Reflections on Newsweek’s “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin”

The obligatory article on Christianity at Christmastime from Newsweek has been posted, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” This is one of those pieces by a journalist that, if you know your subject matter, convinces you how shallow journalism can be. In this case, the research simply has not been done.

James White takes this on. It is a video of his Dividing Line program. This is red meat to White, and, unfortunately, his animal instincts sometimes (actually a good bit of the time) carry him away. When he knows he is on solid ground and is in an area of his expertise, he’s a tree stump grinder, to change the metaphor a bit. He gets a bit snarky and condescending in tone that makes him irritating, not just to his adversaries but also to those on his side. But if you want to know how far off the Newsweek article is, James White is the guy to go to on this one.

If you listen all the way through, you’ll get some idea of all the work that goes into establishing a reliable text of the New Testament. There are a few technical details that will blow past you, but you’ll get enough of the drift to gain real confidence that the Bible we read today is essentially the original books. Where there might be some uncertainty, the one thing for sure is that there is nothing in textual uncertainty that destabilizes any Christian doctrine. What is in the New Testament is what the Apostles taught.

Michael Kruger does an excellent job of responding, too. Kruger’s specialty is matters of canon, establishing the authority of the New Testament text in the early church.

So What Is Peter Enns’ Agenda?

This morning I read Peter Enns’ posting at his blog titled, “what would the apostle Paul think about evangelicals and the conflict in Palestine?” There he points to an article by Stephen Taylor at Biblical Theological Seminary. He is a part of the chorus of voices questioning the state of Israel’s place in conservative Evangelical thought.

I am sympathetic to those who question this. However, I would think that in light of all the stir Enns is creating, he would spare some of his ammunition rather than looking for opportunities to poke Evangelicals in the eye at every turn. They are already buzzing and stinging. Why would he want to lay it on thicker rather than focus on his essential ideas?

For many this will simply be proof that Enns will go the way of Rob Bell, Brian McLaren and company and other “Red Letter” Christians. Enns is perhaps just becoming another parable for what happens when people lose a higher view of the Bible. (I hesitate to use the word “higher,” for this is a prejudicial word. What I really want is just the truth, higher, lower or whatever).

I think Enns, if he wants to make a lasting contribution to conservative Christianity, should focus, focus, focus. Otherwise, he will become just another fading voice who will be remembered for questioning the Bible even as conservative seminaries move on to train another generation of Pastors and scholars in classic models of inspiration. I remember when Bell, McLaren, et al., were part of the Evangelical conversation. Now they aren’t even mentioned. They are off the board. Liberals don’t need them and conservatives moved on. I was hoping Enns would add to the conversation and help us develop a more robust hermeneutic. He instead has become a byword. It’s sad.

By the way, I am a fan of the state of Israel. Our commitment to Israel is a commitment worth keeping. I am not talking theology here but geo-political. I am saddened to find it faddish for Evangelicals to diminish such a commitment. View Simon Schama’s “The Story of the Jews,” (which Enns recommends) and you will get some serious context for the existence of the state of Israel. He is critical of the settlements and is not a blind Zionist. Go here for some of his thoughts.


Here are some words from James Smith in his book, How (Not) To Be Secular, that reflect a concern I have had as a Reformational Protestant. Andrew Wilson refers to this at his blog posting today.

By refusing a kind of two-tiered view of the Christian life, these late medieval Reform movements emphasized what he calls “the sanctification of ordinary life”: that those engaged in the nitty-gritty of domestic life—having families and raising children and making horseshoes and tilling the earth—live their lives just as much coram Deo (“before the face of God”) as those who renounced domestic, “earthly” life (monks, priests, nuns). There is no all-star team in the Christian life; we are all called to holiness and we can pursue holiness in any and all of our earthly vocations. In a sense, then, the Reformation recovered a more affirmative theology of creation, creaturehood, and so-called “earthly” work.

However, one of the other results of the Reformation was a kind of disenchantment of Christian worship, not so much in Luther and Calvin, or at least not to the extent that later Reformers like Zwingli or the Puritans. This disenchantment involved a rejection of sacramentality—the conviction that the Spirit meets us in matter, that material stuff is a channel of grace. As a result, Christianity becomes a kind of intellectualized set of ideas rather than a liturgical way of life.

[Charles] Taylor calls this a process of excarnation, and in many ways I think it is a lamentable byproduct of the Reformation—and not one that necessarily has to follow from other convictions of the Reformers. Indeed, I would say some of us (like Todd Billings, John Witvliet, Hans Boersma, me, and others) are trying to recover a ”Reformed catholicity” that tries to undo this part of the story.

Note the phrase, “a rejection of sacramentality-the conviction that the Spirit meets us in matter.” The kind of Reformational thought which has nurtured me posts at times too heavy a line between the sacred and the secular, between common grace and special grace. With a too heavy line Christians lose the ability to draw near to God in all of life. God is shut up in the thought world of the Christian, in his inner movements, rather than coming to the Christian through all of creation, so that at all times and in all ways God is speaking and inviting and loving.

