Pete Enns https://www.peteenns.com The Bible For Normal People Thu, 22 Jun 2017 11:29:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 4 Things about Western Christianity that Screwed Me Up (But It’s Never too late to Work on It) https://www.peteenns.com/4-things-western-christianity-screwed-never-late-work/ https://www.peteenns.com/4-things-western-christianity-screwed-never-late-work/#comments Thu, 22 Jun 2017 11:26:12 +0000 https://www.peteenns.com/?p=12528 The thing is, I’m getting bored, and these 4 things are part of that mix.

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I don’t mean to complain, much less to sound petty. I don’t mean to lay blame, either.  It is what it is, own it, and figure out where to go from here.

Anyway, as I think about my life of Christian faith, many of my experiences have, in hindsight, done more to hurt my perception of faith than help it—in large part because they are so under the surface, so much mixed in with the concrete of my “faith foundation.”

The thing is, I’m getting bored, and these 4 things are part of that mix. And you can see they are interrelated.

First, as a western Christian, my faith is overly intellectualized. I cannot remember a time when my Christian culture wasn’t dominated by the idea that being Christian meant being right, of essentially tapping into the data base of the universe and coming out with the right answers, of having the mind of God.

And with that, there is no room for mystery and for the spiritual value of not-knowing. I understand better now why “mystery” and “subjectivity” were mocked in much of my Christian training. I get it.

I’m NOT against rational processes (see here), but when “truth” is something that can only come to us through our rational activities, then there can be no room for mystery–indeed, no room for other ways of thinking.

I find such a mentality in which I participate bizarre, even arrogant. But more important, even central, is this: with an overly intellectualized faith the practice of the faith is minimized (except the act of “going to church” so doctrine can be taught.) And as a result, so much of what I read in the Bible (both testaments) about “doing” has fallen on deaf ears. All of those uncomfortable passages get catalogued for future consideration, after your theology is solid and secure.

Western faith is overly individualized. I see myself, far more often than I wish to admit, as functionally the center of the cosmos and that the Creator does too.

No, I don’t pray for a good sale at the mall and a great parking spot when I get there. But I do stop myself at times when I am praying or pondering some thought about God, faith, life, etc., and have a flash of insight, “Dude, you are so into your own little life, as if that’s the whole point of this Jesus business.”

Part of what lies behind this seems to be the co-opting of God in support of American individualism, and the corollary, that the end goal of all of this is “What will happen to you after you die?” As if that is the central question in Scripture and the primary concern of the Creator.

The Greek language of the New Testament has both a plural and singular form of the pronoun “you.” When I read “you”–even though I know better–my default is singular. And so I miss a lot.

And people like me whose default is “the individual” tend to think less of justice than we should, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

White male privilege really is a thing, I never see it from the outside in, and I was never challenged to critique white male privilege as an expression of my faith. Rather, it was allowed to fit far too comfortably with my faith.

Not being an oppressed person puts me at a disadvantage. I rarely need to cry out as the psalmists do about being treated with injustice, prejudice, with violence. I don’t need to worry about being pulled over by uniformed protectors of the public. There are many more places I can go and things I can do because I am part of the dominant culture.

And I don’t worry about my competence or value being questioned because of my gender. I am the default, the norm. I do the judging.

An iteration of the Christian faith that doesn’t see the problem here, really see it, is its own refutation.

I rarely reflect on how rich I am and the effect of having all I need. I’m not rich rich (I’m a college professor, for heaven’s sake), but I’m still rich by global standards.

I own a lawn tractor that probably costs more than many impoverished American’s (let alone in developing countries) earn in months. I use that tractor to manicure the grass on a property with a house on it that has air-conditioning, ceiling fans, a refrigerator, stove, running water, internet, cable, and heat. I have 3 dogs, 3 cats, and a rabbit who will never starve or be without, which is more than I can say for the 19,000+ children who starve to death each day.

I was never really taught, except perhaps in passing, how much having wealth affects your life of faith. The more you have, the less conscious you are of a deeper truth—that our lives are to be lived in trust of God rather than in what makes our lives artificially comfortable. Jesus said something like, “Blessed are the poor,” after all.

