You Can Stop Defending the Bible: A Book Response

We trust the Bible, not because we can show that there is no diversity, but because we believe, by the gift of faith, in the one who gave Scripture, not in our own conceptions of how Scripture ought to be.

I love it when God knocks down my notions about how I’m supposed to be a good Christian. He did it when Kyle and I adopted Ari by totally wiping hero complexes right off our faces. And now He did it again when I read Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Peter Enns).

I love the comparison Enns makes between Christ and Scripture:

Scripture is the only book in which God speaks incarnately. As it is with Christ, so it is with the Bible–the ‘coming together’ of the divine and human sets it apart from all others.

Enns says his purpose is to begin a conversation about biblical difficulties, such as those that exist in Old Testament historical accounts (some in 1 and 2 Samuel differ slightly from the same stories in 1 and 2 Chronicles, for instance); diversity of commands that change according to context (conflicting wisdom within the book of Proverbs); and outright misquoting of Old Testament passages by New Testament authors.  With the specific examples Enns shares, we’d be hard-pressed to argue that no inconsistency exists in Scripture. Even an argument to only read passages within context falls through when we lack the complete cultural lens through which each biblical author wrote. Objectivity is overrated, I’d say, if even the apostle Paul misquotes Scripture in Scripture.

These are uncomfortable subjects, and for many — including me — the knee-jerk reaction is to defend the Bible. After all, if there are inconsistencies within the book, then won’t our system of beliefs fall like a house of cards? If we really believe in God, though, perhaps it is best to admit that He can defend His own word, since He chose to reveal Himself in this manner.

Any clipped “black and white” interpretations of biblical expectations are always up for discussion, are they not? If they hold water, they will not be threatened by honest discussion.

That’s what Inspiration and Incarnation makes me want to do — reach across the mysterious span of my church experience and start thoughtful, love-inspired conversations with people. With you, if you’d like.

It’s been a long journey here, growing up as I did in a church tradition that took select biblical passages literally, such as greeting others with kisses and requiring head coverings for women believers. But this type of literal reading breaks down when Jesus commands us to cut off a body part that causes us to sin. He couldn’t mean that! we say. And so we are bound to biblical interpretation. It takes a good bit of humility to exegete Scripture, and we must be willing to discuss it with those who differ in opinion, resting firmly in the Spirit Himself to guide us into truth.

It is our own limited cultural context that causes us to interpret the Bible one way or the other. But the point that Enns makes is that the incarnation of God through the Bible means that He did come into our messy existence to give us the words that we have.

That God willingly and enthusiastically participates in our humanity should give us pause. If even God expresses himself in the Bible through particular human circumstances, we must be very ready to see the necessarily culturally limited nature of our own theological expressions today. I am not speaking of cultural relativism, where all truth is up for grabs and the Bible ceases being our standard for faith. I simply mean that all of our theologizing, because we are human beings living in particular historical and cultural moments, will have a temporary and provisional–even fallen–dimension to it.

If that sounds hopelessly dismal, Enns reminds us, too, that God intends for us to be strapped to our time and place. Awareness of my limited nature sends me into awe of the One who incarnated Himself in the Bible for us, and it makes me more willing to discuss doctrine rather than demand that my interpretations are right.

I think this gives me space to talk to my brothers and sisters in my former churches, even if the doctrinal differences are awkward. It gives me space to talk to my current community of believers, where we can challenge and strengthen each other. I can also respect and feel at peace in communities like that of the Benedictine abbey I visited. I can talk to soldiers even though I have more of a pacifist bent. I can form friendships with homosexual or transgendered people who love Christ. The same Spirit guides us into all truth. They have access to God’s incarnated word just as I do, and He can effectively handle all of our junk.

And beyond the body of Christ, trusting in the Spirit to teach gives confidence to discuss the Bible with Muslims and Buddhists, and anyone who does not claim Christ as God. We can have solid faith in the One who gave us the Bible without trying to make excuses for its tricky parts. It can stand on its own.


Linking up with Kelley Nikondeha

  1. I can feel your heart in this piece, your openness to talk about hard things, the differences between us. We both seem to be captivated by Enns pointing toward incarnation and mystery. Under all the technical arguments he made, I just kept feeling the goodness of mystery, of accepting ambiguity under the wing of the Spirit somehow.

    So glad you read with me. Thanks for your reflection.

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