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John Franke gave a lecture to the Eastern University community yesterday entitled Progressive Evangelical Theology: Nature, Promise, and Prospects.” If you don’t know who Franke is, please email me the address of the rock you live under and I will make sure you get caught up. Briefly, Franke is the Executive Director and Professor of Missional Theology at Yellowstone Theological Institute in Bozeman, MT and former professor of theology at Biblical Theological Seminary (Hatfield, PA). He’s written several books including Beyond Foundationalism (with the late Stanley Grenz),  Manifold Witness, and Barth for Armchair Theologians.

Anyway, that John Franke spoke at EU yesterday, and he summed up his vision for a theological movement that is both evangelical and progressive (a term he prefers to others like “post-conservative” which he feels is too negative, not constructive).

He brought up a commonly voiced distinction between a progressive and a traditionalist evangelicalism, where the former (1) is marked by holding to a “center” of theology rather than maintaining firm “boundaries,” (2) views the theological task as more of a “dialogue” than arriving at firm conclusions defended at all cost, and (3) encourages a deliberate engagement of voices outside of evangelicalism in order to learn from them, not simply correct them.

Now, whatever you might think of these distinctions, the first one has chimed a clear note in my brain for some time now. Firm boundary marking, once and for all time, in our theological quest tends toward insulation and then isolation from any sort of criticism–which I think is not only self-defeating and intellectually hypocritical, but makes baby Jesus cry.

A theology that thinks in terms of holding to a center encourages theological exploration, with regular returns to the center for a gut check. Now, before you send me emails triumphantly exposing my logical inconsistency, I understand the problem with this spatial analogy, namely, as soon as you define what your center is, you are in effect drawing a boundary. No analogy is perfect.

But there is definitely a difference in tone between those who “do theology” from a center and those who are about erecting and maintaining, on pain of death, a solid boundary to keep some in and others out. The latter tends toward a “conceptual idolatry,” as Franke put it: where you draw your boundaries is where everyone else needs to draw them because your boundaries reflect the Absolute Truth of the God, etc.

Now, if you will allow me to get to the point of this post, as Franke was talking, I was thinking of how all this applies to my field of biblical studies.

It seems to me that one way (not the only way) of thinking about the Bible is as a “center” of the Christian faith rather than a boundary. It is that to which followers of Jesus return–sort of like a tether–not the thick and high borders through which we may not blast, under which we may not tunnel, or over which we may not climb.

The character of the Bible is marked by two overlapping qualities that make a “center” metaphor helpful: (1) It is set in various cultural settings and historical moments that most certainly shape the manner in which the Bible speaks, and (2) within the Bible itself there is theological diversity and movement.

The Bible is too flexible and diverse, too encultured and ancient, too much on the move, to give us the bricks and mortar to erect a Great Wall of China around the Christian faith. A “center” metaphor, it seems to me, is more in keeping with not only the character of the Bible but the nature of the Christian spiritual and theological journey we are all on. I would go so far as to say the Bible models such a journey, since at various points the Christian Bible actually deconstructs the “boundary” metaphor by virtue of its diverse theological content and progress over time (yes, progress–ask Paul what he thought about circumcision and dietary restrictions).

As a “center” I do not mean that all parts of the Bible are equally central. Some parts are decentered and left behind; some are transformed as new circumstances arise. But, the Christian journey will always come back to a serious connection to the “central” biblical story–to engage, dialogue, interrogate, or simply rest in it–all in the context of commitment and trust in God.

Now, let me be clear. I am not saying the Bible is “THE center” of the Christian faith. I am saying that “center” is a helpful spacial metaphor for understanding how the Bible can and should function in the Christin life. The center of the Christian faith has been and always will be–wait for it–Jesus, not the Bible.

If you’re interested, Eastern will put Franke’s lecture on YouTube in the next week or so.


Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

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  • SpyPlus says:

    “Firm boundary marking, once and for all time, in our theological quest tends toward insulation and then isolation from any sort of criticism–which I think is not only self-defeating and intellectually hypocritical, but makes baby Jesus cry”
    This is the funniest thing I have read all week.

  • [“He brought up a commonly voiced distinction between a progressive and a
    traditionalist evangelicalism, where the former (1) is marked by holding
    to a “center” of theology rather than maintaining firm “boundaries,”
    (2) views the theological task as more of a “dialogue” than arriving at
    firm conclusions defended at all cost, and (3) encourages a deliberate
    engagement of voices outside of evangelicalism in order to learn from
    them, not simply correct them.”]

    Sounds good to me–thanks for sharing, Peter!

  • C David Baker says:

    Love it. The concept of a center, or as I like to imagine, a magnetic ground creates a field of truth where the edges sort of weaken and fade invites a relationship with a living Christ rather than a membership within a wall. Thank you.

  • Andrew Wilson says:

    “A clear note in my brian” is my favourite typo of the week …

  • ctrace says:

    Post-modernist theologians in their ongoing quest to construct a new context/metaphor/conversation to give them the ability to make the Bible say anything they want it to say.

    • Rather, we are attempting to minister to sincere skeptics and honest critics in somewhat the same way that Paul ministered to Gentiles. And somewhat as non-Christian Jews (and some believing Jews, as well) rejected the message of Paul– and rejected his ministry as something alien to their tradition –it is, similarly, hardly surprising that you and other conservative evangelicals would reject a more progressive vision insofar as it does indeed deviate from the kind of hermeneutic and exegesis that you are accustomed to. Indeed, if I were in your position, I would feel the same way.

