More From Hart on the Enns Controversy and the Auburn Affirmation

From a comment at the GB discussion:

…The trouble is whether people will read, let alone try to understand, their answers. Believe it or not, Calvin and Old Princeton were pretty careful not to equate inerrancy with a scientific understanding of the cosmos. That is why Calvin developed the idea of accommodation, and why Warfield appealed to concursus. (It is also why Warfield, right or wrong, believed he was along with Calvin an evolutionist.) Both accommodation and concursus stemmed from an effort to do what Enns does — account for the messiness (his word) of Scripture. Unfortunately, Enns doesn’t deal much with accommodation or with concursus. In fact, his book is fairly light on the Reformed doctrine of Scripture and does not interact with WCF ch. 1, one of the best statements on Scripture from the era of Reformed scholasticism. It seems to me that Enns was reacting against the straw man of a Harold Lindsell version of inerrancy, one that lacked the nuance of Old Princeton or the Westminster Divines. (Enns needs more theology and less biblical scholarship.)

So I become annoyed with Enns’ supporters claiming all the honesty is on his side when in fact there is some denial of the riches of the Reformed doctrine of Scripture.

At the same time, what is also missed by Enns’ supporters is his obligation as a seminary professor training pastor to give answers, not simply to raise questions. In fact, Enns regards the theological enterprise as one that is always asking, never answering. It is a conversation. It is provisional. It listens in a Rodney King like way, saying “can’t we all get along?” According to Enns, “Because our theologies are necessarily limited and provisional, the church today must be open to listening to how Christians from other cultures read Scripture and live it out in their daily lives. . . . To put is more positively, the Bible sets trajectories, not rules, for a good many issues that confront the church. . . . There do not seem to be any clear rules or guidelines to prevent us from taking this process too far. But again, this is why the metaphor of journey or pilgrimage is so appealing. . . . We should continue the journey, . . . not because we are sure of our own footing, but because we have faith in God who placed us on this journey to begin with.” (169, 170, 171)

Much deeper than the doctrine of Scripture in Enns’ book is the issue of theology, creeds and confessions more generally. Enns may not realize it, but his language of provisionality, conversation, and situatedness is very similar to the arguments made by signers of the Auburn Affirmation (1923) against the Princeton doctrine of inerrancy. What the Auburn Affirmation did was essentially to deny a confessional basis for the Presbyterian Church. I see a similar move in Enns. We can’t be content with WCF because nothing is final, everything is provisional, and that creed was so yesterday (it was part of the journey 400 years ago). But again, Enns may not understand the similarities between his views and that of liberal Presbyterians because of a lack of awarness of the history of Reformed Protestantism. (Enns needs to read more history and less biblical scholarship.)

In any case, aside from Enns’ doctrine of Scripture (more accurately, questions about Scripture), Enns’ doctrine of doctrine is even more troubling. If it is honest for Enns to raise questions about inerrancy, it is also honest to raise questions Enns’ theology.

15 comments

  1. Last time I checked ANE literature wasn’t considered church history or the normed norm, Mr. Foster. But it does certainly appear to be treated as such within many circles.

  2. I don’t want to address the orthodoxy/nonorthodoxy of Pete’s book or whether or not he is outside the bounds of the WCF. I want to address the very NONPRESBYTERIAN way he was handled. The board suspends him & gives him no opportunity to defend himself?
    Even if everything he is accused of is true & even if the dismissal is warranted there is still a due process to follow. You do not suspend someone & not allow a defense from the accused.

  3. RGLA,

    It depends upon what sort of process is outlined in the faculty handbook. I don’t have any inside knowledge but I do know that institutions have to be very careful about personnel matters lest they open themselves to litigation. I’m sure that they followed whatever published procedures they have.

    This discussion has been ongoing for two years. Is it fair to imply that it all came down to one meeting in which Pete had no say? What about the process of the preceding two years? What about all those meetings?

