Monday, March 06, 2006

Peter Enn's Inspiration and Incarnation Part I

After some delay, I will finally begin some thoughts about Dr. Enns' book. First, in spite of the majority of my posts being issues I have with the book; I want to make clear how much I like and appreciate the Dr. Enn's labor. It is unfortunately all too easy to notice areas where one takes issue with an author, and to overlook the areas of agreement. I agree much more often with the author than I disagree. Second, I have not yet finished the book (I am reading it with someone else, so I am reading at the pace of our discussion)- so maybe some of my concerns are dealt with in the conclusion, but having scanned ahead, I do not think that they are.

One of the most glaring issues that strikes me concerning this book so far regards an inaccurate focus of what the book is challenging. Throughout the book, Dr. Enns makes a connection with the data and evidence he raises and a traditional, evangelical doctrine of Scripture. Yet, the evidence primarily does not seem to relate to doctrine, but to hermeneutics. The connection between Israel's literature and its ANE neighbors concerns the culture and historical situation of the original audience- and is a primarily a exegetical, and not a theological issue. One of the cornerstones of the grammatical historical method is understanding the culture and the situation of the original audience, and not imposing one's own culture or presuppositions onto the text. I think this lack of clarity is especially apparent regarding the second major chapter regarding theological diversity in the Old Testament. The discussion of diversity in Proverbs is not a theological issue, but a genre issue. Related to issues of genre are the differences between a covenantal understanding of suffering in Deuteronomy and an existential portrayal in Job. Understanding the different situations and goals into which the book of Samuel/Kings was written verses that of the Chronicler explains the differences in details and emphases between the two. In each of these instances, however, it is not a theological issue, but an exegetical one. While I have not yet read the third section on the New Testament's use of the Old- in light of a previous article by the same author- the issue also seems to revolve around the exegetical issue of understanding the interpretive norms and contexts which guided the New Testament author's use of the Old Testament. Once again, this is not an issue of doctrine, but on of cultural understanding of the New Testament authors, and a vital step in interpreting any text.

I do not want to say that no theological problems are raised by these issue, but the impact, I believe, is more in the area of nuance rather than a challenge to the core of a thoughtful, evangelical perspective. If any lesson could be learned from this book it is this- not that the evangelical doctrine is wrong (this says nothing about individual understanding and articulation of this doctrine), but that evangelicals need to be more responsible, careful and thoughtfully nuanced exegetes. To borrow Carson's term, we need to practice "distanciation" between ourselves and the original audience a lot better. Further, if this is to occur, the church must train its members not only to read, but also how to read the text. Many of these issues cease to remain problems by the introduction of a disciplined use of a solid exegetical method. Another benefit of switching the category of the issues raised from theological to exegetical would be a relief of much of the unwarranted criticism this books has received. Rather than creating tension because the hard-fought doctrinal commitments are being questioned (or worse), the book could be used to strengthen and deepen the respect that the evangelical doctrine of Scripture seeks faithfully to maintain.