Saturday, June 17, 2006

Ack!

UPDATE (6/22): Apparently Brandon Witherow, a Ph.D candidate at Westminster Seminary has been following the accusations of lubricious heresy hunters surrounding Enns' book. Both his reactions to the exchange chronicled below as well the links to previous discussions of the book are worth checking out.

UPDATE (6/18):
Steve has since posted a few new comments which both persist in missing my point and ironically label me as "angry" - I'd be happy to respond in more detail to anyone who's interested - just post a comment here; but judging from the level of vitriol gushing from his responses, and an apparent preference for "sniping" rather than talking, responding any further seems pointless. iMonk has posted some reactions to the venom which, in Steve's zeal, splashed onto him from the response to me.

That's one of the noises one makes when gurgling in his own blood, which was a metaphorical posture I took while reading Steve Hays eviscerate a few of my last posts. Steve kindly refers to me as talented, for which I'm genuinely flattered. It gets a bit ugly from there, though, as I'm subsequently referred to as cocky, juvenile and immature (which, of course, I am from time to time). Most of what motivates the (dare I say) overly harsh critique, it seems, were my comments about Don Carson (which, at second glance did come off as far snootier than I had intended). In any case, it clearly pricked a nerve, and I'm sorry.

But I hadn't intended anything like what Steve fears I meant - namely that Carson is somehow "out of touch". The point I was making, in fact, depends very much on the opposite evaluation. That point, again, is that many students within conservative evangelical circles have been nurtured on the very over-simplifications, glib harmonizations and anachronisms that Enns is addressing. Carson may take much of what Enns says as "obvious" and "unnecessary" and "less than ground-breaking", pointing to nuances that many scholars commonly accept when it comes to issues like ANE parallels and cultural situatedness in Scripture - but this book wasn't written for them. That's why the bibliographies offered by Steve in his vigorous response to my comments are helpful, but completely irrelevant.

The helpfulness of the book is its honest presentation of the challenges presented by the Old Testament - a presentation that may linger irritatingly for OT scholars to whom the issues are old hat (and to a more educated audience like Steve, who are anxious to rush to their preferred answers to long-known questions). But for new students who are newly coming to grips with these glaringly terrestrial marks of Scripture, it is an exceedingly wise introduction because it takes their context seriously - namely that of the raging Bible wars between liberals and conservatives, marked by a posture of defense in conservative evangelical churches. The "doceticism" described by Enns in relation to the Bible is, in my judgment, a wise strategy for acknowledging the popular emphasis on Scripture's heavenly origin over against marks of its human composition. That - not an attempt to present a comprehensive theological (or hermeneutical) model for understanding Scripture - is the goal of this book. That's also why Carson's desire for a more detailed exposition of the incarnation analogy misses the point. Again, my criticism wasn't that Carson is an idiot - it's the opposite. He's an impressively credentialed biblical scholar. But this book wasn't written to whet his academic appetite, it was written to deal with what can be a crisis for students who have consistently heard only one side of the story.

It's important to point out that this was really my main criticism of both Carson and Helm. You'll see that at the end of my comments I noted that I felt both of their criticisms, cautions and suggestions weren't inappropriate. Neither my review, nor the book, implies that there haven't been real attempts to solve the kind of universally acknowledged theological and hermeneutical difficulties which Enns discusses, that Enns is somehow dealing with issues no one has ever dealt with before, or that conservatives have somehow "locked away evidence". You'll not find any of those sentiments in my review, and Steve's recitation of well-known books and authors don't refute claims that I never made. Neither did I claim that these men were oblivious to the various debates and difficulties in the OT, or that Enns was particularly ground-breaking in his approach to the difficulties. What I did say, and am still saying, is that Enns is to be commended for knowing his audience - he's not a Tubingen liberal speaking to an academic audience. He's a Reformed, conservative evangelical speaking to conservative evangelical students. He realizes (in a way that I think Carson didn't take into account) that he's not talking to "Arians", but to many who have been gorged to excess on apologetic discourses on the timeless, enduring, and heavenly qualities of the Bible and, when confronted with its cultural moorings, are coming to a point of crisis. Characterizing such a demographic as "angry young men" both illustrates and exacerbates the problem Enns is trying to address.

There's more to say, especially about Steve's suggestions about apostolic exegesis (and perhaps about Enns repeated assertions that demonstrate his unwillingness to admit of "errors"), and perhaps I'll do that later. But I should probably end my explanation with a reminder about the mode of communication being utilized here. Blogs, for me, anyway, are somewhere in between an email and an essay, both in their manner of expression and their content. Like an email they are often informal codifications of a person's thoughts, and aren't meant to be taken with the precision of a serious publication. So while they bear certain marks of an essay, with argumentation, critical reflection and even a certain polemical edge, they shouldn't be taken as final pronouncements as much as an invitation for discussion. More importantly, like email, they're not very good reflections of what a person is really like. Steve seems to take me for an unfortunate blend of talent and egomania. I fear that this appraisal may come from taking me even more seriously than he's convinced I take myself. His apparent distaste for my presence at the Boar's Head Tavern, for instance, seems to assume that its very much like a denominational association of some kind rather than an attempt to meet new people, make new friends, and talk about areas of interest. After feeling thoroughly clobbered by his comments it did me some good to remember the potential for distortion refracted by what bloggers write during a few minutes of distraction from the rest of their busy lives.

5 comments:

TheBlueRaja said...

I should also have pointed out that criticizing Carson for not understanding who Peter Enns was trying to address with the book doesn't man I regard him as "out of touch". I also think the fact that the Longman book Carson recommended is considered a "left-leaning" "liberal abomination" by many who also object to Enns' book (which I pointed out in my previous post) proves that its really a misunderstanding about the audience Enns is addressing more than anything else.

Also, the great thing about "comments" is that they facillitate further reflection and public discussion to what should always be to considered, at least to some degree, provisional thoughts (otherwise why allow comments and criticism? Why not write your thoughts on stone tablets and drop them from an overpass?).

Even So... said...

They might hit me on the head!

TheBlueRaja said...

You and a few others . . .

Broken Messenger said...

His apparent distaste for my presence at the Boar's Head Tavern, for instance, seems to assume that its very much like a denominational association of some kind rather than an attempt to meet new people, make new friends, and talk about areas of interest.

Blue Raja, that's presumptuous...even for you. I'm not a fan of Steve's blog or his approach to these types of issues, but after reading that you've admitted to engaging in several wrongs yourself, that laid the groundwork for Steve's passionate response, you shouldn't cry foul to step in a mess that it appears you created.

That said, I also think you're blowing Steve's response way out of proportion.

Brad

TheBlueRaja said...

Hey Brad! Thanks for stopping by. I'm not sure if you're saying that I'm normally "presumptuous" and this just takes the cake or that I'm acting out of character - either way, I can't see how reacting to the way Steve's response struck me or writing about how I felt about it is presumptuous. His guilit by association comments about the BHT assume that my presence there is a statement of doctrinal or philosophical alignment - and it's not. If that analogy was incorrect, I'd expect a reply from him, and I'd have to retract it in favor of his further explanation. But as for so my comment about being there to make friends and meet new (and different kinds of) people, I have somewhat priviliged access to my motives for doing any particular thing, so it's probably going to have to stand as the reason I'm there.

As for blowing his response out of proportion, you might have to be more specific. Obviously I found it distasteful and virulent - but most importantly it mischaracterized what I was trying to say (again, I've got privileged access as to what I was trying to say, so regardless of the execution, that point will probably have to stand as well).