Enns and His Misbehaving Bible

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An exodus heralds its ads from the living-room screen, “Come see Christian Bale take on Pharaoh and his goons,” while a friend leans back on Wednesday eve with words, “Did you feel awkward sitting through tonight’s lesson having just written your latest post?” The shells are brittle, and brutal.

Have you ever endured the proverbial “eggshells fracturing beneath the footwear syndrome?” Unwanted as you might, the gritting and crumbling cackleberry skin shouting from somewhere south, “There is no way you will offer a review of this book without offending someone, so get on with it, will you.”

So with a little egg on face to boot (pun? why yes!), let’s begin then where every abecedarian ought, a rehash of what brought this pretend-to-be-author (that would be me… pun? not at all) to write what he wrote in his most recent post, The Bible Tells Me So, or not, an interrogation of the Book that’s been known to break a many protective layer of its own.

It began with a conversation with a young man who admittedly devalues the validity of the Bible whose contents he claims cannot be proven by science and archaeology, at least not in the creation story and not in early Israelite history. This sent me searching for resources, but not from those who will simply tell me everything I’ve always heard, but from someone who was actually once like-minded with me, but has restructured his belief system to accommodate an information overload generation.

I chose Peter Enns’ book for at least one persuasive reason. This guy was once applauded for his scholarly contributions to the study of Scripture, but with his redirected accent, has lost both status and employment, and even credibility among some of my favorite authors. In other words, he forfeited something to make his case.

Mr. Enns describes that familiar book we cherish, the Word of God, as a misbehaving collection of literature, rather than the commonly accepted, “The truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook — follow the instructions and out pops a true believer; deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force.”

Should anyone decide to challenge the traditional approach, the author describes our involuntary response, “defend the Bible against anti-God attacksProblem solved.”

Well,” Enns continues, “Until we read the Bible for ourselves that is;” when we decide to get closer than fifty paces. Then this book no longer acts like a holy rulebook should act.

Offended yet? If no (and even if yes), let’s get back to the beginning. Like, really the beginning. Fast backward to Saint Tropez, where “Adam and Eve wine and dine among two magical trees and a shyster snake stalks and talks.” And oh yeah, let’s not leave out the best part, God Himself makes occasional social visits.

The author makes it known that deep down this is a serious story with a significant purpose, and a demising outcome, but when we encounter these “sorts of episodes outside of the Bible, we know right away we are dealing with the kinds of stories people wrote long ago and far away, not things that happened, and certainly nothing to invest too much of ourselves in.

It is here that I find Mr. Enns’ assessment a bit evocative, and rightly so. Who will find it not so strange that those without affiliation to our faith might see it a bit odd, our beginning?

Once we get beyond a flood and a tower, it seems things calm a bit, if we consider it calm to watch seas and creeks part their currents for safe passage that is. Then, there is of course that milk-saturated and honey-endued land awaiting the Israelites. Unfortunately, it is already inhabited. What then will we do with a God who instructs one people group to annihilate another for the sake of some land? Paraphrasing Enns, “Maybe we do what we’ve done for many years; avoid the difficult texts, don’t teach from them. No knowledge, no harm, no foul, right?”

The reader is forced into the author’s answer snare with questions as this, “Shouldn’t it strike anyone as odd that the same God who instructs us to love and take care of our enemies told Israel to kill and take for slaves hers?”

Revisiting the most recent post, if we are going to be taken serious now, and in the future, we are going to have to finally discuss that the reportedly found evidences of archaeologists do not support this pre-promised-land history of Israel, and that a first-time hearer who has been saturated in a world of science and technology is going to view these tales a little far-fetched.

That may mean little to us as we huddle within the walls of church buildings, but if we are going to be Great Commandment and Great Commission minded outside the sanctuary, and if we care about a younger generation who statistics are overwhelmingly proving are shunning our message, then we are going to have to converse over the things they are being taught.

TBTMSIn his book, The Bible Tells Me So… Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It, Peter Enns seeks to build for a proper method of reading the Word by first establishing that Israel just may have hyped up its early history in an effort to make her God more formidable than the gods of the other nations. He demonstrates that they were merely doing what was common, because the strength of every nation was hinged upon how powerful their god was.

This though, as formerly confessed, leaves us trembling in the wake of thoughts of a Bible relegating its words to mythos. How are we to defend such a book? According to Enns, we don’t. We were never called to. Rather, we read the Old just as Jesus and the New Testament authors did.

Allow me to offer an example that still has me intrigued.

After Israel leaves Egypt, we are made aware of some necessities the people had to have for survival in their travels; food and water. The manna of course rains down from heaven, but where will the Hebrews’ drink come from? Yes, you know. Moses is told to strike a rock, and water comes pouring forth (Exodus 17). But the people don’t stay by the rock; they move; eventually for forty years. Near the end of their journey, they once again need water, and to Moses’ demise he strikes a rock in an entirely different geographical place (Numbers 20). The author astutely questions, “These people only needed to drink water twice in forty years?”

