snubnosed in alpha

Christian reflections on the way the world is and ways the world might be

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

inspiration and accommodation


"And God made the two great lights- the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night- and the stars." Genesis 1:16
“I have said, that Moses does not here subtilely descant, as a philosopher, on the secrets of nature, as may be seen in these words…. Here lies the difference; Moses wrote in a popular style things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend…. Nor did Moses truly wish to withdraw us from [astronomy] in omitting such things as are peculiar to the art; but because he was ordained a teacher as well of the unlearned and rude as of the learned, he could not otherwise fulfill his office than by descending to this grosser method of instruction….. Moses, therefore, rather adapts his discourse to common usage.”
-John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses called Genesis, 1:16 (my italics)
In the spirit of kicking a dead horse, I thought I'd post some of my thoughts on Peter Enns' book, Inspiration and Incarnation. I haven’t quite understood why some folks have been so quick to declare Enns’ approach to Scripture to be outside the bounds of the Reformed tradition. I find myself wanting to say, “Have you never read the Institutes, ‘He accommodated diverse forms to different ages, as He knew would be expedient for each’?” or “Do you not know the tradition, that Calvin says, ‘He has accommodated Himself to men’s capacity, which is varied and changeable’?” (Institutes II:11:13)
To my mind, conceptually Enns has done nothing but taken up Calvin’s doctrine of divine accommodation and described it in the rhetoric of an ‘incarnational analogy.’ But the point of the incarnational analogy is in substance equivalent to Calvin’s doctrine of accommodation: In order to communicate to His people, God accommodated Himself to the communicational conventions of His people so that they might understand what He intends to communicate. As you might expect, the communicational conventions of God’s audience depend upon who His audience is, their time, location, cultural milieu, etc. In short, if the communicational conventions of God’s intended audience included mythic language as an effective mode of communication, why should God not speak to them in mythic language? If the communicational conventions of His audience include apocalyptic, why should God not speak in apocalyptic language?
Calvin used the concept of accommodation to explain various and sundry Biblical phenomena that would otherwise be considered “Bible difficulties.” The example I gave above is Calvin’s commentary on Genesis 1:16. The alleged difficulty with Genesis 1:16 is that it speaks of the sun and moon as the greater and lesser lights when the astronomers of Calvin’s knew full well that certain planets in our solar system (namely Saturn) were, despite appearances, actually larger than the moon. Calvin’s answer is not to come up with some cockamamie pseudo-scientific argument for the moon actually being larger than Saturn, nor does he do any sort of fancy exegetical footwork to show that this locution is some sort of upper-register spiritual metaphor. No. Rather, Calvin says that Moses does not subtilely descant as a philosopher but rather adapts his discourse to the common usage or communicational conventions of his audience. But, of course, that connects the language of Scripture to the varied and changeable diverse forms of human communication. Given that framework, what is the substantial difference between saying, “That the Bible, at every turn, shows how ‘connected’ it is to its own world is a necessary consequence of God accommodating Himself” and saying “That the Bible, at every turn, shows how ‘connected’ it is to its own world is a necessary consequence of God incarnating Himself” (I&I, p.20) given the way Enns uses the metaphor of 'incarnation'?
I cannot help thinking that those who try to push Enns outside the bounds of the Reformed tradition are as selectively engaged with the tradition as they are with the Biblical data. They ignore the bits of the tradition that do not square with their own personal theological convictions and dub the narrow stream of theological opinions with which they personally are comfortable as “the Tradition.” In my estimation, what such folk, in effect, do is form the Tradition in their own image.

20 Comments:

Blogger art said...

I think you're correct.

I'm not sure how many people realize how 'broad' the Reformed tradition is on certain topics. Of course we have a Confession (our paper version of Benedict XVI), but the necessary consequence of having a confession is not an extremely narrow definition of Reformed orthodoxy. But some people take 'their version' of Reformed orthodoxy and claim that anyone who differs from that is outside of the tradition.

Humility in scholarship, especially reformed scholarship, is a virtue that seems to be missing from many a discourse reguarding Enns' work.

