This is my final response to Waltke’s “Interaction with Peter Enns” (WTJ 71 : 115-28). You can find download my detailed response to the introduction to Waltke’s critique here (PDF). By this point, I am sure only a chosen few stalwart types remain tuned in to this interaction. I will not belabor the point further with numerous posts. Rather, all of my thoughts on Waltke’s exegetical points are posted here in one PDF document (link at end of this post). Those who feel interested in pursuing this matter further need only click.
In some cases, my exegetical disagreements with Waltke are simply in-house, intramural matters that are not relevant to the issue of the nature of Scripture (e.g., Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and others). In other cases, the exegetical differences stem from the more programmatic differences between us outlined in the first series of posts. On those issues, I remain of the opinion that what is needed is not the reassertion of doctrinal prolegomena but a re-examination of hermeneutical foundations. In this exchange between Waltke and me, that re-examination has barely begun, but it has begun, in my opinion. No one in this debate—Waltke, me, or anyone else—is free of blind spots.
Our handling of Scripture is never pure, never free of some bias (which was one of my major points against Waltke in my first response, where he claimed exegetical objectivity). For people like Waltke, me, and many, many others trained in the rich, complex, and challenging world of biblical studies, there is always some conversation going on in our heads between the methods we employ and the theological circles we call home. As the past several generations of evangelical scholarship have amply demonstrated, this internal conversation has brought tremendous progress in our understanding of the Bible, but not without some significant theological tensions.
The problem is that these tensions are often seen as (1) wholly destructive, and (2) the “fault” of biblical scholarship. Both assertions are false. Challenges to accepted structures of thinking create tensions, but this is not necessarily simply “destructive” of some erstwhile pure system of thought. Tension, however uncomfortable, is the place where growth and progress flourish. Moreover, the fault may not lie with the challenging nature of biblical scholarship so much as with the inflexibility of theological systems.
I have said this on other occasions and it bears repeating: the tensions in conservative American Christianity that began in earnest in the 19th century were not so much “caused” by higher-critical scholarship, but by the clash of some very legitimate newer insights into the Bible (e.g., pentateuchal authorship, the ANE background to Genesis, etc., etc., etc.) with older theological paradigms that were not suited to address these newer insights. I understand that the matter is a bit more complicated than I lay out here, but the general contours are clear to me. The resulting liberal/fundamentalist divide was perhaps an inevitable perfect storm, but neither option does justice to the rich possibilities before us.
If I may continue a rather reductionistic analysis (which is not accurate on the level of historical analysis, but is alive and well, nonetheless—indeed, perpetuated—in some popular circles): liberals looked at our developing knowledge of the ancient world of the Bible and said “A ha, I told you. The Bible is nothing special. Israelite religion is just like any other ancient faith. You conservatives need to get over yourselves.” The fundamentalist response was (fingers firmly planted in ears) “La la la la la la, I do not hear you. There may be a millimeter of insight in some of what you are saying, but if what you are saying is true, our theology—which is the sure truth of Scripture, handed down through the ages—is false, and that is unthinkable.”
Battle lines were drawn rather than theological and hermeneutical principles reassessed.
I am drawing out this point somewhat because I am hoping that this exchange with Waltke can be seen, on both our parts, as a conscious attempt not to repeat past mistakes of drawing lines in the sand prematurely and so encourage yet another “battle for the Bible.” It may be time, as my teen-age daughter tells me, to “seriously chill” (I need to remind her of what an oxymoron is) and ask afresh, with now several generations of mountains of data and reflection behind us, “What is our Bible, anyway? What is it here for? What do we do with it? What is it prepared to say? What does it mean to handle it properly?”
For some, I am sure, these are a discouraging, unnecessary, or heretical set of questions to be asking. For others, they offer a cool breeze of possibility that neither God nor his word can be so easily captured to do our bidding. This, at least, is what I am aiming at in these exchanges with Waltke. It is not a competition between us, to see who can bench press more, academically speaking, and impress those watching. We are each trying to explain why our Bible looks and acts the way it does. Each of our paradigms offers explanatory power while also being the fruit of exegetical work, and that hermeneutical circle is irrevocably unavoidable regardless of where you land on individual issues. At the end of the day, it is the paradigm that is deemed most coherent and persuasive in explaining our Bible that will rise to the surface (see my article “Some Thoughts on Theological Exegesis of The Old Testament: Toward a Viable Model of Biblical Coherence and Relevance“), provided we are ready and willing to allow our own thoughts on the matter to be challenged along the way.