A book both human and divine

I have been reading Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, as part of Kelley Nikondeha’s transit lounge book group, Kelley writes,

After posting my reading strategy for 2013 I discovered some of you wanted to read along – even after seeing the kind of books I intend to read. Glory – I found my tribe! So I agreed to convene a book club based on my growing reading list.

The idea of reading in community makes me giddy. Reading and learning are tandem passions, the opportunity to do that alongside kindred spirits exponentially heightens the excitement and, I believe, the experience.

So I announce the reading in transit book club! I believe we all are in transit when it comes to our understanding of spirituality and praxis, the Biblical text and our global context, our embodiment of the revolutionary Gospel of Jesus in our communities. So let’s read, learn, converse and engage together.

This is not a book review (for that see the link to Rachel held Evan’s blog at the bottom of the page). This is a personal reflection with a link up to other readers via Kelley’s blog.

Transit Reading

“Mum, what is Q?”

Jonathan has been reading from the pile of books by the sofa, an odd assortment of commentaries, biblical studies and 1980s theology, some volumes I have been buying in second hand shops because they remind me of my student days.

“Well I say …”, I’m trying to remember biblical studies from before he was born, “Q is a hypothetical source for the gospels…” and I hand him a well used copy of Throckmorton’s parallel gospels from the shelf. He however has found the Wikipedia page for synoptic gospels and being a quick reader he already knows everything I have forgotten and more.

And though I am proud at his curiosity, his pursuit of answers to his own questions and his intellectual mastery of knowledge beyond his year, I’m feeling a little panicked at the  situation emerging here in the sitting room on a perfectly innocent holiday morning because this is not suitable material for children, its not suitable for any Christians. I should  not have brought it into the house. Whilst I should have been teaching him from 2000 years of orthodoxy, I’m filling his mind with 200 years of critical scholarship. After all this is the child who at the tender age of ten suffered an existential crisis so great he wept every night for a month. Too scared to sleep at night, he was facing the possibility of a world without God and it scared him witless.

My boy found his faith again and it wasn’t in anything I did or said or in any  book he was given to read. He found his faith in the presence of God and in worship and that is where he stands every Sunday and many times in between arms raised, eyes heavenwards singing as if no one is watching.

So how do we deal with the tricky questions that Bible scholarship and everyday Bible reading present us with? Questions like,

  • How can a book written by human authors be the Word of God?
  • How can 66 books written by diverse authors over thousands of years contain one cohesive message?
  • How do we deal with external evidence that suggests what we read in the Bible is not trustworthy?
  • How do we deal with internal theological inconsistencies in the Bible?
  • How can we read this book and know anything for sure about God?

Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, encourages me in pursuing these questions.  I listen with faith and hope and this is what I hear,

It is not wrong to ask questions

“God honours our honest questions. He is not surprised by them, nor is he ashamed to be our God when we pose them … as all children do, we ask a lot of questions.”

Defensiveness and polarisation does us no good

“On a popular level, a defensive approach to the evidence tends to dominate the conversation (on biblical scholarship) … Much of the evangelical theological landscape of the twentieth and into the twenty-first century was dominated by a “battle for the Bible.” The terms are familiar: liberal vs. conservative, modernist vs. fundamentalist, mainline vs. evangelical, progressive vs. traditionalist.”

I must not squeeze the Bible into my own mould

“I have found again and again that listening to how the Bible itself behaves and suspending preconceived notions (as much as that is possible) about how we think the Bible ought to behave is refreshing, creative, exciting, and spiritually rewarding.”

The answer is always Trinitarian/incarnational

“In the same same way that Jesus is – must be – both God and human, the Bible is also a divine and human book.”

“It (the Bible) was not an abstract, otherworldly book, dropped out of heaven . It was connected to and therefore spoke to those ancient cultures.”

“The human marks of the Bible are everywhere, thoroughly integrated into the nature of scripture itself.”

We read the Bible best when we read it backwards

“The New Testament authors take the Old Testament out of one context, that of the original human authors; and place it into another context, the one that represents the final goal to which Israel’s story has been moving.”

“It is only by understanding the Old Testament on its own terms, so to speak, that the church can appreciate the impact that the death and resurrection of Christ and the preaching of the gospel had in its first century setting.”

But what has been encouraging for me was risky for Enns.  He lost his job writing this book.

Some of us wrecked our faith asking these questions and others of us wrecked our faith by not asking these question and I wonder: what is the real difference between those of us who emerged faith intact or strengthened and those of use who were left bereft?

All quotes from, Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation

Readers may be interested in reading a review of this book in Rachel Held Evan’s series entitled, Learning to love the Bible for what it is, not what we want it to be

Peter Enns blogs at Patheos


2 thoughts on “A book both human and divine

  1. I have an inquisitive son, too. His questions keep me nimble and sometimes nervous as he presses me to explain in straightforward language what I believe. Days after beginning I&I, they talked about the Bible in Sunday School. Over lunch he asked my thoughts on the Bible, since we often deconstruct Sun School lessons over Sun lunches. I told him that the Bible is both human and divine, just like Jesus. And with such ease he said ‘oh, that makes sense that jesus and the bible are alike.’ I hope this is a good place to start for him – and as he ages and encounters Q and all the rest, he’ll move from the basic awareness that this is all good within the understanding of the incarnational revelation of the Bible, of our God who incarnates. Maybe he’ll be less afraid to ask questions, knowing there is a mystery about the Bible as there is mystery around Jesus, and that’s alright to embrace. I hope… for both our sons!

    Thanks so much for reading along this month. Blessings from my blog to yours!

    • We talk about our children again, Kelley.
      I’ve seen a photo of your’s on your website and they look beautiful.
      Would you say that we are building a bespoke family vocabulary and a framework for talking about the things of God? I like to see it in this way and hope that for us as a family we will always be able to talk about God together because we always have, in real every day language. I think it is a shame there is so much fear attached to asking questions and exploring faith in some sections of the church and I’m especially sad when I perpetrate it!
      Loving the reading group and looking forwards to the Yoder, thanks for sharing in this way. blessings

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