1:27 PM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

I think that Reformed folks need to start being more self-conscious about what we mean when we say that something is "within the Tradition." I can think of several models for how we might think of the nature and function of the tradition and I think part of the trouble Reformed folk have had lately comes from people having differing notions about how the tradition is to be conceived.
I'll give some examples:
A) I think some think of the Tradition in terms of "the best of" the theological formulations churned out by certain key theologians who have been dubbed as being "within the tradition." This model allows one to acknowledge the status of theologians that are widely recognized as being Reformed (e.g., Calvin, Warfield, Henry, Vos, etc.) as being "within the tradition" without having to recognize all of their theological formulations as being "within the tradition." Thus, one could say that Charles Hodge is within the tradition, without having to recognize his allowing for errors in Scripture as being a theological option for those "within the tradition." A plus of such a model is that one might recognize R.L. Dabney as being within the tradition without having to recognize his pro-slavery stance as being an option within the tradition. One can just say that Dabney was not at his best there and dismiss his pro-slavery stance while retaining him as a key American Reformed thinker. Such a model's chief draw-back is that what a given individual identifies as being "the best of" a theologian's formulations will depend upon said individual's personal theological convictions. Thus "the Tradition" ends up meaning "the theological opinions with which I am comfortable that have been held by or are compatible with those held by theologians I have to recognize as being within the Reformed tradition." "The Tradition" on this model tends to get made in the image of whoever adheres to the model.
B) You could also see "the Tradition" as extending to anything said by any of the key figures who are generally recognized as being "within the Tradition." Thus, anything said by Vos, Warfield, Bavinck, Kuyper, etc. can be considered "within the Tradition." On this model "the Tradition" will be chock-full of theological formulations and positions that few of us would want to hold today. To me this model just seems more honest. Many a Reformed theologian has taken to an allegorical reading of the Song of Solomon. Few of us would endorse that position today, but we need to recognize that the reason we don't adopt that position is not because it does not have a place in "the Tradition." Similarly, one may not agree with what Calvin does with Genesis 1, but, nevertheless, what Calvin said is part of "the Tradition" whether we like it or not. On the B model, the Reformed tradition is expanded a great deal and some of the more unsightly or uncomfortable features of the Reformed heritage have to be recognized. The Tradition kind of stands on its own regardless of one's personal theological preferences.
These are some preliminary ruminations, but I think this subject is one requiring more careful attention.

6:21 PM  
Blogger LoftGirl said...

I have read, therefore I have commented.

I am grateful for a God that reveals himself to us in spite of our own ability to completely confuse and complicate our understanding of God. What a mercy it is that for all the complexities that there are, it all boils down to the cross, without which there would be no conversation.

9:53 AM  
Blogger D Hart said...

The problem with the incarnational analogy for the difficulties of Scripture is that Christ, while taking on the frailties of the human form, remained sinless. The appeal to the incarnation seems to allow us to recognize things in the Bible that appear to be errors as merely circumstances of accommodation. But the analogy of the incarnation would require the Bible to be as free from error as Christ was free from sin (or error). I don't see how the incarnational model gets around the problem of a sinless and errorless who reveals himself in human form or word.

7:02 AM  
Blogger D Hart said...

The last sentence in my previous post should read: "I don't see how the incarnational model gets around the problem of a sinless and errorless God who reveals himself in human form or word." I'd hate to leave the deity out of the Bible or the incarnation.

7:04 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Loftgirl, thanks, for the comment.
Dr. Hart, thankyou also for commenting. My understanding of the incarnational model is that it is not intended to "get around" the sinless, errorless God who reveals Himself in human form and word as much as to proclaim that truth upon the housetops. The point is simply to say that God accommodated Himself to the communicative, semiotic, linguistic, literary and generic conventions of His people for the sake of communicating with them and that He did not err in doing so.
I think part of our problem here is that we have arbitrarily made the communicative conventions of a limited range of modes of discourse (especially modes of discourse characteristic of the post-Enlightenment West) normative and therefore judge all other communicative conventions to be errant. Because post-Enlightenment Western communicative conventions have no place for such modes of discourse as myth, midrash, apocalyptic, etc. we run roughshod over the ways those modes function within their cultural settings (i.e., what and how they are supposed to communicate to their intended audiences) and simply dub them errant, second-rate, misguided or some such thing. Then when we find that Biblical literature has, to all appearances, more in common with the modes of discourse we have marked out as sub-par than with the modes of discourse we have tried to make normative we find ourselves faced with "Bible difficulties."
Once we're in that position we have a choice. We can either continue to insist upon the normativity of a limited range of modern Western conventions and try to make the Bible fit that preconceived mold or we can abandon our insistence upon the normativity of our pet linguistic conventions, trust that God has His reasons for having spoken in the manner that He has and expend our energy on trying to figure out what precisely He has tried to say while respecting His right to say it in the way He has said it. Taking the latter option does not in any way entail conceding that God has somehow erred in His word. It does, however, entail that it is an error to try to make certain Western modes of discourse normative for all people in all contexts.
Now the purpose of my post was not to mount a defense of the incarnational analogy per se but rather to stave off the (,in my opinion, silly) accusation that I&I represents a departure from the Reformed tradition. In the comments I've just made I have not employed the language of the incarnational analogy but rather Calvin's language of divine accommodation but I think that, at bottom, the 'incarnational analogy' is just a clever way of describing Calvin's doctrine. So this raises some questions: Do you see Calvin's doctrine of accommodation as being unable to square with the errorlessness of God in the same way that you see Enns' incarnational analogy to be? If not, then what are the salient differences between Calvin's notion of accommodation and Enns' analogy?

Finally, I want to re-iterate the point that to object to Enns' formulation on the grounds that one finds it to be problematic with respect to the doctrine of divine flawlessness is not the same thing as saying that the formulation is a departure from or can can find no precedent within "the Tradition."

10:34 AM  
Blogger D Hart said...

Before including Enns in the Reformed camp, I'd like to know what he thinks of limited atonement, Presbyterian polity, and the regulative principle of worship. The Reformed tradition is much bigger than its doctrine of Scripture.

