A d F o n t e s

(Latin: "to the sources")

Paul Helm vs. Peter Enns, (Re)redux

image I recently learned that Paul Helm, prof of history, religion, and philosophy at King’s College (London) wrote a response to Pete Enns’ response to Pete’s book, Inspiration and Incarnation

I have to admit, I’m a bit tired of the fuss over this little book.  There are a couple of reasons.  First, it’s not academic.  It’s pop.  And rather than engage it as pop, folks engage it as though it’s academic, with a full-on frontal assault.  And rather than try to engage the issues that Enns does–which are real–, whether to disagree or offer viable alternatives, most whip out the gattling guns and try to rip it to shreds as though it’s solutions were life-threatening.  Some good points are raised–I agree with some of the criticisms of Pete’s “incarnational analogy”–but an awful lot of wilful misreading, rhetoric, silly criticisms, and few real alternatives for dealing with the issues Pete tries to address.  I’m not opposed to disagreement, including on Pete’s book about of which I have my own–its part academic progress–but not like this. 

Helm’s 2nd piece isn’t all that different.  It’s more respectful than his last one, for which I think he deserves credit.  And he acknowledges that he’s not an OT scholar and tries to sidestep that fact by focusing instead on “(theological) method”: since it is logically prior to interpretation, he can do that without actually touching the issues.  (which sounds like getting your cart before your horse to me)

I think a paragraph that encapsulates what I find problematic in Helm’s response is the following: 

The Church holds fast to the divinely-breathed character of Scripture while recognising its all too obvious human properties. The books are breathed by God and authored by men. Such a confession throws up difficulties; hermeneutical difficulties, including those difficulties to which Professor Enns is at pains to draw our attention, those posed by the awareness of non-biblical data on our understanding of Scripture, and the New Testament’s use of the Old. But – if we are to be consistently and thoroughly Christian – these difficulties may perplex us but we should patiently await their resolution in a way that is consistent with the Christian view of Holy Scripture, the teaching of Christ and the Apostles, while all the while holding fast to that doctrine. Difficulties drawn from extra-biblical parallels should not lead us to stress the human character of Scripture at the expense of the divine – indeed we must especially be on our guard not to do this – any more than in our doctrine of providence moral and other difficulties ought to make us flinch from confessing that the Lord works all things after the counsel of his own will.

A few reflections: 

(1) “But–if we are to be consistently and thoroughly Christian–…we should patiently await their resolution in a way that is consistent with the Christian view of Holy Scripture…”  OK, this is patently circular.  Helm has a priori decided on a particular doctrine of scripture–which in theory he should derive from scripture–before he reads the Bible; he wants to read through his doctrine the very things that should inform it.  It’s not surprising, then, that the historical problems are at variance with Helm’s doctrine:  he hasn’t integrated all the data, something Enns is trying to do (confessedly, as a Bible-believing Christian).  Those difficulties are things that inform what doctrine of scripture you have; they’re not things to be resolved by imposing an already assumed doctrine on it.  In my opinion, Helm’s view is therefore rather un-protestant. 

(2) “…should not lead us to stress the human character of scripture at the expense of the divine…”  This criticism–which others have raised too–presumes that the Bible has “divine” and “human” characteristics that are isolatable from each other, such that one could emphasize one aspect over another–as though “language” were human but “truth” were divine or something.  This is wrong.  Every aspect of the Bible that is human is simultaneously divine as well (which one area where the incarnation works as an analogy).  Rather than say the Bible is “divine and human” it is probably more helpful to say it’s “divine-human.”  Similarly, those difficulties that individuals like Helm find disturbing are just as much part of the human character of the Bible as they are part of the divine character.  In other words, emphasizing one at the expense of the other is a logical impossibility that misunderstands the Bible’s divine-human makeup; to stress one, by definition, is to stress the other. Studying how they work in historical context (e.g. in terms of parallels, ancient interpretive practices) is, therefore, asking simultaneously a divine-and-human question:  what was God doing when he used people, their thoughts, their conventions, their texts, to communicate a message in their words? 

