Letter to Dr. Peter Lillback, President of Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, regarding Dr. Peter Enns:
Feb. 10, 2008
Dear Dr. Lillback,
I am writing, as a Westminster Seminary alumnus, to express deep concern about Dr. Peter Enns.
During my senior year as an undergraduate at Harvard (1970), I struggled to decide between doing an M.Div. at Westminster or at Fuller. After visiting both campuses I chose Fuller and attended for a year. But I found compromises on biblical inerrancy in class after class, and therefore, in order to learn more about a sound view of Scripture, I simultaneously read E. J. Young’s book Thy Word is Truth along with other books by WTS faculty. At the end of that academic year I left Fuller, disappointed with their departure from belief in inerrancy, and transferred to Westminster (1971).
At Westminster I received an incredibly rich grounding in Scripture and theology, and my years there as an M.Div. student (1971–1973) were more influential in forming my lifetime theological commitments than any other years of my life. I went on to get a Ph.D. in New Testament from Cambridge, but it was my Westminster training, more than anything else, that prepared me for the teaching and writing that the Lord has enabled me to do for the last 30 years.
Now I am writing to you because I have just finished reading the book by Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker, 2005). I find the book to be deeply troubling, for the following reasons:
Enns repeatedly delights in presenting interpretations of the Bible that make it appear more problematic and more filled with unresolved and irresolvable problems than it really is (pp. 72, 79, 92, etc.). He insists on translation options that make Scripture internally contradictory with itself (pp. 92-93), or simply false (pp. 54, 98). He repeats the same kind of anti-inerrancy rhetoric that I heard at Fuller in the 1970s, characterizing belief in the Bible’s complete truthfulness as “defensive” or as coming close to “intellectual dishonesty” or as simply “preconceived notions” (pp. 14, 107, 108), but speaking of views that take the Bible as contradictory as “creative,” “refreshing,” and “listening to how the Bible itself behaves” (pp. 15, 66; see also 73, 108). He frequently represents conservative evangelical scholarship as unreliable and untrustworthy (at least pre-Enns), but, remarkably, he impugns conservative scholarship not by documented quotations but by using undocumented, straw-man arguments (pp. 47, 49, etc.). The overall result of this approach will be to lead readers to distrust both the Bible and much evangelical Old Testament scholarship.
He implies that he thinks there is no difference in the truthfulness we should ascribe to the Bible and to ancient Akkadian stories: “How can we say logically that the biblical stories are true and the Akkadian stories are false when they both look so very much alike?” (p. 40). It apparently does not occur to him that believing the Bible to be the Word of God (as I thought Westminster faculty we expected to do) is a very good reason for saying that the Bible is true, and the Akkadian flood stories are unreliable. He fails even to consider the possibility of God’s special revelation to Moses, and of his providential guidance and protection of the truthfulness of the records, so that the Bible’s stories of creation and the flood are absolutely truthful, historical and reliable. He gives no indication here that he thinks God was any more involved in the biblical accounts than in the Akkadian myths.
He says that “what makes Genesis different from its Ancient Near Eastern counterparts is that it begins to make the point to Abraham and his seed that the God they are bound to . . . is different from the gods around them” (p. 53). But this is in the context of discussing the category of “myth” (which he opposes to “historical,” p. 49), and so the implication seems to be that truthfulness or historical accuracy of the account is not something that makes Genesis different from other Ancient Near Eastern creation myths.
He says that “Genesis – as other stories of the ancient world – thus portrays the world as a flat disk with a dome above” (p. 54). But what is a reader to do with this? We know today that that view is false: the world is not a flat disk. But I do not see how readers then can avoid the implication that they should not believe what Genesis tells them about the world. Genesis according to Enns is simply untrue.
He claims that Hebrew (or an earlier version of written Hebrew) may not have even existed at “the end of the second millennium B.C.” (p. 51), and thus implies a chronology that makes it impossible for Moses (died 1400 or perhaps 1180 B.C.) to have written the Hebrew words of Genesis – Deuteronomy (p. 52).
Though the Bible directly quotes words that Nathan said to David, but with slightly differing accounts in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles, Enns says, “What did Nathan actually say? . . . . I don’t know, and neither does anyone else” (p. 66). The implication (from his following sentence) is that the Bible is not written to give us this kind of historical information, and that doesn’t matter. I take this to mean that accuracy in historical details does not matter. And that to me is the same as saying that biblical inerrancy doesn’t matter. (I don’t understand him here to be getting into a discussion of ipsissima verba vs. ipsissisima vox, but to say that even ipsissima vox cannot be known, and it does not matter. If his meaning was other than this, he did not make that evident).