      (see also “Critical Reflections on Bible-Based Belief Systems”)

      • ctrace says:

        You’re being obsequious to the world. God wants people convicted by His word, not begged and coaxed into his Kingdom.

        • I am simply saying that Christ LIVES; that Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”; that one does not know Christ simply by believing (in an intellectual way) certain alleged facts about the Bible or the historical Jesus. These stories– and the doctrines that we associate with them –are training wheels.

          Just as Paul said that the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, I am suggesting that these traditional narratives and doctrines point beyond themselves to the One who IS before Abraham was (the One who IS the resurrection and the life).

          I’m not suggesting anyone should disbelieve those narratives or doctrines (any more than Jesus or Paul was teaching that the law should be abolished, ‘per se’).

          Rather, I am saying that those who are justifiably skeptical should not let their skepticism with regard to the literal (i.e. their physical/historical) truth of the narratives keep them from realizing the REALITY to which they point. Just as the law and the prophets point to Jesus, so the stories of Jesus (whether historically true in every respect or idealized and legendary in some respects) point to the REALITY which he IS– eternally –and to the REALITY which we are (chosen/created) in him. As such, I have suggested the following approach to scripture for the sincere skeptic and the honest critic:

          1. The written word points to the Living Word.
          2. The “I Am” Presence within us IS the living Christ.
          3. ”Faith” or “Belief” ≈ Trust and Reliance
          4. The Carnal Mind ≈ The Egoic Mind
          5. The Cross of Christ is Our Cross

          The vast majority of post-modern skeptics and critics will never accept your claims about the bible and the historical Jesus (for reasons that you are unable or unwilling to understand, perhaps, but which I do understand all too well). Indeed, most of them– preferring their prodigal adventures –will not listen to me, either. But there will be a few who will hear. Rather than ridiculing their skepticism, I have simply ask that they leave any and all debate about the historical Jesus or the authority of scripture to one side, and to step into the presence the living Christ. If they take me up on it, consider the result:

          * They will begin reading the Bible (just as Gentile Christians began reading the Old Testament when they were converted).
          * They will become open to the presence of God in their life (cf. Emmanuel = God with us = Christ-in-you).
          * They will begin to understand faith in terms of “trusting in” and “relying on” the presence of God (thereby realizing the peace of Jesus–the peace that passes understanding).
          * They will learn to distinguish between a life lived in their heads (i.e. the carnal or egoic mind) and life lived in the Spirit (cf. the mind of Christ and the still small voice of which is the Word of God in their hearts).
          * And they will take up their cross (they will not attempt to evade their Divine calling in deference to their egoic desire for riches, honor, or sensual indulgence).

          Do you really think that God turns away from those who honestly approach him in this way? Does not the living Christ know the thoughts and intents of our heart?

          Imagine, if you will, a society of people living before God in this way. Will they have more or less understanding of you and your faith than they did previously? Will they have more or less understanding and respect for the Christian tradition, as such? Will they or will they not be worshiping God in Spirit and in Truth!? The answer seem very obvious to me and I suspect, with a little reflection, the wisdom of this approach will not be totally lost on you, either.

        • Luke Breuer says:

          I’m not willing to limit how God saves. I get the idea that God simply laughs at any who would place him in any sort of box, or place limitations on how he acts, other than the limitations that come from his promises and his character.

    • John Hawthorne says:

      This comment illustrates the point Franke was making. It sets boundaries (post-modern vs. modern), attributes motive (make the Bible say anything), and is dismissive (ongoing quest to construct). Instead, your comments could provide an opportunity to test Franke’s thesis. What does it mean to hold the Bible in the center for you? Where are the overlaps between your view and the others writing here? What do the differences teach us? How might that dialogue help us present the Gospel to a post-modern society? Most importantly, do we trust God enough to allow Him to lead that conversation from the center?

      • ctracec says:

        Human nature is the same today as it’s been from the beginning (from the fall).

        >Most importantly, do we trust God enough to allow Him to lead that conversation from the center?

        God as sort of an Alan Watts figure you mean?

        I trust that God has given me His revealed word complete, pure, and whole, and that it is able to be understood when read and studied against itself with a broken spirit and an humble approach and the help of the Holy Spirit Himself.

        • John Hawthorne says:

          Thanks for sharing what’s informing your thinking. I agree that human nature is a constant and am thankful that God’s Grace breaks in upon that innate tendency to lead us to deeper understandings of himself. I agree that the Holy Spirit allows us to understand what we read. Here’s where I’d differ slightly. God hasn’t given “me” His word. He worked through the church to bring us the canon which we read together and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us God’s intent for His church in contemporary times. I had to look up Alan Watts because I didn’t know anything about him. Maybe because he’s been dead for 40 years. In any case, I don’t know how that represents a God who has been reaching out to his people in covenant since Abram changed his name.

          • Luke Breuer says:

            I agree that human nature is a constant

            Wait a second, is this true?

            Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, declares the Lord GOD.”

            It is my understanding that Christians have new hearts—or at least, that sanctification involves the turning of stone into flesh. But this drastically changes human nature, because we shift from wanting worldly things to wanting heavenly things. This is a huge change, as Gal 5:16-26 makes clear. But perhaps you were talking about human nature pre-repentance.

        • Luke Breuer says:

          I trust that God has given me His revealed word complete, pure, and whole, and that it is able to be understood when read and studied against itself with a broken spirit and an humble approach and the help of the Holy Spirit Himself.

          Exactly why do you believe that the Bible is “complete, pure, and whole”? It’s not clear that the Bible itself makes this claim! I’ve read the Westminster Confession and saw the best “proof texts” they could find—they’re awfully weak when it comes to this “complete, pure, and whole”. Please consider the possibility that Jesus is the ‘perfect’ described in 1 Cor 13:10—not the Bible.

