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ForTheBibleTellsMeSoWriting books and having them reviewed go hand in hand. I bet book reviews go back to whatever third millennium BCE Sumerian priest carved into clay the first flood story and his rival priests who felt “He really could have done a better job.” Like most authors, I normally sit back and let my books stand on their own and learn what I can.

But after reading the recent review of The Bible Tells Me So in Christianity Today by Andrew Wilson (a doctoral student in New Testament and sometime contributor to Christianity Today), I am compelled to offer a response—of sorts.

I have a number of disagreements with various matters of content (relevant ones I outline below), but I’m not particularly motivated to respond to Wilson’s review point by point. Wilson expressed his view, and he is as welcome to do so as I am when I review books. And readers are quite capable of determining what helps and what doesn’t.

Rather, I am motivated to respond because Wilson’s review is symptomatic of a larger problem: how a movement’s intellectual leaders, while appearing to do otherwise, manage to avoid engaging in a much-needed dialogue over well-known problems in scripture that keep coming up and aren’t going away.

Specifically, I have observed over the years that, when conservative evangelicals defend the Bible against perceived attacks, they enlist into service a number of stock responses and deflective rhetorical strategies.

Rhetorical skills, of course, are an honored and ancient component of persuasive speech, and good writers are good at it. But in my experience, a number of rhetorical strategies as employed by evangelicals too often simply amount to stall tactics that deflect attention and/or delegitimize the challenges themselves and those who raise them.

These strategies—which are not necessarily deployed consciously—are aimed at protecting evangelical theological boundaries but do so at the expense of those evangelicals, who, through the course of reading and studying scripture, come upon legitimate questions for which they are seeking thoughtful answers. Issues like the tribal violence of God, true (not apparent) contradictions, and historical problems are quite real and cannot long be kept at bay through these strategies.

Although intended, no doubt, as a defense of the faith, these strategies often have the exact opposite effect. They are compelling only to those who are content with the “assured results of evangelicalism” and so are a discouragement to those who, for the sake of their own spiritual survival, are seeking ways forward that are more intellectually and spiritually sustainable.

Here are 12 rhetorical strategies that I have seen employed past and present. Again, I am highlighting Wilson’s review, largely because it appeared in evangelicalism’s flagship publication, to illustrate the larger problem noted above.

Also, I wish to make quite clear that Wilson’s review does not display all 12 of these strategies, and even where he does he is not the worst offender. Compared to one or two other reviews of The Bible Tells Me So, I am happy that Wilson at least sees some of the same problems I do and made an attempt to step into my skin and see what I am trying to accomplish.

12 Rhetorical Strategies

  1. The book is interesting, and I even agree with the author now and then. Unfortunately, he’s completely wrong in anything that actually matters. Complimenting the author early on gives greater credibility to damning criticism of the author’s key points raised later. (“The reviewer was so fair and sympathetic earlier; he can’t be wrong now.”)
  2. Though the author is one-sided and biased, I will offer the balanced center. Painting one’s own views as representing the balanced, rational, and truly scholarly middle rather than an opposing view presents the author as extremist or incompetent
  3. Back to your homes, folks. Nothing new to see here. The alleged “problems” raised are actually old hat, nothing more than “standard” attacks on the Christian faith that have been successfully thwarted in the past, and therefore can and should be immediately ignored. All truly competent and enlightened people know all this was dealt with years ago.
  4. Not only is the author wrong, but he is obviously wrong. Related to #3, a passing recognition is given that there is some sort of problem, but, thankfully, it can easily be explained after a moment’s sober reflection.
  5. If the author is right, then my theological tradition is wrong. And we can’t have that. The reviewer’s theological views, rather than offered as a perspective from which to engage a book, are asserted/assumed to be the non-negotiable and self-evident standard for judging the book.
  6. Good books on scripture need to address issues my community and I think are of central importance. This follows on #5, for example, “How can a book that talks about the Bible not give a full account of how exactly revelation and biblical authority work?” or “How can an author who wrote a book about the Bible not lay out for us fully his/her doctrine of inspiration, especially dealing with our favorite proof text, 2 Tim 3:16?”
  7. I’m just shocked…shocked, I tell you. Registering bafflement and plain incredulity creates a sense of outrage and portrays the author’s views as bizarre and therefore easily dismissed.
  8. Quote after quote after quote. Good reviews should quote the book, but their use does does not automatically mean the book has been (1) read carefully and (2) understood.
  9. A famous scholar with great social capital for our side is against you. The argument from authority. (“C.S. Lewis would laugh at this.”)
  10. The Bible is against you. Even one biblical citation—whether valid or not—can create the impression that a view has been sufficiently critiqued. “Warning passages” (Acts 7:51-53, for example) that invoke judgment are particularly effective.
  11. In fact, Jesus himself is against you. If at all possible to do so, claiming that Jesus’s words counter the author’s is a powerful tool, as it raises not simply the possibility of the author’s biblical illiteracy (#10) but the specter of spiritual rebellion.
  12. This sure sounds like Rob Bell (or a 19th century liberal, or Hitler, or Marcion, or Satan). Appealing to a figure whose mere mention fully marginalizes and delegitimizes the author beyond repair in the eyes of the readers can be hard to recover from.

Let me illustrate a few of these rhetorical strategies (RS) from Wilson’s review.

Seeing Several Rhetorical Strategies at Work

After some show of appreciation and even agreement (RS 1), Wilson begins the substantive portion of his review.

Yet the book is also fundamentally imbalanced. Enns is so eager to show how “messy” and “weird” the Bible is that he frequently exaggerates difficulties, presents a one-sided picture, or neglects obvious resolutions to the “contradictions” he puts forth.

The book is not just imbalanced, but fundamentally so, and I am eager (apparently going out of my way) to find problems in the Bible where no balanced, even-handed reader would. The book is therefore prone to frequent exaggeration and I am apparently unaware of or incompetent to recognize how obviously the problems I cite can be resolved.

In the span of two short sentences, rhetorical strategies 2-4 (at least) are succinctly woven together and set the stage for the remainder of Wilson’s assessment.

Wilson backs up his claim by referring his readers to three egregious missteps. Note, though, that in all three cases, Wilson actually acknowledges that there is some problem in the Bible that needs to be addressed—though his quick and ready solutions really do little more than dismiss the gravity of the issues with a simple wave of the hand and an exasperated sigh (mainly RS 3 and 4).

