Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Richard Gaffin responds to Peter Enns (1)

The full document can be found here. Dr. Gaffin writes:

In January 2008 Dr. Enns sent his “Reflections on Inspiration and Incarnation” to the board and voting faculty. Currently he has begun posting portions of this document on his website and in doing so notes also that it “appears to have been fairly widely circulated (which, as I state on page one of that report, is perfectly fine by me).” He also notes that he is aware of “at least one website” where the document appears in full. In view of this sort of circulation, I include the following comments here.

Toward the close of his “Reflections” is a discussion of Academic Freedom and Obligation, including confessional subscription (a discussion with which I have substantial disagreements not addressed here). He concludes that discussion with the following quotation from something I wrote in 1981, by which, he believes, his “thoughts are well summarized” (pp. 36-37):

… whether in our midst Scripture will still have the last word, whether the whole counsel of God will be something more than what we imagine we already have under our control and have already mastered with our theological structures and doctrinal formulations. Will we, too, as the church must in every time and place, continue to return there to be reconfirmed and, when necessary, corrected in our faith, and, above all, to discover there the inexhaustible and "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8)?

He then adds the final comment, “I read these words, which pierce my heart, and I wonder ‘what has happened to Westminster?’”

Since he has brought me into his “Reflections” in this fashion, some response on my part is appropriate, even mandatory, especially so because my deep concerns about views taken in I&I are well known within the faculty and board, and the fact is now public that within the faculty I am among those who are unable to join in approving I&I. The suggestion left by the quotation and final comment above, then, is that the Gaffin of 1981 and today are not the same and that, lamentably, that change has not been for the better.

I will be as brief and pointed as I can. As Dr. Enns himself notes, the quotation above was made in a particular context (“the Shepherd controversy,” p. 36). That contextual factor is all-important. What I wrote was in defense of contested views in a context where both sides within the WTS community (board and faculty) shared a largely common understanding of the nature of their commitment to the subordinate authority of the Westminster standards and, more importantly, a commonly understood commitment to the inspiration and authority of Scripture as the written word of God. Those commitments were never at issue, no matter how strongly held were the conflicting views about the particular teaching of Scripture and the Standards in dispute (primarily the nature of justifying faith). In the present context, however, the differences among us are, I judge, of another and more fundamental order. The foundational commitments held in common in 1981 are precisely what are now at issue and being threatened. In having to say that, I hope that I have made every responsible effort to convince myself otherwise.

As to a perceived change in me, for whatever it’s worth, as far as I can know myself, if the context and issues as they were in 1981 were today’s, I would write now what I wrote then. And if the issues in 1981 had been what they are today, I would have been of the same mind then as I am now.

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