Westminster Theological Suspension
Westminster Theological Seminary's board voted to suspend tenured professor Peter Enns last week after a two-year theological debate over his 2005 book, Inspiration and Incarnation.
The board chairman, the president, and the secretary of the board addressed a standing-room-only group of students for about 30 minutes Tuesday morning to discuss the board's decision.
The board voted 18-9 to suspend Enns, an Old Testament professor whose book created controversy on how to interpret the Westminster Confession of Faith, a 1646 document that the faculty must affirm.
"It was made not on the basis of personality, but on the basis of the judgment on the part of a substantial number of the trustees that Inspiration and Incarnation was outside the bounds of the standards of Westminster Seminary, namely the Westminster Confession of Faith," chairman of the board John White told Christianity Today. "The essence of the question is, Does the II book fall within the parameters of the orthodox, Reformed understanding of the doctrine of inerrancy?"
The seminary's personnel committee will make a recommendation at the board of trustees' May meeting to decide whether Enns's position will be terminated. Enns declined to comment.
President Peter Lillback said he supports the board's decision. "Every institution with a theological controversy that impacts its unity is going to have to have a resolution and this is a method to accomplish that," he told CT, declining to comment on specifics of the controversy.
The board vote comes four months after the faculty voted 12-8 that Enns's book falls within the Westminster Confession, a motion that nine trustees supported in their dissent from the board's majority decision.
"We're very disappointed because we think it's a mistake, possibly a serious mistake," vice-chair of the board Peter Jansson told CT. "The nine of us strongly support Dr. Enns."
In their dissent, the nine trustees said that the board failed to give Enns an opportunity to be heard. "While theological concerns were mentioned, there was little board discussion of theological specifics," the statement says.
In his book, Enns attempts to confront issues raised by historical-critical Bible scholars that seem to compromise the Bible's divine inspiration. Enns uses an incarnational analogy, meaning that Scripture is both human and divine, similar to Jesus Christ.
The debate lies in whether Enns's incarnational analogy falls outside of the Westminster Confession, which systematic theology professor Lane G. Tipton believes Enns' book does.
"An orthodox incarnational analogy implies that the human, while real, is nonetheless secondary to the divine persons of the Son and Spirit, both in the incarnation and inspiration/inscripturation of the Word of God," Tipton said in an e-mail. "Enns' incarnational model, and the analogy he draws from it, is not consistent with a biblical and Chalcedonian approach."
Critics argue that Enns's method falls outside the Westminster Confession's statement, "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself."
"Instead of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, Dr. Enns interprets verses in isolation from and at odds with the clear testimony of other parts of Scripture, and allows an infelicitous use of extra-biblical sources to reassess what Scripture as a whole is," said church history professor Jeffrey Jue, who dissented in the faculty resolution.
"[Enns's book] has caught the attention of the world so that we have scholars that love this book, and scholars who have criticized it very deeply," Lillback told students this morning. "We have students who have read it say it has liberated them. We have other students that say it's crushing their faith and removing them from their hope. We have churches that are considering it, and two Presbyteries have said they will not send students to study under Professor Enns here."