“One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God” (Frederick Buechner, “Incarnation,” in Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, 1993: 52).

A few weeks ago I was shocked—shocked, I tell you!—to read that a professor at a seminary up north had written that the Bible is both divine and human. Really? I never heard that before! What awful heretic would say such a thing?

The criminal is named Peter Enns, a tenured fourteen-year veteran of the faculty at Westminster Seminary in Pennsylvania. He was suspended from teaching, then forced to leave his post, by the trustees. Why? For trying to help his students “grapple with recent scholarship suggesting contradictions in the Bible” through his 2005 book Inspiration and Incarnation. Apparently, the man’s opinions “defied the school’s founding principle” that the “Scripture is solely the word of God,” something supposedly taught by the Westminster Confession (“Theology Professor leaving traditionalist seminary over claims,” Starkville Daily News, August 2, 2008: A2).

I guess the trustees didn’t get the memo: this the 21st century, not the 17th! We have much more pressing problems than determining the nature of the Bible. Like the environment, poverty, war, imperial ambitions of leaders, corporate greed, fear, hatred in the name of God, ignorance, and on and on. Isn’t it much better to do what the Bible teaches than to keep wrangling over what it is? But I guess some people would rather keep stirring the pot of the old battles than help find solutions to the very real theological issues facing us today.

I am appalled at the trustees’ refusal to give a professor a little slack to help students understand “recent” (since 1900?) scholarship. I am disturbed that they have had their collective heads stuck in the theological sand. But there’s something that bothers me even more than such matters.

These men (and given their theological bent, I’m sure they’re all men) dismissed Dr. Enns for allegedly being unorthodox. But in my opinion it is they themselves who are guilty of heresy, one of the oldest around. It’s called “Docetism” and is essentially a denial of the true humanity of Jesus. In other words, the Docetics did not believe God really “became flesh,” incarnate.

The ancient church, against the Docetics, affirmed that our Lord was not a god pretending to be human. Instead, in Jesus the eternal and uncontainable God chose to enter fully into human life—growing, learning, hurting, sweating, eating, drinking, laughing, working, befriending, and ultimately, dying. Jesus was not born knowing everything nor did he in the cradle uphold the universe by the word of his power, as a seminary professor of mine once nonsensically put it. The truth is much more astounding: God made himself fully known in the midst of human life as one of us! The word Jesus spoke was a fully human word, conditioned by its time and place, but also and for that reason the Word of God. God does not speak in the abstract, but always in the concrete, so that his message of comfort and hope, judgment and challenge, grace and generosity may reach and touch us in our real lives.

It’s not a stretch at all to say that if the Living Word of God, Jesus, comes to us this way, so does the Word of God Written, the Bible. God is not so limited or unimaginative that he cannot communicate his perfect Word through the stories, poetry, songs, letters, and visions of real human beings who thought their own thoughts, edited their own work, and picked and chose among sources. No matter how the viewpoints may vary across centuries and authors, no matter how rife with contradictions and inconsistencies the work may be, no matter how the sometimes abhorrent customs and foolish notions of people are reflected in the text, it is God who speaks!

A boardroom full of scared men firing a professor who dared to speak his mind can’t change the way God works. I think I read that in the Bible.

© 2008 by Tom Cheatham