Lillback’s attack on Enns (WTS) – a brief outline ;-/.

As I related in my previous post (postures and orientations of the WTS debate), I’ve had trouble getting away from the recently released Westminster documents.

For those of you who are having trouble following the essay in which Peter Lillback’s attacks Peter Enns, Hermeneutical Crisis and the Westminster Standards, I thought I could provide a brief outline that follows the headings in the articles and the essay’s “line of argument.” 😉

[N.B. Reference to “God Bless America” and “apple pie” under point V and the “stake” in the conclusion are fictitious.]

OUTLINE (sort of)

I. (pages 2-9/104-111) Harvie Conn would have supported Enns. Wait . . . the entire faculty of Westminster wrote a whole book on Inerrancy in 1988 and only cited the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) eight times – only the first chapter and never I.9 (p. 6n29 [108]); Bultmann gets eight citations too.

II. Enns might be okay as far as WCF is concerned, but if we consider the catechisms and the Westminster/OPC/PCA statements of subscription, then we’ve got him (p. 10 [112]).

II.B Given criticisms of primacy afforded to Westminster Standards (including by Conn n.45), the real question is what do the Standards say (p. 11 [113])

III. A string of enough quotes from [the new divines? “magisterium”] Silva, Turretin, Gaffin, Kuyper, Berkouwer, Warfield, Bavinck, Young, Schaff, D.A. Carson(?), Episcopious (?), Poythress should overwhelm you with the view that the Standards are necessary for hermeneutics . . . and Enns – unlike Young – is a heretic because he is “vague and undefined.” (p. 14n51/116)

IV. Avoid science (Berkouwer and Kuyper), it leads to “irresolute doubt (18/120).” The Westminster Confession and confessional theology are the only exceptions to the “Scripture interprets Scripture rule (p. 19 [121]).” [But see also VII.7 below.]

V. Turetin [sic n. 71] and Berkouwer say that Enns is wrong to “emphasize” the humanity of Scripture and to consider extrabiblical evidence (20/122). With his “risks, unexpected bumps, twists, and turns” (2x here – plus the conclusion) Enns’s “provisional” doctrine of Scripture is denying sola Scriptura, the “infallible rule of interpretation,” the Confession, the Larger Catechism (i.e. the Reformed tradition), God Bless America, and apple pie. (p. 22-/124) [Note from editor: I felt like choking when I retyped these mots qui fache as the French say.]

Is the Bible still the word of God? Rally to arms, my friends; we are in crisis!!

VI. Help me Bavinck, Young, Carson and Helm; Enns “disturbingly” avoids our favorite theological terms [and capital “W”/Latin “V” ] (30/132 cf. n. 87 – thanks Justin) – at least where I’ve chosen to quote him. 4 consequences (p. 31/133).

VII. When you compare Inspiration and Incarnation contra the Westminster Standards, Enns’s “views are incompatible with the Westminster Confession of Faith” or the catechisms if we can’t nail him with the Confession. Read: Enns is a heretic.

  1. Forget section four of the HFC response. (I didn’t read it either?); Enns is a heretic.
  2. ?? [Read it for yourself; it’s only one paragraph (33/135).] Enns is a heretic for being in a “continual conversation” with Scripture.
  3. Let me give a series of quotes from the WCF about the humanness of the Bible (35/137) and then say that Enns is a heretic for talking about its humanness.
  4. The “infallible rule” is itself infallible because it talks about the infallible Bible. Our doctrines of Scripture are therefore infallible, not provisional. Enns is a heretic for saying doctrines are provisional.
  5. The Bible needs to be read as a “timeless rulebook” because the Confession and Catechisms use the word “rule” many times and because LC 99 tells us to obey the 10 rules (commandments). Plus in his vows, Enns said that the bible was a “rule” (of faith and practice.) [I’m curious, what do the Standards say about the bible as an “owner’s manual” – see I&I 169 right next to “”timeless rulebook.”]
  6. I know the Christological focus of the Bible is one of the major theological paradigms advanced by the Confession (among others like covenants and kingdoms, which are not Christologically focused?), BUT man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Therefore, the christotelic hermeneutic offered by Enns “necessitates a christonomism.” (Therefore, in case you didn’t know that christonomism is a heresy, Enns is a heretic.)
  7. ?? [Somebody help me with the line of argument here . . . ?? Our hermeneutical rules are infallible because they describe the infallible infallible rule, which is infallible because it describes the infallible Scriptures (see 4 above)?? Plus the LC99 describes the 10 rules ??] Since Enns admits that there are no “clear rules or guidelines for not taking this process too far” (I&I p. 171 – my favorite “bumps, twists, and turns” above), therefore Enns denies all hermeneutics (rules of exegesis), therefore Enns is a heretic.

Conclusion: Crossroads, Slippery Slope and Watershed. Lets reframe this crisis in terms of Schaeffer’s existential neo-orthodoxy. I appeal to Luther! In case you forgot, Enns is the anti-Luther; “bumps, twists, and turns” again! Let’s sing a Lutheran hymn to feel more pious and psyche ourselves up for burning the unrepentant Enns at the stake (if only we were in the golden age of orthodoxy – p. 2n10). [Sorry, very low blow.]


Hope this helps as you plow through the essay. Let me know if you find any errors or points of disagreement. As soon as I finished reading Lillback’s essay, I turned to Enns’s conclusion in Inspiration and Incarnation (Ch. 5, where’s Lillback’s favorite “bumps, twist, and turns” quote comes from.) – not by judgmental suspicion, fear, polarization, power plays and hostility, but by humility, love, and patience (I&I p. 172). [Sorry, guilty as charged.]