But on one simple point, Pete is not within the tradition. The Reformed tradition was not one of asking questions. It was/is a tradition of giving answers, primarily from the Bible, but also reflecting on other truths and summarizing them in a system of truth and a practice of faith. What I see in I&I is a plea for the right to ask questions and stand within the tradition. I for one need answers to determine whether someone is within the camp.

Here is one way of raising the problem, taken from a recent issue of the Nicotine Theological Journal:

The idea that to accuse Enns of stepping outside the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy is tantamount to unacceptable theological bigotry calls to mind the recent flap over Steven Spielberg's defense of his movie, Munich. The celebrated director called "fundamentalists" anyone who faulted him for "allowing the Palestinians simply to have dialogue" with the Israelis. Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic shot back, "Is there any greater curse?" As if the admirers of the movie are rationalists, progressives and "children of light." Wieseltier goes on to observe that Spielberg wraps himself in the cloak of merely asking a "plethora of questions," an impression that any reader will also take away from Enns' book. But as Wieseltier adds, "No answers, just questions – as if certain kinds of questions are not themselves certain kinds of answers." Just as Spielberg asks "questions in ways that make its preferred answers perfectly clear," so Enns points out problems of biblical interpretation that signal faulty answers, his appeal to the incarnation notwithstanding. Yet if Wieseltier can accuse Spielberg of moral equivocation, is it really impermissible to charge Enns with theological equivocation?

The NTJ goes on:

At one point Enns explains that his book is not about giving "final" answers to the questions he raises, as if an incarnational approach to the Bible provides "a magic key . . . to wipe away troubles quickly and easily." Instead, this method "can foster a better theological environment for handling diversity." Later he explains that biblical interpretation is as much an art as a science. In fact, because Scripture is the word of God it will necessarily contain "multiple layers of meaning insofar as no one person, school, or tradition can exhaust the depth of God's word."
Beware you Reformed, Lutheran or Roman Catholic interpreters of the Bible. If you hold too tenaciously to the truth of your system of doctrine you will likely be guilty of thinking you have unearthed the code that solves the Bible's riddles. Enns makes this warning explicit when he writes that our "theologies are necessarily limited and provisional." This means that the church must "be open to listening to how other Christians from other cultures read Scripture and live it out in their daily lives." In fact, with surprising certainty for a man bound by cultural blinders Enns concludes that "there is no absolute point of reference to which we have access that will allow us to interpret the Bible stripped of our own cultural context."

Reflections like these prompt me to suspect that Pete is outside the bounds. I don't take delight in that. Personally, Pete and I have been friends and I hope we continue to be. But neither do I take delight in having the Reformed tradition explained so broadly that it revolves around simply appealing to the incarnation (which is, by the way, a fairly definite and technical answer to theological questions from a time and place very different from 21st century Montgomery Co.).

10:30 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

My point here has not been to argue that Enns is "within the Tradition" simpliciter. Sure, it's possible that Enns may depart from "the Tradition" with respect to other key theological holdings. I don't know enough about Enns' convictions on other issues to say either way. What I have been arguing is that Enns has not departed from "the Tradition" with respect to his arguments in I&I. I have argued this thesis by pointing out certain affinities between Calvin's approach to Scripture and the stance adopted by Enns in I&I. I don't see how what Enns might think of the regulative principle is really relevant to the question of whether I&I departs from the acceptable range of Reformed doctrines of Scripture.

I'm also a bit puzzled by your claim, "The Reformed tradition was not one of asking questions. It was/is a tradition of giving answers, primarily from the Bible, but also reflecting on other truths and summarizing them in a system of truth and a practice of faith." If the Reformed tradition is in the business of giving answers, who's asking the questions? Other traditions? Are Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Evangelicals sitting at our feet posing their questions and eagerly awaiting our rigorously thought out and thoroughly exegetical answers? Or do the questions all come in the form of objections from non-believers? It seems to me that at least some of the questions that Reformed folks try to answer are questions posed from within "the Tradition." I mean, to be fair, I don't know too many non-Reformed folks who are deeply wrestling with the question of whether it's legitimate to sing anything other than Psalms in worship. I know even fewer folks who are expectantly awaiting the definitive Reformed answer to that question. It seems more accurate to say that the Tradition has developed precisely through its continuous posing and answering of questions and that we might look at Enns as (somewhat assertively) pressing upon us the questions we must wrestle with if we would maintain our intellectual integrity and not go the way of the ostrich. While "The Reformed tradition is not about asking questions but rather giving Biblical answers" may be a crisp and catchy slogan, certainly worthy of at least a bumper sticker (and bumper stickers have their place), I'm not so sure that it really provides us with anything like an accurate description of the Reformed tradition.

I'm curious as to how you would conceptualize "the Tradition" and what it's function is supposed to be in theological discourse today? I offered two possible ways of understanding what comprises "the Tradition" in my response to Art. Do either of those resonate with you? Or have you another model to offer? Your raising the issues of Presbyterian polity, limited atonement and the regulative principle lead me to think that you might define "the Tradition" as being a range of theological holdings having clearly defined boundaries demarcated by means of a number of doctrinal shibboleths. That's a model I hadn't really considered above but, to my mind at least, it sounds functionally similar to model A.

