Friday, November 18, 2005

Nattering nabobs

Back in my junior high science class, we had a phrase: “dry-labbing.” Dry-labbing was where you took a short-cut. Instead of actually performing the experiment, you simply made up the data.

Tim Enloe is a past master of dry-labbing:

“I've heard tell of a hue and cry being raised of late about the ‘apostasy’ of Paul Owen, a contributor to our sister site Communio Sanctorum.”

Notice the introductory verb: “I’ve heard tell.”

In other words, this entire screed is based on hearsay information.

“Now these posts have caused conniptions in certain corners of the blogosophere inhabited by self-appointed Reformish Watchdogs of True Orthodoxy, because in them Owen "dares" to imagine that catholicity and sound doctrine are not defined exclusively by eensy Protestant (or in some cases, sub-Protestant) sects pretentiously opining that they have, by the use of a sola grammatica method of hermeneutics, discovered the Objective Meaning of the Bible's doctrine of the atonement.”

Given his lazy-brained addiction to hearsay information, Enloe naturally misstates the basis of the objection. For him to accurately state the objection, he would actually have to read the posts upon which he presumes to comment.

No doubt it saves Tim a certain amount of time to skip the reading process altogether and comment on a document without having ever seen what it says. One wonders if Enloe bring this same lofty standard of scholarship to his exposition of Medieval Conciliarism.

As a matter of fact, one of the basic objections to Dr. Owen’s position is not that we are judging him to be found wanting by our own criteria, but that we are judging him to be found wanting by his own criteria. Dr. Owen has identified himself as a “convinced Presbyterian.” He has been a member of a PCA church.

In this particular controversy, and at other times. Dr. Owen has attempted to defend his position as consistent with the Westminster Standards.So that supplies one point of reference in this debate.

And it should be unnecessary to point out that James White, for one, does not adhere to the Westminster Standards. He is, after all, a Reformed Baptist—and not Presbyterian. Unless I’m mistaken, he subscribes to the London Baptist Confession of Faith.

Dr. Owen's criteria may or may not coincide with our own. For now, we are arguing with him on his own turf.

But to know that, Enloe would have to make an elementary effort to know what he’s talking about. Yet, for Enloe, knowing and talking are two independent operations which only occasionally intersect—say, on the second Tuesday in April of every other leap year.

“Owen argues from Scripture quite extensively, yet the best he gets from the self-appointed Watchdogs is fire-and-brimstone accusations that he has "apostatized" by denying penal substitution.”

Once again, Tim is dry-labbing. If he’d bother to acquaint himself with what was actually said before he went public with his screed—and I realize that this may strike the average “Reformed” Catholic (all three of them) as a pretty unreasonable standard of evidence—then he'd know that this is another palpable false statement of the facts.

No, the best he got was not a fire-and-brimstone accusation. What he got, rather, was a detailed exegetical counterargument for penal substitution and against his denial thereof.

Yet in order to know this, Tim would have to actually read…but you’ve heard that before.

“For of course, in the obscurantizing land of backwards Fundamentalism which produces such self-appointed Watchdogs, penal substitution is as absolutely unquestionable as the Virgin Birth and the Second Coming.”

i) Remember, penal substitution is the doctrine of the Westminster Standards. This is one of the doctrinal standards of Enloe’s very own denomination.

ii) In fact, penal substitution is much more broadly attested in Scripture than the Virgin Birth. So why affirm the latter, but deny the former?

iii) Given that Enloe is a preterist, on what basis does he believe in the Second Coming?

iv) What is Enloe’s own position on penal substitution? Either he doesn’t believe it at all, or else he believes it, but regards it as so trivial that belief or unbelief in penal substitution is a matter of complete inconsequence.

“It's interesting to note that all these complaints come from low-church, baptistic Evangelicals masquerading as "Reformed" men.”

Since I’m not a card-carrying Baptist, I don’t have a dog in this fight. But I will observe that the distinction between high-church and low-church is simply a linguistic convention.

If you take the position that membership in the church is a natural birthright due to your parentage, one which requires no credible profession of faith, is that a higher ecclesiology than the position that the church is a communion of visible saints?

“So zealous are they for the traditions of their two or three historical ancestors that they simply cannot hear the combined weight of the overwhelming mass of the rest of their ancestors.”

Once again, all we’re doing is to hold Dr. Owen accountable to his own stated standards of doctrinal orthodoxy.

“For these sectarians, unlike for all who partake of a catholic life, the minority is nearly always (if not always) right in opposition to the majority. The True Faith has only ever existed among the most isolated, institutionally-repressed little groups.”

Another one of Enloe’s cardboard fictions. We “sectarians” don’t approach the question with any a priori burden of proof.

But as long as he chooses to broach the subject, just what is Enloe’s own denomination if not a congeries of little splinter groups? Is Enloe’s denomination recognized as a true church by the Roman Catholics or the Eastern Orthodox?

