Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Monday, August 11, 2014

Scot McKnight's Review of "Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy," Part 3 - Mike Bird

There is little doubt that the inerrancy of the Bible is a current and often contentious topic among evangelicals. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy represents a timely contribution by showcasing the spectrum of evangelical positions on inerrancy, facilitating understanding of these perspectives, particularly where and why they diverge.

Each essay in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy considers:

  • the present context and the viability and relevance for the contemporary evangelical Christian witness;
  • whether and to what extent Scripture teaches its own inerrancy;
  • the position’s assumed/implied understandings of the nature of Scripture, God, and truth; and
  • three difficult biblical texts, one that concerns intra-canonical contradictions, one that raises questions of theological plurality, and one that concerns historicity.

Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy serves not only as a single-volume resource for surveying the current debate, but also as a catalyst both for understanding and advancing the conversation further. Contributors include Al Mohler, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Bird, Peter Enns, and John Franke.

* * * * * * * * *

Scott McKnight begins a discussion of Inerrancy to which I will add
occasional emendation, notes, links, and resources. R.E. Slater, August 4, 2014

Is Inerrancy a Game Only Played by American Evangelicals?

by Scot McKnight
Aug 11, 2014

America exports its goods giving it a worldwide influence, including its sports — basketball and (American) football and baseball. Of course baseball is played elsewhere, and baseball in the Dominican is special, but these are American-shaped sports. But would a Dominican say baseball is an American sport? (Not on your life.)

Is inerrancy a game American evangelicals play? Mike Bird, in his essay “Inerrancy is not necessary for evangelicalism outside the USA” in the book Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy, thinks so. It is fashionable for Europeans and Australians to take shots at all things American, it is a safe critique, it is politically correct, it is sometimes right, but on this one Bird’s claim distracts from the reality: Bird’s view of Scripture is how many, if not most, American theologians understand inerrancy

Bird affirms the more generous theory of inerrancy held by many in America but equates a rigid view with the American view. I understand why he does so, and I tend to agree with him, but I also know of a more generous inerrancy (American) tradition.

Now an opening claim from me:

Many prefer “infallibility” for social reasons. To claim “inerrancy” means you are connected to “those guys” and “that group” while “infallibility” has much less of a social profile. Those who are most concerned about affirming “inerrancy” are, in other words, fundamentalists while those who use “infallible” are more generous evangelicals.

I confirm then much of Bird’s big problem: this term is connected to a group, to a method, to a profile that problematizes the term. [sic, which Peter Enns was getting to in Part 2 - r.e. slater]

His opening salvo:

… the American inerrancy tradition, though largely a positive concept, is:

  • essentially modernist in construct,
  • parochially American in context, and
  • occasionally creates more exegetical problems than it solves (145).

It is odd then that the single-biggest critic of inerrancy and fundamentalism in the 20th Century was a Scotsman, James Barr, and his target was J.I. Packer, an Englishman, and much of what he was after he learned on English soil. I’m not saying that Bird’s got it all wrong; I’m saying that there are variants on what inerrancy means but the core idea is not American.

It is historic in origins — the Bible is altogether true — yet articulated in various contexts in response to various threats, and here the American fundamentalism tradition has an important role to play as it was a response to the invasion of Germany’s historical critical method in American universities and seminaries.

More positively, Bird says outside the USA (and plenty in the USA and Canada, too) the words “infallible” and “authority” are the operative words. If we limit the idea of inerrancy to the term, Bird’s spot on; if we don’t, there’s a bigger story to tell.


It should also be observed that many branches of American evangelicalism also get along fine without inerrancy. American evangelicalism, in fact, is quite diverse — theologically and politically. There is a kind of American evangelicalism with a kind of American inerrancy that Bird himself affirms in this essay, and there are plenty who have a view that Bird finds problematic.

Once again, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is the articulation of inerrancy that he analyzes.

1. CSBI has a “defective view of the genre of the biblical creation and its relationship to scientific models” (147). He thinks it may be too committed to a seven day creation theory and a young earth theory. Bird may have numbers on his side but CSBI’s “teaching of Scripture” would permit some wiggle room to discern what that teaching might be. John Walton, I suspect, can sign on to CSBI here. And some signers of CSBI did not affirm the 7-day-young-earth-theory.