But, finally, I would point out that Enns does not reduce the Reformed tradition to the doctrine of the incarnation. Rather, he offers the incarnation as a helpful analogy to God's work in inspiring His Word. Calvin does something similar when he offers nurses lisping to infants as an analogy to the same end. Enns no more reduces the Reformed tradition to the doctrine of incarnation than does Calvin reduce it to baby-sitters and speech impediments.

5:35 PM  
Blogger D Hart said...

I'm not convinced by either of the models you propose for traditions because they are individualistic rather than ecclesial. They are based on an individual's selection of key individuals from the past, rather than looking at what Reformed churches corporately have taught and practiced. This is why I believe a confession or creed of a church is more definitive of a tradition than one individual's teachings. Taking either the best or all of Vos, Warfield and Calvin doesn't constitute the Reformed tradition because theology and biblical interpretation are finally for the church and to be taught and preached within the context of a church.

As far as the question a tradition asks, I'm not sure it is so myopic to define a tradition as one that asks a set of questions that the tradition itself has put to itself over time. (This is close to Alasdair McIntyre's notion.) This might seem circular and provincial. But it is not necessarily more provincial than baseball geeks debating the designated hitter. I'm not sure many volley ball players are holding their breath for an answer. But that doesn't mean the baseball geeks are without a tradition.

More directly, the questions and answers of the Reformed tradition emerged in the course of Western Christianity and have been captured in the creeds, catechisms and confessions of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. They concern all the questions that Western churchmen and theologians have asked throughout the history of the church, about God, man, sin, salvation, the church.

The problem of putting a book like I&I into this tradition is that it doesn't use the analogy of the incarnation for the inspiration of Scripture to answer those questions. Pete wrote "theologies are necessarily limited and provisional." And so the church must "be open to listening to how other Christians from other cultures read Scripture and live it out in their daily lives." If Calvin had used his notion of accommodation to conclude this way, then you might have a point in drawing a parallel between Pete and John. But Calvin went from the accommodation of God in the Bible to argue for limited atonement, exclusive psalmody, and Presbyterian polity.

Don't you think that constitutes a major difference?

11:50 PM  
Blogger D Hart said...

Let the record show, I did not come up with a bumper sticker slogan, Art did.

Here is what I wrote:
"The Reformed tradition was not one of asking questions. It was/is a tradition of giving answers, primarily from the Bible, but also reflecting on other truths and summarizing them in a system of truth and a practice of faith."

That is too long for a bumper sticker.

10:09 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

True, what you wrote would make for a pretty lengthy bumper sticker (or at least one with uncomfortably small print).
I can also see how the models I offered are perhaps too individualistic to really serve as adequate definitions of "the Reformed Tradition." But I'm not so sure that they couldn't be emended so as to make them applicable to groups who are in substantial agreement on at least which figures constitute the giants of the Reformed theological heritage.
I suppose my grappling with what it means to be Reformed has largely been shaped by the manner in which I was introduced to the Reformed tradition. Having been raised Methodist and then having been a theological and ecclesiastical vagrant through my college years, I came across the Reformed tradition by way of the theologians' writings some time before I came across the creeds, confessions or even the churches. Edwards (at least in his Calvinism), Vos, Kuyper, Frame and Ridderbos gripped me well before I took the time to read through the WCF. So maybe I need to be thinking in a more creedal vein.

But how do the creeds and confessions function with respect to determining who is within "the Tradition"? Must one hold to exclusive psalmody in order to be within "the Tradition"? Chapter 21 of the WCF doesn't actually explicitly argue for that. If I don't take the WCF to require exclusive psalmody, am I outside the bounds?
And how is WCF 20:2 supposed to function in all of this? And if we take the Westminster Assembly to be a synod or council (what else could it be?) how are we to take WCF 31:3? It sounds as though the divines were, in their own way, acknowledging the limited and provisional nature of the document they had hammered out. That would make sense, given the fact that the Confession was a consensus document pulled together through about three years worth of often heated theological debate. Can one, out of agreement with WCF 20:2 and 31:2-3, take exception to other statements of the WCF and still at some level be in deep enough agreement with the WCF as to be "within the Reformed Tradition"?

As for Enns' failure to argue for limited atonement and exclusive psalmody in I&I, I'm reminded of a quip attributed to Steven Sikes: ‘The trouble with theology is that you have to say everything all the time. Otherwise someone thinks that you’re actually saying you don’t believe it.’ You can't possibly mean to say that just because a given book doesn't argue for or assert every single distinctive doctrine (however you decide what "the distinctive doctrines" are) of the Reformed faith it is necessarily out of the bounds of the tradition. I don't recall Warfield arguing for limited atonement in his The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. Is Warfield out of bounds on that account? He may have argued for that doctrine in other of his writings, but then again, the collected works of Pete Enns do not quite fill an entire shelf like Warfield's do...at least not yet. To say that 'one is within the bounds of the tradition if and only if one has acknowledged in published writings that one affirms all of the distinctive doctrines of the Reformed faith' would be a pretty absurd criterion of Reformed-ness indeed.