          I agree with everything else you said in what I quoted. My sister has multiple masters degrees and a PhD in ancient biblical languages, but she freely admits that the Holy Spirit can trump all that learning in a layman believer should He so desire. She knows that her expertise will likely be used by God to glorify him and teach us more about him, but this doesn’t make her ‘better’ in a way that leads to pride and arrogance. God really does hate pride and arrogance—check out the beginning of Job 40 for an interesting discussion of pride.

    • Luke Breuer says:

      ctrace, you might be interested to know that quite a lot of theology through the ages is actually preconceptions imposed on scripture. For example, do you know why cessationism is so big in Protestantism today? Because the Reformers wanted to denounce miracles which Catholics were claiming supported their doctrines and traditions. Not because scripture supports cessationism.

      Take a look at the history of the Westminster Confession. It looks suspiciously like a document for defining “us vs. them”. The authors of it were called the “Westminster Divines”, which ought to be a red herring in and of itself. The original version of the Confession was without scripture references (or as they called them, “proof texts”), allegedly because it would be too much to print. Yes, they thought that it wasn’t sufficiently important to have scripture at the forefront. It’s very easy to distort the faith by merely changing emphases.

  • “It seems to me that one way (not the only way) of thinking about the Bible is as a “center” of the Christian faith rather than a boundary.”
    I like the idea of the Bible as a center rather than a boundary. This post explains the concept well.

  • Andrew Dowling says:

    “The Bible is too flexible and diverse, too encultured and
    ancient, too much on the move, to give us the bricks and mortar to erect
    a Great Wall of China around the Christian faith.”

    Yes, yes, and yes. Another excellent posting Pete. You have been on fire recently.

  • Scott Caulley says:

    Jesus is the center; not the Bible, not our other doctrines, and not our theological systems. The Bible witnesses to Jesus. It is the repository of inspired apostolic proto-orthodox interpretation of who Jesus is– not the fourth member of the Trinity. If we could be clear on that, I think we would be getting somewhere.

  • Daniel Merriman says:

    “views the theological task as more of a “dialogue” than arriving at firm conclusions defended at all cost, ”

    Wouldn’t a good place to start having a meaningful dialogue be by stating what, if any, firm conclusions theologians have arrived at over the last 1900 years might still be valid today?

  • Michael Pahl says:

    Interesting that you should post on this the week I have posted on “centered-set” theology myself:

    I like much of what you have to say here (Scripture’s authority, diversity, etc.), but I really don’t like conceiving of the Bible as “center.” I think, as you move to at the end, that this language should be reserved for Jesus – not just as the center of our faith or life, but as the ground and center of our theologizing and ethical reflection.

    I get the idea that “we only know of Jesus through the Bible.” But that’s actually my point: Scripture witnesses to Jesus, and it is in Jesus that we find “wisdom from God, righteousness/justice, holiness, and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30). And I get that the Bible in Protestant tradition is our final authority for faith and practice. But that in itself doesn’t tell us how we should read Scripture, or how the theological and ethical authority of Scripture actually works.

    I think a better way of conceiving of all this is that of a hermeneutical circle – with Jesus at the center. This, to me, captures better what our Scripture reading and theologizing should be. And, I think, it captures better the way the earliest Christians did their theology. We read Scripture in light of our experience of Jesus, and we read our experiences in light of Scripture’s witness to Jesus. The goal is to know Jesus – not the Bible, not right Christology, but Jesus himself – and it is in knowing Jesus that we come to know and love God and follow Jesus by the power of the Spirit in love for others.

    Again, I suspect if we got behind our language we might agree on much of this. But I just think the language of “center” for the Bible is theologically dangerous, and that this language should be reserved for Jesus – not only as center of our faith, but as ground and center of our theologizing and ethical reflection.

  • Ian Paul says:

    I entirely agree with you on this being a better metaphor. But (forgive me for mixing metaphors) this idea does in fact include *some* boundaries. So, for example, you cannot live with the Bible as centre if you think that Jesus was not raised from the dead. This kind of (generous) boundary was deployed at Chalcedon in defining the nature of Christ by four boundaries, thereby defining a space in which we can converse and enjoy some diversity.

  • Jon Weatherly says:

    The picture was totally helpful. 😉

  • Matt Boulter says:


    In my opinion the “distinction” you bring up is a classic of example of a false dichotomy, of what Aristotle would describe as “contrary propositions that are within the same genus.” The whole distinction assumes a representational (as opposed to participatory), flattened out, even Cartesian approach to knowledge, doctrine, truth. IMO porous boundaries are only slightly better than rigid boundaries. Far better is to question the entire paradigm of spatialized, representational knowledge. This is why Scripture must be approached liturgically. (Related, the Scriptures are not primarily a-text-written-in-a-book, a la Walter Ong.)

    This, then, points to tradition as absolutely necessary for dealing with the Scriptures.

    The reason I left the “conservative Reformed world” is precisely b/c no-one is ever willing to go there (catholic tradition), at least not deeply. What is needed in all these discussions is a catholic voice. Only then can the false dichotomy be transcended.

    • Luke Breuer says:

      The problem I [naively] see with your proposal is that Catholic tradition often has the appearance of infallibility, and there has been, at least historically, been a very quick impulse toward declarations of heresy. This paradigm is a dangerous one; again, [naively] I see the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time as holding too tightly to tradition, not willing to let Holy Scripture change them. Instead, they changed holy writ by their “human traditions”.

