the “believe and know” route. How we know what we know – when we are talking about matters of faith and God – well, it takes a lot of anomalies to even ask the question.

    I really appreciate your blog. I appreciate your courage. I appreciate your scholarship. When you mentioned Richard Rohr the other day, I appreciated where you are coming from even more. The inner journey I’m taking has been nudged along in very significant and complementary ways by you both, along with Rachel Held Evans and others. Thanks to you and to the internet for expanding my world.

    • Ken

      As an older student pursuing a purely secular degree, I have been astounded at the lack of curiosity and willingness to accept whatever they are told exhibited by college students today. Questions are not asked, or even entertained actually, and everyone wants to be a rock star. The power of the pulpit may be a driving force for many, and genuine interest in truth is suppressed in favor of answering the questions needed to get an “A.” I’ve seen nit many, many times, and the airheads get the same diploma as real learners, and often much better recommendation letters.

      • Alie

        This is because my generation, those who recently graduated and the one currently in undergraduate and graduate programs right now, has not been taught how to think and to love learning. We were taught what to think and how to take a test. If you want the next generation to think for themselves, you have to start giving those in grade school a passion for learning not a passion for straight A’s.

  • I’d like to repeat Michael’s question because the nature of the conflict contributes to understanding each of these situations. What are the arguments and/or “new ideas” these scholars are seeing black-listed by institutions? Is it possible that some of these ideas get to the core of the institutional faith statements?

    • peteenns

      Some of them are very old issues: general issues of OT historicity and authorship of books (Pentateuch, Isaiah). The trecent book written mainly by TEDS and Wheaton profs, “Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith,” is a good place to go to gauge what evangelicals feel the hot botton issues are. I don’t think books handles them well, and in some cases I think the treatments are poor, but these represent some of the “hill to die on” issues.

      • David LaDow

        Thanks for the book recommendation. Just downloaded the Kindle version. After reading through the book’s forward, I’m left wondering if the proponents of inerrancy/infallibility, whether biblical, papal, etc., are motivated by a desire for certainty and an inability to live with unanswered questions and tensions. Perhaps I’ve been too influenced by postmodern thought, but issues of inerrancy and infallibility don’t really register as issues in my thinking. Anyway, these are just my rambling thoughts and may have very little to do with this blog post, but there you have it. Thanks again for the book suggestion, Dr. Enns, and thanks to scholars like you, Scot McKnight, John Byron who are willing to engage with the broader Church with your blogs. I think its important that these issues do not remain only within the purview of those in the academy, as they are incredibly informative and, indeed, formative for a growing Christian faith.

  • no name today

    Just want to add that I WAS asking questions before discovering the conversations where they were being discussed. But they were actually more like vague stirrings and feelings of discomfort with what I’d always believed. Discovering that others were talking too – and not just others but others whom I regarded as INSIDERS was the key for me to keep asking and listening and thinking and changing. I wonder how much influence the blogosphere has with students at Christian colleges and seminaries …?

  • Russ

    Any thoughts on those like Stellman, Beckwith etc ?

    • peteenns

      I have some thoughts about Stellman that I am thinking of putting into a post. But his leaving the PCA is not related to this issue.

  • Jeff
    • peteenns

      That thread wasn’t terribly helpful.

  • NW

    The obvious answer to this problem is for evangelicals and their institutions to make peace with a lower view of the Bible than they’ve been accustomed to historically. It is possible to merge the insights of the critical school with the traditionalist instincts of evangelicalism but not without adopting a lower view of the Bible that is still higher than that of most critical scholars.

    • Tim Seiger


    • James E.

      The “lower” / “higher” language is part of the problem. The “highest” claim is always the prima facie winner of the most-pious contest.

  • Pete,
    Thanks for your honestly here. I appreciate your insights. They are valuable and I see some of these issues at play in the institution I just graduated from and it is causing me to think. That’s good 🙂

  • Ronald Taska

    I am sorry that you are having to go through this stuff.
    The life of scholar Bart Ehrman is a good example. His books for the public are quite helpful and his textbook on the New Testament is really outstanding, but the criticism directed his way is so intense.
    The usual statement I hear is that those who critically analyze need stronger “faith.” I find this statement particularly hard to swallow. The bottom line: Why stay an “evangelical”?

  • Katy

    Is the problem that the schools are more interested in the keeping the status quo and their own authored books and such and NOT looking at the BIBLE??? It is hard for the layperson to understand all the bickering and political posturing done in the organizations that push education, even those supposed to be in the spiritual area. As a regular person who reads a regular Bible and sees something intrieging and dares to ask WHY do we require women to wear caps? How does that SAVE anybody? Oh no, “have babies–she shall be saved through childbearing. That is what the Bible says.” None of us would be having or listening to these conversations if not for others who came before who saw what appeared to be error and contrary to the Word of God and spoke up. Dismissing ‘new ideas’ just because they are not what you have always thought…. not valid. Use the Bible as your plumb line.

  • Joe Rutherford

    It seems there are a lot of suffering people associated with the universities you write about. Several times I’ve considered going to this school or that, but I saw certain problems. To begin with, any person or institution which charges money in exchange for a Christian education, is wrong. So I’d be wrong to ask them to teach me about holy things. Jesus said “freely you have recieved, freely give”. Jesus drove out the money changers and merchants from the temple. The Church needs to be purged in the same way, because we are the temple of God. God is building His holy temple, not man. Those who peddle the holy things of God are not in a good situation, saying it mildly. This is only the beginning of a description of these circumstances. I do want anyone, however, to become so burdened that they can not bear it. God is love and He will help anyone who seeks Him humbly and with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. He is no respector of persons. He even helped such a fool as I surely once was.

    • Joe Rutherford

      The sentence in my comment beginning “I do want anyone”, should have been “I do not want anyone…”. Sorry about the typo.

  • Patrick

    I wouldn’t even say it’s a “lower view”, it’s a more accurate view. Turns out the ancient near eastern Jew spoke a lot in metaphors and parabolic/apocalyptic genre and words don’t even mean the same things in lots of cases.

    John Walton’s book on Genesis demonstrates this.

    I still see the bible as a Divinely inspired work, but, I also see human flaws such as all the cosmology/science,etc. God and man in it together, just like the faith.


    I bet you would love to read, “Paul through Mediterranean Eyes” by Kenneth Bailey. It’s only about I Corinthians, but, it’s an excellent work in understanding what Paul was discussing that shows we largely missed his import when he discusses the women.

    • NW


      My comment presupposed that the lower view was the more accurate view. That a more accurate view of the Bible must be lower than what is commonly presupposed in evangelical circles is precisely the problem.

  • Jon

    This article has a very interesting and potentially important premise, but it is so poorly organized and written it is hard to discern the points being made. Perhaps evangelicals should spend less time trying to master the ancient languages and spend more time trying to master their own.

  • Sometimes I feel so stupid. All these years I’ve been trying to “Toe the line.” It’s no wonder I’ve been “our of wack” sometimes in my “theology.” Peace, Love and Joy to youse all and Let us pray.

    • Dragoness Eclectic

      It is “toe the line”. The persistent misspelling of the phrase has been annoying me like a sore tooth all through this article and comments. However, I didn’t not want to be the first person to point it out, since I didn’t really have anything else to say.
      Is it just me, or does “evangelical” here actually mean “Reformed/Calvinist”? The more I hear about “evangelical” customs and teachings, the happier I am that I was raised Roman Catholic and picked Lutheran as my flavor of Protestantism.

      • peteenns

        Thanks for the typo. Sheesh. And no, the problem here is definitely not limited to reformed circles.

  • Sam

    As an undergraduate, I attended from a university of my Pentecostal denomination. I have a master’s degree from SMU and am a PhD student in religious studies at Yale. I know that my alma mater would not hire me back after I complete the doctorate for reasons similar to what you call out in the post. Had I degress from SWBTS or Gordon-Conwell or a master’s degree from that Pentecostal university they would certainly be interested in hiring me back. But as it stands, my degrees alone cause them to view me suspiciously. In many ways, however, it is expedient for my career to retain Pentecostal ties. Whereas I would not have space to work, write, or teach within the institutions of my own tradition, I find lots of space to work, write, and research as a member of a Pentecostal tradition in contexts outside of that tradition. In fact, I know eight people who attended that Pentecostal college and who have pursued advanced theological training. None of whom consider themselves affiliated with the denomination, though they would self-identify as Pentecostals. It’s all too sad.

  • Anonymous

    Peter, thanks for this tragically accurate article. I’m a living example of your claim. I’ve been a pastor in a conservative Reformed Evangelical context for over a decade, and have also done a PhD at top research university and your characterization of life between these worlds is all too familiar. The constant accusations of herterodoxy, the unwillingness to consider our questions from an alternative perspective, the commitment to pre-establishing the legitimate boundaries of inquiry, and the climate of suspicion are incredibly painful. I am convinced that even as I remain an evangelical, the most interesting, creative, and in the end nourishing theology for the church is being done elsewhere. I’m sad that what you’ve said is true, but I believe that it is. Thanks for saying it.

    • peteenns

      Thanks for posting. To say the least, you are one of many.

  • On the far left side, we often emphasize post-modernism, post-colonialism, eco-feminism, and other fascinating ways to contemplate theology that are completely inaccessible to most of the people in the pews. The difficult thing is to move theology forward without leaving the faithful behind.

  • I can only say, Indeed, to much of the above. I have heard the same issues discussed with me. While I am shielded ecclesiastically, I am not professionally. I remember that when I agreed to write on 1 Peter for the NICNT F. F. Bruce, then the editor, made it clear to me that I did not need to defend Petrine authorship. I appreciated the freedom. It is difficult to argue that a person described as uneducated and unlettered wrote a quite sophisticated work (even harder to argue that he also wrote the very different 2 Peter). But I also thought that F. F. Bruce was naive. I lived in North America at that time. Did he have any idea that what I wrote could radically influence my career? And I was not in a particularly problematic situation.

    I also remember how I met two of my seminary professors in England during my doctoral studies. I was having new and, to me, daring ideas. I bounced them off of them, and got an “of course” shrug. I suddenly realized that they were different in the UK. They were showing where their heads were really at. What they would not mention in class in North America, we not at all radical in the English context. They were relaxed.

    What this creates is a dishonesty in students, for they pick up what is not being said and realize that there are things that they need to keep silent about.

    • Joe Rutherford

      Brother Peter the Apostle spent about 3 1/2 years under the personal teaching of Jesus Christ, co-creator of the universe. He then spent a good many years being personaly taught by the Holy Spirit. He studied the scriptures, instead of serving food (Acts). I am confident that he could read and write. Writing 1st and 2nd Peter was easily within his God given ability. The Apostles were eyewitnesses of all that Jesus taught and did during His in the world ministry and beyond the cross. They watched as He ascended into Heaven. They saw the dead raised and so many miracles. They were charged with the duty to make diciples in all the nations and teach everything that Jesus had taught them. They were not mere observers of Christianity, they were Christians. So how can the original authorship of 1st and 2nd Peter be questioned on the basis of the Apostle Peters education and credentials? How was F. F. Bruce naive? Did he believe Peter to be the author or was he naive because he wanted to avoid the subject all together? In the city of my residence there are at least 2 biblical colleges or universities and I’ve been told ther are over 430 churches. Among all those churches there must be all sorts of interpretations being taught. Catholics, Protestants, etc., etc. If Jerome lamented over all the manuscripts he had to sort through, perhaps he would be happy to know he does not have to sort through well over a 1000 denominations and 10,000 interpretations. We can all do better than this. I am confident that only God can staighten out these matters and just as confident that He will. Any words of wisdom would be welcomed.

      • Ken

        This is exactly the problem — Peter was nowhere near the gospel attributed to him, yet here is a defender of his authorship. Good luck on finding any semblance of “truth” seeking here.

      • Ruth

        Ken, you base your response to Joe on very little evidence and lots of insult. So, how are you different than the people this article discusses? Do you immediately throw out the conservative viewpoint simply because it is the conservative viewpoint? Why couldn’t Peter have written at least one of the letters ascribed to him? Simply because you don’t find that an “intellectual” position to hold?

    • peteenns

      I deeply appreciate your comment, Peter. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Tracy

    I don’t understand. Why do they take jobs in institutions where they know they must lie to keep their jobs?

    For example, somewhere along the line at a premier graduate institution you learn that the book of Daniel is a later piece of writing. Not prophetic, in the sense of foretelling the future, but a glance backward. So if you agree with that, why would you take a job that required you to teach something else? Wouldn’t you rather sling hash than live a lie? And presumably, people took these jobs before they had families and mortgages and all the rest. I understand these choices might be painful, but do they not even have enough faith left to live with integrity? Even early in their careers, where the costs might be much lower?

