I recently finished Peter Enns’ brief introduction to the difficulties of an evangelical doctrine of Scripture presented by the Old Testament. The book is called Inspiration and Incarnation, and as has been pointed out by others, it’s an important read for inerrantists such as myself.
Enns’ basic thesis is that a doctrine of Scripture should arise from the Scriptures themselves. Well, duh. But as you might expect, that recommendation turns out to be much more controversial than it initially sounds, because Enns is concerned not only about conforming our doctrine of Scripture to the Biblical testimony of its authority but to the phenomena of Scripture itself – with all its cultural moorings, rich diversity and strange uses of previous texts. These three issues only become problems in need of creative explanation if one develops expectations of Scripture from outside Scripture – which is precisely Enns’ critique of modern notions of inspiration. The result of such modern formulations is that interpretation becomes an exercise in a rather shifty brand of apologetics – ANE parallels are completely ignored in order to make the Bible appear culturally timeless; texts with genuinely different perspectives are forcibly crammed into a homogenized goo in order to make the Bible appear seamlessly harmonized; the hopelessly unscientific method with which Scripture uses Scripture is either dressed up as historical-grammatical exegesis or unconvincingly privileged as a non-repeatable apostolic privilege – all from a desire to rid the Bible from any signs of being a genuinely human (as well as divine) production.
The answer to such distortion, says Enns, is to see the written Word of God functioning according to the same nature as the incarnate Word of God – a perfect symbiosis of humanity and divinity. Jesus perfectly revealed the Father not as a hovering wraith or Docetic illusion, but as a genuine 1st C. Jewish man. He spoke the language, lived and participated within ancient Palestinian culture, and displayed all of the creaturely dependence requisite to humanity. He wasn’t a god just pretending to be a man, as so many seem to believe (and then wonder why they’re not moved by the stories of suffering and crucifixion in the Gospels). He was God anchored in time, culture and finite dependence upon the Father. The written Word of God should be understood as revealing the Father in the same way. As evangelicals continue to thrash about over theories of inspiration, some are drowning and others are barely treading water while the actual content of the Bible – in all of its varied and richly enculturated glory – circles the drain. In the next week or so, as I have time, I’ll be posting an evaluation of some of the criticisms I’ve read (from the likes of such Reformed luminaries as Paul Helm). In the meantime, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament is required reading.