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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

how I get to teach and study the Bible at Eastern University

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

funny cartoon geniusNo, I don’t work in admissions and this isn’t an ad.

As another school year begins, my 6th academic year at Eastern University, I want to share with you our department’s four-fold vision for teaching and studying the Bible. I really love this statement.

The Department itself may be described as orthodox, evangelical, ecumenical, and constructively critical.

We are orthodox because we affirm the main doctrines of the Christian tradition, as embedded in the Bible and codified in the classical creeds of the Christian Church.

We are evangelical because we affirm that God has acted decisively in human history to save us through the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. God invites all human beings to appropriate that salvation through faith in Him, steadfast obedience to His way of life, and active participation in His Body, the Christian Church.

We are ecumenical because we affirm that, within the broadly orthodox and evangelical parameters just mentioned, there are many legitimate institutional embodiments of authentic Christianity, including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism and most Mainline Protestant and Evangelical denominations.

Finally, we are constructively critical because we seek to understand, practice and advocate the Christian faith in the light of contemporary thought, science and culture.

This statement was written long before I got here, so don’t pat me on the back. Nor do I mean to present Eastern as a couple steps short of Paradise. Every school has its own difficult waters to navigate. But this statement is, I feel, healthy and inspiring.

The orthodoxy we try to embody is not a denominational orthodoxy but an orthodoxy that the brings along with it as much of the Christian tradition as possible. It is a big-tent orthodoxy.

Our evangelical posture, likewise, endeavors to be broadly defined, not caught up in the culture wars that beset the contemporary evangelical subculture, but one that is Christ-centered.

Following on and consistent with the first two points, we are ecumenical in the sense that, in word and action, we understand the Christian faith to extend far beyond the borders of evangelical Protestantism, let alone any particular iteration of Protestantism.

The faculty is ecclesiastically (and theologically) diverse, including not only many versions of Protestantism, but the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Orthodox traditions. (We also house the newly formed Institute for Orthodox Thought and Culture.)

And finally, we are critically constructive, meaning we engage not only the history of Christian thought in our study of Scripture but intellectual movements and developments in contemporary thought as well. Our aim is that such engagement will encourage fresh ways of understanding Scripture and the Christian faith for our world and in doing so foster spiritual maturity and deeper communion with God.

This statement models an approach to teaching and studying the Bible that provides both broad parameters and flexibility within those parameters. The study of Scripture is more than an exercise in protecting a small patch of theological turf, but of expectation, exploration, and wonder.

***I talk more about the nature of the Bible and Christian faith in The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014), The Sin of Certainty (HarperOne, 2016), Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker 2005/2015), and The Evolution of Adam (Baker, 2012).***

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