First, Wilson notes that the “contradictions” in the Passover laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy (whether the lamb should be roasted or boiled, The Bible Tells Me So, pp. 161-62) are in fact no such thing, but easily explained: “the former [Exodus] are given for life in the wilderness, and the latter [Deuteronomy] for life in the Promised Land.”

This is a common conservative evangelical “solution” to the contradiction, but it fails to take into account the Passover instructions in Exodus 12:21-27, especially verses 24-25 (NRSV):

You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance.

Based on Wilson’s appeal to the “easy” chronological explanation, I would have expected to read in Exodus, “You shall observe this ordinance for the time being, until you get into the land and then you stop and let Deuteronomy take over.”

But Exodus does not say this because at this point in the narrative, it is still assumed things will continue to go smoothly and the Israelites will enter the land of Canaan after they leave Sinai to enact the laws given in Exodus 20-23. Wilderness wandering does not become a factor until the rebellion at the border of Canaan in Numbers 14.

I am at a loss why this chronological explanation continues to be repeated, but I suspect it has simply become a widely accepted “truth” that serves its purpose, at least for a while. But this “answer” is at best a temporary calm before the storm and in the meantime does much more spiritual harm than good for those who are seeking a more authentic faith.

Wilson next claims I find “confusion about how many gods there were in the Old Testament.” Actually, I find no confusion [RS 2 and 7] whatsoever. The Bible is quite clear on the matter: ancient biblical writers in the Old Testament assumed the existence of other gods (pp. 150-54), and one would be hard pressed to find biblical scholars who say anything else.

But without breaking stride [RS 3 and 4], Wilson calmly assures his readers that the “gods” were in fact “demons,” even though the Old Testament never says this and Israel’s cultural context doesn’t support it. His citation of Isa 44:6-20 [RS 10] as a proof text is only helpful until you look it up, and citing Paul’s clear monotheism in 1 Cor 8:4-6—which reflects the Judaism of his day—presumes that what Paul as a first century Jew addressed in his Greco-Roman culture can simply be lifted and transported back 1,000 years to Iron Age Israel.

Can the perennial God/gods question in the Old Testament really be explained by this stock answer? (“Give thanks to the God of demons, for his love endures forever”!? –Ps 136:2).

More important, is theological diversity in the Bible really such a deep and troubling problem that earnest reader are asked to resort to these types of strategies to uphold biblical authority and revere it as God’s word? Does this build up faith or crush it?

Do not these idiosyncratic solutions make faith seem a fragile thing that cannot bear up under closer scrutiny, rather than a faith that welcomes and demands the best our minds can offer?

Third, Wilson charges that I am not only failing to see obvious answers to alleged contradictions [RS 4], but my paraphrases of biblical laws (p. 161), “sometimes create discrepancies out of thin air. Nobody but Enns, surely, could read Leviticus 17:15-16 as … conflicting with instructions elsewhere” [RS 2 and 7].

At this point in the review I stopped reading and took a slow walk. I’m not sure what can inspire Wilson’s confident claim that my overactive mind is conjuring up problems. The contradiction between laws of eating (or not eating) animal carcasses is not a discrepancy I or anyone else created out of thin air, but a common problem raised in these discussions.

Leviticus 17:15: Any person, whether citizen or stranger, who eats what has died or has been torn by beasts shall wash his clothes, bath in water, and remain unclean until evening; then he shall be clean.

Exodus 22:30: You shall be a holy people to Me; you must not eat the flesh torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs.

Deuteronomy 14:21: You shall not eat anything that has died a natural death; give it to the stranger in your community to eat, or you may sell it to a foreigner. For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your God.

What Leviticus allows (“Any person…who eats”) is expressly disallowed in Exodus and Deuteronomy (“you must not eat…you shall not eat”). The contradiction is real and, ironically, is in fact “easily” explained, though not in the way Wilson claims or would probably allow.

Biblical scholars see here evidence of different legal traditions in the Pentateuch that have different theologies of purity. In the priestly literature of Leviticus, only priests are commanded to abstain entirely from animals that have died or been mauled to death. Non-priests may eat but must be purified thereafter. In the non-priestly laws of Exodus and Deuteronomy, however, all Israelites—priests and non-priests—are equally set apart and so all Israelites must therefore avoid both types of dead animals.

This is the “obvious” answer to the problem that accepts the contradiction rather than erases it. This is the kind of answer that honest readers with questions deserve to hear. Whatever subsequent theological questions arise as a result can (and should) be addressed, but at least now we would be walking the proper path of engaging the Bible rather than ignoring it.

Thus far I have only addressed problems with the first paragraph of the review. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I would like to illustrate briefly two other common strategies that come up further along.

Jesus and Rob Bell [RS 11-12]

Wilson agrees with me that Jesus is not a modern reader of his Bible but handled scripture creatively as did other Jews in that context. Yet Wilson feels I have gone “too far” and need to be balanced, since I have “largely ignore[d] the dozens of texts in which Jesus speaks about Scripture as authoritative, unbreakable, true, unchangeable” [RT 2, 4, 11].

Wilson rightly acknowledges Jesus’s creative, Jewish (and very non-evangelical) way of reading his Bible, but then—perhaps sensing Jesus might be getting out of hand—appeals to Jesus’s many statements of scripture’s authority as a balance to what he just acknowledged. In doing so, Wilson has created the impression that Jesus is, after a moment’s reflection, really in line with conservative evangelical ways of thinking.

What troubles me here not a little is that Wilson is a NT doctoral student, which might lend credibility to this claim in the eyes of some readers [shades of RS 9]. But Wilson here reflects an unfortunate yet common Protestant move—distancing Jesus from his Jewish environment and making him sound more like us, something the last generation or two of New Testament scholarship has been trying to correct, and with great success overall.

We can’t pit Jesus against Jesus like this. His view of biblical authority is part of his Jewish heritage and expressed by his creative handling of scripture. The former is not diminished by going “too far” with the latter.

As paradoxical as it might seem to us, Jesus’s creative reading of scripture was how he, consistent with his tradition, showed reverence for scripture (e.g., see Michael Fishbane’s Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel). This was the central point I made in chapter 5.

Jesus’s Jewish reading of his scripture cannot simply be acknowledged in one breath and neutered in the next. It is not an old sweater we can strip off him and discard to see the real evangelical friendly Jesus hiding beneath. Actually, Jesus’s view of the Bible is more a problem for evangelicals than a confirmation.

