THE key to interpreting the Old Testament (Enns)

Peter Enns, “Hey, Get Away from My Bible!“ Christian Appropriation of a Jewish Bible:

. . . What drove the first Christians to do what they did with the OT was their experience of the crucified and risen Son of God.

The first Christians handled their Bible in a way that helped them make sense of this astounding series of events surrounding the first Easter. This is important to understand. The foundation for what they did with the OT was what happened in Palestine in the opening decades of (what we call) the 1st century. In view of the climactic and incontestable event of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the first Christians were now pouring over their own Bible to understand how this new event could be understood in light of Israel’s ancient text, and, conversely, how Israel’s ancient text is now to be understood in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The question of biblical interpretation revolved around the resurrection of Christ. The complex, intricate, sometimes gripping, sometimes puzzling way in which the NT writers handled their Bible is anchored in the fundamental Christian conviction that Jesus is the gracious, amazing conclusion to Israel’s story.

It is very important to remember here that the first Christians were not blond haired Europeans, . . .

. . .  By the time we get to Jesus and the NT writers, Jews had already had a pretty long history of asking themselves, “In view of these dramatically changing circumstances, how do we connect to our own ancient texts?” To put the matter more pointedly, “How are we now the people of God, in view of all that has happened? Indeed, are we still the people of God? What does that even mean?”

It was the pressure of aligning Israel’s ancient past with present changing circumstances that lead Second Temple Jews to do some pretty innovative “appropriation” of their own Bible, . . .

The first Christians were also Jews and they were engaged in another attempt at Jewish appropriation—although of a VERY different sort—since now one’s true identity as the people of God is centered not on what had been Israel’s defining markers, such as Torah, land, temple, and king, but in Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to bring all of these things, and more, to their proper focal point. . .

. . . “We handle the Bible the way we do because Jesus is raised from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection does not depend on how the first Christians handled the Bible. They handled the Bible the way they did because of Jesus’ resurrection. The Christian appropriation of the Hebrew Bible is to be trusted because Jesus is raised from the dead.”

. . . This ancient choice is still operative today. Is Jesus raised from the dead or isn’t he? And if so, so what? These are the questions that the NT writers went to great lengths to discuss in the NT letters, especially Paul’s letters. How one answers that question will affect how one looks at any other. . . .

. . . But, the rule of the resurrected Messiah creates all sorts of cognitive dissonance for modern people—as it did for ancient people—the interpretive question being only one of them.

This leads to a final, and perhaps even more counterintuitive, observation. The ultimate demonstration of the persuasiveness of the Christ-centered climax to Israel’s story may be much more than a matter of how Christians interpret their Bible. It may be in how those who claim to follow the risen Christ embody his resurrection in what they say, think, and do—but that is a whole other area of discussion.

Ok, I’ve already quoted way too much; read Enns’s whole post here. It’s worth chewing on for while.

The glory of God in Scripture’s humanity

On his website, Peter Enns has posted the first distillation of a 38 page paper for the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary clarifying some of his thinking in Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (I&I). The long title of the post is The Authority of Scripture is a Function of Its Divine Origin, not Its Cultural Expression, Although the Bible that the Spirit Has Given the Church is a Thoroughly Encultured Product

Here is a quote:

. . .And we see the glory of Scripture precisely not by relegating Scripture’s humanity to the sidelines, but by learning more and more how the Wise God spoke and meant to be understood. A relentless and energetic study of the “humanity” of Scripture will not speak to the question of the Bible’s authority (a common mistake among “liberalism” and of which I seem to be accused), but how that authority is to be properly understood. It is not to relativize biblical authority by making the Bible out to be purely a product of human culture or giving humanity some sort of “priority,” but to declare that God, by his will, love, and wisdom, has broken into human cultures (which are his own creation), to act and speak in such a way as to rescue his people. (Explicating this further is the heart of my recently published article available on this website, “Preliminary Observations on an Incarnational Model of Scripture: Its Viability and Usefulness.”)

Ironically, perhaps, when we focus on the humanity of Scripture, we are not somehow showing disrespect for Scripture’s divine origin, nor are we in danger of running our faith aground. The truth, I feel, is precisely the opposite. By focusing on Scripture’s humanity, which is unfortunately often misunderstood as the purview of critical scholarship alone, we begin to see more clearly who this God is who has walked and talked with his people, and still does. Scripture’s humiliation is not an affront or an obstacle to be overcome in order to highlight its authority. Like Christ, it is the very means by which we behold God’s glory. . .

There’s a lot to unpack here. Read the full post here; follow the Enns’s series of posts here.

