Friday, January 16, 2009

Peter Enns on Rightly Handling the Book of Genesis

(The River Raisin this morning at -13 F)

Here's a nice quote from Peter Enns's Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament with a few parenthetical comments by me.

"The question is not the degree to which Genesis conforms to what we would think is a proper description of origins. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of Genesis to expect it to answer questions generated by a modern worldview, such as whether the days were literal or figurative, or whether the days of creation can be lined up with modern science, or whether the flood was local or universal.... It is wholly incomprehensible to think that thousands of years ago God would have felt constrained to speak in a way that would be meaningful only to Westerners several thousand years later. [Now THAT is a beautiful statement..., so true...] To do so borders on modern, Western arrogance.... [Here Enns helps us overcome a fundamentalist-evangelical hermeneutic that would not lay aside our Western interpretative framework.]

To argue, as I am doing here, that such biblical stories as creation and the flood must be understood first and foremost in the ancient contexts, is nothing new. The point I would like to emphasize, however, is that such a firm grounding in ancient myth does not make Genesis less inspired; it is not a concession that we must put up with or an embarrassment to a sound doctrine of scripture. Quite to the contrary, such rootedness in the culture of the time is precisely what it means for God to speak to his people.... [I like this a lot. We must try to hear the word as the people AT THAT TIME heard it.] This is surely what it means for God to reveal himself to people - he accommodates, condescends, meets them where they are."

[Note: Part of the misguided evangelical hermeneutic was a response to what was called the "new hermeneutic" {Ernst Fuchs, Gerhard Ebeling, following Bultmann and succeed by Hans-Georg Gadamer} which questioned attempts to "fuse horizons" {Horizontverschmelzung} and led to a reconstruction of the biblical text within one's own horizon of meaning. In reaction, the evangelical idea of the "inerrancy" of the Bible was for many (including me) the only alternative, even though it was a concept {in its structural aspects} that was foreign to the actual biblical text. A false dichotomy was created, which was: Either we can get at the biblical meaning of a text within our own horizon of meaning, or we can never fuse horizons and therefore can only existentially interpret the biblical texts. The words of Enns here and the work of N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Craig Keener, et. al., show us another way which, for me, is exciting and eye-opening; viz., that we can get at the biblical context and re-capture the operative hermeneutic within that ancient horizon of meaning.]