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Sunday, 16 March 2008

An Incarnational Approach to Scripture

For many Christians the approach adopted in the science / faith relationship often hinges on their approach to the interpretation of scripture. This is certainly true for many modern Evangelicals; the conflict they see between science and faith is a direct result of their literal “face-value” approach to scriptural interpretation. But this method of interpretation has not fared well in the light of modern scholarship, and doctrines of scripture have tended to be expressed negatively rather than positively. Unfortunately, the negative qualifiers used to describe the bible often raise even more troublesome questions.

Where oh where did we go wrong? Why must we always be so defensive? Is it even possible to have a high view of the scriptures, one that acknowledges their divine source, without closing our eyes to the evidence from modern science, history, and biblical criticism? Is there a model that works?

I believe Peter Enns provides an excellent answer to this question. And, unlike many modern biblical scholars, he proposes a model that maintains Christian orthodoxy. In fact, it seems to me, Enns’ model for interpreting scripture is more orthodox, more in tune with the doctrines formulated by the early church, and more coherent with scripture itself. As Enns takes pains to point out, his ideas are not really that new.

The Incarnational Analogy

In his book Inspiration and Incarnation Enns lays out what he calls “The Incarnational Analogy”.

The starting point for our discussion is the following: as Christ is both God and human, so is the Bible. In other words, we are to think of the Bible in the same way that Christians think about Jesus. Christians confess that Jesus is both God and human at the same time. He is not half-God and half-human. He is not sometimes one and other times the other. He is not essentially one and only apparently the other. (Page 17)
Just as Jesus, the Word made flesh, is 100% human and 100% God, so too the written Word. The Bible is not simply a dictation of divine thoughts, nor is it simply human ideas about the divine. The source of scripture is 100% divine, from God, revealing God’s message to humanity. At the same time it is 100% human, displaying the idiosyncrasies, cultural assumptions and even biases of its human authors. It declares God’s timeless message, albeit from a very specific human cultural and temporal perspective.

Although the incarnational analogy Enns proposes has its limitations, I believe that a) it is helpful for Evangelicals grappling with faith & science / historical / biblical criticism issues and b) it offers to correct an Evangelical understanding of scripture that may have strayed somewhere beyond the bounds of orthodoxy.

Helpfulness of the Incarnational Analogy

I believe the incarnational analogy is very helpful. First, it is a positive statement about what scripture is (both divine and human) rather than a negative statement (eg. inerrant) about what it is not. It affirms that scripture is God’s special revelation and thus can be trusted. The analogy also affirms that scripture is very human. God has a keen interest in ensuring that his message of love and redemption is communicated clearly. To accomplish this, he accommodated his message in a way that was understandable to the specific culture to which it was written.

Second, the incarnational analogy helps us to see the Bible for what it is, rather than what we expect it to be.
What is so helpful about the incarnational analogy is that it reorients us to see that the Bible’s “situatedness” is not a lamentable or embarrassing situation, but a positive one.

That the bible, at every turn, shows how “connected” it is to its own world is a necessary consequence of God incarnating himself. (page20)
An incarnational approach to scripture allows us to be surprised, to have our expectations jolted without necessarily jolting our faith.

A Return to an Orthodox view of Scripture

The early church grappled with articulating a doctrine of Christ. Although there were those who minimized Christ’s divinity (eg. Arianism) and those that minimized Christ’s humanity (eg. Docestism), the Church firmly and unequiviocally declared that Jesus was “very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed) and “Perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man”. (Chalcedonian_Creed).

In the 19th century “Battle for the Bible”, many liberal Christians abandoned orthodoxy and declared the bible to be simply a human book. Evangelicals rightly reacted to this, defending its divine source. However, I believe we may have become so zealous in our declaration of the scriptures’ divine source, that we may have minimized its humanness. In short, this “Docetic” view of scripture may be heretical. Enns has this to say:
It is somewhat ironic, it seems to me, that both liberals and conservatives make the same error: they both assume that something worthy of the title “Word of God” would look different from what we actually have. The one accents the human marks and makes them absolute. The other wishes the human marks were not as pronounced as they were. They share a similar opinion that nothing worthy of being called God’s word would look so common, so human, so recognizable. But when God speaks, he speaks in ways we would understand. (page 21)
As I indicated in an earlier post on scriptural interpretation, we need not box ourselves into a literal hermeneutic (with an over emphasis on the divine source) or a liberal hermeneutic (with an over emphasis on the human source). We can choose an incarnational approach, one that celebrates both the divine and human sources of scripture.

