It’s all out in the raw; Westminster documents (quotes and observations)

Most of you probably know by now that Westminster has released documents related to the Peter Enns’s book Inspiration & Incarnation (I&I, only $12). The official parsing of the book is now 3/4 as long as the book itself. Add to that all the articles, blogs and comments that have been written about it . . . all 146 pages of the Westminster documents are available in PDF here (Thanks: Conn-versation; Between Two Worlds; Art Boulet, where comments are growing.) Evangelical Textual Criticism weighs in too, and Joel Garver and Ben Myers have the most pointed reflections I’ve seen yet.

  • Statement from the Chairman of the Board
  • Preface to the Historical and Theological Field Committee (HTFC)
  • Historical and Theological Field Committee Report (HTFC)
  • Preface to the Hermeneutics Field Committee’s (HFC) Reply
  • Hermeneutics Field Committee’s Reply to the HTFC (HFC)
  • Edgar-Kelly Motion
  • Minority Report
  • “‘The Infallible Rule of Interpretation of Scripture’: The Hermeneutical Crisis and the Westminster Standards” (Lillback article 26 Feb 2008 ; the last 43 pages of the PDF document.)

Although these documents are fascinating reading for Westminster alumni like myself, I recognize that most of this is insider stuff (comparing I&I to the Westminster Standards and parsing various reformed theologians) and may not be of interest to the general public.

Still, I can’t resist making a couple of comments. These documents give you a front-row seat on some important debates. It will come as no surprise that I am biased. ;-). I loved Groves, Green, Enns, and Kelly. I’m a biblical studies guy, and I believe in respecting Scripture enough to let it speak for itself in its original context (see page 29 in Westminster PDF document).

This is a classic study in some of the tensions between systematic (esp. confessional) theology and biblical theology.

[Note: All page # references in this post refer to the pages of the entire PDF document, not individual sections]

The five main concerns from Westminster’s historians and systematic theologians about Incarnation and Inspiration (I&I) in their order of importance (p. 4):

1) a doctrine of Scripture that diverges from the classic Reformation doctrine, in particular the tradition of Old Princeton 2 and Westminster and specifically, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), chapter 1;
(2) a reductionistic Incarnational model;
(3) a Post-Conservative Evangelical (PCE) approach to the discipline of theology;
(4) a lack of clarity;
(5) the appearance of speaking for the entire faculty.

The six sections of the biblical studies department’s response (summarized on 30-31).

  1. Issues of the genre of I&I (intentions and assumptions)
  2. WCF I’s alleged “silence” regarding the human character of Scripture
  3. “I&I, not the HTFC Response, most faithfully represents the WCF I acknowledgment that a) the Bible itself must be the ultimate court of authority on all matters of faith and life, and b) the proof of Scripture’s divinity does not lie in a rationalistic, phenomenological demonstration, but on the Holy Spirit’s conviction of the heart (WCF I.5).”
  4. “certain philosophical assumptions and ideas that we believe are either wrong or misapplied, particularly with reference to the “incarnation” analogy that is the backbone of I&I’s thesis regarding the nature of the Bible”
  5. The biblical theological tradition at Westminster (plus Barthian pegging misquotes).
  6. Re: being “guilty by association” with post-conservative evangelicals.

Our response will close with a sketch of our positive vision for biblical studies at WTS that is faithful to the Westminster Confession, submissive to the ultimate authority of Scripture, and sensitive to its actual character and teaching, and a personal note of hope for the future.

Some random observations and quotes from the Westminster documents [slightly updated]:

Westminster’s theologians and historians section [HTFC Concerns]:

