Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Journey With Scripture and Critical Scholarship: Part 2

Click here for part 1.

At the start of 2008 there was a firestorm of controversy surrounding Peter Enns and his book Inspiration and Incarnation. I was continuing to study as outlined in my last post. At the start of 2009, 9 months after his "resignation", I got around to reading his book. I found it very helpful. The more I had studied the more difficult it was for me to understand how Scripture could be the Word of God and have all of the human characteristics I was noticing. Our doctrine of Scripture should not be a way of sweeping the difficulty of the Bible away. Rather our doctrine of Scripture needs to be phenomenological. Enns book was profoundly helpful for me. Even though I now reject the incarnational model he presented (just as Jesus is fully human and fully divine, so is Scripture), I needed to see someone wrestling with the same problems who came up with a way to honor Scripture while still recognizing that it was completely human.

Later that spring I moved on to God's Word in Human Words by Kent Sparks. At the same time I was studying the book of Daniel and wrestling through the magnificent commentaries of John Collins and John Goldingay among others. While Enns work honestly had been pretty mild, I was now facing challenges to the way I viewed the Bible on a much bigger scale. It was one thing to admit that the Bible is human and has errors here and there. Pseudepigrapha and failed prophecy were different matters. Sparks work was trying to find a way to account for the full extent of the Bible's humanity. He opted for interpreting within the rule of faith (i.e., one must only adhere to the major creeds - everything else is open). That was his box. I was scared. That left a lot open. I also thought it might be a little arbitrary. Why draw the line at confessional Christianity? What was the basis for that decision? I was having a little bit of a crisis, probably the biggest crisis of faith I have ever faced.

May 25, 2009 was the turning point for me. My wife and I had recently come back from vacation in Florida and I had been reading Barth's Church Dogmatics Vol. I.1. Sparks book was being discussed on Scot McKnight's blog. I jumped in at the very end of the discussion and got to ask my question.

Hi Drs Enns and Sparks ,
Thanks so much for you wonderful books, they have helped me greatly. Dr. Enns, I noticed in your last post on your blog which linked to this post that you ask the question, “What limits do we put on the contextual, historical, situatedness of the Bible for explaining biblical phenomenon, and therefore the nature of Scripture, and WHY, ON WHAT BASIS, do we place those limits?” How would you start to think about how to set those limits and where do they come down for you? I have struggled a lot with that very question. When forming our doctrine of Scripture how do we achieve the right blend of informing it through Christian presupposition about Scripture and phenomenological observation?
Dr. Sparks, I know you suggest creedal orthodoxy, but honestly that’s a bit scary to me as it leaves a lot open. Can we still have a robust faith in the Bible as God’s word (or at least the revelation of God’s word) if that’s all that we insist upon?

Enns was gracious enough to respond to me, and it's hard to overestimate the impact it had on me. 

Marcus,
Yes, a good question. First, the purpose of my asking that question in my post was rhetorical, i.e., to get Waltke to see the need for even asking these kinds if questions in the current debate.
As for me, I don’t think in terms of limits but more in terms of a “gravitational center” that brings us continually back to a core confession of Christ and his resurrection. That isn’t put very well, I suspect, and may sound like smooth talk. But, I envision the contextual study of Scripture not to be a bad thing, or something that is helpful but only to a point. It is not a potentially dangerous tool, but it is a tool that is in service to a larger goal, namely following Christ.
I don’t think of biblical interpretation as an activity where a box is placed around it, and Enns’ box happens is just bigger than, say Waltke’s, or a lot bigger than a few of my Reformed critics. I don’t think in terms of a “box” with four boarders, but more of a central tethering point (Jesus) to which I am bound with a really elastic bungee cord (the Spirit). Some of us are more prone to see how far that bungee cord can go (me, Sparks, etc., etc.), but we are always snapped back by the active work of the Spirit of Christ who lives in us.
You are asking a very good methodological question, Marcus, but for which I see no real methodological answer, and things like the Chicago Statement in Biblical Inerrancy, etc., don’t provide the methodological grid for me in any helpful way (not that you asked).
Exegesis and academia are as much of a journey as any other part of the Christian live. I’m good with that.

This was a turning point for me. I was able to resume the boldness that I had when I began studying. The object of my faith had to shift. It wasn't in the Bible any longer. It was now in God (I realize this isn't necessarily an either/or, but I hope you get my point). I was now going to let exegesis and historical study take me wherever it went. No question was prohibited. I trusted (and still trust) that God would keep me faithful through his Spirit. 


As I mentioned before I had been reading Barth at the same time. For me, Barth's central insight in CD I.1 is that the Bible isn't the Word of God. It is an authoritative witness to the revelation of God's Word. Divinity does not lie in the words themselves, but God can and often does use them to reveal himself to us. Scripture becomes the Word of God. Barth's insight has been critical to much of my theological work as can probably be seen most clearly in the first part of my exploration of the identity of Jesus. Along with Enns, Barth was helpful in pushing aside unnecessary presuppositions about the nature of the Bible. I felt free. In the end this is why I don't find the incarnational model helpful. The words of the Bible aren't divine in any sense. They have no special power. They only have the power that God infuses them with when he so chooses.

After that stretch of 2009 I started taking classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Here started the second stage of my maturation, but that will have to wait until next time.

No comments:

Post a Comment