The title of this post is not a typo.
The Book Club I joined with began in November, so I’m sticking with that as a name, even if it doesn’t quite fit anymore. Go with me on this, okay?
Have you ever had someone else complete your thought? Or maybe someone said the exact thing you had felt but never could articulate? Maybe someone was able to succinctly sum up a series of ideas you had? It is a bizarre feeling, to have the sense that someone tapped into your brainwaves and put them out into the world. When it happens, all at once I can feel elated, overwhelmed, dejected and as if I’ve found a like-minded friend.
- Elated because finally someone else said what needed to be said. How wonderful to feel like you’ve been heard.
- Overwhelmed because sometimes that person is able to take your thought to its logical conclusion or application and the implications require a paradigm shift I might not be ready to implement.
- Dejected because why couldn’t I communicate that complex thought so eloquently?
This has been a year of reading books by brave, creative people who have put into words the stirrings I’ve felt for many years, a discontent with simple answers and an unwillingness to engage with questions.
Peter Enns‘ Telling God’s Story is becoming one of those books.
Yes, I know that I’m only supposed to be writing about the second chapter (which is long overdue by any standard — I was supposed to be doing this through November and here we are in December!) but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read ahead a bit. Even though my reading took a hit in November, this is the one I’m ready to come back to. Like any good book, I’m finding it hard to put this down.
Chapter Two: What the Bible Actually Is (and Isn’t)
The chapter starts with an seemingly simplistic question: what is the Bible? This is followed by a series of other questions: what do we expect to happen when we read it? What is the Bible there for?
The author goes on to ask us to step back from that question which is most often applied to Bible reading: how does this apply to me?
Instead we are asked to look at the Bible with a different question in our minds:
“What do we have the right to expect from God’s word as a book written in an ancient world?”
Enns asks us to consider how Jesus’ existence as a human does not detract from his being the Son of God. He then goes on to assert that the Bible does exactly what God wanted it to do, even using expressions and ideas of the ancient world. The anchoring of the Bible in ancient times does not take away from the inerrancy of it, nor does it keep it from “doing exactly what God wants it to do.”
The Bible is Not an Owner’s Manual
In some ways it would be so easy if the Bible did spell out every little thing for us. Some people believe it does — seriously, there are a lot of people out there who have been taught that the Bible IS an owner’s manual and that on every single thing that we should do or not do, every attitude, every current issue, examples of applicable/transferable rules, attitudes, and lessons can be found.
I tend to lean this way, even though I know there are limits.
Enns suggests that “we need to learn the kinds of issues the Bible addresses so we can learn to ask the questions of the Bible that the Bible is meant to answer.” He then gives us the disappointing news that “what is not being addressed are specifically modern situations.” He says that when we read the New Testament in particular, we see “a portrait being painted for us of what a life in Christ looks like.”
We’re getting near the end of the chapter at this point and Enns uses a personal example to illustrate his statement that “…I want to introduce you to what I think is the single most important biblical concept for living a Christian life, not only today, but during any era: wisdom.” Because the Bible doesn’t say specifically DON’T EVER GO TO ANY R-RATED MOVIES Enns must use wisdom when parenting his son and when deciding what to say when his son asks if he can watch the movie Saving Private Ryan. His answer must be based on wisdom; wisdom from knowing his son, knowing about the movie, knowing Biblical admonishments and exhortations, and wisdom from learning to trust the Holy Spirit’s voice.
This is the paragraph that stood out to me most from the chapter:
…if we learn to hear what the Spirit is saying through these ancient yet transcendent writings, we will see that the Bible is much more than we bargained for. The Bible is not a book primarily devoted to what we should do. Instead it is devoted to telling us who we are and how our behaviors should reflect that reality.
Rather than just having a religion or a faith-by-rote, isn’t it true that we all wish to have a faith that is an identity? I’d want my family to live out our faith in actions, attitudes and self-worth even if we can’t name all the books of the Bible in order.
Some people get so hampered by wanting to do exactly the letter of the law of what they think the Bible spells out that they forget the spirit of the law, the reason guidelines exist and what they were originally put there to accomplish. The result from this is often a rigid, fear based faith that is spindly and brittle. I believe God has something more for us, something much more robust, verdant and lush, filled with joy and courage. I think that’s where Enns is headed in this book, and I’m excited to see where he takes us.
Do you expect to find every answer to every question you have in the Bible? Do you think it is dangerous to consider the idea that every answer might not be there? What expectations do you have of the Bible?