How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That’s Great News by Peter Enns
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
For every mile of highway there are two miles of ditch. With biblical theology the right side ditch is to treat the bible as though it fell out of the sky last week. The left side ditch is to believe that because the bible is so old and written in such a different culture, we can not know what it truly says. Peter Enns, driving a bus full of evangelical straw men, veers dangerously close to the left side ditch, if he hasn’t gone down already. The sludge at the bottom of the left ditch is a mixture of postmodern philosophy and liberal progressivism. Enns calls it wisdom.
Peter Enns makes too much of the fact that the bible is ancient and written in different cultures. I agree that we must always take that into account when studying the bible and searching for the true meaning of the text. I too get frustrated when Christians act as though a passage was written by some western author only a few years ago. We always must ask what the original intention of the author of the text was and then apply the principle of the text to our lives today. Enns goes too far though. He writes as though we could never understand those ancient authors. We are just too different now. We think entirely different from them.
I disagree. Consider this text…
Imagine what a variety of noises reverberates about my ears! I have lodgings right over a bathing establishment. So picture to yourself the assortment of sounds, which are strong enough to make me hate my very powers of hearing! When your strenuous gentleman, for example, is exercising himself by flourishing leaden weights; when he is working hard, or else pretends to be working hard, I can hear him grunt; and whenever he releases his imprisoned breath, I can hear him panting in wheezy and high-pitched tones. Or perhaps I notice some lazy fellow, content with a cheap rubdown, and hear the crack of the pummelling hand on his shoulder, varying in sound according as the hand is laid on flat or hollow. Then, perhaps, a professional comes along, shouting out the score; that is the finishing touch.
When do you think the above text was written? Is it difficult to understand? Is it too culturally odd for you to know what is being spoken of? Is it written by someone who is so different from the modern man that he might as well be from another planet? No, I don’t think so. This text was written almost 2000 years ago in Rome by a man named Seneca. This text could easily appear in a 19th century British novel and not look out of place at all. I realize that the original was written in Latin, but that does not change the fact that a man living 2000 years ago is more like a man living today than he is different.
In regards to culture, I have visited many countries and ten years ago I moved from the west to East Asia. Very different cultures. But one thing I’ve seen over and over again wherever I go is that we humans are the same — same dreams, same desires, same fears, same hopes.
Enns pushes strongly in this book that our idea of God changes with the times. Why did the early Christians change so much the beliefs of Judaism, out of which Christianity arose? To fit with the times. Why should our views on homosexual behaviour and gender be different from what is written in the New testament? To fit with the times. Enns holds to this way of thinking so strongly that it steers him to faulty conclusions. Did things change radically from Judaism to Christianity? Yes! Because of what Jesus accomplished. Not, as Enns writes, because the times were a-changing and a new belief system was necessary.
Enns writes some interesting things about the resurrection in this book which is similar to what N.T. Wright would say. I do appreciate the way Peter Enns asks difficult questions and I do believe he genuinely wants to know the truth of God and the bible.
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Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Book Review)
Jesus and Covenantal Righteousness
In the Fullness of Time
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