Wealth is prized in western culture as a sign of success, what to aim for. Wealth is needed to make the western church run–and it is. Salaries have to be paid, buildings need to be maintained, neighborhood projects are waiting. I get it—and that’s the point. We’re stuck in a system where it is hard to critique wealth and it si easy to get caught up in it.

Again, this isn’t about playing the blame game. For me, it’s more about insight, seeing more clearly the lay of the land, and proceeding forward with that understanding and owning it rather than being oblivious to it.

It’s on me to see myself as part of something bigger and far more interesting than what I have seen thus far.

[It’s summer and I’m either really busy or trying not to be busy at all, so remember it may take me a day or so to moderate comments.]

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Stretching your mind may lead you to revise what you believe https://www.peteenns.com/stretching-mind-may-lead-revise-believe/ https://www.peteenns.com/stretching-mind-may-lead-revise-believe/#comments Tue, 20 Jun 2017 10:48:10 +0000 https://www.peteenns.com/?p=12523 Maybe changing our minds on some things—even on points where our "authentic commitment undergoes change”—is part of what it means to be a thinking Christian.

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“The scholar never fully knows in advance where his line of thought will lead him. For the Christian to undertake scholarship is to undertake a course of action that may lead him into the painful process of revising his actual Christian commitments, sorting through his beliefs, and discarding some from a position where they can any longer function as control. It may, indeed, even lead him to a point where his authentic commitment has undergone change. We are profoundly historical creatures.”

(Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason within the Bounds of Religion2nd Edition; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984, 1999 Reprint, pp. 96 and 97. [my apologies for the patriarchal language])

If you don’t know who Nicholas Wolterstorff is, let us all pause for a moment to personally welcome you to the twenty-first century and the world of high-octane contemporary Christian thought (click here). And I like it when smart people agree with me (or I with them, whatever).

Stretching your mind may lead you to revise what you believe.

You can dismiss what I say, but first look at the picture on the left. Doesn’t Wolterstorff look like a philosopher, someone you don’t want to get into an argument with? Exactly.

Wolterstorff is talking about Christian scholarship, but his comment holds for all Christians who undertake a serious and honest study of their faith, the world around them, and how in heaven’s name the two can get along.

Some of us (show of hands, please) are more apt to explore our faith than think of ways of preserving it. Our intellectual exploration is unavoidably wrapped up in our own spiritual growth. The two work together. Our minds may challenge our faith, but to do the latter without the former is unthinkable—like asking a carpenter to stop using nails and screws.

Sometimes thinking clearly and deeply changes what you believe, and that does not make baby Jesus cry. Neither does it cue the seventh trumpet of judgment or kick over the seventh bowl of God’s wrath in the Book of Revelation.

Some of us are just made that way. And God can handle it.

Maybe the process of change Wolterstorff describes isn’t the big problem the church has to avoid at all costs. Maybe it helps the church.

Maybe changing our minds on some things—even on points where our “authentic commitment undergoes change”—is part of what it means to be a thinking Christian.

And maybe it would help a lot if our churches understood that and supported those of us who are wired this way as a needed presence in the church.

Maybe there’s more to this Christianity business than making sure we don’t wander off of the beach blanket.

That’s what Wolterstorff thinks, anyway. I wouldn’t mess with him if I were you.

[Comments are moderated so please be patient until they appear. It can take me several hours or even a day before I can get to them. It all depends on my Netflix schedule.]

***This post last appeared in July 2016. I attempt my own merger of faith and thought are The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014),  The Sin of Certainty (HarperOne, 2016), Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker 2005/2015) and  The Evolution of Adam (Baker, 2012).***

 

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B4NP Podcast Episode 13: “On Being a Jewish Biblical Scholar” with Marc Brettler https://www.peteenns.com/b4np-podcast-episode-13-jewish-biblical-scholar-marc-brettler/ https://www.peteenns.com/b4np-podcast-episode-13-jewish-biblical-scholar-marc-brettler/#comments Mon, 19 Jun 2017 10:54:49 +0000 https://www.peteenns.com/?p=12517 This week's episode explores how Judaism engages modern biblical scholarship which is often hostile to that tradition with guest Marc Brettler of Duke University.

