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Thursday, March 13, 2008

An Update on the Situation at WTS

Update, March 13th, 2008

I know that some of my readers have felt that saveourseminary.com was based on rumors or exaggerated fears. Well, it turns out that my fears were actually UNDERestimating the urgency of the situation at WTS. Some new developments have now been made public (these can be confirmed by inquiring with the faculty, who are now at liberty to speak to inquiring parties about this particular event/issue). Read on, for all the depressing details:

This past weekend, President Lillback of Westminster Theological Seminary sent a 200-page message to faculty at WTS. This is coming just before a board meeting in which Lillback will attempt to persuade the board to ignore what the faculty have already voted on (read on for more information on that) and to fire Pete Enns. This document includes only negative reviews of Enns’ book (positive reviews from respected scholars such as Tremper Longman III, M. Daniel Carroll Rodas, Joel Garver, Christopher Heard and John Armstrong [the list goes on] were noticeably absent), as well as a journal article by Lillback himself in which he attempts to prove that Enns’ book is outside of the bounds of the Westminster Confession of Faith and that Enns is the source of disunity at WTS. President Lillback presented this motion after the faculty voted last year 12-8 that Pete’s book was inside his confessional vows. (One faculty member abstained from voting, because he was the faculty moderator.)

In other words, this disagreement had already been settled in faculty votes, with the majority of faculty concluding that Pete is orthodox and his book is not outside the bounds of WCF. But Dr. Lillback is continuing to pursue this issue and attempting to push Pete Enns out.

Please consider signing the petition or writing the board to express your concern at these events. the petition will be mailed to the board before the Mar 26th board meeting. Please forward this to anyone you know who would not like to see Pete Enns kicked out of WTS, or who doesn’t want WTS to lose its long-held status as a faculty-led seminary by bowing to the pressure of one man (or at best a small minority).

38 Comments:

said...

This situation is absolutely ridiculous.

I'm transferring to Princeton.

4:10 PM  
said...

Just two days ago Dr. Lillback sent every WTS student a letter which seemed to imply that he was under the stress of the grave task of coming up with a proposal for the board. This seems problematic. In the letter he says that he is "preparing it now." He also asks the students to pray for wisdom. But my question is "How can he ask us to pray for wisdom for a 200 page decision that he has already made?" Furthermore, the student body has, until now, only heard that there are faculty disputes. No one ever mentioned Enns' job was on the line! If this is all true, it seems to suggest that Lillback has misrepresented the issue to the student body. Could this really be happening? happening?

8:48 PM  
said...

Perhaps Justin could tell us,

Is the dismissal of Dr. Enns explicitly recommended in these materials

Also, how did you get hold of confidential documents from the Seminary?

11:41 PM  
said...

In answer to the questions in comment #3 (Anonymous):
1. the document that I requested and received was not Dr. Lillback's message, but rather a faculty motion, which explicitly included a proviso that interested parties could see it, upon request. Since I've been following the situation at WTS with concern for some time, I emailed folks at the seminary to find out if any of the faculty's recent deliberations were available to the public, and was provided with this.
The faculty motion includes references to an earlier motion, from December, in which Dr. Enns's book was found by a majority of the faculty to be "within the bounds."
2. If you'd like a copy of that motion, please request one from the seminary (perhaps from Dr. Lillback's office, or from a member of the voting faculty)
3. the document I requested was a faculty motion responding to Lillback's request, and it is obvious from its tone that Lillback is trying to override the wishes of the faculty majority, and to get Enns fired. Again, I haven't seen or read Dr. Lillback's report, but I have been told the gist of its contents. I don't know if that report is confidential. I just realized that! I never even thought to ask...so you've given me the inspiration to request a copy of that from the seminary, too. I encourage my readers to do the same.
Thanks for the clarifying question. I probably should have included these details in my original post.

7:52 AM  
said...

Why is the board meeting in March?

2:44 PM  
said...

Good question. The board doesn't normally meet in March, but as I understand it, this is a special meeting mostly devoted to the whole Lillback/Enns/etc situation. Lillback is expected to propose to the board that Enns should leave.

5:32 PM  
said...

When would enns be leaving? Right after the vote, or after the semester?

6:24 PM  
said...

Some days I miss seminary... days like this i'm glad not to be around. this really stinks.

12:17 PM  
said...

Justin, I wonder if you can distinguish different standards for evaluating Pete Enns. It's clearly possible that his views could be within the bounds of the evangelical world of biblical theological scholarship. But do you think that his book squares with the Reformed confessions on Scripture and the relation between the human and the divine? If not, wouldn't it be fair for an institution that upholds Reformed confessional standards to rule that his book crossed a line?

Darryl Hart

3:01 PM  
said...

