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