It seems like the main thing you keep coming back to is Enns' claim (or observation?) that all theologies are limited and provisional. Is that your real problem? Must one take the deliverances of "the Tradition" to be exhaustive, indubitable and beyond revision in order to be within the bounds of "the Tradition." That sounds like a more stringent view of tradition than the one taken up by Trent.
;-)

8:56 AM  
Blogger D Hart said...

Good questions and reflection on your own encounter with the Reformed tradition. It is not entirely different from my own, having first read a lot of Schaeffer and then the regular reads at WTS. It wasn't until I studied Machen, though, that I came to have a sense of the importance of ecclesiology and the degree to which the Bible is to be interpreted and ministered within the context of the church. (This is partly why I have been as critical as I am of religious studies in the University.)

You are right to observe that the WCF concedes that assemblies and church courts err. But the confession also says in the very chapter on Liberty of Conscience that the church has real power and no one on the pretense of liberty ought to resist such an ordinance of God. The same sentiment is there in Chap. 31 where it affirms that the determinations of synods and councils are to be received in reverence and submission not merely because they conform to the Word of God but for the power inherent in them as an "ordinance of God."

Now you could attribute some of this ordinance language to individual ministers who have been ordained to teach and minister the Word. And by being a minister or teacher of the word in a Reformed communion someone has, in my estimate, joined the conversation that embodies a theological tradition. But since Presbyterians prefer committees to individuals, one could likely argue that councils and presbyteries and sessions have more clout, are more constituitive of the tradition, than the teachings of individual ministers. Maybe a judgment call.

You have a point that Pete was not trying to cover everything in I&I. But I wonder if you think he is on a trajectory to write commentaries on practically all the books of the Bible, write a catechism, a systematic theology, and other theological works, as Calvin was. That's not really fair since no one these days is who is working in Reformed theological education. So when you ask why my real sticking point is it is Pete's appeal to the provisional nature of all theology, and his appeal to the incarnation to get there. That isn't the way Calvin's view of accommodation functioned in teaching and writing. He used it not to raise but to answer questions. I see that as an important and basic difference.

This doesn't mean that I take past deliberations of the tradition to be exhaustive. McIntyre is good on making the point that traditions are alive and constantly invite adjustments. So you may not hold to exclusive psalmody but it seems to me to be part of the tradition is to be aware of why exclusive psalmody was once important and try to honor that earlier concern while adding other answers. Again, what I see Pete doing with the model of the incarnation is to establish tolerance for ambiguity and indeterminancy without having to come down squarely within the boundaries of a tradition. Pete's call for tolerance and provisionality is to my mind not to have any tradition at all.

2:32 PM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

It should probably be noted that while WCF 31 does say that the decrees and determinations of councils and synods "are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word," such decrees are to be so venerated "if consonant with the Word of God." I appreciate that the church and the deliverances of her synods and councils must be afforded considerable respect, but higher respect is due the Scriptures and the Author thereof. While the Word of God cannot err, all synods or councils, since the apostle's times, whether general or particular, may err and many, indeed, have. Therefore, I'm going to have to agree with the divines on this one, synods and councils are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both (WCF 31:3). Of course, if the whole General Assembly, nay, the whole Presbytery, nay, all of my elders were to judge me to have taken a wrong turn in my faith or practice, I would certainly have to take that into account and reconsider my thinking and my actions. But I can't help getting the sense that you want the ecclesiological structures to have more power than that.
As for Enns' future writing projects: the day Pete Enns writes a systematic theology will be the day I get a portrait of Pelagius tatooed on my hindparts.
Now as for I&I being a book that only raises questions, I'm going to have to disagree with you. I, for one, majored in philosophy and religion at a state university where things like the similarities between Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern creation myths, synoptic problems, literary shaping and ideology in the Biblical texts, the odd things the NT does with the OT and the like of that were thrust upon me whether I liked it or not. For years the question lurking in the background for me and many others around me was: Given these things, can I still believe that the Bible is the Word of God? With regards to that question, Enns has answered with a resounding 'YES! YES! A THOUSAND TIMES YES!' Enns has given me and many others the theological resources to allow us to not have to be constantly explaining away the phenomena of Scripture but rather to embrace, marvel at and even revel in the phenomena of Scripture and the God who ordained that they be what they are. Now, of course, Enns' embracing of the "human elements" of Scripture does raise some questions about how Protestants have often thought about what the Bible is and what we're supposed to be doing with it; questions about how to do theology that is faithful to such Scriptures as these. I&I certainly raises some questions, perhaps questions that some would rather had not been raised; questions that make us nervous; questions that we have been in the habit of sidestepping for at least a century; questions that, in the final analysis, didn't actually raise but just refused to let us ignore one second longer. For me and many others, however, to the really troubling question, the one that can keep a Christian who is aware of such things awake at night, Enns has given a pretty satisfying answer.
Perhaps he didn't answer your questions: 'Was the atonement universal or limited in scope?' or 'Can I sing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" on Sunday?' And perhaps the things he did say may require us to rethink the ways we've gone about answering those questions in the past. But he hardly gave the non-Reformed answers to those questions.