Similarly, Wilson sees as “even more problematic” the fact that I am so bothered by God’s violence in the Old Testament, whereas Jesus clearly is not [RS 4, 11]. But again, playing the Jesus card won’t help.

I spend 41 pages in The Bible Tells Me So discussing God’s command to exterminate the Canaanites, and I have yet to hear a compelling defense for how that portrait of God—which includes enslaving women and children as spoils of war—fits like a glove with the God Jesus reveals to us, as if there is no theological discontinuity from the Old Covenant to the New.

Jesus and his teachings about God are what make Canaanite extermination (and other portraits of violence) such a pickle for not only Christian readers today but going back to the first allegorists of the early Christian church. If appealing to Jesus like this worked so well, we would have all figured that out by now.

Wilson ends his review by finally revealing the true and deeper problem with my approach to scripture: I do not “tremble” sufficiently before God. Instead, as he puts it, I take “swipes” at scripture. In doing so I am in league with the ever-present evangelical traitor Rob Bell and caving in to progressive elitism such as one might read in The New York Times, ever vigilant to “ditch” casually all the bits of scripture I don’t like [RS 12].

But it is the stock answers channeled above by Wilson that are the true examples of “ditching” passages that get in the way. I see there no posture of trembling before God, but a maneuvering and ignoring of scripture to preserve one’s theology.

Despite the common types of protests represented in this review—of how obvious the solutions are to all but the most stubborn readers, or how most problems are more invented than actual, or how piety and obedience to Christ are at stake for those who raise questions considered valid and even self-evident elsewhere, and that failure to fall in line marks you an enemy of God—the problems of scripture are real, people keep noticing them, and they cannot be marginalized or conjured away by compiling rhetorical strategies and stock answers.

One reason I wrote The Bible Tells Me So was to give alternatives to the very sorts of answers we see perpetuated in this review.

The Deeper Problem Still

Answers to honest, recurring, widespread, and often self-evident, queries about the Bible need to be handled better that what we have seen here because Christian pilgrims deserve better. But beyond this, I think a more fundamental issue is at stake: how we answer the question, “Who is God?”

As a Christian I believe that Jesus is God’s best and final answer that question, and that the scriptures God provided bear witness to the process, debates, and reflections over time surrounding that central question and how Jesus was God’s ultimate answer. This, I feel, is what distinguishes Christians and how we see our Bible.

But some conservative evangelicals want more. They want to say that, yes, Jesus is the ultimate answer to the question of God, but so are all these other answers in the Bible. They have to be. And so it becomes absolutely vital to figure out how all the various answers of our diverse and ancient scripture fit together in some transcendent mysterious integrated way that can only be demonstrated through readings of scripture that wind up being more of a problem than the problems they seek to address.

And so those who see it that way have no choice but to invest themselves into aligning what cannot be aligned, and—judging by how scripture behaves—I deeply believe God does not want us to.

That is a real disagreement over what scripture is and does and reveals, and how we resolve these issues greatly influences not simply how we read the Bible here and there, but how we see the character of the God we worship and pray to and how we shape our lives accordingly.

This conversation is spiritually necessary because the issue of scripture keeps coming up. This is why these rhetorical strategies, perhaps most of all “there’s nothing new here” [RS ForTheBibleTellsMeSo3], are so deceptive.

Yes! Exactly! These issues are nothing new. That is precisely the point. They keep coming up . . . because the familiar explanations and the rhetorical strategies that support them aren’t working. Pretending the issues are small or non-existent, or investing energy to keep people from seeing them, is simply wrong.

Here is the real choice before Christians: Either (1) we force the Bible to fit into a scheme it can’t handle, or (2) we honestly face the Bible God has actually given us and form, reform, and reform again, how we view the Bible on that basis, trusting God along the way.

We simply cannot continue denying, avoiding, and spinning our way out of facing these issues that everyone else seems to see plainly enough if we want to keep our integrity, keep our young people, become more spiritually healthy, and, as I see it, align with God’s intentions.

God’s ways are not as much in our control as we might like to think, and that makes it harder to settle debates, but that is the way God has chosen. Pretending otherwise is not a sign of a strong faith; it is, instead, a sign of a misplaced faith rather than a deeper trust in God’s ability to guide us today. And that is perhaps the last thing evangelical leaders should be modeling for those who are seeking ways of bringing scripture and their faith together.

 

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

167 Comments

  • Orton1227 says:

    Reviews like Wilson’s (with his little jabs and larger judgments) are what push me towards giving up Christianity. Books like yours are what often bring me back.

    • Evelyn says:

      Of course, Christianity is not about reviews or books… Though I’m guessing you mean it’s the attitudes of Christians as shown there that’s repellant or attractive. But even then, it’s not about those people either 😉

      I suspect God’s not that interested in religion – so whatever way of relating to him works for you, is probably fine by him. If that means rejecting evangelicalism, He’ll survive. And perhaps so will your faith.

      • Orton1227 says:

        yes, I agree. And thank you for your words of encouragement. Frank Schaeffer’s latest book “Why I Am An Atheist Who Believes In God” has been instrumental in resurrecting my faith. He talks a lot about what you’ve said here.

        • Evelyn says:

          Are you familiar with Homebrewed Christianity? It sounds like you might enjoy their ingredients for brewing your own faith 🙂

  • Matt Orth says:

    The same old questions keep getting asked, because the same old answers keep being given.
    Thanks for this, was hoping you’d respond.

  • Jim says:

    10 years ago, I would have cheered Wilson’s review and forwarded it all around. Today, I am wondering why I still have a subscription to CT. Thanks, Peter, for another great book.

    • Bill Colburn says:

      Having just read Pete Rollin’s article, ‘The Problem with Unbelief is that it Enables Us To Believe Too Much’, I thought that Wilson’s critique of your wonderful book was an apt confirmation of Rollins point. Thank you for your response to Wilson’s review. Very helpful.

    • Ed_Cyzewski says:

      I see these tactics all of the time, and they drive me nuts. Point number 6 is really huge to me. I’ve been criticized for not addressing systematic theology or the reformed view of the atonement, and I just want to shout at the reviewer, “Systematic theology broke the Bible for me! No thanks!” It was especially frustrating when I published a book with Wesleyan Publishing house (which is Arminian), and a reformed reviewer basically evaluated my book based on his own tradition.