Responding to the Incarnational Analogy

Enns views have not been received favourably by all Evangelicals. (For example, see this discussion between Paul Helm and Enns: Helm's review of I&I, Enns' Response to the review, and Helm’s response to Enns). Another writer has called I&I “The Most Controversial Book of the Year”. However, for myself, his thesis is both simple and fruitful since it helps makes sense of some difficult theological problems. More importantly, it lays out a positive view of scripture, one that is more appropriate for sharing the gospel.

So when someone asks incredulously “Do you really believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and that following him will make any difference?” and “Do you really trust a book that utilizes a cosmology refuted almost 2500 years ago?”, we can answer both questions in the same way. “Yes I do believe that. Want a coffee? This explanation might take a few minutes.”

26 comments:

Peter said...

That's a great insight; thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Cliff Martin said...

Very helpful, Steve. Thank you for brining us a summary of Enns views. It is a practical, realistic, rational approach.

Steve said...

I appreciate this approach as a way of talking about the Bible. But what I would really like to know is if this in any way suggests how to interpret the Bible.

Enns seems to suggest that we can acknowledge "idiosyncrasies, cultural assumptions and even biases" in the authors' minds that have bled through the pages as it were. But inasmuch as these are "erroneous", i.e., they contradict our understandings of objective reality, how do they influence our hermeneutic? What does it actually mean to say that Scripture is 100% divine? Is this his way of saying that the Bible may not be inerrant in some sense, but that it was commissioned by God for our use (as I argue in my series)? Did God purge the Scriptures of theological errors while allowing cultural misconceptions to remain?

So many questions...thanks for the post!

Steve Martin said...

Hi Steve,

Good questions. And I think your point of God's purpose (commissioning) for the bible is on the right track. For me, the discussion of ANE literature & inspired scriptures (1st of 3 issues Enns discusses) really isn't that challenging. What is more challenging is his third - how the NT writers interpreted the OT. An important note here is NT Writers Christotelic hermeneutic ie. the death & resurrection of Christ is the purpose of history. Although not every part of the OT leads the reader to Christ (a Christocentric claim used by many Evangelicals), Christ can be seen in the OT once we have a pre-understanding of Christ. ie. it is like reading a novel when we already know the ending.

On inerrancy, well .. I think I'll leave that one go for right now. The only hotter topic in Evangelicalism than evolution is innerrancy. But, I should also point out that an incarnational view of scripture does not necessarily rule out the inerrancy of scripture (once you qualify what inerrancy means). For example, Enns clearly accepts both since he is currently the Chairman of the Eastern Region of Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) < http://www.etsjets.org/> , an organization whose Doctrinal statement states: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

thanks,

Kyle said...

While I suppose Enns's model helps to iron out some of the potential problems in the negative notions of inerrancy, it also seems to create some of its own, which you don't really get into. Presenting the Scripture as Incarnational comes very close to identifying the Bible with Christ. The Bible is important insofar as it *points* to Christ, but it isn't actually Christ. I don't see either you or Enns specifically claiming that, but in claiming the Bible as somehow incarnational, you leave yourself open to that implication. Part of the problem of 20th cent. views of the Bible is that they have exalted the text over and above the living God (i.e., bibliolatry), and I don't see this model as doing anything but exacerbating that problem. Perhaps my problem is more with the label "incarnational" than the attempt at finding a nuanced understanding of how God has communicated through a chosen people.

I'm also not sure how this model is squared to the process of canonization. We humans obviously had no role in the process of Christ becoming incarnate, but we very much had a hand in the construction of the Bible. Of course, if the incarnation in the model is more metaphorical, there isn't much of a problem, but it sounds like Enns's claim is stronger than that, which to me seems to lead to the highly problematic claim of some sort of theogenesis.

Pete said...

I don't think Enns use of the word "Incarnational" is meant to convey that the Bible is somehow an incarnation of God. I think it is just chosen by way of analogy; that just as Jesus is 100% God and 100% man, the Bible is 100% written by God and 100% written by man.

Know realizing that common descent is a reality; I am of course very attracted to such a concept to help explain what seems like conflicts between Biblical innerrancy and historical reality. However, I have to agree with Steve, in that I am not sure in what way this affects our hermeneutic, which at the end of the day is really what is important. I must admit I didn't find Enns very clear or helpful as he began to address some of these issues near the end of his book.

Steve Martin said...

Kyle: Welcome.
Re: solving some but creating more problems. Agreed. In fact, Enns admits as much. That, I think is OK. It helps address some issues that were starting to look intractable given what we now know from ANE culture / literature / ideas. Fresh issues? That’s fine. In some ways the really interesting battle right now is in the reformed wing of the Evangelical church. Who is going to lead: the “continually reforming” wing or those that want to confer some apostolic status on the reformers themselves (ie. no more change). And yes, I realize that how I phrased that demonstrates my own bias :-) .

