Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Bible Tells Me So Review: God Likes Stories

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This blog post is my review of the third chapter in Peter Enn’s brilliant book The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending the Bible Has Made Us Unable to Read It. You can find the previous two under the Bible tag.

So far, I think this has been my favorite section of the book. After deconstructing what our expectations should be when we read scripture—especially the Old Testament—Peter Enns builds on these concepts and constructs something meaningful for us as readers.  He peels back another layer of these ancient stories and reveals the depths of what the writers were trying to communicate when they penned some of the greatest stories in history.

Enns begins by really tackling the hard truth: there is no such thing as “straight” history! It doesn’t exist in the Bible, or anywhere else for that matter. Anyone who takes pen to paper and writes out an account of something that happened in the past, whether it was yesterday, or fifty years ago, or two thousand years ago, is going to write it from a particular angle. A different person might tell the exact same bit of history in a completely different way.

To illustrate this very important point, Enns explores the four Gospels and the choices each writer made when describing various key moments in Jesus’s life, such as his birth, the miracles he performs, his death, and his resurrection. Enns writes:

“Getting the past ‘right’ in a modern sense wasn’t high priority. All four Gospels are connected to history, but each also tells us a lot about how these writers saw Jesus, what they believed about him, what was important to them and their communities.”

He gives a few examples of how the three synoptic Gospels especially build off each other and tell the same miracle stories, but sometimes in different sequential order, or with different details that highlight a particular point that is in line with that particular Gospel’s overarching theme. Each writer shaped their telling of Jesus’s life in a way that was tailored to their own audience.

The implications of reading the Gospels in this manner are fascinating. For example, Luke’s Jesus is very kingly. The Magnificat, a song sung by Mary that is only present in Luke’s Gospel, immediately tells the audience that this baby is a descendant of David and Israel’s rightful king. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth reveals a different goal; he is echoing the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. God used a pillar of fire to guide the Israelites in the desert; God used a star to guide the Magi to the infant Jesus. The historicity of some of these details may be questionable, but their implications for the significance of Jesus’ birth certainly is not!

After providing several more of these examples, Enns shifts his attention from the Gospels to the Old Testament stories and evaluates them using the exact same framework. In the Old Testament, as well, we can see plentiful examples of how the writers shaped the events of history to reinforce a particular overarching agenda. He walks through the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, Chronicles, and Kings. Just as with Jesus in each of the Gospels, we  see in these books that very different images of Solomon and David are presented. In the Chronicles, David is the charismatic, brave, bold king that Israel needed most at the time.  The Chronicles’ David is a symbol for Israel’s future: promising and full of hope.

In the Kings and Samuel books, however, we see a more human David; he has an affair with Bathsheba and murders Uriah, and at the end of his life he disrupts the order of succession by naming his younger son Solomon as his heir (speaking of which, the theme of younger sons being favored over their older brothers is also peppered all throughout the Old Testament). He also begins the process of building the temple despite God’s clear command to the contrary. He is, in short, a very different person from the heroic figure in 1 and 2 Chronicles.

Enns rounds out the “God Likes Stories” chapter in an incredibly fascinating manner. As the final chapters of this section unfolded, I became amazed at the intricate way that so many of the Bible’s most iconic stories are interconnected. The same themes emerge again, and again, and again throughout these stories. Applying this lens of the “present shapes the past” helps to bring these themes to light.

Reading these stories in this way also helps us place them within a genre appropriate to their content. All of the connections  and interplay between them point to the reality that each of these stories are myths. And before you start thinking that myths are just wild fairy tales spun out of thin air, just read Enns’ definition of a myth:

“Myths were stories that were part of ancient ways of describing ultimate reality, which is found not here and now but on a higher and more primal plane of existence, the behind-the-scenes actions of the gods in primordial time.”

The myth of creation in the first three chapters of Genesis is a perfect example of this. In this story, Adam symbolizes Israel; God creates him, makes him a promise, and fulfills that promise until Adam disobeys God, along with his wife Eve. The two are then exiled—cast out from the garden. If that doesn’t echo Israel’s own relationship with God I don’t know what does!

Likewise, in the Genesis story, there is an ancient Mesopotamian myth that the god Marduk violently murdered the goddess Tiamat, rent her body in half, and formed the waters above the firmament and below from her carcass. In Genesis, God performs the exact same creative act, except he does it by his own spoken Word; he is uncontested among gods.

