Two Mistaken Searches

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Two searches that arrived at my blog in the relatively near past involved assumptions that I would very strongly disagree with. Since these are a little more extended comments than I like to give to searches, I'm only including two searches in this post.

peter enns denies inerrancy
Hardly. He teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary, which requires its professors to affirm inerrancy. What Enns does is flirt with unhelpful and inaccurate ways of saying things that, if taken more seriously than he probably wants to take them, would lead logically to a denial of inerrancy. I wouldn't say that his views don't face difficulties if you want to reconcile them with inerrancy. They certainly do. But I don't think he sees that. He officially accepts inerrancy (at the center of his core views in terms of importance) and just doesn't realize that some of the things he holds (on the outskirts) might undermine his support of inerrancy.

"Campus Crusade for Christ" complementarian
Some people think this (and the results Google turns up for this search show that some vocal people in this debate seem to think this). But it's actually not true. Simply because they have not taken the stance that InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has endorsed (which is very clearly egalitarian) does not mean that they have endorsed complementarianism. They leave that issue up to the local leadership of each ministry on each campus. I've seen some run their group in complementarian ways and others not. At Syracuse, women give talks at meetings and co-lead Bible studies with male members. The leadership at Brown during my first two years there did the same thing. Because they don't want to cause division, they seek to have a male and female director at each location and refuse to have a female director without a male director (except at all Women's schools like Smith College). But that's not because of an endorsement of complementarianism. It's because they seek to avoid structures at the organizational level that will make people of either view uncomfortable. Some of the national leaders are complementarians, but others are egalitarians. There has been tension over this issue but not because either view is dictating how things should be run. The tension is because neither view is endorsed.

9 Comments

Hi! I'm a student of Dr. Enns at Westminster. While I appreciate your intention to defend Enns from a possibly unfair assumption (that he denies inerrancy), you end up damning him anyway by at least implying that what he has written will probably lead there in the end.

As someone who has engaged with his teaching at a deep and personal level--in his book, in the classroom, and in personal conversation with Enns--I would be very glad to address your charges if you care to dialog.

Let me get the conversation going with two statements of fact and then a question.

First, to be clear, Westminster Theological Seminary professors are nowhere required to officially "affirm inerrancy." They do take a vow in which they confess that the Westminster Confession of Faith presents "that system of truth which is revealed in the Scriptures" and promise to teach in line with that document.

Second fact: the WCF nowhere uses the word "inerrancy." Inerrancy is a fairly recent concept, developed in the wars between fundamentalism and liberalism in the early 20th century.

That leads to my question: How do you define "inerrancy"? What does that term precisely mean, and what precisely must you believe about Scripture to be affirming it?

'Inerrancy' is a fairly recent term, largely because people who took a more liberal view started misusing the term 'infallible', which used to mean something like what 'inerrancy' now means and now (in some people's misuse, a misuse I refuse to accept) means something weaker.

Augustine and the author of Psalm 119 very clearly stated the same view as what we now call inerrantism, so it's not very fair to pretend that it's a recent concept simply because it's a recent word. I assume you're under the spell of George Marsden and others like him whose revisionist history has attempted to obscure the actual positions of numerous historical figures whose views on the authority of scripture are virtually identical to what you find in the Chicago Statement.

Let me give you an example from the Exodus commentary by Peter Enns that shows why what he says might be a threat to inerrancy if followed to its natural conclusion. (And by the way I said nothing to damn him. His personal salvation is not something for me to comment on, and I assume that he is genuinely saved because of his public profession of Christ. All I said is that he lets things slip in that, if taken more seriously than he wants to take them, would lead to a denial of inerrancy. Lots of people believe things or say things that, if taken more seriously than they mean them, would lead to outright heresy, but then when you point out the consequences they'd insist that they don't accept that. Observe how many Trinitarian heresies you'll hear in the average evangelical prayer meeting to see what I mean.)

Now an example I found when reading the Exodus commentary is the naming of Moses by Pharaoh's daughter. I was sorely disappointed when I read what he had to say about that coming from a professor at Westminster, which I generally consider to be an evangelical institution. While Westminster doesn't require people to affirm that they are inerrantists in so many words, I do think they hold their faculty to standards that any serious inerrantist would consider important when it comes to a view of scripture. I very much doubt that Westminster would have a place for someone who thinks that Moses didn't really exist or someone who thinks that a biblical author was wrong in maintaining views that we now call complementarian on gender issues (e.g. Luke Timothy Johnson's view, which at least one faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary holds).