Now, as for your citation of McIntyre, how is a living tradition that constantly invites adjustment different from a tradition whose theology is limited and provisional? Is part of what's bothering you his suggestion that we listen to Christians from other traditions and/or cultures? Christians who may, in the words of Alistair (Roberts, not McIntyre), have "theological cooties"?
It's funny, I think Enns can appreciate why folks in the Reformed heritage held to exclusive psalmody, honor that earlier concern and then give fresh answers. I think that that's pretty much what his inaugural lecture was all about.

9:52 PM  
Blogger D Hart said...

TMI about the tatoo. What you do with your hind parts is between you and your maker.

Your possible reaction to Pete writing a systematic theology, though, may bring us back to the point from which you started -- which was to claim that Pete was working within the tradition of Calvin and other Reformed theologians.

My response was to say that Pete's appeal to the incarnation leads him to advocate diversity and tolerance in theology, in contrast to Calvin's view of accommodation which led him to see a system of truth revealed in Scripture that he would defend agaisnt a diversity of views. If Pete is using the incarnation to challenge the unity of the Bible that Calvin believed could be found, and if Calvin is using the incarnation in favor of constructing a true system, then I don't understand the effort to interpret Pete as doing something along the lines of Calvin. In fact, your original post made me consider a tatoo -- I won't say where.

I am delighted that Pete's book leads you to believe still that the Bible is God's word and that it has one Author such as when you write about church authority, "I appreciate that the church and the deliverances of her synods and councils must be afforded considerable respect, but higher respect is due the Scriptures and the Author thereof." I actually thought the point of Pete's book and his appeal to the incarnation (e.g. humanity of Scripture) was to be able to speak of the authors of Scripture, especially the human ones, whose views do not admit the kind of system that Reformed theologians have traditionally advocated. But if you can still refer to the Bible as one book whose meaning is clear enough to determine when synods and councils err, joy to the world.

But the record should also show that you have reversed the meaning of WCF 31.3 by inserting the phrase, "if consonant with the word of God" after the final clause. That paragraph says that the decrees and determinations of synods and councils are to be received with reverence and submission "not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word" [END OF PARAGRAPH].

I try to correct this point only because so many Protestants fail to remember that they also believe in the power of the church, not just Roman Catholics. And the power of the church to minister the Word is one of those important factors that too often contemporary discussions of hermeneutics and biblical scholarship neglects.

7:00 AM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Dr. Hart, my roommate advised me that one ought not get a tattoo unless one has consistently wanted said tatoo for a minimum of thirty consecutive days. Given that my roommate actually has a tattoo and is usually pretty smart about such things, I think you and I may need to seriously rethink our approach to body art.
That said, I hope you haven't already gone through with getting the ink-work done that my original post inspired. The fact is that I don't think Enns means to question the unity of the Bible simpliciter but rather to question one construal (or a family of construals) of the Bible's unity. I think that he at least intends to question construals of the Bible's unity that posit a uniformity of propositional content without adequately bringing into consideration issues of genre, historical situatedness, linguistics and the like of that. Far from a wholesale rejection of the idea of Biblical unity, Enns seems to advocate a Christocentric/telic construal of the Bible's unity as being a more fruitful model.
My comment about the prospect of Enns writing a systematic theology or a set of institutes being unlikely stems from the fact that Enns is a biblical scholar, not a systematician. In the 20th century the academy (of necessity) underwent a striking process of specialization and as a result (of necessity) theological education has done the same. These days, there just aren't many guys around who can master more than two disciplines and the very nature of the project of systematic theology seems to demand a mastery (or at least a thorough familiarity) with a very broad range of subjects. The task seems to large to be adequately accomplished by any one man these days. The pool of available, easily accessible information has expanded so greatly that we have (of necessity) had to settle for focusing on small corners of the pool. The days of renaissance men like Calvin, Kuyper, and Hodge seem to be over (or at best they are numbered, and numbered with no more than two digits). My comment on the improbability of Enns writing a systematics should be read in light of these considerations. I just don't think Enns would presume to step so far outside of his area of expertise as to try to speak authoritatively on all the issues that a decent contemporary systematics would need to address.

As for my rearranging WCF 31, I did so for rhetorical effect and I don't think that my rearrangement in any way alters the meaning of what the divines said there. The propriety of our reception of and reverence for the rulings of synods and councils is contingent upon those rulings being consonant with the Word. That seems pretty clearly to be what the divines are after with that clause. The divines' saying that said decrees are to be received with submission and reverence "not only for their agreement with the Word" is not the same thing as saying that they should be received "in spite of disagreement with the Word." At the end of the day, Scripture rightfully demands higher devotion than do the decisions of Church councils, not because those councils are impotent but because their potency and authority is derivative.
I have been wondering throughout this conversation and others like it why the question of Enns' Reformed-ness has tended to take center stage rather than engagement with his exegeses and arguments. That was really the reason why I posted what I did in the first place. What is to be gained by pushing Enns out of the Reformed camp? I can't help but wonder if it isn't that some Reformed folks don't feel obligated to engage with anything said by Christians outside the camp. If we can show that Enns departs from "the Tradition" and force him out into broadly-evangelical-land, then we'll never have to engage with the issues he's highlighted. We can just kick him out, continue our well established policy of either ignoring or looking down our noses at everyone outside and get on with recapitulating (parts of) "the Tradition" as though nothing much of interest has happened or come to light in the past few centuries. It's not so much what Enns said that is troublesome. We've been ignoring and shabbily explaining away those sorts of things for more than a century. What's troublesome is that he's inside of the camp and saying them and thus the game has become not so much trying to figure out the truth of the matter but rather trying to prove ourselves to be "more Reformed than thou."