    If their board is like ours, what was before them was a recommendation from the president. The faculty has an advisory vote and may even have the ability, under some circumstances, to bring an alternative recommendation to the board.

    Without access to the records, minutes, reports etc of the last two years I wouldn’t presume to sit in judgment.

    This is one of the major points of my post.

  4. As I understand it, Enns was notified and chose not to show up due to a previous engagement he had. So I’m not sure if this point has much weight to it.

    On a different note, I’m not too sure about the presbyterian polity issue that I’ve seen raised either. I realize the seminary was founded to mirror presbyterian church government and be run by the faculty. But even if WTS’ leaders have gone against the founders and aren’t mirroring presbyterian polity in this whole deal, I doubt that means that WTS is not being presbyterian. Since when was WTS a church? Do we expect every presbyterian to run his/her business in strict accordance with biblical church government? Seems a little weird to me, but perhaps I’m missing something. Since I don’t know a lot about presbyterian church government, I’d be interested to hear where I’ve missed the mark on this point.

  5. The faculty did have a vote last year in which they judged that Enns was within the orthodoxy of the WCF.
    Should we expect every seminary to mirror exactly presbyterian church goverment? No. But we do expect everyone to observe basic due process especially those of us who remember & honour Machen. We all decry the lack of due process he recieved when he was denied a real chance to defend himself.
    I’m not trying to defend Enn’s book or views. I have not had a chance to fully examine either. But I’m appalled at the lack of due process that was used before he was suspended.
    If Enns was being suspended by a PCUSA seminary for conservative Biblical views then we all would rightly be crying out at the lack of due process.

  6. Yes, but Enns could have defended himself before the board. He didn’t. Maybe that still means due process wasn’t followed, since the board should have rescheduled, I don’t know.

    Whether or not they followed due process was not my point. I’m just saying that some of the claims I’ve heard elsewhere (the WTS is no longer presbyterian) are false. I leave the definition of due process to someone who knows more than I do about what that term means.

    Frankly, I’m not too sure Reformed folk would be upset if he were suspended from a PCUSA seminary. If they did so on confessional grounds I, for one, would respect that. I cannot speak for anyone else, however.

    The parallels between Enns & Machen seem quite weak to me, esp. considering Machen was trying to be faithful to the Standards he ascribed to, whereas it appears to me Enns is trying to be faithful to his own interpretation of Scripture. The larger debate, I think, is if WTS is going to remain confessional or just become another evangelical seminary. I just can’t see how the debate can center around whether the Reformed watch-dogs on the faculty/board have been nice and followed due process, which seems to be what you and others are saying.

    I mean no offense to you, Enns or anyone else. If he ends up at TEDS or somewhere, I’ll still read the books and articles he’s certain to publish. He’s written some really helpful stuff, and I think he’s made a valuable contribution to some pretty important discussions.

  7. My point abt a PCUSA seminary was not that PCA folk care about PCUSA seminaries but if someone was dismissed or suspended from one in the same way Enns was suspended from WTS most PCA folk would point to it as another example of the PCUSA being unfair to Bible believing Presbyterians.

    My point regarding Machen was not to say that Enns & machen are identical but rather that Machen was defrocked using means that did not allow him to defend himself. Enns has been suspended BEFORE he has had a chance to defend himself formally before the board.

    Dur Process is the process of giving both sides their due. You let the accused defend himself before his accusers. You say he could have defended himself. He was not there. The board should have set up a process which allowed him to defend himself before the board BEFORE they suspended him not after.

    You all may be right. WTS may not be the place for Enns. I have not come to a conclusion regarding his book. But I am appalled at how he has been dismissed. The process to decide his status at WTS must be FAIR. The ends do not justify the means.

  8. Perhaps the reason I’m less appalled than you is because I do believe his views have been clearly shown to fall outside the bounds of the standards. This has been evident publicly, on his website and other places. So the issue of fairness is a bit secondary to me, especially since I have no idea what has gone on privately. It seems there have been many private debates and that the board had plenty of time to familiarize themselves with what he’s written. I simply don’t know enough to be appalled by this.

