no, really, I’m not self-absorbed–but read this about me anyway

no, really, I’m not self-absorbed–but read this about me anyway September 22, 2014

ForTheBibleTellsMeSoI am posting below–anonymously and with permission–(1) an Amazon review of TBTMS and (2) an email I received the same day.

Both say nice things about me, but that’s not my point (believe me or not). (And if you’re still annoyed, remember that plenty of people say bad things about me, so it balances out.)

I’m posting them because they represent the experiences of two of the kinds of readers I am aiming for in TBTMS.

The Amazon review is by a graduate from a conservative seminary and the email is from someone not of faith but moving toward it. Those who have already read TBTMS will recognize important themes of the book (especially from chapters 1 and 4) in the communications below.

(I removed irrelevant portions from the Amazon review–which you can always go read yourself–and I made some formatting adjustments to both, such as bold type and paragraph divisions.)

********

(1) The Bible Tells Me So is the third book that I have read now from Peter Enns.

Nearly two years ago, I initially came across Inspiration and Incarnation by accident. Having recently graduated from a neo-Reformed seminary, I remembered that Enns’s work had been described there as “dangerous” by the students, and as “problematic” by the faculty — like contraband. Yet with anything akin to contraband, I could not help but wonder what all of the so-called controversy was about with the book. Why avoid engagement with a person or a topic if it is as solid as [other] people suggest?

Like many recently graduated seminarians, I still had many questions that were left unanswered. Where was I to go? Should I treat seminary like a closed book or like a stepping stone that takes me to new places in theology? Those two options seem to be common for graduates, especially of evangelical schools.

Opting for adventure, I took the risk and began reading it, although, I admit, I read it in private. Sadly, my reason for doing this was because I did not want other friends from seminary and in my denomination to find out that I was actually engaging with Enns’s material.

If they found out that I was considering his arguments, let alone reading them, I feared what that might mean for my life and my hopes for pursuing vocational church ministry in the future. I could be blacklisted, because, I was in possession of contraband.

What I encountered then took my breath away, and in many ways, I am still reveling in what Enns’s arguments introduced me to in the world of biblical scholarship. In short, Enns was one of the voices who forced me to consider that my seminary education was insulated from the rest of the world and academia, and quite frankly, that was very upsetting for me.

This contributed to a major conflict in my life, but one that I look back upon now with gratitude: if I was to take the Bible seriously, as I had been taught, how should I respond to a text like this one? Should I consider the strength of these arguments and look further into similar discussions? What if it challenged the system of doctrine that I had been taught? What would that mean to someone like me and my future?

Or was I to immediately reject them and revert to the system of biblical interpretation that I had been taught in seminary and to that which was normative in my conservative Reformed denomination? In other words, I had two options: take a risk or play it safe.

So, I opted for the latter and two years later, after a complete paradigm shift, I do not regret my decision at all.

Throughout the past two years, I have read other books and various articles that make the similar arguments as Enns’s did with Inspiration and Incarnation. I was looking forward to the day when I could find a book that would condense the arguments into a broad overview that I could give to others who asked the same questions as I did years ago as a college student and as a seminarian.

How else could you expect to describe biblical criticism to someone desiring to know more about it, especially to someone who has only heard nasty things about critical scholarship–like, all critical scholars rip Bibles apart for fun or use them for coasters?

The Bible Tells Me So not only continues this conversation with these same themes that were introduced several years ago in Inspiration and Incarnation, but Enns makes these topics accessible for all people, whether or not they have studied religion at the collegiate or graduate level. If you are coming from an insulated background in the church or seminary, then you can be assured that Enns is not the only person out there speaking in this way.

In addition, Enns puts a Christological focus on the interpretation of Old and New Testament texts which should give comfort to readers who might be wondering about the conclusions that Enns is drawing from his critical examination of the Old Testament while reading along in the book.

Coming from someone who works in a church, I think that this book would be of wonderful help for people as young as high school (as long as they are avid readers) and up, especially those who are frustrated with evangelical and/or fundamentalist readings of the biblical text.

******

(2) Dear Dr. Enns,

I am not a Christian, but in my inexorable crawl towards the faith many barriers have fallen. The biggest barrier to date has been in my reading of the OT — it actually pulled me farther away.

I decided to pretend I knew nothing about Christianity (or Judaism) and just read it from page one at face value. As you can imagine, this was an epic fail.