What is the total membership of Enloe’s denomination in comparison with the Catholic church or the Orthodox church or Anglican Communion? How many decimal places must we make allowance for?

For that matter, what fraction of a fraction of a fraction does it represent in relation to, say, the SBC? If to be in the minority creates the presumption of error, then Enloe’s criterion is either self-refuting or self-incriminating. Take your pick.

Believe it or not, I’ve actually read about an old church that only had 120 members in toto. You could fit the entire congregation into the upper room of a private home (Acts 1:12ff.). This schismatic little breakaway sect was so “self-absorbed” and “unteachable” that it “simply could not hear the combined weight of the overwhelming mass” of traditions comprising the oral Torah. “They deliberately shut their hearts and minds to any corrections from the rest” of the religious establishment—scribes and lawyers, Pharisees and Sadducees, and the High Priest to boot!

“It gets so bad in this Flatland of intellectual obscurantism that you can actually find some of these folks claiming that a statement written only 2o or so years ago by a very small minority of ultra-conservative Evangelicals (the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy) is the cream of all Christian theories about Holy Scripture, and that if one dissents from this statement one necessarily ‘owes the Christian world an explanation’."

Well, I suppose that the Chicago Statement was framed by “ultra-conservative” Evangelicals. Notice how Enloe uses “ultra-conservative” as a pejorative epithet. So where does that leave him?

As I’ve often said, if Enloe doesn’t like the Chicago Statement, he is free to state his own position in his own words, or refer us to some other statement which is more representative of his own views.

Why is he so persistently coy and cagey on such a simple question? Because he has something to hide, perchance? Why is he ashamed of publicly stating what, exactly, he believes about the inspiration of Scripture? Why this endless count-and-mouse game?

What is a Christian if not a believer? A believer who is prepared, at any time and place, to publicly profess his faith? Is that an unreasonable demand? Is that asking too much?

You expect liberals to play dodge-ball. To be vague and evasive. To keep their cards close to their vest. When Enloe plays the artful dodger, it makes you wonder if there is any there there.

“This all begs the questions: Who says that the Christian world is limited to the eensy sect?”

But Enloe belongs to an eensy sect. What are the membership figures for his own denomination? Let’s see the numbers. Why doesn’t Enloe ask himself his own question for a change?

“Who says that the private individual, alone with his Bible is better equipped to understand biblical truth than the whole body of Christians?”

Does the “whole body of Christians” agree on the interpretation of Scripture? Obviously not. That’s why we have the Catholics and Armenians and Copts and Anglicans and Orthodox and Lutherans and Baptists and Presbyterians and so on and so forth. Enloe’s own denomination is a consortium of different Evangelical traditions with differing creeds. Why doesn’t Enloe ask himself his own question for a change?

“Who says that when the individual decides to check his interpretations of Scripture with others, these others are only to be members of his own sect? Isn't that a recipe for learning only about the insides of one's own head? What justification is there for being so suspicious about historically larger bodies that the input of these bodies is immediately ignored in favor of the sect's view?”

As I read this statement I glance over at my overstuff bookshelf of Bible commentaries. Most of the commentators are not Reformed. Rather, they span the theological spectrum.

And I seriously doubt that that Dr. Svendsen’s private library is any less well stocked than mine. You know Dr. Svendsen—the Great White Whale of Enloe’s nightmarish imagination.

BTW, have you ever noticed the tone of escalating paranoia that attaches to Enloe’s writings whenever he gets on the subject of the Reformed blogosphere? Does he go around with a tinfoil cap to keep the little green men over at aomin and ntrmin from beaming impure Anabaptist thoughts into his noggin?

When someone constantly suspects the “other” of harboring suspicious motives, isn’t he projecting his own conspiratorial suspicions onto everyone else? Tim, be sure to check your house and car for bugs and hidden cameras. Oh, and beware of chain-smoking men in trench-coats who stand under the streetlight at 3AM.

Tim, I wish I could assure you that no one is out to get you—but we’re not allowed to tell. If I told you, I’d have to fit you with a brand new pair of concrete galoshes and take you on a little fishing trip.


  1. Steve,

    David King is a Presbyterian, and he does adhere to the Westminster Standards as a subordinate norm to Holy Scripture.


  2. Of course, Evangelicals agree with the majority of professing Christians on most issues: monotheism, the events of the Old Testament era, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the resurrection, etc. We sometimes disagree with the majority, but so does Tim Enloe. There are some issues where the majority shifts from one generation to another. Which majority do you follow?

    It's not as if the sort of criticisms Tim Enloe and others are raising haven't been considered by the Evangelicals they're criticizing. Rather, it seems to be a matter of people like Tim not having given such issues much consideration in their earlier years, so they assume that other people haven't been considering them either. They're behind the Evangelicals they criticize in their consideration of these issues, but they think they're ahead.

    Jason Engwer
    New Testament Research Ministries