(3) Like others, Helm offers no alternative for dealing with the issues.  He encourages patience; but “patience” means that scholars need to work to find viable answers to make sense of the data, which is what Pete is doing.  Answers are not going to materialize on their own.  And as of now, as far as I can tell, Enns has the only viable option–that is, apart from unbelief.  (Though I’m not entirely satisfied with his option, but for very different reasons than Helm)

(4) I seriously wonder whether the “human properties” of the Bible are “all too obvious” to Helm.  In my opinion, it seems to me that some of the issues are so glaring now in the 21st c.–e.g. synoptic problems, historical errors, the development of the canon and OT texts, the involvement of church/Jewish tradition–it would also be obvious that many solutions Protestant theologians have offered for centuries are simply not viable.  I would think that if they were really “obvious,” Prof. Helm would welcome Enns’ attempts to deal with them Christianly and join the effort to find a workable Christian answer using his own expertise–or at very least, would be much more charitable and sympathetic to Enns’ concerns as an OT scholar in whose face the issues stare daily. 


January 18, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Books, Miscellaneous, Theology | 1 Comment

"Justified in Christ," K. Scott Oliphint ed.


Many Westminster Theological Seminary graduates are receiving this book in the mail; I received mine a couple weeks ago, and probably against my better judgment started reading it.  It’s an edited volume with contributions from some of the seminary’s current faculty (excluding the current Biblical Studies department).  Sending it seems to have 2 purposes: (1) show you how Westminster bridges the past with the present by engaging a difficult (though rather passe) subject; (2) reaffirm the seminary’s commitment to “the historic reformed teaching on justification” (or rather, how it interprets it).

In my opinion, it falls short of either of these.  The intention of the book “#1” is given in Sinclair Ferguson’s introduction, the target being primarily pastoral and theological concerns arisen from the not-so-New Perspective on Paul and “Federal Vision,” two movements perceived as a threat in certain protestant circles.  However IMO only 2 of the articles arguably deal with related topics:  Jeff Jue’s on whether the Westminster Divines believed both Christ’s whole-life obedience (=”active obedience”) and his death on the cross (=”passive obedience”) availed for the sinner’s justification, or just the latter; and Lane Tipton’s which is an attempt present a more distinctive Westminsterian perspective on justification over against alleged views of NT Wright.  Jue’s essay is good in its own right, though the topic is not very relevant to current Pauline debates, particularly since it doesn’t engage in the exegesis; Tipton’s topic is more relevant, though it contains numerous inaccuracies, many of which have been made by others before.  The more “practical” essays by Bill Edgar and Stafford Carson are also pretty good in their own right in taking historic insights and applying them to the present circumstances, though those circumstances are not all that contemporary.  The strangest aspect of this book is that it includes a full reproduction of John Murray’s Imputation of Adam’s Sin appended as the last 100pgs(!!) of this 300-pg book.   

It fails on #2 for one reason:  half the faculty are not represented (Biblical Studies).  There have been plenty of rumors of intra-seminary strife circulating among graduates for years now, yet the seminary has continued to avoid confronting them directly.  This certainly seems to substantiate the rumors.  Of course, privacy is good to an extent, but it looks suspicious if it continues when everyone else already knows something’s up; it makes it look like one’s hiding something one doesn’t want others to know.  Moreover, given that (a) Westminster has had a history of collaborative faculty volumes (Innerrancy and Hermeneutic, etc.) and that (b) the seminary president Peter Lilback contributed signals something fishy.  I might recommend that if any graduates or donors have serious questions about the current trajectory of the faculty, make them known and don’t back down until you’re satisfied with the answers received.  In the past the seminary has stiff-armed inquiry about internal affairs, and that’s certainly fair to a point, but it’s unethical to tell us to check our consciences at the door while being told to send it our money and our students.  Personally, I don’t care if there’s some disagreement among them.  Issues like these which do cut against some traditionally held views of protestants are going to evoke disagreements, and given that the npp particularly is ~30 yrs running, they shouldn’t expect to resolve the issues in, say, 1-2 years of even the most heated debate–that’s ludicrous. Charitable disagreement is healthy and a normal part of a healthy academic environment–including an evangelical one–; strife and secrecy are signs of a degenerative one. 

Finally, I mist say that reading the book was also a deja vu experience.  There are many goals Ferguson set for this book on which it simply didn’t deliver.  It reminded me a lot of Don Carson’s intro and conclusion to Justification and Variegated Nomism vol 1. 

September 5, 2007 Posted by | Theology | 2 Comments