    Honestly, you should read Bart Ehrman’s story and learn what happens when a bright student is taught lies, then discovers for him/herself some other truths. The sense of betrayal can be huge. Why would you want to be a party to that? Why not find a mainline seminary, a secular liberal arts college — or a completely different line of work?

    • Have to be anonymous

      This is something I don’t understand completely, either.

      I think, though, that many people don’t really see the issues at first.

      They may have gone through graduate school so focused on getting the credentials for their dream job as quickly as possible (I think sometimes it’s actually promised them ahead of time) at a Christian college or seminary that they learn very little beyond what they already know. And then, if they focus on writing or speaking in order to get tenure, make a little extra money, secure status, serve God, they really don’t think much outside the confines of their denomination and prior learning.

      When they are shocked or gradually grow into seeing more or a little different, they feel torn and stuck. I think that someone I knew may have become ill and died because the institution to which they had given their life and loyalty disapproved of the direction their thinking and practice was going–not that it was in any way bad, just incomprehensible and unacceptable to that particular stream of American Protestantism.

      Sometimes, too, the theological and ecclesiastical politics of an institution are not apparent to mere alumni or job seekers or even junior faculty. A non-denominational conservative Protestant school may not be really and truly non-denominational. A denominational school may not really reflect all branches and twigs of the denomination. A person with certain leanings may be welcomed in some departments but barred from others. None of this is written down, spoken aloud, or conscious until it happens to you.

      Then, too, most conservative Protestants have been socialized from babyhood into thinking they could not possibly live as Christians among “nominal Christians” or in the secular world, except, maybe, if their jobs didn’t involve thinking. Graduate school should disabuse them of that notion–look at all the conservative Protestants who hold graduate degrees from prestigious institutions–but I think most such people view graduate school as a kind of temporary hiatus that is no indication of what their adult life in the big, wide world will be like. So they put up with all sorts of truly bad behavior because they think it is much, much worse among non-Christians. Of course, there is bad behavior everywhere because people everywhere insist on putting themselves first. But it isn’t any worse at a secular institution than a Christian one. I have worked for some pretty prestigious, prideful secular institutions, but I never experienced the brazen, naked arrogance that I now do at a Christian one.

    • John Inglis

      There are many reasons to take such a job, not all of which may apply in any one situation. There is a lot of real good one can do both academically and on a personal level, despite having to suppress one’s views on a few topics.

  • Thank you, Pete. You’ve said aloud what too many have experienced and been traumatized by in churches. What is most heart-breaking is that it isn’t supposed to be “so” among us, is it?! Perhaps, though, here it traumatizes us more, because the betrayal feels so much deeper and profound when we know we’ve been following the Spirit of Christ’s leading, and we’re committed to being vulnerable, open and accountable in our lives.

    The human problem of protecting powers & principalities in our misplaced self-interest, of course, is not limited to the church and evangelical scholarship. I’ve experienced it, or observed others who’ve been burned by it, too, in the academy, in finance and economics, and in major business practices. People will “destroy” one another to preserve the status quo, the system, the belief-paradigm, the secrets of malfunctioning and fraudulent business practices. Lord, have mercy on us, sinners.

  • Brendan

    It’s not just evangelicals that have the sad cycle; it’s liberals too. And it’s been this way for a long time.

    My grandfather was a bright scholar who wanted to teach in the schools of his liberal denomination, but when they found out he believed the Bible was God’s inerrant Word, the denominational seminaries branded him a “evangelical” and refused to offer him a job. So he worked at a conservative evangelical seminary for a few years, because they were training missionaries and doing some good to advance the gospel, until they decided he was too “liberal.” He taught at several places, including Wheaton for some years, and certainly proved his mettle as a scholar without giving up on his evangelical faith, but found that there are always some gatekeepers on both evangelical and liberal sides that put ideology above scholarship.
    In general, liberals often hold to long since disproven ideas like the Documentary Hypothesis, which just doesn’t make sense in light of ANE research of the past several decades; it was founded on assumptions long since proven wrong by scholars 100+ years ago who knew nothing about ANE writing conventions and projected what they knew about the Brothers Grimm onto the Pentateuch’s composition. Yet if you breath a word against the Documentary Hypothesis, or argue that it’s bunk based upon faulty assumptions (which it is), then you’re regarded as “unscholarly.” Liberal gatekeepers have many other sacred cows that they don’t like to be tipped, just as some evangelicals have.
    I myself graduated from an evangelical seminary and found that some of the professors equipped me well to respectfully and critically engage with liberal scholarship, while others went the easy route with “safe” evangelical books. I’m impressed that Wheaton College, observing the vicious cycle that Dr. Enns has noted, has been teaching NT Criticism for the past 15 years or so. I pray other evangelical institutions will follow. I find engagement with liberal scholarship fruitful (if sometimes frustrating for its assumptions), but I do not agree with the implicit assumption in Enns’ article that bright students can’t hold to evangelical beliefs. I certainly believe evangelical scholarship can not only stand its own but, done right, is a lot better than liberal scholarship, much more convincing. I just wish more evangelical institutions would see that they win on a level playing field and let down their gates more — and more liberal institutions would let down their gates, too. But until both liberal and conservative groups open up, we’re unlikely to see an escape from this sad cycle, both in evangelical and liberal scholarship.

    • Brendan

      (on Documentary Hypothesis (DH): to clarify, the “by scholars 100+ years ago” and following refers to the founders of the DH, not those who disproved it; the DH has been proven wrong since 1941 by Umberto Cassuto’s essay of the same name, which sadly was not translated into English until 1961, well after Cassuto’s death, apparently due to the academic arrogance of those who thought any attack on the DH was not worth translating into English).

      • seijitsu

        Thanks, Brendan, hadn’t heard of Cassuto, will look into it. Did you hear of him from a Wheaton Bible course?

    • Have to be anonymous

      “… I’m impressed that Wheaton College, observing the vicious cycle that Dr. Enns has noted, has been teaching NT Criticism for the past 15 years or so …”

      Well, I’m not. It’s too, too little and too, too late.

      When I was at Wheaton 40 years ago, profs like Gordon Fee, who dared cast a curious glance at higher criticism, were suspect. Let alone anyone entertaining curiosity about evolution.

      But … nearly every student had a red Gothard notebook sitting next to their Bible, Gothard seminars were held in the chapel every single term break, and Bible profs sat on Gothard’s board. Never, ever, not in required freshman Christ and Culture or in any of the four other required Bible/theology classes, not in a single required daily chapel service, did anyone ever question, be it ever so tentatively and mildly, Gothard’s hermeneutic or conclusions.

      Coming back to the topic of this post, people who fear new ideas from outside–even tentative ideas based on evidence and coming from thoughtful, careful people–are very often blind to irresponsible, untested, unorthodox dogma and prescriptions spun out of the mind of a single person because he is one of them and speaks their language. It’s still happening in solid, Bible-believing, Evangelical churches today.

    • Ruth


      This is one of the best comments that I’ve seen here. There seems to be an ASSUMPTION on the part of most bloggers that any sort of conservative interpretation is simply wrong and anti-intellectual. This, despite the fact that so many liberal interpretations have come and gone over the years and fallen into complete disrepute.

      I too believe that bright students and people can hold truly Evangelical views. Conservative views are not automatically wrong, and new views are not automatically right.

      I have seen some excellent scholarship defending the authorship of various Old Testament books. But, of course, when the “intellectual” a priori throws out that scholarship as not worthy of his/her attention, then exactly who is being anti-intellectual?

      And, of course, I am old enough to remember when Quirinius was an argument against the historicity of Luke and when the use of the title “Tetrarch” was as well (both since disproved in my lifetime). I remember when David and Solomon were “mythology” … also disproved in my lifetime. I could go on.

      I’m all for allowing people to question and discuss freely. In fact, I think that Christianity, and God, are well able to handle such questioning and debate. But, I see no difference between those that dogmatically insist that the only intellectual or scholarly interpretation is the MOST liberal one, and those who dogmatically hold to the most conservative interpretation.

  • Patrick


    I had a gentleman tell me the same about Daniel. Do you recall the evidence? All I recall is he said the inter testimental era was when all the apocalyptic genre was done.

  • Sbaker

    Thanks for this Pete. I constantly feel this pain both in the classroom, in feedback from publications, and with colleagues from other disciplines (who happen to think going to church makes them Bible scholars and theologians).

    • peteenns

      Well put. I hear you on all counts.

  • Chuck

    There was a wise teacher who ignored social proprieties and devastating backlash to tell the deep truths within his soul. His name was Jesus.

  • Tamar Rahab Ruth

    Seems like many of the gatekeepers are themselves unfamiliar with the actual critical issues facing Biblical scholars. They are the ones with Ph.D.s in historical theology or church history or, for that matter, educational leadership or something else entirely, yet they want young Biblical scholars to assure them that, yes, every word of the Old Testament and even books like Job and Esther are historical in the post-Enlightenment sense of historical, because their particular evangelical concerns–not their own understanding of critical issues–demands it. It is a gatekeeping that depends on (perhaps willful) ignorance.

    • peteenns


    • NW


      Yes, but the question is why precisely do “they” feel the need to have young Biblical scholars assure them of the historicity of Job, Esther, etc. It all gets back to what we believe about the Bible writ large, evangelical churches do not know how to accommodate a lower view of the Bible with the “Bible says” approach to preaching and teaching that they’ve been using for so long, which is why so much effort has been spent on shoring up a higher view of the Bible in evangelical institutions.

  • Frederik Mulder

    Hi Peter,
    We worked through your Incarnation book last week here in Cambridge, UK – very interesting!!
    In the Q & A afterwards, one guy mentioned something I found quite intriguing. He said what happened to you at Westminster happened (indirectly) to Machen around 80 years ago at Princeton … In your inaugural address (Bible in Context: The Continuing Vitality of Reformed Biblical Scholarship), you engage quite positively with Machen and Vos …
    What I appreciate of Machen and Vos is that they saw the need to take history serious – something you acknowledge … whereas Systematic theologians like van Till probably did not …

  • Peter Williams

    These are interesting questions, but I think that the question of what views are correct, and whether someone has a right to draw a pay-cheque for appearing to affirm something they do not actually believe and whether supporters of private colleges have a right to expect the faculty to believe certain things are really very separate questions. I would take the view that scholars have a right to free speech and the right to look for a constituency to support them to propagate their ideas. But do they have the same right to actual support? If they’re correct then I guess that someone somewhere should probably support them. But that doesn’t mean that they can reasonably expect a particular constituency or institution to support them. I’ve not applied for good jobs because I cannot affirm the explicit or implicit ideological commitments of the job. So my advice to those with cognitive dissonance with what they are contractually obliged to affirm is to stop affirming it, and search urgently for another institution and constituency.

    • BradK

      There is a flip side to the view that “supporters of private colleges have a right to expect the faculty to believe certain things” in that these schools at least pretend to support the preservation of academic integrity. These schools sell a rigorous education offered by their school partly on the basis of real academics protected by academic freedom. If having a right to expect the faculty to believe certain things means that these colleges do not actually grant their faculty members academic freedom and that tenure granted at those schools is not really a protection of academic freedom, then they are being dishonest or even fraudulent about the product they are selling. Part of what Dr. Enns seems to be saying in his blog post is that such schools want to have their cake and eat it too. These schools want the appearance of the academic integrity that academic freedom for their faculty protects so long as those faculty members use their academic freedom to arrive at the same theological conclusions that the school already espouses. But that’s simply not possible. And as a result of trying to give the appearance of academic freedom while actually stifling it, the reputation of Christ and the church takes it on the chin in the eyes of unbelievers. No wonder secular academia is so full of unbelievers.

      • Peter Williams

        BradK, I agree that some supporters may be wanting something which cannot exist, or which is at least hard to find. Many of them have little clue as to the dynamics of the academy. Nevertheless, the burden of what I wrote is that both faculty and administration have a duty to portray their institution as it is to their core supporters.

        The question of academic freedom is difficult. There’s no absolute freedom. Liberal institutions also have very strong views of what is off-bounds. Of course there can be differing degrees of freedom and restriction. Some institutions draw the line at Pre-trib eschatology, some at inerrancy, some at the Resurrection, etc. Some institutions are also mixed (the Board have different views) which makes them harder to place. However, if I’m at an institution where I am expected to affirm my belief in the Resurrection and I find myself convinced by evidence against the Resurrection, I’m not at liberty to keep quiet about it, or to expect to keep drawing a pay-cheque or to be given a class to teach next semester. Nevertheless, once I have left that affiliation I am at liberty to hold those views as a person, to expect people to treat me with dignity and to publish my views. Academic freedom is a freedom of expression, not a right to a salary, nor a right to a publisher, nor a right to good reviews or speaking invitations. I cannot see how you can take a salary from any organisation without limiting your freedom. Am I missing something?