2. Biblical veracity hinges on harmonizing discrepancies. Yes yes yes, for some, but not all, and this has been part of the debate. A more genre-specification kind of inerrancy, which permits genre to determine truth claim, and a kind of generic assumption that all things that sound like history are in fact history.

3. A revisionist view of the history of the church’s understanding of bibliology permits CSBI to think the great tradition affirms inerrancy. Bird is right, in part. Yes, the term is not been in use until much later; but is the fundamental idea that all of the Bible is true and none of it wrong, when interpreted properly, been a part of the church’s great tradition? And when it arose was it only the more rigid type?

The [original] autographs issue is a “red herring.” Bird finds the authority in the received text of the church (151). On this Bird courageously challenges a major platform that many inerrantists affirm: the autographs are the inerrant text, not necessarily the manuscripts we have. We don’t have the autographs, and only an approximation, so therefore we don’t have the inerrant text. That’s the logic that must be heard. He sees the solution in seeing inspiration as extending to the process of preservation so that God still speaks. This reminds me of Brevard Childs on the textual tradition.

4. There is theological colonialism at work in inerrancy theology. Churches that are evangelical and orthodox around the world have always had a high view of Scripture and have not affirmed inerrancy; instead, they are closer to infallibility. The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy is too North American, though he acknowledges Packer, John Wenham, and Roger Nicole.

He thinks Lausanne might be more representative, but I don’t know why he says that. Here is Lausanne — inerrancy is right there:

We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. We also affirm the power of God’s word to accomplish his purpose of salvation. The message of the Bible is addressed to all men and women. For God’s revelation in Christ and in Scripture is unchangeable. Through it the Holy Spirit still speaks today. He illumines the minds of God’s people in every culture to perceive its truth freshly through their own eyes and thus discloses to the whole Church ever more of the many-colored wisdom of God.

He pushes against Greg Beale as an example of paternalism. Then he takes silly pot shots at gun control, environmental care and universal health care — and Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and the Left Behind series.

5. Theological deduction is at work from God (perfection) to Scripture (perfection) but the text must be considered first. CSBI is American — Yes, Mike Bird, it was and is. The issue, once again, is not if it is American but if it is biblical.

6. He pushes to Carl Henry and Millard Erickson on their more deductive approaches: God, inspiration, Scripture’s inerrancy. I agree: Henry’s inerrancy theory was very deductive.


Bird begins to open up his own windows: God’s Word is true in God’s intent for it (this is Vanhoozerian). And I agree: the Bible’s focus is truth, not the term “inerrancy.” Bird then says the Bible accommodates but “never a capitulation to error” (and now we have what he calls an American version of inerrancy).

But Bird backs off a bit to say that there are “bits of Scripture… that do not agree in their precise details” (160). Bird is right in saying that proving historicity is too big of a game to play and too many inerrantists have claimed that is part of the inerrancy game. He’s right. At this point I see Bird moving into a generous inerrancy but he prefers the term infallibility. In my years at TEDS I routinely heard critique of the rigid view of inerrancy and a plea for a more generous theory, though the option was not the term infallibility.

Bird helps by showing how major groups — Anglican 39 Articles, Presbyterians Westminster, et al — have used other terms, like infallibility and truth and authority. That he uses TEDS statement illustrates a penchant: in requiring the term inerrancy to be present he assumes its absence means something other than inerrancy. I can tell you as a former prof that TEDS understood its statement to be about inerrancy with its “complete truthfulness.” The term may be a latecomer but the idea is present in each of these statements. This is a bit like saying the NT doesn’t believe in the Trinity because the term is not present.

Bird prefers “infallible” because, he urges, it has more to do with intent than with proving historical reliability. (I think that is a fair summarizing statement.) This is where Bird’s infallibility is actually different than the rigid view of inerrancy: if one pushes for intent and purpose, which is actually CSBI’s Article 13, then the rigid view has to open up some. A purpose- and genre-driven inerrancy, what I have called here a generous inerrancy, is much on the order of Bird’s infallibility.

