Renewing the Evangelical mind: an interview with Peter Enns

Renewing the Evangelical mind: an interview with Peter Enns

 

In what follows, I had the immense privilege to interview Peter Enns (links), who is undoubtedly the leading progressive Evangelical theologian in the whole world.

Here are the topics we touched upon, albeit not necessarily in a chronological order.

 

1) Where Peter Enns comes from and how his thoughts evolved with time

2) How is evolution currently perceived among American Evangelicals?

a) Young Earth Creationism

b) Old Earth Creationism and Concordism

c) His own approach

3) What were likely the intentions of the original authors as they wrote the text?

4) One of the very foundation of Evangelicalism is the idea that God cursed us with a sinful nature, making misdeeds deserving an eternal punishment inevitable.
Can we find this concept in the very text of Genesis?

5) If Paul thought it was the case but the authors of Genesis 2 and 3 didn’t hold this view, what should we believe as modern Christians?

6) What is inerrancy and why is it viewed as the very foundation of Christianity by so many people?

7) What about God inerrantly gathering errant texts for His own purposes, as Professor Randal Rauser thinks it’s the case?

8) Many people say that if there is only a small mistake in one obscure book of the Old Testament, we can no longer trust the resurrection. What’s Peter’s response to this?

9) Problem of divine hideness:

Why would God not have given us an inerrant text rather than leaving us stabbing in the dark?

Why did He allow so many people to mistakenly assume its inerrancy?

10) What did God REALLY do during the history of Israel? Did He reveal Himself to a real Abraham and a real Mose?

11) Given the results of modern critical scholarship, what makes the Protestant Canon so special?
What does it mean to say that the imprecatory psalms were more inspired than books of C.S. Lewis on pain and love, and writings of Martin Luther King on non-violence?

12) Currently, there is a massive exodus from young people out of Conservative Christianity?
What are the causes of this?

 

https://i1.wp.com/randalrauser.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Peter-Enns.jpg

 

For those interested by our conversation, I recommend the following resources:

 

Peter’s blog containing many insightful posts and Peter’s website full of great academic writings.

The following books are also worth looking:

The Evolution of Adam : What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins.
Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology).
Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.
Telling God’s Story: A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible (Telling God’s Story).
Ecclesiastes (Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary).

UPCOMING: The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It.

 

Longing for a solid foundation for one’s faith

Progressive Evangelical theologian Peter Enns wrote an interesting post about how most Conservative Evangelicals equate being Christian with believing in an inerrant Bible.

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another juicy quote from Oswald Chambers: “we are not asked to believe the Bible.”

Here is another quote from Oswald Chambers sent to me by my rector, Father Dave Robinson of  St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. Apparently he seems to have a lot of time on his hands, and if he keeps sending me these things, the vestry will likely require him to start giving 14 minute homilies instead of the regular 12 minute kind.

The title of this reflection is “Liberty and the Standards of Jesus,” the May 6th reading at My Utmost for His Highest. It is based on Galatians 5:1, ” Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free . . . .” (Paragraph divisions are mine.)

A spiritually-minded person will never come to you with the demand—”Believe this and that”; a spiritually-minded person will demand that you align your life with the standards of Jesus.

We are not asked to believe the Bible, but to believe the One whom the Bible reveals (see John 5:39-40). We are called to present liberty for the conscience of others, not to bring them liberty for their thoughts and opinions.

And if we ourselves are free with the liberty of Christ, others will be brought into that same liberty— the liberty that comes from realizing the absolute control and authority of Jesus Christ.

Always measure your life solely by the standards of Jesus. Submit yourself to His yoke, and His alone; and always be careful never to place a yoke on others that is not of Jesus Christ.

It takes God a long time to get us to stop thinking that unless everyone sees things exactly as we do, they must be wrong. That is never God’s view. There is only one true liberty— the liberty of Jesus at work in our conscience enabling us to do what is right.

Don’t get impatient with others. Remember how God dealt with you— with patience and with gentleness. But never water down the truth of God. Let it have its way and never apologize for it. Jesus said, “Go . . . and make disciples. . .” (Matthew 28:19), not, “Make converts to your own thoughts and opinions.”

I’ve never met a Christian, including myself, who is not prone to the problem Chambers diagnoses here.

In my experience, it is certainly a Protestant/evangelical tendency to functionally equate believing in the Bible and believing in Jesus.

I say “functionally” because such a thing would not easily be admitted as a conscious theological assertion–though even there I have to say that I have known many inerrantists who feel that there is not nor can there be any true difference between believing in the Bible and believing in Jesus.

Chambers is not “against the Bible,” but against those who dictate how the Bible must be encountered and articulated. Such a posture invariably gets in the way of encountering “the One whom the Bible reveals.”

People have to work out for themselves how they hear the voice of Christ in scripture, which for Chambers is a matter of  ”the liberty of Jesus at work in our conscience enabling us to do what is right.”

But I see, too often, Christians in power seeking to bind the conscience of others, “to bring them liberty for their thoughts and opinions” and call that serving God.

It isn’t.

The question of the meaning of faith has become a vital issue in an American society where a militant form of atheism is growing,which is itself a natural offspring of a religious fundamentalism pretending to deliver absolute answers to the complex problems of the modern world.

Conservative Evangelicals are convinced that ONLY an inerrant Bible can give them the guidance they need, and this explains the fact that many of them almost worship Scriptures as if they were a part of the divine trinity.

But it has become impossible for those of us following the results of historical-critical scholarship to still view the Bible as God’s direct voice to us and not to recognize the conflicting opinions expressed within its pages. For many progressive Christians such as myself, it has also become extremely hard to single out the Protestant Canon as being more inspired, more divine than great Christian books such as those of C.S. Lewis or Martin Luther Kind.

Such considerations have led many folks to give up their Christian faith altogether because they viewed it as knowledge grounded on an inerrant document.

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The alternative I propose is seeing faith neither as likely knowledge nor as irrational leap into darkness but as HOPE in Christ and His resurrection, even if the evidence might not be sufficient to rationally conclude one way or the other.

Of course, if good arguments against God’s existence or His  risen Son were to surface, we should be honest and abandon our faith at once, as the apostle Paul was ready to do.

“12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15”

But in the midst of uncertainties, it is certainly allowed to passionately hope in Jesus and that in Him everything will be put to right.