        • Benjamin Tucker

          Thanks for your very rational response, Dr. Williams. I can save my pixels. ( I am making an assumption based on your “pay-cheque”. We just call it a paycheck here in the States.)

        • Dr Williams, the respect I had for you as an academic and Christian scholar just quadrupled. Thank you for stating in simple terms what should be obvious to all Christian biblical scholars. A relatively recent example that captures nicely what you say is the Gerd Luedemann case in Gottingen, Germany. Prof Luedemann could not continue teaching Lutheran students at the faculty following his newfound views concerning the resurrection of Jesus and the uniqueness of the Christian faith. I had a fascinating interview with him (and his wife!) about the controversy in Leuvain-le-Nueve in July 2010…

        • RJS

          Peter Williams,
          Academic freedom is the right of a discipline to police itself independent of pressure from those who lack the expertise and knowledge to do so. Thus pastors, big donors, and systematic theologians do not have the right to declare what is right about ancient near east culture and language, or about evolution – old testament scholars or biologists are the experts here. The principle of academic freedom arose most notably when big business owners wanted to skewer union supporting or union neutral professors back 80 years ago or so (a simplification of a more complex reality).

          Academic freedom is not “anything goes” and Christian institutions do and should have the ability to maintain a Christian confession. We really have a problem, though, if, say, the majority of believing OT scholars hold positions that they are not free to teach or discuss for fear of job loss and conflict (and the same for the vast majority of believing biologists). A conspiracy of silence I believe one once called it.

          • Klasie Kraalogies

            Well stated!

  • Pat Pope

    “Evangelicalism does not exist to create these conversations, but to keep them from happening–or perhaps from getting out of hand. Decision makers are gatekeepers, and they rarely have the training or the inclination to walk the same intellectual and spiritual path.”

    I find the same thing happens in the Church when people come out seminary into churches, some which require or highly desire someone who is seminary-educated, only to quash changing viewpoints or the introduction to the congregation of some new teaching. Churches should just be more honest and advertise for pastors that will maintain the status quo.

  • Bryan

    I really appreciate this piece. I have experienced a similar scenario to the one described but slightly different. My undergraduate training did not prepare me for the ideas that I would encounter at a seminary which valued multivalent perspectives in theology. It was rough trying to make my way through the material and often found myself in a crisis of sorts. Now, I face the prospect of returning to my alma mater, an evangelical institution, and I am quite nervous with what I can and cannot say. My concentration is in the Biblical Studies field and find that this is quite different from systematic theology. For instance, the troublesome issue of inerrancy is approached from a philosophical vantage point while the bible department deals with the actual availability of the texts rather than alleged ‘original documents’ which nobody can get their hands on. It is also daunting to face a religion and philosophy department which has arrived at various conclusions and not knowing what their individual positions are. Beyond this, it is sad that the ‘gatekeepers’, that is, the least reflective bunch, holds the majority power and has not had the privilege to wade through these difficult waters.

    I wonder, as a result of these problems within evangelicalism, has anyone worked towards a new movement in which like-minded evangelicals can find a harbor in this storm; to teach and learn in safety?

  • Mark Cable

    Amen !!!

  • Eric

    As a former Evangelical/Fundamentalist I appreciate this article and know many who are expereincing what it describes. Unfortunately, this kind of control is also presnet in non-Evangelical circles as well. If one hold to “traditional” or “conservative” viewpoints or interpretations after being exposed to and learning higher critical methods and conclusions, you are effectively silenced. I have witnessed this myself in Mainline denominations.

    • Hi Eric,
      Can you be more spesific? I share your concerns….

      • peteenns

        Great post on Schlatter, by the way!

  • Thanks so much for voicing this concern!

    I whole heartily agree that Evangelical schools need to turn down the witch hunts and choose their battles more wisely. But how loose is advisable? Most here readily see the flaws inherent in the model of the critical schools. I’m not sure the goal should be giving professors “complete” academic freedom. Freedom to question? Yes. Freedom to research? Yes. Freedom to argue for change in and refinement of believes? Yes. But freedom to espouse positions which undercut the legitimacy of faith itself? Here I take issue with the so called “critical” school. As messy and elusive as a discussion which defines essential Christianity would be, for scholarship to make an impact on faith it needs credibility with the community of faith. This credibility does not come from patronizing confessions. It comes through service that is truly helpful and admirable.

    None of us wants to be judged by the schools at which we teach. But neither is it fair to our students to hash out our doubts about the school’s “position” pre-maturely in front of them. I don’t know where the line should be drawn, especially in areas where research has attained a greater level of specificity (and debate!) faster than our creeds can hope to accommodate. But this I believe, biblical scholarship which gratifies only our own curiosity is selfish. Apart from the body of Christ, biblical scholarship starves and kills the church it was meant to feed.

    Just a thought… is not the reason so much of the gospels are devoted to Jesus arguing with the Pharisees most logically that he was one? Son of a carpenter… who frequently dines with members of his own party? Is not Jesus an example of one who struggles to redefine his own institution, who engages their legal debates, who does not hesitate to critique prejudice and hypocrisy, but who also keeps his own “messianic secret” because his eschatology was so unacceptable, even to his own? This is not a new battle.

  • Brian MacArevey

    Thanks for this Peter.

    Sadly, I have found that professors, teachers and pastors are not the only victims here. I am a layman. I have always rolled in conservative Evangelical circles, but my views have changed radically over the past few years due to having engaged critical biblical scholarship and church history.

    While I have not been in danger of losing employment, the propoganda of the gatekeepers has had a terrible impact upon relationships with the closest of family members and friends, who now feel the need to remain loyal to the gatekeepers (as if they were God themselves) even to the point of warning other friends and family members that I am a dangerous wolf who should not be listened to with respect to pretty much anything in life; unless of course they won’t mind burning in hell forever.

    The gatekeepers have effectively convinced those closest to me that they are doing God’s will by avoiding me and ruining my reputation, and by challenging my profession of faith; they have even convinced them that this is what it means to love me.

    I have and continue to lose much because of my changes in perspective, but it is too late at this point to pretend that I do not believe the way that I do. My point I guess is that the destructive actions of the Evangelical gatekeepers stretches way beyond the clergy. Things need to change.

    Thanks again.

    • peteenns

      I agree with the broader application, Brian. Of course (sarcasm coming) when we are “at war” with unbelief, especially within your own ranks, then all tactics, including character assassination, are approved by God. Such maneuvers are often followed by “It’s nothing personal. Just business.” I think I heard that on the Sopranos, too.

      • Brian MacArevey

        Yes. That sounds familiar.

  • Dr. Enns,

    I come from a tradition where I have certainly seen the truth of what you are talking about. However, I am now in Ph.D. studies at a school that has the freedom to question, and I can tell you that what is being purported is not good either. I think that we need balance between education and confession. We do need to be able to have the conversation, but we do not need those who are always trying to “push the envelope.” Some of the scholars where I am at promote things like universalism, Spirit-monism, extreme historical criticism or ‘demythologizing,’ etc. As a young scholar I often feel caught in the middle. I am either asked to conform to the ‘fundamentals’ of my tradition or the beliefs of my professors at my current institution. Meanwhile, the scholars who call for balance between the two are often shunned by both. It feels so strange to be labeled by one group as a radical liberal for not being dispensational, for instance, and being labeled as a fundamentalist by the other group for saying that there is a line that we cannot cross if we are to be truly ‘Christian’ theologians/scholars.

    • peteenns

      I’ve been there, too, Jeremy. Please don’t read my post as a plea for academic freedom as anything goes. I’ve also been very open in other places that a school has the right to define its theological parameters. I am talking about “basic” issues of critical scholarship that can’t be ignored and need to be brought into responsible conversations about the bible. I will resist the temptation to provide a list of issues.

  • barlow

    Perhaps a Ph.D. in biblical studies produces this result, but a Ph.D. in history seems to do the opposite. For me, it didn’t heighten the credibility of critical claims and lessen the credibility of evangelical claims. It took both of them down a notch. I think evangelical students in critical programs have some rewiring of their plausibility filters, but I think these filters can be reformed again so that the best of both worlds can bear on their scholarship. Charles Hodge is a good example of this. Sent back to Old Princeton from studies in Germany, it took a while for him to put his critical views in evangelical context. I think those Ph.Ds who come to despise their former beliefs need a cooling off period. Anti-supernaturalism and a particular theory of evidence saturates the house of critical scholarship. One can, with hard work, unlearn awe at its mansions.

    • Jon,

      As one who is currently working on a PhD in OT/HB (I’m ABD now!), I can say that your experience mirrors mine. Dr. Enns seems to forget that there are many conservatives who go off and get PhDs and remain “conservative”. The picture presented in his blog post is untrue and irresponsible, IMO, since it gives the impression that all clear-headed and bright students necessarily ditch their conservative views in favor of the wisdom of the higher criticism. Or that anyone who interacts seriously with critical ideas will inevitably adopt them. That may be true of some–it may even be true of many–but to give the impression (even unintentionally) that it is true of all is simply wrong.

      • peteenns


        I would simply suggest that you wait a few years, get some experience, and test the waters a bit. I had lunch just two weeks ago with a young man who once spoke as you did but no longer does. He did not bow the knee to higher criticism or unbelieving presuppositions. He agonized and came to some difficult conclusions. Who knows where your journey will take you.

        • Dr. Enns, Of course no-one knows what I will believe in a few years, myself included. It could very well be that I will come to similar conclusions you have. Thus, a little caution and circumspection on my part is warranted. However, that does not change the fact that there are many men (and women) who have trodden the same path as you, and done so for far longer than you have, and have come to very different conclusions. It is simply not true that if one is exposed to broader academia one necessarily loses one’s conservative convictions and must decide between joblessness or living in excruciating tension in a setting in which they do not fit. Though I am at an evangelical school, my mentor (Dr. Schultz) did his PhD work at Yale–hardly a bastion of evangelicalism and still holds to his conservative credentials in good faith. The fact of the matter is, some people decide to buy the critical arguments, and some decide not to. If you buy the critical arguments, well then fine, so much the better for you. But don’t teach at an evangelical school then (and don’t pastor in an evangelical church). [Side note: I do not thing “evangelical” is coterminous with “Christian”].

          • Jeff Martin

            Peter Green,

            Dr. Enns is not saying what you think he is saying, he is simply stating that schools should allow for more open discussion in classes for higher criticism. He is not saying you need to hold to these principles only be open to discuss them and not fire people who might hold them.

          • Jeff Martin, I understood what Dr. Enns was saying. It is exactly this, “not fire people who might hold them,” that I have a problem with. I don’t know of any seminary or university in which someone would be fired for discussing higher criticism critically. I know of plenty that would fire someone for discussing higher criticism favorably (and rightly so). If you hold a favorable opinion of higher criticism find a secular or liberal school or church to be employed by. But don’t seek a job at conservative evangelical school. We have people apply to teach at Wheaton who have no interest in affirming inerrancy, and yet it is a requirement that one signs Wheaton’s statement affirming inerrancy. Sorry, I have no sympathy. Find a job somewhere else.

          • peteenns

            Peter, first, Jeff is correct. You are not reading my post accurately. Second, you are a doctoral. Might I suggest your view of things could stand a bit of seasoning. Many I know once thought as you do now, but maturity can change one’s perceptive. I am happy your experience at Wheaton is favorable to you at this point, but your comments on this thread actually demonstrate the problem–particularly your comment above that there is not place to think favorably of higher criticism in an evangelical context. I know some of your professors well enough to know that they would cringe a bit at such an evaluation. But, aas always, you are free to hold your opinion. I am confident the world will keep spinning.

    • peteenns

      I think it is certainly the case that there is an afterglow from one’s doctoral work that can color one’s perceptions and that people need to get over (including Peter Green, a doctoral student at Wheaton), but this is such a pervasive and longstanding phenomenon, I don’t think it can be explained as just needing some space to put things back together again in n evangelical package. Some of us in biblical studies have had a rather long cooling off period, as you put it. Also, I don’t think my post reported despising former beliefs, only that over time, they became less plausible. I would also add that this is not a supernatural vs. anti-supernatural issue. Concerning Hodge, one cannot overlook the sociological issue of the power of group dynamics. I have seen this again and again, across the fundamentalist-liberal spectrum. Hodge’s settling of issues over time–and others in an analogous situation–does not speak necessarily to a more balanced or sober intellectual assessment of evidence, but to could also reflect choices Hodge made to stay within the box for psychological reasons. That is not to belittle Hodge or others (!!) but to point out that there are a myriad of factors involved.

