inerrancy and the recent non-apocalyptic discussion at the annual Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Baltimore

inerrancy and the recent non-apocalyptic discussion at the annual Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Baltimore November 21, 2013

I just got back from the session at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Baltimore on the the book I recently contributed to, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. On the panel were co-authors Al Mohler, Michael Bird, John Franke, Kevin Vanhoozer (via video), and me.  The discussion was moderated by the editors of the book, James Merrick and Stephen Garrett.

As I entered the room I noticed two things. First, I had never met Al Mohler, but I was immediately taken by the fact that he and I are about the same height, so, if it came to it, I think I could take him.

Second, I didn’t notice a metal detector, though I had requested–in writing–that one be installed. Neither was my flak jacket neatly folded on my seat as a backup precaution. It turned out I didn’t need them any way.

The nuclear, apocalyptic, smack down, world-ending moment many were expecting and/or hoping for (let’s face it, why else would 2000+ people sit through 3 hours of this) didn’t happen. If anything was apocalyptic it was the $10 “sandwiches” the hotel provided for lunch and charging me $11.99 for 24-hours of internet access. What is this, Siberia?

Here’s how the session was laid out. We each began with a 15 minute presentation of our views. Next, for about 45 minutes we had the chance to press each other on matters, and I’d say there was a very healthy give and take among all present. If Vanhoozer had been there, this would have further expanded the conversation, but it was already hard enough sharing 2 microphones among the 4 of us. The Q&A session that followed, for about 45 minutes, was likewise fruitful.

My general take on the session is that all panelists were very clear in expressing what they thought. Some exchanges were pointed but not remotely aggressive or disrespectful.

My main regret is that it was only as the session was ending that I felt we were all getting to know each other well enough, so to speak, that things really could have taken off. I think each of us saw patterns of responses in each other that were only identified as the patterns kept recurring over the 3 hours.

We got below the surface of the rhetoric, but it would take more effort to get at the heart of things–which for me comes down to “what kind of God are we talking about here?” What we really needed now was for the panelists to find a pub, sit across from each other, and get down to business. “Panel discussions” are too much about posturing.

As a biblical scholar who deals with the messy parts of the Bible (i.e., the Old Testament), I came away with one recurring impression, a confirmation of my experience in these matters: mainstream American evangelicalism, as codified in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, doesn’t really know what to do with the Bible as a historical text.

Historical context is more a problem to be solved than a dimension of the Bible to be embraced–unless historical matters are idiosyncratically circumscribed, as they are in CSBI.

What summed up the issue, and the divide, for me at least was when one presenter pressed me by saying, “But the Bible is not merely human.” Indeed, but, it is still throughly human—right? A CSBI model of inerrancy gives lip service to the Bible’s historical particularity, but in practice keeps at a safe distance. In a way, this is a way to frame the entire discussion: what does it mean for a thoroughly human book to be more than human? 

Welcome to the mystery of the incarnation.

That was a main theme of my 15 minute presentation. The title of my essay in the book is “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does.” Here are some of the main points I made.

