Forked Tongues and Biblical Fidelity


It was five years ago that my Alma Mater, Westminster Theological Seminary, underwent one of its greatest upheavals. Old Testament professor Peter Enns culminated a career of writing provocative journal articles by publishing an extremely controversial (and theologically poor) book explaining his views of biblical inspiration. After much campus turmoil and deliberation, the board of the seminary finally sent him on his way.

Throughout the controversy, the defense offered by Enns and his acolytes was that he was being unjustly persecuted and that, in fact, his views were solidly Reformed and evangelical. They argued that his views were fundamentally compatible with and faithful to Reformed confessions like the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Three Forms of Unity. There was nothing in his views that threatened a vital faith in the Bible. Nothing to see here! No worries! Enns is perfectly orthodox, was the cry. At the height of things, the board of the seminary was literally condemned as being the "Sanhedrin" by an Enns-supporting faculty member in a chapel service.

It was a mere half-decade ago, but it seems like an eternity.

Since his dismissal, Enns has so quickly evolved in his views that he now denies the historicity of Adam and Eve, denies that the Bible says anything about human origins, embraces theistic evolution, and denies the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. What happened to the "Enns is perfectly Reformed and orthodox" defense? One can still argue (wrongly, in my view) than he was right; one cannot argue that his views are compatible with the Reformed confessions. 

Rarely has history so quickly vindicated a controversial decision by a seminary. No one can objectively examine those events and conclude anything other than that Enns and his acolytes were speaking with forked tongues or at least crossed fingers.

I ran across a discussion on the web today run by one of the most ardent and vocal student defenders of Enns in those days. In it he takes the full-fledged progressive view on the Chick-Fil-A flap, accuses the company of supporting "discrimination" against homosexuals, and condemns the Christians who supported the restaurant this week as bigoted. I am not going to re-litigate that issue. But I cannot say that I am surprised. 

What surprised me was this comment:

You can insist all you want that you "hate the sin but love the sinner," but as long as you insist that a private act of love between consenting adults is an "abomination," and as long as millions of your fellow believers attempt to legislate against that happiness, no gay person will ever see your stance as "love."

What a curious statement for a Christian to make. You could replace that "private act of love between consenting adults" with any and every sin imaginable and arrive at the same result. Never mind that the Bible calls homosexual conduct an "abomination." Never mind that it condemns all kinds of sins. Never mind that the Apostles and missionaries of the early New Testament church had no qualms about condemning pagan idolatry and calling people to purity and holiness, not to mention Jesus himself. Never mind that Paul actually wrote Romans chapter 1. What did all these people know?

Apparently the Apostles didn't know that calling pagans to repentance would result in a failure of their mission. After all, no pagan would or could see their stance as "love," right?

Never mind that the Apostolic gospel and its proclamation of repentance unto life converted practically the entire known world. This gentleman claims to know better. Christians should not insist that homosexuality or, indeed, any private behavior engaged in by "consenting adults" is sinful. Doing so is bigoted and hinders the gospel. Even more shockingly, to my mind, is that he calls all of this private conduct "happiness" against which people are "legislating." Happiness? Perhaps someone needs to read Psalm 1 or the Beatitudes again.

I think we should seriously ask the question: how does one get so far afield from the Bible and its own gospel proclamation? How does a professing Christian get to the point where it is wrong to call sin sin? How does one promote a model of gospel witness the diametrical opposite of the Apostolic example? How does one do all this without any apparent self-consciousness that this is happening?

I don't know the full answer to that question. I don't know all the influences in this person's life. Clearly, the political propaganda and social agenda of the progressive left and the LGBT movement is having a substantial affect. The vocal leaders of the LGBT movement say that the gospel is offensive to them, and so this gentleman dutifully listens, lets them set the parameters of public discourse, and, on cue, sheepishly apologizes for all his embarrassing brethren who don't desist. And then he joins them in calling his brothers and sisters bigots. Sad state of affairs, really.

I am convinced, however, that a substantial part of the blame belongs to the low view of biblical inspiration this person enthusiastically imbibed in his seminary days (and "enthusiastic" is an understatement). When the "very words of God" are reducible to the fallible, errant words of men (Enns' view), then there really is no reason to take the Bible very seriously at all. It is not an accident that those who historically have taken that view end up in theological and political liberalism. The latter is the offspring of the former.

I myself was torn about the whole situation at Westminster Seminary when all this was going on; it was ugly business any way you slice it, full of personal grudges, petty politics, and Internet litigation full of heat and no light.

After a mere five years I can say fairly confidently: the seminary did well. 

Brian Mattson