Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Peter Enns, Inerrancy, and the Re-Interpretation of Scripture

The doctrine of Inerrancy – the teaching that the Bible is entirely God-breathed and therefore entirely trustworthy – is more than a doctrine. It’s a radical re-orientation towards God and the entirety of life. It removes us from the throne and allows God to remain there. Consequently, this doctrine changes everything, placing us in submission to God’s revelations. Peter Enns, former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, laments how this approach to Scripture impacts our creationist beliefs:

  • The big impasse for evangelicals is that accepting evolution requires them to rethink how they read their Bible, specifically the story of Adam and Eve.

Rather than to ask the Christian – Enns calls us “evangelicals” – to reject the Scriptures, he calls upon us to interpret them differently:

  • Maybe the way in which evangelical read the Bible and conceive of its authority is the problem in the evangelical system that needs to be rethought, rather than being the non-negotiable hill to stand and die on for addressing every issue that comes down the road? This isn’t about evangelicals accepting or rejecting the Bible. It’s about thinking self-critically about how they read it and their approach to biblical authority.

However, it seems that Enns is demanding more than just a reinterpretation. Although he charges that we read our Bible blindly, instead of “self-critically,” he also charges that we attach too much divine authority to the Bible, suggesting that it isn’t entirely God’s word.

Okay, let’s look “self-critically” at the implications of having a Bible that is not completely divinely authoritative. What then do we believe? If the Bible isn’t entirely authoritative because it is not entirely God-breathed, then who is to decide what we take from the Bible? We are! Who then becomes the deciding factor – the #1 authority? Ultimately, we decide with the help of the “experts” or what feels socially or professionally comfortable.

Once we take this step, we invariably pick-and-choose what verses seem reasonable, work-for-us, and are politically correct. This seems to be inevitable with the shift of authority away from the Scriptures and onto us.

Dialogue with some “progressive Christians!” You will find that their faith is virtually indistinguishable from the university community. Consequently, they will vote for gay marriage and regard those who don’t believe in macro-evolution as sub-Cretan. With this one shift regarding the authority of the Bible comes a shift in everything else we believe in.

For them, the Bible has become little more than the New York Times. They both say many trustworthy things, but ultimately, the choice is ours – what to accept and what to reject. Why then even bother with the Bible? Why meditate on it both day and night as we are instructed to do (Psalm 1)? We can find good ideas in many other places – ideas that are at least up-to-date!

Is the Bible just a book of good ideas, or is it the Word of God? If it is the latter, we have to treat it as such! However, Enns believes this is a problem:

  • The problem, though, is that the evangelical view of the Bible as God’s inerrant authority for the church is its ground floor raison d’etre. Evangelicalism exists, at least intellectually, to defend and promote this view.

To not regard the Bible as entirely God-breathed puts us at the controls, where we become creator and concoct an entirely different religion. For many years, I unwittingly attempted to do this. I had been convinced that many biblical teachings were simply beneath the dignity of God, like the teaching that we are to submit to the authorities (Romans 13). I had been a radical, and this just didn’t accord with my intellectual baggage.

However, over the years, God has humbled me and my regard for my own thinking and proclivities. Admittedly, not all of the teachings of Scripture are now agreeable or even sensible to me. However, these “problems” are no longer proof that the Bible isn’t fully God-breathed. Instead, they represent challenges to deepen my understanding into God’s ways.

Perhaps Enns thinks too much of his own thinking and too little of God’s. He concludes:

  • To ask evangelicals to do a critical self-assessment of how they read the Bible is in effect to ask them to assess the entire system.

He is right about that! But of course, Enns has already completed this “critical self-assessment.”

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