To conclude any of the things I’ve been told about God would be like watching Star Wars (1977, the only “real” one) and thinking “gosh, what a great romantic comedy.” It reads like an ancient historical novel with fantastical elements, perhaps the first “fantasy novel” where God is this enigmatic bad guy and somehow smaller than The Creator of this unfathomable mathematical universe (or multiverse).

The premise of The Bible Tells Me So on how to approach the Bible  just makes so much sense to me and is an intellectually honest way to get God off the hook. This barrier of mine has now fallen. I have Adam Hamilton (Making Sense of the Bible) and you to thank for that. Nevertheless, I have [a] question that [has] stumped me for a couple of years now:

In the handful of verses in Exodus where God calls the Israelites “a stiff necked people” he commands them to go without him because if he goes with them he just might destroy them all. What’s troubling to me is not simply that he seems like the bad guy about to pop his cork, but that he is a being with limited faculties (i.e. not omniscient).

If they go without him, they are removed from his presence and he won’t know what they’re up to (so they’ll be safe from his wrath). If God is omniscient, how could he not know what they’re up to? This seems to make God smaller than what he should be. Your thoughts on this … ?

I hope to hear from you soon. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy reading Inspiration and Incarnation.

 

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  • In the handful of verses in Exodus where God calls the Israelites “a stiff necked people” he commands them to go without him because if he goes with them he just might destroy them all. What’s troubling to me is not simply that he seems like the bad guy about to pop his cork, but that he is a being with limited faculties (i.e. not omniscient).

    I’ve been wondering about similar issues. I want to propose that maybe Paul provides a key insight:

    Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Rom 11:22)

    Add to this Yoram Hazony’s concept of shepherds and farmers, and I think the answer is this: God is always building into people. He is always providing fuel for the fire, as it were. The question is whether a person/group/society chooses to use that fuel to draw closer to God. Consider the difference between a controlled nuclear reaction and an atomic explosion. In one, the energy is channeled and controlled and can be used to do great things. The other would seem to be well-illustrated by the term “wrath of God”.

    Hazony argues, in The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, that farmers (in the Ancient Near East, they would live close to cities) wanted to maintain social order. This allows people to fall through the cracks. In Nehemiah, for example, we see this happening, Nehemiah fighting it, but the decay setting in when he leaves again. Shepherds, on the other hand, care most about life. Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep doesn’t make sense if one does not really believe this. What if God is doing everything he can—while letting us still freely choose—to promote life? And yet, with the Israelites, this would lead to death, so he says he’ll keep his distance.

    So, either accept the grace of God and respond to him in faith and love, or that grace will turn to wrath? I’ve never heard this idea before, so it might be totally off. But something about it I find compelling…

  • I finished reading your book last night and will post a review later this week.

    I found the book refreshing and helpful, but also feel that if I adopted your view of Scripture, the Bible would become little more than a book of religious writings that are mostly wrong about God, pretty much on par with the Qur’an or the Vedas.

    Can you point me in the right direction on that?

    • peteenns

      Thanks for your comment Jeremy. I like your work.

      I would ask first what kind of Bible you think you would like/need to adopt and then see if it’s there.

      What distinguishes the Bible isn’t it’s properties but it’s subject. That is what I draw out in the Jesus and Paul chapters. It’s not that the Bible is “mostly wrong about God” but that is tells a long story of God that, as Christians believe, is revealed in fullness in Christ.

      • I probably overstated my comment. I have a bad habit of doing that… ha! Let’s see if I can do it again…

        I have SO many questions…. not even sure where to begin. Sigh.

        I think what I am going to do is read your book again … out loud … to my wife. And then we’ll go from there.

    • Jon G

      Jeremy,

      I think the problem is in this portion of your statement “the Bible would become little more than a book of religious writings that are mostly wrong about God”…it is the “mostly” wrong part that I think is inaccurate and leads to your conclusion. I would rephrase that the Biblical authors are “sometimes” wrong or “limited” in their view of God. It isn’t the case that they are completely in the blind, but that they are hamstrung by their own finitude.
      This allows us to see that God is inspiring them, but that they can still misunderstand things. Therefore, the Bible becomes a valuable “witness” to God, to be held with the humility that it isn’t perfect, and yet it is giving us some incite to the God they encountered…

      • Thanks, Jon. I probably overstated my comment somewhat.

        I guess my question remains then…. what makes the Hebrew religious writings contained in the Torah any different than the Arabic religious writings contained in the Qur’an? Both contain valuable written records of the author’s experience of God. They are right in some areas, but wrong in others.