  • I know what it’s like to be censored by the system (and the heros) that produced you. It has been very hard on me and my family to leave that seminary, but praise God, He has something more for us!

  • James E.

    Wise and good teachers know more and understand more deeply than their students. In the Evangelical world, where simpliciores are not only respected (which is good) but placed in authority (which is not so good), they often know more and understand more deeply than their institutional masters. So they are in a difficult position; nearly all will suffer, and many will have to bow out. Those who overcome will be those who: –are remarkably well formed intellectually and spiritually; –do not enjoy showing others that they are ignorant or wrong but rather delight in discerning when others are ready to take the next step in learning and ask the right questions to help them discover that next step; –always aim at the edification of both their students and their bosses, of those who are open to instruction and of those who are not; –never lose sight of their ultimate aim of bringing students and colleagues closer to God through Christ in the power of the Spirit; –care deeply for students and colleagues, pray for them, and allow them to know that they do; –have the patience, charity, and wisdom to endure the assaults of simpliciores who are honestly seeking truth and redirect them by turning their questions back to them in fruitful directions; –have the wisdom, subtlety, discretion, and willpower to baffle and frustrate the machinations of simpliciores who are intent on gaining and using power, giving them no foothold for advancing their attacks and turning their questions and charges back on them in ways that will cause them to undermine themselves. In the area of biblical studies, they must know not only their own biblical discipline but also theology and hermeneutics–well enough to be able to affirm the faith of the church convincingly over against local/sectarian shibboleths, not explictly contradicting those shibboleths but finding and affirming the kernel of truth in them. Even the “best” (acc0rding to my little sketch) may eventually have to leave.

  • Bingo, Pete. Bingo.

    Perhaps the primary, if not only, reason I survived and excelled in my phd program was because my own evangelical school mentors were also a bit subversive and chatted with me openly about all the tough issues in the hallways and their offices. My faith was preserved and strengthened because they did not protect me but encouraged me to pursue truth without qualification. While I sometimes miss teaching in a theological context, I am more often deeply thankful to God that I don’t have to worry about evangelical institutional politics.

  • Hi Pete,
    As a recent seminary grad, I want to share part of my journey with you and your readers. It was about halfway through my degree when I noticed a sense of anger building up in me. after classes, (especially Biblical studies classes) I would feel my blood beginning to boil. The question that went through my head was “Why is this the first time I am hearing this stuff? What kind of paternalistic BS was going on in the churches that leaders thought us pew people couldn’t handle this information?” It took me quite some time to come to terms with the sense of betrayal and disrespect that I felt on the receiving end of. Even after graduating from an evangelical seminary I still struggle with whether I can continue to identify as an evangelical and still maintain my sense of integrity as a follower of Christ. So I guess this is a cautionary tale that we do more damage by not addressing issues of biblical criticism than by “protecting” people from having anything challenge their faith. Maybe we would do better to support each other through facing the challenges than in denying that challenges exist.

    • NW


      Care to be a bit more specific about what kind of information you learned at seminary that you felt you should have been exposed to at church?

  • Bob Sacamento

    Well, I’m late to this party, but in case anyone is hanging around, I have often wondered why I listen to so many Evangelical preachers with degrees from Harvard, Oxford, Whatchamacallit in Germany, what have you, and, after listening to them for months or years, it sounds like they really don’t know much more than I do. What were those big degrees for if they weren’t going to learn anything? Or why were they going to learn anything if they were just going to keep all that learning bottled up? Maybe I shouldn’t have been so judgemental.

  • J. Morgan

    I’ve found this scenario to be true within collegiate peer relations. You’re libral arts peers think that all Theological majors do is learn more factual information concerning the Faith rather than learning new/better philosophy and correct doctrine. Your taken authoritatively on information that fits their framework but the minute you introduce a revolutionary concept you’re expertise is thrown out the window and you might as well be a Humanities Freshman major, haha.

  • seijitsu

    I can’t speak for other schools, but a friend linked to your post on facebook and asked if fellow Azusa Pacific University alumnus thought it described APU or not. This is what I replied to him and why your newer post, “Some Unasked for Advice on Whether an Evangelical Should Get a PhD in Biblical Studies,” better reflects what I was told as a Biblical Studies major (and APU’s Chair of Biblical Studies just recommended it on facebook today).
    I think there’s a few things in your description here that do not apply to APU:
    You write, “Here’s the familiar scenario. The ‘best and brightest’ students in Evangelical seminaries work hard and are encouraged and aided by their professors to pursue doctoral work.” I personally overhead 2 Biblical Studies students blithely talking with one of APU’s Bible profs (who is tenured with an endowed chair) about their intent to go on to PhDs, and he bluntly told them not to because there are so few jobs compared to the number of of people who want to teach Biblical Studies, so he didn’t advise it unless they ABSOLUTELY did not have the passion to do anything else with their lives (they both replied confidently that they only had passion for Biblical Studies, and he said something like, “Okay then, if you’re sure”).
    You also report, “His family is suffering.” I overheard the same professor advising a different Biblical Studies student to get through his PhD first while quite young, land a job, and then start a family, like one of APU’s younger profs did (the latter did his grad work at Jerusalem University College, UCLA, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem and now seems to be really enjoying his family life and career in which he gets to work on a joint archaeological project between APU and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem). The prof giving the advice said he raised kids during his PhD and it took a toll on his family.
    You also claim, “they find that the old answers are often inadequate, and in some cases glaringly so. When they return to an Evangelical context, they try to work toward some synthesis to bring old and new into conversation. . . . he was lost in negotiating the new ideas he was encountering . . .” You’re right that the student is not to blame for not succeeding in synthesis, but I think the reason that you give for the students’ inability is not right either. The culprit is that, from my experience, theologically-liberal MDiv and PhD programs do not give their students any training in how to dialogue with evangelicals. Teachings are usually stated as unchallengeable facts, and evangelical views are dismissed with a derisive laugh as being ignorant and uneducated whenever they are brought up at all (and might I add, the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic views that correspond to evangelical ones are garnering the same, though I think the prof wouldn’t realize he/she is simultaneously dissing those camps), and evangelicals have to either keep their heads down or get treated badly (whether by verbal comments in class discussion, jokes in class lecture, grading by T.A., or grading by the professor). So no wonder someone who comes out of that environment often cannot effectively integrate some of what they learned into a course that average evangelicals would not feel wary of. I’m not saying that the liberal profs ought to revise their courses into training students on how-to-make-evangelicals-think-you-agree-with-them-and-subtly-infiltrate-them-with-our-ideas-that-we-know-they-won’t-like, which I have also experienced. But it would sure be nice if the liberal profs would respect evangelicals as people to even take into consideration for sincere conversation, and help their evangelical students who disagree with them on some points to be able to adapt whatever they can adapt for their context. I’m not holding my breath.
    You think that all this is “the inadequacy of the Evangelical system, where the best Evangelical minds trained in the best research institutions have to make believe they don’t know what they know.” Based on what I just wrote above, I don’t think the evangelical system is the sole cause, but the condescending attitude of liberals who do not prepare and equip evangelical professors is involved. I know of a pretty popular adjunct at APU who does not seem to have to keep his liberal views a secret to stay there. My favorite tenured prof has never given me the sense that he doesn’t believe what he teaches – he is more along the lines of, here’s what scholars say about the authorship and history, that’s interesting, I’m not saying whether I buy it or not, but now let’s get to the fun and important part, which is the pastoral theology in the passage, what does it want to teach us?
    In another setting, but still on the topic of making believe they don’t know what they know, at a non-evangelical institution, I have seen a couple of evangelicals teaching who landed positions without feeling that they need to make believe – in fact, their PhD studies helped them find out evidence they find compelling against the broad claims of people like Bart Erhman and Elaine Pagels, and are able to present both views to their students. They don’t need to ignore what they’ve been taught but they can research beyond what they’ve been taught instead of swallow it whole. I wouldn’t have the endurance to choose that kind of life, because conservative profs in this atmosphere keep some of their views on the down-low (I recall the flash of fear in the eyes of one prof who I thanked for an email while I was manning a pro-life table that was collecting donations for a local maternity home for homeless pregnant women; this prof was brave enough to come up to the table to talk with me briefly) but these kind of profs sure are a life-saver for evangelicals who are being told they’re wrong in all of their other Bible courses, but in these profs’ classes they can find out that yes, you can be intelligent and educated and still be a sincere evangelical with backing from your studies to maintain your beliefs – a different source of apologetics than what we grew up with. It is, from what I’ve seen, more possible to be Church History and Theology profs as evangelicals in more liberal seminaries, because you can say Aquinas/Luther/Calvin/Wesley/Barth/whoever said ____, and you don’t have to explain whether you personally agree with the historical figure or not. A number of the evangelical PhD students I know are in or switching into Church History because its safer to be in History.
    But of course, as you explain well in your other article, most of the ones who will find a job teaching any of these subjects will find their employment overseas. If they are firmly evangelical, they will enjoy including their beleifs in more theologically-conservative seminaries abroad free from the judgmentalism by liberals felt during their grad work, and if they prefer the more liberal content, they can enjoy working in the religion department of a secular university abroad.

  • Ian

    I feel like we are talking around an issue tacitly understood by some but not by me. Is this perhaps why there is a disconnection between the seminary learning and the average Christian? What are the issues that cause the disconnection? Is it belief in evolution? Is it women ordination? It seems to me the hallmark of Jesus teaching was that He taught with authority, not by muddling. If you are right who cares hit us over the head with it. If we fire you at least you will have done your job.

  • James

    Peter, like you said…without names your list is worthless.
    And this weakens your argument. You have assumed way too much about your own “superiority”.

    • peteenns

      So James, are you saying I am lying?

      • Anthony Le Donne

        James, I can tell you that my name would be on the list, for what it’s worth.
        – Anthony Le Donne.

    • Tim

      James, you’re seriously suggesting Pete betray the confidence of those who have confided in him? At potentially the very cost of their jobs no less? Pete’s claim rests on his credibility. You can take it or leave it based on that. But to exhort Pete to betray others who have placed their trust and confidence in him is beyond the pale.

  • Janet

    Amen to all the above. I have just finished my PhD and have been sensing that the picture is grim (good thing I have a second career!) and probably worse for women. However, rather than despair, can we consider ways to address the problem(s)? A hot topic in Healthcare these days is “knowledge translation” – how to transfer new scientific findings into everyday practical use. Could we attempt something similar between the academy and the church? Start getting people to at least question…recognizing that Christianity (and life in general) is more gray than black and white? That the church is always in need of reforming?

  • Brian

    Most churches that claim to be fundie or evangelical have pretty much have aborted grad schools anyway.Theology has become a dirty word as taught by many pastors in the pulpit.The bible is to be read ……….but if you think about what your reading ……you sinner repent!

  • Mark Erickson

    Pretty amazed that over 100 comments and no mention of The Clergy Project, http://clergyproject.org/. “The Clergy Project is an on-line meeting place where former and active clergy can talk freely among themselves.”

  • Al

    Yes, Pete, there exists a problem for UK trained scholars in biblical theology working in evangelical colleges and seminaries where authentic academic freedom does not exists. Such schools usually operate within a set of doctrinal boundaries and become fearful when such boundaries are crossed or questioned. So what are scholars to do. They have three options: 1) speak the truth as they see it without reserve and face the consequences; 2) sign the doctrinal statement with fingers crossed and nuance all answers to controversial questions asked in the classroom, e.g. Historical Adam, nature of hell, etc; 3) work privately with the best students and direct them toward grad programs where they are taught to research and think critically.

    Or several UK trained professors who are 62 or over but still employed, could retire, draw their SS and annuities, and band together to start a new seminary to train students without any constraints. They can dedicate five years to the project as they seek ATS accreditation. At the end of the period, they can hire professors and turn the project over to them. Who is willing to explore the possibility and take the plunge?

  • Glenn

    I’m going to try to restate what i’m hearing in your blog, borrowing your own phrasing liberally.

    The best and brightest evangelicals trained in places of evangelical learning and going on to the best research universities are dying inside (which looks like gifts being squandered, questioning vocation, family suffering, and no options) when they return to work at the places that trained them (or similar). They are put under inhuman stress because they have to choose between institutional expectations and academic integrity.

    And this cyclical problem is prevalent/unique to evangelical higher learning because evangelicalism exists (in part) to keep conversations necessary for spiritual and intellectual growth from getting out of hand.

    After all, evangelical decision makers /gatekeepers rarely have the training or the inclination to walk the same intellectual and spiritual path as the best and brightest who have gone to the best research universities where they have learned that the best education is designed to broaden your horizons.

