Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Ditch-diggers

Yet another last ditch-effort by Enloe to salvage his position, in the process of which he digs an ever-deeper hole for himself:

<< Convinced for some very odd--and typically extremely self-serving reasons like "We are conservative" or "We are really regenerate, unlike those guys" or "Our exegesis is tradition free. >>

This is the sort of trademark caricature that we’ve come to expect from Enloe.

The question is not whether we do exegesis in a traditional vacuum. The question, rather, is whether, in the comparative study of various theological traditions, we can become self-aware of our own cultural assumptions, and thereby put some critical distance between Scripture and social conditioning so that Scripture is in a position to correct our social conditioning.

<< Even if it could be argued, say, that most Evangelicals are foundationalists it does not in any way follow that foundationalism possesses some kind of absolutely privileged intellectual status. >>

To judge by McGrew’s assessment of Enloe, and Enloe’s failure and refusal to respond at the same level, one must conclude that Enloe has simply picked up some slogans and catchphrases without any real understanding of what they mean.

<< The critic particularly in question in this entry, for instance, has the rather odd belief that the 1982 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is some kind of indisputable baseline for all legitimate Evangelical thinking about the issue of biblical inerrancy. He has claimed in the past that I "owe the Christian community an explanation" merely for posting a link to someone else's article which questioned some of the working assumptions of the 1982 Statement. Enloe owes the Christian world an explanation for pointing out that Evangelical diversity is not restricted to what one sub-group within it thinks. What a bizarre thing to say. One wonders from what clogged up intellectual wells this person has been drinking--and why he hasn't ranged out farther to find other wells which are perhaps tapped into deeper and richer streams of thought than his own. >>

This is another deliberate distortion of our exchange. But allow me to begin on a note of agreement.

As a matter of fact, commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture has become the minority position within Christendom. If you study contemporary Catholic scholarship, from the top down, it is obvious that post-Vatican II Catholicism has given up on the inerrancy of Scripture.

Liberal Bible criticism has also made inroads into the Orthodox Church. And the Anglican Communion is notoriously latitudinarian in the permissible views of Scripture.

The Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican are, in that order, the first, second, and third biggest “Christian” bodies in all of Christendom.

By contrast, those who have a formal commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture come down to a handful of conservative Evangelical denominations among the Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and fundamentalists.

So, yes, Svendsen and White and I, among others, are definitely in the minority on this one. I would, though, just note in passing that if OT history is any guide (remember the Exodus generation? Remember the Babylonian exile?), to be in the majority is not the safest place to be, spiritually speaking.

Beyond that, the problem is that Enloe doesn’t tell us what his own thinking is on inerrancy. If he doesn’t want to use the Chicago Statement as his benchmark, because it’s oh-so provincial, then why in the world doesn’t he come clean and tell us where he himself has drawn the baseline?

All he ever does is to tell us “that” he continues to believe in inerrancy, without ever telling us “what” that belief amounts to, especially after he himself has telegraphed his dissatisfaction with the Chicago Statement.

Okay, so what is his own position? What is his alternative?

Why would a Christian be reluctant to publicly say what he believes about the Bible? Isn’t that part of our Christian witness? Should we not be more that willing to volunteer our views? Should we not, indeed, be prepared to take the initiative in the defense of Scripture against its many detractors?

I have a theory, and if I’m wrong, the way for Enloe to prove me wrong is to come out into the open on this.

My theory is that Enloe’s postmodern epistemology is in tension with the possibility of propositional revelation and/or successful epistemic access to the propositions of Scripture.

And this, in turn, puts his epistemology in tension with inerrancy, since inerrancy is a property of propositions—of true propositions.

And the reason that Enloe is so evasive on this point is twofold:

i) He is acutely aware of the fact that a refusal to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture would totally discredit his research program and further marginalize him in the eyes of the Evangelical community.

ii) His conceptual scheme is still in a fluid, transitional state, so he is simply unable, at this point, to see his way through to an acceptable answer.

<< And so we come to my sed contra: It is not "anti-intellectual" or out of bounds to criticize Evangelicals in general, or sub-sects of Evangelicalism. This is such a silly charge that I can't imagine how to even begin refuting it--or why I should even bother trying. Who died and made a certain extremely narrow conception of Evangelicalism the standard of truth for all ages, past, present, and future? The correct answer is "Nobody." >>

Yet more of his trademark caricature. Notice the transparent ploy. You repackage the real issue in the most general and simplistic terms possible, as if this were a legal question of whether one ever has the right to criticize Evangelical tradition.