Re: Incarnational model making the Bible in some sense like Christ & danger of bibliolatry. I agree with your point about Bibliolatry. 100% agree. However, I don’t think I agree with the first part. The real intent of the model is to highlight scripture’s humanness as well as divine source. Just as some early Christians claimed that “The Word made flesh couldn’t have been a real flesh-and-blood man” because that demeans God, so modern Evangelicals want to minimize the humanness of the written word because “something claiming to be God’s word would never look like this”.

Re: theogenesis: No I don’t think that’s the claim at all. The bible is the Word of God, not God.

Pete: Thanks. I tend to agree. I believe Enns has started to flesh this out more. Check out his paper “Preliminary Observations on an Incarnational Model of Scripture” in the Calvin Theological Journal (available online on Enns’ articles page: http://peterennsonline.com/articles-and-essays/ ).

Steve Ranney said...

At 'creation of an evolutionst' I read a summary of the Gen. commentary by Walton, http://thecreationofanevolutionist.blogspot.com/ 'John Walton's greatest hits' which added something to what I got out of Enns. That is that Walton says we should take Gen. 1 at face value, in other words, they are describing things as they thought them to be at that time (fixed dome and all), vs. the idea (which I had before) of a 'literary device to communicate truth.'

One interesting thing Walton says is that the agenda is not to explain how things are made, which was not intersting to the ANE audience. Rather, Gen. 1 is showing how Yahweh defines function by giving names and domains.

Steve Ranney said...

By the way here is the quote about Walton: As tempting as it is to go for the third option, Walton urges us not to read the opening chapters of Genesis as mere literary expression, but rather as a literal (not literary) expression of Hebrew cosmology. Ironically, the YEC and ANE interpretations of Genesis 1 use the same methodology while producing two completely different conclusions as a result of their differing worldviews.

http://thecreationofanevolutionist.blogspot.com/search/label/John%20Walton

So inerrancy is really an issue only we insist on having the Bible be a scientific treatise in accordance with our modern assumptions.

Scooper said...

Wow. The incarnational approach to scripture is just what I was looking for. Thanks for introducing me to it.

Speaking of which, the cosmogeny of Genesis is true, once you accept that it is what God would tell a collection of tribespeople who really wanted to know that God cared for them. Just like trying to explain human reproduction to a child who really wants to be reassured of the parents' love, the actual details can wait until the questioner can handle them.

Steve Martin said...

Steve R:
Thanks. I too believe the "modern literal" and figurative interpretations (at least for gen 2-11) are both inadequate. Good points.

Scooper: Bingo! Read your post. That's good. Same illustration I like to use. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

If you have Charles Hodge's commentary on 1 Corinthians, I think reviewing that, especially 1 Cor. 2:13 would be helpful when critiquing this book. Here Hodge examines the greek that the Holy Spirit uses when inspiring Paul to write of inspiration itself, and concludes (vs 13) that the writer (Paul) uses spiritual words to describe spirtual realities, that is, the Holy Spirit's words to describe the Holy Spirit's knowledge of the inmost realities about God. In other words, Paul is using words taught to him by the Holy Spirit to explain realities known only to God. The words aren't Paul's words, they are words chosen by the Spirit and shown to Paul, and the words he was to use to pen the scripture. Jesus in effect say's the same thing when he describes the words he's using as 'spirit' and 'life' in the book of John. It's interesting that in the context of this section of scripture the Holy Spirit say's that the natural mind receives not the things of the Spirit of God because they are foolishness to him. Is it any wonder then that some people then will come to the Bible and believe that it is simply a human book? Because they do this, do we now have license to back away from the assertion of the Bible's divine origin--that its origin is NOT in the will of man, but God! By no means. Neither do we create new, or exageratted, catagories to condescend to them. We simply state what the scripture says about itself. If this is insufficient then I suppose it is insufficient to those who are perishing. If I am accused docsetism because I simply affirm what the Bible say's about itself, so be it! Never does the Word of God (or should I now call it the Word of God/man) refer to itself as incarnational. To say something like this is confusion. My thoughts are continually drawn back to some of my Lutheran influences so as to wonder what they would say of this teaching. Though not a Lutheran myself, I believe that God created Lutherans to always draw us back to the basics of the faith, and to keep us off tangents, and to correct us from yielding to erring spirits. I thank God again and again for the Lutheran influences in my life. They teach me to stand firm in the faith, and to be unafraid.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for your thoughts.

Re: never does the word of God refer to itself as incarnational:
Not directly. But it doesn’t claim to be inerrant directly either. It is in studying the bible as a whole that we come to an understanding of these ideas.

Re: To say that the bible has both divine & human source is confusion.
It certainly can be confusing. But so is the fact that Jesus was both divine and human. This is what the church has grappled with for 2 millenia. Just because we can’t fully understand it does not mean we should deny Christ’s divinity or his humanity. Same with the scripture. Please do not think that Enns (or others like myself) are reducing the divinity of the scriptures by highlighting its humanity. This is not a zero-sum game whereby every bit of humanity in the scriptures somehow reduces its divinity.