        • Jon G

          That’s a really good question and I want to be honest…I’m still processing it myself. I think, at least at this stage in my faith journey, that we must decide if each author really encountered God…if God actually inspired them. Not having read much of the Qur’an, I can’t say that it was/wasn’t inspired by God. But having studied the Bible for decades, I feel strongly that the wisdom it contains and it’s overall consistency are great evidence that it is rooted in a divine source. So, for me, that’s why I think it isn’t just “a human” product…

          • Thanks, Jon. Like you, a lot of processing going on here…

      • Otto Tellick

        Jon G: Do you consider yourself a sincere believer in the divinity of Christ? If so, then I am truly impressed and encouraged by your rephrasing of Jeremy’s remark: ‘the Biblical authors are “sometimes” wrong or “limited” in their view of God.’ This strikes me as such a crucial breakthrough.

        It seems that there are so many people propounding “scriptural inerrancy” in a way that is simply not sustainable, and renders impossible any attempt to derive a coherent world view from the Bible. But to admit that we can and should point to particular parts and say “no, that actually isn’t correct, that’s not factual” — it’s simply the best sort of progress I could hope for. Thank you.

        • Jon G

          Thanks Otto! Very kind words – although I can’t take credit for it myself…just a lot of reading Enns and McLaren, Tony Jones, etc. I totally agree with your comment about the Bible not being “sustainable” under Inerrancy…more than that, I would say it becomes “detrimental” because it forces us to suppress our God-given consciences of right and wrong to justify obvious atrocities in the name of maintaining such a system.
          I do consider myself a sincere believer in the divinity of Christ but even that I hold with a certain openness to change. So, for instance, let’s say that we were to one day find out (don’t know how we would) that Jesus was not God, but God did use him to speak for Godself – that he perfectly represented God…that wouldn’t change anything for me because I see Jesus’ mission as pointing us to God and teaching us how to live in a God-shaped world. Whether he was/wasn’t God doesn’t change that message for me. Now, I DO believe he was God (incarnate) but I don’t HAVE to…what’s more, I believe the author’s of the NT believed it, but they could just be describing what they witnessed TO THE BEST OF THIER ABILITY. They could be mistaken, (I don’t think they were) so I would put more weight on what glimpse of God I get from their testimony rather than how accurate their testimony was.
          In other words, I think all testimony is slanted…but that doesn’t mean all testimony is useless. We just have to do some digging through it to get there. I hope that makes sense – I feel like I’m rambling…
          Jon

  • SC

    Another way to think about this is to recognize that the whole human project is one of concession on the part of God. I won’t attempt to explain this in a comment section but point to a short post I wrote about it, http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/divine-concession-and-the-bible/

    As to the issue of God’s omniscience, we must be cautious about reading our theological conclusions back into the narrative of Scripture in ways that make the narrative artificial. Perhaps, instead, we should shape our way of speaking about attributes like omniscience in ways consistent with the rest of Scripture.

  • James

    “I had two options: Take a risk or play it safe.” These options we must weigh continually as we traverse the minefield of biblical hermeneutics and life in general. Both have merit but we need ‘philosophical high ground’ on which to make our choice, not simply more raw data. Inter-disciplinary reflection should go hand in hand with empirical search. Dr. Enns’ books help make that connection.

  • Scott Skiles

    Just finished your book this morning. Not an exaggeration to say it’s one of the most helpful and enjoyable books I’ve read. I sometimes think guys like me — who are not academically nor theologically trained — will just go along with the quiet doubts and incongruities without challenging them. Or we “throw the baby out with the bath water”. But over the years I think God helped me to stop trying to make the impossible intellectual and spiritual stretches requred to have certain dimensions of the Bible “make sense”, not just in historical terms, but also in certain descriptions of the nature of God. I think he (sorry for the male pronoun) helped me understand I can believe in him and still not see everything in the Bible as being directly “from” him. (My own anthropomorphism has God rolling his eyes at those who attributed genocide and ethnic cleansing to him saying, “Oh, thanks for throwing me under the chariot… I NEVER told you to do that!”) Your step by step explanations help give a foundation to a way of relating to the Bible that actually edifies faith, rather than diminishes it. Every time I read the Bible, I say a prayer “Help me know what’s really true”. Your book (and your other writings) is one way this prayer is being answered.

  • Evelyn

    Why does omniscience have to make God bigger or smaller? Does God even have to be omniscient? Would that even be desirable? What happens to free will, if God already knows what you’re going to do? Why do we have biblical examples of people arguing with God to change his mind? If he fore-knew he would change his mind, why not just have that mind in the first place? Sorry that’s loads of questions, which is a really irritating way of making a point, but it’s too late at night here for fluid prose. In short, I think as far as omniscience goes we need a much more subtle and nuanced definition than ‘knows everything’.