If you count things up, it's not really a "small minority." One of the 12, I assume, was Taylor. He's no longer at the school. That's then an 11-8 vote. Then consider that some of those 12 (now 11) are at Dallas. I assume that at least 7 of the 8 nay votes are in PA. If we assume that 2 yea votes came from Dallas (I don't know, I'm just trying to guess based on the pictures on the faculty page), we're talking maybe a 9-7 vote in PA. Consider that one of those 9 is probably Enns, since I'm assuming he voted that his book is orthodox. So we're looking at maybe 8-7 in PA when you leave out Enns and Taylor. This is hardly a "small minority." Or, leave in Dallas and only discount Taylor and Enns. We're talking about a 10-8 vote. I don't think 44% of a faculty is a small minority. Or leave Taylor and Enns in. I don't think 40% of a faculty is a small minority.

Whatever we say about the propriety of Lillback's proposal when compared to the faculty's will, it seems unwise to discount 40% of a faculty on something as central to a Protestant seminary as the doctrine of Scripture,especially given the fact that the doctrinalists and historians, I assume, all voted nay. The battle cry of most of the storm surrounding the Enns book has been, hasn't it, to let the specialists have their say? Enns supporters have dismissed out of hand the negative reviews of NT scholars. So when a faculty votes on the issue of the doctrine of Scripture, well, you see my point.

7:39 PM  
said...

In answer to anon above... All the negative votes have been in Philadelphia. Also the last vote taken resulted in a 12-9 vote...

Make of that what you will...

10:28 PM  
said...

Anon 6, how is it relevant that some of the votes in favor of Enns' orthodoxy came from Texas? Are the scholars on the Texas campus somehow less qualified to evaluate Enns' book on your view? Or is it that they don't have to deal with Enns on a day to day basis?
Anywho, whether the minority is small or not, the fact remains that Lillback is trying to override the will of the majority. If you can't win by the rules, just change the rules.
Dr. Hart, where, specifically, do you see Enns in conflict with chapter 1 of the WCF? I fail to see any clear example of Enns' discord with WCF ch. 1.

1:18 AM  
said...

Anon whoever (can't anyone attach at least a pseudonym to their post?): the problem is not just the doctrine of Scripture in Enns book, it's the very notion of theology. I don't see Pete affirming the theological enterprise in any way that defends the Reformed tradition. Here is an excerpt from a review in the Nicotine Theological Journal:

The point of the book has much less to do with the doctrine of Scripture but whether the Bible actually teaches doctrines. At one point Enns explains that his book is not about giving “final” answers to the questions he raises, as if an incarnational approach to the Bible provides “a magic key . . . to wipe away troubles quickly and easily.” Instead, this method “can foster a better theological environment for handling diversity.” Later he explains that biblical interpretation is as much an art as a science. In fact, because Scripture is the word of God it will necessarily contain “multiple layers of meaning insofar as no one person, school, or tradition can exhaust the depth of God’s word.” Beware you Reformed, Lutheran or Roman Catholic interpreters of the Bible. If you hold too tenaciously to the truth of your system of doctrine you will likely be guilty of thinking you have unearthed the code that solves the Bible’s riddles. Enns makes this warning explicit when he writes that our “theologies are necessarily limited and provisional.” This means that the church must “be open to listening to how other Christians from other cultures read Scripture and live it out in their daily lives.” In fact, with surprising certainty for a man bound by cultural blinders Enns concludes that “there is no absolute point of reference to which we have access that will allow us to interpret the Bible stripped of our own cultural context.”
Just as surprising is this book’s resort to systematic theology to justify the kind of deliberative process that Enns wants for biblical and theological scholarship. After all, the incarnation’s lessons about the humanity and divinity of Christ are the result of theological discussion and exploration that were not open-ended but decisive in rendering an orthodox understanding of the God-man. Indeed, the process that led to Nicea and Chalcedon was intended and did exclude from the church those who failed to do justice to both Christ’s deity and humanity. By appealing to the doctrine of the incarnation Enns gets far more than for that which he bargained. This doctrine vindicates the importance of systematic theology and the need to see doctrinal development as much more definite and final than the provisional process for which Enns calls. The incarnation is also one of the most difficult of doctrines to grasp intellectually, arguably even harder than the difficulties that Enns detects in the Old and New Testaments. And yet the paradox of incarnation has not functioned in the church as the reason for flexibility and openness in theological scholarship. Instead, it has provided a fixed point of orthodoxy.

None of this means that Pete is a bad guy. It simply raises the question of how Reformed he is. And if that question seems impertinent, is it any more impertinent than asking how final the Bible's answers are?

Darryl Hart

7:43 AM  
said...

Dr. Hart,
Frankly, I think I see the Reformed tradition (at least the confession and the work of Calvin) as affirming what the Nicotine Theological Journal quotes (and criticizes) Enns as saying.