Re: Hodge’s ideas and whether Enns is diverging from reformers & Princeton theologians (Hodge, Hodge, and Warfield) or expanding on their ideas:
I’d recommend reading Enn’s paper “Preliminary Observations of an Incarnational Model of Scripture” http://peterennsonline.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/CTJ%20Article%20-%20Peter%20Enns.PDF Check out the 2 quotes by A. A. Hodge on pages 222 and 224.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve

Re: But it doesn’t claim to be inerrant directly either:

Every word of scripture is from God and God cannot lie (it is truth). God claims exactly that about his word. His word cannot be broken. This is now a secondary point of 1 Cor. 2:13.

Re: (Re: To say that the bible has both divine & human source is confusion.):

I believe I said, "never does the word of God refer to itself as incarnational."

I believe I also made the point that the Bible is of divine origins. This is what the Holy Spirit through Paul is saying to the church at Corinth and this is what the Holy Spirit says through the apostle Peter, saying, "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" 2 Peter 1:20-21. Note that prophecy doesn't have its origin in the will of man.

Re: It certainly can be confusing:

I'm not confused about it. I believe it is confused teaching. There is one incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus Christ.

Re: But so is the fact that Jesus was both divine and human. This is what the church has grappled with for 2 millenia:

I'm not grappling with that, nor is most of the Church today. Jesus Christ is fully divine and fully human in one person. This is why I'm grateful for Lutherans. They make the Biblical assertions and leave you with it--with proof texts, of course ;-)

Re: This is not a zero-sum game whereby every bit of humanity in the scriptures somehow reduces its divinity:

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)
This means even humanity, and also language in all its diversity. Emotion too. All these things are used by God for divine purposes because they originate with Him.

Re: Hodge’s ideas:

I don't think these are Hodge's ideas. They are the correct interpretation of the scriptures. Hodge in his commentary corrects those that think that because God gives the apostles and prophets every word to write that somehow they are mere machines (The Mechanical Theory of Inspiration). Hodge affirms that God can control the thoughts and language of the penmen without making them into machines, and affirms that the Holy Spirit renders each writer infallible whether they be poetic, polished, or rude. I think Hodge is being generous because the Bible does not make an apology for what it is affirming in these passages. In other words the Holy Spirit does not make a big deal about the characteristic style, He simply affirms what the Scripture is--God breathed.

In Christ

Steve Martin said...

Hi Anonymous,

Just to clarify, the claims of “incarnational” wrt scripture is an analogy, and not identical to the incarnation of the Word made flesh. (see comments above to Kyle). The claim though, is scripture’s source is both divine and human– see also my post http://evanevodialogue.blogspot.com/2007/06/literal-or-liberal-our-only-choices-for.html – actually, I don’t think this is really that controversial a claim. That is one of the points Enns makes in the CTJ paper I pointed to above ie. the incarnational analogy is simply a new articulation of an old idea.

And I agree completely with your statement “All these things are used by God for divine purposes because they originate with Him” – particularly the scriptures.

PS: Any chance you can leave your name next time you post … even if only for my sanity … having a conversation with someone named “Anonymous” is kind of weird.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve

The posting board will not take my Google username this is why I've used anonymous. My name is Eric

Re: The claim though, is scripture’s source is both divine and human:

1 John 4: 1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

I'm comparing the above proposition to the scriptures as 1 John 4:1 commands, that is, Is scripture's source both divine and human? I claim that scripture's source is God alone, and I intend to prove that this is what scripture teaches. If it teaches otherwise someone please show me scripture to prove this. My wife proof read some of this dialog and said, “You seem to be the only one using scripture to defend your claim.”

Again, the Holy Spirit through Paul 1 Cor. 9-13 :

9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
10 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

Verse 9: Divine things (Christ) are unknowable and unfindable by Man.
Verse 10: These things (Christ) are known by the Holy Spirit alone, and those to whom He reveals them.
Verse 11: The Holy Spirit alone has access to the inner most thoughts of God.
Verse 12: The Holy Spirit has been given so that men might know the things (Christ) of God.
Verse 12: The Holy Spirit uses His own words to disclose God's mind, and gives these words to the apostles.

Since divine things (Christ) are unknowable and unfindable to man, and because the things (Christ) of God are known by the Holy Spirit alone (not by Man), and because that in disclosing the mind of God the Holy Spirit chooses the words to use, it follows that the source of revelation must be God alone. Man cannot conceive of these thing so How can He be the source?