      • Rick says:

        Yes, I think #6, and #5 (since they are related), are big drivers of this problem.

      • Randy Hardman says:

        @Ed_Cyzewski:disqus Yeah, I have largely given up on it as well. William Abraham’s distinction between Scripture as ‘criteria’ and ‘canon’ was huge for me as well as the realization that so much of our theological enterprise rests on philosophically foundationalist assumptions.

      • Luke Breuer says:

        and I just want to shout at the reviewer, “Systematic theology broke the Bible for me! No thanks!”

        You might like the following from Emil Brunner’s Truth as Encounter:

        The age of orthodoxy appears like a frozen waterfall—mighty shapes of movement, but no movement. What happened? The paradoxical unity of Word and Spirit fell to pieces; the Scriptures became a gathering of divine oracles, the essence of divinely revealed doctrine. Men have God’s Word. In the controversy against the Catholic principle of tradition on the one side and, on the other, the principle of the Spirit of hue he individualistic enthusiast, together with the newly arising rationalist principle, the temptation could not be withstood to create a system of assurances including the confessional dogma, the notion of verbal inspiration, and the Bible was understood as a book of revealed doctrine. The “paper pope” stands over against the pope in Rome; quite unnoticed, the position of dependence on the Word of God is usurped by the appeal to pure doctrine, which in turn is made tantamount to the Word of God. This displacement can already be noticed in a decisive way in the Augsburg Confession, even though still hidden by a living understanding of faith. Interest in doctrine more and more arrogated to itself every other interest; the urge for an ever-nicer precision in the formation of conceptions—the absence of which in the whole Bible is so characteristic—becomes dominant in church life and leads to endless, even more subtle, doctrinal controversies. Christian love, practical discipleship, atrophies. Once let faith and recognition of a system of revealed doctrines become identical, and Christian piety, described in the Bible as “faith which proves efficacious in love,” is seen in contradistinction to doctrine in the clearest and most definite way. Catechitical instruction becomes the preferred and practically the sole means of educating the younger generation to become Christians. The thoroughly trained Biblical theologian is the pattern by which the community should be directed for the understanding of its Christian life. (77–78)

        • Bob Smith says:

          It seems the Leviticus 17:15 verse is not a prohibition, but a statement to the effect of ‘If you do this, go wash yourself.’ I don’t see the contradiction there at Enns sees.
          I also don’t see a problem with God being violent towards evil being done in the OT, becuase the evil God is stopping and judging (after waaaay more patience and long-suffering than I would have) is far beyond what we can imagine today. Burning children to death on an altar to a ‘fake’ god? Or any God? The mass rape of a person by an ENTIRE CITY? (Genesis–Sodom and G). If anything, we should be pissed that God didn’t deal with this more harshly and much sooner than he did.
          But other than that, I like what Enns is saying—that much of the way we’ve interpreted the bible today is under our own lens, and we’ve made much of it mean something entirely different than what the original writers intended, especially in the NT

          • As the Bible points out several times, the sin of Sodom was not rape specifically.

          • Bob Smith says:

            Yes, I’m quite sure there were other things going on…..pretty sure that if a city is to the point where they are mass raping people, then there are other issues going on as well. The mass rape certainly didn’t help things

          • No, the Bible says what the sin of Sodom was. Read Ezekiel 16. Now this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, plenty of food, and comfortable security, but didn’t support the poor and needy.

          • Pappy says:

            Keep reading Solomon: “and did detestable things in my sight”.

          • Unless you read it into the text, it doesn’t say gay rape. But it does say what “the sin of Sodom” was, as I was pointing out.

          • Nathan Smith says:

            Just working through Fishbane’s volume while I’m finishing up the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha and OT Pseudepigrapha. Also did some comparative exegetical work with the MT, Septuagint, DSSB and Samaritan Pentateuch last semester. To be candid – I’m on my 3rd Bible/Theology degree (all evangelical institutions) and I’m blown away that it’s taken me this long to encounter these resources given how important they are for reading the OT & NT.

            I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of evangelical theological education steers away from these types of volumes given how deconstructive they are for the evangelical trajectory. I can never go back to thinking about the Bible in the same way after just reading these ancient resources ( and of course Fishbane…and of course Peter Enns ).

            As a Biblical Studies adjunct, my colleagues and I have freshman students reading from these sources in the first month of class so that they can understand and compare them with the Bible. Later on we go more in depth with how they can be used to understand the Bible better. It always blows their minds – ALWAYS.

          • Melissa says:

            This is coming from someone who hasn’t read your book yet but wants to, and expects to agree with you on most things.

            Nevertheless, the solution that Jesus ultimately defines God and erases everything else troubles me. As a Christian I suppose it’s what I basically believe too. However, it seems to me that it’s as dismissive, or even more dismissive, of Judaism than evangelicals or medieval Christians or….well, than the entire Christian anti-Jewish tradition. It says that the accounts of Christ can be believed and are trustworthy, and that Jewish accounts of God are mistaken, contradictory, mythical, etc. This just feels….arrogant to me. It more emphatically than ever says that only Christians can claim any morality or truth. And it seems too easy. Which is not to say that I’m happy with the alternative evangelical explanations of OT violence (“that’s just how God is”).

            Am I being unfair? Do you see this as a problem?

          • peteenns says:

            Yes, it’s a problem, and no, I don’t think the accounts of the NT get a free pass! Having said that, there are some significant genre differences between, say, Acts and Genesis, and genre sensitivity is a key factor in these discussions, and Jewish biblical scholars certainly are genre-sensitive. For me this is not about “Jewish” vs. “Christian” but how the early *largely Jewish* followers of Jesus interpreted their scripture and traditions in light of their belief that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. Judaism also had rethinking to do, esp. after the destruction of the Temple. If you get a chance to read the book, tell me what impressions you get.

          • Melissa says:

            Thank you for the response! Ok, I will read the book particularly with the points about genre in mind.

          • Jim McGinty says:

            Here’s a book I read recently that is really good. It is quite different from what anyone is saying (that I’ve found today) and yet after carefully thinking about it, find it to be a more accurate theology than I think I’ve ever seen, and that includes 30 years of protestant evangelical church going.

            Would love to know what you think Peter.

