Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 04/02/2009 by Trevin Wax.
Recommended. For those invested in the inerrancy debate.
Back when the Peter Enns controversy erupted at Westminster Theological Seminary in 2008, I realized that a major theological battle was taking place. After all, Westminster has been known to be a bastion of conservatism. If a professor that denied, questioned or redefined inerrancy were to remain on the faculty, the seminary could face serious accusations from its conservative supporters.
On the other hand, if a professor had to resign for simply illuminating and expounding on an existing definition of inerrancy, then there would other consequences, not least of which would include a substantial narrowing of what constitutes “evangelical orthodoxy.”
G.K. Beale, professor of New Testament at Wheaton Graduate School and one of the strongest critics of Enns’ work has compiled his reviews and added some additional essays into a new book published by Crossway, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority. In this new book, Beale makes the case that a number of evangelical scholars have begun adopting views that contradict the traditional understanding of inerrancy.
The book begins with a fictional discussion between two Bible scholars about the authorship of Isaiah. The conservative argues that Isaiah is the author of the entire work that bears his name. The progressive argues that the second part of Isaiah was written by someone else. The progressive maintains that his view upholds the traditional view of inerrancy, while the conservative worries that he is smuggling errors into Scripture under the umbrella of “inspiration.”
The first half of the book contains Beale’s reviews and rejoinders to Peter Enns. Enns’ responses are not included; they are summarized by a third party.
The second half of the book deals with the issue of Isaiah’s authorship as a test case of biblical fidelity. Beale then spends two chapters on Old Testament cosmology and argues that the OT depictions of the world were described in phenomenological and figurative ways and should not pose problems for the traditional view of inerrancy.
Those who are heavily invested in the debate at Westminster over Enns’ resignation will want to consult this book. The discussions become highly technical at times. Few readers will have the stamina to persevere through the intricate arguments that Enns and Beale set forth. This book was frustrating for me at times, as the continual review/response/rejoinders tended occasionally to degenerate into a “you said/I said” debate.
In the end, I believe Beale is right to point out the chronological snobbery inherent in Enns’ view that the biblical writers were consciously intending to record history, but were actually documenting legends from that period of time. But the most helpful chapters are not focused on Enns. Beale’s chapters addressing Old Testament cosmology clarify issues for Bible students puzzled by some of the depictions of our world.
The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism is not for the faint of heart. Most people will find the fine-tuned arguments of Beale to be deep waters. But as history has shown us time and time again, our view of Scripture matters enormously. If Beale is right and the traditional understanding of inerrancy is being redefined, then we should expect to see more controversies akin to the Enns issue in the future.