Boundary Markers – an Excerpt from Inspiration and Incarnation, 2nd Edition

The following is an excerpt from the 2nd edition of Inspiration and Incarnation, by Peter Enns.

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I wrote Inspiration and Incarnation to articulate for evangelicals a different way to think about Scripture, using the incarnation of Christ as an analogy for shaping the expectations we place on Scripture as God’s word.

The presenting problem was my experience that the evangelical community has not always sat comfortably with the pressing, long-standing, and most importantly unavoidable theological challenges that stem from the historical study of Scripture, which I outline in chapters 2–4. It seemed to me, and still does, that at least part of this dis-ease reflects the felt need to preserve important “boundary markers” of the evangelical faith community concerning Scripture.

Cover ArtOf course all communities of faith have boundaries, but in the case of evangelicalism those boundaries have either engaged critical biblical scholarship selectively or held it at arm’s length as essentially a threat rather than working toward a true and, in my view, much needed theological synthesis.

Protecting boundaries has come at a price for many evangelicals: the unfortunate and recurring pattern where the same theological “conflicts” keep coming up in successive generations. This well documented phenomenon does not stem, as is often claimed, from newer generations “caving in” to liberal thinking, of failing to hold fast to the hard fought lessons of faithful warriors of the past. Rather the generational, cyclical disquiet among evangelicals indicates that the hard fought lessons have failed to provide adequate and persuasive explanatory power for many within evangelicalism.

Once exposed sympathetically to the wider landscape of modern biblical scholarship (whether formally trained or not), evangelicals often come to question older intellectual paradigms while still valuing deeply the personal faith cultivated in that earlier context. They want to work things out, to find a viable way forward, and so they seek a synthesis of old and new. A failure to support those efforts by their ecclesiastical or professional communities leads to tensions that are too often resolved to neither party’s ultimate advantage—a scenario that has been played out with increasing regularity in recent years within evangelical and fundamentalist schools.

Without wishing to overstate, I think Inspiration and Incarnation has played at least some role over the last ten years in bringing this dysfunctional and wholly unnecessary pattern to greater public consciousness, and one hope I have for the continued reception of the book is to help minimize this unfortunate cycle of suspicion and combat.

An incarnational model, I continue to think, is not controversial and could in fact be quite effective in generating conversations for moving forward. After all, appealing to the core Christian mystery of the incarnation of Christ as a means of understanding the nature of Scripture is, despite protests, not an innovative theological move on my part, and at the same time it provides some flexibility for reimagining evangelical bibliology.

©2015 by Peter Enns. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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