11:19 AM  
Blogger D Hart said...

Actually, this started when you claimed the tradition for Pete. Once you raise the possibility of the tradition, you also raise the chance of being outside it. After all, a tradition becomes such a thing by including and excluding what belongs inside it. (Of course, a relevant question about such a tradition is who has the authority to make such dinstinctions.) But to invoke tradition as if it won't involve some degree of inclusion or exclusion is to misconstrue how traditions maintain themselves.

A related point is why those who defend Enns would regard his critics as fundamentalist simply because they think Pete may have gone outside the boundaries. Which is worse, to be accused of residing in evangelical-land or fundy-world?

So since you invoked the idea of tradition, I wonder what it would take for you to include or exclude someone from the Reformed tradition? Is it simply if they use Calvin's notion of accommodation? Or is something more involved? Or could it be that you don't think the Reformed tradition should exclude anyone? Would you include Barth? (Many Lutherans do.) How about Arminius? (He was in the Reformed church.) How about John Piper? Or Al Mohler?

2:38 PM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

Dr. Hart, I didn't mean to imply that you had brought up the question of Enns' being "within the Tradition." Sorry if I came off as saying that. I rather intentionally engaged in that debate myself with my initial post. The reasons why I felt like it would be worth posting on the subject are as follows: 1) I am convinced that many Reformed folks either do not know or refuse to acknowledge what sorts of things Calvin, Hodge, Warfield, Henry, Berkouwer, Ridderbos and other Reformed giants have said about Scripture, 2) I am convinced that many of the folks described in 1) are the most vocal in making claims about what "the Tradition" says about Scripture, 3)when I've tried to broach the question of the truthfulness of Enns' thesis I've only met with evasion (e.g., see this discussion. However, I'm not thinking of Jason here), and 4) I really do think there are some pretty obvious affinities between the thesis of Enns' book and Calvin's doctrine of accommodation.

As for point 4), you've questioned my initial comparison by pointing out that whereas Calvin went on to write the Institutes and commentaries on most of the books of the Bible, Enns, to date, has not. I think the obvious follow up question to your objection must be: How is that relevant? Must Enns' complete writings be comparable in volume and subject matter in order for my comparison to hold?

Of course, I know that's not the criterion of Reformed-ness that you're advocating. You seem to have been advocating the creeds, confessions and catechisms as functioning in a certain way so as to be criteria of Reformed-ness. My point on that is that the WCF itself says that Scripture rather than the decrees of councils are to be the rule of faith and practice, and the decisions of councils are to be a help in both (which the divines seemed to think was significantly different from a criterion of orthodoxy).

Now as I said above in my third reason for posting what I did, I've all but given up on getting folks to engage with the Biblical evidence that Enns adduces. So I'm left with trying to show that the things for which folks want to expel Enns can also be found on the lips of Calvin, Henry, Hodge and the like (see reason 1 above) in order that folks might see that the borders of "the Tradition" do not lie exactly where many seem to think that they do.

Now, you said above in your citation of McIntyre's idea that a living tradition invites adjustments. Why can't Enns' thesis be seen as an adjustment of a living tradition rather than a departure from an ossified one? especially considering the similarity between Enns' basic thesis and some of the things said by many of the most notable Reformed theologians? While it is true, as you said, that traditions maintain themselves by including some and excluding others. Taking my cue from McIntyre, it is also true that traditions perpetuate themselves by making necessary adjustments and engaging contemporary issues. The question of whether Enns' suggestions constitute necessary adjustments, however, again depends on the truthfulness of his claims more than those claims having exact precedents within "the Tradition."

I didn't mean to insinuate that you are a "fundamentalist." Whether or not you are will depend upon how one defines "fundamentalist." No doubt, there are definitions under which I would qualify as a "fundamentalist." I don't find that word to be a very useful one these days for describing much of anything.

And, of course, I do not consider the usage of Calvin's notion of accommodation to be a sufficient condition of Reformed-ness. And, of course, I do not think of a tradition as being all-inclusive. What I am saying and what I've been saying from the very beginning is that with respect to what Enns has written about Scripture he has not departed from "the Tradition." As for what he thinks about limited atonement, etc., until he publishes otherwise, I'm happy to give him the benefit of the doubt.

10:34 PM  
Blogger D Hart said...

I didn't mean to insinuate that you were calling me a fundamentalist. But some of Enns' defenders have played that card, Tremper Longman's review in Mod Ref being one example. Which is why the quotation I used way back when about Spielberg's defense of Munich. The charge of fundamentalism or even intolerance is a great way to end debate.