            Check it out:

            http://www.amazon.com/logical-S-James/dp/0615783201/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1414678624&sr=8-1

          • Mark K says:

            Pete, Do you have a one-book recommendation on Jewish biblical genre? It seems to me to come up a lot, yet I sometimes get the sense that the specific “lists” of genres that different people have in mind are as numerous and shifting as the number of interpreters. Thanks. (I do have the Jewish Study Bible ordered).

          • Paul D. says:

            One must avoid being disingenuous and using “genre” as a smoke screen for holding one part of the Bible (e.g. Acts) as more historically reliable than another (e.g. Genesis). If you’re familiar with the latest Acts scholarship (for example, the Acts Seminar’s report, Richard Pervo’s books, and Dennis McDonald’s books), you know there is very little of historical value in Acts.

          • Andrew Dowling says:

            You’ll find lots of “Jesus-ology” in the OT, you just need to know where to look. Jesus’s thoughts about “true religion,” the Golden Rule, breaking barriers did not come out of a vacuum. They were very much part of the Jewish tradition.

          • Bob Smith says:

            Who said anything about gay rape???

          • So what you’re trying to tell me that “mass rape by an entire city” is Sodom’s sin, but the fact that they were dudes has nothing to do with it? What is your hermeneutic that you’d be willing to counter the biblical explanation, but only go half way?

          • Pappy says:

            So you are a literalist then? If it doesn’t explicitly say something in the Bible then it’s obviously not a problem?

            Read the literature, soak it all in, and then filter through the lens of how God is described in the Bible.

          • Not in the slightest. I’m trying to point out what the Bible DOES say.

            That’s my biggest problem with Matthew Vines’ “God and the Gay Christian.” He’s trying to make a case from a conservative theological point of view, but from that point of view, there is simply no case to be made because there is no verse that actually says anything like what he’s trying to prove. Not that I’m not sympathetic to what he’s trying to prove, but doing it in that context is a fool’s errand.

            I’m all about what the Bible DOES say. Lately I’ve been studying what the Bible doesn’t say. Did you know Satan’s name is not Lucifer? Did you know we have no backstory in the Bible about where he came from? Did no know that nowhere in the Bible does it talk about the snake in the garden being Satan? I’m very interested in what the Bible DOES say and not interested in reading things into it.

          • Solomon, this is more or less my criticism of Vines as well. It’s a bit frustrating, because he’s trying to isolate one problem (the issue of committed same-sex relationships), yet still smuggle in the full grab-bag of conservative evangelical assumptions about Scripture. OTOH, for some folks it might be a positive step towards understanding Scripture. I just have to remind myself that I am not part of the audience Vines is seeking to convince.

          • 3. Back to your homes, folks. Nothing new to see here.

            This one was used often in response to Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: “Oh, please–scholars have known about these copyist errors for centuries. Indeed, every seminary student learns about them.” Fair enough, but why did an atheist have to bring it to the attention of your flock?

          • Grotoff says:

            Maybe I’m misunderstanding and the Hebrew is more clear, the real problem with Deut. 14 vs Lev. 17 seems to be how it treats strangers. Deuteronomy seems to say that it’s fine to give that kind of food to them, but Leviticus suggests that they need to purify themselves afterward.

          • Jez Bayes says:

            So he replied to your reply about his review of your writing ….
            http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/a_quick_response_to_pete_enns#comment-1662665414
            Please find a way to talk TO each other rather than just about each other!?
            I’d love to hear you two in some friendly engagement.

          • peteenns says:

            You’ve made this same point several time, Jez. Why is this particular meeting so important to you? I just now read Andrew’s “quick” response to my response, and I am not inclined to think an exchange would be worth either of our time.

          • Pete Thorne says:

            Hopefully it had already been done so. I remember hearing a sermon on the end of Mark’s gospel where the preacher stated that since it was unclear that this was an original passage he would not expound it but, in fact, turned to the end of Luke and read from there. Brilliant honesty and I would hope any pastor could be as bold. Also the flock hopefully have a bible translation with the footnotes that shed light on these areas. (I’ve had such since the 80s).

          • Johnny Number 5 says:

            “Yes! Exactly! These issues are nothing new. That is precisely the point. They keep coming up . . . because the familiar explanations and the rhetorical strategies that support them aren’t working. Pretending the issues are small or non-existent, or investing energy to keep people from seeing them, is simply wrong.”

            I like most of this article, but I disagree on this point. I don’t think we can make an argument that implies that because the same issues keep being talked about, those same issues continue to be relevant and haven’t been adequately answered. Take an example from people who you disagree with: Young Earth Creationists have been trotting out the exact same arguments for many, many years. And despite the fact that those arguments have been answered with solid scientific evidence, Ken Ham et al. keep trotting out the same questions, as if they still address a weakness in the scientific framework. Peter, I don’t think that the inerrantists adequately answer your questions, but in their mind they probably think they do (or, to interpret them less graciously, they believe that retaining their position of power requires them to have answered that way), and so it seems perhaps exasperating to them that people keep bringing up the same thing.

            A situation where one side keeps bringing up the same questions and the other side finds ways of dismissing them only proves one thing: that one or both of the sides is incredibly obstinate. It proves nothing about whether either side actually has a legitimate reason for asking those questions or providing those answers.

            Interesting side note: for that paragraph I quoted above, it’s not the hard to imagine either Ken Hamm or Richard Dawkins saying it about the other’s explanations.

          • peteenns says:

            You make a valid point, JN5. My meaning, though, is that the pressure continues to come from insiders. That’s where the issues arise again and again.

          • Johnny Number 5 says:

            Ah, that’s makes more sense. When independent people keep coming up with the same problematic objection without even having read the other people making the same objection (which often happens in the evangelical world, since it is so allergic to anyone reading biblical criticism), that indeed could be a sign of a weakness of the approach.

    • Rick says:

      Good post, and those strategies are certainly being used during this political season, which does remind us that some on all sides of debates fall into this.
      “They keep coming up . . . because the familiar explanations and the rhetorical strategies that support them aren’t working.”
      This is probably where I would partially disagree with you. I think that can be true in some (or even most) cases, but the assumptions made in that statement are that 1) they never work, 2) it is always the fault of the person using the strategy rather than the one listening.
      Although we should not stop at a short answer when a longer one is requested, giving a short (rhetorical) answer does not mean it is not correct.
      Also, the person looking for answers may, for various reasons, not like the answer, even though it is a plausible answer.

    • SpyPlus says:

      I second this post.

