Rachel Held Evans on Inspiration and Incarnation

Rachel Held Evans on Inspiration and Incarnation June 25, 2012

Rachel Held Evans has begun a five-week series discussing my book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament.

Some of you may remember that I&I got a bit of attention after it came out in 2005 and eventually led to some, let us say, “employment challenges.” I am very happy to see Rachel blogging about the book, because it was written with a simliar audience in mind as her Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions

Like Rachel, I am not to trying convince gatekeepers but to start a conversation among those who want to have it. Many Christians (namely Evangelicals) sense a lot of cognitive dissonance between how they were raised to think about the Bible and some important (and undeniable) developments in modern biblical scholarship—particularly the Old Testament—over the past 150 years.

My primary audience is those readers who find it difficult to maintain their faith in God because conventional evangelical approaches often mishandle the challenges raised by modern biblical scholarship–particularly because they commonly take a defensive posture to ideas that challenge the system.

Defensive approaches are exercises in special pleading, attempts to hold on to comfortable idea despite evidence that makes such ideas problematic. It is precisely the ineffectiveness of certain ways of thinking about the Bible that can sometimes be spiritually discouraging for Christians who love and want to hold on to their Bible, but who also feel the weight of certain kinds of evidence.

I will try to chime in now and then on Rachel’s blog and add to the discussion. I hope you have a chance to visit Rachel’s site and share your thoughts.

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  • Don Johnson


  • I&I and Monkey Town were literally life-changing, faith-shaping books for my wife and me. We were thrilled to meet Rachel and get our copy of Monkey Town signed when she spoke at Summit out here in Abilene last year. We just need to get you to come out this way, too!

    Thanks for providing a voice we didn’t know we needed.

  • Jason


    I 2nd what Paul said. Your book (The Evolution of Adam) was exactly what I needed as well. I just ordered I&I today and can’t wait to read it.

    Thanks so much for all of your hard work and willingness to go against the grain.


  • The fact that Rachel, as a woman has such a huge following is a sign that these times are a changing… And from my vantage point, that is great news!

    Regardless of the audience, these issues are only going to intensify and have further ramifications for believers and non-believers alike. Standing from the side lines a bit as I came to the bible only a few years ago, it seems that the culture that was brought up to believe the bible quite literarily maybe at times loses sight of the big picture. If you hold onto something too tight, you can strangle it.

    I have not read either book (and thus risk sounding foolish) but I am somewhat familiar with the points being articulated in Rachel’s summary. My thought is that in addition to possibly limiting one’s spiritual evolution, there is another outcome to this phenomenon of not holding space for cognitive dissonance. Barriers emerge creating great division between those schooled in the bible and those not. My fear is that the literalists may be driving non-believers away from actually picking up the bible and checking it out.

    There was a time when the Bible was considered mandatory reading for any cultured person. It was considered in the cannon of great world literature. Even if people are not of faith, the OT and NT are worth reading as books of wisdom and to help facilitate dialogue. But now non-believers often denigrate faith without much knowledge of the texts they debate. Plus, as a society, we are losing a moral platform that the bible inspires even if not a professed follower of God and/or Jesus. In schools, Eastern religious texts are being highly encouraged for curriculum reading (which I support) but the Bible is often considered an outrageous addition – (and as a tool of obnoxious evangelism) – if on a class reading list. I wonder if the literal readings and resulting culture wars have contributed to this phenomenon. If so that makes me sad.

    And so, this beautiful book, the Bible often sits unopened. Now it’s true that many books (Bible or otherwise) aren’t being read these days…. Nonetheless, I’d love to see the Bible resurrected as literature and as a thing to study from different academic perspectives. I don’t see that as dangerous to faith. I see that as wise. And I trust that the Divine word has a powerful voice.

  • Dr. Enns,
    I have heard that you had had a debate on the subject of inspiration of Bible with Dr. Stephen Chapman in 2008. I tried to download the debate audio from your website peterennsonline.com, but the link is not working. Could you please provide a working link.

    Thanks you..

    Peter Enns & Stephen Chapman at Duke 10-22-08: “Is the Bible Ever Wrong?”

    • peteenns

      I will try, Denish, but, FYI, it was no debate but a conversation. He and I are on the same page