Sunday, August 12, 2012

Eye on the prize

I’ll make some comments on this review:

That is the situation—alas—and Enns is brave enough to begin a conversation (p. 112).

“Brave enough”? What has Enns done that’s notably courageous? It’s not like he’s gone undercover to infiltrate the mob.

I am grateful when he acknowledges that the book’s conclusions flow out of his own “Christian convictions” (p. xii).

Well, of course he’d say that.

In the debate about Adam, Enns is distinctive because he simply cuts the Gordian knot: we can remain fully committed to inerrancy but revise what we think Genesis and Paul are telling us about Adam. 9 Here we have a professed inerrantist (unlike classical liberals) who rejects concordism (unlike classical conservatives) and simply bites the bullet (by denying a historical Adam). As Enns concedes, most of what he is arguing is not new. What is new—and controversial—is that Enns defends his position as fully consistent with inerrancy and evangelicalism at its best.

But that’s just a ruse.

Thus Enns reminds the reader in his first thesis in the conclusion: “Literalism is not an option” (p. 137). He cites Augustine on how naive Christians should avoid making idiots of themselves by pitting the Bible against well-established cosmological views. “As this quote [from Augustine] indicates,” Enns remarks, “literalism can lead thoughtful, informed people to reject any semblance of the Christian faith” (p. 138).

But this reveals a tension in his approach, for it fails to distinguish between the sense of the text and the truth of the text. Is Enns saying literalism is not an option because that’s not what the text means? Or is he saying literalism is not an option, even if (or especially if) that’s what the text means, because that’s false, and that has detrimental consequences for the Christian faith?

But if that’s what the text really means, then, like it or not, we’re stuck with the consequences. At that point it’s too late to undo what he’s wrought. Hermeneutical legerdemain won’t salvage the situation, for his exegesis was what exposed the (alleged) problem.

On the other hand, those sympathetic with Enns are worried that old bugaboos like inerrancy are tearing apart the evangelical movement and bringing unnecessary disrepute to the Christian faith. This also places an unbearable strain on younger evangelicals who seek to cultivate the best Christian minds as they follow Christ: Are they to play the ostrich, bury their heads in the sand and deny what every sane, intelligent person believes in the twenty-first century?

But I sometimes wonder if, in the broader evangelical debate, Enns has unfairly become the fall guy. In my experience, a fair number of evangelical biblical scholars, socialized in the same guild, share many of Enns’s methodological commitments (it is not always clear why they would have strong disagreements with the ideas expressed in his latest book). Who knows how many evangelical scholars—both young and old—are privately sympathetic to Enns’s ideas but too afraid to come out of the closet?

That is why a growing number of evangelicals find Enns and his project so compelling. There is no need for spooks or conspiracy theories here: these are scholars who were raised as evangelicals; they self-identify as evangelicals; but they are seeking a better, bigger, broader vision than the perceived ideological myopia of conservative evangelicalism, a vision genuinely open to pursuing truth critically by engaging the best of modern learning.

Enns is worried that evangelicals will self-destruct if we keep denying what mainstream science is telling us. He is worried that our young people are growing up as intellectual schizophrenics, believing one thing in church and another thing in the lab—and suffering under the mental strain. Many are leaving the faith because they see only two choices, affirm Adam or abandon ship. And a number of emerging evangelical scholars are disillusioned and discouraged by the chilly reception their hard-earned views of Scripture have received from Mafioso, muscle-flexing evangelical gatekeepers. His book is an attempt to bring healing and to offer a different way.

i) It’s not as if Christians in the 21C unearthed an ancient spaceship which blew the cover on the true identity of Yahweh, Jesus, and the angel Gabriel. (Hint: they were really aliens from Alpha Centuri,) The ostensible conflict between science and Scripture has been around for generations now. It’s pretentious for Enns to act as if we’ve suddenly arrived at a crossroads.

ii) I do think it’s a problem when his critics confine themselves to pointing out that his position is unscriptural or contrary to Reformed tradition, and leave it at that. It is important to address the scientific objections head-on, to the best of our abilities.