  • Derek says:

    I wonder what the gospel looks like after one embraces Peter Enns’ view of God and the Bible?
    I also wonder if anyone who subscribes to Peter Enns’ position is actively engaged in evangelism and making disciples, preaching the gospel to the lost so they may be saved, etc. Honestly, does anyone who agrees with Enns do this stuff?

  • DerekB says:

    I wonder what the gospel looks like for those who embrace Peter Enns’ view of God and the Bible?
    I also wonder if those who subscribe to Peter Enns’ position actively engage in making disciples, preaching to the lost so they may be saved, etc.? Honestly, is there anyone here who agrees with Peter Enns and still engages in evangelism/soul-winning through the proclamation of the gospel?

  • peteenns says:

    Folks, just letting you know, i am happy with your spirited discussion but I have begun deleting comments that are insulting and/or belligerent.

  • I know that Kruger’s TGC article was only linked, not discussed. But after reading it, I got the idea that Kruger thinks that the ancients (1st century Jews, NT authors, etc.) had a concept of “historicity” as we do today. He doesn’t seem to acknowledge that ancient people *really* did approach these texts differently than modern evangelicals (who, even when they oppose it, parasitically borrow post-Enlightenment concepts of historicity). I was always skeptical of Karen Armstrong’s view of ancient epistemology being divided into the categories of “mythos” and “logos,” but I do think alot of these problems boil down to misunderstandings surrounding how ancient people understood their own stories. Today, we argue so much about how ancient categories match our own categories, that we often forget to pay attention to what the stories meant to those who heard them in their own time.

  • Timothy Dalrymple says:

    Pete, I had to skim a bit here and there, so forgive me if you address this. But wouldn’t you say that many of these strategies are not specific to conservative evangelicals? 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12 are all strategies I feel as though I learned from the liberal mainliners who provided much of my college and graduate education. Sometimes it’s inflected inversely (rather than “This sounds like Rob Bell” it would be “This sounds like Jerry Falwell” or etc) but it’s essentially the same thing.

    Not only are these strategies pretty common across academic argumentation, in my view, but some of them are not as nefarious as you make them sound. To take 1 and 2, for instance, I think there’s often a sincere desire to note the strengths of a book and compliment an author where he deserves it, and an earnest attempt to avoid extremes and find middle paths. I think it’s helpful to recognize ways in which that can be abused, or how it does nothing to bolster the strength of their more critical arguments, but it’s hardly unique to conservative evangelicals and often just an attempt to be fair and reasonable.

    In any case, reading the list, I just felt like it was a pretty accurate description of the argumentative strategies I’ve seen deployed against me by people to my Left. I appreciate you calling them out; I do think recognizing these kinds of rhetorical strategies is quite important. But honestly I feel like many of these are strategies that conservative evangelicals have learned over the past 20-30 years (as they’ve moved back into the higher realms of academe) from academics on their Left. It doesn’t mean it’s right, but that’s the bigger picture.

    • Glenn Smith says:

      “I have yet to hear a compelling defense for how that portrait of God—which includes enslaving women and children as spoils of war—fits like a glove with the God Jesus reveals to us, as if there is no theological discontinuity from the Old Covenant to the New.”

      Is there something intellectually lacking in me that does not see this discontinuity you speak of? Have I ascribed more to God than He deserves? Should I step back and use your sense of justice that finds God lacking? Does God owe me more than an ability to acknowledge antinomies in distinctions between apprehension and comprehension?

      • Jazmin says:

        I don’t find God lacking, I find Evangelical biblical interpretation lacking. The assumption that questioning the bible means one is questioning God should be added to the list of rhetorical strategies used to discredit those of us won’t tow the line fundamental Evangelicalism.

    • peteenns says:

      Of course. In my response I say that rhetorical strategies are used for persuasion by good writers. I tried to be clear that they are not nefarious in and of themselves and they are used across the spectrum. But my point is that when they are used as strategies that obscure issues, even getting facts wrong along the way, they are more than just wrong–they are spiritually harmful. I’ve experienced this many time over the years.

    • Udayavar says:

      The above rhetorical strategies may be common in humanities, but certainly not in serious sciences.

      • gingoro says:

        CT has largely become irrelevant and too close to fundamentalist evangelicalism and right wing US politics. Yes it has the occasional worth while article but not enough for me to pay the subscription price. For most of 35+ years I subscribed and the magazine was in my parents home when I was a teenager in the late 1950s but last summer I decided that I was no longer getting good value and that the poor material, like this review, far out weighted the good.
        DaveW
        ps Pete Illegitimi non carborundum

      • But the counterpoint is that those of us educated in the humanities are so familiar with these rhetorical devices that they haven’t got any effect on us at all! It becomes so obvious it is almost boring.

  • Andrew Dowling says:

    This was awesome. Especially points #3, 5 and 12 I see repeated ALL THE TIME. It’s intellectual laziness and sloppiness of the highest order. I don’t get how people with advanced degrees can possibly make such ridiculous arguments; they shouldn’t be accepted in a 11th grade social studies paper, let alone entertained in the professional arena.

    • Glenn Smith says:

      “I have yet to hear a compelling defense for how that portrait of God—which includes enslaving women and children as spoils of war—fits like a glove with the God Jesus reveals to us, as if there is no theological discontinuity from the Old Covenant to the New.”

      If I don’t find any theological discontinuity does that mean I am ignoring what is really written in the Bible? Could it be that your hermeneutic precludes accepting that which has been put forth? Do you have a place where I can learn from your position without buying your book? In your response to Chris G. don’t you use versions of #2,4 & 9 from your own list?

  • Gary says:

    The biggest contradiction in Christianity is that the loving, compassionate, children-loving Jesus is the very definition of Morality…while at the same time believing that it is Jesus who at this very moment is tossing human after human into the eternal torments of hell…all for making one wrong decision. Is that really moral?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i3mX0YRrjM

    • kent hartmann says:

      It’s ironic that several years ago, when I saw the bible as the inerrant, infallible word of God, I would have hated you (with a God approved hatred, of course) for a post like this. I would have sat within the walls of my Christian paradigm fortress and relished the thought of you someday “getting what you deserve” for not believing like I did. Now I see the travesty of such a belief system. I realized that the emperor has no clothes. Yet, I still believe in God. I believe that God is love. I don’t believe the bible’s description of him anymore. In fact, as a believer in God as love, I agree with Sam that if you get your understanding of God from the bible, you are in a bad place (love is never violent/immoral). For those who believe that God cannot objectively reveal himself without a book, I would argue that God revealing himself to one’s heart is not as subjective as one might think, and the heart doesn’t need a book to recognize love.