There is a near absence of an ecclesiology in this essay, as was the case also with Mohler and Enns. Bird puts the doctrine of Scripture between Spirit and church, but I don’t think that is possible: it was the Spirit-shaped community that wrote the Scripture while that same Scripture spoke over against the church (perhaps that is why he puts it between Spirit and church).

I like this word of Bird: “I trust God the Father, I trust his Son, the Spirit leads me to that truth, so I trust God’s Holy Book” (165). This is not unlike NT Wright’s understanding of the authority of Scripture as the authority of God first.


Now to the test cases:

1. Jericho. Dating problems, the conquest was smaller than is often thought … the “jury will always be out” (167). Again, Bird sounds like American inerrantists on this one. An infallibilist is concerned with divine intent more than historical reliability.

2. Acts 9:7 and 22:9: now he sounds like an infallibilist. It’s about the “gist of events” (168) and genre.

3. God of genocide and Jesus. He is in need of a solution to this one. He almost moves into Webb’s redemptive trend. Moses is an “interim legal code” (170). In this one he fits in the redemptive movement trend. So Jesus reveals the fuller shalom of God.

Bird’s “infallibilists” are America’s more generous, genre-sensitive “inerrantists.” Bird assumes inerrantists are the most conservative sort, like Al Mohler.

Scot McKnight's Review of "Five Views of Biblical Inerrancy," Part 2a - Peter Enns


Today continues another article by evangelics that have had a change in attitude towards the church's (creedal) confession to "biblical inerrancy." A construction created in the 1980 Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) that poorly describes how to properly read and study the bible. Why do I say this?

It is this writer's opinion that "not holding to inerrancy is to have a more profound Bible than if holding on to inerrancy's unnecessary language and resultant dogmas." Put another way, sometimes you can say more about a subject by saying less. By attempting to further circumscribe God and His Word by adding additional words and languages of the church's religious expectations is to approach the biblical text with more philosophic boundary layers that distance the reader from God and His Word.

In essence, inerrancy would create boundaries of discussions that lead to false inferences and suppositions about God and His Word. More pointedly, it betrays us as fallible readers by causing us to feel infallibly about subjects that need better questions, not less. It prevents valuable insights that can be too easily covered up by a more "layered" approach to biblical studies such as that presented to the theologian when approaching the Bible as "inerrant" rather than as "authoritative and infallible but not inerrant." Peter Enns is one such theologian who says the 1980 CSBI confession would be better off stricken from the evangelic records. With him I say, eh verily, Amen and Amen.

R.E. Slater
August 11, 2014

* * * * * * * * *

There is little doubt that the inerrancy of the Bible is a current and often contentious topic among evangelicals. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy represents a timely contribution by showcasing the spectrum of evangelical positions on inerrancy, facilitating understanding of these perspectives, particularly where and why they diverge.

Each essay in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy considers:

  • the present context and the viability and relevance for the contemporary evangelical Christian witness;
  • whether and to what extent Scripture teaches its own inerrancy;
  • the position’s assumed/implied understandings of the nature of Scripture, God, and truth; and
  • three difficult biblical texts, one that concerns intra-canonical contradictions, one that raises questions of theological plurality, and one that concerns historicity.

Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy serves not only as a single-volume resource for surveying the current debate, but also as a catalyst both for understanding and advancing the conversation further. Contributors include Al Mohler, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Bird, Peter Enns, and John Franke.

* * * * * * * * *

Scott McKnight begins a discussion of Inerrancy to which I will add

occasional emendation, notes, links, and resources. R.E. Slater, August 4, 2014

The Inadequacy of the Inerrancy Model (Pete Enns)

by Scot McKnight
Aug 6, 2014

I was at Tyndale House in the early 80s when a well-known evangelical theologian came by to speak about the importance of inerrancy. It was a good and encouraging address, but after the paper a veteran NT scholar leaned over to me and said something like this: “It is easy for systematicians to claim inerrancy because they don’t have to live with critical scholarship on the Bible.” The veteran scholar here was not an Old Testament scholar but a NT scholar, and he didn’t specialize in the Gospels either. I have since appreciated any view of Scripture that works from the ground of the texts up.