Speaking of water imagery, the connection between the Genesis story, the Noah story, and the Exodus story are fascinating. By separating the waters, God is creating order out of chaos (the untamed sea was a symbol of chaos in the ancient world). And when God flooded the world in Noah’s story, he unleashed the waters to their chaotic fury, but created a vessel of safety for Noah and his family. Likewise, Moses is rescued as an infant when his mother forms a basket for him to navigate the waters of the Nile. And later, we once again see the imagery of God parting the waters when he rescues the fleeing Israelites from the Egyptians. The connections are endless!

Under the surface, each of these stories is declaring the sovereignty of God and his unrivaled power over the other gods of the day. The ten plagues, for example, are essentially a slap in the face to Egypt’s gods: they worshiped the Nile as a god of life; Yahweh turned its waters to blood, a symbol of death. The Egyptian goddess of fertility was depicted as a frog; Yahweh multiplied the frogs of the land himself. And on it goes.

If we value these texts for nothing more than what we believe they can tell us about Israel’s literal history, we are missing the forest for the trees. We are overlooking the broader, deeper things that were going on when these writers immortalized these stories in writing. Enns explains this with wonderful clarity:

“The Bible, then, is a grand story. It meets us and then invites us to follow and join a world outside of our own, and lets us see ourselves and God differently in the process. Maybe that’s really the bottom line. The biblical story meets us where we are to disarm us and change how we look at ourselves—and God.”

The writers were comfortable with changing, adding, erasing and exaggerating history to create meaning in their contemporary age, and the result is a Bible that doesn’t always behave how we expect it to, but is full of so much more dynamic retellings of God’s part in the history of Israel than we could imagine.

The Bible Tells Me So Review: God Did What?!

This will probably be the longest blog post I write in this series, because the issue of violence in the Old Testament carried out in the name of God has been one that has plagued me for years. It caused me to fear the Bible, to question the nature of God, and live in the apprehension of one, hard question that I couldn’t shake: What if I just can’t stomach a God like that?

Ever since I read these stories for the first time, it has boggled my mind that so many faithful readers of scripture stand by these stories and insist on believing that they reflect the God of the Christian faith. When I truly read these stories and let them rest in my heart, I found that I just couldn’t grasp them in the way I was taught to grasp them.

These stories felt barbaric and archaic to me, so far removed from the picture of God that we see in the New Testament person of Jesus Christ. And they are supposed to be one and the same, are they not?

Reading how Peter Enns tackles these troublesome verses in The Bible Tells Me So was such a comforting experience for me. Here was a reading that was genuine, and did not attempt to gloss over these violent texts with an explanation that justifies God’s choices. Here was a reading I could believe.

Enns uses the most famous example of genocide in the Bible—the genocide of the Canaanites by Joshua and the Israelites—as an example for how to read such stories. He outlines the views on Canaan depicted in the Bible, beginning with the curse of Canaan that occurs in Genesis 6, and continuing with example of how the Canaanites seemed to be doomed for destruction every time they are mentioned in Genesis.

The next section proceeds to summarize in detail the gory details of the destruction that Joshua and the Israelites inflict on the Canaanites, including conquering thirty-one towns, beheading kings without mercy, and slaughtering surrendered enemies. This is all trotted out as the methodical fulfillment of the convenant God made with Abraham. Enns writes:

“Bottom line, the extermination of the Canaanites is not an afterthought. According to the Bible, Israel’s God planned it from the days of Noah and the flood, and he carried out the plan with bracing determination and precision, patiently encouraging and even training the troops to get it done.” (p. 40)

After laying the groundwork facts, Enns then goes on to outline several different approaches for how we can fit this story into the larger narrative of the Bible, and a God who in later OT passages and often in the NT is a God of peace and mercy who charges his followers with turning the other cheek when met with violence.

One argument that Enns lays out claims that God has a “nice side”, and that the compassion of God is the overriding theme of scripture. The destruction of Canaan is just an exception to the rule. And yet if that is your perspective, does it really justify that one instance of violence? If a man is benevolent his entire life, and in a moment of passion commits a murder, is that murder any less egregious because of his blameless life up to that point?

The most common way that people justify this story and others like it is to point out that the Canaanites deserved retribution because they had been living irredeemably wicked lives. God had to make an example of them and purge them from the land he had promised to Israel as a way of maintaining the purity of his chosen people and as a lesson for us about the seriousness of rebellion against him.

