Podcast S1E10 - Pete Enns

Randy! The way you quoted that makes it sound like my position is the opposite of what it is. I said…

I believe Adam was a real person and that Genesis is historical (by the standard of when it was written) just not always literal. Just to be clear!

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Sorry, @mitchellmckain! I am having difficulty getting the right quote on my phone. I would still like your educated opinion on that book sometime. :slightly_smiling_face:

Absolutely, I completely agree with you here, and a very apposite observation. For instance, even if I determine that a particular command or instruction (e.g., to offer a sacrifice at the temple) does not directly apply to me, this doesn’t mean I should ignore it, as it still reflects something about the nature of God (in that case, I would understand from those ancient commands that God takes sin seriously and a sacrifice for sin is necessary, even if I think those requirements no longer apply to me.)

So in that sense, yes, absolutely, the categories certainly overlap.

But I’d still stand by my basic thought, though… that there is still a categorical difference between believing that 1) particular commands don’t directly apply to us, and 2) that the very nature and character of God himself is open to redefinition due to my personal preferences or our changing culture.

But as to your observation, I do absolutely concur… I can conclude a particular command doesn’t apply to me, and still embrace the truth about God’s nature and character which was revealed by that same command.

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And I would largely agree with that too… in the sense that if we flippantly said, “Yeah, I’m just going to redefine God according to my personal preferences,” then we’d be pretty far afield of what Christianity is about, and especially what Jesus came to do.

Perhaps it’s a result of our finite minds trying to make sense of how one God can have so many attributes all at once – to us they can seem contradictory, and so we can’t help but focusing on the ones that seem emphasized the most in scripture and that make the most sense to us in our time and place.

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Laura, let me register my strong concurrence once again. I myself cannot agree more that the diverse attributes and portraits of God as revealed in Scripture are there to show various facets of his nature, and any contradiction perceived between them are likely a result of our finite minds trying to grasp such transcendence.

This touches on another core aspect of my issue with Dr. Enns approach to Scripture, which is evident also in this podcast. It seems that whenever he perceives any significant diversity or tension in scripture about God’s nature, he immediately concludes this to be the conflicting and irreconcilable opinions of different schools of thought, rather than simply communicating different facets, nuances, emphases, or the like. I find this entirely unjustified. He perceives Job and Ecclesiastes standing in irreconcilable conflict with Deuteronomy and Proverbs; an irreconcilable difference in understanding between Kings and Chronicles; irreconcilable conflict between Nahum and Jonah, etc.

From this, then, he perceives precedent for later traditions to “re-imagine” God, and entirely discounts (or doesn’t even seem to acknowledge?) the possibility that these other writings, rather than contradicting the former, are rather clarifying, expanding, nuancing, or correcting misunderstandings of the former.

Hopefully not sounding too arrogant or on my soap box, but this is one of my greatest personal frustrations with theologians that all-too-quickly jump to conclude contradictions in cases where there are plenty of other very good, reasonable, and common-sense alternatives. It is my own humble and probably meaningless opinion, but I’m afraid in my own study, Dr. Enns is one of the worst offenders I’ve ever read in this regard, with Dr. Bart Erhman coming as a close second.

Mr Fisher, @Daniel_Fisher, I’m curious what you think of Greg Boyd’s “Cross Vision” in this vein. Thanks.

Yeah, it is certainly possible to exaggerate differences – though my perceptions of whether something is exaggerated probably have a lot to do with the way I’m accustomed to reading those texts. But I think that puts us back to where we started – if God has simply chosen to present so many seemingly contradictory aspects of his character to us, then I’d think that would make us a lot more cautious in how we approach scripture, and therefore, make it harder than we’d like to assign “correct” and “incorrect” labels to different interpretations. Which my black-and-white mind doesn’t always like. :wink:

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Someone just wrote to me on my email (from my church) that they don’t feel comfortable with the “Counterpoints” series, because, at the end of the day, God has only one point of view. I wish it were that simple. Treating each other with grace that we don’t know the answer, and maybe God is OK with that, is probably the best reflection of God’s message to us, rather than the letter of the creed we’re seeking.

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Dr. Stump,

As someone who most here would likely accuse of being a “biblicist,” I hope I may humbly and respectfully challenge one perception that was raised in the podcast.

You said something along the lines of ”Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, that are the foundation of our faith, happened 2000 years ago, and the only access we have to them is through this book now, so the book itself has risen in our estimation.”

For what it is worth, to this biblicist, the book has not risen in my estimation because it is the only access we have to the events of Jesus’ life. Speaking for myself: if the scripture were merely only a record of Jesus life, and made no claims about its divine nature, I would hold the record in no greater esteem than that of any other ancient writing, regardless of how committed a follower of a Christ I was.