  • Neither strict nor progressive inerrancy (both of which are represented in the book) describe what I see when I open the Bible and read it. Both prescribe the boundaries of biblical interpretation in ways that create conflict both inner-canonically and with respect to extra-biblical information.
  • My main misgiving is that inerrancy prescribes too narrowly biblical interpretation because it prescribes too narrowly God. All inerrantists, on some level, have the following a priori: an inerrant Bible is the only type of book God would produce. The tensions within evangelicalism over inerrancy are fueled by the distance between this a priori expectation about how God and the Bible “must” behave and the persistently non-cooperative details of biblical interpretation. This distance virtually guarantees continued conflict.
  • CSBI promulgates these false expectations and is also seen as an authoritative document within American evangelical culture. One example is an early assertion that speaks of God “who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only.” This early assertion links inerrancy with the very nature of God, which is, to put it mildly, a conversation-stopper.
  • What is missing here is hermeneutical self-consciousness, i.e., a reflection on the nature of truth that God speaks in ancient texts though ancient authors.
  • To illustrate I referred to several of the passages in the Old Testament where Israel’s God Yahweh is referred to as one among a number of gods–e.g., Psalm 82, Psalm 95, Job 1-2 (Yahweh is chairman of a heavenly council of gods) Exodus 12:12 (Yahweh fights against others gods, here Egyptian gods), Deuteronomy 32:8 (where the high god Elyon assigns to Yahweh the people of Israel as his allotment–though English translations do not reflect this). My point here is how does an inerrant Bible, wherein God only speaks “truth,” fit with these descriptions of God? To restrict inerrancy to what the Bible explicitly “teaches or affirms,” as defenders of inerrancy typically do in these cases, does not help because these texts most certainly “affirm” something about God quite clearly.
  • My point is that these descriptions of God are ones that the Israelites believed to be the case, at least at some point in their history. They do not give us final, absolute, inerrant information about God but contextually expressed beliefs about God. Serious historical study of the Bible has helped us to understand the ancient, tribal world where these texts were produced. The New Testament helps us see that we are to move beyond the tribal thinking that portrays God in these ways.
  • To speak this way is not to dimiss the Old Testament nor is it Marcionism. Rather, we are grappling with “Bible in context” (the historical setting of the Bible) and the canonical complexity of the problem of continuity and discontinuity between the testaments (the gospel is clearly connected to Israel’s story while at the same time does new and unexpected things).
  • An incarnational model of Scripture helps reorient our expectations of the Bible so that “history” ceases being such a huge doctrinal hurdle–we expect an ancient Bible to look ancient rather than protect the Bible from how it behaves.
  • Inerrancy is not a concept that describes this complex dynamic, especially given the gatekeeping function inerrancy has performed in evangelicalism. Other language should be used.

On the last point, during the Q&A, I commented that my view of Scripture is that it carries a “narratival authority.” God uses the biblical story to form followers of Christ, not simply or even primarily rationally, but in their “whole being.” The biblical story has movement, shifts, changes–as does any story–and is used by God to shape us slowly and deeply in a life-long process of being conformed more and more to the crucified and risen Christ, not simply giving us discreet self-contained “truth claims.” The Bible itself bears witness to this journey of God’s people as they grow and reflect on God in various settings and situations, which is why there is such theological diversity in Scripture, and systematizing Scripture under a CSBI model is out of place.

OK, that’s it for now. I may expand on some of this soon, especially since the book is now available.

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  • The ‘incarnational’ model is immensely helpful to me.. particularly because even the model itself points us to Jesus, who ought to be the focal point of our faith anyways.

  • Don Bryant

    The phrase “narratival authority” communicates! I can feel in it the authority of Scripture without being immediately caught up in all the apologetics which are mind-numbing and soul-deadening to me. My trajectory is toward inerrancy, but there is something about the way it is handled that seems more mathematical to me than soulish. I went to Westminster (’79), but could never really find a seat in the inerrancy cheering section. Maybe that is my defect but 34 years later I haven’t changed on this. Inerrancy is such a high-demand belief that it eats up all the energy in the room.

  • Adam Omelianchuk

    “They do not give us final, absolute, inerrant information about God but contextually expressed beliefs about God”

    Does an inerrant statement require finality and absoluteness? I don’t see why it would. When we interpret the “heavenly host” texts we could surmise that the author believed monotheism entailed that YHWH was the greatest of all gods who alone was worthy of worship. That is what is being asserted. As things move along and we come to see that there aren’t any other gods, the assertion isn’t any less true; it’s just becomes a consequent of a true conditional: if there are other gods besides YHWH, YHWH is the greatest among them who alone is worthy of worship. The truth or falsity of the antecedent doesn’t determine the truth or falisity of the conditional. At least that’s how I understand it.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    I really like the point about the CSBI promoting false expectations about what to find in the Bible. The book was already on my wish list, now I need to get it.

  • You and Kenton Sparks have helped me a whole lot with this. I think it is ironic that the very schools of thought who give the “context, context, context!” speech about hermeneutics are the very people who find your own context-focused approach entirely illegitimate.

  • It was really wonderful reading this post and hearing about the interaction between profound thinkers and theologians on this topic. As an inerrantist, I am always grateful to hear robust and sensible dialogue on this issue.

  • Michael Anderson

    It is interesting that you say you left with the same general impressions you had before being reinforced through this panel. I am curious if the other panelists felt the same–i.e. Mohler thinks you and all other non-inerrantists have jumped ship, or Bird thinking that Inerrancy is primarily an American cultural artifact. In general, this is my main contention with Academia–we feign conversations, but it usually ends up as us speaking past each other. I agree that the prime location for academic dialogue is the pub, not the panel.

