Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Inspiration and Incarnation by Enns

Having just - finally - briefly skimmed through Peter Enns' "controversial" (at least in ultra-conservative Christian circles) book, Inspiration and Incarnation, I have the following comments:

1. The book really is relatively easy to read and geared for the layperson. It would be a great resource for many churches, as it touches on many of the difficulties surrounding Scripture, and explains them in a very straightforward manner, clearly, and almost entirely without bias. That is no easy task. Enns notes that there are aspects of the Bible that are very "human", but simply asks, "Why should we expect it to be any different?" What's wrong with God's story being given to us with human traits? How else would we expect God to give humans his story? This does not mean Enns doesn't take Scripture seriously; far from it. In fact, he likely stands closer to the "conservative" end of the theological spectrum than I do, but I can agree with nearly everything he says.

2. I was actually surprised at how much of what Enns points out in the book is fairly basic seminary-level biblical/historical information. Much of the detail regarding similar ancient creation stories, comparisons with non-biblical accounts, potential contradictions, and proper NT use of OT passages, are issues that scholars have been debating for some time, and nearly everyone recognizes they are real issues.

Enns, for the most part, simply points out the issues, discusses why they could be a problem for Evangelicals (who take the Bible's "inerrancy" very seriously), and then explains why an "incarnational" view of Scripture serves to alleviate the problem. Yes, some will be disappointed that Enns does not provide a stronger defense of the "truth" of the Bible, but to my mind, I don't think his point is to defend a particular doctrine of inspiration. Rather, he is simply trying to show that accepting certain human characteristics, or even cultural developments, within the creation of the Bible, does not mean you have to stop believing it's a story that really happened. It's a rather uncontroversial claim, really.

3. Which brings me to my third point: I'm surprised at how much trouble Enns got into with WTS for writing this book. It's almost like they said, "My word! A creative way to look at Scripture! We can't have that!" And so they fired him. I mean, I understand that one could read the book and infer that inerrancy is not necessary, but it doesn't have to be read that way.

Incidentally, the whole argument over inerrancy just doesn't matter much to me: I gave up on that notion years ago. It just seems rather silly to me. That isn't to say God couldn't have done things absolutely, exactly the way the Bible says; I just don't see what one gains (other than a false sense of stability) by demanding that is the only way to read the Bible.

But, even if one does take inerrancy to be fundamental for genuine Christian faith, I fail to see how Enns' book really threatens such a view. Does it present a creative, somewhat provocative notion? For ultra-conservatives, it probably does. But for everyone else, the book will seem quite nonthreatening, and probably quite helpful. It offers a more balanced view of Scripture: one that clearly holds to the authority and truth of Scripture, while providing some breathing room for all those Christians who secretly wonder: Can I believe the Bible, even if some of the details, including the way the stories were written, seem strangely "human"?

Relax. The Bible is still God's word, even if people were involved in the process. After all, that's the way God's revelation works: It is revealed to people, who then have to figure out what to do with it. Yes, that can make it messier, but what else would we expect? Golden tablets from heaven? Yeah, um... that's something else.

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