The reason we biblicists hold the Bible in greater esteem is derived from the claims Scripture itself makes. Because Scripture itself, throughout, makes claims about its own divine nature and origin, we have to either endorse, or refute such claims.

But we biblicists would never take the position we do if it weren’t for the existence of such claims as…

  • “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
  • “Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth.”
  • “Obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law.”
  • “All Scripture is God breathed.”
  • “Scripture cannot be broken.”
  • “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
  • “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

And of course, I could go on and on. Point is, the Bible itself makes claims about its own unique, special, divine, and authoritative status. We have to do something with such claims. We “biblicists” embrace Scripture as the unique, special, and “sola scriptura” word of God ultimately because of we’ve chosen to endorse and concur with those claims, not simply because this is the only record of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.

We biblicists may of course be in error in our beliefs. But I think we all ought to be able to agree that holding Scripture in a unique, divinely inspired status, believing that it cannot be broken, it is God breathed, that men wrote it as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit… can we agree that these ideas are not the invention of either modern or Reformational biblicists?

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The problem, I think, that Dr Enns would point out with this is that most of the time, we treat the Bible as a whole entity, and miss the claims about the Bible as though it were made about that single, monolithic entity; even though it’s from a multitude of authors, and the descriptions often are not about themselves. For example, “All Scripture is God breathed” is referring to the OT, at which time none of Paul’s letters were part of Scripture. David referred to the book of the Law in his own books. None of the writers, as far as I can see, refers to his own writing as God breathed or sacred. FF Bruce remarked in The Blue Parakeet, quoted by Scot McKnight, that he thought Paul would be rolling over in his grave if he knew we took his writings on the level of Torah. NT and extra canonical writings were also lumped together as Scripture; as were other inter-testamental writings https://peteenns.com/where-did-the-new-testament-come-from-with-craig-allert/ Was the concept of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy actually an evolved concept that came from reverence for the written word, when there were so many different authors that would not have demanded that respect for their own writings?

The Counterpoints on Biblical inerrancy, including the portion by Enns and Vanhoozer, but especially Bird, was helpful to me. Thanks.

Randy, thanks so much for the thoughts… however, if I might challenge a few of your specific observations here…

Except that this quote was from II Timothy, and in I Timothy, Paul quotes the gospel of Luke as being “Scripture,” so it simply cannot be restricted to the OT. Even laying aside questions of authorship, the book of Luke at least was understood as “Scripture” at the time the phrase “all scripture is god-breathed” was penned. And not to mention that Paul’s letters were understood and referenced as Scripture by Peter around this time as well.

Except for at least…

  • Moses: “Obey the voice of the Lord your God to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law.”
  • Jeremiah: “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today.”
  • Ezekiel: “make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out.”
  • Paul: “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.”
  • John: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book…”

Not to mention if we want to include all those writings of the prophets where they claimed to be writing the very words of God (“Thus says the Lord…”), we would have to include Isaiah, Amos, Obediah, Micah, Nahum, Hagaii, and Zechariah.

“was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.”

I humbly suggest that if Paul is turning in his grave, he has only himself to blame, as his words certainly imply that we should take his ideas and writings as the very word of God, just as truly as God spoke through Moses, and anyone who rejected his written commands ought be condemned as anathema!

As for the authority of the Old Testament itself, and its canonical boundaries, there is something to the fact that Jesus, while certainly he would have been aware of these writings, never appealed to them nor referenced them as Scritpure, but extensively referenced as authoritative Scripture or saying “it is written” only the books contained in the traditional canon.

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There is some diversity in God’s character that doesn’t seem so difficult even for someone as dull as myself to grasp, though. It befuddles me that Dr. Enns sees contradictions in some areas that seem so obvious:

Nahum preached God’s justice against Assyria, and Jonah demonstrated that God may be merciful even to those who deserve his justice…

This is a ”contradiction”? If so, then so is the entire book of Romans, and much of Jesus’ preaching. Personally, I don’t find the idea that God is very angry with our sin, but yet may extend forgiveness and mercy, to be all that hard to grasp.

Or that God promises corporate blessings and curses for obedience and disobedience, but Ecclesiastes and Job remind us that individually, tragedy can strike the most upright. This is irreconcilable? It is what I try to teach my children every day: Be honorable, respectful, diligent, as blessings and success follow that… but this isn’t a guarantee of automatic happiness, tragedy still strikes the best of us.