(quotes from your quote)
“theologies are necessarily limited and provisional.” (Esp Inst. Book 1)

“no one person, school, or tradition can exhaust the depth of God’s word.”

My history is a bit fuzzy at points, but I don't really see the Westminster Divines arguing much for the shallowness of the Bible, or that they are the final word on Scripture... actually I see the Reformed Tradition saying quite the opposite... that Scripture is deep, and that tradition - either because of their limitations, or provisionally - should be reformed and reforming... which sounds a whole lot like Enns.

3:32 PM  
said...

- as a follow up - I would suggest that challenging the Reformed Tradition by the Bible is far more Reformed than simply holding to unquestioned dogma. I would suggest that those who are afraid of challenges brought up by the Bible to tradition are on the wrong side of the Reformation.

3:39 PM  
said...

Darryl et al,
Pardon the strong language about to follow. I honestly think "defending the reformed tradition" is an horribly un-reformed criterion for being reformed. It ranks right up there with Scott Oliphint’s statement, “I don’t care whether NT Wright is right or wrong; I only care whether he’s orthodox.” Talk about driving the horse with the cart. If anything, the reformed tradition means trying to deal with and/or correct the past where it's erroneous. Ingrained in the very idea of being "reformed" is the idea that "wrong," "change," and "dialog" are not only possible, but to be encouraged. At any point in our tradition where we cease being willing to listen, we should be worried. And if Pete is really onto something, then it's those who are "defending" the tradition or a document against him who are profoundly un-reformed (i.e. he’s, ironically, the tradition defender). Otherwise, at very least there's no point at all in having Bible scholars around because we're fundamentally only interested in propagating what we've already decided; at most we’ve lost the historical reason we’re “reformed” to begin with.

Second, I honestly don't see that criticism from the NTJ as touching on how "reformed" Pete is, and if it does I would love a more explicit explanation; similarly I don’t see what about the way Pete theologizes isn’t keeping with the reformed tradition and would like to see a good argument. And if we can agree that the reformed tradition is something that should incorporate change, then I would like someone to give a definition or criteria of such a tradition in such a way that one can decide when some change is acceptable or not (nb: WCF subscription is off limits if we accept it’s a fallible document). When I hear someone say that Enns isn’t approaching the issues in a “reformed” way, I feel that’s incredibly tenuous language and criteria. It’s obvious to me that change in our denominations does occur, but it doesn’t seem like it’s for any controllable reason: e.g. the softening on certain denominations toward the WCF’s statements about the Pope, Sabbath, and Creation are all either cultural/sociological, or ways of fudging the WCF.

Third, when Pete was saying theologizing is always provisional, he didn't mean that we can't be dogmatic about a theology--e.g. God is trinitarian, Jesus is divine and human, the Spirit indwells believers--but that since the Bible is of divine origin, polyvalent, deep, etc., there is a sense that all of our statements necessarily have to be provisional and incomplete no matter how true they are. There's nothing unreformed about that, there's nothing unconfessional about that, there's nothing wrong with that. And in his case, you can say “the Bible is inspired,” but fill “inspired” in different ways depending on how you think the Bible works. That doesn’t mean you’re shirking the Bible’s authority; it means you’re trying to explain what you mean by that dogma. It's why, after all, we consider developments on the trinity by Van Til, Frame, and even TF Torrence acceptably “reformed” at Westminster and other “reformed” institutions. I don’t see how this is very different from Calvin’s claim that maybe only 70% of his theology was correct, particularly given how frequently he edited his Institutes.

Fourth, I'm frankly tired of folks bringing up Chalcedon on this issue. The incarnational analogy is of course an analogy: therefore by definition it will break down at points. That's what analogies do—they’re didactic tools. They help explain in some ways and don't in others. In Pete's case, it helps in that it gives Christians a posture from which to see some difficult issues that are really there. But that’s it. It doesn’t actually answer why God did it that way, it doesn’t answer how the Bible should therefore be interpreted, and it doesn’t answer how we should apply it. It can’t because that’s not what the analogy does, that’s not how it works. But of course by comparison with Chalcedon it breaks down: the Bible isn't part of the godhead, isn't the 2nd person of the trinity, isn't indwelt by the spirit, isn't human, wasn't born, didn't die, wasn't raised, is inanimate, etc. etc. etc. As such, it's ridiculous to fault Enns on this point: he didn't even think to address this topic in his book because for him was such a non sequitur. And again, it’s just an analogy: all this point demonstrates is the relatively obvious: where it breaks down since the Bible isn’t Jesus. Moreover, the reviewer in the NTJ has an awfully rosy picture on the declarations of the Chalcedonian Council: let's not forget how long it took to get to this formulation on the trinity, what kinds of divisions in the Roman Empire preceded and followed it (and I don’t just mean ecclesiastical divisions), and how divided the church actually was over the issue (amongst others). In other words, it wasn't very "final"--it only worked out that way in hind sight.