    Also, I would really love to hear more about how to understand the Old Testament’s “God” as an incomplete revelation of God without slipping into Marcionism. This has been my main struggle with accepting a Christocentric and/or Incarnational hermeneutic–I simply cannot see how saying that God as presented in the OT is a projection of a tribal mentality and thus are false portrayals of God does not in principle turn into saying that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is not the same as the God portrayed in the New Testament.

    • It seems to me that Marcion’s error is closely related to the error of the inerrantists. Both believe that the Old Testament provides an accurate portrait of a God.

      Inerrantists believe the OT gives an accurate description of the God of the NT. Marcion does not see how they can be the same, so he thinks the OT God is a different God.
      My view is that the OT portrayal of God is inaccurate; it is merely how the writers’ understood God to be. In the NT, Jesus gives us a much clearer understanding of God as the Father.

      • Richard Worden Wilson

        I’ve not quite understood why one can say that the OT portrayal of God is inaccurate, or just how people at different points in time SAW God, and not apply the same principle to the NT, relativizing every aspect of the revelation of God in and through Jesus Christ. Isn’t the NT data just a different culturally conditioned gathering of inaccuracies in this scheme of things? This often seems to be the rather obvious and unfortunate implication of Peter Enns’ statements about the OT’s view(s) of God. I’d appreciate a comment on this from Peter as well, though he and others may be too busy with SBL, etc., to do so. It seems we need a new way to speak helpfully about this issue.

        • Richard, I cannot speak for Peter but I can share my response to your question.
          I agree that the NT is also written by people of their time and culture expressing their views about God and other issues. To me the difference is that they had a new and valuable source of information–Jesus.

          The story of Jesus words and actions told from the memories of his earliest followers draw me in. And then the resurrection makes me sit up and pay attention to what he has to say.

          Of course, the historicity of the resurrection can be questioned (and is), but I am impressed by how the resurrection energized his followers who knew him personally, and the facts of his words and deeds, even to the point of death.
          So, for me, the NT is different only in that it was a response to that unique person–Jesus. I would not claim that everything said about him is perfectly accurate or without interpretation or reflection, but I do think the essence of Jesus’ teaching is very visible in the Gospels.

          • Richard Worden Wilson

            So, j-w-b, you seem to imply that Jesus, despite the culturally conditioned portrayals of resurrection and your sense that his teaching is visible to you, is more valuable to you in knowing who God is than Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Elijah and all the other prophets that he himself says spoke of him? Unfortunately, if I apply the same hermeneutic criteria as you set forth regarding the OT portrayals of God to that of the NT it seems they should be considered just as “inaccurate” as you say the OT is. So, you might someday find your view of Jesus to be “inaccurate” also. I don’t want you to go there, as I still believe both the O and NT provide a contiguous portrayal of God, somewhat disjoint in parts, but an integral progression of the same God revealing more of himself to those he chose to be his people, as much as was possible for them to comprehend at any a particular time–there is, in this sense, yet more to be revealed. Furthermore, according to the NT, the “person” of Christ was very present and able to make himself known to believers throughout biblical history, and did so even during OT times. So, in my view it is not a matter of any of the ancient recipients of revelations from God being “mistaken” or in error regarding God’s will or what he had commanded them to do. It really can’t be the case, or there is no point in claiming Christ is more able to reveal God to us–what’s good for the hermeneutical goose is good for the gander. I hope you and others can understand why I think this inconsistency is an important one to put behind us as we together work toward encouraging others to come to know God in and through Christ.
            All the best to all in Christ.

          • Richard, I appreciate your perspective, but I disagree that “what’s good for the hermeneutical goose is good for the gander” applies here as you intend.
            I believe in the resurrection and the uniqueness of Jesus because I find the reports convincing, not because I have applied some sort of biblical interpretational method to the text or consider the text authoritative.
            By the way, I was not the one who voted down on your comment.

      • Dean

        Some would say that Jesus become man precisely to correct our understanding of God. In fact, his whole ministry can be described as “setting the record straight”, so to speak. I completely agree with you that inerrentists are the true heirs of Marcion in this discussion. If the OT God is perfectly revealed in the person of Jesus, we are REQUIRED to re-frame the OT narratives that appear inconsistent. The NT writers had no problem doing that, even to the point of using questionable hermeneutics (according to our standards) and Dr. Enns has a lot of examples of this in his books.