Latest WTS Board Statement on Peter Enns

May 23, 2008

Statement of the Board of Trustees (quoted in full here)
Westminster Theological Seminary
May 21, 2008

Certain matters raised at a March 26, 2008 meeting of the Board of Trustees concerning Professor. Peter Enns have been addressed procedurally by the Board’s Institutional Personnel Committee (IPC), which sought and received input from Professor Enns.

In response the Board has, without dissent, established a Hearing Committee with equitable representation from Board and Faculty, chaired by the Chairman of the IPC. A process has been approved that seeks to follow the Faculty Manual and respect the rights of Professor Enns. The process will be completed with a recommendation to the Board no later than the December 2008 Board meeting at which a final determination will be made.

The IPC Chair has asked that any further communication concerning this matter go through the Chairman of the Board, Dr. John H. White.

Not a whole lot of new information here. The committee has been formed; Enns’s fate will be decided in December.

The other main unofficial news that I’m aware of is that Dr. Bruce McCormack, the Frederick and Margaret L. Weyerhaeuser Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, has written an essay focused on the Christology of the HTFC report. Art Boulet posted the essay in its entirety – a critique of the Historical and Theological (HTFC) report, which R. Scott Clark criticized to which McCormack in turn replied. You can follow the back and forth at any of these sites (and a whole bunch of other places).

To keep up with the latest check in with Art Boulet, Conn-versation. FWIW, I posted earlier on the topic in Westminster trajectories).

The latest word from Peter Enns himself is on his trip to South Korea, where he makes some important observations about global Biblical theology.

Enns, global christianity, storytelling, pastoring, more (Links & Quotes of the day)

A new bible blog directory (by location) – (Thanks: Jim West, John Hobbins, etc. – wonder if they see their names together that often?)

Peter Enns on his trip to South Korea. [First post in a long time understandably]

Korean theological education is a multinational, sophisticated, and Christ-honoring movement. I keenly felt that I had no right to address their gatherings apart from their gracious invitation. Moreover, my words were spoken into a context where the same types of hermeneutical and theological questions many of us in the west are involved in have already been addressed and wrestled with significantly. The interaction was nothing less than stimulating and eye opening for me.

Simply put, I was struck by how the questions that engage me as I try to be a responsible biblical interpreter in a changing world are the same ones others face around the world. It stands to reason that we can learn from each other, because we face many of the same questions, even if we address them from and for different contexts. We in the west do not hold an automatic edge in the task of theological education. It was a good reminder to me of how big God is and that he is at work in places and ways I cannot understand.

Amen to that!!

Story Telling: (Thanks: Lingamish)

. . . Erwin McManus says it better than I do, though: “The beautiful thing about film, and I think story telling, is that it’s not really trying to give you the answers, but it’s trying to help you reflect and ask the right questions.”  (Here’s the rest of the interview.)

. . . Being a guest in a culture that is not my own and having all the answers is not really my thing.  I’m much more comfortable helping people hear God’s story in mmm-BELLY-may and listening as they reflect on the answers that God’s Spirit brings to them.

[Read the amazing conclusion when she tests the story of the first time people disobeyed God with an old man who said he had never set foot in a church.  This was the first part of God’s story he’s ever heard.]

Racism encountered by Obama campaigners.

Review your Greek paradigms with George – a few Japanese words thrown in.

Pastoring: ( John W Frye Fellowship Evangelical Covenant Church in Grand Rapids on Jesus Creed)

In my early years a lingering value still suggested that pastors shouldn’t get too close to people because the pastor might not be able to maintain his “objectivity.” . . . Preaching was the big thing. . . I became a theological technician, not a pastor. . . . Then I met Jesus the Pastor. . . Jesus undeniably cared deeply for people and got close to them. . . .Jesus cared about little things, too, like a widow’s two mites, a fallen sparrow, a cup of water, a coin, five loaves and two fish. . .I like the image Eugene H. Peterson uses for pastors: pastors are detectives searching out the slightest evidence of God’s grace in peoples’ lives. I’ve learned that pastors are artists of the soul, not religious scientists.

MORE LINKS BELOW: Continue reading

WTS Biblical Studies Statement on Scripture

As most of you know by now, Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) posted a precis for each of the two sides (HTFC Precis; HFC Precis) in the debate along with all the other formal documents they had released earlier (see my earlier blog post). I liked the tone and emphasis of the “Statement on Scripture” (Appendix 2) so much that I thought it was worth quoting in full here.