      Christ won’t be found in human tradition. Human tradition can certainly point toward Christ, but there’s no ‘guarantee’ that it will. So how do we properly value human tradition, without elevating it? I don’t have a good answer to this question.

      • Matt Boulter says:

        Thanks, labreuer. I’d invite you to loosen up the assumption that Catholic tradition pushes infallibility. I’m an Episcopalian, and there’s really no reason for you to allow that wall to block you from re-imagining Scripture along liturgical / sacramental / traditional grounds!

        Actually, yes, Christ is found in human tradition, since (as Pete Himself teaches) God’s means of grace are ALWAYS mediated by a consubstantiation of the divine and the human. I’d say that there is no “Christ” apart from human “culture-making” (Greek _poeisis): Scripture, incarnation, sacraments, preaching, baptism, etc. etc. etc.

        • Luke Breuer says:

          So I know that Martin Luther didn’t actually want to break from Roman Catholicism; his challenges of Catholic tradition and their intransigence forced this outcome. I don’t know what the climate is like, today. My understanding is that even the Pope can’t reverse Catholic tradition such as “no contraception”; is this wrong?

          If I were to try and ‘correct’ what you said, it would be that not all tradition need end up like Roman Catholic tradition has ended up, at least in certain cases (e.g. in Martin Luther’s time). I would agree wholeheartedly to that. James Barr in his 1980 The Scope and Authority of the Bible says:

          But, as we have just seen, scripture certainly does not have a place antecedent to the church (in ‘church’ I include ancient Israel). Instead of the traditional model which reads something like God → revelation → scripture → church we should have a newer model which would read something like God → people → tradition → scripture, with revelation attached to no one place specifically but rather deriving from all the stages alike. (60)

          I’m still trying to understand the above, but it rings true.

          • Matt Boulter says:

            Yes, there is more (much more) to “catholic tradition” than the nasty dimensions of Rome (though threre’s great stuff in Rome, too … ever read Henri de Lubac’s _Medieval Exegesis_?). There is Orthodoxy and Anglicanism an much besides. Before the printing press, before the Reformation, the Scriptures were HEARD more than READ (again Walter Ong’s _Orality and LIterature_ is good here). We need to get back to that pre / post – modern way of approaching Scripture.

          • Matt Boulter says:

            I like the Barr quote. Liturgy predates the NT canon.


          • Luke Breuer says:

            I’m a little confused with regard to “HEARD more than READ” (you can use certain HTML tags by the way). A lot of speaking of the scripture was in Latin, was it not? I’m excluding the Eastern Orthodox Church. It strikes me that much of Christ’s knowledge came from reading the scriptures and interpreting them very differently from the contemporary culture. So while it is clear that the kingdom of heaven can only be realized within communities, communities will need refreshing from those not embedded within them. (History demonstrates this without a doubt, I believe.)

          • Matt Boulter says:

            Hearing: “faith cometh by hearing.” We moderns tend to “spatialize” the Scripture by thinking of them as a book, whereas before the Printing Press Christians (and “old covenant Jews”) conceived of them differently: almost more like the screen play of a film, or a song to be sung … whether in Latin or not.

            I agree fully on the need for communities to be refreshed.

          • Luke Breuer says:

            In Jon Mark Ruthven’s 2013 What’s Wrong with Protestant Theology? Tradition vs. Biblical Emphasis, he describes this Rom 10:17 ‘hearing’ as the Holy Spirit speaking to us somehow, whether by scripture, other person, or directly into our hearts. So I’m a bit confused by what you’re saying.

            Perhaps what you’re emphasizing is the community, whereas in America, we are awfully individualistic—not only socially, but in the faith as well? I use the following ditty: “You, your faith, and your God.” Compare this to my friend’s saying: “You are born alone, you are saved alone, and you die alone, but everything else happens in community.” There’s a lot of talk among certain Christians about their [individual] ‘journey’. While there is a sense that this is true—we aren’t of Eastern mysticism, where we are all absorbed into an impersonal entity—it threatens to devalue the drama that is all Christians working together to usher in the kingdom of heaven.

            One place I’ve notice the drama turned from three dimensional to two is singing only worship songs with no harmony. Everyone sings the same notes. Perhaps because a lot of the songs are [not necessarily pure] spiritual milk, vs. solid food. Anyhow, harmony in music is a great way of demonstrating how one can have unity and diversity together, creating something beautiful.

          • Matt Boulter says:

            L, I’m grateful for & impressed by your thoughts. Communual vs. individual, yes … but that’s only one dimension of viewing Scripture liturgically.

            It’s largely about “space vs. time” – which is privileged? (I realize that folks are not used to thinking in this way … that’s precisely part of the problem!)

            The invention of the printing press radically changed the way ppl interact with language, as did the invention of writing (before) and the invention of electronic media (in our day).

            For premodern Christians, liturgy was a ritual enactment that took place in time, NOT a printed text to be studied.

            I have found that approaching things this way really opens up whole new vistas for thinking about the “controversies” of the Bible in Protestantism (liberal / critical vs. conservative, etc.)

            For example, if the the Scriptures are a moment in the liturgy first and foremost, then there’s less of a concern about “inerrancy.”

            Look this and let me know what you think:


          • Luke Breuer says:

            Thanks for the compliment! I’m merely a lay Christian who particularly likes digging into issues like this and coming up with not only “just-so stories” that offer surface-level explanations, but deep, predictive models that give power to actually change the situation and be part of the breaking in of the kingdom of heaven.