        Here’s an example of something like this that I recently encountered. I was watching a youtube clip of Bill Maher mocking Christians for being hypocrites about the use of violence in light of the teachings of Christ and on Bible illiteracy in general. The newest comment on youtube that came up after I watched the clip said something to the effect of, “well, our Bible ALSO says an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” as a retort to Bill Maher’s tirade. While the commentator basically stuck his foot in his mouth in light of Matthew 5:38, it’s my opinion that inerrantists make the same mistake all the time by trying to give equal “weight” to every verse in the Bible. As Greg Boyd has pointed out, this has the effect of “flattening” out the text and presents a whole host of problems. Then the same folks turn around and accuse non-innerantists of having sloppy hermeneutics. Would have loved to heard this panel by the way, I think this is pressing discussion for what is left of the Evangelical community.

        • I like your reference to flattening out the text of the Bible. I have used the term ‘flat reading’ to describe how inerrantist grab verses and phrases from the Bible without regard to the varied contexts, but I had not heard others use that term.
          If one believes that every word is written by God himself and that context or authors do not matter, I suppose flat reading is a natural result.

      • Andrew Dowling

        “that the OT portrayal of God is inaccurate”

        There’s no such thing as an “OT portrayal of God” . . the author (s) of Kings and the author of Jonah clearly had significant differences on who God was/represented.

        • True. I had in mind the depiction of the angry, violent, vindictive God found at various places in the Old Testament.

          • Mike Farley

            Jesus talks as much or more about hell and divine wrath and judgment as any other biblical figure. If you want to deny that one way God’s holiness is expressed is just anger against human sin, it seems that you are going to have to follow Marcion’s methods even farther than you already do and edit many texts out of the New Testament as well (e.g., Luke 13:1-5; Matthew 25; 2 Thess. 1:5-9; Rev. 14, 18, 19).

          • If by hell you mean an eternal place of punishment in fire, I don’t think Jesus talks about that at all. I devote a number of posts to that subject beginning with ‘What about Hell?’


      • Tim

        Interesting. I would have said Marcion’s error is closely related to the error of many non-inerrantists.

        Both have the same perception of what the Old Testament’s portrayal of God is. Neither can see the New Testament God clearly shining out in the Old Testament. Both flatten out the complexity of God.

  • I last read the CSBI about twenty years ago, during a time of spiritual crisis over inerrancy that precipitated a year-long grieving of the loss of God. I now trust in Jesus, instead of an inerrant Bible, as the foundation of my life.

    In re-reading the CSBI today, I was struck by all the assertions that were made–based on what? The authors provided nothing of substance as support for all the heavy burdens of expectation they placed on God and the Bible.

    • Mike Farley

      The purpose of the Chicago Statement in inerrancy is simply
      to define inerrancy, not to provide the arguments for it in that document
      itself. That theological and historical substance has been amply supplied in numerous evangelical works. For starters, see the twin volumes edited by D. A. Carson, _Scripture and Truth_ and _Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon_, Kenneth Kitchen’s _On the Reliability of the OT_, Craig Blomberg’s _The Historical Reliability of the Gospels_, Long, Longman, and Provan’s _Biblical History of Israel_, and the brand new colleciton of essays _Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?_ edited by Hoffmeier and Magary, as well as other work by James Hoffmeier, Darrell Bock, Craig Evans, N. T. Wright, as well as numerous evangelical commentaries. There is plenty of substance provided by inerrantists to consider on all of the points that you raise.

      • You are right that there are quite a number of books providing support for inerrancy. I read a lot of them during the time I was struggling with inerrancy, and I did not find them convincing.

  • Mary Elizabeth Fisher

    May I suggest that while the ierrantists may not know what to do with the Bible as an historical text, it appears to me that the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of the 2000+ persons in that room do not know how to allow the book ” to shape us slowly and deeply ” to be truly human. If they did allow such new creation to be manifest the dominant white patriarchy both on stage and in the audience would have – since the original Chicago Statement – “created space” through the decades since for more women, the other half of that species called “human” to sit in that 2013 ETS space

    How ironic that the one whom Jesus – in a garden on the first day of the week while it was still dark – commanded to announce that apostolic witness that Jesus was risen, was a woman.

    One day …

  • Jason

    Thank you for your thoughts on this matter and sharing this blog. They have been tremendously helpful to me. Keep up the good work.