    For your more specific point about whether or not he’s with them, and whether or not he’s going to pop his cork, I personally wouldn’t read this as giving me factual information about how God works. If you want an omni- for God, what about omnipresent? He couldn’t NOT be with them, it would go against his very nature. I think it is telling relational truths: when we’re ticked off, we do want time away from the source of our anger. I think the writers are projecting that emotion onto God to express their understanding of the consequences of what the Israelites had done. I think their conception of Yahweh probably was less sophisticated than the ideas about God that philosophers debate about now. I think the reality of behaving that badly is that the Israelites felt very far from God – so he was there, but appeared to them to be absent. (eta:) Which they then explained as him abandoning them.

    I think you might like Keith Ward’s, ‘God: A Guide for the Perplexed’.

  • Fabulous testimonies – I’m only up to chapter 3 so far – and loving it!

  • gingoro

    At breakfast and lunch over the last many days I have been donning my quantum physics fleece (QPF) and reading TBTMS. My mythical QPF has slogans like “leave all previous knowledge and reasonableness of physics behind”, “effects can occur prior to causes”, “if you are not scandalized by quantum physics, you don’t understand”. Also pictures of Schrodinger’s Cat in various stages of decay abound. Your book brought to mind my quantum physics course 50 some years ago and felt the same. What you are getting at is something like Midrash, No? The main point seems to be people riffing on what has gone before in terms of Israel’s scriptures rather than a history book. I already have some sympathy for parts of your position especially Genesis and what Paul does with the OT.

    I am reminded of an old grandmother being asked what supports the earth. Her answer was the earth rides on the back of a giant turtle. The grandson then asks and what does the turtle stand on. The grannie then says Ah ha, its turtles all the way down.

    So now my question is with regards scripture: Is it riffing all the way down? Is Jesus not historical but just various authors riffing once again on Israels Holy myth. The same goes for Paul in his turn. In other words how does one know when and where the riffing stops and becomes a story with true but not exhaustive history. Maybe I missed it but you never tackle that issue or if Christianity requires anything to be historical.
    DaveW

  • Tim

    Having just bought and read this book (kindle format); I have to say that these testimonials/ reviews are encouraging. I really liked this book, it makes some great and very important points, and makes them in a very accessible way. My only complaint is that I felt the book was too short. I would have liked to have seen more examples and perhaps more in depth explanation, but at the same time I know that is mostly my preferences speaking. This is a great book, and it needs to be read by as many people of faith (including those on or slightly over the fence) as possible.

    • peteenns

      Tim, thanks for being the first person ever to want me to write more. …The Lord make his face to shine upon you….

      • Tim

        🙂

        • gingoro

          Pete could you recommend a good Intro to NT for follow up reading please? Preferably one that is out on Kindle as I have no space for most paper books.
          DaveW

          • peteenns

            So many different types from so many angles, but I like Luke Timothy Johnson’s Writing of the NT. Mark Allen Powell’s is goo, too. Depends on the level of the reader/s.

          • gingoro

            Thanks Pete. I couldn’t figure out which one I preferred so ordered both of them. I have no Hebrew or Aramaic but do speak a Semitic language so hopefully I can get something out of these books, many words overlap but just having a second language, any second language helps a lot. I learned the language and culture as a child of 6yrs old. My training is as an engineer and mathematician so not in a related field at all.
            DaveW

  • Esther

    About “the stiff-necked people”–I don’t think it’s about God’s omniscience or being a bad guy about to pop a cork. I think it’s an expression of God’s frustration with his people. Sometimes, I have been frustrated with my kids’ bad behavior and have said something along the lines of ‘if I have to stop this car–so help me!’ I still love my kids, but they can drive me crazy. I think we have to be careful with scripture not to over-interpret things.

  • This post reminds me of how some religious leaders use scripture as a social management tool. I’m wondering if there’s any correlation here to the Tony Jones ex-wife blow up at that naked pastor site this week? Looks like over 500 comments so far, Brian Mc Laren, Tony, and many others commenting. Your thoughts?

  • RobD

    Thanks for this book! After starting it last weekend, I went to church for the first time in more than a year. I walked away from conservative Presbyterianism about a year ago, having finally given up hope that the movement was capable of bridging the evangelical-mainline divide. The denomination seemed to have degenerated to the point where it was nothing more than a somewhat Presbyterian articulation of evangelicalism. This book encouraged me to return to the mainline church.