Wednesday, July 23, 2008

one more reason I love my job

Michael Pahl reports that Peter Enns and Westminster Theological Seminary have issued a joint statement announcing that the Old Testament scholar is "discontinuing his service" to WTS amidst the controversy stirred by his book, Inspiration and Incarnation. I'm not an Old Testament scholar, nor have I read Enns's book. But this issue strikes a bit close to home, especially since there are doctrinal and theological expectations placed upon myself and my colleagues as a condition of our employment here.

I would, with great timidity and caution, compare my own humble institution with WTS and the educational and theological traditions streaming out of Philadelphia (among other places). But I would like to, again humbly, suggest that the spirit and freedom of my own institution of employment provides me greater comfort (and freedom) in my efforts to strive after God, to understand and be faithful to him, and to equip others to do likewise as they minister in various national and cultural contexts around the globe. I'm not sure why this; perhaps it has something to do with the personalities of the men (mostly) and women in positions of decision-making and power here.

But I suspect that another reason is found in my own faith tradition's commitment to theological principles rather than to theological statements. [NB: My encomium-of-sorts for my institution and my faith tradition is not meant to imply the negative of other institutions and traditions; what I say here about my own community is undoubtedly true, in various ways and to various degrees, of other communities.] In particular, I have in mind well-worn slogans that have, perhaps, been recited more than they have been observed but that still orient me and my colleagues. I have in mind here, "No creed but Christ; no book but the Bible," and "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." At its best moments, my faith community seeks to root its understanding and practice of God in the Bible and to allow freedom (of thought as well as practice) in those places where biblical teaching warrants leeway. True, we have also been ungracious at times when interpreting where freedom is appropriate; we have also struggled to know how to interact with people who are less concerned for what the Bible might have to say to us and our world. But I would like to suggest that, in our most Christ-like moments, commitment to principles rather than to (merely) propositions have motivated our thinking and behaving.

Having taken the time to express my own gratitude for my current situation, let me also wish Prof. Enns all the best as he seeks to provide for his family, his faith, and for his interaction with the wider biblical and theological conversations going on around the world. And may God bless WTS, though I have to admit that my sympathies at this moment, barring further information, are squarely with Prof. Enns.


Jake said...

Great representation of our tradition's strengths when we're at our best. It's a pity that we're not more often, but I think (hope?) more people are starting to "get it".

After looking at Enns' book on Amazon (thanks for the link), it looks interesting - I'd love to pick it up sometime (add it to my long list). My sympathies are undoubtedly with Enns - I understand that confessional universities need to have some sort of doctrinal/theological expectations, but I've seen personally what a chilling effect it can have on true scholarship (which should always be a search for truth, wherever it leads) when those expectations are held too rigidly.

Rafael said...

" . . . truth, wherever it leads." I think this is the problematic phrase, for everyone, not just scholars working in confessional environments. The pressure on all sides is significant. If there's anything blogging reveals most clearly, it's that academia is at the same time a supportive community and a lonely isolation.

Jake said...

Absolutely. As a pastor, I feel the pressure as well - its as present in churches as in academia, if not moreso. I'm thankful to work at a church that allows for a diversity of opinion on many issues - although obviously as a confessional body there are a few things that we consider "essential". This is a necessity, of course, in a confessional environment. Much of the problem enters in when the list of "essentials" grows quite long, and includes items that are more cultural than "biblical". Of course, determining which items are cultural and which are "biblical" is the difficult part - especially for those who are unaccustomed to making that distinction.

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