      • Pixie5 says:

        “I would argue that God revealing himself to one’s heart is not as subjective as one might think, and the heart doesn’t need a book to recognize love.”

        Very well said…most of the man-made problems in the world would be solved by such an outlook. But people are determined to put the authority outside of their hearts, claiming that the heart cannot be trusted. How can you not trust love?

        Rigidly following what is written in a book is like following a badly drawn map. It may go in the right direction at times, but it can just as easily go in the wrong direction as well. The bible is a mass of contradictions, which explains the confusion of Christianity. No one follows everything in the Bible, even when they believe that they are. It is impossible. Some people take the good out of it, some take the bad and the most confused try to do both.

        I prefer to see the Bible as man’s struggle to understand God, but failing often. There is a clear evolution of thought and philosophy once you stop trying to harmonize it. However, like you, I am no longer a Christian. I find interesting ideas in all religions, but ultimately it all has to conform to the Law of Love. If it does not meet that standard then I toss it. Essentially I find interesting ideas that HELP take me to that place of Love. Because that is the struggle we face. So it isn’t a particular dogma I am looking for, but a methodology. But I am open. In fact dogma pretty much ruins everything.

        All religiously motivated violence would stop in an instant if that were the standard.

        I read a quote once that said “Religion is a way of preventing a personal relationship with God.” While that may be over-simplified and not true in every case it still holds true a lot of times. People have a relationship with a book and church dogma but they lack compassion and love.

        I don’t know how many conservative Christians I have met online who are the most hard and hateful people whom I have ever had the displeasure of meeting. I talk about helping the homeless mentally ill and I am accused of being a communist!

        I also have fundamentalist family members who, while not going that far, certainly are very critical people and “Holier Than Thou”.

        I am glad that you finally saw the light! 😉

        • Poetreehugger says:

          “I am no longer a Christian. I find interesting ideas in all religions, but ultimately it all has to conform to the Law of Love.” It is in my mind that this is the definition of Christian, or Christ-like.

    • rvs says:

      #6 reminded me indirectly of a definition in The Devil’s Dictionary: “Heaven, A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal
      affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.”

      Thanks for the spectacular list and analysis.

      • charlesburchfield says:

        wow! that reminds me of a few experiences i’ve had reciently plowing w/ the athiests on a cuppla patheos blogs!

    • Pixie5 says:

      I always find it ironic that Christians justifiably condemn the Jewish Holocaust and yet believe that a good God would do something infinitely more horrible to the Jews and others after they die. Hitler would be a saint compared with their God.

      What is even more ironic is that the doctrine of hell is neither Jewish nor Christian. It came from the Hellenistic Greeks. The Christians modified their belief in Hades. But you won’t find any mention of hell in the OT.

      What is scary is that one time I had a conversation online with a Dominionist who believed that we should have the OT death penalties and I point blank told him that he sounded just like the radical Islamists. He acknowledged that that was true. He had no shame at all. I confronted him by saying what makes what the Muslims do wrong and what you are proposing right? You guessed it I am sure. He worshipped the “True God” so automatically that makes any atrocity “moral” by definition.

      I have stumped Christians from time to time by asking them why they do not believe in absolute morality. They haven’t the slightest idea what I am talking about. But how else can you define a morality that changes with an emotionally disturbed God’s mood? The Gnostics actually made more sense as far as resolving the contradiction as they believed that the evil Creator God of the OT was a subordinate to the “True God” represented by Jesus.

  • Lynette Nethercote says:

    I just wanted to say ‘Thanks’ for reintroducing me to Scripture after 10 years of quiet avoidance. What you have invited me back in to is a precious connection to this ancient series of narratives. ‘The bible tell me so’ has given me courage to hold on to my integrity and faith that I might find God again in its pages. Really, truly, thanks. 🙂

  • was an interesting look at how rhetoric works. I have an education in the liberal arts, so I frequently find myself rolling my eyes when reading anything. Unfortunately, this was quite the case when I read Wilson’s article. I know CT isn’t exactly a bastion of intellectual or careful writing – its a rag, not a journal – but still. I expected something a little more substantive.

  • Sasha Vukelich says:

    Hey Pete!

    I’m currently studying with one of your peers, August Konkel (from the NIV App commentary series), and he often echoes a similar sentiment. As someone who is a follower of Jesus, but not raised in the church, there is often less baggage to approach these incongruences.

    I so appreciate your efforts to have an honest dialogue about these issues, because people in the church forget how big of an impact these have the non or other-faith communities.

    For us to think ‘we’ve figured out God and his scriptures’ is not only arrogant, it’s an adventure in missing the point. Isaiah knows this… “To what shall you compare me?”

    thanks again, can’t wait to read the new book

    -Sash Vukelich, McMaster Divinity College

  • Aceofspades25 says:

    As far as I’m concerned, the opinions of someone who can’t even accept the scientific consensus on something as well established as human origins are irrelevant.

    He essentially believes that people didn’t have souls before Adam and Eve arose by special creation a few thousand years ago. I’d like to know how he explains ancient religious artefacts like the Venus of Willendorf and ancient temples like Gobleki Tepei, evidence of art, funeral rights and care for the sick and evidence of culture, city building and agriculture that would pre-date this archetypal couple.

    I’d like to know how he explains the evidence that parts of Genesis 1 were borrowed from pre-existing mythology from other cultures. Did the ancient Hebrews borrow parts of their creation myth from an older civilization and then just so happen to get the parts about Adam and Eve correct?

    Finally, if God did create Adam and Eve independently from other people and their children were able to breed with other people, is Andrew aware that in order to make this work, God would have had to intentionally introduce the same errors that existed in human DNA into his archetypal couple? By errors I mean things like: The fusion of chromosome 2, the thousands of viral DNA insertions that we share with chimpanzees, the many pseudogenes which we have which have long since gone defunct (Yes, God would have had to create Adam and Eve fragments of a gene which was once useful for producing egg yolk in birds and reptiles)

    Andrew Wilson is a dinosaur clinging to theological ideas that should have died out with scientific advances made 200 years ago.