No, by anti-intellectualism I mean the following:

i) Don’t offer an honest and accurate description of the opposing position. Instead, go out of your way to present a parody.

ii) Don’t back up your sweeping assertions with specific, concrete examples.

iii) Don’t back up your sweeping assertions with reasoned arguments and counterarguments.

iv) Flaunt your intellectual superiority without presenting any detailed argumentation which would justify your intellectual affectations.

v) When your bluff is called, resort to more bluffery. Don’t respond with reason and evidence—because you don’t have any. Don’t offer a point-by-point rebuttal—because you can’t.

vi) Play up the value of academic credentials for your own experts while you dismiss the value of academic credentials for the opposing side.

vii) Always to shift the discussion from what is true to the abstract right to criticize, regardless of whether your criticism is true or false.

<< In the final analysis, this is all about the Christian status of Roman Catholicism and the alleged superiority of Modernity-soaked concepts of what it means to be "Reformed." >>

No, in the final analysis, this is all about epistemic access to Scripture. Is the Bible knowable? Is divine self-disclosure possible? Was the Bible written to be understood? Is human language an adequate vehicle for divine revelation?

The conflict with Rome is contingent on how we answer these preliminary questions, which boil down to the basic question of whether the Bible is epistemically accessible, and if so, is the best port of entry the original port of entry?

Enloe is the one insisting on a radical subject/object dichotomy—not Svendsen, or I.

<< I have for several months been occasionally speaking about their approach to biblical exegesis in terms of calling it "grammatical technology." What I mean by this is simply a type of approach to texts that acts as if having an advanced understanding of the mechanics of a language implies a superior ability to find truth. So for instance, having obtained an advanced seminary-level understanding of the inner workings of Greek syntax seemingly automatically translates to superior understanding of the Scriptures, because it (allegedly) has the function of fully exposing "traditions" and allowing one to bypass them and get "just" at the "plain meaning" of Scripture.

Now I may be a dilettante, but I don't feel too bad about saying that this is a very silly view of the exegetical task--and one I hope is not actually being taught in Evangelical seminaries. It exhibits no sophistication whatsoever about such important questions as (1) the nature of language in relation to acquiring truth, (2) the nature of truth in relation to cogitation, (3) whether we are forced to do all our truth-seeking within a grid controlled by a radical subject / object split, or whether there is any other kind of epistemological option open to us, and (4) whether meaning is reducible to syntax and grammar and semantics.

Now I am no philosopher of language, and I have no credentials in the world of academic philosophy which should cause anyone to think I am really something special. Nevertheless, in my not totally-uninformed perspective, the view of the exegetical task which I am criticizing fundamentally reduces biblical exegesis to the "product" of an "assembly line"--that is, it is a distinctly Modern enterprise which partakes of the distinctly Modern obsession with mechanisms that are created to control the external world.

So, in light of my labelling of this sub-sect of Evangelicalism's exegetical theory as "grammatical technology," and in light of their repeated insistence that I cannot possibly know what I'm talking about because I don't have Advanced Academic Degrees like they do, I present for consideration this link to the well-respected Reformed theologian-exegete Vern Poythress's essay Truth and Meaning: Fullness Versus Reductionistic Semantics in Biblical Interpretation.

I should note in passing that while Enloe is certainly a dilettante, Poythress certainly is not. The mere fact that Enloe has been saying things as a dilettante that Poythress (and many others) have been saying as scholars would seem to entail that whatever flaws exist in Enloe's presentations because of Enloe's lack of the type of sophisticated presentation that one learns to present in advanced academic programs do not necessarily affect the cogency of the actual views which Enloe is dilettante-ishly trying to talk about. In other words, Enloe may be a dilettante, but that doesn't mean he's just making things up. >>

The problem with all this is that, true to form, Enloe spends all his time setting the table, but he never sits down to eat. He gives us a recipe instead of a meal.

Dropping the metaphors, Enloe has done absolutely nothing to demonstrate that what he means by “grammatical technology” is the same thing that Poythress is talking about and, even more to the point, that Svendsen is guilty of what Poythress is talking about.

What we have, instead, is Enloe’s habit of gleaning talismanic words and phrases from piecemeal reading, without any effort at a rigorous correlation between the meaning of the original framework and its application to any particular case.

One of Enloe’s basic problems is that he’s into historical theology rather than exegetical theology. Because he has not done any systematic reading in the exegetical literature, he isn’t able to document his claims. That’s why he can never come up with any concrete examples, no matter how often he’s challenged to back up his claims with the appropriate evidence.

He can treat Svendsen as an anomaly because he hasn’t done enough reading to know that Svendsen is not an anomaly. He can indulge in these fact-free generalities and baseless assertions because he is not, in fact, grounded in the relevant literature.

What we see in Enloe an illustration of hardened prejudice. He has made the premature decision that historical theology is the royal road to his destination, whatever that is, and has written off exegetical theology without having scouted out that path.

