Ken Schenck has some harsh words for Carson, Beale, and Piper for their “innoculation” of the complacent

In Who’s a scholar, Ken Schenck (Dean of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University) has this to say:

…It seems like whenever a study or trajectory of real significance arises, some “conservative”–meaning someone resistant to change–then commissions a counter-study to address it. Such counter-studies, far from actually disproving the new development, more innoculates the complacent, who can now simply say, “You can see that the new book by D. A. Carson or John Piper shows that this or that is not in fact true but another liberal conspiracy to corrupt the masses.”

….Justification and Variegated Nomism…the “scholarly” excuse for ignoring genuine developments. Of course the volumes themselves are far more “new perspective” than old…

So also N. T. Wright introduces the actual ancient background of the New Testament into his interpretations of Scripture and it begins to make its way down into the masses. Commission a study! So John Piper produces a “scholarly” volume refuting it to innoculate the masses. Sorry. Just because you can write a book doesn’t mean you haven’t been caught with your theological pants down.

Another reactionary “scholarly” innoculation is D. A. Carson and Greg Beale’s Commentary on the Use of the Old Testament in the New. Sorry. The truth doesn’t care. The New Testament simply isn’t majorly concerned with the context and original meaning of Old Testament passages. [Jim West complains about this last sentence, but see Peter Enns’s chapter on the Christotelic interpretation of the Old Testament in the New Testament – Inspiration and Incarnation. ]

There have been a glut of new commentary series it seems this last decade, but most of them promise to fill Amazon with this sort of innoculatory rubbish. Books to allow us not to grow, not to wrestle truly with hard issues.

Oh where is objectivity to be found? Nowhere, of course, but there are better and worse examples of the attempt. It used to be that we simply ignored the experts. Now the anti-intellectuals have infiltrated them, across the spectrum of scholarly disciplines in America.

Read the whole post– Who’s a scholar. I have a lot of respect for John Piper. I appreciate many of his books and sermons, and he has done some wonderful things, and I think that he genuinely has the glory of God at interest. However, I have to agree with Shenk on this point, and I think the harsh truth needs to be told.

In a somewhat related issue (for those of you that aren’t already completely ensconced in the biblical studies blog world) Scot McKnight responds to Dan Wallace’s frustrations about biases against evangelicals in scholarship (more than 500 comments so far.) David Miller has collected some of the links to this issue and says,

… AKMA‘s comment (scroll down to #38) on the Jesus Creed is the most helpful I’ve read yet. There’s plenty of good advice in the comment thread for students interested in graduate schools too.

*For other posts on the same general subject see Biblia Hebraica, kata ta biblia, Exploring Our Matrix.
For my own thoughts on the intersection between faith and scholarship, see here and here.

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13 thoughts on “Ken Schenck has some harsh words for Carson, Beale, and Piper for their “innoculation” of the complacent

  1. That should be Schenck – just thought I’d mention it!

  2. Ben says:

    Thanks, especially seeing that it was in the title and all. Jet-lagged brains shouldn’t be blogging ;-).

  3. John Hobbins says:

    Hi Ben,

    I agree that Piper is a shot many people take to immunize themselves from taking a hard look at the issues for themselves. But I’m not sure that is Piper’s fault, nor is the dynamic unique to the reception of Piper. I have parishioners who have read Marcus Borg for example for whom his take on things serves to inoculate them from consideration of alternatives.

    I think Schenck makes exactly the same errors he accuses others of making: the assumption that notions that now form part of his control beliefs (the NPP has eliminated the possibility of holding to a Reformation-style understanding of Paul; Sanders’ Jesus supercedes the others; the NT is cavalier in its use of the OT (against this see Richard Hays)) can be used to whomp opponents.

    Nope. Nuanced argument is still required.

    • Ben says:

      John, I agree that nuance is needed, and that there is an opposite (e.g. Borg) pole. and that NPP doesn’t trump all. At the same time, I do feel that Piper (and Carson and Beale) bear responsibility for ignoring certain aspects of the Second Temple context and limiting themselves to a more narrow grammatical-historical interpretive grid. They have intentionally fed the illusion that there are easier, more traditionally clear-cut answers that don’t require the kind of nuance you talk about. Also, like I noted, I think Enns’s more christotelic approach makes the more sense of the apostolic interpretation of the Old Testament.