And, Again the Holy Spirit through Peter 2 Peter 1:20-21

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

Verse 20: The scripture is not interpreted by the apostle then penned or spoken. It is taken word for word.
Verse 21: The scripture does not have its origin in man. If we (humans) are ignorant of God and His mind we can hardly will it to be put into words. The Holy Spirit must move those chosen to pen or speak the scripture. Paul gives ample detail about this process in 1 Corinthians 2.

These passages teach that the scripture originates with God--God is the source, not man. God indeed uses man to write it, as described above, but God is still the source. Again, if prophecy did not come by the will of man he can hardly be the source of it.

Suppose I write a book about myself, shall I say that the thoughts, and the words I use to convey them have their source in my pen which I used to write the words. No, the source is my mind, the pen is the instrument and the words are a disclosure of my mind. Even if I choose a different color pen, or change the style of the letters—bold, italics, or font, the pen is still not the source of the thoughts, or the words. The thoughts may have been there long before the pen ever existed. It is a gift from God when we recognize the words in the Bible to be of divine origin, and especially the Cross of Christ to be a divine message.

In Christ

Eric

Anonymous said...

http://saveourseminary.com/?page_id=10

Anonymous said...

It is sad that Lillback, one who denies justification by faith alone, and defends others who teach the same can secure his position like this. Lillback should never have made it to the position he is in. How did he get there anyway?

Have our teachers loosed us from our theological moorings in the confessions and catechisms as proper representations of the Bible to the point we are not able to discern? I think so!

The formal and material causes of the reformation were the authority of scripture and the doctrine of justification by faith alone. On justification Luther, I think, said it best saying, "Justification by Faith Alone is the doctrine on which the Church or individual stands or falls," and "If this doctrine (justification) is not understood, the Bible remains a sealed book." Notice that! If one does not understand how salvation works then one doesn't understand the Bible. I guess the same as Paul saying, "The natural mind receives not the things (Christ) of the Spirit because they are foolishness to him," and Jesus, "Anyone who learns from God comes to Me."

It is time for Christians to return to the confessions of the reformation that have a scriptural doctrine of Biblical authority and of justification. These issues are of dire importance!

The Bible teaches that you are right with God based on the works of Jesus--His sinless life, His death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection. The justified will live (have life) by believing this message, and after believing, it is true from beginning to end.

In Christ

Eric

Mike Beidler said...

Steve,

Thought you might want to know: Peter Enns has, for all intents and purposes, been fired from Westminster Theological Seminary as a result of the ideas set forth in his latest book.

Check out the
following

Steve Martin said...

Hi Mike,
Thanks. I had been watching this story for the last few weeks. I was surprised how fast the board moved though – thought they would delay any major decision until their May meeting.

Hi Eric,
Thanks again for your thoughts. I appreciate your passion for defending the truth of scripture and the gospel. I believe I share that passion. However, I believe we probably disagree on the nature of scripture. To put it bluntly: You are concerned that I am somehow removing divine truth from the scripture and therefore am compromising the gospel; my concern is that you are emasculating scripture’s obvious humanity. For me, this claim (as Enns addresses) is actually just as dangerous to the gospel – maybe even more dangerous. It is unclear to me if you have read Enns book or the essay I pointed to above. Have you? This might be one of the reasons we seem to be speaking past eachother.

I too agree that scripture’s radical ideas and purpose are from God. But God did not drop these spiritual truths on humanity – he spoke them through humanity, very specific humans within specific cultures (eg. ANE cultures, ancient Hebrew cultures, 2nd Temple Judaic cultures). To not recognize this opens up a host of difficulties, similar difficulties to those faced by fundamentalist Muslims when defending the Koran.

Are the very words of scripture of divine origin? To use an example that seem to be most relevant to this discussion, are the words of Genesis 1 of divine origin? The answer is yes. But are these the only words that God could have used to describe his creation? Are these words, as some Jewish interpreters claim, so sacred that they preexisted the creation of the universe? I really don’t think so. If God had decided to reveal himself to the ancient Egyptians, the Assyrians, or the Greeks, scripture would look radically different. If he had revealed himself to the modern western world with our modern scientific understanding of the cosmos, it would have looked even more different.

But he didn’t. And so the scriptures we have, the special revelation we have of God and his plan for redemption, demonstrates qualities &/or biases of an ancient culture. God spoke through vessels that thought very differently than we do. Does that make the gospel irrelevant to us? Absolutely not. That we are sinners and need to be justified through faith in an incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Christ is the heart of the gospel no matter what language it is spoken in or what culture it is spoken to.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Re: To put it bluntly:

Steve, you don't know how much I appreciate that. Really!