UPDATE: Art Boulet has written a VERY THOROUGH CRITIQUE of Lillback’s essay (15 pages – single spaced!!) Read it all here.

Conn-versation promises more a constructive and Christian engagement soon. Ben Myers has provided a must-read critique the HTFC report against Enns.

The “Historical and Theological Field Committee Report” is especially depressing. The Report makes it clear that Enns’ heterodoxy was already a settled issue for these colleagues; there is no real engagement with his book, no reflection on the theological questions, and certainly not even a glimmer of self-critical humility. Every question is settled in advance; the authors are invincibly persuaded of their own rightness.

. . .It’s sadly revealing to see the way objections against Enns are simply piled up, willy-nilly, without any modesty or sense of proportion. . .

Joel Garver, who has critiqued Enns’s book elsewhere writes this (more respectfully) about Lillback’s essay.

Frankly, I think the essay is an embarrassment. I realize that presidents of academic institutions are often selected more for their vision or administrative skills (or even willingness to take on an unforgiving job) than necessarily their scholarship or academic rigor. Still, in my opinion, Lillback’s essay is a disservice to the integrity and reputation of WTS.

In the preceding paragraphs he writes:

The climactic passage of Lillback’s own essay poses the possibilities as an either/or crossroads for WTS that forces a stark choice: either sola scriptura or Enns, either “the evangelical doctrine of scripture” or Enns, either “Luther” or Enns, either “standing on God’s word” or Enns. While Lillback’s formal recommendation may have stopped short of suggesting termination, it seems clear to me that the burden of his essay pushed for more decisive action.

Concerning the essay itself, it is a peculiar piece. The footnotes, overall, are more extensive than the main text and contain a great deal of the essay’s argument, a method into which academics like me can too easily slip, but which is considered poor form (I’ve seen it referred to as “footnote disease” by the style manuals).

Further, the method of argumentation seems somewhat scatter shot. While the main theme is the Westminster Confession’s statement that “the only infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself,” the actual argument ranges over a vast host of topics.

The essay strikes me as an attempt to grab and deploy any and every possible tool against Enns’s book, drawing upon negative reviews, repeating various aspects of the HTFC report, and amassing various lists of quotations from Inspiration and Incarnation (often isolated phrases, taken out of context), hoping that among these various tools, something makes a dent. Strangely, the essay doesn’t seem even to acknowledge the HFC reply to the HTFC report from nearly a year earlier, but rather makes a number of the same, already-criticized moves that the HTFC report did, without any real revision or acknowledgment of their problematic character.

Rhetorically, as noted above, the essay appears designed to provoke a response and sets out options in the starkest terms, an approach that would prima facie seem able to gain traction only with those already disposed to its conclusions.

Read Garver’s full post. Art Boulet’s blog also has a few comments.

8 thoughts on “Lillback’s attack on Enns (WTS) – a brief outline ;-/.

  1. Justin says:

    Please don’t take this post down. It points out what needs to be pointed out. The WTS president is starting to drop his “it was the Board that opposed Enns; i was neutral until the last minute” story, and to show that, as Garver put it, he is grabbing for any tool that might work to push Enns out. And the date of the article shows that, contrary to some of his other pronouncements, he’s been working along these lines for months.
    I, too, was embarrassed by the poor writing and scholarship of the Lillback piece. (By the way, you forgot to mention one of the “best” parts: in footnote 87, and again on page 30 of his article, he raises suspicions about Enns’s view of Scripture because…wait for it…”Inspiration and Incarnation” spells “word of God” with a lowercase W. Yeah, that’s some sharp theologizing there.)

  2. Justin says:

    Oops, I missed (but my wife pointed out) that Lillback’s “side” in this debate, the Historical Theology Field Committee, also fails to capitalize the “w” in “word of God” on at least two occasions in their document. See page 11 (by the PDF numbering), for their own lowercase formulation, and page 9, where they quote the Apostle Paul as using a lowercase “w.” The Apostle Paul has a low view of scripture! What’s this world coming to?

  3. Ben says:

    Okay, Justin, but I’m back and forth on this. If it wasn’t so tragically true, it might be funny, but it violates a few of my own principles – though I am no longer really in conversation with militant TR folks. I tried for a few years, but I’ve moved on from that kind of Reformed milieu; not the Evangelical environment obviously. You might say that I am reformed in general outlook, but not at all in cultural expression.

    For now, I’ll leave it up while the folks at Conn-versation work on a healthy and more constructive critique.

    Thanks for your comments.

  4. aboulet says:

    I just posted a lengthy response to Lillback’s essay. Thought you might be interested.

  5. Ben says:

    Wow, Art. That’s a very impressive piece of work. Somebody had to do it, so thank you for investing a huge amount of time.

  6. Ken Leighton says:

    what’s a shibboleth?
    you guys are doing a great job, but it tough to follow.

  7. Ben says:

    shibboleth – see Daniel Kirk – blog header.

    Judges 12:5-6: The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan opposite Ephraim. And it happened when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” 6 then they would say to him, “Say now, ‘Shibboleth.”‘ But he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it correctly. Then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. Thus there fell at that time 42,000 of Ephraim. (NAB)

  8. […] meaningless. My most popular posts statistically are more or less meaningless: snow in Kenya, an out-of-character sarcastic rant on an article by a certain seminary professor’s, and Kenyan cartoons about […]

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