  • copyrightman

    Nice to hear it was a fruitful discussion. It is a positive thing, I think, that such a discussion can even happen.

  • Julie Walsh

    I’m looking for the Life– or as you say, the incarnational, “more than human” in the OT — so you have this quote: “My point is that these descriptions of God are ones that the Israelites believed to be the case, at least at some point in their history. They do not give us final, absolute, inerrant information about God but contextually expressed beliefs about God.” Could you say about some of the discrepancies or things we don’t like in the OT, “Look at what extremes God was willing to go to help his beloved Israel come to knowledge and relationship with Him”? Similarly, do we see things in the Old Testament that we don’t understand like directions from God that sound like genocide (whether they are or not) and say, “Why is God hanging cursed on a tree with the thieves?” Is this the way forward?

    • peteenns

      Julie, could you rephrase this? Not sure I follow. Hope others can chime in, too. I’ll be at SBL meetings all weekend.

      • Julie Walsh

        In terms of teaching, it seems like discussions often degenerate into how to explain the difficult parts of the OT, such as the passages that contradict each other or the “genocide” passages, as you say “the messy parts.” We wind up having to find ways to seemingly make excuses for God. But from your post, I now better see the possibility of, instead, actually finding POSITIVE ways to describe God BECAUSE OF these contradictions and difficult passages–ways that we wouldn’t be able to describe Him if He hadn’t allowed such “messy parts.” And I’m also looking at the incarnation of Christ to see if the terms that we use to understand His life, death, resurrection and ascension can help us here. Does this make sense?

        • KA Crosby

          Greg Boyd talks about how God allowed himself to be mischaracterized by his people in their limited, tribal understanding of him, and in doing so, was essentially taking on their sins. A glimpse of the future work of the cross. So for example, the common ancient near eastern practice of going into war and attempting genocide in order to prevent vengeance, claiming it to be the will of their god and God allowing this, shows that he is willing to take on the burden/blame for his people. Is this the kind of thing you had in mind?

          • Andrew Dowling

            “So for example, the common ancient near eastern practice
            of going into war and attempting genocide in order to prevent vengeance,
            claiming it to be the will of their god and God allowing this, shows
            that he is willing to take on the burden/blame for his people.”

            Well that is . . . .creative . . . . .

          • KA Crosby

            Yes, it is. It sounds like Boyd will be expanding on this theory in his forthcoming book, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Not sure when to expect publication.

          • Julie Walsh

            Thank you for the answer. Yes, this is what I had in mind but I’m not sure that I like it very well. In my Charismatic background, we typically look at how human enemies against Yahweh’s people were to be treated in the ancient times when the Jewish people were taking the land then, is how thoughts and spiritual forces against Christ, now that He has come, are to be treated now. Eph 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places”. These are things that are to come into conformity to Christ’s humble, self-giving nature. Do you have anything on the differences between different scripture passages?

  • Brian P.

    Can I just say, I’m so glad I don’t believe this stuff any more. 🙂

  • drew

    I think I understand your issues of inerrancy, as God is not the same throughout the Bible itself, so it would seem limiting to say that the Bible therefore cannot have “mistakes” or “differences”, when we see God having them. (As Brueggemann has pointed out in Embrace of pain/Structural litigimation). I have noticed this shift (God is perfect, therefore the word must be) this shift played out in Jesus. i.e. Hauerwas makes the point that Jesus does not do justice, He is justice. Everything He does embodies the this, because He is God. Yet, if God (to quote Brueggemann) cannot decide what God to be at times, how do we then understand Jesus as model/perfecter of the faith? Does this “unstable” God of the OT mean imply that Jesus was also not “stable”?

    I don’t know if I have worded that correctly, but hopefully you understand my question.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “Yet, if God (to quote Brueggemann) cannot decide what God to be at times,”

      I would re-phrase that to “ancient Jewish scribes could not always agree on what God God was being” 🙂

      • drew

        I think Brueggemann worded it this way to say that at times God was the God of common theology, punished evil, blessed the obedient, which is like many other Gods at that time. Yet it was when God stepped out of this that he was no longer like the other Gods. This was the accusation from Job, that God was supposed to be this way, and He was not being this way.

        Also, it was common understanding during the exile that YHWH had lost to Marduk.