This is a truth that Roman Catholicism has kept alive, at least to some degree. The very richness of their sanctuaries, which I was taught were merely bastions of idolatry, are a recovery of the idea that matter manifests spirit, that the smallest detail can lead to the greatest truth. Surely, of course, there is a danger here. One can begin to identify matter with the Creator in ways that compromise the unique revelation that comes to us through Christ. However, the use of the senses in worship is a Christian legacy and not to be given up without a fight and without the intellectual heavy lifting that will validate the reality.

Andrew Wilson Responds to Peter Enns

I am thankful for those who keep in the ring fighting the battles for a high view of the Bible. It must get tedious after a while. I know it feels that way to me. Generally the arguments for a lower view are old but dressed in new clothes with new winsome personalities.

Andrew Wilson is one of those doing this journeyman’s work. He wades in and goes the full number of rounds. He has danced the ring with Rob Bell and Steven Chalk. And now Peter Enns. Enns at his blog chose Wilson’s recent critique of Enns’ book, The Bible Tells Me So, as representative of the kind of kickback he is getting on his view on the Bible.

Wilson essentially says “not much here to see, we’ve heard this before.” Sure there are challenges to a high view of the Bible. And new charismatic figures make those challenges seem like new ones. Thank God for equally capable conservative scholars who can match wit for wit without rancor.

Here is Andrew Wilson’s podcast response to Enns.

Aside from answering Enns’ assertions, Wilson necessarily points out that Enns has no positive project. His project does not include strong assertions for what it means for the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. It is at this point that Enns gets rather mushy and indistinct. It sounds like the neo-orthodox version of the Bible. The reader meets God in reading the Bible. Of course, this does not require anything like inerrancy and one begins to wonder what it means for the Bible to actually be inspired. It’s at that point that Enns, like his predecessors, does not bring to the front much that is extrinsic to the reader’s own self-consciousness.

Was Jesus A Christian?

“But it is equally important to observe that that religion which Jesus had was not Christianity. Christianity is a way of getting rid of sin, and Jesus was without sin. His religion was a religion of Paradise, not a religion of sinful humanity. It was a religion to which we may perhaps in some sort attain in heaven, when the process of our purification is complete (though even then the memory of redemption will never leave us); but certainly it is not a religion with which we can begin. The religion of Jesus was a religion of untroubled sonship; Christianity is a religion of the attainment of sonship by the redeeming work of Christ.”

This is from Machen’s book, Christianity and Liberalism, a book I cannot recommend more highly. I have read it several times and still refresh myself revisits. His basic thesis is that liberal Christianity is not Christianity but another religion. I believe that to be true.

Online Theological Debates Add Value

I have been listening to online theological debates as a means to get point and counterpoint side by side and to get more immediately in touch with the strengths and weakness of each position. It is not easy to listen to nit picking and the absence of a simple sweet fellowship, but theology does matter. Theology does not just sit on the sidelines. It shapes the contours of what the church is and will be.

Professional theologians debating what is and is not good theology is taking place under the radar of church life whether we know it or not. And it will burst upon the scene in some way or another – whether it be the prosperity teaching, eschatology, the charismatic movement, the doctrine of justification, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, the inspiration of the Bible, etc. Some of the debaters I am running across are: James White, Michael Brown, William Craig Lane, Michael Horton, Dan Wallace, Jerry Walls, Paul Helm, Robert George, and more. I will post some other names along the way.

RC Sproul, John Piper and several other big theological guns do not debate. Their sole ministry is to teach. Debating does expose the debater beyond just what he or she knows. Their character bubbles to the surface. For those with large teaching ministries, debating is just not worth the risks.

Public debates have a significant pedigree in the church and an honorable history. In today’s climate, debates feel offensive to most Christians. I think they still serve a good purpose.

“Saving the Phenomena” and “Scripture Interpreting Scripture”

I am increasingly suspicious of philosophical theology that is not rooted in exegesis of biblical texts. I have a philosophical mindset, having minored in it and teaching it at the college level for the last 20 years. Imagination captures me. But I have found a tendency in theological dialogue to just skip over texts and speak of a greater unity.

In science there is the model of “saving the phenomena.” All data must be accounted for. Nothing can be dismissed because it doesn’t fit the hypothesis. Not to do so will yield an increasingly complex hypothesis that by its very complexity indicates smoke and mirrors. Occam’s Razor applies. Scripture interpreting Scripture is critical. I am not naive enough to suppose that there is no imaginative construction at work in theology. But the only check on speculative theology is text, text, text. Recently I have found Brian Zahnd amazingly dismissive of text as a check on speculation. While I agree with his position on free will, I find his defense of it troubling.

The Word Made Fresh: An Evangelical Statement from 2001

This is worth rereading. It is a plea for Evangelicals to be careful with boundary setting lest those who truly belong to the movement are cast away. The signatories of this statement make up some of the best of Evangelical scholars. Notably absent are those from the Reformed community. But the truly Reformed by and large do not see themselves as Evangelicals. They do not think Evangelical is the larger circle within which their circle fits.

Here is the statement. Take the time to scan the signatories so you have some idea of the range of traditions being included.