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This week’s episode explores how Judaism engages modern biblical scholarship which is often hostile to that tradition. Our guest is Marc Z. Brettler, Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor of Judaic Studies, Duke University. He is the author and editor of several important books including The Jewish Study BibleThe Bible and the BelieverThe Jewish Annotated New Testament, and How to Read the Bible.

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My First Big, Can’t-Get-Out-Of-It, “Aha” Moment with the Bible https://www.peteenns.com/first-big-cant-get-aha-moment-bible/ https://www.peteenns.com/first-big-cant-get-aha-moment-bible/#comments Wed, 14 Jun 2017 11:55:26 +0000 https://www.peteenns.com/?p=12507 I knew back then, as I do now, that the model of biblical interpretation I had been taught was not going to cut it if I was going to try to explain how my Bible works rather than defend a Bible that doesn't exist.

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Following on my last post, here is the issue that made it impossible for me to shake the feeling that something was wrong with how I was taught to think about he Bible. The Bible just wasn’t behaving as I had always been told it most certainly does—needs to—behave.

This happened while in graduate school and centered on just one verse: 1 Corinthians 10:4: “for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” You can get a more detailed version in The Bible Tells Me So but here is the gist.

Paul is referring to the incident in the Pentateuch where where the Israelites got water from a rock while wandering in the desert for 40 years. To equate Christ with the rock is a typical example of Paul’s Christ-centered reading of his scripture (our Old Testament): the savior was present with God’s people then as he is now.

All fine and good, but what threw me was that word “accompanied.”

One day in class, my professor James Kugel was lecturing on the creative ways that Second Temple Jewish interpreters handled episodes like “water from a rock.” The curious detail in the Old Testament is that the incident happened twice: once at the beginning of the wilderness period (Exodus 17) and again toward the end of the 40-year period (Numbers 20).

This curious fact led some Jewish interpreters to conclude that the “two” rocks were actually one and the same, hence, one rock accompanied the Israelites on their 40-year journey. We see this idea quite clearly in a Jewish text from the the late 2nd century CE called the Tosefta.

And so the well which was with the Israelites in the wilderness was a rock, the size of a large round vessel, surging and gurgling upward, as from the mouth of its little flask, rising with them up onto the mountains, and going down with them into the valleys.  Wherever the Israelites would encamp, it made camp with them, on a high place, opposite the entry of the Tent of Meeting.

There is a certain “ancient logic” at work here. After all, the Israelites had manna given to them miraculously every morning along with a nice helping of quail meat. But what about water? Are we to think that the corresponding miraculous supply of water was only given twice, 40 years apart!? Of course not. So to “solve” this problem, the water supply became mobile—a portable drinking fountain.

Evangelicals could write off this bit of biblical “interpretation” as entertaining or just plain silly, but 1 Corinthians 10:4 complicates things—Paul refers to Jesus not just as the rock but the accompanying rock.

Paul, a Jewish interpreter, is showing his familiarity with and acceptance of this creative Jewish handling of the “water from a rock” incident.

Let me put a finer point on that: the Old Testament says nothing about a portable supply of water from a rick, but Paul does. Paul says something about the Old Testament that the Old Testament doesn’t say. He wasn’t following the evangelical rule of  “grammatical-historical” contextual interpretation. He was doing something else—something weird, ancient, and Jewish.

My Bible was no longer protected under glass. It was out there, part of its very odd, ancient world that I really didn’t understand—and was never really prepared to handle.

For Paul—an inspired apostle—to accept such a strange legend and treat it as fact is not something that can be easily brought into an evangelical framework. “But Paul is inspired by God! He would never say something like this!!”

But he did.

And it struck me that Paul probably couldn’t get a job teaching at the seminary that taught me about Paul.

