In this blog post, “The (Pete) Enns of the Matter,” John Frye, a pastor and regular contributor to Scot McKnight’s blog, reviews Enns’s book The Bible Tells Me So, in which Enns makes a case against inerrancy. Using a trope that has become all too familiar within Patheos blogs—the disaffected former conservative evangelical (or fundamentalist) who sees the light and becomes more theologically liberal—Frye compares his own spiritual journey to Enns’s:
Like Enns, I was born again into a conservative tribe of the Christian faith, went to a conservative Bible college and seminary which touted “a high view of Scripture.” I was introduced to the theological construct called inerrancy. Enns taught in a Seminary famous as a historical fortress for defending the inerrancy of the Bible. As a Harvard grad and esteemed Old Testament scholar working with the biblical texts, Enns began to discover realities that could not be kept suppressed in the inerrancy pressure cooker. Either a new pressure cooker needed to be designed to hold Enns’ troubling discoveries (which is the purpose of his book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament) or portions of the Old Testament (and New) had to be strangely contorted to fit into the prevailing view of inerrancy.
Let the record show that theological liberals can move in the opposite direction. I did, for example. I began to discover realities that could not be suppressed in the liberal Mainline pressure cooker. Either a new pressure cooker needed to be designed to my troubling discoveries or portions of the Old Testament (and New) had to be strangely contorted to fit into the prevailing view of scripture within the liberal Mainline.
I believe in the Bible’s infallibility. I prefer that term to “inerrancy.” Infallibility speaks more to what God does through scripture than our subjective (and thoroughly modern) assessment of the Bible’s accuracy or truthfulness. Yet I also believe that the Bible is “entirely truthful in all that it affirms.” Moreover, I’ve read the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and can affirm each of its propositions. So I may as well call myself an inerrantist, as unfashionable as that term may be.
Regardless, I’m definitely evangelical and theologically conservative. As such, I don’t recognize the caricature of my view of scripture that Frye’s daughter portrays in the following quote:
My oldest daughter, Leah, who was trained as a mechanical engineer and now teaches STEM classes, appreciated Enns’ book. She reacted, “Once I was able to look at the Old Testament as not actual factual history, it completely changed my perception of Christianity, especially modern Christianity. The need to believe that each word of the Old Testament is an historical fact is so damaging in my opinion. Makes Christians sound dumb. Looking at the Old Testament in the context of its time period and how/why/when it was written makes so much more sense. Also, Enns debunks the warmongering, baby killing version of the Old Testament God which I appreciated.”
Where in the Chicago Statement, for example, is this kind of wooden literalism? Who says we inerrantists shouldn’t read and interpret the Bible “in the context of its time period”?
But, yes, by all means I believe the Old Testament should be viewed as “factual history” where it purports to describe factual history. But that’s not what Leah says. She says inerrantists need to believe “each word” is “historical fact.”
Even poetic words? Even apocalyptic words? Even idioms, hyperbole, and figures of speech?
Nonsense! We should read scripture literally, in the sense that we read it as its authors intended it to be read. Therefore, the genre of a passage of scripture, for instance, is crucial to understanding it.
Given Article XVIII of the Chicago Statement, it’s hard to see how this is inconsistent with a belief in inerrancy:
WE AFFIRM that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.
Leah writes, “Enns debunks the warmongering, baby killing version of the Old Testament God.” Well, I hope so! I don’t recognize a “warmongering, baby killing” version of God in the Old Testament—even in those passages related to the Canaanite conquest. I don’t know an inerrantist who does! Instead I see remarkable continuity between the God portrayed in Old and New Testaments, even as I recognize (as does the Chicago Statement) that the Bible’s revelation of God is progressive (Article V).
But this continuity between Testaments poses a problem for theological progressives, as I’ve written about before. The same critics who believe that the Old Testament’s “warmongering, baby-killing” God must be understood in light of Jesus have to deal with Jesus’ own violent, discomfiting words. (See this wonderful Andrew Wilson post for some examples.)
While we’re on the subject of Jesus, Frye affirms the following quotes from Enns:
“God is bigger than the Bible” (149).
“Jesus is bigger than the Bible” (170).
“For Christians, then, the question is not ‘Who gets the Bible right?’ The question is and always has been, ‘Who gets Jesus right?’” (227).
I affirm the first two of these three. The third presents a false choice: What do we know about Jesus outside of the Bible? How do we even begin to get Jesus right except through “getting the Bible right”?
Finally, while I’m not sure why Frye believes that his daughter’s engineering background establishes her credibility on the subject, I’m an electrical engineer from Georgia Tech. I had a career in engineering prior to becoming a pastor. For what it’s worth…