He questions the uniqueness of the moral commands of Scripture (pp. 57-58) without considering the possibility that God’s moral laws not only resemble but also correct, supplement, and differ with the moral standards of surrounding cultures, because they are the words of God himself.
He implies that the Bible affirms a false idea, the existence of multiple gods: “We may not believe that multiple gods ever existed, but ancient Near Eastern people did. This is the religious world within which God called Israel to be his people . . . . We should not be surprised, therefore, when we see the Old Testament describe God as greater than the gods of the surrounding nations” (p. 98; he then quotes from several Psalms that talk about other “gods”). But he says the Bible does this in the same way parents might tell their children, “Don’t be afraid of the dark. God is greater than the Boogey Man” (which the parents know does not exist, p. 99). In other words, the Bible affirms the existence of other gods but this affirmation is in fact false. It apparently does not occur to Enns that these “other gods” are demons (Deut. 32:17) that did exist, but they were not true Gods like the one true God.
He says that attempts to reconcile the apparent differences between Bible texts, which has been the task undertaken by some of the greatest professors in the history of Westminster Seminary, and by many of the greatest evangelical scholars in the world at least since the time of Augustine, is “close to intellectual dishonesty” (p. 107).
He says, “It is a distortion of the highest order to argue that Jesus must have cleansed the temple twice” (p. 65). What troubles me here is not that he holds to only one cleansing of the temple (which I think is possible but unlikely, because of internal evidence in John), but that he so condescendingly dismisses what is by far the dominant evangelical position in NT scholarship for centuries (Luther, Calvin, Westcott, Leon Morris, D. A. Carson, Hendricksen, Tasker, and Köstenberger, for example). Are all the evangelical world’s greatest Johannine scholars guilty of “distortion of the highest order”? Such a sentence indicates to me a man who is embarrassed by conservative evangelical scholarship and looks for opportunities to disparage it. That is not a healthy thing for an evangelical seminary.
The result of a book like this is to undermine the reader’s confidence in the truthfulness and moral excellence of Scripture again and again. No matter what subsequent explanations or “spin” Dr. Enns may want to put on these words and others like them, the inevitable effect of this book on its readers will be to undermine their belief in the truthfulness of Scripture. I do not think that should be the goal or the result of any book published by a Westminster Seminary professor.
Even if Dr. Enns were to disavow or reinterpret the specific sentences that I quote, the overall impression I have of him from this book is that of a man whose deepest attitude toward Scripture is not reverence and submission and awe at God’s Word (Isa. 66:2), but rather delight in using his technical skills to baffle students and lay readers with problems that they cannot solve, all with the result of eroding their trust in Scripture. That is deeply disappointing. Such an underlying tone and attitude are not appropriate for a Westminster faculty member, nor for any elder in Christ’s church.
I have been recommending Westminster Seminary to prospective students for over 30 years. But now I have decided, with regret, that I can no longer recommend Westminster. The reason is that any seminary that continues to tolerate a faculty member with Enns’s views does not, in my understanding, uphold the strong commitment to inerrancy that persuaded me to transfer to Westminster in 1971, and that Westminster previously upheld throughout its history. In fact, beginning next week, I intend to incorporate a critique of Enns’s book into my lectures on inerrancy for first-year seminary students, along with examples from the writings of Fuller Seminary professors.
Nor do I find Enns’ views consistent with the position of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (I was at the first ICBI conference and one of the original signers). Nor does it hold to the view of inerrancy expected of members of the Evangelical Theological Society, in my judgment (I am a past president of ETS).
I have probably participated in around 100 interviews of prospective faculty members in my four years at Bethel College, St. Paul, my twenty years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and now six years at Phoenix Seminary. I have always asked candidates about their views of inerrancy. If someone with Dr. Enns’s views had come to interview at any of these institutions, I would have strongly opposed him both in committee and (if it got that far) on the floor of faculty, on the grounds that he clearly does not hold to the complete truthfulness of Scripture. My sense of the faculty at TEDS and here at Phoenix Seminary is that any motion to hire Enns would lose by nearly unanimous vote. Under the guise of treating the Scripture “honestly,” and “as it actually is,” he in fact denies its internal consistency, its historical reliability, and its moral excellence again and again.
I am sorry to have to write this letter. I have loved Westminster Seminary and all it represents for many years. I hope that you will take the appropriate steps to dismiss Dr. Enns and once again make clear to the evangelical world that Westminster Seminary remains a stalwart defender of “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
Wayne Grudem, Ph.D.
(Westminster M.Div. 1973)
Research Professor of Bible and Theology, Phoenix Seminary
General Editor, ESV Study Bible