  1. Preface: The publication of I&I in 2005 was deeply troubling. We were concerned with both the actual content of I&I and its implications for pastoral ministry
  2. Page 4: All the good in I&I is summarized in the final paragraph. Of course, these are “overshadowed” by everything else.
  3. Page 5: The concerns of the HTFC can be stated under two broad categories 1. Incarnation 2. Inspiration.
  4. Page 5: “What I&I undertakes, as one of its primary objectives, enters into the specific domain and concerns of systematic theology.”
  5. Page 6: “The proposals of I&I with respect to the doctrine of Scripture imply various denials of the historic, Reformed doctrine of Scripture.”
  6. Page 6-7: I.1 “First, it seems to the HTFC that I&I effectively denies, in that it does not presuppose in its argumentation, that Scripture is foundationally and essentially divine . . . in WCF I, there is no mention of the human authors of Scripture.”
  7. Page 7: “Scripture’s author is God, who uses “actuaries” or “tabluaries” to write down His words, who are themselves instrumental secondary secondary authors. . . And, if instruments, then what men write down is as much God’s own words as if He had written it down without human mediation. [Authorities on this are Richard Muller 2003 and Kuyper below.]
  8. A real attempt to paint Enns as Barthian (e.g. notes 11, 12, 14, 17). [Take that you Karl Barth fans.]
  9. Interesting(?) discussions of docetic and kenotic heresies with regards to Scripture (HTFC II page 12ff) and post conservative evangelicals (HTFC III, page 21 ff.) Tries to paint Enns’s view of scripture as kenotic.
  10. Page 24: “HTFC recognizes that the catholic creeds and the Westminster Standards were formulated in various historical contexts. But the HTFC also affirms that catholic creeds and the Westminster Standards faithfully summarize the unchanging and infallible system of doctrine set forth in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore we recognize that creeds and confessions are subordinate standards; yet there is no intrinsic incompatibility between their historically conditioned character, on the one hand, and the theologically perennial system of biblical truth that they summarize, on the other. The Westminster Standards express a theologically perennial system of biblical truth in the form of fully historical (17th century) documents (p. 24).” [That about says all you need to know.]
  11. Page 26: HTFC complaint IV: you dissed some respected scholars . . . namely “B F. Westcott, R V G Tasker, Leon Morris, D A Carson, and Andreas Kőstenberger and maybe Ridderbos (p. 26)”
  12. [Comment (Ben):I can appreciate that some traditional evangelicals might be uncomfortable with certain questions I&I poses, but the intent of this document is clearly not to wrestle with these questions. Rather it seeks to brand Enns as a heretic. Very sad, but that’s the way this world operates.]

Response from Westminster’s biblical studies faculty [HFC Response]:

  1. Page 27: There is an admission that certain controversial things could have been phrased differently in Enns’s book; hindsight is 20-20. Enns has addressed and nuanced many of the controversial statements in ensuing publications (see listing of them here; thanks Brandon). A couple other places are noted later.
  2. Page 29: “This is not to imply that we think the members of the HTFC are ignorant of the historical concreteness of God’s revelation, but it surely may be acknowledged that most members of that committee are not as deeply in daily contact with the “nitty-gritty” of what the Bible actually does and says (p. 29).”
  3. Page 38: “Lay readers are further encouraged to remember that the articulation of what Scripture is will always have a provisional quality to it, which is not to present a weak or relativistic doctrine of Scripture to them, nor to threaten their own faith. It is, rather, a reminder that God is bigger than what we think and that exploration and investigation of Scripture are not a threat to faith:”
  4. Page 40: “The fear of the HTFC seems to be that of muting the divine origin of Scripture, and therefore its authority, which the HFC in no way intends to do. To the contrary, we view I&I as founded on the very opposite contention, that Scripture looks the way it does because God wanted it to look this way. The fear of the HFC is that we cease wrestling with Scripture as a historical phenomenon, a product of God’s wisdom and mercy, and so fail to address adequately the very real challenges before us.”
  5. Page 41: “Again, we wish to stress that the systematic theological (not to mention historical theological) dimension to this discussion is one we all greatly value. . . But it is simply unjust to apply a rigid (and, we believe, truncated [see Sections Two, Three and Four below]) systematic theological template onto the real and complex biblical issues engaged in I&I.”
  6. Page 41 again: “the nature of exegesis is perhaps conceived of or at least executed somewhat differently by the two disciplines. For biblical studies there is a decided emphasis on the historical/contextual dimension (not exclusively so, but an important dimension nevertheless), whereas systematic theological exegesis is more “inner-canonically” oriented (without, hopefully, being oblivious to the vital importance of historical context).”
  7. The sections on the progress in Biblical Studies since the 1700’s might be of general interest (pages 48-52). Namely, there have been developments in ancient near eastern archeology, historical linguistics, and NT Textual criticism that impact how we read Scripture. (Pages 52-59 show examples of this recognition from reformed and Westminster heroes.)
  8. I (Ben) was stunned when I saw the selective quotation of the Warfield by the HTFC side-by-side (p. 78). It is one thing to proof-text, but to pull key phrases and sentences from the middle of a quotation seems like the height of intellectual dishonesty. Shouldn’t someone be rebuked for this basic violation of Christian truth telling. (Cf. pages 8-9 and response on p. 89 – bottom, and following where key phrases in Enns’s book have been “rewritten” to make Enns’s view of Scripture more Barthian.)
  9. Page 87: “The phenomena that our tradition has labeled “the humanity of scripture” is, therefore, a signature mark of the character of its divinity. This divinity, if we may paraphrase Pascal, is not the abstract divinity defined by the philosophers; it is the divinity of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Yahweh, the covenant God! As such, these “troublesome” phenomena of Scripture are one of the important revelatory burdens of the Bible, providing us a unique view into the nature of our God, of his relationship with his people and the concerns of his heart. As a set, then, these phenomena are of immense moment for our understanding of the Bible, the Christian walk and calling. We dare not minimize this dimension of scripture in the slightest. It is an integral part of a biblical “doctrine of Scripture.”
  10. The conclusion on page 97 is quite sad, especially in hindsight.