I am befuddled when scholars can’t, or won’t, even attempt to see some kind of possible compatibility in such clearly compatible concepts. It gives the impression of someone intent to find a contradiction, and won’t let obvious alternatives stand in their way.

All the more reason I think It’s so important for us to simply embrace everything Scripture says about God, instead of feeling like we have to select one part of Scripture’s view of God and reject another. If I embrace Deuteronomy’s view of God and reject Ecclesiastes’, I cannot see how I could choose between them except on the basis of personal preference.

Rather, it seems better to embrace everything Scripture says, even if I don’t understand how they fit together, rather than embrace one aspect and reject another?

If someone states a belief about God that they derived from Scripture, I would never be able to say that particular belief was “incorrect”, though perhaps I may say it was incomplete. But if someone rejects something Scripture does say about God, at that point I feel more comfortable assigning the label “incorrect.”

Mark,

I am afraid I arrived at the near opposite conclusion. Regardless of my disagreement (and befuddlement) with Professor Enns regarding his various interpretations and understanding of the Bible, I was especially struck with the core incoherence of his basic philosophy. He arrives at numerous conclusions for which he had already dismantled any logical basis on which to arrive at those conclusions.

He goes to great lengths to specify that there is no “teacher’s manual” that gives us THE answers about God’s nature. That’s not what the Bible is; God never revealed himself in that way. OK, fine. Let’s work with that idea.

So then, he makes various claims about what he thinks God wants from us… God is for gender equality, for instance. Further, he is rather generous with his disapproval of certain alternate views of God; for instance, the warlike tribal deity of the ancient tribal Israelites. So Dr. Enns condemns the views of the ancient Hebrews and their tribal, warlike deity. He instead endorses a peaceful, gender-equality supporting God consistent with the values of 21st century progressives.

On what basis does he claim that his view of God is “right”, and that of the ancient Israelites is “wrong”?

If he is consistent with his position, he ought to recognize that he has no basis whatsoever for claiming that his view of God is any more or less true, accurate, or valid than any others. The Ancient Israelites imagined God as they needed him to be. Later Scripture reimagined him as their culture and personal preferences demanded. Dr. Enns reimagines God as his own subculture and personal preferences dictate. Everyone has the right to reinvent God, he claims. But if so, none of them can make any claim to be any more true than any other.

It gets worse, though. I imagine Dr Enns would likely condemn the views of Westboro Baptist Church. But again, on what basis? According to him, everyone has the same right to reimagine God as makes sense to them based on their (sub)culture… just as he believes the Bible gives us all the right to do. So he interprets God as supporting gender equality, and the folks at Westboro Baptist interpret God as hating all homosexuals… reimagining God according to their own culture and needs just as Dr. Enns has endorsed. They are only doing what he says God wants us all to do. So how could he condemn their views?

—He can maintain that God hasn’t revealed himself in any substantial (teacher’s manual) manner… but must then conclude that the folks at Westboro are just as valid in reimagining God as he is.

—Or he can continue to claim his view of God is right, and those of us biblicists, ancient Hebrews, and the folks at Westboro are faulty. But if so, he must appeal to some revelation from God… some reference in the “teacher’s manual”, that specifies that God does prefer certain things to others.

The one thing he cannot consistently or coherently do is what he is doing… claiming that God hasn’t revealed himself to anyone, that all Scripture are progressive “reimagining”, and everyone similarly has the right to reimagine God, but then claim that his view or approach to God is superior to others who have simply reimagined God in a different manner than he has. He can’t logically embrace both. So insofar as he is trying to do maintain both positions, though, I can’t agree with you regarding thinking particularly clearly about his own philosophy or in search of understanding.

Mea culpa–thank you for your gracious rejoinder, @Daniel_Fisher. I shouldn’t have written so rashly in the middle of the day at work; but thank you for being so kind.

You are right. Various writers have alluded to the commands and reports they have made as being God given. And I was foolish and lazy for having written it that way. I apologize for having wasted your time that way. I knew far better. I am embarrassed! I was also not clear in the way I addressed the rest of the points.

I don’t think that he OT and NT writers all had the same view of a inerrancy that we have in the CSBI (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy).
I do have more thoughts, but do think that the Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy was helpful. There is a review here. If you have read the book, I’d appreciate your thoughts. Five Views On Biblical Inerrancy: A Review

Thanks again. God bless.

Randy, I would never consider you foolish or lazy. I am guessing you may simply have trusted something you read elsewhere. Now when a professional Bible Scholar writes and publishes a book where they make those kind of errors… then you can accuse them of being foolish or lazy. I’ve read plenty of scholars who have made such claims and ought to have known better (I find Bart Erhman to be perhaps the worst offender I’ve read). We laymen can certainly be excused for trusting what we read from a biblical scholar, it is the scholars who are careless with whom I take issue.