Peter Enns, in the volume Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, has a chapter with a descriptive title: “Inerrancy, however defined, does not describe what the Bible does” (I deleted the upper case letters for a chp title). And that is what the chapter is all about.

Enns’ essay is largely critical of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI), which he chooses as a paradigm of how inerrancy is understood and preached about, though the essay by Paul Feinberg on the “Meaning of Inerrancy” in N. Geisler (ed.), Inerrancy, would have been a better paradigm — even if one might say most haven’t read him and many do tend to parrot the rougher edges of the CSBI statement. I could have wished for a more positive constructive theory of Scripture. Further, he [Enns] seems intent on pressing "how inerrancy is used for ill" in interpretive moves rather than defining what inerrancy means and how his approach to the Bible frames a doctrine of Scripture and its authority in the church. I can’t see that the tradition of inerrancy requires how to interpret a text but only that, when interpreted aright, it is true.

Enns’ own model of Scripture is called the “incarnational” view, a view he articulated in a book called Inspiration and Incarnation, a book that more or less got him onto the hot seat at Westminster Theological Seminary and he was eventually pushed off the hotseat to find another job. (That’s another conversation.) Enns also has a book about to come out with the cheeky title The Bible Tells Me So . This essay reflects his continuing reaction to his WTS days. But, once again, he wants to press us all to let the Bible be what it is. I applaud any effort to do just that.

OK, now to his essay. Other than to say it is jarring to move from Mohler’s overly a priori approach to Enns’ overt reaction to inerrancy. In fact, it is indeed odd that Enns has a chapter here — he doesn’t embrace inerrancy — but he does keep the other essayists a bit more on their toes.

What is clear in Enns in comparison with Mohler is that focus Enns gives to the problem passages assigned. Enns, in fact, builds his view of Scripture on such passages.

CSBI is not the best example (I think Feinberg’s essay is, to repeat the point). A friend of mine, however, once told me you can drive the standard Errancy Mack Truck through Article XIII, which reads:

WE AFFIRM the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.

WE DENY that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

And notice this clarification by the CSBI members:

We affirm that canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant. However, in determining what the God-taught writer is asserting in each passage, we must pay the most careful attention to its claims and character as a human production. In inspiration, God utilized the culture and conventions of His penman’s milieu, a milieu that God controls in His sovereign providence; it is misinterpretation to imagine otherwise.

In other words, common accusations against inerrancy are bracketed as not constituting error. In particular, most issues can fit inside the “according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose” — and one would then have to bring in historical context. Which leads Enns precisely to the point Mohler doesn’t want: using ancient standards to assess “purpose” or “intent” in the text. Maybe I’m attributing to much to Enns, but that’s how I read this one. The text, they are claiming, is true when interpreted properly.

This post could get long easily and I’ll do my best to stay within normal boundaries for my posts. Enns thinks “inerrancy” has become rhetorical and political, a term used to assess others and to draw lines. He’s right in how many have used it. The term has value if one is doing some disinterested theology.

More important to Enns is this: the tensions over inerrancy are created by “the distance between a priori theological assertions about God and how his book should behave and the Bible we meet once we get down to the uncooperative details of the text itself” (84). In other words, “God” is understood to have composed the Bible in a way that conforms to how God is understood. God is perfect, therefore God’s Word is perfect. Simple a fortiori logic. The problem is that there is no reason to assume if God is perfect God had to have a perfect Bible. There are other views of inerrancy and many are not so deductive in logic. I suspect Bird and Vanhoozer will move in these categories.

Enns focuses on the CSBI and presses it hard for the image of the Bible it creates, though I’m not so sure Article 13 is as inflexible as Pete suggests. He wants more on “the manner in which God speaks truth, namely, through the idioms, attitudes, assumptions, and general worldviews of the ancient authors” (87). Again, maybe Article 13 does this? I have always read it that way.

Literalism is the default mode of interpretation; very true. Joshua 6 says the walls fell; therefore the walls fell. And he points to the common slippery slope logic often used in connection with inerrancy. He sees “emotional blackmail” (89). Inerrancy, he thinks cannot be nuanced to cover the problems.