    So if they comply with the expectations of their employment, they are failing their education and this creates cognitive dissonance. And the cognitive dissonance isn’t just over il/legitimate content but over what the best education looks like (one that teaches students to see things from a different perspective).

    It sounds like there are three competing “integrities”: Institutional, academic, and personal. Further, I would understand that you think evangelical institutions have no integrity, which means that no one can work in them and have personal integrity and you are highlighting one particular way in which the best and brightest are being harmed. And you are telling us this, not just so that we can share your burden for the best and brightest but as a warning that the evangelical hegemony is so strong that not even the best and brightest can break free?

  • Dan

    I think this is not just an evangelical problem but an academic one. Many professors in undergraduate institutions are discouraged from discussing controversial ideas that are freely thrown about in the doctoral arena. A history professor who points out the benefits of socialism or a science professor who questions evolution are often “called on the carpet” for fear that their academic honesty will open the university up to questions and loss of funds.

    Is it not also possible that there is a bit of dishonesty in professors returning to their evangelical institutions when they no longer hold firm to basic evangelical principles?

    • Glenn

      Yes, though there are particular problems with evangelicalism, there are always going to be conflicts between an Athenian notion of education (for novelty) and other views of education. Public education is even worse in my estimation, with all sorts of contests over ends, process, and content. Many public school teachers/administrators learn to keep their heads down and just do what they want while producing the reports required to keep their jobs.

  • Brittany

    I attended a Southern Baptist middle school and high school and I ran into this problem when I went to a public college. I found that the apologetics I was taught in high school were either false or just made no sense when I was exposed to the other side. This left a huge conflict of faith within me that ultimately led me to renouncing Christianity and embracing science.

  • Charles Twombly

    Our Sir Anthony is “instant in season and out of season” with his neo-Socinian message. As for his correspondence with FF Bruce about Paul and preexistence, he shared that (or part of it) with me years ago but failed to convince me that Bruce drew the same conclusions that he, Buzzard, has drawn. FFB elsewhere (cf his commentaries on John and his epistles) comes across as a stout Trinitarian and incarnationalist.

  • anoym

    I think you should watch this video, starting at 31:00 very much relevant to this article


  • Wondering

    Yep. I probably commented down below a long time ago already, but reading this again (or for the first time?) stirs up lots of emotions nevertheless.

  • Guest

    I SO AGREE. You said it. And I just saw on FB that you are going to be at my graduate school this week, and that makes it oh so the more cool!

  • Seeker

    This is unfortunately not just the case within academia either… It is a widespread problem throughout Evangelical churches as well. After all, many of the best and brightest don’t go on to pursue their Doctorates, simply because the field is so competitive today and the job prospects so dim. Many of the best and brightest go on to actually try and serve within the Evangelical churches they grew up in – and the same incredible tension and stress occurs there as well: “Tow the party line and sign your name on the dotted line to affirm that you agree that the creeds and confessions got it right once and for all! Stick your head in the sand and don’t ask anymore big questions! Don’t pretend that investing all those years of studying the Bible, and the history, and the languages makes you any better at interpreting the Bible than anyone else!”
    Yeah, this whole scenario sucks. It is terribly sad. I can’t wait for it to go away. I can’t understand why leaders who otherwise appear very smart seem to become entrenched in such indefensible theological positions.
    This is precisely the reason why I had to walk away from pastoral ministry after pursuing that very thing for a good part of my life. I simply could not find a way to healthily navigate the entrenched mindsets that I was running up against anymore.

    Evangelicalism in America needs a good dose of humility to help wake it up from the sickness it is suffering from. And it may sound prideful to say that, but I’ve walked both sides of the fence now. I’d like more people to see the view from this vantage point after the effects of the “American Evangelical Cool-Aid” has worn off and the intellectual faculties are functioning properly again. 🙂

  • Marlene

    Please consider Yale Divinity School. Excellent scholarship w/ people of faith. One of the best decisions I have made.


  • “Love God with all your mind, but not too much.”

  • Evelyn

    Could you all start your own school or a new department in an existing school that doesn’t do much theology yet? Clearly it would have the most thoughtful and intellectually honest professors – that’s got to count for something, right? Or start a journal where you all publish pseudonymously. Or come to Europe 🙂

  • Ann Gingrow Corbett

    I think it would be fascinating to see what kind of church would emerge if the gatekeepers insisted on allowing the educated ministry to inform their congregations of the latest and best research. It might be difficult for some to hear, but I think many others would find it liberating and reassuring.

    • Rick

      “inform their congregations of the latest and best research.”
      But who gets to define that?

      • Ann Gingrow Corbett

        What I meant was the information they’ve learned as they pursue their graduate and doctoral work that they have been required to hide from (or refrain from sharing with) their congregations or students.

        Certainly some of this information is widely accepted among biblical scholars.

        • Rick

          I appreciate the goal, and think we should work towards that, but I don’t know where the line is to be drawn, especially in light of the fact that we are dealing with issues of faith.

    • Chavoux

      Oh, I can tell you what happens… it is happening to the Dutch Reformed Church in SA as we speak. People loose their faith and leave the church. “If the learned theologians don’t believe the Bible anymore, why should I?” The second group of people who leave is the evangelical fundamentalists (who most often just happen to be most active in the church as well) who seek out other churches or join house churches. And a few “intellectuals”, most of whom do not have a personal relationship with God, but who do have all kinds of divergent views of God, and traditionalists, who only goes to church because of tradition, stay behind.

  • Brian P.

    The deep fracture only begins here. It is a fracture that widens throughout Evangelicalism that continues to the separation between pulpit and and pew and between “us” and “them” along various cultural axes. What Pete knows that other scholars knows is what I as a layman (can to a much lesser degree) know is what’s available online and in popular literature in the local chain bookstore. Many of us have lost faith–while perhaps not exactly in God–in those who have taught us for years. We sit and listen to bad history, bad theology, bad self-helps, and emphasis of helps to *self*. We sit and listen in sermon after sermon out of familial and other social duty. Church and the Evangelical culture that surrounds us painfully makes our lives cruciform in a near inversion of the outer appearances of the religious charade. I pray churches of this nature empty, that their coffers dry, that their clergy find work in other sectors of society, that financial sponsors for institutions like these wither, that the dross burn with purgative intensity so that those of us who want to harrow hell may begin to do so. May the lies cease and the fracture heal. For Christ’s sake. It is a fracture that starts with the unbroken human heart. Break us, so that you might heal us.

    • Keith E Johnston

      John Wesley said “Think and let think” It would seem that many evangelical “leaders” are afraid to think themselves and do not want anyone else to think either.

  • Chip Anderson

    “He asked his former professor, now colleague, why he was sent to graduate school with so many gaps in his learning. The answer: “’Our job was to protect you from this information so as not to shipwreck your faith.’”

    I am sure this happened, but unless I see a reference, this seems made up to make your point Prof. Enns. I taught and both a Bible College and Graduate school, and frankly one of the most conservative possible, and I never held back, never “protected” the students on studies or research or any aspect of academic pursuit. And I had the freedom to do so. Of course I signed a statement of faith, which is the privilege of any instituation to require (start your own and not reequire one, that seems simply enough). This seems like a puff piece to make a point. Your point. Why do you have so many axes to grind. You were kinder and gentler at the NE ETS meetinging in April, but you didn’t seem to have an ax to grind in your presentation—here on this blog, it seems you repeatibly have one. Gather up your likeminded colleagues and start a seminary or Christian college with your values and your boundaries and your theological perspectives and give it a go. That’s how most of these instituations that you are constantly critisizing started.

    Frankly, it is now just starting to sound like arrogance, rather than love (but then again you might not consider those particular texts that call for love inspired or inerrant, which can be reapplied to means whatever after-modernity meaning you want to give). Okay, I probably haven’t made any friendss here. And I am a nobody on the list of academics in your circles, but I still felt compealed to add my two cents here. For whatever these two pennies might be worth.

    PS Just because an academic comes out of his or her theological closet doesn’t mean he or she is correct nor noble, just out in public sharing their views like the rest of us. So tired of hearing that there is some form of bravery to denouce and sound hip and trendy as if that’s a form and status of being correct…

    • LorenHaas

      Wow, seems to have touched a nerve!

    • Keith E Johnston

      As long as “believers’ continue to believe in dispensationalism, inerrancy,and young-earth creationism, there will need to be those who ask why? Those three modern heresies continue to harm the Church because the people who teach them are afraid to question whether, in the light of the Bible, they might be untrue.

      • Chavoux

        Huh? How does “in the light of the Bible” work if the Bible is not inerrant and has little authority? But I have to agree with you that too many fundamentalists have too little faith in the truth of the Word and therefore are afraid of questions.

        • Bryan

          Many who reply to this blog would not hold to an inerrant Bible including Enns himself (please check numerous posts). These views are not incompatible. The false dichotomy which you have proposed intentionally forces people to choose one or the other. Belief in God can still work even if the scriptures are perceived to be errant.

          • Chavoux

            Bryan, what is your definition of “still work”? Would you be willing to lay down your life for those beliefs? I struggle to see how I can be obedient to God while I am at the same time not sure that it is actually God speaking to me? How does this work out in practice, in your personal relationship with Jesus?

          • Bryan

            Yes, I would. There is a vast chasm between the works of Systematic Theologians and Biblical Scholars. The first group speaks in philosophical meanderings about “hypothetical” original texts while the second group acknowledges that there are none. The provability about the original words of Jesus along with various texts is quite difficult but that is why it is referred to, on some level, as faith rather than pure reason, with all of the empirical evidence to boot.

            In practice, I have to say, that I have a faaaar more wonderous view of God. See Malick’s film, “The Tree of Life”. I do not necessarily agree with his conclusions but this film stands as an incredible testimony to the wonder of God. Were there struggles? Yes. But in order for faith to blossom, I needed to struggle through the highly reflective process known as seminary. I cherish the time I spent there and have many fond memories.

    • Tim

      I have been a student at two evangelical institutions and I have taught at four evangelical institutions. I can say with 100% certainty that there are SOME professors (emphasis on “SOME”) who absolutely follow the philosophy that their job is to protect students from certain information that they believe could possibly shipwreck the faith of the students. I don’t know how anyone could be well acquainted with the current state of affairs in so-called “evangelical academia” and not acknowledge this.

      As for specific examples, I won’t name people, but one involves a reluctance even to mention the Documentary Hypothesis (in any of its forms) to students studying the Pentateuch.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    You can add Lutheran to that list too…..

  • Andrew Dowling

    To the contrary, following higher critical scholarship of the Bible helped clarify and make Jesus much more relevant to my faith.

    And what you list as “secondary” issues concerning homosexuals/women in the church etc. I would think many consider prominent opportunities to showcase and promote “Christ and his love.”

  • Andrew Dowling

    But you are taking it as a all or nothing approach. One can recognize that certain parts of the Bible are historical without taking every story/miracle it describes as literal history.

    • Chavoux

      Ahh, but Andrew, how then can you know which parts are historical? Should I as a layperson (scientist) simply trust the theologians on that? Or just decide for myself? And how will I know I decided correctly? And if I am not sure (as any science is always unsure) why should I go out on a limb, be willing to die or resist sin to the point of shedding my blood (Hebr.12:4)? How do I live by faith (which is sure – Hebr.11:1) when I am actually unsure of everything? Does that not make for a weak and faithless “faith” with little spiritual reality?

      • Andrew Dowling

        “how then can you know which parts are historical?”

        The same methods any historian uses when deconstructing history. Looking at internal and external evidence and clues. This enables the scholar/historian to make probabilistic determinations based on that evidence.

        “How do I live by faith when I am actually unsure of everything?”
        Having doubts about the historicity of biblical passages doesn’t equate to being “unsure of everything.” Is there truth to Jesus’s parables? The parables aren’t stories of historic events, but they convey eternal truths; truths (mercy, forgiveness, love of strangers) that we know by the good fruit they produce.

  • Kent Berghuis

    You can, of course, put me on your list, Pete!

  • dangjin

    Enns is leading people to disobey God and encouraging others to lead people to disobedience to God’s word. God did not instruct anyone to follow academic integrity or secular rules. He instructed people to follow HIM. Part of the equation in following him is FAITH not secular science, secular academia or anything secular.

    The SECULAR world is blind and believers are not to follow the blind, they are to follow Jesus and become a light unto the world. When will people grasp this simple fact. Believers LEAD the SECULAR world to the TRUTH , they DO NOT FOLLOW the SECULAR world to destruction.

    • Perry L. Stepp

      You evidently don’t believe the Bible. After all, it says “Love the Lord your God with all your MIND.” Yet you would require people instead to turn off their minds in order to follow Jesus.