            Matt Boulter

            Conversations take time. This fits perfectly with my Vosian understanding of Pauline eschatology. Conservatives look at this posture within Anglicanism and call it “neverending indeterminacy” because they want something given, something spatialized, something fixed, static and stable, some kind of original autographa. Over and against that, what liturgical traditions are really showing is that our life (which is liturgical), that is, our reading of Scripture, takes place in a temporality which is analogous to the temporality of the biblical narrative (as Rowan Williams argues here).

            If you want to understand the deep theology of liturgy, you must see that it is about God’s actions taking place in and through time (which Plato says is a moving image of eternity).

            Let’s see if I can state this in my own words. A lot of Protestantism is stuck in a kind of ‘stasis’, where there is no movement forward toward a better future. It’s more of a “buckle down and wait for the end times to come”, mixed with the minimal amount of missionarying. This is in contradistinction to the future-focus of much of the OT, especially the prophets, which constantly envisioned better ways for humans to interact which came about through obedience to the spirit of the law (i.e. following Jesus), not obedience to the letter of the law.

            What I’m not sure about is how liturgy is an especially good solution to the ‘stasis’ I described in the previous paragraph. You did mention remembering the Paschal Mystery, but it’s not clear exactly what you expect to get out of this. Is it merely a remembering, or is there a sense that we, too, are following after Christ’s example, in most if not all respects?

  • Sabio Lantz says:

    Do readers here have any suggestions for books by Christians that help move a Conservative Christian from the Biblism view to a more realistic view of Christian and Jewish scriptures? Please name your top 1 or 2. Thanx

  • Todd Mangum says:

    Well put, Pete (and John). And yes, (I think) I DO know what you mean by that. 🙂

  • Luke Breuer says:

    Pete, have you explored the political uses of various attempts to build rigid boundaries through the ages? That is, a creation of “us vs. them” which is in contradistinction to:

    Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

    Anyone who says “whoever is not for me is against me” is claiming to be Jesus or Satan. There is no third option! The only scriptural distinction I know of is whether or not a person wants to be encouraged, stoked, admonished, and sometimes rebuked—or whether that person wants to do his/her own thing. In the latter case, that person is to be treated as a gentile and a tax collector (Mt 18:17). We saw how Jesus treated gentiles and tax collectors.

    • Matt Boulter says:

      This question comports well with my point about the liturgical / traditional / communal / political essence of Scripture. An awareness that the interpretation of Scripture is a political issue is an initial step in identifying political abuse!

      • Luke Breuer says:

        My sense is that Jesus’ ideal kingdom is one where power is spread as evenly as possible. This is in direct opposition to the desire for power structures as evidence by Israel’s demand for a king, and by the lust for power expressed by humans throughout the ages, regardless of their religious persuasion or lack thereof.

        But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

        I’d love to see Enns or Olson talk about the Bible’s conception of “Godly power”. I think it would be very different from most people’s conceptions of ‘power’—Christians included!

    • peteenns says:

      Labreuer, I’ve lived the political issues…

      • Luke Breuer says:

        So, ahem, that might have been a slightly impolitic question. I’m also guessing that you don’t really wish to discuss your specific situation—too much at stake, wanting to keep harm from coming on people who did not incur damage, etc.

        That being said, surely you have insight that few do, on this matter? It seems you could connect what was done to you to Christians throughout the ages. I have to believe you have some insightful things to say on the matter. For example, what are some of the intricacies of playing off the “rigid boundaries” as needed so that the faith doesn’t splinter (and thus scatter, a la Mt 12:30)?

        I deeply respect that you did your best to stand up for the truth, no matter the cost. I am curious about your knowledge on this matter, but I don’t demand it. Given that I’ve been involved in threats of division in churches and likely will in the future, the more I can learn about such issues, the better.

  • Luke Breuer says:

    It seems like the “Bible as center” and “Jesus as center” are not so far apart, based on Pete’s take on the Bible. See Jesus on the road to Emmaus:

    And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

    The Bible is fundamentally about Jesus. Jesus is the end goal, in an important sense:

    In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

    So just as it all started with Jesus (John 1), it ends with Jesus. Which makes sense, with God being alpha and omega. The totality of reality was created through Jesus and he sustains it. “In him we live and move and have our being.” “…in him all things hold together”

    • Bryan says:

      You are simplifying this problem to the extreme and ignoring a complex canonical history. While many attempts have been made to unite the two testaments, in view of historical criticism, it is quite difficult to ‘simply’ say that the OT points to Jesus. How does the Song of Songs fit in with this idea? What of Deuteronomistic ideology as well as monarchical conquering? How do these ‘point’ to Jesus? Not to mention the difficulty in selecting which books belong in a ‘closed’ canon or whether it should be closed at all. How does Ezekiel 16 and 23 ‘point’ to Jesus? This is a far more difficult task than you give credit.

      • Luke Breuer says:

        Rather than “simplifying the problem”, I’m taking a theological stance. When Paul says “For Christ is the telos of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”, I see that as making a huge swath of the OT point directly to Jesus. I don’t have a problem with my stance not being tied up with a neat bow, e.g. with every single verse carefully explained as pointing to Jesus. Here’s something Enns says in I & I:

        Can Christians speak of a unity to the Bible? Yes, but it is not a superficial unity based on the surface content of the words of passages taken in isolation. The unity of the Bible is more subtle but at the same time deeper. It is a unity that should ultimately be sought in Christ himself, the living word. This itself is not a superficial unity, as if we can “find Jesus” in every passage of the Old Testament (a point we will address from a different angle in the next chapter). It is, rather, a broad and foundational theological commitment based on the analogy between Christ and Scripture. (Kindle Locations 2091-2095)

        I agree.

