I’m sure that by now many of our readers have heard that Westminster Seminary (Phila.) and Dr. Peter Enns have come to mutually agreeable terms, and that Dr. Enns’ tenure as prof. of OT at WTS is now officially over (see here). Some have taken this latest announcement in the Enns-gate controversy as an opportunity to continue mocking the Seminary for its fundamentalist and sectarian ways (see here, and here), others view this as a great day for Westminster and the cause of orthodoxy in America (see, for one example, some of the comments on this thread).
I, for one, don’t really buy in to either of these perspectives. I am not convinced, as many seem to be, that Westminster is Satan’s playground or a place where the chief concern of the “powers that be” is to avoid cutting edge scholarship and/or to perpetuate schism. But at the same time, I cannot view anything that has happened in this controversy as a good thing. Even if this mutually agreeable settlement between the respective parties is more desireable than a number of other outcomes which might be imagined, it is not necessarily good. At the end of the day, a good servant of Christ is out of work and has surely suffered much turmoil and humiliation. And, conversely, at the end of the day, a good school has lost one of its most notable professors and has also undergone tremendous turmoil and humiliation (from the tenured faculty on down to first year students). Splits and divisions amongst Christians, especially of this sort, are never “good,” even if they may at times be necessary.
But one thing I feel constrained to combat is the seemingly prevalent insistance that Westminster and other seminaries like it, simply because they see fit to hold fast to their confessional identity, are somehow doing a dis-service to the church by ”avoiding the difficult questions” in the name of a confessional orthodoxy. For some reason it is assumed that seminaries simply exist as places to heap academic information onto students so that they can have a good understanding of the “cutting edge” scholarship being done in the various biblical-theological disciplines. While this no doubt ought to be a primary concern for most academic institutions, it is not so, or at least it ought not be so, for seminaries.
Seminaries exist to serve the church, not the academy. And in the case of confessional seminaries, they exist to serve very particular kinds of churches. Thus, the main function of a seminary is not to simply provide academic training (though seminaries must not neglect doing rigorous academic work), but rather to provide a place where pastoral theological development as well as spiritual maturity and insight may be developed among and instilled within the future leaders and teachers of Christ’s flock. This does not mean that the faculty of confessional seminaries ought to avoid the best scholarship available in their respective fields, but it does means that they should be engaging this scholarship for the purpose of training future pastors and teachers to minister in the actual churches which they exist to serve.
Surely it is possible to strike something of a balance here. WTS Philly is a confessional school whose primary function is the training of pastors for confessionally Reformed churches. Thus, the biblical profs. at a place like Westminster should definitely be highly trained in the languages and up to date on the best scholarly work in Biblical Studies being done today, but they also should be knowledgable in historic Reformed theology, especially that of the Reformed Confessions, because their primary function (apart from which they serve no meaningful purpose) is to train pastors for particular churches; in this case, confessional Reformed churches.
This being the case, confessional seminaries like WTS, and the biblical studies professors in confessional seminaries, are in a unique position of having to balance concerns which “broader” theological schools and academic institutions don’t have to deal with. Thus, it is definitely not out of line for a confessional seminary to ask its Bible profs. to adhere to their confession, and to teach confessional views in their classes (while not brushing aside the “difficult questions”), because the church quite simply is not the academy. If it happens that certain professors at confessional seminaries need to forsake their confession, and thus leave the institution which upholds that confession, because of where they think the evidence brought to the table by the “best” schoalrship being done in their particular field of study is leading them, then so be it. But it is certainly not a mockable or unreasonable thing for a confessional seminary to ask all of its professors to adhere to and to teach confessional views.
Now, Pete Enns may have been an excellent example of one who held to and taught confessional views in class while not neglecting to deal with the difficult questions during his time at WTS. I have never been in a class with him, and I’ve never talked with him personally, so I can’t be sure. I’ve seen plausible points from both sides on the issue, and having read Dr. Enns’ book and all the other documents released by the seminary, I can see how it is possible to read him in more than one way. (Though the way he asks to be read is to my mind the better of the two.) So, it is possible that the seminary may have indeed erred in its assessment of Enns and his work. However, it certainly does not err in expecting its professors (in the biblical studies department no less than in other departments) to be confessionally Reformed by their own convictions, and to consistently teach from a confessionally Reformed perspective in their classes.