This aha moment didn’t happen in isolation. It came in the context of years of pretty intense and in-depth doctoral work where my main area of focus was Second Temple biblical interpretation. But here, at this moment, some tumblers clunked heavily into place. I was seeing a bigger picture, not just about this one verse but about the Bible as a whole.

I was seeing right before my eyes that Paul and the other New Testament writers were part of this ancient world of Jewish traditions of biblical interpretation. And what seems so odd to us was right at home in Paul’s 1st century world.

Evangelical attempts to make Paul sound more evangelical and less Jewish—to make him into a “sound” interpreter of scripture—immediately rang hollow, and continue to. And I knew back then, as I do now, that the model of biblical interpretation I had been taught was not going to cut it if I was going to try to explain how my Bible works rather than defend a Bible that doesn’t exist. I couldn’t deny what I was seeing. I knew I had some thinking to do.

That happened over 25 years ago, and the memory is still vivid. And it’s fair to say this aha moment, along with others before and since, have shaped my life’s work of trying to understand the Bible rather than defend it. And that is to me much more interesting, meaningful, and spiritually enriching.

[An earlier version of this post appeared in June 2014. Remember that comments are moderated and may take 24 hours to appear. And thanks for keeping it 99% respectful. As always, trolls and “truth warriors” will need to go elsewhere.]

 

 

 

 

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“I was always taught the Bible says X, but I just don’t see it” https://www.peteenns.com/always-taught-bible-says-x-just-dont-see/ https://www.peteenns.com/always-taught-bible-says-x-just-dont-see/#comments Mon, 12 Jun 2017 10:50:17 +0000 https://www.peteenns.com/?p=12497 The recurring unrest with conservative readings of scripture from within conservative circles suggests that the paradigm is flawed.

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Back in 2014 (you remember 2014—the good old days; before Brexit, Donald Trump, and exploding cell phones) I ran a series on biblical scholars and their “aha” moments, meaning when they saw that their older ways of looking at the Bible seemed simplistic and had to be abandoned.

What kicked off that series was a Huffington Post article by New Testament scholar Greg Carey (Professor of New Testament, Lancaster Theological Seminary) on how the Bible itself challenges fundamentalism rather than supports it. The article, with its provocative title, “Where Do ‘Liberal’ Scholars Come From,” wound up attracting some attention, both pro and con.

Many (including me) resonated with Carey’s article, and though some found it unconvincing, Carey is simply rehearsing a well-worn path in western Christianity over the last several hundred years: “I was taught to believe the Bible unequivocally says X, but I just don’t see it, so I am going to stop believing X.”

Fill in X with any one of a number of issues.

I have known many people, and heard of many others, who have come from conservative or moderately conservative backgrounds and whose earlier paradigms have been seriously challenged by the simple process of paying attention to scripture in context—whether the immediate literary context or the historical context. This is especially true of those who have done higher level academic work outside of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, but is by no means restricted to this group.

Why does this happen?

I think it’s because scripture doesn’t line up very well with the conservative paradigm of scripture (some form of inerrancy). That’s why the paradigm needs constant tending and vigilant defending in order to survive.

I mean, there’s a reason why Carey’s phenomenon keeps rearing its head generation after generation. It’s not (as I hear far too often) that the offenders are intellectually naive (or dimwitted) and have been duped or are too spiritually weak kneed to “hold on to the truth.”

The recurring unrest with conservative readings of scripture from within conservative circles suggests that the paradigm is flawed.

So now and again over the course of the summer, I will be reposting from that ancient series, where biblical scholars from evangelical backgrounds tell us what brought them to reconsider the older paradigms they were taught, and to let us in on their own “aha” moments that brought them to  make a decision between staying put and moving on–and why they chose to move on.

[A reminder that it may take me up to a day to moderate comments, so your patience is appreciated. And a further reminder, although I welcome counterpoints to my posts and to comments by readers, belligerent, know-it-all, sermons complete with prooftexts will not pass moderation but will be deleted, with a great company of the angelic host rejoicing.]