        • Bryan says:

          Uh…sure. As much as I respect Pete and follow this blog regularly, I don’t know that the answer satisfies. Good discussion.

          • Luke Breuer says:

            You clearly don’t like my stance. It’s difficult to understand what your standards are, though. One way to make them more clear would be to indicate what your stance on this issue is. I get the idea that you aren’t as comfortable with there being the above amount of fuzziness and apparent contradictions, as Pete and I are. But that’s a guess, as you’ve provided very little info to go on.

            If you want a systematic theology from Pete or from me, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. It’s not even clear there is one systematic theology, as it appears that the ancient Israelites’ view of God evolved over the course of the OT. I see no problem with this, as I believe God took people from where they were, as far toward Jesus as they would tolerate. (See their self-set limitations in e.g. Deut 5.)

  • rvs says:

    The Bible sounds multiversey in this discussion, a happy sound.

  • Hello folks.

    It is obviously true that the Bible cannot be used as the center of the Christian faith since it contradicts itself and sometimes attributes atrocities to God.

    But once we acknowledge that and give up Biblical inerrancy, how can we possibly know if a historical event reported in the Bible was from God?

    At most, all we can say is that it is consistent with God’s action but have no way of knowing it was really from Him or not.

    Of course this is a conclusion liberal theologians are quite content with.

    But do progressive Evangelicals dispose of ways to determine how God acted through history?

    If the Canaanite genocide was a myth, what was His real plan for the nation of Israel?

    Many thanks for your answers.

    Lovely greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    • Luke Breuer says:

      But once we acknowledge that and give up Biblical inerrancy, how can we possibly know if a historical event reported in the Bible was from God?

      Can you understand what’s going on in a movie if one of the pixels in the TV is ‘stuck’ or dead? Now, screw with enough pixels and you can no longer see what’s going on. But the idea that scripture needs to be perfect in every way for us to understand it is not in the Bible! On the contrary, in life there is lots of ‘noise’ in the signal; it seems to me that it makes sense for the Bible itself to train us in how to discern good from evil. For example, what of the apparently failure of God to punish Jephthah?

    • Eric Kunkel says:


      The earliest parts of of the Bible were written to convey what they were meant to say. To impose historicity on them is anachronistic, since historiographical methods were no more invented than the cell phone.

      My lovely wife can speak longer than John Wesley (and louder than George Whitfield). The other day she gave me just some her ideas about what God was intending (perhaps) in the first chapters of Genesis. She had so many theories about dividing and separating this from that it could have filled a commentary or 3. She had so much to say, most of very cogent, informed, etc. That it seemed like those chapters, if you got to talking about chronologies and contradictions or geology, well: we would have been in Volume 9.

      About the conquest of Canaan. Well, I have not thought about that much lately. But a couple months ago, while standing above Pointe du Hoc, where the GIs faced death trying to liberate Europe. I did think about it some and about:

      “8b a time for war and a time for peace.

      9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

      Pointe du hoc is sheer cliff, (if you saw Private Ryan) but west of it near Arromanches, the bloody beach is flatter, more like Pismo beach where we were last weekend.

      There is a stella there. Not by any Mesopotamian, but one about the engineering soldiers who died on that beach.

      Without being shot at, it is, unlike Pointe du Hoc, a walk on the beach. No grapping hooks required.

      But I had tears in my eyes thinking, how many of those guys died for each step we are taking back up to car. 23 per step, 30 per yard of beach. 50 young men per my stride?

      But unlike 1944 or unlike earlier on Ecclesiastes 3, or Canaan, it was not a time to die that day this Spring


  • Sean Muldowney says:

    I really appreciate the way this perspective is articulated. It reminds me a bit of attachment theory of psychology. For an infant, the parent is the safe, secure base who encourages curiosity and exploration of boundaries. He/she will always be there and will always give reassurance and affirmation, or whatever else necessary to encourage the child’s healthy growth. The child learns it has its own identity, but that parental relationship will always be primary.

    Yeah, this can work!

  • Josh Steele says:

    Thanks for writing this, Dr. Enns. Very helpful as I write a position paper of sorts on the nature/authority of Scripture for a History/Doctrine class on the Patristic period.

  • Paul says:

    Pete, the “center” metaphor works when you think of your “field of biblical studies” since the Bible is logically its center. But you mistakenly jumped in your next sentence to a statement about the center of the “Christian faith.” It makes sense for paid Bible/theology profs to think of the Bible as “the center” of conversation and conjectures, but believers would more naturally make the center of their faith-as you say-the “Absolute Truth of the God.” Why would people start believing without a set of clear beliefs? The open-ended, progressive journey is great for those like you and Franke who are paid to explore, but most folks have no time for or benefit from a journey of dialogue, questions, and progressive guessing about a changing god.

    • Luke Breuer says:

      Who says that we have “a changing god”? I don’t think Pete is saying anything like that. Indeed, I bet he would make a stronger argument for the sameness of God than most believers, due to his ideas on the Bible! Remember that Pete’s focus is on Jesus and what the Bible tells us about Jesus.

      In terms of “a journey of dialogue, questions, and progressing guessing”, I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re all called to do. Dialogue with the Holy Spirit in a variety of ways, questions in the full spectrum of life—like the Psalmists, and progressive guessing about what God is truly like—vs. fixing some idol of God from which we never deviate. God set aside the Sabbath for a very important reason! If we just go go go go, we tend to not let God redirect us.

      • ctrace says:

        >vs. fixing some idol of God from which we never deviate.