    • Herbert W Johnston

      I have personally found just as much intellectual integrity outside of the world of “believers” as I have found inside. “Believers” who worship tradition instead of Jesus are guilty of idolatry. Honesty is supposed to be a virtue, even within groups who are committed to the perpetuation of lies.

  • PrairieGirl

    I appreciate this column so much. It reminds me of something that happened when I was a teenager in an evangelical church. We had a youth leader who encouraged us to ask tough questions. No topic was out of bounds. For awhile, we explored apparent contradictions in the Bible, various prohibitions in our church (dancing, card-playing, alcohol consumption) that made no sense to us, etc. It was such a relief to be able to ask questions that we knew were not allowed in our families or in any other church-related context. The church board found out about our discussions and shut them down. The youth leader was told to stop allowing this discussion. This experience contributed to my decision to leave my evangelical community in order to really explore my faith. I often felt at sea, but I believed that God would not abandon me and that “the truth can stand questioning”. I have tremendous respect for those who remain in the evangelical community, but who are willing to face the tough issues. I don’t know many such people, but I wish them grace and courage.

    By the way, there are many faithful Christians who live and work outside of the institutions of evangelical Christianity. We live in a secular world and encourage thoughtful exploration of beliefs. We support each other and seek not to judge. Scriptures and the Holy Spirit are available to us – and we have the freedom to think! I am so very grateful

  • C.M. Granger

    Hi Pete,

    Could you explain how it is some kind of injustice for an evangelical institution to expect its’ faculty to uphold the institution’s statement of faith, which they willingly signed when hired? And how exactly it is honest for a professor who no longer holds the institution’s statement of faith to continue to teach there?

    I’m having trouble understanding the righteous indignation. No one is chaining such professors to these institutions. There are options.
    The picture you keep painting, of these poor faithful scholars who just want to spread the wings of academic freedom, but are oppressed by evil evangelical overlords, is starting to stretch the bounds of credibility.
    Such things no doubt occur, and present real difficulties for the people involved, but the portrayal of these institutions (who want to be faithful to their understanding of Scripture) as being run by tyrannical theological rednecks is an ungracious caricature.

    • James

      Yes, I’m searching for examples. I know inerrancy is still a hot button. I look for creative ways to describe my changing views on controversial matters. It takes diplomacy, tact, and a pinch of BS. Sorry, I don’t want to make light of the problem, it is very real, but part of the trick is reading the audience. I’m more relaxed and open with students than gatekeepers and the turn of my questions and answers vary accordingly. Anyway, academia is usually given space (in my circles) to explore the ragged edges of orthodoxy.

  • This post inspired me to draw an interesting comparison between the academic freedom conservative Evangelicals want in the public area for intelligent design and the way they practice academic freedom in their own institutions:


  • Nate

    Josh, if I’m your good friend, I have aged terribly and have forgotten, but do forgive. I attended Northwest for a very short time, but ended up at the Univ of Colorado with a philosophy major. I think the major issue for Dr. Enns is that of contemporary scientific consensus on evolution and all that that impacts, i.e., age of earth, age of humankind, with a big hit on the historicity of Adam. This is NEW and it is BIG, i.e., it is the position of the genome project that the data has proven that the human race did not start from a single male/female. I commend him for his stance that Paul viewed Adam as historical, which would make Paul wrong if Adam is not historical; indeed, Adam cannot be historical due to thousands of ‘Adams’ according to current theory. Perhaps by some strange direct imparting of the soul, we can escape the single Adam dilemma, but to me this this would not solve the Pauline problem. No, if current scientific consensus stands, a high view of Scripture is going to be difficult to embrace, for we would have the apostle ‘intending’ to teach theological history, and if he’s wrong on the history from which his theology is constructed, he certainly could be wrong on the theology as well. The time has come to ‘cough up’ the inerrancy model of Scripture; that is, if the consensus evolves to the level of certainty that we have with our heliocentric perspective. Some, e.g., Collins, who headed up the genome project, have said the level of certainty is here. I’m not convinced, nor do I think ‘patience’ at this juncture is anti-science.

  • nanbush

    If I scrape the frosting off a cake, the cake itself is still present. If I remove modern layers of paint from an historic house, that only reveals what was originally visible. The writers of the Hebrew Bible were telling their story of God. Jesus was telling and living about his understanding, his relationship with God. It’s not the frosting, or the newer paint, or words in a book (even one as honored as the Bible) which constitute the heart of religious faith; it’s what’s inside all of them that matters. It’s what they lead us to think about and apply to our lives–not in the words but deeper than the exact words. At base, it’s about our relationship with God. And that is too big to be captured in words. We have to live it. And that’s the point of Christianity–that it’s bigger than our beliefs can hold, bigger than any narrative that comes out of human history. The Christ story, resurrection, etc. is not a delusion but, as the saying goes, “a finger pointing at the moon.” Our destination is the moon, not the finger. Those who want only a rule book are largely missing that point.
    One layperson to another.

  • Keith Johnston

    Pete, great blog. If, as worshipers of One who said “I am the…Truth” are to be “always reforming” in our understanding, why do we always seem to worship tradition as if we have come to a final destination in our search for truth? After all, didn’t even Jesus learn more and “increased in wisdom”? What happened to “faith seeking understanding”?

  • Paul

    The Hastings Rashdall dream that universities began as associations of scholars without external regulation and should always be free from the artificial enforcement of another’s cause. It’s idealistic and rare. Most evangelical institutions are like all institutions. It is propaganda posing as education and apologetics pretending to be scholarship. Those are essential for self-preservation and self-aggrandizement. I wouldn’t hate the system as long as it freely acknowledges it is like every other system in this way and no movement of students learning together

    • Caleb W

      I agree. Unfortunately, they refuse to acknowledge this. They even disingenuously claim the opposite!

      Al Mohler recently said in a video at the Gospel Coalition that evangelical institutions allow students and faculty more freedom to explore the “life of the mind” than their secular counterparts. Right..

  • Tim

    As a former professor who taught in an evangelical context and have known numerous colleagues who do so, Enns has much of value to say here. Many professors fear for their jobs if they were to comment on particular beliefs. Many work in technical fields like textual criticism so that they don’t have to deal with theology (or think at all!) At the same time, Enns underestimates how much there is to know. It makes me smile when so-called enlightened evangelicals are really just evangelicals of another stripe. In Enns’ book on Inspiration he argues that the disciples made the application of prophecies to Jesus based on Jesus explaining it to them (Luke 24:27). Seriously? This is as evangelical as it gets! He could dive deeper and beyond the evangelicalism that binds him to understand that the application of prophecies were all done in hindsight on the basis of faith in Jesus. (That’s right for all the evos out there who want to get mad, none of those OT writers who are quoted in the NT were “prophesying about Jesus). Can’t remember if Don Juel was in his bibliography but he would benefit from reading a far better argument.

    • Chavoux

      But why did they then believe in Jesus in the first place if He was not the promised Messiah? Or was there no Messiah promised?

  • Randall

    Just curious if you could provide examples of some issues scholars are having trouble with. Is it inerrancy, creationism, etc.?

    • I know you are asking Dr. Enns, but I’ll venture: (I’m no longer Evangelical but was for many adult years and have studied the Bible, theology, etc. from both inside and outside that system.) While I don’t hear Evangelicals (non-fundamentalists) put it this way, my view is that the real issues are: 1) Revelation, 2) God having a “chosen people” (Israel and/or the Church), and 3) Individual redemption via Christ’s work (usually “substitutionary atonement”). There are certainly others but these are all core and most critical to the basic Evangelical understanding of the God-human relationship.

      • Chris Falter

        The key issue for Enns seems to be the definition of inerrancy. Enns’ definition of inerrancy (as best I can tell) is that what the Scripture teaches is true, but that such teaching is embedded in documents written by humans and therefore subject to the vicissitudes of any human enterprise. For example, the Spirit-inspired creation account in Genesis teaches us about (among other things) God’s creation of the entire universe, our dignity (being created in God’s image), and our relationship with and accountability to the Creator. On the other hand, the first 3 chapters of Genesis also reflect an understanding of geology and oceanography that few scientists today would agree with.

        Someone please feel free to correct or elaborate on what I wrote!

  • Chaprich 56

    Kim, I’m not sure what “Presbyterian” group you were referring. But the gang that I belong to as a teaching elder is the Presbyterian Church (USA). We have no problems with asking hard questions about the meanings of Scripture, theology, missions, and life in general. Come join us! We would love to have you and your questions.

  • Chaprich 56

    San Francisco Theological Seminary (Presbyterian Church USA) is a fine institution.

  • peteenns

    Folks, one quick it of input from me here: to ask me to name names and places is unreasonable, given the fallout that might occur and harm done to others. Many commenters here have considerable life-experience in this issue. No one is simply winging it or making a mountain out of a molehill. There are numerous permutations of the root cause of the problem, but it comes down to protecting inerrancy–which today still generally pertains to when books where written, by whom, and whether what they report is historically accurate. On these matters, there is a HUGH gulf between biblical scholarship across the spectrum and evangelical/fundamentalist reactions to that work.

    To have to believe in order to keep one’s job that the Pentateuch was written more or less in Hebrew in the middle of the second millennium, or that the conquest happened as Joshua says it does, or that there is no mythic content in the Old Testament is like asking anyone trained in any other field to turn a blind eye to the state of the discipline.

  • Thanks for re-posting this, Pete. I missed it when originally posted. I went through a transition like you and many commenters speak of, though relatively easier than most because my income wasn’t directly tied to it for the most part. I guess mine was helped also by exposure to not just scholars but religious ed people from a broad spectrum of churches and orientations (at Claremont School of Theology). What I’ve come to by continued study since then (almost 2 decades now) is that, indeed, the paradigms of “critical scholarship” and of “Evangelical faith” are largely in opposition, making “cognitive dissonance” inevitable.

    Or, put another way in relation to church communities, it is really tough and perhaps not very workable for either church members or pastor vis-a-vis members to be mixed in holding to one paradigm or the other. It also is very challenging to work out a spiritual practice and some kind of faith in God from the “critical scholarship” orientation. To me, the best model or “Golden Mean” paradigm to work from is Process Theology. I actually did NOT pick it up while at Claremont, though the exposure helped me to go back to and understand it better, find it useful a bit later.

  • Micheal F

    I think it can be taken even further than inerrancy, my suspicions is that there are a lot of clergy and religious scholars, including moderates and progressives, who’s very job depend on belief in god or the supernatural. A belief which they pretty much have abandoned but still have to pretend to confess for the sake of their job security. Just take a look at the clergy project and the research carried out by Dan Dennett and Linda Lascola about unbelieving clergy. The fact of the matter is there a lot of religious people who are coming to grips with the fact that they do not live in a world where the supernatural or anything that transcends the natural exists. Its just no longer tenable to believe such things in the 21st century. This is why those who are in academic disciplines such as philosophy and the sciences are largely atheists or agnostics and an overwhelming majority deny any sort of belief in the supernatural. This is why you have theologians like Spong who are as close to being atheists as you can get I think its important for religious scholars and clergy to undergo regular “inventory” to see if what they confess to believe is what they actually believe or if its something they don’t believe but have to confess to keep their jobs.

    • Your observations are what I largely see as well, Michael. However, thankfully it is not the complete picture.

      The sciences, including probably the dominant force in academic biblical studies, push participants strongly into pure naturalism — i.e., beyond just the methodology of their discipline. However, the strong majority in Christian ministry and the laity operate from classic theism (or some form of “supernaturalism” that runs counter to pure naturalism). This is the simplest (and not much oversimplified) explanation of the problem under discussion. In their basic forms, the two ARE in irreconcilable conflict.

      Fortunately, we are NOT left with only these two options. Neither are satisfactory in “pure” form. Most people apparently believe, at least on the conscious level, that it MUST be one or the other. There are quite a few of us who believe “God” (not theistically defined) can be at work in the world via love, grace and influential “power”. Yet that power is NOT coercive nor interventionist (as in a “second coming” to violently institute the Kingdom of God, e.g.). Yes, it’s a bit more philosophically complex but certainly not beyond the capability of well-educated clergy, academics AND lay people. (I refer particularly to Process Theology, but Buddhism is a much older model in which spiritual/psychological dynamics are taken seriously, often without too much concern to define God or even “decide” if such a being exists.)

      Among Process scholars, or those akin to it from a related system such as Integral Theory (cf. “Integral Christianity”), there has long been research and discussion of spiritual phenomena pointing to continuation of consciousness, a “personal” God (as above, not classical theism), and perhaps most disturbingly to many, strong evidence for some form of reincarnation (knowingly opposing the single lifetime presumption of most of Christianity). I include reincarnation despite its “chuckle” factor, because one has to study ALL the relevant data; and the last several decades have uncovered MUCH data re. it that goes way beyond and often counter to that of Hinduism and its cognates. It can no longer be treated as just a curiosity, either by naturalists or supernaturalists. The same could be said of several phenomena such as NDE’s, demonic possession, or areas of scientific “theory” (most notably evolution for the latter).