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About the B4NP Podcast, remember . . . https://www.peteenns.com/b4np-podcast-remember/ https://www.peteenns.com/b4np-podcast-remember/#respond Mon, 12 Jun 2017 10:21:13 +0000 https://www.peteenns.com/?p=12491 Beginning this week we are moving to our summer schedule—every other week. Our next podcast will be up next Monday (June 19) and our guest will be Marc Brettler to talk about Judaism and biblical scholarship. We will resume our normal weekly schedule September 10. Until then, muddle through by employing whatever dysfunctional coping habits […]

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Beginning this week we are moving to our summer schedule—every other week. Our next podcast will be up next Monday (June 19) and our guest will be Marc Brettler to talk about Judaism and biblical scholarship. We will resume our normal weekly schedule September 10.

Until then, muddle through by employing whatever dysfunctional coping habits you’ve developed in your life. It may help to remember that You’re a living organism on this planet and you’re safe. . . . Just stay inside and listen to some music. Do you have any Allman Brothers? (Bonus points if you can name that SNL skit.)

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What You Risk Theologically When You Say “God Is Love” https://www.peteenns.com/risk-theologically-say-god-love/ https://www.peteenns.com/risk-theologically-say-god-love/#comments Fri, 09 Jun 2017 11:19:41 +0000 https://www.peteenns.com/?p=12479 Ironic, isn’t it, that two cherished pieces of evangelical theology—God’s love and God’s unchangeableness—sit so uncomfortably together, at least once you dig down a bit.

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Here’s a thought for the day about what might be at stake in speaking of God’s love or, to use the use the common evangelical designation, to have a “personal relationship” with God. You will risk losing a “property” of God that some Christians declare as crucial to God’s character: God’s “immutability”—that God is God and therefore never changes.

Consider a person who is like Aristotle’s deity—unchangeable, immovable, wholly independent, separated from all else, and with no potential that is not actualized at all times. Such a person would not only lack relationships and feelings. He or she would also not communicate or respond to new situations and to communications from others. 

Would we describe such a person as perfect? I suspect we would do the reverse: we would actually describe him or her as profoundly impaired, suffering from something on the order of a crippling autism. And so, various philosophers closer to our own time—to Jews, the name of Martin Buber will be the most familiar—have argued that it would be more helpful if we conceived perfection in social and relational terms.

To be sure, such terms cannot do justice to God as he is in and of himself; they are only similes and metaphors and must not be taken literally. But they do communicate something about God that, from the biblical and rabbinic perspective, is real and, in fact, crucial: that he can and does love.

Jon D. Levenson, The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual Faithfulness in Judaism, pp. 175-76 (slightly reformatted)

Levenson’s thoughts, while focusing on Judaism, should resonate with Christians who see God as an “unmoved mover” or something like that, and at the same time one who loves. It seems to me, though, echoing Levenson, that it’s hard to have it both ways.

Ironic, isn’t it, that two cherished pieces of evangelical theology—God’s love and God’s unchangeableness—sit so uncomfortably together, at least once you dig down a bit.

I’m happy (relieved, actually) to chalk all this up to “mystery,” but how we perceive God day-to-day affects, to say the least, how we live and relate to others.

Is it too simplistic to say that those whose lives of faith foreground God’s love yield a certain type of fruit and those who foreground God’s unchangeableness will likewise bear another kind? You know what I mean. Whether we view God primarily in relational terms or categorical terms will spill over to our relationships with others.

Yes, perhaps that is too simplistic, but the correlation is still intriguing to me—and not far off from my own experience, both of myself and of others.

Having said that, it seems to me that prayer (which we all do) is the place where the more relational model quickly rises to the surface. With the exception of the most perfunctory and mechanical of prayers, who of us does not pray by pouring out our hearts and wanting God to respond in some way? Who of us doesn’t pray thinking that by our words we can actually affect an outcome—safety and health for a loved one, deliverance from hardship, etc.?

These are the very types of prayers we see in the Bible, including on Jesus’s own lips in the garden. The “O Lord, thou art the immutable sovereign” type of prayer is far less frequent (Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Deuteronomy).