The funny thing about your last comment is that if Enns is simply saying what Hodge, Warfield and the WCF say, then why didn't he point back more to his own tradition within the book? It's been a while since I read it, but I can remember so many times writing "who?" in the margins when he would write, "evangelicals typically regard . . . " and go on to give what he deems to be the "conservative" (in quotes because unclear whether Pete was referring to Reformed or evangelicals) view of a contested point. In fact, one of the frustrating things about the book from a man who takes some pride in doing serious scholarship is that there are no footnotes and no references to who these "conservatives" are.

And then if Pete had tried to justify his own ideas about inspiration by doing some rehashing of Reformed views, more people like myself would have been able to see how he was placing himself within the tradition.

But all I sensed in the book was that there was this unidentifiable group of people who hold wooden views about the Bible and who need to have their categories adjusted. Well and good. But the Reformed doctrine of Scriptre, in my view, has long been a flexible and serious way to adjust categories, Warfield's doctrine of inerrancy being about the best I know but the WCF chap. 1 doing very well also.

So if Pete didn't refer back to these folks, and instead was perhaps pointing out the staleness of scholars at ETS, then could it be that Pete was writing more with evangelicals in mind? Could it be that he even wrote the book more like a self-conscious evangelical constricted by the confines of ETS rather than as a Reformed biblical scholar who knows those restrictions to be several steps removed from the Reformed doctrine of Scripture? If the answer to either of these is yes or even maybe, then including Pete in a tradition meaningfully Reformed looks tenuous.

5:19 PM  
Blogger snubnosed in alpha said...

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that since the subtitle of Enns' book is "Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament" and since in the first sentences of both the preface and the first chapter (in the section "What I Hope to Accomplish in this Book") that his goal is to bring an evangelical doctrine of Scripture together with the data with which Biblical scholars deal every day, Enns' target audience was probably the broader evangelical world rather than just the Reformed corner of it. I'm not so sure that convincing the broader evangelical world that he was in line with the Reformed tradition really would have been a very worthy goal...I mean, apart from other Reformed folks, who cares?
Since OPC pundits were probably not his target audience, that should be taken into account. And if his addressing a book to the broader evangelical world is considered a blemish on his Reformed record, I'd say that's probably more the fault of the Reformed community than a fault of Enns (and, yes, the Reformed tradition has had its faults). To take an author's not making your minority his target audience as a shortcoming is probably indicative of an undeserved sense of self-importance on a par with that of Kevin Federline (at least a few months ago). Why should a Reformed writer be bound to constantly assuring those of his/her tradition that s/he does not intend to depart from that tradition? Why shouldn't s/he be given the benefit of the doubt by his/her colleagues and have the freedom to address whomever s/he would like in the most effective manner s/he knows?
Now, as for the question of which evangelicals typically hold the views of Scripture that Enns critiques, I have to say that to my mind the phenomenon is too widespread to require documentation. It would be a bit like writing, "The world is not flat (Columbus, 1492)" or "What goes up must come down (Newton, 1687)." One need only spend some time chatting about such things with evangelical laymen, or, better yet, hand out copies of Enns book to 10 evangelical laymen and get their reactions.

I'm glad that we agree that the Reformed view of Scripture has long been a serious and flexible way to adjust categories, and I too like Warfield's approach. My point has been that Enns' formulations are well within the range of Reformed flexibility. But I get the sense that you think Enns has perhaps stretched the Reformed doctrine of Scripture to its breaking point. By the way, Warfield says some things that the WCF does not, and, indeed, in your last coment you seemed to prefer Warfield's fuller treatment to that of the Westminster divines. Why does Enns' treatment of the doctrine of Scripture have to be considered a break with rather than an elaboration of the standards?

7:55 PM  
Blogger D Hart said...

Why do you think that Pete makes arguments in the book (for a broader evangelical audience) that he also makes in class (for a narrower Reformed group of students)? And what happens if you and he think of Reformed as simply a part of the larger evangelical world? The latter question is fairly important here since my sense is that WTS has not been particularly clear for some time whether it is primarily an evangelical or Reformed institution and what such differences might mean for who teaches and studies there.

My point about Pete's audience was not to lament that he wasn't writing adequately for the OPC (though since WTS trains some of the church's pastors you might expect the denomination to have concerns about what those students are learning). Plenty of books get published everyday the authors of which have never heard of the OPC. I can handle that. But if Pete were identifying with the Reformed community in some way, and if he were appealing to the Reformed doctrine of Scripture, it would make sense for him in this book to explain the Reformed position in a way to help evangelicals come to a better understanding of Scripture. Instead, I read the book as mainly a complaint against evangelical assumptions about the Old Testament and no real solution other than a plea for tolerance to ask hard questions and not be required to give answers.

One final consideration on the matter of Pete's continuity with "the tradition": the WCF 1.9 says that "the true and full sense of any Scripture . . . is not manifold, but one." Pete's plea for a diversity of voices in Scripture and tolerance for a diversity of theological perspectives does not seem to follow the Confession's expectation that the Bible's meaning is univocal.

7:54 AM  

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