Bill Evans comments on the ongoing fall out surrounding Pete Enns and Westminster Seminary. He sees it as an impasse between two ways of interpreting the Bible — the Christotelic (Enns) and the grammatico-historical (anti-Enns):
What are the characteristics of christotelic interpretation? First, there is a rejection of grammatical-historical interpretation as the only legitimate hermeneutical approach to Scripture. Yes, they say, it is important to understand the biblical text in its original linguistic and historical context, but we can’t stop there. Grammatical-historical interpretation is a creature of modernity, and earlier Christian interpreters were not tied to it—the NT writers sometimes interpret OT texts in ways that likely would not have occurred to Isaiah or Hosea. Also, grammatical-historical interpretation asks what the text would have meant to the original human author, but the Bible is also divinely inspired and our interpretation must take this divine origin and perspective into account as well.
Second, the larger meaning of the text resides in the text as it is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and this meaning is then progressively grasped by the human audience over the course of redemptive history. Here there is particular focus on the Scriptural canon as a whole as the context within which christotelic interpretation takes place.
Finally, all this leads to a programmatic distinction between “first reading” and “second reading.” In the first reading we encounter the text without reference to the conclusion of the story, while in the second reading we see levels of meaning we did not see before precisely because we know how the story ends and how things fit together.
It is not entirely surprising that this approach would be controversial. Proponents of christotelic interpretation have sometimes overstated their case, suggesting that the Old Testament, when interpreted simply according to grammatical-historical method, is not a Christian book. One can understand why some would view this as a denial of the “organic connection” between the OT and the NT and as an example of creeping naturalism. In addition, evangelical Protestants have generally had a rather static view of the text and its meaning as inhering in the intent of the original human author, and grammatical-historical interpretation is often regarded as the normative method of interpretation. Finally, this approach also seems to engage questions of Protestant identity in that grammatical-historical interpretation is often regarded as a hallmark of Protestantism over against Catholic allegorical and sensus plenior approaches.
How, then, shall we characterize the opposing position? First, there is the affirmation of grammatical-historical interpretation as the normative method of biblical interpretation. Thus the meaning of the text resides in the author’s intention.
Second, the grammatical-historical method is redefined so as to remove the Enlightenment emphasis on human autonomy and the resulting exclusion of God from consideration. Thus it is expanded to include divine influence on the human authors’ psychology as legitimate considerations for interpretation. Along this line, grammatical-historical method is also recast to include biblical typology, which is seen as arising intrinsically out of the grammatical-historical meaning of the text.
The odd aspect of this analysis is the idea that Enns and others are somehow adopting an older, premodern understanding of the Bible compared to Enns’ critics who have embraced the Enlightenment. In point of fact, it was largely the theologians and historical theologians who opposed Enns’ views, while Enns and some of his supporters were academically trained at elite universities and thoroughly at home in the very modern and enlightened world of the Society of Biblical Literature.
So if the contrast between old and new academic methods doesn’t explain the controversy, what about the church? Here I’d argue that Enns was not thinking with the church about interpreting the Bible or how to conceive of Scripture while his critics were representing the confessional standards of Reformed churches. Furthermore, if Enns had been thinking with the OPC or the PCA, he likely wouldn’t have written his controversial book. Does that mean that Reformed churches put limits (in a very pre-modern way) on academic freedom? Heck yeah. Which also means that the Enlightenment/pre-modern assessment by Evans doesn’t go very far.
Evans concludes somewhat nostalgically about what this means for WTS:
The institution that I attended in the 1980s was one in which Ray Dillard and Dick Gaffin and Sinclair Ferguson and Harvie Conn and Tremper Longman and Vern Poythress and Philip Edgcumbe Hughes and Clair Davis and Robert Knudsen and Tim Keller and Moises Silva and Roger Greenway and Manny Ortiz and Rick Gamble could get along and work together despite their sometimes considerable differences. That institution is now apparently gone. Of course, nothing stays the same, and perhaps a new context and new challenges demand that lines be drawn more narrowly. It remains to be seen, however, whether a narrower institution can thrive in the current challenging seminary market environment. Furthermore, will it produce scholarship that is meaningful and useful to the broader Christian world rather than catering to the boundary preoccupations of the conservative Reformed subculture?
But Evans doesn’t consider that WTS 2.0 was not WTS 1.0 — the school of Van Til, Murray, Stonehouse, Young, and Kuiper, the school that was decidedly ecclesial in serving the OPC but also achieving an international reputation (at least among Protestants). I don’t think Harvard or Yale were paying much attention to WTS 1.0. But I’m not sure they did to 2.0 either.