His study on Joshua 6 places on the table the well-known conclusions: an early date for the exodus (15th Century BC) is not confirmed by the evidence of Jericho, and a later date (13th Century) is strained too much. So he suggest the moderate inerrantists say there is a historical core that may have been mythologized. At the time of the exodus Jericho was “at most a small settlement and without walls” (93). So he thinks the approach of folks like James Hoffmeier of mythological features in the exodus is used to give possible help to Joshua 6. If a core is history with some mythologization is within inerrancy’s boundaries, would he embrace the term?

In my judgment, the only way to counter this is for the inerrantists to prove that the historical and archaeological evidence supports that account as it is in Joshua 6. So folks like Richard Hess have proposed erosion, which is probably a step forward in that it affirms more the archaeological evidence.

Here is [Enn's] pungent conclusion: “A defense of inerrancy that rests on the impossibility of disproving the possibility of historicity, in my view, is entirely circular and therefore demonstrates the implausibility of the premise and is its own refutation” (95).

Another one: “For inerrantists [at least some], an ‘errant’ Bible is a greater theological threat than a God who orders the extermination of an entire people, since an entire theological system rests on the former” (105).

I will avoid fuller descriptions… read the essay yourself. But I have a methodological approach I’d like to toss out. We should be historically responsible in assessing the archaeology and go with the evidence; if it proves our interpretative history of Joshua 6 untenable, can we not at that point reconsider our interpretation? What’s wrong with that?

Sometimes those who defend inerrantist interpretations, however ironic, make the Bible flat-out wrong. In other words, a text that appears to be teaching one thing (a parrot bird) might actually be something else.

Enns says inerrancy can function as a good term if it is descriptive of what one might find in the Bible but not prescriptive of what must be there. Bird and Vanhoozer will probe this.

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change, Part 15 - Anonymous

“aha” moments: a pastor tells his story (15): anonymous

by Peter Enns
August 11, 2014

I have long thought that the #1 factor in bringing about theological change is that “life happens”–new experiences that cannot be held in old containers.

Many (but not all) of the “aha” moments posted thus far, including my own, have centered on some moments of intellectual clarity concerning Scripture that led to rethinking one’s view of the Bible, faith, and life.

For others, like today’s anonymous author, “aha” moments originate in painful personal experiences that drive one to go back and re-examine one’s theology.

I’m sure many readers will resonate with the author’s story–it is tragically common–and you will see the wisdom of his request to remain anonymous. I honor the author for wanting to tell his story and am privileged that he asked if he could post it as part of this series.


I am a pastor. I wish I had been a scholar and could have gotten my a-ha on with study and consideration. My a-ha, sadly, began with oh-no.

From the time I was a teenager I was taught that the Bible was “the Maker’s Manufacturer’s Instruction Manual.” I remember my parents having a sign that read: “God said it, I believe it, That settles it” in our car.

I was taught that the Bible “was” God’s Word and that was very different than the Bible “containing” God’s Word.

It was made obvious that everything in the Bible could be supported by everything else in the Bible without one single contradiction.

I was taught that everything needed a chapter and verse and then you were golden.

It was with the wooden-literalism of what is today being called Biblicism that I was taught to:

  • Follow exactly, the Matthew 18 model of confrontation — being sure to get the math exactly right (just two, take two, between two and three, etc.) “Have you Matthew 18’d them yet?”
  • Keep women out of the pastorate as they were to keep silent in church (because only the modern-day pastoral vocation was in mind in 1 Timothy 2:12) and we needed them in Sunday School, up through Junior High, anyway.
  • Always have all the children in all the worship services, per Matthew 19:14 “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.”
  • Stop and unleash all bad thoughts I’d had about a person to them and ask for forgiveness (Matthew 5:23 “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you…) I was also taught that only Catholics had altars and they weren’t Christians.
  • Demand head coverings for women (1 Corinthians 11:6, If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.) Okay, we did eventually find a workaround for that one.
  • Oh, and of course, to not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. (1 Timothy 5:19 says: Do not.)

