New Series Responding to Pete Enns’ “aha” Moments (Skinner)

ahaFor the past several months Pete Enns has been hosting a series of posts on his blog entitled, “aha moments.” The series (to which I also contributed a post) consists of honest and (to my mind) compelling reflections from biblical scholars who have a credible connection to conservative evangelicalism and have moved to a more nuanced understanding of the Bible.

Michael Kruger, who is both a NT scholar and president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, has recently announced that he will be hosting a series of responses to the 16 or so posts that have already appeared on Enns’ blog. Among the potential contributors he mentions are Greg Beale, Darrell Bock, Craig Blomberg, Andreas Köstenberger, and D. A. Carson. I am interested to see the turns this discussion will take as it seems that Kruger has decided to turn to the “elder statesmen” of conservative evangelicalism to enter into this dialogue.

In the comments section of his initial post, I wrote to Dr. Kruger, expressing my hope that this would be an irenic and charitable series. To his credit, he responded that that was his hope as well. Disappointingly (from my perspective), the very first post in the series (written by Greg Beale of Westminster Theological Seminary, Enns’ former institution) seems to be a direct response to Enns more than a specific argument for a particular approach to interpreting the Bible. I wouldn’t quite call it “Enns-bashing” but the condescending and dismissive tone of the post is troubling enough. However, what is more troublesome from an academic perspective is that Beale’s response, while rigorous and rooted in a thorough understanding of textual criticism and other principles of modern biblical exegesis, completely ignores the issue of whether such a reading would have even been possible within the context of Paul’s Jewish thought world. Sure, we can force our square pegs into round holes, but wouldn’t it be preferable to find square holes?

While I hope for genuine dialogue between those on both sides, I’m not naive enough to think that this will actually happen. One can already perceive a deep sense of entrenchment from some of the comments on the first two posts. A persistent comment among some is particularly troubling to me. Those who are anxious to “defend” their understanding of the nature of scripture accuse Pete (and presumably others) of wanting to sidestep the truth of the Bible or, as one comment intones, “escape Biblical authority.” Do the motivations for these serious and sober discussions really need to be issues of personal unrighteousness among the dialogue partners? Other comments suggest how perspicuous Beale’s reading is vis-a-vis Enns’ flawed reading. The texts discussed in these first aha moments–and presumably in the response series–are a lot of things, but none of them are CLEAR. That’s why we continue to have the discussions.

I fear that, despite Michael Kruger’s best intentions, this series of responses will become an exercise in shouting past one another rather than entering into meaningful dialogue, though I hope to be proven wrong.

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10 thoughts on “New Series Responding to Pete Enns’ “aha” Moments (Skinner)

  1. Chris,
    Thanks for this post. I enjoyed the “aha” series of Enns and I also thought the post by Andrew Wilson (http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/aha-moments-theirs-and-mine) had a kind tone and was a helpful contribution to the conversation.

    I’m curious about your comment on Beale’s post:
    “However, what is more troublesome from an academic perspective is that Beale’s response, while rigorous and rooted in a thorough understanding of textual criticism and other principles of modern biblical exegesis, completely ignores the issue of whether such a reading would have even been possible within the context of Paul’s Jewish thought world. Sure, we can force our square pegs into round holes, but wouldn’t it be preferable to find square holes?”

    Isn’t Beale’s concern similar to yours when he points out that the moving well tradition is probably not a part of Paul’s interpretive matrix, given that it appears to be a later tradition?

    I sense you both are asking the same questions so what about his interpretation bothered you?

    Thanks! -John

    1. John,

      Thanks for taking the time to interact with the ideas here. First, I did see Andrew Wilson’s post and tweeted to him afterward (I think on Sunday?). I told him that I appreciated his irenic tone. He tweeted his thanks back to me. Second, in my estimation, a big problem for Beale’s argument is that he deals at length with the TEXT but not with the traditions behind it. As scholars of early Judaism know, the presence of a text is not the same thing as the presence of a tradition, and an earliest known text is not to be understood as the point of origin of the tradition. Beale’s text-critical argument for how we can’t really know that Paul knew of this tradition is a methodological error. Paul’s casual reference to a “following” rock is already a clue to the antiquity of the tradition. Second, (and this is noted in a few of the comments), Beale wants to distance himself from the idea that Paul is referring to a midrashic interpretation in the NT, though it seems like he is guilty of his own midrashic turn in this piece.

      Hope that helps.

      Warmest regards,

      Chris

  2. Thanks for this post, Chris. I appreciate your willingness to continue to interact over these issues. Sorry to hear you were disappointed with Greg’s initial post. A few clarifications from my end might prove useful:
    (1) The series on my website never intended to offer what you called “a specific argument for a particular approach to interpreting the Bible.” It was always intended to be just a response to the narrow historical issue raised by any given post in Pete’s series. Sorry if there was lack of clarity in that regard, but my introductory post about the series tried to make that clear. I agree that a series about our overall approach to the Bible would also be useful, but that was not the intent of this particular series.
    (2) I honestly don’t pick up on the “condescending and dismissive tone” of Greg’s post. It’s quite technical, focused on the issues, and entirely avoids any personal attacks. Sure, there is significant disagreement, but that would be expected. Also, to be fair, there is sometimes an aggressive tone coming from some of Pete’s posts (and some of those in the “aha” series). I hope the same level of scrutiny (regarding tone) is being given to those posts.
    (3) I hope you won’t assess this blog series based on the comments. As you know, the comments section on any site is quite a wild affair, and are not necessarily endorsed by me, nor representative of the series itself. Again, if we looked at the comments section over at Pete’s site (and I have), you would also find examples of disrespectful behavior.