Fifth, I don’t sense that what people are really upset about is that Pete uses the incarnational analogy itself. I think that’s a foil for a different concern: Pete openly admits the “challenges” are real, and therefore both devalues the Bible uniqueness and (consequently) divinity, and he gives grounds to the “liberals.” In the late 90’s this is what folks didn’t like about Pete: they didn’t like that he used Gilgamesh, Egyptian history, ANE law codes and parallels, and 2nd Temple literature to read the Bible. If he used data for merely “historical” context, that would be one thing—that (at least) seems far enough removed from the text itself and doesn’t damage the way we conceive the Bible’s divinity (though I would argue not). The problem with Pete, however, is that his material provides a context that simultaneously challenges those conceptions (or rather, appears to): for instance, it explains certain peculiarities in terms of similar phenomena in other ancient literature—peculiarities we used to explain by appeal to the Bible’s divine incomprehensibility—and therefore “robs” the Bible of it’s divinity. This is the kind of problem folks have with Pete, and it’s a bad reason. Though of course, what undergirds Pete’s whole enterprise are two basic reformed convictions: that all truth is God’s truth and that the Bible’s humanity and divinity are inextricably bound. That means (a) we shouldn’t be afraid of using such data if it belongs to God: it all contributes to how we should understand the book he inspired and how he intends us to use it. But also, (b) if the Bible’s humanity is an aspect of its divinity, then its incorrect to think by emphasizing the former that the latter is at stake. The latter point in particular I feel is often forgotten. That said, given that his views are in large measure the product of reformed convictions, it’s hard for me to see how one can so easily assert that he’s not reformed.

On a personal note: If you ask my opinion, I don’t think there’s much to be gained from the incarnational analogy. It can give a posture, which can be helpful for a time, but it doesn’t take too long before you realize you’re still left with the same problems: e.g. why did God use the Sargon story as a pattern for Moses’ birth in Exodus? But this only means that one way or the other, we’re still left with problems to solve, and the criticisms of Carson, Beale, and others have still left us empty handed. And until we can come up with a credible explanation for why they believe in spite of that data, we’re losing folks left and right. The skepticism is justifiable and the uniqueness/infallibility/inspiration/inerrancy of the Bible qua divine text is no longer readily apparent or an argument, and the explanations we give sound more and more like those of Mormons and Muslims. At that point, anybody can legitimately question whether we’re any different, and if not, whether we are victim of Dawkins’ God Delusion. We need to move forward.

7:25 PM  
said...

Mr. Sutter, I think your history is indeed a bit fuzzy if you think that Pete Enns is involved in the same project at J. Gresham Machen. You may be right to think that Enns stands more in the tradition of the Westminster Assembly than Machen does. But I'm fairly confident that Enns would not name his own educational institution after the Westminster Confession.
DGH

7:32 PM  
said...

Dr. Hart...
I think your question was to how Reformed was he. Actually... I'm intrigued by your statement..

“You may be right to think that Enns stands more in the tradition of the Westminster Assembly than Machen does.”

Are you suggesting that Enns is more reformed than Machen was? Am I misreading that?

10:53 PM  
said...

JD when you state that Pete Enns believes that

"theologizing is always provisional, he didn't mean that we can't be dogmatic about a theology--e.g. God is Trinitarian, Jesus is divine and human, the Spirit indwells believers--but that since the Bible is of divine origin, polyvalent, deep, etc., there is a sense that all of our statements necessarily have to be provisional and incomplete no matter how true they are."

If this is true, then how can we say with any certainty that Jesus is God and that he died for the sins of his people? If Enns is correct how do you KNOW that this is true.

To put the question historically, if Enns is right, how can we say any of the creeds of the church with any certainty?


In my view this is where Enns is at his most dangerous... I dare say he means well but it is dangerous.

11:35 AM  
said...

That line of questioning applies to any and every epistemic situation: how can you know anything for sure? The answer in all cases is that at some basic level that you can't. But what does it mean to know? When we say "I know," we mean we have gather up enough data to make a judgment and hold to it until we have a reason otherwise. Having become convinced is what we mean by "I know X." It's not something absolute.

This same enterprise goes for theologizing, and the very foundations of reformed theology deeply recognize this. We have convictions based on arguments from scripture, history hermeneutical method, etc. The arguments are not infallible, but they represent our best efforts, spirit-led God willing. But in knowing this, as well as the history of how difficult it was for the Church to form doctrine, we always admit we could be wrong about some things, and therefore remain open to re-considering, criticizing, expanding, and changing when the case arises.

