Thursday, June 12, 2008

Frame Review of Enns's "Inspiration and Incarnation"

John Frame has just posted on his web page a 7500-word review of Peter Enns's Inspiration and Incarnation. I always enjoy reading Frame's reviews, which I invariably find stimulating and helpful.

Here's the conclusion:

I commend Enns for writing a very stimulating book, packed with useful, digestible information about Scripture and the literature of the Ancient Near East. His motive is to help the church to move away from a sort of over-defensive treatment of Scripture rigidly defined by a grammatical-historical method that Scripture itself doesn’t endorse. I applaud that as well. I do nevertheless disagree with the book more than I agree with it.

1. In regard to the “non-uniqueness” of biblical laws, institutions, and literary genres, I think the “problems” are artificially created by Enns. Most sophisticated readers of the Bible understand that it is not unique in these ways, but to my knowledge very few of these, if any, see that as posing a problem for biblical authority or interpretation. So I could simply agree with Enns on the data and then move on.

But in this section he shows an unwillingness, curious for an evangelical, to say anything about the relation of inspiration to historical factuality. When he speaks about “evidence” for this or that event, the evidence is always inductive, never an appeal to divine inspiration as evidence. Perhaps Enns thinks that inspiration is such an event that we may never appeal to it as evidence. I think that position is inconsistent with Scripture’s own view of itself.[17]

2. When he discusses “theological diversity” in his oddly undifferentiated way, he mostly speaks of diversities of perspective and of emphasis, diversities that ought to be entirely uncontroversial. But from time to time he slides into discussing diversities that could amount to actual disagreements between one passage and another. He refuses to discuss the implications of this for the doctrine of biblical infallibility and inerrancy. Rather he suggests that to deal with such matters would be an “abstract discussion” that we should avoid. On the contrary, I believe that these questions are the real heart of the issue.

3. In dealing with the use of the OT in the NT, Enns presents a number of examples that appear to be “eisegesis” (his word), reading into the texts. He discusses Second Temple hermeneutics and Christotelic exegesis to indicate what the NT writers were doing. But the discussion quite falls apart when he gets to the question of how we today should read the OT. We should not follow a method, he says, but should walk with our community under the guidance of the Spirit. This is fine as far as it goes. But Scripture itself implies that our proclamation of the gospel should be clear and certain, distinct from and antithetical to false teaching. That is to say that the Spirit witnesses to the word, and we find the truth through his “speaking in the Scripture” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1.10). Enns certainly agrees. But he leaves us up in the air as to how in practice we should judge between true and false readings of Scripture. How can we agree communally on what the Spirit is saying to us in the Scripture, when so many sects and denominations disagree as to what he is saying?

So though I find much to agree with in this book, in the end I would not recommend it as a basic text on biblical inspiration to a seminary-level reader (let alone for the less mature). Seminarians need to study biblical inspiration in a way that motivates both humility and confidence in God’s word. The present volume says much (both legitimately and illegitimately) to motivate humility. It says nothing to promote confidence in the truth of the biblical text. That, I think, is a serious criticism.