      David Ray Griffin, in “Parapsychology, Philosophy and Spirituality”, over 15 years ago thoroughly laid out such a case involving several phenomena, challenging mainly the naturalist side. But he’s challenged the supernaturalist one there also, and in several other works. “Integral Christianity” by Pastor Paul Smith (over 45 yrs. in the same church) applies the very explanatory and helpful Integral Theory to Christian faith and practice in what is so far the landmark book of its type. I’ve reviewed it on my blog, for what it’s worth.

      • Michael F

        I don’t really there is a middle ground of which you speak, and I personally think that process theology is just as irrational as supernaturalist belief.

        • Michael, I tried to reply to this yesterday but only once did it appear and then was gone from my screen before I could… just re-found it. Could you elaborate on “irrational?” In what ways and why? I consider it more “rational” and scientific than any other system, including pure naturalistic science, in that it actively tries to incorporate ALL types and sources of data and to analyze that data into useful and explanatory categories.

          In the “final analysis”, my own view, and I think representing Process thinkers, is there IS a unified “field” encompassing everything (much like naturalism, but not its current predominant form). But “reality” is more “spiritual” than current science allows for… as it purposely pushes aside much of the data.

    • James

      I find this claim outrageous. There are of course good clerics out there beset by serious doubts but there is also a growing number (I would say) of good scientists who believe their chosen profession is capable of accessing only small segments of what appears to be a larger reality. It takes belief in transcendence to widen and deepen (flesh out) their personal perceptions.

      • I’m not a scientist, but that’s exactly how I see it – science is a way we explore creation.

    • Bryan

      This seems to be a bit of a non-sequitur. Enns does not indicate that this professor has rejected God and atheism is therefore in question or lack of belief in the supernatural. It appears as though he clearly exhibits faith in God but questions his vocation only as a result of the inhuman stress that he is undergoing. Professors should be given the freedom to creatively pursue theology without the glaring eyes of unreflective gatekeepers preserving the status quo.

  • Norma Cenva

    In my opinion one of the bad mutations to evolve out of the Enlightenment and show up in post-modernism is a general pooh-poohing of the supernatural. Ironically, two of the intellectual titans of the Enlightenment, Kepler and Newton, had no problem with the supernatural.

    I’ve heard it all. From preachers in advanced stages of fundamental rabies banging pulpits, to academics claiming that parthenogenesis (virgin birth) isn’t any more possible than a dead corpse coming back to life after being executed by the Roman military.

    I let my conscience do my picking and choosing for me. For me it’s a Jiminy Cricket sort of thing if that makes any sense. I believe the Magnificat and Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead. How do I know? I don’t know, I have no iron-clad Euclidean proof for it, it’s simply what I choose to believe.

  • Bryan

    I remember asking pressing questions to my evangelical OT professor while in college and sensed that there were times when certain questions were evaded. After seminary, I could see why. Fear of saying the wrong thing.

    I genuinely hope that some individual rises up and creates a “post-evangelical” institution (college/seminary) where professors who firmly profess faith in God do not have to live in fear for their livelihood and continue to live with the strain of oppressive conduct for which some should be ashamed. I would be happy to be the janitor at such an institution.

    • Chavoux

      But Bryan, why do they have to firmly profess faith in God? Will that not just be another cause for strain? I am convinced that a huge number of professors in my denomination (Dutch Reformed – not really evangelical, but with some historical evangelical influences like Andrew Murray) no longer firmly believe in God, even those that claim they do. Even if they believe in God, their idea of Him is so far removed from the biblical picture that it is only by historical accident that they could be considered “Christian” and it has a next to nothing influence on the way they live. Could this be one of the reasons that it is claimed that 50% !!! of American pastors watch pornography? Because their “faith” is so unreal that it has no effect on their everyday lives?

      • Bryan

        Chavoux, you seem to be equivocating terms here. Your concern is with “atheistic” professors while my own concern is with professors who are told that they must inhibit their theological intuitiveness, suspicions, hunches, etc., or else lose their job. I can certainly understand your concern for a rejection of God and its implications for students (sounds like Don Cupitt).

        However, what criteria might you provide for what you seem to suggest as a “Biblical view of God”? This is a greater problem amongst Protestants than among Jews of the biblical period (take note of syncretism in Smith’s “The Early History of God”). Is a Priestly version of God more acceptable than a Deuteronomistic version? Is the divinely nuanced and strongly erotic Song of Songs? Is the Canaanite version that Ezekiel and others reject a better version? Who holds the power and why??

        It seems quite an audacious claim to say that you are “convinced that a huge number of professors in my denomination no longer firmly believe in God, even those that claim they do.” How can you prove this? This is an untenable and indefensible conclusion. This sounds quite a bit like Schleiermacher’s psychologism in which he asserts that one can “intuit” another in the interpretive process. At some point, if your professors claim a belief in God, they should not be put through an inquisition in which an undue oppressive strain is laid upon them and their families because they do not satisfy those who “clearly” have proper and divinely sanctioned theology.

        This post began by discussing the burdens which highly reflective professors (who do profess faith in God) are under and the unreflective gatekeepers who heap the burdens upon them. You seem to fall in line with these gatekeepers.

        • Chavoux

          Bryan, I agree with you that I would probably be one of those gatekeepers. 🙁 But my reason is that I have seen too many times how young, enthusiastic believers can loose all of that and even their faith because of the things they were taught while studying theology. Jesus said: “By their fruit you shall know them”. If professors are destroying the faith of their student instead of building them up, am I not justified in having serious doubt about their own relationship with God? If they, who should have the most intimate knowledge and relationship with God, even with their own mouths claim how unsure we should be about God, do they really have faith? (I am not saying that Christians should never have doubts, but how can we presume to teach others about God while we cannot put all our trust in God?). James 2 makes it clear that a simple claim to believe in God means nothing if it doesn’t bear fruit. And we are actually commanded in 1 John to test the spirits and not simply accept somebody is a believer just because they say so. My problem is all too often, these learned theologians (highly reflective) are so sceptical of everything the Bible says, but so uncritical in accepting unproven hypotheses about the origins of the Bible.

          • I wonder where inerrancy enters into this discussion. In my experience, some strains of conservative Christianity express an astounding degree of moral certitude – especially making claims about what the bible “clearly says”. I think the faith of those who grasp orthodoxy tightly can often be shallow and fragile. For me, I love the contradictions in the bible because I find God in the center of them. Personally, a little mystery is helpful in my faith.

          • Chavoux

            Well, “mystery” and “contradictions” are not the same in my book. “Mystery” and “apparent contradiction” is much more on the same level IMHO. 🙂 But I do agree that mystery is helpful in my faith as well. The problem is that most of the times the “sure and certain results” of higher criticism are held with just as much dogmatic certainty by the “liberal” position to explain the mystery as by those with a fundamentalist position.

          • Bryan

            I do understand your concern. There has been a large gap between seminarians and laity for quite sometime and I find it difficult to close the gap. The problem that you are suggesting seems multi-faceted. Yes, there are those professors who might be categorized as contributing to the loss of faith in student believers because their undergraduate years were spent in a synchronic reading of the Bible.

            Reading it from this perspective can throw someone into an incredible epistemological crisis. I would say that I am one of them. I was ill-prepared when I went to seminary because my evangelical college did not prepare me for what I was about to come in contact with. However, I had professors who were kind enough to walk me through the rigors of historical criticism, postmodernism, deconstruction, ex eventu issues, et al., (Pete Enns blog is devoted to this). As a matter of fact, my liberal-leaning seminary required prospective faculty members to actually demonstrate that they consistently attending church. They are quite heavy on building community.

            The problem is that so many have a perspective on God that is still stuck in the Sunday school version. This is particularly problematic, especially in Biblical Studies, when one is exposed to numerous materials which one has never come into contact with before and then having to reassess their entire belief structure. I still believe in God but I do think about God much differently. One good example is Mark Smith’s “The Early History of God”. This book will most likely completely flip upside-down everything you thought you knew about the God of the OT.

  • This happens in a lot of areas, as well, not just biblical studies. I graduated from a conservative evangelical university and went on to get a masters in Literature– only to call the Dean of my former school to ask him why my program didn’t teach me any of the things I needed to know to function in grad school.

    I got the same exact response: “so it wouldn’t damage your faith.”

    Well, Dean, guess what– your inaccuracy and lies did more to damage my faith than anything I learned in grad school.

    • Karen Swallow Prior

      Yet, your graduate program was part of another evangelical university. If your experience differed there (and I am not saying it did, although I hope so since I was one of your professors), your point above is only a partial picture of your experience in evangelical higher education.

      • I’m not sure I’m following.

        My grad experience– at a far less conservative school– was such a huge change from my undergrad experience. The topics I covered in grad school– like actually being introduced to literary criticism– were a complete 180* from what I’d had before.

        So yes, it is a partial picture, but even inside evangelicalism there are degrees– and more intensely conservative perspectives have the same reaction to “liberal” (from their POV) places like my grad school that more “mainstream” evangelical universities have to the schools that offer PhD programs.

        • Karen Swallow Prior

          Yes, that’s exactly what I meant: there are degrees even within evangelicalism. Your first point painted a broader stroke by not clarifying that your graduate study was also at an evangelical institution and (presumably) differed from the other experience.

          This (meaning the original article as well as the comments) is an important discussion to have!

        • I’m curious what your grad work was or is in. Mine was interdisciplinary – Talbot Sch. of Theol. for M.Div., Biola U. for M.A. (Mar & Fam. Csg.), then later PhD coursework (2 yrs. FTE) at Claremont, Theology, Psych, and Rel. Ed. It wasn’t until after all that that I finally took some time to step back to look at Scripture from a different angle than mainly theological (tho psych and anthro had already enlightened me to many of the human dynamics).

          Maybe similarly to you, I came to realize that disciplines that completely (“no-brainer”) should have been interacted with in academic as well as lay or “church” biblical studies just were NOT. Literary criticism is one. Cultural anthro/sociology is another, as is more “secular” history and history/philosophy of religion. I could go on but these are key ones and they STILL are largely left out of the picture, even often by the supposedly open “historical critical” OT/NT scholars…. VERY interesting!

          • My MA is in English, but my personal grad work focused on integrating philosophy of science with modern and postmodern science fiction writers.

            Now I’m applying literary criticism frames like narrative theory to my study of religion and the Bible, but that’s independent of any postgrad work. I’m obsessed with the idea of using literary theories in my approach to the Bible.

          • Thanks for sharing. I find both your grad work focus and your “obsession” now fascinating… esp. the latter. Mine is similar but I’ve never been as much into literature (partly bec. I’m an avg. speed reader, at best) as into the science side (psych, religious experience, and a more detailed analysis of NT texts relative to history, culture, etc.). I’ve not followed “narrative theology” much but know that it is a natural to interact more than I think it has so far with the “social interest” theory of Christian origins developed so far mainly by Burton Mack, together with historian of religion (esp. ANE religion), Jonathan Z. Smith. This approach is rich in interdisciplinary study and I am convinced is “the only way to go” for us to get a more realistic picture of how Christianity originally formed and rapidly evolved in the first century particularly (we have more data re. the second and following centuries). Your thoughts?

        • Karen Swallow Prior

          In case you’re still not following, the point is this: it
          was your graduate education at an evangelical university which (at least in part, as I understand your story) provided you with the education and tools to question the fundamentalism of your upbringing and your previous school. This is a crucial nuance (not to mention a nice irony). In commenting on an article about the failures of evangelical education to allow for this kind of critique,
          to be silent on this point seems to me to betray a tendency toward another fundamentalism.I trust that was not your intention. But fundamentalism of any kind is always
          too easily slipped into. We must be diligent not simply to exchange one brand for another.

  • C.M. Granger

    You seem to be asserting that it is wrong for evangelical institutions to expect their faculty to uphold their statement of faith. Is that correct? Would you also say that it’s wrong for an evangelical institution to even have a statement of faith?

  • Casey McCollum

    Wow, alot of comments – so this is probably not a new one – but i must say that this strikes a deep chord within me. I am not in academia but i am a minister with an M.Div and I feel much the same way. The cognitive dissonance is stifling and overwhelming at times. I would love for you to explore this not just in the ivory tower but maybe interview a few ministers in the trenches to see how they navigate.

  • Chavoux

    Please then, also deal with the other side of these things: those who loose their faith in the existence of God because of this scholarship (e.g. http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-03192004-135203/) and their argument that even believing in the existence of God when all these “results” of theology argue for the opposite, is simply a form of cognitive dissonance.