The issue of the naming of Moses is that Pharaoh's daughter, according to Enns, would not have known Hebrew (despite the fact that she was very obviously living in Goshen, the land of the Hebrews, presumably as the wife of the governor of Goshen under Pharaoh, which he doesn't take into account). The text very clearly says, "She named him Moses, saying 'I drew him out of the water' (Exodus 2:10b, NIV). Thus in the text itself, her statement has to be her statement. The text reports to us that she said this, and it's why she named him that. Enns, however, denies that she said it. He thinks she said no such thing, even though the text says she did. He thinks the explanation for why the text says this is because the people later gave this explanation for the name. He takes the writer to be reporting the popular etymology of the name. He then gives no explanation for why the text reports it as the daughter of Pharaoh giving him this name rather than just saying that it was the popular etymology but that it may not be why she named him that.

Ultimately I don't think an inerrantist can maintain such a view consistently when it's pushed to its logical conclusions. He apparently (but he doesn't say so in the commentary, so I'm guessing) wants to take the speech act of saying that she said it as really just communicating that some have said it. I think this is like those who deny the obviously attributed authorship of certain NT epistles but say that the audience would have known the indicated author didn't write it. This is supposed to be wiggle room to allow an inerrantist to hold such a thing, but it relies on such a thoroughly implausible view of the psychology of the reader and the literary patterns of the time that I describe it the way I did. If what he says is taken seriously enough, it amounts to denying inerrancy. I don't think he takes it as seriously as I do, because of his view of how the audience would have taken it. But I don't think that view is plausible.

For further reflection on the views Enns defends on these issues, see D.A. Carson's review of his book. I think Carson's critique is particularly balanced.

Hah, that was probably me with that Campus Crusade for Christ one. I don't remember why I was searching for that but I think I had seen where the national leadership affirmed some complementarian statement and I was just trying to figure out what was going on. I was new to the whole complementarian vs egalitarian thing and I was just figuring out where the "battle"(for lack of a better term) lines were being drawn. I already knew about IVF.

Well, there definitely are some people in important positions on the national level who have publicly made complementarian statements. I'm not sure, but I think the director of Family Life is one of them. Many of the national directors are complementarians, but several are outspokenly egalitarian as well, and the organization takes no stance on the issue.

Mark, I was going to start out saying something that somehow got edited out inadvertently amidst several changes I made to my response to you. What I wanted to say was that I accept the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy as a pretty good attempt to capture what inerrantism amounts to, and I think it reflects the historic view that the church has always held. I've put together a post that includes quotes from Augustine and Luther that contradict your claim.

Jeremy, does the inerrantist position you are describing require that Pharaoh's daughter's words are recorded in the original language in which she spoke them, in other words that she actually spoke in Hebrew? That position would have some interesting consequences for the New Testament in implying that all NT characters must have almost always spoken in Greek, despite the historical improbability of this.

Yes, I see the argument that the name Moshe works well as a word play in Hebrew. But then there could also have been a similar word play in Egyptian, or Pharaoh's daughter could have asked Moses' mother to provide a Hebrew name meaning "drawn out". So to allow these words to be a translation does not imply that the account is not historical.

No, it doesn't require that. There are several ways of understanding the statement, and not all of them involve her speaking this in Hebrew. They would require her knowing something of the fact that there is a Hebrew expression that sounds like Moses and her seeing that some sort of explanation of her choice of the name.

The one that seems most likely to me is that she used an Egyptian name perhaps for reasons other than what it sounds like in Hebrew, but she explicitly stated at some point that her choice of the name coincided with that Hebrew expression either because of her own deliberate choice when naming him or because of some higher power orchestrating events to ensure that coincidence.

But one thing that I don't think an inerrantist ought to say is that the text says she said it when she didn't say it. It says she said it. The text gets it wrong if she didn't say it, since it says she did.

Hi Jeremy,

I don't have Enns Exodus commentary, but I will make a couple of comments. Right off the bat as I can best remember (and I read I&I quite a while ago) this challenges inerrancy more than anything I read in I&I. But I could be wrong on that as I'm depending on my memory here.

As for how I think Enns would handle this? He would probably go to an accomodation argument a la Kent Sparks. They just push the accomodation argument further than most Evangelicals. Maybe my comment on Danny's blog was somewhat misleading, sorry if it was. I do think that much of what Enns says elsewhere (not in I&I, the book under discussion on Danny's blog) causes problems for the traditional orthodox understanding of inerrancy (even though I don't subscribe to the CSBI I do think that it's more or less what the church has always held). However I know from what I've read on blogs or heard in lectures from him that he does not stand within the bounds of the traditional understanding of inerrancy. What he's doing is to not let his presuppositions about the nature of Scripture dictate his interpretations. Instead he lets phenomenological observation inform the way he understands the nature of Scripture (not dictate but inform). He'll still use the term inerrant (although I don't think he should - I would prefer the term 'true' perhaps, but most Evangelical institutions would rather see you redefine inerrancy than use a different term ) but definitely uses it differently.

For the record, the post Marcus is referring to on Danny's blog is here.

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