The Erosion of Inerrancy
- Thursday, January 01, 2009
"It has been my experience that sometimes our first impulse is to react to new ideas and vilify the person holding them, not considering that person's Christian character. We jump to conclusions and assume the worst rather than hearing—really hearing—each other out. What would be a breath of fresh air, not to mention a testimony to those around us, is to see an atmosphere, a culture, among conservative, traditional, orthodox Christians that models basic principles of the gospel:
"Humility on the part of scholars to be sensitive to how others will hear them and on the part of those whose preconceptions are being challenged.
"Love that assumes the best of brothers and sisters in Christ, not that looks for any difference of opinion as an excuse to go on the attack.
"Patience to know that no person or tradition is beyond correction, and therefore no one should jump to conclusions about another's motives.
"How we carry on this very important conversation is a direct result of why. Ultimately, it is not about us, but about God." (p. 172)
These last four points are well put, and all scholars should keep them in mind. But some readers, in retrospect, will recall places where Enns himself needed to keep in mind these excellent guidelines. The reason I point these things out here is not to unduly criticize Enns but because Enns has made it clear in the directly preceding extended quotation that it is those evangelicals against whom he is writing whom he believes have been guilty of violating these very good standards. Even in the above quotation he portrays "conservative, traditional, orthodox Christians" as those whose "first impulse" is "to react to new ideas and vilify the person holding them not considering that person's Christian character"; they "jump to conclusions and assume the worst" of those who propose such new ideas. Such people "wish to keep [God] small by controlling what can or cannot come into the conversation" (p. 172).
Is Enns conscious of his outstanding guidelines when he paints "conservative, traditional, orthodox Christians" with such a sweeping brush? Perhaps, unfortunately, Enns has experienced these things from some conservatives, but this does not justify such a generalization without extensive footnote support. Furthermore, this kind of emotive language will not encourage further conversation with those whom he disagrees. It is ironic that these comments come in the immediate context of his exhortation to pursue love, patience, and humility.
With specific regard to his exhortation to humility, note the following comments that he makes earlier in the book: "Should Paul's comment [about 1 Cor. 10:4] be understood as another example of this tradition [about the Jewish legend of a traveling well-shaped rock that followed
Israel throughout the wilderness wanderings]?38 I think that is beyond a reasonable doubt" (p. 151). There are well-known commentators,39 even some who do not believe in inerrancy, who disagree with Enns's statement here, so it would have been more helpful to express his conclusion in more diplomatic terms in order to allow for more dialogue.
Similarly he comments on the interpretation by some evangelicals that Jesus' cleansing of the temple at the beginning of his ministry in John 2 is a distinct event from the cleansing narrated toward the end of his ministry in the Synoptics. In response to this interpretation of two cleansings, Enns says, "It is a distortion of the highest order to argue that Jesus must have cleansed the temple twice," which he thinks is based on the "unwarranted assumption" that "good historiography . . . must maintain chronological order" (p. 65).
Consider the prominent scholars who hold the position of two cleansings: among others note A. Plummer, B. F. Westcott, R. V. G. Tasker, R. G. Gruenler, Leon Morris,40 D. A. Carson,41 and more recently A. Köstenberger,42 as well as Craig Blomberg, who leans toward two cleansings but believes that neither position has adduced enough evidence definitively to settle the issue.43 These are not scholars who have a historiographical predisposition against topical arrangement of gospel material, nor would practicing conservative evangelical scholars consider the arguments for their view "a distortion of the highest order." Unfortunately, this is an unduly confident statement by Enns, as well as one that distorts this issue in gospel studies.44
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