Enns, WTS, and Why Six-Year-Olds Shouldn't Memorize Catechisms

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

As you may have heard, Westminster Theological Seminary’s board recently voted to suspend professor Peter Enns over his book Inspiration and Incarnation, in which he uses an incarnational analogy to argue that that there are both human and divine elements to Scripture. The board decided that the book’s thesis fell outside the Westminster Confession of Faith’s position on biblical interpretation. Enn’s suspension comes after a two-year theological debate that has caused a lot of tension and division over at WTS. 

You can read the full story on Christianity Today’s Web site

This story brings back a very weird and disturbing memory for me. 

A few years ago, while I was participating in a journalism internship in Asheville, North Carolina, I was invited to lunch by a young family with whom I shared mutual friends. They were nice folks, and after living in an Extended Stay America for two weeks, it was a relief to be in a home for a few hours. Things were going splendidly until after dessert, when the father’s tone grew suddenly serious, as he addressed his young son who was sitting across from him at the table. 

“What is the chief end of man?” the father asked gravely. 

The son, who was probably six or seven years old responded robotically, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” 

“How does it appear that there is a God?” the father asked. 

“The very light of nature in man, and the works of God, declare plainly that there is a God; but his Word and Spirit only do sufficiently and effectually reveal him unto men for their salvation,” replied the little boy, without missing a beat. 

At fist I thought the interaction was some kind of joke, but the father explained to me that he and his son followed the routine of reciting the Westminster Catechism after every Sunday dinner. 

When the poor kid had finally finished explaining to me that “God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he has, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men,” he was allowed to leave the table and watch Scooby Doo on TV.  

I’ll be honest;  it freaked me out. 

Since then, I have repeatedly encountered this reverential attitude toward the Westminster Confession of Faith among my more Reformed friends and acquaintances, and it looks like it is this attitude that has led to Enns’ suspension. 

To be clear, the WTS board did not condemn Enns for unorthodoxy. (In fact, from what I’ve read, I’d consider his ideas to be quite conservative.)  The board suspended Enns because they felt the contents of his book were at odds with the Westminster Confession of Faith. 

My question is, do people take the Westminster Confession of Faith to be the divinely inspired Word of God? Is it really necessary for WTS professors to not only confess faith in Jesus Christ, but also commit to this creed? 

(This calls to mind the recent controversial remarks by theologian John Piper. Writing on the subject of Arminianism, Piper asks, “But how should we regard these errors in relationship to the teaching office of the church and other institutions?” Answering his own questions, Piper says, “Here’s my rule of thumb: the more responsible a person is to shape the thoughts of others about God, the less Arminianism should be tolerated. Therefore church members should not be excommunicated for this view but elders and pastors and seminary and college teachers should be expected to hold the more fully biblical view of grace.”  By “the more fully biblical view of grace,” Piper is referring, of course, to Covenant Theology/Calvinism as described in the Westminster Confession of Faith.) 

I supposed I should respect the fact that as a denominational school, WTS has a right to only hire professors committed to that denomination’s unique beliefs. And yet, I really question why anyone would want to attend a school that restricts academic freedom like this. Surely there is room for differing opinions and interpretations! 

My concern here is that WTS and other Reformed institutions are elevating Calvin’s theological interpretation of God to the point that it is understood to be a comprehensive explanation of God, the only “right” way of thinking about Him and worshipping Him. 

A few more observations/questions: 

1) Enns was suspended for believing that Scripture has a human element. Honestly, I didn’t even know that this was a subject up for debate. I thought that most conservative  Christians, including Reformed Christians, believed that the Bible was written by human beings and had a human touch. Someone, please let me know if I am missing something here or if I am misrepresenting Enn’s beliefs. 

2) Enns uses an incarnation analogy, writing that Scripture is both human and divine, similar to Jesus Christ. WTS seems to think this idea to liberal; I worry that it deifies (perhaps idolizes) Scripture. Since when has the Bible been the fourth member of the Trinity? Is the Bible itself really divine? Again, someone let me know if I have totally misunderstood Enns. I haven’t read his book in its entirety, just excerpts and summaries.

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