Monday, March 31, 2008

March 26- Wesminster's Watershed

March 26 was a tragic day in the history of the Reformed, evangelical community. The Board of Trustees at Westminster Seminary Philadelphia voted to suspend Old Testament Professor Peter Enns regarding his book Inspiration and Incarnation.

While I mourn this institutions loss of a valuable and gifted scholar, and judging by the response to the boards actions, a loved professor; the tragedy is larger than the controversy surrounding a single man. Dr. Enns will find another institution where he will be able to continue to teach. While controversy will continue to surround his understanding and presentation on the Old Testament data, as one biblical scholar said, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating;” and in the end I am convinced his trajectory will be vindicated. What is tragic is the loss of a unique institution.

Westminster traditionally was a place where the best of the Reformed tradition was wed with solid scholarship and intellectual honesty. The school, founded by those with high view Scripture, did not allow their convictions to become an excuse for intellectual lethargy. And while its conservative, confessional identity are solid, this identity was not an excuse for a mindless acceptance of traditional formulations. Westminster has produced a long string of scholars who have pushed the church from the inside to a deeper and richer appreciation of the Bible and the Reformed faith. Once Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics were an innovation, now for some this apologetic approach is a mark of orthodoxy. Once John Murray challenged a particular understanding of covenant theology, now Murray is one of the Reformed world’s most respected theologians. The late Raymond Dillard, a beloved Old Testament professor, balanced a Christ-centered focus on the Old Testament with openness to new understandings of that text. Biblical studies have been furthered by the insightful, but provocative, writings of Richard Gaffin. Harvie Conn offered a renewed catholic understanding of the church’s missional and confessional identity.

President Lillback and the board, are changing this accountable yet open-minded atmosphere into something very different. Dr. Enns’ suspension, and probable removal, are symptoms of a growing uneasiness of some in the Reformed tradition of innovation and diversity. There are many seminaries offering solid training for those called to pastoral ministry. Others offer a haven for those identified as FV, TR, Emergent or any other subset within the broad orbit of the reformed, evangelical world. But Westminster was different, unique. It combined the practical and the abstract, the traditional and the avant-garde, welcoming a diverse student body to sit under a diverse faculty representing the best that evangelical scholarship offered. Students were nourished by the seminary’s rich reformed heritage, sheltered by its foundational convictions about God and his Word, and challenged by a diverse and innovative approach within the those boundaries. It appears that those days are quickly coming to a close as the narrow vision of a few trumps the broader legacy of the institution.

March 26 is not the end of the career and contributions of Dr. Enns, but it does appear to signal the end of a rich era in the history of a once august seminary.

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