Re: You are concerned that I am somehow removing divine truth from the scripture and therefore am compromising the gospel:

OK. My last post (March 28, 2008 2:03 AM) was primarily directed against Lillback and his view on progressive justification and was a response to another anonymous post (not me) concerning the link http://saveourseminary.com/?page_id=10 (March 27, 2008 10:48 PM). I am agreeing that the seminary should be saved from the likes of Lillback and that was what my post was about. I am not attacking Enns on the doctrine of justification. Before I took issue with his book I was quite pleased to find that he is actually a defender of the reformed doctrine of justification--if I've researched it correctly. I WAS NOT attacking you on the doctrine of justification either. The post was secondarily about the authority of the scriptures and was directed at some of the views on this board which, I think, reflect Enns' views.
In my post on March 27, 2008 5:19 PM I was interacting with the proposition that the source of scripture is human and divine.

I hope I've made myself clear. I just thought it was interesting that the two issues that are facing the seminary today were the same issues that the reformers identified as of primary importance during the sixteenth century--the formal (scripture) and material (justification) causes of the reformation. In my opinion Lillback has rejected the material cause and Enns needs clarity on the formal one.

Re: my concern is that you are emasculating scripture’s obvious humanity.:

If I simply affirm what the scripture says about itself, I have done nothing unorthodox.


Re: It is unclear to me if you have read Enns book or the essay I pointed to above. Have you?:

I have not read Enns' book, nor have I had time to read the essay. This doctrine was presented at a bible study and it disturbed me, so I began to investigate it on the net. On this site I've been interacting with some of the propositions which I believe are fair representations of Enns. Would you agree? I think we've boiled it down to one propostion--the source of scripture is human and divine--which I address in my post on March 27, 2008 5:19 PM. In this post I used 1 John 4:1, try the spirits..., so that scripture would be the gauge by which we tested doctrine, and engaged in dialogue. I 'tested' the propostion by scripture, and would like to be refuted by scripture if I am wrong. Is this fair?


Re: This might be one of the reasons we seem to be speaking past each other:

Concerning the propostion above, I don't believe we're talking past each other. It might very well be the crux of the matter.


Re: I too agree that scripture’s radical ideas and purpose are from God. But God did not drop these spiritual truths on humanity – he spoke them through humanity, very specific humans within specific cultures (eg. ANE cultures, ancient Hebrew cultures, 2nd Temple Judaic cultures). To not recognize this opens up a host of difficulties,:

Difficult, or not, God the is the source--words and all--humans the organs (Hodge's term), and the only infallible interpreter of scripture, is scripture (WCF Chapter 1 IX). I think we agree here, with some technical difficulties:-)


Re: similar difficulties to those faced by fundamentalist Muslims when defending the Koran.:

The Koran is not the Word of God.


Re: Are the very words of scripture of divine origin? To use an example that seem to be most relevant to this discussion, are the words of Genesis 1 of divine origin? The answer is yes.:

We would agree here, and I would go on to say that this is true of all scripture.


Re: But are these the only words that God could have used to describe his creation?:

Speculation. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever... Deuteronomy 29:29.


Re: Are these words, as some Jewish interpreters claim, so sacred that they preexisted the creation of the universe?:

For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. (Psalm 119:89)


Re: God spoke through vessels that thought very differently than we do.:

Even though they thought very differently than we do, the message they were writing was, and is spiritually discerned and transcended their culture. God provided authoritative interpreters of the Old Testament in the apostles. The truths revealed, and words given to them by the Holy Spirit apply to men of all classes, nationalities, and tongues.


Re: Does that make the gospel irrelevant to us? Absolutely not. That we are sinners and need to be justified through faith in an incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Christ is the heart of the gospel no matter what language it is spoken in or what culture it is spoken to.

Amen!

In Christ

Eric

Steve Martin said...

Hi Eric,

Thanks for your direct, yet charitable approach. Much appreciated.

Not sure I agree that it can be boiled down to that single proposition .. I think it goes way beyond that. Actually, I disagree with the whole propositional approach – that is not the primary function of scripture (to test doctrinal propositions): the primary function of scripture is to be witness to the Word made flesh. So, for example, I do not agree with your earlier short “proof” of scripture’s inerrancy – it is way more complex than that.

Yes scripture transcends the cultures in which it was written (its truths are timeless) but if we don’t recognize its simultaneous connectedness with those cultures (its situatedness in a specific time & specific ideas), I believe our hermeneutic strategy will fail. Our “talking past eachother” is really about the nature & function of scripture (we probably agree on its authority) and is a much, much longer discussion – way longer than I want to get into here.

My recommendation is for you to read Enns book – read it before his essay. Wrestle through Enns’ ideas directly rather than my poor stumbling attempts at explaining his position. Then read some of the better exchanges between Enns & his critics. Start with the suggestions in http://reformedreader.wordpress.com/2008/03/29/thoughts-on-the-westminster-seminarypeter-enns-situation/ .