        Your comment suggests there is one god; while in fact I agree there is one God, YHWH, I think both the OT and NT (you cannot serve God and mammon) suggests that there are more gods that fight for our service; other gods that try to be our God.

        I believe this is the framework Brueggemann is operating from.

  • Preston Garrison

    I see from the program that your inerrancy session was at the same time as the session on views of Adam. Do you know of anyone who is or will be blogging concerning that session for the benefit of the hoi polloi?

  • rvs

    Much appreciated. Your work has helped my thinking on this topic–much. I especially appreciate your “too-narrowly-prescribes-God” point and the related call for hermeneutical self-consciousness.

    Your phrase “the surface of the rhetoric” intrigues me. Maybe it’s rhetoric all the way down, or turtles all the way down. I say this as a child of the linguistic turn and a child of The Living Word!

  • Brian Drawbaugh

    Pete, I couldn’t help but notice that you and Al Mohler were separated by Michael and John 🙂 By the way, I know you’ve been called a lot of things, but Kim Kardashian??!!

    • peteenns

      I like sitting at the end. I feel squeezed in (physically) if I don’t. If I had the presence of mind I would have mentioned that if I’m Kim, Bird is Chloe–you know–the ugly one 🙂

  • James

    I too believe scripture carries “narratival” authority at varying levels. I am currently immersed in Matthew’s gospel and am impressed with its unity of theme–the coming kingdom of heaven (God) in Messiah. Yes, Jesus was part of a world that understood kingdom far differently than we liberal democratic members of western civil society do. So, we try to understand what he taught and lived back then and what he would have us understand today through the medium of story. I agree “God uses the biblical story to form followers of Christ.” Until the heart is changed to a disposition of complete loyalty and trust, our formation has scarcely begun–as Matthew would instruct us narratively.

  • gingoro

    Pete In light of the ETS doctrinal statement “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” were you an invited guest?

    • peteenns

      That’s correct. I even spent a minute or two in my remarks talking about why I stopped signing the doctrinal statement after 2007.

  • Andy

    Thanks for this Peter.

    I have a question that is related to this issue. In the last few years I have held the view that the morality and understanding of God as expressed in the OT (even if it seems quite messed up) is always progressive compared to the surrounding cultures, i.e. Yahweh leading them slowly towards the grace of Jesus Christ…

    Is this an accurate understanding? Were the ‘OT laws/ understandings of God’ always progressive in comparison to surrounding cultures or do you believe that it is messier than that?

    • peteenns

      Not always, and not radically so–though I am still sympathetic to the argument. But it won’t do (you’re not saying this) to suggest that the other nations had stone age concept of justice, compassion, etc. and Israel clearly rose above the fray.

      • Andy

        Thanks Peter, that perspective was holding about 100 other questions at bay. Now you have just opened them all up. Thanks a lot 😉

      • Andrew Dowling

        I’m certainly no expert on Zoroastrianism but it appears that religious tradition was about as advanced, or at least in the same league, in ethics/moral frameworks as ancient Judaism was. I’d be curious to know your insights/opinion on that (I’m sure you’ve read more than I have).

  • Wordsntone

    What I was looking for is the bus among young evangelicals at the conference, you know “did you hear what Peter Enns said?” type of stuff. But nada, niltch. I did mention Peter Enns in my presentation but only to highlight the rather shaky ground of the evolution theory as a basis for undermining the concept of innerrancy. Your arguments were indeed matched. A bible reduced to merely a set of documents that are merely human (ala your commitment to higher criticism noted) that have some inspiration at some level does not come close to presenting the documents they are themselves. I saw you were in the schedule and looked forward to the hallway buzz but was very disappointed.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “A bible reduced to merely a set of documents that are merely human (ala
      your commitment to higher criticism noted) that have some inspiration at
      some level does not come close to presenting the documents they are

      ??? huh??

  • Pete –

    Thanks for these thoughts. I really have enjoyed them, engaging with your books and the blog here.

    Would you say, even over the past 6+ years, your thinking has continued to develop? What was expressed in, say, Inspiration & Incarnation was only a beginning. I think I began noting more of your embracing of historical (critical) scholarship, but now you’re bringing out the narrative emphasis more and more. I think they both relate, but maybe there was more emphasis on the historical critical thoughts and moving more into the narrative emphasis. This is why I appreciate folks like Andrew Perriman and his desire to really let the Scripture be a narrative text, not a systematic theology.