It is a pity to see someone so intellectually stunted at such an early age. Let us hope that this is just a phase which he will eventually outgrow. But he sure hasn’t left himself much space to turn around.

Finally, a couple of ethical observations are in order:

i) If you read his most recent comments about Dr. White, posted over at aomin.org, you will witness volcanic rage and loathing.

Tim really needs to take a break from blogging. When it gets to this level of character assassination, something has gone seriously awry.

ii) Apropos (i), I’m reminded of something Jay Adams once wrote about how group therapy is a euphemism for group slander.

Unfortunately, Tim’s generation grew up with the culture of the afternoon talk show, where it’s publicly okay to trash your parents.

What is lost in this is the Christian virtue of loyalty to a friend or mentor (Prov 27:10).

Unless he happens to think that Svendsen is some sort of heretical cult-leader, which is absurd, there is no excuse to betray a former mentor.

Now, if you come to believe that your theological mentor is seriously wrong about something, there are two ethical ways of dealing with this:

i) You can recuse yourself. Leave it to someone else to carry the torch.

To take an example--suppose my dad is a democrat, and I become a Republican. That wouldn’t give me the right to publicly trash my own father. Where he’s concern, I should keep my mouth shut in public. I owe him that much. That’s a simply matter of honoring a mentor by not dishonoring him, even if you come to disagree with him. Simple, elementary loyalty requires no less.

ii) You can find someone else who holds to the same erroneous view as your mentor—assuming it is erroneous—and direct your criticisms at the third-party’s position. That way, you are still able to say what you think is wrong with the position without wronging your mentor. You can put some distance between your position and your mentor’s position without distancing yourself from him personally or attempting to destroy his intellectual reputation.

The politics of personal destruction is bad enough when directed against a stranger, much less a mentor.

3 comments:

  1. Steve --

    In a post full of gems, I found myself gravitating toward this lesser mineral form:

    {{
    So, yes, Svendsen and White and I, among others, are definitely in the minority on this one. I would, though, just note in passing that if OT history is any guide (remember the Exodus generation? Remember the Babylonian exile?), to be in the majority is not the safest place to be, spiritually speaking.
    }}

    I'm always warey of any kind of "consensus" reasoning ("most people agree with me" or "I'm in the enlightened minority"), but in this case I think that it is salvaged by this addendum:

    "just note in passing that if OT history is any guide, to be in the majority is not the safest place to be, spiritually speaking, if the majority is ignoring God's word."

    The problem here is that Enloe and company (or all the other folks who take Scripture as if it were merely old news and not the Good News) have a massive complaint against the conservative view in spite of the problem that Scripture agrees with the conservative -- epistemologically, hermeneutically, and historically.

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  2. Steve --- I'd contend that there would be nothing wrong about publicly disagreeing with a mentor if it is done in an honorable fashion. For example, if Enloe thinks Svendsen is wrong on X, I don't think Enloe would be any less honorable for attacking, Svendsen, instead of, say, the similar position of a Carson. Nor would Enloe be dishonorable by criticizing Svendsen's position himself, instead of having some other person do it.

    The main thing is the manner in which things are done, obviously.
    I'll add that the manner that has been publicly exhibited so far, especially if the snippets of Enloe posts put on display by J. White are genuine Enloevian material, is deplorable.

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  3. steve,

    I appreciate your meticulous, articulate responses to Tim's posts. You demonstrate a patient precision worthy of the accolades heaped on your blog by Phil Johnson and others, a valued contribution in this ongoing dialogue- a word often strained over the past couple of years.

    A few quick notes, though. Tim is in his early thirties; while he's hardly wizened, "young" often connotes the 18-22 year old college student, at least to my eyes. If you knew his age and still meant what you said, forgive my presumption.

    I also second your remarks regarding respect owed to former mentors. This conflict has much proverbial water beneath it that affects its course, and as someone who was around for much of its brewing (if only incidentally ... I am still ignorant of much of it compared to some others) I sometimes wonder if the unspoken issues remain the driving force. To wit, a quote from Tim addressed to Dr. White when this "split" started, in July 2003:

    "Thanks for your gracious reply, which seems to have defused an apparently difficult situation somewhat. I will, as best as I can, keep to my remark about not bringing out direct criticisms of your views while your enemies may be watching, but since you say here that you don't care about the forum, perhaps you will allow me to ask some clarifying questions of you rather than express criticisms of you."

    While much of what follows even in that post is of questionable consistency with his stated concerns, the difference in his tone is obvious. I believe that what Tim says about Scripture and epistemology and "Cartesian enslavement" must be responded to, and your efforts to that end are of the first rank. Just be aware that there's more going on here than would initially appear. :)

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