    Hope those clarifications are helpful.

    Best wishes,
    Mike Kruger

    1. Mike,

      Thanks for taking the time to weigh in. Let me briefly respond. On your first point, perhaps I did misunderstand the focus of your series, but maybe that’s because I was expecting something different than the standard fare. As someone raised (and educated) in evangelical circles, one of my biggest beefs has always been that so much of what passes for evangelical scholarship is either (1) a defense of a given position; (2) a response or reaction to a given assertion/position; or (3) both. I guess I was hoping against hope that your series might offer a new way forward; I didn’t see that in this inaugural post. If you read the comments on Beale’s post, you will see that I’m not the only one who feels this way. But, I really am giving you the benefit of the doubt here. Second, I guess condescension is in the eye of the beholder, but again, read the comments on Beale’s post and you will see that I’m not the only one who read the post in this way. Finally, your point about commenting on a given post is fair enough. For the record, I’m not judging the quality and/or substance of the post by the comments that follow it. Rather, I’m saying that the whirlwind of conversation that will take place will likely generate more heat than light and serve to show the deep entrenchment of those on both sides who are unwilling to dialogue. I think we both know that what the teachers (or, in this case, posters) do in moderation, the students (viz., comment makers) do to excess. Still, I will be reading with the hopes that something positive and substantive can come out of this dialogue.

      Regards,

      Chris

  3. I didn’t find the tone of Beale’s post to be condescending or dismissive. What was it that stood out to you?

  4. I read through Beale’s post and didn’t seem to find much condescension. Perhaps his statement in the second last paragraph might qualify: “… it does not take much ingenuity to see how Paul …”. For me, though, overall it’s pretty mild. I’m pretty used seeing far, far harsher stuff elsewhere on-line.

    Is it true there’s ‘some of the same’ going on in the ‘aha’ posts as well? If so, then perhaps an early warning to both sides is in order. … A little warning never hurt anyone.

    I think I’m going to enjoy this dialogue. Even though I currently side more with Enns regarding the nature of the Bible, I remember thinking to myself when reading some of the aha moments, “Really? That’s what did it for you?” Of course, the aha moment is just a starting point, and in the end, the starting point doesn’t have to ‘right’.

    Personally, I find Beale’s answer intriguing. It will be interesting to see a bit of an in-depth response.

    1. ljhooge, thanks for the insights. First, I’m with you. Before people start pitching inside then retaliating, let’s have the homeplate umpire issue a directive to both sides! I think the condescension I hear is more subtle and rooted in the sort of passive-aggressive behavior that can often be displayed in these sorts of dialogues. Maybe I’m hearing something that’s not there. It could be the case that I’m tainted by my years of being involved in such debates, where petty behavior can rule the day. I agree that this *can* be a helpful dialogue.

  5. Chris,

    I’ve kept an eye on Enns’s series; though, I will admit, I have not taken the time to read each and every one. It is not surprising at all that there is a conservative response series now in the works. I, like you, grew up in and was educated in the evangelical universe. I’ve seen more than my fair share of reactionary responses. Heck, I grew up a Southern Baptist. Call and response was not just a way to sing hymns, it was a way of fighting! I will admit (yet again!) that I rarely visit that universe any more. I also no longer plunge the depths of NT studies, so I may miss some of the nuances in this discussion, but as to Beale’s post, I didn’t see too much that I would describe as condescending. Although, there is always a certain amount of condescension any time someone tries to dismantle another’s argument. Saying you are wrong and I am right requires it.

    My real problem with the reaction series is more philosophical/hermeneutical/theoretical/pick-an-ical. It assumes, to me at least, that if one can only show how the biblical scholars’ reading of a particular text is wrong, then their whole move away from inerrantists reading of Scripture is unfounded. Beale makes a compelling case that Enns’s reading of 1 Cor 10:4 is off. So what? As a response that is little more than of interest to those in the guild, it is fine and good. As a take down of a non-inerrantist view of Scripture? Bleh. These are really two different conversations. The series of responses stands a chance of avoiding mudslinging if it sticks to the nuances of the the text and details that interest those in the guild. But, let’s be honest, this conversation is the least interesting to most people. If it becomes a you-are-a-heretic-for-reading-the-Bible-that-way kind of conversation, all hope is lost, but I bet it will attract more clicks.

  6. I don’t get it. Although I would probably agree with Enns on more things than I would agree with Beale, the specific statement of Enns that “no rock moved in the Old Testament, but Paul said one did,” has to be regarded, I think, as patently false. I assume that what Enns meant was that no literal physical rock moved (by itself), but that isn’t what Paul SAID. Paul was talking about what he called a “spiritual rock.” Did Enns mean, then, that what he attributes to Paul was “implied” rather than “said”? In other words, did Paul IMPLY that he believed that a story about a self-traveling rock was true? Maybe, maybe not. He might just as easily have been implying that the story about a literal rock wasn’t true, but that it was a literalization of the actual reality of a traveling spiritual rock.

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