    Thanks again for your pursuit of God in Christ!

    • peteenns

      Well, my thinking had better be developing! 🙂 I’m always learning.

      The way I am putting the narrative emphasis, at least in my own mind at this point, is that the biblical story models a spiritual journey…which adds sort of a contemplative dimension to all this.

      • You’re still learning? Smmmh! I had it all figured out years ago! 😉

        But really, the older I get (and I’m a wee 34 yr old) the more I realize I do not know. My motto on many things: Still learning.

  • JL Schafer

    Pete, Thanks for posting this article. I wish I could have attended that session.

    For the “thoroughly human” aspect of Scripture to be useful, we ought to have a realistic understanding of what human actually beings do when they experience events, recall them and tell others about them. Scientists have been learning a great deal about the psychology of memory which can contribute to this discussion. This recent article in The Atlantic is a fascinating read; although it doesn’t mention Scripture, the applications to Scripture (and to general understanding of people) are profound.

    Of course, this article is about the memories of individuals. When you start talking about how groups of people recall their collective history and retain it in the form of stories, many new dimensions are added…

  • I greatly admire Peter Enns for his intellectual honesty and insights, he is really one of the very best Evangelical theologians.

    I largely agree with his way to interpret Scripture but I still ask the question:
    Why should we consider the Biblical Canon as more inspired than other Christian and Jewish books?

    Could we start contemplating the idea that C.S. Lewis was NOT less inspired than the apostle Paul as he wrote his wonderful books?

    I know that if you take this step, you would no longer be considered an Evangelical, but would that really be the end of the world (or of Christianity for that matter)?

    To my mind many of the challenges from anti-theists disappear if one ceases singling out the Bible.

    Anyway, I really hope I will have more opportunities to interact with progressive Evangelicals, both on my blog and elsewhere (or privately ).

    Lovely greetings from Europe.

    • ricky

      I think this is a HUGE question that needs to be addressed. I find this as a fundamental ‘fork-in-the-road’, that once answered, allows us to move further at a much faster pace in fleshing out so much theology and doctrine.

      Please, please, please, somebody address this..

    • James

      My two cents is that if we consider the Biblical Canon no more inspired than any other Christian or Jewish books, anti-theists have no ground for challenge for the faith disappears. C.S. Lewis used a powerful intellectual approach but he was a biblical Christian at base.

  • Tim

    “All inerrantists, on some level, have the following a priori: an inerrant Bible is the only type of book God would produce.”

    While there’s truth in that, I think you flattened out an important distinction: The distinction between “God’s Word” and “a book God would produce”. And the distinction between “a book God would produce” and “a book whose production God was involved in”.

    It’s true that inerrantists assert that “God’s Word” is necessarily inerrant (though I’d argue that’s as much based in the testimony of the Bible as it’s based in a priori assumptions). But the controversy over whether the Bible “is God’s Word” or “contains God’s Word” suggests that inerrantists do have a mental category for an errant book that God produced (or was involved in producing).

    It’s not just a matter of assumption; it’s a matter of what Scripture actually records about the Bible’s nature & intended function. It’s not just about what God inherently “would” do, it’s about what he told us he intended to do.

    While I heartily concur with the challenge to examine assumptions, don’t you agree that you need to cautiously guard against dismissively relegating your disputants’ perspective to the place of unexamined assumption? Don’t you agree that many inerrantists have examined & weighed these presuppositions?

    • Auggie

      There is also the issue of realizing that just because a reader cannot answer a question about the Bible doesn’t mean that scripture is in error, only that they reader is in error.

  • Jon G

    can this discussion be viewed somewhere online?

    • Preston Garrison
    • Preston Garrison

      I noticed the question before I noticed who posted it. I’ve already put this on your blog Jon, but for everyone else’s info, several other sessions including the one on views of Adam and Eve are also available.

  • Thanks for this, Pete. I would love to listen to the audio – does anyone know if it is posted online? That being said, I approach the issue from more of a philosophical position, rather than an OT scholar position, and I think some harder things could be said about CSBI. The philosophical presuppositions which underly the document are frankly untenable. I have been mulling over a blog post about this for a while, but a blog just isn’t the right format for such a long and in-depth discussion. Long story short, I am chagrined by the lack of introspection shown by those who hold to CSBI. Not that I reject inerrancy, per se, but the document itself leaves much to be desired for the inquiring mind.