        Very messed-up statement there…

        • Luke Breuer says:

          “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

          See note 2 on the NET Bible on Ex 20:4: ‘likeness’ can be a mental pattern. Do you think you understand God perfectly? If not, do you accept that some of your ideas about him might be wrong, if only subtly? If so, do you recognize that there is a danger of you making an idol out of your current ‘likeness’, or mental representation, of God?

          • ctrace says:

            Stop digging…

          • Luke Breuer says:

            Please do not make accusations and then disappear or attempt to place blame on the other person. You said:

            Very messed-up statement there…

            Please explain what you meant, or indicate that you were never interested in seeking after the truth in a community that is a bit different from what you’re used to.

          • ctrace says:

            I hardly disappeared.

          • Luke Breuer says:

            To be constructive, I continually refine my idea of God. For example, I used to think Jesus would be quite judgmental of me were we to sit down and have a meal. This doesn’t match the gospels; I wasn’t a Pharisee—I wanted to have just a single decent friend. A mentor of mine has since introduced me to the idea that one can have an intellectual idea of God and an emotional idea of God. Either can be wrong. If either is wrong, you’re seeking after an idol if you think your current conception of God is God, rather than an approximation.

            A god who does not seem to change because you are understanding the same being but better is a god you control. That, after all, is the point of idols.

          • ctrace says:

            Thinking of the Creator in sense as an idol is a bad idea. Idols are in the category of the creation, not the Creator. Recognize the Creator/creation divide. God can’t be an idol, and our limited understanding of God can’t make of
            God an idol either. Christianity is not a hall of mirrors where deception and self-deception wreak havoc on us. Once regenerated by the word and the Spirit we have the Holy Spirit in us giving us discernment for truth. If anyone feels they don’t have regeneration then go to the word. Learn of God from the self-revelation of God, the Old and New Testaments.

          • Luke Breuer says:

            our limited understanding of God can’t make of God an idol either

            What is your biblical basis for saying this? I gave my biblical basis for the negation of your claim, by looking at the word ‘likeness’ in Ex 20:4. To elaborate, if we worship a false God (that is, if we assume our conception of God is God—see Ps 50:21), we are worshipping a ‘likeness’. To God, worshipping an idol and worshipping a likeness are equally bad.

            The solution, in my paradigm, is to let your conception of God be continually reformed. Without this, what on earth does Jesus mean in John 17:3?

            And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

            To ward off potential talking past each other, would you be happy with what I’ve said if I use a word other than ‘idol’? That is, would you accept that it is possible to worship a false conception of God? If you reject that, it would seem that you believe that your limited idea of God is forever infallible: whatever you know about him is correct, even though what you know isn’t exhaustive. I don’t want to attribute such a view to you though, as it seems like the height of arrogance to claim infallibility in this way.

          • ctrace says:

            It’s called false doctrine. Yes, your use of the term idol is very off-the-mark. False doctrine is false doctrine. A false view of God would be Unitarianism, but that is not making God an idol. It’s just false doctrine.

            >The solution, in my paradigm, is to let your conception of God be continually reformed.

            There is such thing at terminal understanding of biblical doctrine. I know that freaks out people, especially some who frequent this blog.

            2Ti_3:7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

            God doesn’t leave us in a hall of mirrors. He gives us the Spirit and with the Spirit discernment for the truth.

          • Luke Breuer says:

            There is such thing at terminal understanding of biblical doctrine.

            What is your biblical basis for this? 2 Ti 3:7 does not support your point; Paul is clearly talking about people without the Holy Spirit, as vv1-5 end with Paul describing how these people have denied the power of God. See Mt 16:17. Flesh and blood did not real that Jesus is the Christ to Peter; the Holy Spirit did. That doesn’t mean Peter afterwards knew everything.

            God is described as unfathomable; this means he can be eternally fathomed further and further. When God says “my ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts”, this is both a permanent truth, but also an attempt to draw Israel closer to his ways and thoughts.

    • peteenns says:

      You think this is an academic exercise for me? I also think you may be selling short “most folks.”

  • James says:

    The Bible as “center” rather than “firm boundaries.” I like that too. It is like the bead in the sights of a rifle that allows us to zero in on “life that is truly life.” Mysterious though, for the Bible is also an arrangement of words on paper, formerly parchment, most recently ipad. What makes this particular arrangement more straight and true than any other? I really don’t know for sure, but similar to my belief in the resurrection, I can only insist my faith in the Bible as center is motivated by good evidence of various kinds. What more can I say? “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirits” that it is so?

  • Quinton says:

    Amen. A-frikkin-men!

  • Myron Williams says:

    the clarity of a center to which we return makes all sorts of sense, for when we get to the edges we often forget where the center is and soon make our edge teh center. this reminds me of the heliocentric theory and all the trouble the church had with that centuries ago, but now finds is accurate. maybe we’ll soon discover this center is accurate as well.

  • Bryan says:

    In ‘After Virtue’ Alasdair MacIntyre argues that as a ‘bearer of a tradition’ we must critique our traditions from the inside, that is, in our smaller communities where our traditions are kept alive rather than as a pressure on our government; history shows this doesn’t work. Didn’t Jesus himself criticize his own tradition from within? This seems to be what progressive evangelicals are doing!

    As for Jesus as the center, I will have to think more on this one. As one who ‘critiques’ his own tradition, I agree with this as an example to follow but as one who draws rigid boundaries while culture has progressed in diverse ways, not so much.

    • Luke Breuer says:

      we must critique our traditions from the inside… history shows this doesn’t work.

      This is a fascinating statement; to what extent does MacIntyre make it and to what extent is it your extrapolation?