Mind you, not every pastor, theologian, Bible scholar, or seminary prof. has that responsibility. As a rule, that’s best handled by Christian philosophers, apologists, and scientists.

iii) At the same time, if we don’t always have a prepackaged answer to some scientific objection, that’s not an excuse to disbelieve the Bible. The fact that God said something is sufficient reason to believe it. The Christian faith does require us to take some things on faith–appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. However, if we can remove intellectual impediments to the faith, we should do so.

iv) In fairness to his critics, when liberals like Enns try to obscure what the Bible really teaches, and replace it with a substitute teaching, then it is necessary to correct them and reaffirm Biblical teaching.

v) Although it’s tragic to see people abandon the faith, that’s a necessary possibility. The church doors swing in both directions. People come and people go. The integrity of the faith demands that possibility. The church must be open to that reaction.

For the Christian faith must stand for something. The Christian faith can’t be so flexible that Christian profession is consistent with everything and its contrary.

It can’t have a movable goalpost. “Do you want to begin at the 20-yard line? So be it! Would you rather start at the 40-yard line? So be it! Do you prefer to finish at the 80-yard line? So be it! Just tell us how much you’re prepared to believe, and we’ll adjust the goalpost to suit you.”

Christians are followers. Christ doesn’t follow us–we follow Christ. Enns never learned what it means to follow Jesus.

Although it’s sad to see some professing believers lose their faith, there’s a sense in which you can’t lose what you never had. If their faith evaporates like mist at the sight of any apparent evidence to the contrary, then what did their faith ever amount to in the first place? An untested, default belief just waiting to evaporate if it happens to make contact with intellectual challenges was just a placeholder in the absence of something else. An accidental faith.

Remember the parable of the pearl (Mt 13:45-46). The gospel is worth everything we have. Jesus should mean everything to a Christian. Christ isn’t just as accessory to life. We must cling to Jesus for dear life. When I’m on my deathbed, I will have no one else to turn to, nothing else to fall back on.

Likewise, the Bible compares the Christian faith to a race or a journey. All that matters is how you end. It matters not how fast you were out of the starting gate, or how well you were doing on the backstretch, or heading down the home stretch. If you make it 95% of the way, but drop out 10 yards before the finish line, you’re no better off than if you never entered the race. Indeed, there’s a sense in which you’re worse off. You came that close, only to miss out.


  1. I wonder what Enns et al.'s argument for the elevation of "truths of science", or, rather "consensus of science," or perhaps, "established scientific viewpoint," or etc., over against other (secular) domains of inquiry? (By 'secular' I just mean not theology per se.) This seems almost like weak scientism. If not, then what does Enns do with other consensuses (or etc.'s)? They've done studies about the vast majority of opinions held by philosophers. Will Enns capitulate to them? If not, why not? Is it: (a) philosophy can't give us truth, science can. But that's probably B.S. Or (b), But the Bible tells us (at least indirectly) that things like naturalism aren't the case. But then why don't "inerrantists" get to play that card without worrying about looking like dupes or fundies? What is it? I suspect Enns simply isn't familiar with the field. He's not aware that the vast majority of philosophers scoff at the things Enns believes. He may think Christians philosophers level the field. But then why don't Christian YEC scientists do the same (I say this as an old earther)? Because they're an extreme, tiny minority? But so are Christian philosophers of religion. Indeed, it's known as a career death blow to specialize in phil. rel. And top rated departments, like The Ohio State University don't even have a specialist in phil. rel. on their faculty. Aside from this, what does Enns do with scientific arguments against the soul or free will? The overwhelming majority of neuroscientists who study the topic are physicalists about man and free willusionists. Is Enns? Or does he fall back on *philosophical* rebuttals *science*? Hey, I'm all for that, but then he sounds like the guy making a *theological* rebuttal to science; and again, this respect for philosophy will open the door for "the vast amount of philosophers believe X, which Enns doesn't." This, "the majority says X and we'd better not look like morons to the world" argument needs A LOT of spelling out for me.

  2. Paul,

    Could you direct me to what you consider to be some of the best resources for an OE position?

    I would appreciate it.