Other observations:

  1. A lot of the argument seems to be about whose side are the following on: WCF (of course), but also for example, Warfield, Hodge, Berkouwer, Bavinck, Young, Machen, Van Til, Kline, and Conn (esp. in Lillback’s essay). Or maybe who is not on our side – Karl Barth.
  2. The rhetorical tone of Lillback’s article is quite striking/shocking. (It’s hard to believe this was released to public after the HFC response. It was likely written long before ??) Was it a recognition of the weaknesses of the arguments in the HTFC initial documents? It’s definitely geared towards an audience that has likely already made up it’s mind.
  3. The footnotes make some of the most interesting reading especially in Lillback essay where the argument seems to be carried more in the footnotes than the text. E.g. HTFC note 17 “Lurking in the background of this discussion is the question: ‘Can I&I distinguish its view of Scripture from Barth’s?’ . . .”; Lillback note 29 [Doesn’t this kill his whole argument about the Westminster Seminary tradition?] or note 31, note 44 (Catholic and Arminians re: anti-confessionalism, cf. note 43), note 87 (capitalization issues), note 88 (bias in interpretation; see especially the end of the note), note 90 -Enns’s open theism??, or note 100: “Other important hermeneutical issues raised by Professor Enns cannot be addressed here since they are beyond the purview of this study. For significant discussions of how the NT writers quote the OT, consider the following: (long list).” [Shouldn’t this hermeneutical discussion be central to our doctrine of Scripture?]

Page 146: Lillback’s conclusion:

rather than walk with Enns on his theological “journey” of “bumps, twists and turns” let us instead continue to stand with Luther on God’s Word and sing . . .

Read it all all for yourself. I’m not sure some of these statements should be given any more press, but sometimes seeing them in the raw helps you come to grips with what some people are actually writing. Unfortunately, each side will probably read them differently.

Overall: Brilliant response by the biblical studies faculty!! As to the rest, it reminded me why I am glad to be very far away from that environment. Anything else I might say – especially about the TR (militantly reformed) subculture as I have experienced it – would not be edifying. We appear to be in totally different universes. Sorry.

Better comments by Joel Garver and Ben Myers and on Art Boulet‘s blog; Conn-versation, Between Two Worlds, and Evangelical Textual Criticism weigh in too.

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3 thoughts on “It’s all out in the raw; Westminster documents (quotes and observations)

  1. aboulet says:

    Good overview. I agree: the HTFC’s and Lillback’s report were not up to par in any sense of the word.

  2. Ben says:

    Thanks Art. As you can see in my two posts on WTS that follow, I just couldn’t let it go. I look forward to reading your eventual reflections on this. Enjoy finishing this term ;-).

  3. […] (with other links) here, here, here, and here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Not your average day in the pastorate; […]

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