 

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5 Modern Insights about the Old Testament that Aren’t Going Anywhere https://www.peteenns.com/5-modern-insights-old-testament-arent-going-anywhere/ https://www.peteenns.com/5-modern-insights-old-testament-arent-going-anywhere/#comments Tue, 06 Jun 2017 09:59:25 +0000 https://www.peteenns.com/?p=12473 Any notion of, say, inspiration or revelation that seeks to gain traction cannot be formulated in blissful isolation from or in antagonism toward these 5 point. The ship has sailed, the horse is out of the barn, cats are beyond herding, worms are out of the can—pick your metaphor.

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These 5 insights overlap a bit, but here they are.

(1) The Old Testament is an ancient Near Eastern phenomenon. Perhaps an obvious point, but worth putting at the top of the list.

Nothing has changed our understanding of the Old Testament more dramatically than what we have learned over the past 150 years or so about what Israel’s ancient neighbors thought and how they lived—and how much the Israelites not only resembled their neighbors but how indebted they were to modes of thinking that were well in place long before the Israelites ever existed.

No corner of the Old Testament has remained unaffected: stories of origins, cosmology, theology, cult (worship), psalmody, wisdom, prophecy, and more .

The Old Testament cannot be treated in isolation from its environment.

(2) “Myth” is an inescapable category for describing portions of the Old Testament. Sidestepping the various definitions of myth people like to argue about, ancient mythic categories are self-evidently present in the Old Testament.

At times the Israelites applied these myths to their own worship (e.g., applying to Yahweh in Psalm 18 descriptions of west Semitic storm deities; Yahweh presiding over a pantheon in Psalm 82). At other times mythic categories were used to distinguish Israelite belief from that of other peoples (e.g., Genesis 1 vis-a-vis the Babylonian Enuma Elish).

Regardless of how they were used, ancient myths serve as a “conceptual structure” for how the Israelites understood their God, at least in various places in the Old Testament.

(3) Israelites did not write their history “objectively.”  No writing of history is objective anyway, which is an idea few have trouble accepting—and the Old Testament does not escape that truth.

The Israelites wrote the story of their past not to talk about the past for its own sake, but to see their present in light of their past and their past in light of their present. The Israelites were storytellers.

That doesn’t mean the Old Testament is “devoid of history” or some such thing. But it does mean that the Old Testament gives us something very different than what we might call “history” today.

Put another way, #3 follows on #1 and #2.

(4) The Old Testament does not contain one systematic and consistent body of “truth” but various, and even conflicting, perspectives. We see this at work, for example, when we compare Israel’s two histories (the one contained in Samuel and Kings and the other contained in Chronicles); laws in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy that conflict; portraits of God’s actions that differ among the Psalms and wisdom literature (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes).

The Old Testament does not allow itself to be systemized into one smoothly consistent “body of teaching.” The reason is that its various writings reflect vastly different times and circumstances—which brings us to #5.

(5) The Old Testament “evolved” over time until it came to its final expression. The Old Testament, technically speaking, is a product of the Judahites in the centuries following their return from Babylonian captivity (539 BCE).

That does not mean the Old Testament was written out of whole cloth at the time. Much older writings and traditions were brought together and also combined with new literary creations. All of it was then edited together to form what would eventually become the Old Testament we know.

Israel’s Scripture came to be over time. David did not read the book of Genesis. The prophets do not say, “As we read in the book of Leviticus.” Whether or not the traditions contained in these books were known is an interesting and fruitful discussion, but that is not the same thing as whether the literary productions were in existence.

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There is much more to the Old Testament than these 5 points, of course. And accepting the Old Testament as scripture doesn’t depend on fully working out these 5 points. In fact, whosoever wishes can safely ignore all of this and move on with their lives of faith. I mean that.

But when we want to dig into why the Bible “behaves” as it does, and especially if we are curious about engaging the Bible on a historical level, these 5 factors simply can’t be brushed aside.

Any notion of, say, inspiration or revelation that seeks to gain traction cannot be formulated in blissful isolation from or in antagonism toward these 5 points. The ship has sailed, the horse is out of the barn, cats are beyond herding, worms are out of the can—pick your metaphor.