If you interested in understanding my own viewpoint, & if the science /faith dialogue in particular is interesting to you, please read the “literal or liberal” article I noted above. Also see the recommendations at the bottom of that post – the 2 articles available online are both very provocative.

Finally, the main brunt of the incarnational analogy, and the main reason I am drawn to it, is that it addresses a huge problem. The standard evangelical approach to scripture is not working. I believe we are leaking badly (our youth) and making the gospel incomprehensible for others. When the living Word of God is turned into a set of propositions, we are indeed going in the wrong direction.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Maybe some parting comments.

Re: Not sure I agree that it can be boiled down to that single proposition:

No one responded to my other propositions (from scripture); so, I assumed everyone agreed with them. This was last major opposing proposition so I addressed it. The responses brought more propositions to which refutation was necessary, e.g., Islam is having the same problem with the Koran as we are with the Bible.


Re:I disagree with the whole propositional approach – that is not the primary function of scripture (to test doctrinal propositions): the primary function of scripture is to be witness to the Word made flesh:

Gathering and testing doctrinal propositions is not out of the scope of scripture or orthodoxy. If it was we could never make a judgment as we are commanded to in Philippians 1:9,10; moreover, how could one subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith, or study a systematic theology?
It used to be that seminaries had a chair of apologetics and polemics. The chair of polemics was the office that tested all sorts of doctrines that arose within the Christian church against the Bible's (or confessions) truth claims.

Saying, "The Word was made flesh,” is a propositional statement. Can we test this 'proposition' by scripture? Of course we can. For someone to say we can't, is, respectfully, unbelievable to me. John tells us how to identify the spirit of Antichrist from the words a person speaks.

John 4:
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;
3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

Respectfully, it seems to me that I'm not the one who has emasculated scripture.



Re: So, for example, I do not agree with your earlier short “proof” of scripture’s inerrancy – it is way more complex than that:

The bottom line is this: do you believe the Bible to be inerrant? There is no middle Ground here. If you believe the Bible to be inerrant on what basis do you come to this conclusion. The Westminster Confession of Faith has the answer:
Chapter 1:5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

That is, do you believe God, or do you have faith? God cannot lie. Every word in scripture was given by God. It really is that simple.

There is an example of Calvin who while studying one of the Gospels found a difficulty which he was unable to resolve. He didn't give up on scripture (inerrancy), but simply stated, "This problem will have to be solved by a future generation." And, it was solved, I think, recently. I wish I could remember the reference.


Re: The standard evangelical approach to scripture is not working. I believe we are leaking badly (our youth) and making the gospel incomprehensible for others.:

I believe the reason we're 'leaking' is because we've lost our confidence in the scriptures, and especially the gospel as the scripture's central teaching. The gospel (salvation once for all based on Jesus Christ's work--his life, death, burial, and resurrection--to the exclusion of our own work in both justification and sanctification, Philippians 3:8-10) is being denied both outrightly, and by omission. Our works are not enough to save (satisfy Divine justice) us in the beginning, middle, end, or anywhere in between of the christian walk. If someone seeks to have his, or her sins blotted out, one can “try” to pay for them personally, in which case satisfaction of God's justice is never completely made--the lake of fire, or take refuge in the full satisfaction of God's justice made by Jesus Christ. The problem is, we think we can save ourselves, i.e., make satisfaction to God's justice. Because we think we can save ourselves we've made the gospel unintelligible to our youth—we (the church) don't know the gospel therefore we can't explain the gospel. It is particularly interesting the way Paul under inspiration makes the statement, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...” Of special note is the word 'ashamed.' The 'church' has gone on a sentimental journey of it's own, like Cain (also ashamed of the gospel), who thought that in Adam (his natural condition) he was OK. Cain--the first true Pelagian--believed his offering was acceptable to God, but rejected the fact that only in the death of the sinner is the law righteously satisfied, i.e. “In the day you eat you shall surely die," and God found amicable, and so he became jealous of Abel having been accepted of God for his blood offering which pointed ahead to Christ's all sufficient offering for his people.

In Christ

Eric

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Maybe some parting comments.

Re: Not sure I agree that it can be boiled down to that single proposition:

No one responded to my other propositions (from scripture); so, I assumed everyone agreed with them. This was last major opposing proposition so I addressed it. The responses brought more propositions to which refutation was necessary, e.g., Islam is having the same problem with the Koran as we are with the Bible.


Re:I disagree with the whole propositional approach – that is not the primary function of scripture (to test doctrinal propositions): the primary function of scripture is to be witness to the Word made flesh:

Gathering and testing doctrinal propositions is not out of the scope of scripture or orthodoxy. If it was we could never make a judgment as we are commanded to in Philippians 1:9,10; moreover, how could one subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith, or study a systematic theology?
It used to be that seminaries had a chair of apologetics and polemics. The chair of polemics was the office that tested all sorts of doctrines that arose within the Christian church against the Bible's (or confessions) truth claims.