For the reformers, that theology was necessarily provisional was an obvious fact. The reason why they held onto the Trinity qua Chalcedon was that the arguments amassed over the centuries, in spite of some of the difficulties, were ultimately convincing to them and they didn't see fit to question them. In other words, they didn't "know" in an absolute or objective sense; they "knew" because they were convinced by the data and made a decision. And yet, though all protestant theologians since would agree, many have seen fit to further explicate the nature of the Trinity, and at various points credibly disagreed with Athanasius, Augustine, or whoever, and moved the ball forward.

On this point Pete isn't remotely revolutionary, but is very traditional. He's stating the obvious. He's stating something that everyone has at least tacitly agreed upon for centuries. The problem is that many of us have forgotten it. The only sense in which I might agree that the provisionality of theology is dangerous is that some could take it to mean that we don't know anything and therefore that anything goes. However, that's such a pessimistic abuse of this notion that it can't be justified as a criticism. If that were true, then there is no reformed tradition (for the same applies there).

Again, that the process of theology is provisional is simply a fact--the challenge is how do we deal with it to arrive at credible convictions. It's the reformed tradition's answer to this "how" that makes it what it is, and what makes Pete securely connected to it.

2:02 PM  
said...

JD: I will be interested to see how your ordination exams go when you tell your presbytery that all theological claims are provisional. For you that truth may seem elementary, but it's one that the church has hardly had time to embrace, unless of course you're in a liberal Protestant denomination. Mind you, I don't throw around the word "liberal" as a scare word. I simply raise it to indicate how far you have come from even the working categories that religious historians (both believing and unbelieving) have used for well over 50 years to descirbe the differences between conservative and liberal theologians. Conservative theologians do not say theological truth is provisional. Yes, they may qualify the permanency of theological truth in certain ways. But the kind of provisionality you embrace is precisely the argument that the Harry Emerson Fosdick's of the world made against folks like J. Gresham Machen.

Mr. Sutter, if being Reformed is no more than using the Bible to question tradition, then that would make everyone from Charles Finney to Brian McLaren Reformed. Surely you want to give me more than that, that there are some essential affirmations that comprise the theological tradition known as Reformed.

My point about saying Pete may share more in common with the Westminster Divines than with Machen is to try to get the folks who defend Enns to make some kind of distinctions between certain theologians and biblical scholars -- to say that real differences of importance exist. Over at the website that kicked this off, saveourseminary.com, the initial statement affirms that WTS combines cutting edge scholarship with commitment to "historic traditions" (whatever that is). If the folks who admire Pete are jazzed about cutting-edge scholarship, then maybe they'd want to think some hard critical thoughts about the differences between Enns and Machen (for starters). If you can do good scholarship, it is possible to say that certain theological figures do not agree and that their differences are of major significance. It is a mark of intellectual laziness to say with Rodney King "we all get along" and there are no differences, we are all Reformed. Cutting edge scholarship may involve the admission that someone isn't Reformed.

Mind you, I do not minimize the personal difficulty that may come with such a hard thought. I like Pete and always have for as long as I've known him. I do not take lightly either the threat of anyone losing a job. This is indeed serious business. But intellectual and theological integrity is also serious. And if folks are going to trumpet how cutting edge certain scholarship is, I'd like to see with it the ability to distinguish among various biblical and theological scholars.

Darryl Hart

2:52 PM  
said...

Darryl, JD, Sam and others: thanks for this discussion!
Darryl: you say that the "provisionality" of theology puts Enns and JD more in the "liberal" camp than the WTS/conservative one. But the definition of provisionality which JD has been giving in his multiple comments is pretty much the one that Dr. Gaffin stressed in Intro to Systematic Theology. It's the same one that Dr. Oliphint stressed in the whole first section of Doctrine of God. It's the same one that undergirds Bavinck's writing on God, which is highly praised by conservative profs at WTS.

3:13 PM  
said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:59 PM  
said...

Justin: why respond to only part of what I wrote? You think that Oliphint and Enns are saying the same thing about provisionality of doctrine? Then I fail to see how you are engaging in cutting-edge scholarship. It really would be helpful if you could try to distinguish between your admirable loyalty and care for Pete and real arguments that make sense. Because if Oliphint and Pete are saying the same thing (and Gaffin and Trueman and Taylor and Lillback) then the only problem at WTS is meanness. Someone or one party is being mean because everyone basically agrees. That was the line used on Machen for a long time. But anyone with half a brain tied behind their back knew that the Reformed Machen was saying something different from the evangelical Erdman during the contests that split Princeton in the 1920s.

And for what it's worth, where is the affirmation of provisionality affirmed in any creedal statement the church has ever professed? Would such an affirmation actually be provisional?