    Lets pray that he can clear his schedule when he’s called to appear before the committee that is to decide whether he’s terminated or not.

  9. I’m a Presbyterian I believe that a due process is what determines that not a collection of blogs. (Even Briigs was given due process)If it was as clear cut as you think so then- 1.the faculty vote against him would not have been in his favor.2. He should have been taken out of the classroom asap if he denied innerancy.

  10. After careful consideration both of Pete Enns’s thought and of our heritage, I believe that he belongs squarely in the center of everything we have sought to do and that it would be a serious betrayal of our heritage and calling to remove him and his insights from our ministry.
    -Clair Davis

  11. In all fairness, you have to admit that I didn’t say a collection of blogs. I said his website and other places. I take these to be his public statements.

    1. This doesn’t seem to follow at all. Evidently some thought it was that clear. Yes, the majority thought it wasn’t. The folks in charge thought it was time to bring unity. They think unity will be brought through his suspension. They think they’ve followed due process. Lillback has made that pretty clear, as has the chairman of the board. I don’t see how so many folks can presume to know better. I can certainly see how someone on the faculty could be appalled at what’s happened. But I really can’t see how an outsider can at all. Unless, of course, what really appalls the said outsider is that those in charge don’t seem to care if people think well of them. Again, I suppose it all comes down to how you want to define due process. Thus far I’ve not heard a good definition of it, outside of those in charge at WTS.

    2. Perhaps you’re right about this point. Maybe they’ve not been swift enough to defend the standards of the school. I’m glad I’m not one of those who would have to deal with making that decision.

  12. Due process is when you give the accuised a chance to offer a defense before you prounce judgment.
    I wasn’t prouncing judgment on you when I said collection of blogs but on the idea that he’s guilty b/e the blogs say so. He’s guilty when the proper process has been followed. A process that allows him to defend himself & gives those who believe he is outside the bounds of the WCF to speak & for him to respond.
    The problem when a proper due process is not followed is that you undermine your very position. Enn’s supporters are decrying the lack of due process. By not giving him a fair hearing you are only setting Enns up as a martyr. By having a process that allows everyone a chance to speak & be heard may take a little longer but everyone knows that the process has been fair.
    But b/e Enns was not given the opportunity to defend himself to the board beofre they suspended him you already have supporters crying out: “lynching,” “hit&run,” & “kangaroo court.”
    When you do not provide due process it appears that your position is weak. By providing proper due process some may still disagree with you but they will have no ground to accuse you of unfairness.
    But even my point abt the swiftness to defend the standards does not take away the need for due process. If Enns was denying say the Diety of Christ, WTS would still have to set up a process that allowed Enns to defend himself.

  13. I get what you’re saying. I’m just coming from a default of trust, I suppose, in the watchdogs of WTS. I assume they’ve followed due process when Lillback made the recommendation to the board. I assume they’ve followed due process when they say they’ve followed due process. Of course, this is pretty convenient for me, since I agree with his recommendation even though I don’t know a great deal about it. I’ve not heard anything that would make me believe otherwise or make me take issue with their definition of due process. I guess that’s where we disagree.
    I’m not too worried about folks crying foul, esp. if those folks don’t know what went on for years in the faculty meetings, etc.

  14. A proper due process protects you from youself. Your own sin & self deception. (I’m speaking generally).
    Yes there have been faculty discussions but they have obviously not been united in fact most of the faculty have sided w/Enns.(although that dosen’t mean they agree w/everything he says). Those who are crying foul alrady know that the faculty by a vote of 12-8 supported Enns. Thats one reason they are crying foul.
    Since when does any definition of due process include a procedure in which the accused is given no opportunity to defend himself before judgment is passed?
    If the board had followed a procedure of proper due process they may have still come to a conclusion that would have pleased you. The problem they have now is that the process they have chosen has only produced confusion & an opportunity for many to cry foul. Due process would have taken away that opportunity.

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