The Westminster Theological Seminary biblical studies department believes the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be God’s inerrant written word to human beings, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. In the light of this affirmation, we understand ourselves to be:

  • Pre-committed to receive as truth all that Scripture is found, upon careful study and reflection, actually to teach.
  • Awed by the wisdom and condescension of God in giving a word that is both a product of and a witness to his redemptive activity in human history—an activity in history that culminates in the “summing up of all things in the Messiah.”
  • Bound to a study of scripture that is diligent, humble, receptive, and honestly descriptive, recognizing that God has providentially given us information about the environment in which the books of the Bible originated, information that at times enables us to deepen our understanding of the scriptures.
  • Convinced that the central message of the Bible is clear without knowledge of the historical and cultural background of the biblical books. In this we find ourselves in full accord with WCF I.7: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”
  • Aware that we, like all other fallen human beings, are quite capable of erroneous interpretation, of drawing invalid inferences, of imposing on Scripture constructs of our own making, or in other ways falling short of a full discovery of God’s truth.
  • Grateful to God for the aid of his Spirit and the interpretive wisdom of his church though the ages.
  • Confident that it is only in the light of Christ and the Gospel that the majestic coherence of the Old and New Testaments will be fully displayed.

In all this we view ourselves as upholding, for our own time and place, the affirmations outlined in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: The Historical and Theology (HT) precis is written after their main document, and the Biblical Studies before their 70+ page response (Hermeutics Field Committee – HFC response). While these two short documents (six and eleven pages) don’t shed much more light on the content of the debate, the HFC Precis says a lot about the process and tone – notably the the shock and disappointment at the initial turn of events in the production of the initial HTFC document. (Read it in full.) The rest of my comments died along with my old hard drive.

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”] Continue reading

Postures and trajectories of the Westminster Seminary debate

As much as I tried, I could not get away from reading and thinking about the documents that Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) posted on it’s website at the end of last week.

Here is my attempt to organize some of the fundamental raisons d’être and orientations that lie behind those disagreements.

As I see it, the disagreements at Westminster Seminary reflect a fundamental difference in way of being – an overall life orientation. At the core, one side fundamentally focuses on, “How did God speak through the Bible in its original contexts?” The other’s first question is, “Does what you say agree with the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) as interpreted by a select group of reformed interpreters?” These two foundational differences play out in their stances to Scripture, tradition, and discussion.

General Orientation and Focus (time, attention, energy, etc.):

  1. the Scripture in its original languages and cultural environment
  2. the Westminster Confession of Faith and historical interpretations of it

Both sides say they are committed to and respect both Scripture and the confession, but . . . the priorities and emphases (time, attention, energy, etc.) put them in radically different environements.

Orientation towards doctrines of the Bible

  1. Our ways of thinking about the Bible should arise out of the phenomena of how God revealed himself in the Scriptures.
  2. Our doctrines of the Bible should keep very closely to the wording of the Westminster Confession of Faith and select traditional interpretations of this.

Orientation towards Bible study:

  1. Study of the Bible deepens, Continue reading

A sad day for Westminster (Peter Enns)

Peter Enns will be suspended: Conn-versation; Shibboleth; Christianity Today blog [unfortunately, the Conn-versation link had to be taken down – collateral damage.]

For Background: Shibboleth – A Tale of Two Westminsters, Power or Theology, and statements by Westminster church history professors: D. Clair Davis (retired): The Significance of Westminster Theological Seminary Today (long PDF) and Darryl Hart (current): Can Westminster Seminary Put the Genie Back in the Bottle? (A candid account of the competing visions)

Petition in support of Enns (123 comments to date).

**Collected Links, reviews of Inspiration and Incarnation, interviews and both sides of the controversy (Brandon Withrow). This is probably the best “one-stop-shop” for both background and recent updates.

UPDATE (Tues. 1 April 2008): I’m surprised at how many hits this particular posting is still getting, especially since others are far more “in the know.” However, since people are still stopping by, I thought I would add a couple more interesting links that I’ve come across in the last few days.

Westminster’s Board of Trustees comments on situation at their website (here)

B. B. Warfield on the divine and human elements of scripture (reposted by Michael Pahl – Mon 31 March).

Michael Bird on the challenge for Biblical Scholars among Reformed Theologians

there are some theologians who have a system that simply cannot cope with the historical and cultural contingency of the origin and development of the Christian Bible. For them, to use ancient near eastern writings, Greco-Roman texts, or second temple literature to assist in biblical interpretation is supremely offensive. The two issues here are: (1) Do theologians take the historical content and context of the Bible seriously? And (2) what are the boundaries of Reformed confessionalism?

See also: Biblical Criticism and Confessionalism

The Chairman of the Board’s letter (Originally posted by Daniel Kirk, I think).:

March 27, 2008

Thank you very much for your prayers for the special meeting of the Board of Trustees that was held on March 26 to address the disunity of the faculty regarding the theological issues related to Dr. Peter Enns’ book, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. After a full day of deliberation, the Board of Trustees took the following action by decisive vote:

“That for the good of the Seminary (Faculty Manual II.4.C.4) Professor Peter Enns be suspended at the close of this school year, that is May 23, 2008 (Constitution Article III, Section 15), and that Continue reading