  4. Lauren says:

    Yes, the “experts” serve to placate the masses, preventing individuals from “working out their own salvation with fear and trembling”.
    What’s sad is that this filters down through the channels, into sermons, into our churches, so that we pew-sitters hear/receive the “truth” without needing to seek it through Scriptural study and prayer. It numbs us and prevents us from pursuing a living relationship with God.
    As the worldwide church has been in error for much of its existence, I wonder how we can so confidently declare that our leaders have their theology “just right” and there is no further revelation of God to be experienced.

    • Ben says:

      I’m honored that you stopped by Lauren. One complicating factor is that the historical and cultural background details can do a lot to help us understand what the Bible is saying. In the absence of that, I wish more “experts” were more humble and open with their conclusions. I really liked your last statement about experiencing God. Nothing compares with a personal encounter with the risen Lord. That alone changed the way the disciples read their Bible (our Old Testament.)

      • Lauren says:

        In my experience, church congregations and many Christians seem to follow certain people (reminiscent of “I follow Apollos/I follow Peter/I follow Paul”), usually best-selling authors of the same denomination/persuasion. They (we) read these books in lieu of opening the Bible and seeking God with our whole hearts, minds and souls. The tragedy is magnified when Christians gather together for a Bible study time, and instead of opening the Bible, reading and discussing it, they play a DVD and listen to someone else tell them what the passage means.

      • Ben says:

        I agree. (Images of people blindly following a self-appointed Protestant pope come to mind.) On the other hand, in other places people are making strongly dogmatic conclusions based on their own uninformed (or sub-culturally biased) reading of the texts. I guess it depends on which extreme you’ve experienced the most. I often see my role as a teacher as equipping or pointing out historical and linguistic tools that help people make a at least a little more informed reading of the texts for themselves. When I start leading a Bible study, it sometimes takes people a while to get used to me not saying much–beyond asking good questions that get them to start wrestling with the text. But I have to admit, the Bible can be a very hard book to understand when we get down to the details (likely why everyone flocks to the best-selling authors of their denomination for easier answers.) The main problem is not that we don’t understand the Bible, it’s that we have trouble living what we already know: love your neighbor, care for the marginalized, etc.

        Simon (of the next comment) and I both really appreciate the power of just letting people share the experience of God in their own lives. We’ve had the privilege of hearing these powerful stories from our community almost every Tuesday.

  5. Lauren says:

    Let me clarify…
    I don’t discount the godly wisdom of teaching. It’s just that I see so many Christians lacking in the true fellowship that comes from sharing their experiences of God with each other.

  6. Simon says:

    In seminary, the most thrilling stuff I learned was from library books of my own choosing.

  7. Tim Bayly says:

    >>The New Testament simply isn’t majorly concerned with the context and original meaning of Old Testament passages.

    For anyone holding to anything approximating historic Protestant orthodoxy, this statement is a howler. “The New Testament simply isn’t majorly concerned with the context and original meaning of Old Testament passages?”

    Holy men wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, but what? He couldn’t keep track of what He’d meant when he moved Jeremiah?

    Such statements give the game away.

    Either all Scripture is God-breathed, or all Scripture is not God-breathed. Take your pick and live with it so that those who read what you write and the writing you commend know your faith.

    By the way, my wife, Mary Lee, and I just had your sister over for dinner. Our congregation has supported her work and this sparked our interest in you.

    Under His Word,

    • Ben says:

      Thanks, Tim, for taking the time to stop by. I apologize for not responding earlier. As we travel, we’ve been trying to focus especially on spending meaningful time with people we haven’t seen in about five years. Thanks especially for your support of Beth. Thanks to people like you, she’s been able to think strategically and do a lot about getting the Gospel to kids in Capetown who are otherwise marginalized. I’m sorry this post was your first introduction to her brother; I hope you won’t hold that against her. 😉

      John above has already noted the major problem with Schenck’s over-generalizations. The kernal of truth in Schenck’s point in that the Apostles (full of the Holy Spirit) were not doing historical-grammatical exegesis of Old Testament passages. In other words, in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the same Holy Spirit gave the Apostles a significantly different application of the same words he had given the prophets centuries earlier; the new context required a bit of re-contextualization.

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