Sunday, May 18, 2008

Inspiration and Incarnation - Nihil Obstat

Now that I have finished reading Peter Enns's Inspiration and Incarnation, I can say that I like it. If I were a bishop I would grant it my Imprimatur, though I am happy to add that I am not an Old Testament scholar and am therefore not in a position to evaluate some of the observations he makes about the Old Testament and parallels to Ancient Near Eastern literature, and the Old Testament and theological diversity.

Enns has been criticized for his loose terminology and for failing to engage theological discussions of the doctrine of inspiration, among other things (see the links to reviews here). It may well be that he tries to get too much mileage out of the incarnational analogy (as D.A. Carson suggested in his review here), though it serves his limited purposes well. I thought Enns pushed the "this is a problem" line a little too hard at times, and I wished for more discussion of the options. (This last point is the only reason I would hesitate to recommend it to Christians who are not in a position to dig deeper and evaluate the options themselves.)

But the book should be evaluated for what it is: A popular-level work--notice the absence of footnotes!--that takes the inspiration of Scripture for granted and that seeks to reflect on what inspiration means in light of the actual phenomena in Scripture. A sympathetic reading would suggest that pursuing the questions further is precisely what Enns intended for his readers to do.

I like how Enns models a confidence in the authority of Scripture which allows him to approach the phenomena in Scripture honestly instead of defensively. (To be sure, it is possible to make an honest defense, but in my experience evangelicals are not very good at it.)

Consider the following examples of Enns's approach:
  • I am not trying to drive a wedge between the Bible and God. Actually, and somewhat ironically, this is what I see others doing. I feel bound to talk about God in the way(s) the Bible does, even if I am not comfortable with it. The Bible really does have authority if we let it speak, and not when we--intentionally or unintentionally--suspend what the Bible says about God in some places while we work out our speculations about what God is 'really' like, perhabs by accenting other portions of the Bible that are more amenable to tour thinking. God gave us the Bible so we could read it, not so we can ferret our way behind it to see how things really are. (106).
  • Is the fact of diversity fundamentally contrary to the Bible being the word of God? My answer is no. And the way in which we can begin to address this issue is to confess at the outset, along with the historic Christian church, that the Bible is the word of God. That is our starting point, a confession of faith, not creating a standard of what the Bible look like and then assessing the Bible on the basis of that standard. If we begin with the confession that the Bible is God's word, that it ultimately comes from him, that it is what the Spirit of god wanted it to be, that there is no place in all the messiness of the Old Testament where God says, "Oops, I didn't really mean to put it that way--I'd like to try again, please"--if we begin there, we have the freedom to look honestly and deeply at what God is doing in the Bible. In other words, once we confess that the Bible is God's word, we can look at how it is God's word. That investigation ill not come to an end in this life. There is always a freshness and inscrutability about the Bible. This goes hand in hand with believing that the Bible is God's word; it will always be bigger than what we can comprehend. There is always more thinkinig and reflection to be done in observing how Scripture behaves and what conclusions we can draw. (108)
It is for statements such as these that I would second Richard E. Averbeck's endorsement: "This is a very needed and refreshing book."


ErinOrtlund said...

Interesting. Eric said he liked the book too. Weird how it led to the author getting suspended.

Anonymous said...

I am baffled at what the divines at Westminster were thinking when they proscribed Enns and his book. There is nothing in his book that contradicts what the Westminster Confession says about Scripture. It is evidently a 19th century interpretation of a 17th century document that they are taking as the ultimate standard of truth. I don't think the realize how much harm they have done to the cause of Christ but trying to ban serious reflection on real issues.