  • Chavoux

    Well, the same Jesus who quoted the shema, also said: “I and the Father are one.” So as His follower I do accept His creed (including the shema). As for why He did not sound like modern evangelicals I can think of two reasons: 1. It was still before His crucifixion so it would not be as clear to those who heard Him what “repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name” (Luke 24:46-47) would mean (although, doesn’t this sound a bit like evangelicals today?). 2. The difference in the audience we try to reach. Jesus was talking to Jews who mostly knew the Scriptures and the promises of the Kingdom of God (and who therefore could easily make the connection between what He was preaching and the promised Messiah). Modern followers of Jesus commonly assume that they are preaching to an audience from a Christian background or without any connection of knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures.

  • Chavoux

    Pete, my problem is that many times in the “liberal” theological institutions also only the one side is ever taught. Students are taught about all the supposed mistakes in the Bible and the negative results from the different “critical-historical” methods, but never the possible answers to those questions. At least two of my friends have lost their faith in God as a result. They were simply never taught the other side of the argument (except to make fun of it as “fundamentalist”). People like K.K. Kitchen (and Albright before him) are leaders in the field of Biblical Archaeology, but you would seldom hear their views on the origins of the Bible taught in liberal faculties (while the revisionist views of some who have done very little actual archaeological work, are often accepted as “God’s truth”). Students are taught as if the result of the latest research is necessarily the truth on a par with or more reliable than what the Bible teaches. Theology wishes to be a science, but seems unwilling to accept the uncertainty that will always be part and parcel of science. Instead, the theories about how the bible came to be are stated with almost the same certainty as dogma, instead of being acknowledged for what it is: a provisional hypothesis that needs to be tested and will never be certain, not an article of faith. By contrast, I can trust the person of Jesus Christ and everything He says unreservedly, so much so, that I can entrust my whole life into His care and follow Him in obedience where-ever He leads. That makes it faith, not science.

  • rvs

    Too often in faux-intellectual evangelical circles, we discover the apotheosis of the amateur, a celebration of those who rigorously articulate their own lack of comprehension in a way that comforts the stakeholders. Yadda, yadda, yadda, fear of intelligence, fear of authenticity, fear of the Bible.

  • WBC

    Conflicted teachers who have embraced historic Liberal Protestant theology but are teaching at schools with Evangelical theology need not think their theology is new or unheard of or presents a unique moment in history or unique dilemma for the church just because Liberal Protestant theology is “new” to them.

  • C.M.Granger

    Given that it has been a few days since I left my comments and you haven’t responded, I assume you think it is wrong for evangelical institutions to either have a statement of faith, or, if they do, it’s wrong for them to enforce it. I find this expectation odd. If an institution has no statement of faith, it shouldn’t consider itself “evangelical” in any meaningful sense of the word. If they do have one, and don’t hold to it, they’re no better–even hypocritical.
    I have difficulty seeing the problem you present with much sympathy, given that professors typically sign a statement of faith as terms of employment. If they didn’t agree with the statement when they signed it, they’re simply being dishonest in order to get a job. If they changed their position in the course of study in their field, they should be honest with their administration and ask for some time to job-search elsewhere. Adults should make adult decisions.

    • Seeker

      I get what you are saying C.M. Granger, but I can’t help but wonder and hope that there is a better way forward for all of us. I sometimes wonder if we would be better off if we just did away with these statements of faith and instead substituted something more like a “statement of behavior” that would articulate how we will treat one another as we pursue truth together. Maybe if we laid out those ground-rules first, we would not have to be so threatened by new ideas or scholarship that causes us to question our statements of faith… And maybe statements of faith would be a lot better if they included as a last point something like this: “In faith, we will be willing to revise and update all of the above should the Spirit of Truth guide us as a community into new ways of understanding.” 🙂 Wouldn’t that put a beautiful twist on these “statements of faith”? I mean, after all, every statement of faith is a product of its own time and culture and people. Why would we not want the freedom to work with these statements as a NEW people, in a NEW time, in a NEW cultural climate, with NEW scholarship, NEW science, etc. etc.??

      All of these things should inform our statements of faith. If we are not listening to the voice of the Spirit in our present context, perhaps we too easily fall prey to worshiping old sacred cows enshrined in dogmatic theological statements.

      Let’s keep thinking about this…

      • C.M Granger

        Unless we want to do away with orthodoxy, statements of faith are a necessary part of evangelicalism. It seems to me that some have forgotten that the essentials of the faith have been hammered out on the anvil of theological controversy throughout the history of the church. We don’t need to wipe the slate clean and start over.
        It’s very simple. If you don’t agree with an institution’s statement of faith, don’t sign it and be dishonest for the sake of a job. If your views change, be up front with the institution and look for a job elsewhere. Don’t whine against the institution for being faithful to its convictions.

        • Seeker

          What is Orthodoxy? Who defines it? Do you think that Orthodoxy is something that is so set in stone that throughout history it has never shifted or been revised by the church? Has the church ultimately arrived? There is no more to learn? No more to explore? Then what is the point of even studying the Bible anymore? After all, we have “Orthodoxy”! Why not just give people a statement of faith and keep our Bibles locked up in the cellar?

          Your response is frustrating in part because I think it lacks the experience of being on the other side. There is a big difference between “whining” about not getting your way and lamenting that the organizations and churches that you were raised in and actually care about have so many defensive walls up that they are unable to hear the voices of their own sons and daughters who wish to help them live and thrive another day – albeit with a different way of seeing some things.

          Less than a week ago I had a rather intense conversation with my mom on the phone – a wonderfully committed Reformed Christian woman. However, because her son (now in my 30’s!) is raising some sincere and honest questions regarding some theological topics that are certainly up for debate in our world today, my own mom worries that my salvation is in jeopardy… Now tell me, where does this come from? And why is my experience of mistrust and alienation from my own family simply a microcosm of what happens on a much broader scale within the church at large? This is sad. Many segments of Evangelicalism are so rooted in fear that they can no longer hear any voice other than the one that sounds like an echo of their own.

          Most of my friends are not whining… To the contrary, they are crying because so much of the Evangelical church in America is willing to die on unnecessary hills rather than opening their hearts, minds and spirits to the reality that perhaps God is still speaking and there may still be a thing or two for the church to learn.

          • C.M Granger

            I think you are familiar with what the church has recognized as orthodoxy, which is defined by the Scriptures and has been declared by the churches. I didn’t say every theological jot and tittle, I said the essentials of the faith. If you don’t believe this is the case, then the church has somehow not managed to determine the essence of the faith after 2,000 years. That doesn’t instill much confidence in the Holy Spirit leading His church into all the truth.
            The problem is that the good, old paths are not pleasing to many modern ears. Many simply don’t like God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture, and have preferred to take snippets here and there, and emphasize the “trajectory” of Scripture, and explained away everything except the sermon on the mount and John 3:16. In fact, it would be wise for the sons and daughters of the church to listen to their wise and godly parents, instead of always thinking they themselves know better.

          • Seeker

            Considering the fact that I too am a father, I hope that I will have more wisdom than many of those who have gone before me… Age does not automatically = wisdom if the years growing old have not been spent well. Rather than wisdom, I often see fear and pride being the guiding principles in some of those who have paved the way for me. I hope I won’t repeat the same mistakes with my children. I want them to grow up in an atmosphere where they are free to think with the brain God gave them rather than being afraid to ask a good question for fear that it might lead to heresy and (God forbid!) hell!! 🙂 What a horrible environment to grow and learn in! No, thank you very much, I’ll pass on that sort of wisdom.

            And speaking of “the Holy Spirit leading His church into all the truth” – does it instill confidence in you to survey the present scene and then sit back smugly saying “Thank God the Spirit’s work is done and we have achieved unity in the Truth!” That would be a sad reality… The church is fractured, splintered, divisive, judgmental, etc. etc. We are often not a city on a hill or a light in the darkness. If this is as good as it gets, that is a sad commentary on the power of the Spirit to bring unity to the church. Couldn’t there possibly be more for the Spirit to teach us? Is it possible that the Spirit might even have truth to reveal that runs deeper than doctrinal statements about mysteries beyond our comprehension that we divide and even kill over?

            I hope so…

          • Barry_D

            Well, there are how many hundreds of sects of Baptists alone? That suggest the either they are splitting over non-essentials, or are disagreeing on essentials.

          • Barry_D

            No, I am not, and I’m aware of enough stuff to know better. Slavery? Female personhood? The theological status of the USA? Biblical literallness/inerrancy, and what it means? ‘Clobber verses’?

            And I’m watching some ogranizations start to enshrine global warming denial as an item of orthodoxy.

        • “Unless we want to do away with orthodoxy, statements of faith are a necessary part of evangelicalism.”

          Does a statement of faith mean that your faith is so weak that new information and new ideas would shatter it? If so, then it’s not necessary to have one.

  • Mike Sangrey

    It’s not just scholars. Even the thinking, serious student of the Bible, and so-called ‘layman’, have to keep their mouths shut lest they get marginalized by the leadership within a church. It does not matter what church you’re in. If you have thoughts like that “other church” (or denomination, or author, or….), then you gain an exclusive standing at the end of the “Pastoral smile and nodding head” with no real hope to grow through your own ministry. Any public opportunity you might have is quietly blocked.

    But, I have a suggestion.

    What if a scholarship organization was started, the purpose of which was to develop the science of unity?

    And I’m thinking the org comprises the people on that list you’ve referred to, as well as (hopefully) others. These men and women could use their talents to achieve something they, I would think, would be highly motivated to achieve. They certainly know in an experiental way what the lack of unity means. And, it seems to me, anonymity could be maintained with only the “board” knowing the list. Scholarship could be published by the org for other scholars to peer review. Threads of the results would eventually filter their way into classrooms (unless even the pursuit of unity is disallowed from discussion). With today’s technology, such a framework is possible.

    Lord knows it would take a significant amount of effort, and would not succeed in anything like the short term. (There seems to be this rule in science that paradigms don’t change until the holders of the current one die.) But, in the long term (insert thoughtful pause), I think it would eventually win the day. Then the contributors, who have quietly suffered, will have the joy of knowing they’ve worshipped in the way God has gifted them.

    Anyway, it’s a thought.

  • Ashley

    I would love for all these people to organize and DO SOMETHING, rather than remain gagged in a repressive environment that discourages curiosity and intellectual evolution. A community on the internet that fosters discussion between scholars and the public, a new university, a new institute–something!! I would love for these censored topics to become accessible to those of us who aren’t in seminary. There are many of us in the Church who are hungry for honest, deliberate scholarship from which we have been “sheltered” by the institutions that ought to be helping us grow.

    I attended a Christian university in Oregon which does not allow any faculty, staff, or students to serve on the board of trustees, except for the president. It is governed in a very top-down manner and some decisions in the past few years have stood out to me as protecting the financial interests of the institution at the cost of the students, faculty, and staff. I would love to see something like the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities push for more democratic representation on the boards of schools like my alma mater. I think that would at least be a step in the right direction.

  • tim w

    Peter, this is why i think returning to the orthodox view of the Bible is important, the heretical reformed biblicism just drive scholars nuts. i explained this in my video “entering the kingdom of god today” available on youtube.

  • tim w

    Peter, may i translate this article into Chinese and share it for free?

    • peteenns

      Of course. Thanks for asking.

  • Mark

    Then interview as a scholar would and if the hiring committee does not like you, move on and interview somewhere else. If you intimidate them, go on to the next place.

    Those of you in this predicament should google Rabbi Dr. James Wax (obm) of Temple Israel in Memphis. He was a scholar but knew how to handle a temple board and stayed there for many decades.

  • PuffnStuff

    I think it would help your cause if you could articulate why what you are saying even matters in practical terms. What is it really that we are being kept from? What new discoveries have been made that the church needs to know? I am curious.

    • PuffnStuff

      i apologize the tone of this is little harsh. I am sorry.

  • PuffnStuff

    I think a lot of times new theories are just ways of creating space so that we can insert our agendas or assumptions.

  • J P

    I have a friend who switched from NT studies to OT studies at Princeton Theo. Seminary because in his denomination there was less sensitivity to (or even awareness of) applying higher critical methods to the OT. He feels free to be a scholar and stay happy in church. He lives with a cognitive dissonance that might be considered a kind of insanity in any other scholarly field. I hate to think of medical doctors dealing with “truths in conflict” that way. Great guy—dedicated Christian. Next to no expectations for integrity from his faith community!

  • If your faith is so weak that new ideas destroy it instead of strengthen it, perhaps you should rethink your faith.

  • eeenok

    TOED the line

  • kzarley

    Good post.