      I like to ask people whether they have it within them to push for the next item in the lien of abolitionism, civil rights, treating women as people, etc. Of course we ought to conserve as much good as possible, but we ought also to progress away from as much bad as possible. Unfortunately, conservatives like to conserve the bad and progressives like to reject the good. We live in an age of complete and utter overreaction—although I get the sense that it has often been this way throughout history. This gives a whole new weight to the NT’s use of “self-control” and “sober mind”.

      • Bryan says:

        MacIntyre is referring to some very complex histories, some of which I was never aware. He is referring to a moral system in which one form of government is supplanted with a new and better morality. One such example is the French Revolution which spiraled out of control with despots as rulers. In keeping with my statement, Jesus critiqued his own tradition within his smaller community as opposed to conquering Rome with a “better” morality. He criticized the Jewish traditions encapsulated in the OT and did not subjugate Rome with his revolutionary theological ideas.

        As for your statement about progressives who “reject the good”, this is odd and perplexing. Was it not progressives who who took part in abolitionism, civil rights and rights for women?? I am quite certain MacIntyre is well aware of this history.

        • Luke Breuer says:

          Oh I see; I was mistaken in what “this” referred to. From my limited knowledge of history, Christians often seem to want to get the houses of other people in order before they get their own in order.

          In terms of progressives “reject[ing] the good”, here’s a little ditty I came up with:

          Conservative: good things are being lost!
          Progressive: good things are being gained!

          Conservative: bad things are being gained!
          Progressive: bad things are being lost!

          Perhaps that will explain what I meant a bit more. The above happens when the Body of Christ lies in shambles, instead of each member submitting to the other. We have progressive churches and conservative churches, instead of churches which help each to balance the other out. This disunity does not honor God, and it stunts growth and in particular, the in-breaking of the kingdom of heaven.

          • Bryan says:

            If I knew what you were attempting to articulate, I would respond.

          • Luke Breuer says:

            What I was describing was people with a conservative mentalities overreacting and people with progressive mentalities also overreacting. If you aren’t familiar with people’s innate tendencies to overreact to circumstances and how that works out, I suggest we truncate this line of discussion.

            You’ve sufficiently interested me in MacIntyre’s work for me to find a copy of his book. 🙂

          • Bryan says:

            Its tough sledding ahead but well worth it. Wish you the best.

    • Luke Breuer says:

      I just wanted to follow up and say that I’ve finally made my way through After Virtue, and very much enjoyed it. Thank you for citing his work!

      • Bryan says:

        Great to hear. His work is one of my favorites. Let me know if you have any thoughts about the read.

        • Luke Breuer says:

          There is so much in his book that I think I’d want to re-read it in a book club, virtual or real. The role that narrative plays in his thoughts is profound, especially considering the large amount of narrative in the Bible, and the paucity of narrative in Western culture, except for the obviously fictional movies and books which are popular.

  • Grayson Pope says:

    This seems to echo what Lewis was after with Mere Christianity. A focus on the central tenets of the Christian faith, not the things blogging theologians like to argue about. Great thoughts Peter.

  • john burnett says:

    I think it was St Pachomios, one of the founders of Christian monasticism (2nd or 3rd century) who said that the church was like a wheel, with God at the center and all of us on the spokes. The closer we draw near to God, the closer also we draw to each other.

    Was that lecture ever put on youtube?

  • steve says:



    Acts 2:41 So then, those who received his word were baptized; and there were added about three thousand souls. Acts 2:47….And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

    All three thousand believed the apostle Peter’s message and were baptized in water. Then they were added to the Lord’s church by the Lord Himself. The Lord did not add the unsaved to His church. They had to believe and be baptized in water prior to being added to the body of Christ.

    1. Acts 2:22 Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—

    All three thousand believed Jesus was a miracle worker.

    2. Acts 2:31-32 he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.

    All three thousand believed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    3. Acts 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”

    All three thousand believed that Jesus was Lord and Christ.

    4. Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    All three thousand repented in order to have sins forgiven. (repentance meant that they made the commitment to turn from their unbelief and sinful lifestyle and turn toward God).

    All three thousand were baptized in water in order to have their sins forgiven.

    All three thousand received the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit after they believed, repented, and were baptized in water.

    5. Acts 2:40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”

    All three thousand were saved after they believed Peter’s message: They believed, repented, confessed, and were baptized in water. (Mark 16:16, John 3:16, Acts 3:19, Acts 2:38, Romans 10:9-10, Acts 8:35-38) THEN THEY WERE ADDED TO THE LORD’S CHURCH! (Acts 2:47)


    1.Peter did not preach that men were saved by grace alone.

    2.Peter did not preach that men were saved by faith only

    3.Peter did not preach that God had selected a few to be saved and that all others would go to hell.

    4. Peter did not preach that water baptism was not essential to salvation.

    5. Peter did not preach that Jesus was just one of many Saviors.

    6. Peter did not preach that once you were saved, that you could continue in a sinful lifestyle and still be saved.

    7. Peter did not preach that God did not have the power to give us an inerrant translation of the Scriptures.

    8. Peter did not preach that God would provide hundreds or thousands of different Christian denominations, and that they would teach different ways of being saved.

    9. Peter did NOT preach that you had to speak in tongues as evidence that you were saved.

    AS BELIEVERS IN CHRIST, MEN SHOULD USE THE BIBLE AS THEIR GUIDE FOR SALVATION. Looking to man-made creed books, Bible commentaries, denominational statements of faith, and church catechisms, is looking in all the wrong places for the absolute truth!


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