13 June 2008

frame reviews enns

Over on the Frame-Poythress website, John Frame of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando offers an irenic review of Peter Enns's Inspiration & Incarnation, a book that has seen some share of controversy over the past couple of years.

Frame's view is fairly detailed, moving through Enns's book section-by-section, delving more into the nitty-gritty of the text than my own more general and abstract review and critique did. And many of Frame's points of criticism seem solid and well-motivated. One theme of the review that recurs is that, as far as Frame can see, an evangelical doctrine of scripture can be well-aware of some of the potential tensions and problems that Enns suggests and, "in its most mature formulations" offers adequate solutions.

I think Frame is largely correct on this point, but wonder if it misses the intended audience of Enns's book: a popular-level evangelicalism that sometimes holds to a less nuanced understanding of inerrancy, one that conflates inerrancy with various other concepts such as literalism, objectively-narrated history, scientific accuracy, superficial consistency, and so forth. I've certainly run into many believers who hold to such understandings and have seen them fall prey to arguments from liberals who, ironically, share with them many similar assumptions about what scripture "ought to look like" if it is indeed divinely inspired and inerrant.

Frame, I think, rightly points out that Enns seems overly skittish about textual harmonization and higher level explanations that bring together seemingly contradictory first order propositions. Enns, of course, is entirely correct that such harmonizations and explanations are ofttimes offered in an overly "cheap" way - so that certain texts are always immediately qualified (sometimes with a wink and a nod) rather then being allowed to speak on their own terms, or so that harmonizations occur quickly and easily in ways that obscure the literary purposes and theology of the biblical authors that led to the textual diversity to begin with.

(On a related note, in a presumably Enns-inspired post, Art Boulet provided a few arguments back in April concerning what he called the "hypocrisy of harmonization." I'd like to provide a friendly critique of that post at some point, partly out the personal conviction that biblical scholars need to spend more time talking to philosophers.)

Frame does highlight one aspect of Enns's text that may not sit well with some readers and does not sit well with Frame: the question of the status of certain biblical texts as regards their facticity and how this question intersects with a doctrine of inspiration. That's to say, Enns raises a number of highly germane questions related to the early chapters of Genesis in connection with their ancient near eastern context, literary parallels, genre calibration, theological purpose, and so forth. But what Enns does not offer is a specific resolution of those questions.

Perhaps, however, that was not Enns's purpose in raising these questions. Reading Enns's text, it struck me that he was more interested in providing a conceptual and theological framework within which specific resolutions might be constructed and offered, rather than offering such resolutions himself. That's to say, Enns's incarnational analogy draws some boundaries around possible resolutions, eliminating some possibilities (e.g., fundamentalist creation science approaches; liberal approaches that deny the divine creation of the world or that the cosmic order has a theological interpretation). Yet, it allows for a diversity of possibilities within those boundaries (e.g., the framework hypothesis; seeing Genesis as affirming some basic facts about the cosmos, its meaning and origins, couched in mythical language).

I suppose that could be viewed as a defect on the part of Enns's book, but it could also be viewed as a strength, depending what sort of expectations one brings to his text in terms of audience and what he was trying to accomplish. Nonetheless, Frame's basic point is certainly correct: these are important issues that have significant bearing upon how we understand scripture to be divinely breathed-out and how we interpret and proclaim the text of scripture with confidence as the very word of God.

(HT: Conn-versation)