I haven’t read either the views of inerrancy book, or the previous one by Boyd you mentioned. But I am always delighted for deep, serious, and friendly discussion, especially in such matters like this that I find so interesting. if you’re interested in discussing, I can get both books (they are both of topics that interest me) and I’d be happy to discuss further here. (so long as our discussion board overlords approve!), though probably better on a new thread so we don’t hijack this one.

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I would agree with you here that this difference seems exaggerated – since times change and God can have millions of different reasons (unknown to us) for why he does things, his different reactions to Assyria could be related to how their actions developed over time. There have been times when I’ve disciplined my kids differently based on the environment they were in when a particular infraction occurred. All the same, I can see how it might be confusing for us in discerning how to relate to God when his actions seem to encompass just about anything, from boundless love to several instances of genocide. If we view Jesus as God’s “final Word,” then I would take that to mean putting more emphasis on what we know of his character and teachings, even when they seem starkly different from the “tribal warlord” God in the Old Testament… which may be all Enns is trying to do.

So I guess it comes down to what we mean by “embrace everything Scripture says about God.” I mean, I clearly reject one part of scripture’s view of God, which is about 1/4 of the book of Job, since God says at the end that Job’s three friends “have not spoken the truth about me.” But I don’t see that as a “rejection” so much as taking things in context. Enns’ view seems to imply that the “context” is broader than we think and includes a different view of inspiration than many of us were raised with. I’m not entirely on board with his outlook either – I think his views solve some problems but open up others, as you’ve outlined – but so does defending tribal war crimes which has previously caused me to take on the mentality of a genocide apologist. There has to be a better way.

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You are very kind. No, I was in the middle of a work day and had all sort of alarm bells ringing that I shouldn’t have written that. After all, the Bible is the single book I have ever most studied my whole life–I read the book of Revelation to get the blessing promised when I was 11 :slight_smile:, and tried writing a more modern English version of Malachi about the same time. I have led many Bible studies from being a teen on up, won at Bible trivia in our Christian school (though not necessarily in accumulating the fruits of the Spirit thereby), and I know better. Enns wouldn’t have said such a thing However, I was thinking more obscurely–and then, unwisely, made a very broad stroke. In my defense, I was thinking more of an American type of inerrancy; but a moment’s reflection would have made me avoid sticking my foot in my mouth.

I appreciate your patience. Like others, I, too, really found my breaking point with the inerrancy doctrine of the West in trying to fit passages like Numbers 31–where the women, children and men are all killed, and the virgins shared among the Israelites–into God’s character. Rather, it fits only into what the ANE does. Randal Rauser said, " It is far from clear that the appropriate response to a culture that murders some of its children is to kill everyone in the culture, including the children."

In the “Five Views,” Al Mohler, Kevin Vanhoozer, Pete Enns, Michael F Bird, and John R Franke interact with their opinions. You can get a lot from the synopsis, but the book is terrific, as each writes a response, dealing with various types of challenges to inerrancy. Michael Bird is brilliant with humor, and points out that the majority of the world does not accept an American type of inerrancy, though they do accept another type. Vanhoozer argues that inerrancy is true, when properly contextualized. Mohler tended to argue from a Western, perhaps more dispensationalist point of view. I would be interested in your evaluation of this book.

Boyd started writing a book to justify the OT violence, but found he was not able. Thus, he believed that Christ, who said he was the better revelation, came to tell us how to view God and history–and correct our misperceptions. I don’t agree with his entire approach, but like most points of view, it does teach me something valuable.

Again, thank you.

I will certainly get hold of it and read it and we can further the discussion. In the meanwhile, I’m going to post some discussion thoughts about Numbers 31 in a separate new post, as I don’t want to hijack this thread about the podcast. I’d love to continue the discussion there if you’re so inclined.

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Laura,

Again, very apposite observation about not embracing the view of God as articulated by Job’s friends. Yes, I’d add that qualification, that the context confirms or affirms that “I’m God and I approved this message” in some form or fashion.

(Thinking about your observation about Job… it occurred to me just now that Job’s friends were essentially committing the “affirming the consequent” fallacy. If a then b; b, therefore a. Deuteronomy and Proverbs affirm “if sin, there will come suffering.” Eliphaz et al fallaciously reasoned “Suffering. Therefore, sin.”)

Also, Randy was asking some thoughts and I started a discussion about inerrancy and its relation to the “genocide apologist” question. Since you’ve clearly given it serious thought, I would very much appreciate your insight on that topic as we discuss it further, if you are so inclined.

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