Darryl Hart

5:02 PM  
said...

Darryl,
You'll want to go back and read what I wrote. I never said Enns and Oliphint are "saying the same thing," but I said that the remarks JD had posted in his comments were very very similar to what we'd gotten at WTS from Gaffin, Oliphint, the Bavinck reading, etc.
Yes, I do think there is a lot of meanness going on at WTS these days. And of course no one involved, including myself and other "observers," is innocent of stupidity or of unloving words/thoughts. But of course quite apart from the meanness there are different conclusions being reached by different people, sure. Of course there are differences between profs. But how are these differences handled? What should be said (in class and in public forums) about fellow-faculty members with whom one disagrees? And if one "side" doesn't like the way that things turn out, and tries a re-vote, what's that all about?
As to the provisionality question, I'm not sure if it's ever been in a creed. (but that's only a provisional answer....sorry, attempting to inject humor). But if your implication is that it is therefore unorthodox, I'd have to again refer you to Bavinck's extensive treatment of it in his "Doctrine of God." He really, really seems to hold that it is orthodox, and he sure does seem to have a lot of the reformers on his side. If he's unorthodox, well, then Enns shouldn't be the one in trouble. About half of the WTS faculty, including all the ST guys, assign Bavinck approvingly. So I'm just going on what I got from them.

5:33 PM  
said...

One addition to what i said about faculty disagreement. I'm going to quote here from philosophy prof, PCA elder, and friend of WTS Joel Garver. This is an excerpt from his well-worded signature/comment on SoS.com. It's worth quoting at length, as it captures what i'm trying to say about disagreement versus bickering. After i post this excerpt I'm leaving for a date with my wife, which takes priority over this discussion, so if you comment this evening, don't expect it to be moderated immediately.
Now to what Garver said:
Over recent years I have noted a growing concern among many of these students regarding their sense of the internal culture and climate of the Seminary. While their professors have been circumspect, it is clear to many that something is deeply wrong among their faculty.

There will, of course, always be differences in viewpoint and perspective – and in an environment of openness that can be a source of healthy wrestling with issues of the faith.

But the past several years have revealed something much less healthy and far more detrimental – an environment that at least several have described as “toxic” to their spirituality and growth in Christ, despite a growing appreciation of the riches of biblical revelation. Such issues have, to my own deep regret, made it impossible for me to commend Westminster to prospective students as I once had.

Time and again students have expressed to me dismay and discouragement at what they perceive in the classroom and behind the scenes as unresolved tensions, interpersonal hurts and animosities, and sometimes careless jibes, intellectual close-mindedness, and ungodly maneuvering for advantage. And many have the sense – warranted or not – that there is little interest in resolving these matters, even among those on the scene into whose hands the well-being of the Seminary community is entrusted.

I’m in no position to judge fully the accuracy of these perceptions, though the evidence for their truth has only grown. But something is certainly amiss and has been for a while. Many discern this, even well outside the Seminary itself (as many of the comments above show)...

6:20 PM  
said...

Justin: if Enns and Oliphint are not saying the same thing about provisionality, why did you bring up the similarity? This seems like an evasion.

For the record, a majority of the faculty of Princeton decided not to follow Machen to WTS. A majority of the board in 1935 decided to resign because of internal differences with Machen over the Independent Board for Foreign Missions. If anything, the tradition at WTS is with the minority. (The one exception is the Shepherd controversy, which is likely what accounts for many of the strange dynamics surrounding Pete Enns.)

Joel Garver's comments are poignant. But a live and let live policy (or as he tried to achieve, a Presbyterians and Presbyterians Together policy) will not solve the serious differences that exist at WTS. Perhaps the difficulties there are as difficult as they are because someone let too many provisionalities co-exist. The history of WTS, including the Christian church, suggests that these diversities won't go silently into the good night. It would be good for those who rock the boat (or for those cheering the rockers) to recognize the consequences that attend such diversity. (That's just one reason why the study of church history might help. But you'd think the study redemptive history would teach a similar lesson.)

Darryl Hart

9:17 PM  
said...

Darryl,
FYI, but I feel that you've evaded my points as well and only responded to a small part of what I wrote.

You said: "Conservative theologian do not say *truth* is provisional."

That's fine, but note that's not what I said, nor is it what Pete is saying. I'm saying--and I think he as well--that our interpretations of the Bible (and therefore theologizing) are provisional. Big difference. Protestant theologians might qualify that by saying, "Yes, but we're convinced by the evidence that this is the right way to read this passage, and that's why we have this doctrine," but that there's something more to say, or even different to say, is always a distinct possibility. Such things may not significantly impact doctrine. Sometimes, hypothetically, they may. This is not a negotiable point. If the language of provisionality is the real problem (I didn't pick it), I'm happy to consider alternatives.