Ultimately, though, this argument also breaks down when you study scripture carefully and within the context of everything Enns has laid out about God’s covenant thus far. He writes:

“They were contaminating the land that God set aside for the Israelites since the days of Abraham and so had to be exterminated. Take any other people group and put them in the land of Canaan, and they would be the ones tasting Israelite steel, and their immorality would be described as the worst ever. Take the Canaanites and put them somewhere else, and we’d never hear about them.” (p. 51)

There was nothing special about the Canaanites themselves, and everything special about the particular land they occupied. We would be reading of God’s wrath if any other people group had settled there, and that group would have likewise been transformed in a scapegoat to justify the manner in which God fulfilled his covenant to the Israelites.

There is more. In the Old Testament narrative of Joshua’s conquest, there are instances when the Israelite army encounters towns of non-Canaanites. There is no indication that these towns are subject to the judgment of God in a manner similar to the Canaanite. Yet under God’s command, these people are to become slaves of the Israelites if they surrender. To be internally consistent in a “Canaanites are wicked” approach, you must also contend that it is God’s divine judgment to divide up innocents as spoils of war (For an example of such an occurrence, see Deuteronomy 20:10-15).

If we read the exact same stories in the Koran or any other religious text, we would denounce that god as utterly reprehensible, or at the very least archaic and irrelevant. Likewise, we must contort the biblical texts in order to defend God’s genocidal commands in our scriptural canon.

After laying out all the wrong ways to approach Old Testament violence, Enns spends his final sections of this chapter describing how we can apply an informed, holistic reading of these texts that takes cultural limitations into account.

We cannot pull these texts out of their historical context and treat them differently, despite being part of the canon of scripture. Enns writes:

“So much of Israel’s culture looks very similar to what we see elsewhere in the ancient world. Israel’s system of laws, worship practices, notions of kingship, style of poetry, attitudes toward women and slaves, ideas about how the cosmos was created, and on and on, were unquestionably shaped by its time and place—which is to say, Israel’s culture developed the way every other culture in the history of humanity developed: as part of a larger cultural environment.” (p. 56)

This larger cultural environment that Enns refers to is one in which you must conquer or be conquered, kill or be killed. It was a violent world in which mass slaughter was rampant, and a victory in battle was often attributed to the power of the god the conquerors believed in. Read in this light, it makes perfect sense that the story of Israel and its conquest of Canaan unfolded the way that it did.

Essentially, the Israelites wrote their own version of history that glorified the God they served and created an identity for themselves: God’s chosen people, inheritors of a land where they could establish themselves as a nation with roots.  In the pages of the Old Testament, we see a perspective of God that is limited by the perspective of His chosen people. God let his children tell their own story about Him in a language they could understand, a language heavily influenced by their own cultural understanding.

Three Crosses UMC Event: “Reclaiming Our United Methodist Heritage”

I’m taking what I hope will only be a one-post break from my review of The Bible Tells Me So to share a long summary of an event I attended this weekend. Hopefully sometime soon, I’ll be back with part two of my review series!

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Eight months ago, after a summer away from church and a good deal of soul-searching, I started attending Thoburn UMC. I had only had minimal experiences with United Methodism before, but they  had all been more or less positive. And I had heard a lot of great things about Thoburn, so I figured I would give it a shot.

At first, it was all very different to me. It is as if Christianity were like a metal ball within a transparent glass globe, and that globe has many angled flat surfaces, kind of like a disco ball. Depending on what surface you look through, the metal ball might appear large, small, wide, narrow, etc. The ball is the same, but every angle skews it differently.

So the surface through which I saw Christianity had shifted as a result of being immersed in Thoburn culture, and largely in an incredibly positive way. Here was a faith community that challenged me to step outside myself. I have learned so many new things about Christianity since I’ve been going to Thoburn, and that really could be a blog post in and of itself.

Today, though, I want to narrow in on one of the newer things I have learned. This weekend I attended an all-day lecture event titled “Reclaiming Our United Methodist Heritage.” The speaker, who wrote a book of the same name which the small group leaders at my church are currently studying, is Paul Chilcote. The insights he shared were so life-giving, so profound, that I thought I would write a summarization of them here. I apologize in advance for the length, but since I’m already planting this post in the middle of a series, I didn’t want to break it out into separate posts like I probably should have!