Saying, "The Word was made flesh,” is a propositional statement. Can we test this 'proposition' by scripture? Of course we can. For someone to say we can't, is, respectfully, unbelievable to me. John tells us how to identify the spirit of Antichrist from the words a person speaks.

John 4:
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;
3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

Respectfully, it seems to me that I'm not the one who has emasculated scripture.



Re: So, for example, I do not agree with your earlier short “proof” of scripture’s inerrancy – it is way more complex than that:

The bottom line is this: do you believe the Bible to be inerrant? There is no middle Ground here. If you believe the Bible to be inerrant on what basis do you come to this conclusion. The Westminster Confession of Faith has the answer:
Chapter 1:5. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

That is, do you believe God, or do you have faith? God cannot lie. Every word in scripture was given by God. It really is that simple.

There is an example of Calvin who while studying one of the Gospels found a difficulty which he was unable to resolve. He didn't give up on scripture (inerrancy), but simply stated, "This problem will have to be solved by a future generation." And, it was solved, I think, recently. I wish I could remember the reference.


Re: The standard evangelical approach to scripture is not working. I believe we are leaking badly (our youth) and making the gospel incomprehensible for others.:

I believe the reason we're 'leaking' is because we've lost our confidence in the scriptures, and especially the gospel as the scripture's central teaching. The gospel (salvation once for all based on Jesus Christ's work--his life, death, burial, and resurrection--to the exclusion of our own work in both justification and sanctification, Philippians 3:8-10) is being denied both outrightly, and by omission. Our works are not enough to save (satisfy Divine justice) us in the beginning, middle, end, or anywhere in between of the christian walk. If someone seeks to have his, or her sins blotted out, one can “try” to pay for them personally, in which case satisfaction of God's justice is never completely made--the lake of fire, or take refuge in the full satisfaction of God's justice made by Jesus Christ. The problem is, we think we can save ourselves, i.e., make satisfaction to God's justice. Because we think we can save ourselves we've made the gospel unintelligible to our youth—we (the church) don't know the gospel therefore we can't explain the gospel. It is particularly interesting the way Paul under inspiration makes the statement, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...” Of special note is the word 'ashamed.' The 'church' has gone on a sentimental journey of it's own, like Cain (also ashamed of the gospel), who thought that in Adam (his natural condition) he was OK. Cain--the first true Pelagian--believed his offering was acceptable to God, but rejected the fact that only in the death of the sinner is the law righteously satisfied, i.e. “In the day you eat you shall surely die," and God found amicable, and so he became jealous of Abel having been accepted of God for his blood offering which pointed ahead to Christ's all sufficient offering for his people.

In Christ

Eric

Steve Martin said...

Hi eric,

Please don’t assume that I (or others here) accept all statements that we have not challenged. We can go back and forth on these ad nauseum. Sometimes we just choose to say nothing and move on to other discussions.

Specifically on the Koran, the point is this. My understanding is that many Muslims believe that one should learn Arabic so that one can understand the Koran better since God spoke to the Prophet in Arabic. So the revelation of God (in Islam) is very much constrained by its Arabicness. Some Christians view of the bible (if we do not acknowledge is simulataneous humanness & divine revelation) make God out to be one who is constrained by for eg. ANE cosmology.

On inerrant, respectfully, it is not that simple. When you say inerrant, do you mean strict, full, or limited inerrancy? What exactly do you mean by error? For example, was Jesus in error when he said the mustard seed was the smallest? (Its not – the orchid is – at least the smallest that we have discovered so far). This is just one of many, many examples one could bring up. So I agree with inerrancy IF it is defined correctly. Also, see this post at ancient Hebrew poetry for another example:

http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2008/04/what-counts-as.html

re: I believe the reason we're 'leaking' is because we've lost our confidence in the scriptures, and especially the gospel as the scripture's central teaching.

Agreed that the gospel is the scripture’s central teaching. Eternal life does not come from us but from God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Totally. But, I do not believe our loss of confidence in the scriptures has anything to do with the rest of your argument. I think it is because we (the church) are not making the bible relevant. Our interpretations & confessions are being thrust forward like the Pharisees thrust forward their intricate legalism.

Soundcloset said...

Jumping in here without some of the education evident here or the depth of background reading on the subject. There are "hot button" issues being struggled with by believers and the non-believers affected by these issues. Let's take homosexuality. Is scripture clear on it being a behavior -- if not an inclination altogether -- that displeases God? Maybe that's just a cultural bias, and we can decide to opt out of that prohibition? Is this a slippery slope toward selective interpretation to allow for our own favorite sins?