When Peter Enns Reinvents My Understanding of Scripture

Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament changed me in all the ways. It also played “tag, you’re it!” with my curiosity to the point where I didn’t even care that it was awfully nerdy for me to be participating in an online, evangelical book club, reading Old Testament theology in my free time, and carrying my Kindle around with me everywhere so I could read whenever I had a spare few minutes. We’re not even going to talk about the fact that I’m already taking an upper-division Old Testament Theology course at school and that my day-to-day Enns reading – very, very oddly – paralleled exactly, day by day, with the themes we were studying in class (and no, my professor had not even heard of Enns or his book before, so it was entirely unplanned).

Enns’ transparency is what took me in to begin with. I imagine, though of course I could be incorrect, that he has a natural bent toward cynicism and skepticism just as I do. His willingness to be transparent and unapologetic for his thoughts about the “problematic” grey areas of the Old Testament was attractive to me then, as you can imagine. Equally matched with his transparency is his strong, evident desire to stick close beside Jesus as he figures out what in the world to do with the grey areas, the passages that don’t sit well with him, and the passages that he just plain wishes weren’t a part of the Bible. Those two things? Honorable, one (ish gibor chayil!). And also, my heartsong.

Enns discusses myriads upon myriads of crucial topics, but this one is what changed me: the notion of the incarnation of Scripture. By this he means that in order to understand problematic Old Testament passages, we must first understand the original audience – for, after all, “. . . because Christianity is a historical religion, God’s word reflects the various historical moments in which Scripture was written.” (I apologize for the lack of page numbers – I read this book on my Kindle!) So, similar to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Scripture has been incarnated in that it has been “enculturated” – originally written for a specific time and a specific place and a specific people. In addition, just as Jesus is fully human and fully divine, so is Scripture (in that it is both written by men and inspired by God). There are so many implications that follow from this, one being that the “problematic” diversity of the Old Testament is so much more logical when this is understood! As Enns says, “The human dimension of Scripture is, therefore, part of what makes Scripture Scripture. But it is precisely this dimension that can create problems for modern Christian readers, because it can make the Bible seem less unique, less “Bible-like,” than we might have supposed.”

Enns is in the business of addressing problematic passages, problematic themes, and problematic ways that the New Testament writers interpret the Old Testament (through the use of proof-texts). He doesn’t shy away from any of the above; he doesn’t offer a neat little overdramatic bow to tie up the loose ends, doesn’t suggest we throw it all to the wind and go out on faith; and he doesn’t cave to the usual categorization of theological views into “liberal” and “conservative.” He gets right into the thick of the grey-ness within Scripture, and even though it’s awkward and it feels weird and he wants to get out of there fast and “have some faith,” he stays put, feet planted, and uses this incarnational analogy to offer some suggestions as to how to deal with all that we’d rather not deal with within the Old Testament.

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. As I already mentioned, Enns discusses many “problematic” areas within the Old Testament and uses the incarnational analogy as an approach to possible ways of responding to them. So, go read this book, and feel free to join in on the Transit Lounge reading and discussion! Our book for March is John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus. Who’s in? 🙂

February 28 Joy Dare: 3 Gifts From the Past that Help You Trust the Future
1. Redemption of relationship – there’s hope, and it’s good!
2. The nearness/stability of Jesus even in the desolate places
3. Things do get better

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3 thoughts on “When Peter Enns Reinvents My Understanding of Scripture

  1. I had a similar experience with the book, in that once I really started to understand what it was saying, it seemed to come up everywhere! I’m so glad that you enjoyed it and found it helpful.

  2. “When Peter Enns Reinvents Traditionally Accepted Understanding of Scripture and Makes It Fit His Own Neat ideas of Theology and What Scripture Should Be.”

    1. Hm, interesting perspective. I find that sometimes traditional understanding of Scripture is not always on-target and that it takes a kind of holy bravery to be the person to correct that understanding. I see Peter Enns as that person – certainly not in every way, but definitely in some.

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