Any “doctrine of Scripture” that does not address these issues synthetically—working with them rather than against them—will at the end of the day be of little help and even produce harm for Christians navigating the sometimes rough terrain of an ancient faith in a modern world.

[If you’re interested, I’ve written about some of these issues in more detail, especially herehere, and here, as well as elsewhere this blog—see the categories below.]

[Please be patient as your comment is in moderation. Comments are normally posted within 6 hours but may take as long as 24.]

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B4NP Podcast Episode 12: “Faith and Doubt: No, You’re Not the Only One” with Pete and Jared https://www.peteenns.com/b4np-podcast-episode-12-faith-doubt-no-youre-not-one-pete-jared/ https://www.peteenns.com/b4np-podcast-episode-12-faith-doubt-no-youre-not-one-pete-jared/#comments Mon, 05 Jun 2017 10:28:15 +0000 https://www.peteenns.com/?p=12465 Pete and Jared discuss how doubt in the life of faith is normal (in fact, unavoidable and inevitable), biblical (you might be surprised how blunt some biblical writers are), and spiritually beneficial (struggling with uncertainty transforms faith in ways nothing else can). You can also check out Pete’s book on the topic, The Sin of Certainty.

The post B4NP Podcast Episode 12: “Faith and Doubt: No, You’re Not the Only One” with Pete and Jared appeared first on Pete Enns.

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Pete and Jared discuss how doubt in the life of faith is normal (in fact, unavoidable and inevitable), biblical (you might be surprised how blunt some biblical writers are), and spiritually beneficial (struggling with uncertainty transforms faith in ways nothing else can). You can also check out Pete’s book on the topic, The Sin of Certainty.

The post B4NP Podcast Episode 12: “Faith and Doubt: No, You’re Not the Only One” with Pete and Jared appeared first on Pete Enns.

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Getting in God’s Face is an Act of Loyalty https://www.peteenns.com/getting-gods-face-act-loyalty/ https://www.peteenns.com/getting-gods-face-act-loyalty/#comments Fri, 02 Jun 2017 10:50:53 +0000 https://www.peteenns.com/?p=12457 Complaining to God is a way of standing by God. Sometimes it’s all we have.

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I recently read Jon D. Levenson’s latest book The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual Faithfulness in Judaism (see also here and here), and would like to share another brief quote with you. It’s about the idea of “lament” or “complaint” in the Old Testament.

I’ve written a bit about this idea myself, on this blog and elsewhere, but Levenson gives it a twist that I had never quite articulated before, but that seems so obvious to me now that I see it.

And the idea is this: lament or complaint to God is an act of covenant loyalty.

Bet you didn’t see that coming.

God stands by Israel even when they breach the covenant in the most egregious and defiant ways, and Israel (ideally) stands by God even when they plausibly accuse him of gross injustice, as indeed they do at times. . . . Covenantal loyalty includes both a nonmoral loyalty [loyalty regardless of how the other behaves] and a passionaite insistence that the other partner live up to the terms of the covenant and make himself worthy of the gratuitous love he has received. 

The Love of God, p. 55

Without suggesting that God and we are on equal terms, the idea expressed above works both ways.

The raw honesty of the lament psalms, for example (like Psalms 44, 88, 89), not only models for us the acceptability of such honest expressions of frustration, even disappointment and anger, with God—although there’s that. It is also an act of covenant loyalty on our part to God to do so.

To put it in marriage terms, if a spouse is not living up to the agreement, so to speak, the other is morally obligated by those very same terms to call him/her to the carpet. And doing so (genuinely, not naggingly) is an expression of one’s commitment to the marriage covenant—you expect the other to live up to their vow and will let them know when they don’t.

So think about that the next time you are wondering, like a psalmist, why your life is shrouded in darkness and God seems either disinterested, unaware, or even complicit (Psalm 88). By getting in God’s face and even “accusing him of gross injustice” you are actually expressing loyalty to the covenant; you are honoring God by showing respect for the covenant enough to say something.

Complaining to God is a way of standing by God. Sometimes it’s all we have.

 

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