Session 1. The Message: A God of Grace and Love

Paul began his first lecture by defining grace as understood by John Wesley, whose theology and work of revival in England formed the foundation of United Methodism. Wesley challenged the Calvinistic view of grace in that day, which claims that God has predestined certain people to accept His saving grace, and others to reject it.

For Wesley, God’s grace is universal; all may receive it, and none are excluded from it. It is an all-encompassing grace (which, by the way, makes perfect sense to me since that is the very definition of grace itself!!). Paul defined this Wesleyan grace as God’s unconditional movement toward all created things in His desire to draw us into his loving embrace.

After giving this broad definition, Paul went on to describe how there are two components to this kind of grace: creation and restoration. It is foundational to the Christian faith that God created the world ex nihilo—out of nothing. Therefore, God’s very first act of grace was creation itself. God is self-sustaining, so giving us life—and such a diverse, enormous, complex life at that!—was an act of grace and not an act of necessity.

The second broad component of grace is restoration. To kick off his exploration of this, Paul began by describing how this theme is woven throughout orthodox theology in a way that is beautifully unique to Christianity. The very concept of a Trinitarian God—three-in-one, father, son, and spirit—is entirely unique to the Christian faith and points to the fact that (this is SO cool!) the very nature of the triune God reveals his desire for reconciliation, for relationship. God himself is a relationship, a nexus, a model for how he desires to interact with his creation. What a powerful concept!

This grace of restoration is not only an individual movement, but as Paul put it, has a “cosmic dimension”. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul the apostle declares “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”(NIV) This is restoration on a corporate scale, concerned with the redemption of the world as well as the redemption of the individual.

Here, Paul transitions into a description of the Gospel that dovetails perfectly with this two-prong grace, and brings into light the ways many Christians fall short of telling the whole story of the Gospel. In light of Wesleyan grace, the Gospel has four chapters: creation, fall, forgiveness, and restoration. Too often, especially in the evangelical tradition, the gospel is watered down to concepts two and three, and we forget where we came from, and where God is leading us in the broader scheme of things.

Chapters one and especially four are crucial to the Christian life, for restoration is the process of imbuing us with the capacity to love others in the way that God has loved us. It is the beginning of the journey described in 2 Corinthians 5:17. It is the process of sanctification in which followers of Christ are vessels of clay to be shaped into something new, something that has a purpose in the Kingdom of God.

Session 2. The Community: A Family in Which to Grow

The second lecture of the day transitioned into a discussion of the necessity of community in the Christian walk. If our ultimate purpose as Christians is to love, he argues, then we need community to do it well, because loving well is something that cannot be a solitary task. The Church is meant to nurture and deepen our faith, which then manifests itself in a love that is action-oriented. This is key: if there are no such acts of love in our lives, then our faith has no meaning (a concept that is very clear in scripture). And the Christian community is the force responsible for propelling that outward manifestation of love.

Embracing the Four-Chapter Gospel as described in the previous lecture is also key to developing a rich community. To illustrate this, Paul walked us through a history of the Church’s development in the United States. When the Great Awakening swept through the nation in the mid-eighteenth century, Protestant Christianity as a whole became fixated on individual salvation. We began asking ourselves the question “am I saved?” when in reality the more poignant and important question is “what am I saved for?” And the answer to that question, of course, is what the fourth chapter of the Gospel is all about.

Paul then went on to share a brief illustration about Billy Graham, and how conversion is never enough to sustain growth in Christ. As an incredibly successful evangelist, Graham spent many years converting many people to Christianity. What he found later in his life, however, was that many of his converts were not remaining within the faith. Much like the seeds that fell on rocky ground in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, they had an incredible conversion experience but did not grow roots in the Christian life. As a result, they gradually fell away.

Graham came to realize what Wesley had already encouraged centuries before; Christian community creates retention, it creates Christians who develop and grow roots in a way that a single recitation of the sinner’s prayer can’t. In essence, small groups (which I should point out are quite different from institutionalized Church!) are vital to spiritual development.

Paul concluded his lecture with a fresh interpretation of the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Typically, when we read this story we see Mary as someone to be admired; she knew learning from Jesus was more important than carrying on with the house work, and her sister Martha would do well to worry less about hosting Jesus. Paul, however, used this story to illustrate the duality of the Christian life; we can’t always be like Mary, sitting and listening and learning and doing nothing. We must also be like Martha, who took on acts of service in a practical way. We as individuals and as a corporate body need both: Mary’s heart and Martha’s hands.

