A.J. Castellitto
Phillip Cary on Peter Enns and Bart Ehrman
By A.J. Castellitto
October 25, 2018

Pete Enns and I look at the Bible from opposite ends of the process of developing a healthy approach to the Scriptures. I'm a theologian interested in how we read Scripture profitably, for the building up of the church. He's a biblical scholar concerned with how Scripture has been read destructively, in ways driven by fear. I'm looking for the right outcome for Christian reading, whereas he's more worried about how things go wrong at the beginning, with false assumptions that turn Scripture into a battlefield or a weapon. He's working to free people from a narrow fundamentalist hermeneutic; I'm participating in a movement of theological interpretation (e.g., in my Jonah commentary) that's working on providing a faithful alternative to fundamentalist reading.

His vocation, it seems, is to help Christians who have been wounded by the way fundamentalist hermeneutics threatens and condemns those who don't read the Bible like fundamentalists. My vocation involves learning from the Christian tradition the best ways to use Scripture to build people up in the faith of Christ, in Christian love and hope. I wish Pete were a bit more of a theologian, but we all have our vocation. And lately, he's been working on a project called "The Bible for Normal People," which might have more to say in the way of a positive hermeneutics. Unfortunately, I haven't had time to read up on what he's been doing with this project.

Pete is not Bart. What they have in common is that both have been wounded by their involvement in fundamentalism, and both aim to help people find their way out of it. But Ehrman is an unbeliever, thoroughly renouncing his own past identity as a fundamentalist, and from what I've heard, he's a classic example of the psychological profile of the ex-fundamentalist. Whereas Pete was never really a fundamentalist, so he's not renouncing his own former identity but rather a social environment he used to belong to and now thinks is toxic. He describes himself as suffering from a kind of PTSD when it comes to fundamentalism, but I guess like other PTSD survivors he keeps re-living the trauma and trying to work it through. My impression of Ehrman's work (which I haven't found time to read and don't actually have much interest in) is that he is quite happy to lead people away from Christian faith altogether, whereas Pete would rather help people become a less fearful and anxious sort of Christian.

My worry about Pete is that he doesn't realize how easy it is to re-create Protestant liberalism with all its failures and infidelities. I suppose that's a kind of occupational hazard for those who have been "wounded from the right" rather than "wounded from the left." I myself have not been deeply wounded from either side, but I given where I am (i.e., in the Episcopal church) the left gives me more to worry about than the right. My formative adolescent experience with a church that was theologically moderately right-of-center gave me something healthy but a bit limited that I had to outgrow, but not a set of wounds I had to recover from.

Grace and peace,


*Check out Dr. Phillip Cary in "95 Theses"

© A.J. Castellitto


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)