Enns' position on Inerrancy

I came across this bullet-point on Inerrancy:

Enns does not seek to harmonize seemingly-contradictory parts of Scripture because he believes the diversity of Scripture is complementary.

"Enns appears to affirm that the diverse descriptions of Scripture form a tension within the canon that is God-inspired. God has placed surface “irreconcilable perspectives” in the texts on purpose. Enns’ critics have charged him with overstating the apparent problems in the Old Testament. Enns has expressed regret for not laying out more clearly the fact that there is no error in Scripture. "

His critics believe he is redefining inerrancy by saying, in effect, that

the contradictions (i.e. “errors”) in Scripture are not errant because God placed them there by design."

I think this is a perfecty useful solution to the problem of inerrancy…

Source? As far as I know, Enns does not believe this or subscribe to inerrancy in any fashion.

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All it takes is a little Google search of the first words of George’s quote and it comes up:

As you can see, it’s a post from 2008, right in the thick of the Westminster Theological Seminary kerfuffle. It’s been eight long years since then…

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A little less than 3 years ago… Enns wrote THIS DISCUSSION about inerrancy… While I support what he’s saying, I can see how it leaves Evangelicals a little less than misty-eyed!

"Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does

By Peter Enns. Excerpted from Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy. Copyright © 2013 by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan.

Peter EnnsThe Bible is the book of God for the people of God. It reveals and conceals, is clear yet complex, open to all but impossible to master. Its message clearly reflects the cultural settings of the authors, yet it still comforts and convicts across cultures and across time. The Bible is a book that tells one grand narrative, but by means of divergent viewpoints and different theologies. It tells of God’s acts but also reports some events that either may not have happened or have been significantly reshaped and transformed by centuries of tradition. It presents us with portraits of God and of his people that at times comfort and confirm our faith while at other times challenge and stretch our faith to its breaking point. This is the Bible we have, the Bible God gave us…

The implied premise of the [Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI)] is that God as God would necessarily produce an inerrant Bible, and this premise is the very point coming under increasing scrutiny within evangelicalism. To the minds of many, maintaining inerrancy requires that perennially nagging counterevidence from inside and outside of the Bible must be adjusted to support that premise rather than allowing that evidence to call the premise into question. In my opinion, the distance between what the Bible is and the theological hedge placed around the Bible by the CSBI has been and continues to be a source of considerable cognitive dissonance…

I do not think inerrancy can be effectively nuanced to account for the Bible’s own behavior as a text produced in ancient cultures. In my view, inerrancy regularly functions to short-circuit rather than spark our knowledge of the Bible. Contrary to its intention to preserve the truthfulness of Scripture and the truth-telling God behind it, inerrancy prematurely shuts down rigorous inquiry into what the Bible’s “truthfulness” means, and so interrupts rather than fosters careful reading of Scripture. When inerrancy asks us to override the best historical and scientific inquiry with (what is taken to be) the plain teaching of Scripture, it also hinders us from addressing the more interesting, spiritually edifying, and lovely topic of what kind of a God we have, one who is willing to speak within the limitations of his audience.

Indeed, despite its apparent interest in seeing God as so powerful that he can overrule ancient human error and ignorance, inerrancy portrays a weak view of God. It fails to be constrained by the Bible’s own witness of God’s pattern of working — that God’s power is made known in weakness, he reigns amidst human error and suffering, and he lovingly condescends to finite human culture. Ironically, inerrancy prevents us from grappling with the God of the Bible…

The three [biblical] test cases on which we have been asked to comment illustrate the inadequacies of an inerrantist paradigm. They represent challenges to inerrancy — from outside the Bible and from within the Bible itself — that evangelicals are quickly introduced to when they open their Bibles and try to be faithful, responsible, and informed readers…

The pressing issue before evangelicalism is not to formulate longer, more complex, more subtle, and more sophisticated defenses of what we feel God should have done [see C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (San Diego: Harcourt, 1986), 111–12] but to teach future generations, in the academy, the church, and the world, better ways of meeting God in the Scripture we have."


Finally… a relatively CLEAR statement!

And it does seem to have traveled quite a distance from the original discussion posted first above. This one is about a year and a half ago:

"The thrust of Enns’ book seems to be that the Bible itself knows nothing of the evangelical (and Catholic) doctrine of inerrancy, and that this “modern, western expectation” places a burden on Scripture that its human authors never meant it to bear.

Thus, he says, he accepts that the Bible is filled with historical, moral, scientific and theological blunders – a “messy,” “weird” “collection of ancient writings” that doesn’t conform to “modern expectations for systematic coherence and historical accuracy,” and is packed with “talking serpents,” “magical trees,” “genocide,” and a “vindictive” Hebrew war god whom Joshua and company probably invented.

He still believes in the true God, Enns assures his readers, and this God worked through all of the events described in the Bible. But that God reveals Himself in Christ, Whom alone we’re called to trust – not necessarily in all parts of Scripture."

8 long years indeed. I think the “no error in Scripture” mentioned in the original post hardly squares with Enns today.

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I concur, @Josh

His current view is a courageous stance in my view.

I’ve read the four views on inerrancy book. Enns basically says inerrancy is an outdated construct that has outlived its usefulness and we should chuck it completely.

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It would appear that Peter Enns’ writing is underdetermined on the matter of inerrancy, and so it is valid either to hold that he supports inerrancy or that he doesn’t. Human texts are, after all, bound to contain error and contradiction.:slight_smile:

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It would only be valid to say that he used to hold to inerrancy. He isn’t underdetermined or evasive about what he thinks now; he doesn’t think inerrancy describes the Bible or is a helpful approach to the Bible.

It could also mean that the whole ‘inerrancy’ label is now an ‘enlightenment-poisoned’ well, so that there is a diminished return for arguing over whether or not that box should get check marked.

I think Enns’ views, as stated above, deserve serious consideration by Christians. Before leaving the Christian religion, I was a “progressive Christian” for a number of years. One of the important things found in this liberal branch of Christianity was the notion that while the authors of the Bible had genuine experiences of God, they were not ancient scribes or puppets. They were, as are we, products of their culture, experiences, views, and religions. Therefore, the Old Testament was the product of ancient Israel, and the New Testament was the product of the early Church. Looking at the texts themselves showed that the authors frequently had different views from one another, which made the texts richer because it highlighted how we humans struggle with understanding the Divine. From this view, the Bible was a human product, not a God-dictated book. Obviously, conservative and fundamentalist Christians would in no way be open to such a consideration. But the evidence is there to read. I still hold to this view of the scriptures. I do believe the Bible gives us glimpses into the nature of God. But I don’t consider it to be God himself. I allow it to be what it is – a collection of human experiences of God, which are, by nature, always subject to error, misunderstanding, seeing through a glass darkly. This leaves me in a place where I “cherry-pick” which parts of the Bible I think most reflect God and God’s will. Most Christians are against this approach. They take the “whole enchilada”, saying, “If you can’t believe ALL of it, you can’t believe ANY of it.” I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t believe that God punished everyone for the sins of two people. I couldn’t believe God killed all of those babies in Egypt. I couldn’t believe that God wanted Israel to kill her enemies. I couldn’t believe God demanded a human sacrifice before he could forgive sins. But I can still believe that we should love God and love ourselves and love one another. I can still believe that we should feed the hungry, help the poor, heal the sick, visit prisoners, shelter the homeless. Christianity insisted that I believe the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible. I couldn’t do that in good conscience. So I left.


@trek4fr You didn’t leave Christianity. You just left those who put artificial restrictions on it. I’m in the same boat. I am proud to be a “cafeteria Catholic”.
Al Leo


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