Session 3. The Discipline: A Pilgrimage of Accountable Discipleship

This lecture focused on different practices of the church and individual Christians as we grow in Christ. Paul began by introducing several helpful concepts that we must understand in order to carry out these practices, which he defined as “the things we do to address fundamental needs in response to God’s active presence in the light of the world.”

We then broke down these practices into smaller sets. Works of piety encapsulate the broad categories of worship and devotion, while works of mercy involve acts of compassion and justice. There are both corporate and personal dimensions to each of these practices, and the two must be balanced in sync if healthy growth is to occur within the life of the Church.

Another aspect of Methodist practices that I found to be particularly interesting was the emphasis on song. Indeed, Song is so central the United Methodism that in England it is known as “the singing church.” John Wesley’s brother, Charles Wesley, composed many great hymns during his lifetime. Often throughout the lecture, Paul would read through a few stanzas of one of Charles’ hymns and then draw out theological insights from them that meshed beautifully with the Methodist ideas he was sharing.

We spent a great deal of time on the final practices that Paul explores in this lecture: that of the Word and the Table; i.e., scripture and communion. Paul framed his discussion of the Table within the concept of time: we can see it in the dimension of the past, in which the focus is the Lord’s Supper and its significance in preceding Jesus’ crucifixion. For us it is an act of “anamnesis”, of reenacting the past to bring its reality into the present moment. It is a commemoration of the most significant story in all of history: story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The present dimension is most easily defined in the word the Eucharist. Growing up, I had never referred to the Lord’s Supper as such, so I looked up the word to see what distinguishes it. Far more than a commemoration, when we refer to sharing the bread and the wine as the Eucharist, we are adding a dimension of gratitude. Paul took this even further, and described the Eucharist as a practice of joy and celebration. I loved this concept, especially since it was so new to me.

Finally, the future dimension of the Lord’s Supper focuses on the hope we have in God for the restoration of the world. The ultimate purpose of the table, in the grand scheme of things, is press us outward, to move us into a world in need of the hope we have.

Session 4. The Servanthood: A Mission in God’s World

The final lecture of the day was largely about our relationship with our mission field: the world. Paul prefaced his introductory statement with the warning that it would be controversial, and indeed it was: we are part of the Christian faith not for our own salvation but to be God’s ambassadors for love and service. The entirety of our life is meant to be an offering to God: a very high calling indeed!

This concept has ultimate clarity in the story of the gospel and what Paul calls “kinosis theology.” This is the idea that it is the nature of God to empty himself. For example, when Jesus came to the world as a human being, he emptied himself of all Godly qualities save one: Love. And since Love is the essence of God, Jesus remained wholly human and wholly divine.

Of course, we as a church are called to live in a similar manner. Paul used the metaphor of a hurricane to illustrate what this would look like in the life of the church. The strongest hurricanes are the ones with a powerful centrifugal force: that is, an outward force that spirals wider and wider. If a hurricane shifted to focus inwardly—centripetal force—it would die quickly.

The Church must always be that centrifugal force. We cannot be an introspective people, concerned with preserving our own traditions and maintaining our own small way of life. If we do, we would be as dead as the eye of a hurricane. The Kingdom would move forward, because God is at its head, but it would move forward without us.

Instead we must be concerned with the world around us, and attuned to its needs. Paul talked about two dimensions to these acts of service. The first is what we most often think of: acts of compassion. This type is generally something personal, and it involves being present in the midst of those who are suffering.

The second type is justice, which is of course generally a more corporate approach. This type recognizes the mistreatment of others, and translates empathy for them into an effort to improve their circumstances. As Paul described this form of service to others, I couldn’t help but remember a quote that I had read once. Tony Campolo, an influential and very wise minister, declared that “justice is nothing more than love translated into social policy.” And likewise, Paul made it clear to us that justice always has a political dimension. It is about doing God’s work in the world by changing the systems in place that oppress.

The final session of the day was rounded off with the plea to listen. So often, injustice is something subtle, worked so deeply into the fiber of our culture that it is only by being attentive listeners that we can see the problems that plague others and realize the need for change. And again, this is something we must do on an individual level and as the corporate body of Christ.

Conclusion.