Enter here old Paul the Apostle many, many years later, who knows this story better than most, and had this to say of that exact event, “For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).”

According to Paul, Moses struck the same rock in two different locations. Paul informs us that the rock followed the children of Israel around for forty years, all two million plus of them, meandering around a forsaken land with this rock marching along behind them.

I have to interject something here that has been bothering me… a lot. In all of the commentaries I’ve been privileged to gander over this text, nearly all try to spiritualize this rock following act, or depict a stream flowing and following, as if it’s too uncanny for a rock to follow people around. Whereas, I can’t help but remember it’s raining bread out of heaven in these same texts. These people have witnessed water turned to blood, massive attacks by frogs and locusts, every first-born in an entire nation slaughtered mysteriously, a Sea parted, and… well, a moving rock goes over the borderline of reasoning?

Moving on, and in case you missed it, “That Rock was Christ.” Now we’re getting somewhere according to Enns. Whether it is this Rock (which adds a little meaning to it only needing to be struck once, doesn’t it?), or Jesus equating Moses’ burning bush episode with evidence of the resurrection, or Paul’s returning allegorical imagery of works and grace through Isaac and Ishmael, whether Jesus himself speaking or his New Testament writers writing, they are repetitively  using the Old Testament to teach and preach the Christ. The history of the Old Testament seemingly finds itself an effective catalyst to the brilliance of the Gospel.

I am inclined to stop here, for this may already be my longest post ever, but I think it is wise, especially for me but maybe for others also, to remember the words of G. K. Chesterton speaking of H. G. Wells:

“He was so often nearly right. … But I think he thought that the object of opening the mind is simply opening the mind. Whereas I am incurably convinced that the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

No, I’m not quite ready to relinquish my hold on my own personal beliefs that Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Joshua were real people (sorry folks, but with half a century behind me, it’s what I believe of the Old Story… pun? no, actually a spoiler alert). But for the sake of trying to engage and intervene into the lives of those who can’t fathom how my God could possibly have dealt long ago with those we can’t provide tangible evidence for their having existed, I am willing to start somewhere. Maybe where another besides myself already is? We of a previous generation must somehow find a way to step into a world unimaginably different than from whence we came; into a place where there were and are no Sunday morning lessons and there were and are no Mothers and  Grandmothers with calloused knees, a place where social media and electronic gadgets demand the worship of their servants; a place where Jesus is just another caricature from an opined outdated book with no purpose. For our younger friends, “The Bible tells me so,” in quote alone, is now rarely an ample open door to our Lord’s Kingdom. The Gospel however, very much still is.

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About mtsweat

Seeking the rest that is only promised and found in Christ Jesus, along with my treasured wife of more than twenty-five years, we seek to grow in our relationship with our Heavenly Father, walk with the Holy Spirit as He moves our hearts, loving others always as Jesus loves us, and carry the news of His glory, the wonderful gospel, that gives light and life where there once was only darkness.
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2 Responses to Enns and His Misbehaving Bible

  1. RJ Dawson says:

    Well, that was most enjoyable. I appreciate your willingness to venture out there in the hinterland for an American Christianity walkabout though the subject is of one who might have already fallen off the edge.

    I remember reading my Biblical Archaeology Review many years ago at the discovery of that little triangle representing the House of David on an old stele or pottery shard finally proving the man David actually did exist according to archaeology. Like you, I still believe all those guys in the OT you mentioned were real people.

    The Bible is no myth, though many of the beliefs and practices of later Unreal Christians are certainly myths. I applaud a guy like Enns for at least studying the possibilities and for your noting his writings. As some recent mythical characters said so clearly, “The Truth Is Out There”—it takes such research of questioning to arrive at things often covered up by orthodoxy. However, like Columbus, truth exists on a sphere for honest truth seekers. The others will definitely fall off the ocean’s edge into oblivion which makes the whole thing a terrific adventure. Thanks Mike.

  2. ccragamuffin says:

    You give us much to carefully consider. “The Bible tells me so” is not a good starting point for many. So I love that you cause us to ponder “Let me tell you a story” as a non-threatening and intriguing conversation catalyst. It is no accident of genetics that every culture is story saturated, we all love a good story…we are story! My reading, teaching, and understanding of the Bible changed dramatically when I began to read it as one story. Every story has a main character…and too often we think the main character of the Bible is…us.
    I hope you will not be discouraged from following wherever The Lord is leading you….whatever He is teaching. He is writing a story in you…and through you. N.T. Wright (one of my favorite teachers) said…”a story…is…the best way of talking about the way the world actually is.” That is a big thought in a few words!
    Blessings upon you,my our mind, your thoughts. May they be Spirit guided, resurrection empowered, and grace infused.

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