  • Auggie

    I don’t see why acknowledging other deities or “gods” in the OT is a problem. Michael Heiser has done a lot of good work here and simply views them as created beings. So, your problem for inerrancy (in this case) is a failure. I am not saying you do not make a good point about people ignoring the clear meaning of Psalm 82 (and other passages), but that doesn’t seem to me to be problematic unless you do not think there are any other divine beings besides YHWH. That however, is not a corollary of inerrancy.

    So, can you show that the existence of other gods shows that YHWH isn’t considered supreme among the gods? I also think you fail to take into account what it would mean for a book to be inspired. You make the opposite mistake of many evangelicals. They cannot handle the human dimension, but you cannot handle the divine dimension. I would rather err on the former than the later.

    • Auggie

      Mike Heiser has some really good work on the Divine Council.

    • Auggie

      One other thing. If you try and deny that the Hebrews believed in Monotheism then it would seem that you would be working off of a post-enlightenment (rather arbitrary) definition of monotheism. All monotheism means is that there is one being that is in another ontological category of beings whether there be demigods, angels, gremlins, humans, insects etc. The most perfect being (in this case YHWH) would be on the creator side of the creator/creature distinction, all other beings (no matter how remarkable) would exist on the creature side.

  • gingoro

    Pete It seems to me that your incarnational view of scripture fits much better with an evolutionary view of the origin of mankind than it does special creation of mankind, perfect in most everything. Mankind’s feeling the way or groping towards an understanding of God in spite of God’s self revelation seems much more in accord with an evolved being than with a being fallen from perfection who walked and talked with God in the garden. Does not such an origin of mankind accord better with the problems that you observe in early parts of the Bible for example the implication of God “as one among a number of gods”?


    if you have any thoughts on how God first began to interact with mankind assuming an evolutionary origin of man then a post would be interesting.

  • L

    First, thank you for bearing the emotional brunt of addressing these issues so that someone, who doesn’t have a life invested in the study of these texts, can make a terse comment, like the one above, “That makes a lot of sense to me. Thanks.” This is a gift to the broader community that you have given.

    A comment on one statement.

    “Serious historical study of the Bible has helped us to understand the ancient, tribal world where these texts were produced. The New Testament helps us see that we are to move beyond the tribal thinking that portrays God in these ways.”

    Am I reading 19th century anthropological research on races? Perhaps you were trying to calm the Evangelical listener who fears you’re taking their beloved Jesus away & they needed a wee hint of supersessionism to calm their anxious hearts?

    In the end, I’m not quite sure I’m ready to move beyond “tribal” thinking. Also, does that really describe the divide between the OT & NT? Tribalism is not an early thing moved away from but (largely, though not entirely) a secondary reassertion in the Persian period to deal with the challenge of reconstituting a polity, frayed by conquest. “Tribalism” persists in an altered form in late Second Temple Judaism as well.

    The NT is messy, too. Incarnational as you say. Views of women make me cringe whether they are in Matthew, 1 Timothy or Leviticus. The latter is not ‘tribal’ and the former a beautiful picture of a post-tribal world. The working out of your thoughts, even in the NT, will perhaps make Evangelicals fear you more & yet it must be done to be coherent.

    Be well, Peter Enns. Again, thank you from afar for your willingness to speak openly & bear the impact personally, even as you speak directly to this community.

  • theologicalresearcher

    I would rather listen to Albert Mohler, John MacArthur, John Piper, and Wayne Grudem on biblical inerrancy than someone by the likes of Karl Barth, Hans Frei, or George Lindbeck. The latter people led many people astray with their pathetically weak view of Scripture. As a result, look at has happened to the church today as a result of a neo-orthodox and postliberal understanding of Scripture: spiritual compromise and gospel truncating.

    • Tim

      No, that’s what has happened to the church today because of the likes of people like Mohler, MacArthur, Piper and Grudem. A shallow view of Christianity has led to shallow churches, that are in reality doing the very things you accuse the “neo-orthodox and postliberal” of doing.

      The Pharisees didn’t much appreciate Jesus coming in and turning their understanding of scripture on its head, either.

  • andrewbourne

    An observation concerning biblical inerrancy is a lack of understanding that God is still speaking through the scriptures if you truly accept a Triune God then the Holy Spirit has more light to shine.This is the essential aspect of Tradition in the Church with