I was taught not to be a liberal, to have a high view of Scripture, and to stay off of slopes that were slippery by sticking with those who were right and taking the Bible seriously because they were taking it literally.


In our church there was a lady who brought an accusation, of sorts, about an elder. She had an uneasy feeling about him that she couldn’t identify. I told her she should talk to him as they were family friends. We prayed. She did. We Matthew 18’d him.

She returned to me much later with the same feeling, indicating that it was a feeling she had about him with my young daughter. We prayed. I went to him.

No one else had said a word, so when the woman returned much later, and the two of us prayed, and then went to him, and then to he and his wife, I was staying well within 1 Timothy 5.

Then the two of us with another elder prayed, and went to him when she came to me the next time. She couldn’t identify the problem, and though some instances could be seen where there wasn’t always the greatest maturity being shown by this man, there was nothing suspect.

No one was bringing a specific accusation against this guy, and up until this time only one woman had a weird feeling. We kept 1 Timothy 5:19 in clear view.

Over time, as her feelings and paranoia increased (to the point that she came to believe she might even be dealing with mental illness), things began to change and the elder-in-question’s behavior became very strange and erratic. In a tumultuous series of events it came out that the man had been molesting my daughter for several years.

Oh-no. Actually, far, far worse than that.


In an instant, those (years now of the) woman’s suspicions came into complete clarity. In an instant, the Bible, and the God of the Bible, came crumbling down around me. 1 Timothy hadn’t righteously protected us; my literalizing of it had, instead, destroyed.

At first, the only thing that made any sense was working to protect my daughter, my family, and then the church. It was oh-no for years, and we all did the best we could. That was the only important thing to begin with and God’s graciousness, over time, did, and has done much healing and restoration.

But, though a lesser issue for me at the time however significant, I didn’t completely realize in those days that God had, in a sense, died to me.

Well, at least the God I thought I knew, and my understanding of the Bible He had given me had died.

The God I had known, and the Bible I had were somehow magical, and faithful adherence to them, alongside the certain and truly faithful, could never have brought about this result— even though I was told by several that this was God’s will for my daughter, and that she needed this for her discipleship. I think they needed to be certain about something.

Fortunately, when I came to the end of myself in all this, I somehow still knew one thing “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The oh-no was terrifying and tragic. But it was also watershed, and gave birth to a-ha.

Backtracking from 1 Timothy 5:19 — because of pastoral experience and not because of scholarly consideration — I began to divest myself of everything I thought I had known about the Bible. It was like a big reset button had been hit.

The underlying programming was there, Jesus and him crucified, but otherwise the hard drive had been wiped clean. It wasn’t easy as I remained a teaching pastor during the entire time.

Along the way I uncovered multiples of untruths purported as absolute truth, and in some cases flat out fabrications of facts by noted scholars, apologists and pastors, with the supposed intent of keeping me safe from the slippery slope of liberalism and disbelief.

When I ran into some of those that happened to bring my former university under fire, I returned to campus after many years to talk with a faculty member about his less-than-literal Genesis views. It was a warm day, during summer break, and this professor — whom I had never met before — spent more than five hours with me to talk me through what he really believed, what he contended the Scriptures are, and what the university held to.

I discovered there really were other honest ways to read the Bible. I walked away from that meeting knowing that one of the hell-bound liberal Bible scholars I had been warned about for years, was in every right and best way, my brother in Christ.

Oh-no, had progressed to a-ha, and finally, climatically became A-HA! I felt like the little Who named JoJo, in “Horton Hears a Who” who finally discovers he can YOPP!

In the face of great tragedy, I remain thankful for Paul’s example and that I too resolved to know nothing except a crucified Jesus. Those events are now many years in the past. My family and congregation continue to heal, and my daughter has married and even given me grandchildren.

And, I am thankful for the fruit of the trauma, even if I could never be thankful for the trauma itself. Which, yes, means I don’t think 1 Thessalonians 5:18 means what I was once taught it meant:

"18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God 

in Christ Jesus for you. (NRSV)"

* * * * * * * * * *

Index to Series -

Transparent Moments of Scholarship when a Theologian Must Either Stay or Change

Part 1 - Introduction

Part 2 - Peter Enns