Second, I have yet to see where anybody is making a direct parallel between Enns and Machen. I've certainly never seen it (I certainly don't), though if some do I'd agree with your complaint. But taking your point about the diversity within the reformed tradition, with Machen as one representative, and the divines as others, as I said earlier, it's fair to ask for specific criteria by which one would conclude a given belief or individual is "outside" the tradition. At a practical level I think this is virtually impossible since the very notion of what is "traditional" is ultimately something we define. But assuming that there are criteria to agree on, we need to find some.

About Enns v. Oliphint on provisionality: I think what Justin is saying is that Enns and Oliphint would both acknowledge that because of things like sin, the depth of the bible, its polyvalence, etc., all theologizing must be provisional. They differ in, of course, what they think are provisional. Justin isn't being evasive.

All this said: Darryl, to be honest, I think you're the kind of guy I'd like to work with should I ever teach at a seminary (or whatever). We may have never met, but I like you. Given the disagreement, I sincerely appreciate that you've taken the interest, time, and have the gonads to talk reasonably with others with whom you disagree. So many people just rant (on both sides); you don't (though we have our moments). You could've just ignored us, but you didn't. I really do think you've helped set a tone for what the dialog should look like, and I really appreciate it. Please continue.

11:25 PM  
said...

I know this situation has colored our perceptions but I am not sure if your comment about President Lillback's proposal is helpful. I am not sure about the exact nature of his motion but if his motion is what you say it is then by the nature of the case it should not contain positive reviews. This would be the burden of the respondent in reply to the motion. If that is the case please be careful of giving a negative portrait of President Lillback as being biased and unfair.

11:44 AM  
said...

Darryl,
JD beat me to it, in his words about what was (and wasn't) meant by my comments on "provisionality" as taught at WTS. No evasion was intended. But i think we may have started talking past each other, there, so let's move on to other areas of discussion...
About the potential dangers of letting diverse opinions co-exist: well, that knife cuts both ways. I do enjoy studying history (it was my undergraduate major, and continues to be a hobby, and I was glad that unlike other seminaries, WTS required MDivs to take 4 semesters of it)...and i think that while a study of history does show the dangers of letting CERTAIN kinds of diversities coexist, it also shows the serious dangers of seeking to impose a false uniformity of doctrine or thought. Of course the trick is to figure out which diversity is healthy and which is crossing the line.
Speaking of which, you referenced Fosdick and Machen earlier, and that's fine...we should learn from what happened in their controversies. I realize that pleas for "latitude" and talk of "provisionality" may sound like they are a replay of the Fosdick controversy, but let's remember the huge differences between what Fosdick taught and what Enns is teaching. Fosdick denied the Virgin Birth of Christ, as well as Christ's miracles and much else in Scripture (2nd coming, too? I can't remember). Pete affirms these things...so the analogy between the 1920s controversies and those in our time will only go so far.
(by the way, i'm not accusing you of tarring Enns with the Fosdick/Briggs/name-your-favorite-old-time -liberal brush, though others have sought to tar him so. I'm just cautioning us all in our use of historical analogies, as handy as they may be).
Justin

11:47 AM  
said...

JD: I didn't mean to say that you were avoiding all my points or that you must address them all. I've been in enough of these exchanges online to know that there is a give and take that does not yield the point-counterpoint of a court room debate. My only point in bringing up evasion was my concern about a significant argument that you and other have failed to grasp.

It is this: the supporters of Enns think they are on the more scholarly side of the debates at WTS because Pete is engaged with the academy or because he represents WTS's historic position of doing first-rate scholarship. And yet the advocates of first-rate scholarship seem incapable of admitting that serious differences exist between Enns and others at WTS and that these differences are intellectually and theologically irreconcilable. That's the sort of conclusion that academics make all the time. Aristotle and Plato were both Greek philosophers. But they weren't agreed. Scholars point those things out. They don't just cover them up so that Plato won't lose his job from an Aristotelean school.

I'm glad to hear your willingness to qualify provisionality. But the quotations I gave earlier from Pete's book are too much part of the record for your concessions to give me comfort about him. Pete appears to want theologizing to be an open process, with no final point, that listens to Christians in all other traditions, and that learns from everyone else. It is the Rodney King school of theologizing and it is the classic rhetoric of Protestant liberalism; if Pete had wanted to qualify those statements he could have outlined those basics that are not provisional or final, like the Virgin Birth or Jesus's miracles. But he didn't. In fact, he appealed to something that is final and not provisional -- the doctrine of the incarnation. Arians were banned from the church for not affirming the deity of Christ and other groups subsequently in the fifth century had to leave after Chalcedon. Incarnational theology is not a model of openness or provisionality. (Again, not to beat a dead horse, but if you're going to trumpet the idea of first-rate scholarship it seems that the arguments could have been much more scholarly.)

