Can A Seminary Be Academic?

Is there freedom of thought? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

A friend sent me an article by Peter Enns wanting to see what I thought of it. I will put a link to it at the end of this article, but basically, Enns is saying that there is a problem in many evangelical circles in that one cannot have freedom of thought since one must believe such and such about biblical interpretation to be included.

As I read this, I thought about how in the last election cycle, actor Jon Lovitz came out speaking against some policies of Obama and when he did so, he immediately became a target. He had gone against the party line. For some of us, that shows a groupthink mentality in Hollywood. Do we want to have the same here?

Of course, there is an important difference. In order to be an actor or some role in Hollywood, one does not need to have a certain set of political beliefs. In order to be a Christian, one does require a set of religious beliefs certainly. I do not doubt that Enns would say that someone who denies truths like the physical resurrection of Jesus, his deity, the Trinity, and salvation by grace through faith is not a Christian. If he does not, then I say he definitely has his own set of problems.

Yes. There are identifying beliefs of a Christian, but is Enns right that our academies are in danger of losing their effect on the world due to how they treat ideas that are contrary?

In many cases, I think we could be. The church has had a history of minoring in the majors and majoring in the minors. The minors are made a big issue because it’s suspected that they could lead to major errors. The irony is that it’s quite different from that. It’s the ideas that are treated like sacred cows that can often become the problem.

For instance, Ken Ham wrote a book on why young people were leaving the church. Why? We weren’t teaching young-earth creationism enough. Now this is a debate for those who are interested in that, but the reality is that Ham is completely off base. It is when a secondary issue is raised to a primary that the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. When students are convinced, rightly or wrongly, that the Earth is not young, they decide the whole thing is a sham. I cannot be more certain about this point. If your faith rests on the age of the Earth, young or old, instead of on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your faith is misplaced.

In the same boat, Inerrancy is also an issue like this. Now keep in mind this is a position that I hold to. I do think the Bible is true in all that it teaches. However, I also know that there are a number of Christians who are sure that if there is one error in the Bible, then that means Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead and the Bible is in error.

An example of the problems this leads to can be found with one atheist who is not worth naming mentioning an email he received about someone who abandoned the faith.

“One day I was at a Barnes and Noble browsing around. I got to the Philosophy section, and picked up (this book by an atheist) . Part 2 of the book is titled “Why the Bible Is Not the Word of God.” After reading about some historical, scientific, and moral errors I went to the Christian Inspiration section of the store to get a Bible so I could read the context of each verse. Finally, hours later I renounced my faith.”

Yep. A whole hours later. That’s a real commitment right there. Never bothered to go to the Christian section and see if there were any responses to this, which would have been a fruitful endeavor. Now if after a long time of searching, he was convinced the Bible was wrong and untrustworthy, he should not be a Christian. I still think he’s wrong entirely and the contradictions can be resolved, but at least he did his due diligence then.

Do you see what happened? A non-essential was made an essential and because of that, someone fell away from the faith. In fact, it is for reasons like this that while I hold to Inerrancy, I no longer really argue for it. Why? I’m just out to demonstrate that Jesus rose from the dead. If you say we need Inerrancy to do that, then it seems that you are saying we cannot make a historical case for the resurrection. We are left with fideism. We believe the Bible because it says so. We believe the Bible is separate from history and cannot be touched on history but speaks authoritatively in history. I consider this a highly dangerous position.

Enns mentions a number of beliefs like the historicity of Adam (Which I hold to), different ways of reading creation (I prefer John Walton’s idea), and the dating of the Pentateuch, Isaiah, and Daniel. (I hold to their traditional dates.) Note something in each of these cases. If I am wrong in any of them, I would prefer to be shown that I am wrong rather than holding to something that is false. To be fair, there are some issues I have not invested time in since I can’t study everything. With those, I trust the majority of scholars I have read, but if better arguments come forward, it behooves us as people who claim to be champions of truth and logic to believe those arguments.

When we act like an Inquisition in our own circles, it gives off the aura of doubt. Instead, when someone comes up with something like “I don’t hold to the historical Adam,” instead of reacting with panic, we need to say “Okay. Fair enough. Make your case. Give your evidence. We will look at your evidence and give a counter-response.” If we speak from Sinai, we instead become totalitarian and more like cult leaders instead of people who claim to be open-minded. It doesn’t help us when we tell skeptics to approach the Bible with an open-mind, when we don’t do the same when someone in our own midst says they question an interpretation of it that we hold to.

If we hold such debates, it can only help us. Why? If our position is false, we are blessed because we are no longer saying what the Bible doesn’t say, and instead saying what it does say. If our position is true, then we’ve been given further reason to believe it is not because of authoritarian statements, but because of evidence and reasoning.

To be open to truth, we must be open to being wrong.

In Christ,
Nick Peters