In all, the day was full of so much learning, and exposure to new ideas and fresh ways of thinking about the Christian walk. But I really believe that if I remember anything from this event five years down the road, I think I will probably remember the way we participated in communion at the end. We sang a hymn and read some liturgy, as well as reciting the Lord’s Prayer. But what struck me about it most of all was how intimate it all felt. Having grown up in the church, I’ve participated in communion more times than I remember, but always as part of a large congregation and usually by being served in my pew.

Communion that day was a pretty small group, so small that we could have all lined up together at the same time to come to the front and receive the bread and the wine. And in keeping with all the lectures Paul presented over the course of the day, Paul spoke words that reminded us of the future aspect to these elements we were receiving. This was a reminder of God’s love for us, and we must in turn go and extend that love to those around us. It is what we were made for, and it is what God’s purpose is for each of us.

The Bible Tells Me So Review: Introduction

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading this new book released by Peter Enns called The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending the Bible Has Made Us Unable to Read It. Let me just say up front that this book is fantastic. I’m enjoying it immensely: so much, in fact, that I’ve decided to do a chapter-by-chapter review of the entire thing. The perspective Enns brings to the table is such an important one, and I think that if we all read the Bible in this way we would find that we can read it with reverence and intellectual integrity without forcing it into a mold it was never meant to fill.

Right out of the gate, Enns makes it pretty clear that this is no typical perspective on how we as Bible-believing Christians ought to read the scriptures. He writes:

“In the Bible, we read of encounters with God by ancient peoples, in their times and places, asking their questions, and expressed in language and ideas familiar to them. Those encounters with God were, I believe, genuine, authentic, and real. But they were also ancient—and that explains why the Bible behaves the way it does.

This kind of Bible—the Bible we have—just doesn’t work well as a point-by-point exhaustive and timelessly binding list of instructions about God and the life of faith. But it does work as a model for our own spiritual journey. An inspired model, in fact.” (p. 23)

The basic purpose of the book’s introduction is to lay the groundwork for how Enns will be approaching the Bible throughout the book. He gives a basic overview of his life and how his views of scripture shifted radically shortly after he graduated from college. He was listening in on a theological conversation between an atheist friend and a Christian friend, and the reality that they had such knowledge and conviction about what they believed, and he felt ignorant by comparison.

This triggered a journey for him in which he studied the Bible, and then began reading all the books on theology, philosophy, church history, commentaries and more that he could get his hands on. He went to Harvard to pursue a doctorate in Old Testament Studies, where he encountered some of the bizarre ways in which the New Testament writers—especially Paul—interepreted the stories of the Old Testament. And he began to learn how comfortably those stories fit among their contemporary narratives.

“I feel I have been given permission to be honest with myself and with God about a Bible that behaves so unBible-like without being told God is deeply disappointed in me for doing so and might turn on me at any second.

I gained a Bible—and a God—I was free to converse with, complain to, talk back to, interrogate, and disagree with, not as an act of rebellion, but as an act of faith and trust, rather than needing to tiptoe around lest a grumpy God lash out with plague, famine, and sword if I get the Bible wrong—like an abusive, drunken father you don’t want to wake from his nap.

I was learning to trust God enough to know that, like family he will come through no matter what, that his love and commitment to me is deepr than how my brain happens to process information at any given moment, to trust that God will be with me, not despite my journey but precisely because I was trusting God enough to take it.” (p. 21)

As I read through Enn’s description of coming to terms with what the Bible truly is, and not what we force it to be, I was amazed at his ability to take the biblical texts at face value and yet remain respectful of its position as an inspired scripture that can teach us so many key things about God and ourselves. What this introduction showed me more than anything else is that you don’t have to bend the Bible to your will—or even to Church tradition—to let it transform you. You don’t need to have every passage hammered out into a malleable caricature of what is truly going on.

You can read the Bible exactly for what it is: ancient literature reflecting the ancient ideas of multiple men and women throughout history. They each colored history in their own ways for different purposes. And this doesn’t render it useless to us at all today; it just means we need to approach it with its context in mind, and read it in a way that is consistent with that context. Only then will the deeper meanings in scripture jump out that perhaps you had previous glossed over with an oversimplified or misinformed reading.

After driving this point home, Enns proceeds with introducing the first difficult topic he would be covering in the book: Old Testament violence. In my next installment of this series, I will provide an overview of Enn’s treatment of stories of God-ordained genocide in the Old Testament and why it is a poor reading of these texts to treat them as reflective of God’s nature or God’s judgment.