Justin: as to your point about diversty in Reformed circles, there may be some. Again it could be an issue that there are diversities that will not get along. A rift at WTS would not be the first time that Presbyterians parted company over differences. I continue to be surprised that folks who think of themselves as Reformed are surprised to learn that differences may actually lead to division. On what Reformed planet have such people been living?

The question of diversity gets even more poignant in the case of WTS. Lots of Pete's supporters are saying that WTS is about to be lost if he goes. Some of us WTS grads think that WTS may already be lost. We aren't thinking of the seminary of Enns but of the seminary of Machen. I do wish that the people who defend and advocate for Pete would remember that other former students at WTS don't see the character of the school hanging on the retention of Enns.

BTW, thanks for the courteous words. I've enjoyed the exchange and am glad to keep it up.

Darryl Hart

6:33 PM  
said...

Darryl,

You say:
A rift at WTS would not be the first time that Presbyterians parted company over differences. I continue to be surprised that folks who think of themselves as Reformed are surprised to learn that differences may actually lead to division. On what Reformed planet have such people been living?

It sounds like you take this in stride. Shouldn't splits within the body of Christ be mourned as a great loss, and prevented if at all possible? It seems to me like when dissention occurrs the first course of action should be to determine whether or not this is essential doctrine that Christ would reject, and if not, why are we splitting over it? I'm not actually commenting directly on the situation at WTS, but perhaps it applies. I would imagine that splits among God's people bring Him great sadness and we shouldn't treat them lightly.

2:17 PM  
said...

LBB: Fair enough. No reason for glee about differences dividing. But by your logic, WTS would not exist. After all, it took some differences worth dividing to provide the platform for Enns' provisionality.

Darryl Hart

6:34 PM  
said...

I am somewhat confused about the issue of "cutting-edge scholarship" when it comes to OT/NT criticism... is the assumption that one must believe the claims of higher criticism to be "cutting edge," or to be merely consversant with them? Criticisms abound for those who adhere to the dogma of "Old Princeton," but what of the dogma of the academy? How much of this debate is an appeal to be "academically credible" by an academy that has no faith commitment or vested interest in the inspiration of the Scriptures?

10:51 PM  
said...

So, are you going to apologize to Lillback now that it has come out that your facts are inaccurate? He in fact did not recommend that the board fire Enns and did not recommend that the board even move toward termination.

7:18 PM  
said...

Suppress my earlier comment if you like, but God knows the truth.

5:17 PM  
said...

Dear It (sorry to shorten that, but "It is What It Is" is a very unwieldy pseudonym),
I didn't "suppress" your first comment. It's been kind of a busy week, both at WTS and in my own more immediate surroundings. Please be patient.
If I felt that I'd lied about Dr. Lillback, I would apologize to him. I assume you're saying that his statements in chapel yesterday meant that my earlier announcement was inaccurate. So let's look at that.
I admit that the "200 page" figure, referring to his message to the faculty earlier, was a guesstimate based on what I've been told. But it actually seems to have been confirmed now: Dr. Lillback said in yesterday's chapel that he had included "hundreds of pages" worth of research in the documentation of his recommendation. And I don't see how the rest of the statement is untrue, either: in yesterday's chapel Dr. Lillback said that his recommendation didn't use the word "Termination," though he did call for suspension (which is in effect a silencing), plus review by the IPC. Not a huge difference, there...and in Wednesday's board meeting, which was a public meeting whose statements are available for public consideration, he made reference to Dr. Enns as someone who had to go because "when you've got a grafitti problem, you start with one wall at a time" or words to that effect. Now how else am I supposed to interpret that statement, but that he would prefer to have Enns gone?

In addition, the 9 Board members who voted, at Wednesday's meeting, against Enns' suspension, have released their minority statement, which certainly doesn't dis-confirm anything I've said, but rather seems to confirm that Dr. Lillback is doing his part for Enns' removal. I think Mel's got the minority report up at:
http://windofhebel.blogspot.com/2008/04/wts-chapel-questions-and-minority.html.

Incidentally, I'm not the only one who has noted that yesterday's chapel featured quite a bit of spin and buck-passing. But I do appreciate Dr. Lillback's coming to the students to give them more info, and his reaffirmation that there would be more times for discussion. Honestly, he didn't have to do that, but he did, and I applaud that.
Yes, God does know the truth. That should be a sobering thought for all of us.

5:31 PM  
said...

I think that link to mel's blog didn't work. Too long. Go to:
windofhebel.blogspot.com, the post for Tuesday, April 1, 2008.

5:33 PM  

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