  • br says:

    I picked up the book after reading “5 Views on Inerrancy”. The topic has long been one that greatly interests me and places me as an outsider (tare in the wheat perhaps?) in the evangelical church I associate with. I also read “Manifold Witness” by John Franke (one of the other five views). I found your position freeing as it provided academic insight to the conclusions I had drawn based on my reading and life experience. Basically that the Bible doesn’t have to be inerrant to be a place to learn about God and that the words and life of Christ are of way more significance to me than what Moses or Paul had to say.
    Taking a non-inerrant view of scripture creates a lot of tension if you fellowship with Evangelical literalist (they hate the word/label Fundamentalist I’ve learned the hard way). Any suggestions on how to have a meaningful dialogue without being ostracized?

    • peteenns says:

      Not if they are not willing to dialogue. Sometimes dialogue is really code for “listen to my reasons for proving you wrong.” It all just depends on your own community of faith and how low their theological ceiling is.

      • br says:

        I was hoping for some great advice on how to be in community where the tension is nearly palpable at times (mostly because of my internal response to teaching/preaching). I get that there isn’t an easy answer.
        One of the key conflicts you address in your new book, and a major part of the discussion in 5 Views, was the stark contrast between Christ’s teaching and the violent nature of God as portrayed in the OT. I have long been troubled by the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts and would love to hear your thoughts regarding that episode. I tend to think of it in terms of Peter being freshly filled with power (his shadow healed the sick for crying out loud) and that he simply did not have the same character traits (humility, gentleness) as Christ so it turned out badly and much different than it would have if Christ was involved given his typical interaction with flawed humanity. Just guessing, but I would think you see it in terms of the storyteller having his motives for the telling regardless of whether or not it actually happened. I brought the topic up with a good friend that is an evangelical pastor and his take was that death was not so bad since we are eternal souls and he suggested God simply took them home (I paraphrase a bit).
        Thanks for your book and response to my post.

        • Carlos Bovell says:

          Hi br,

          Another take on the Ananias and Sapphira episode might be to see it as different rendering (in narrative form) of a Gospel tradition that speaks to the “unforgivable” sin against the Holy Spirit.

          This teaching warns that it is dangerous not to confess one’s sins from their heart when they are given the opportunity to do so because as time passes the likelihood of remembering that a specific sin needs to be repented of and that one will repent of it from the heart drastically decreases, and the sin is in real danger of remaining unforgiven.

          With the passing of time and if this happens enough, a person may find themselves at the judgment “pregnant with sin.” Such a condition can negatively impact the state of the soul, most notably at the point where it transitions into the afterlife.

          Grace and peace,
          Carlos

          • br says:

            I am having a hard time making the connection between blasphemy of the HS and the withholding of a portion of the proceeds from a sale and lying about it. I tend to think the big sin was the desire to be seen giving a big gift; something Jesus warned against as part of a broader context of spiritual pride.

          • Carlos Bovell says:

            br,

            Thanks for your response. One way to look at it is to observe that the hagiographer responsible for Luke-Acts could have chosen any sin. The Jesus tradition gave many different images for what can happen if when the kingdom of God arrives, one is found unrepented of sin. The sin is committed in the heart and the lie is merely an outward expression of what is already going on in the heart, and the two passed on their chance to confess.

            I suggest that point of the story is that no one knows the day of their death, that is why we must always do penance. (It’s a kind of scary teaching actually; hence, the scary story to illustrate it.)

            Grace and peace,
            Carlos

          • hoosier_bob says:

            I keep coming back to this essay over and over again, as it pretty much sums up two decades of frustration with evangelicalism. I came to evangelicalism primarily because of the warmth of the fellowship. I also liked the fact that people had some sense of what the Nicene Creed actually taught…and believed it too.

            Inerrancy had always been a sticking point, as had my church’s refusal even to discuss the topic of ordaining women to leadership positions. I figured that I’d just talk with the session about these issues, and gain a better understanding of why the church believed what it did. I suddenly realized that I had struck a nerve. Two things became abundantly clear: (1) they weren’t going to budge on either of these two issues, and were irritated that I even brought them up; and (2) they had no ability whatsoever to defend their positions on these issues against even the most obvious critiques. It struck me as odd that folks could hold so fervently to ideas that they had to admit were untenable.

            Nothing has changed in the ensuing years. I figured that time would ease the tension and people would eventually come to their senses. Nope! I’d surmise that things have actually gotten worse, especially since arguments regarding homosexuality now come into play.

            Maybe it’s due to my profession (PhD physicist turned lawyer) or my personality (INTP with a P that’s off the chart), but I don’t take delight in holding onto beliefs that lack warrant. I feel no vested stake in whether inerrancy is right or wrong; I’m far more interested in knowing and believing what’s right as opposed to what’s wrong, without regard to the substance of the belief itself.

            Anyway, this book restored my faith in Christ. Reading the book, along with the reviews of it by various professed evangelicals, showed me that evangelicals possess an irrational fixation on inerrancy that borders on being a psychological ailment. In many ways, this book has given me leave to walk away from evangelicalism and head back to mainline Christianity. I will miss many things about evangelicalism. The outright dishonesty concerning biblical inerrancy is not one of them. Thanks for restoring my faith in Scripture and in our risen Savior.

          • peteenns says:

            Thank you, Bob. I write most of what I write for people like you. I know so many…..

          • charlesburchfield says:

            i think underlying problem in both things is the desire to conrol outcomes so oneself and famiy have preemanence and can domonate/exploit others.

    • Brian Cox says:

      I have been in that same position for years now. Having a meaningful dialogue with a literalist will depend completely upon the willingness and intellectual honesty of the other person. I have had an earnest and delightful conversation with the head pastor of my old church in which he heard and respected my misgivings about Young Earth theology. The conversation was well-spiced with scripture, science, laughter, respect, love and caring. We both thoroughly enjoyed it and we both left still holding our own opinions.

      Conversely, I have had many, many attempts to have like discussions with other literalists, but the conversations always break down or become too frustrating for both parties. I don’t wish to seem unkind, but there is an exasperating form of intellectual dishonesty there that I cannot understand. I don’t get how so many Christians are certain that God gave them the Bible, word for word, but seem to have no respect for the idea that God also gave them a brain and an inquisitive nature to be used.

      My serenity is better maintained by seeking truth where I can find it rather than exerting myself looking for it in places I’ve already found empty, like I often do when my car keys are misplaced.

      • br says:

        I know a few within the evangelical circle I run with that are open minded enough to engage in conversation but not nearly enough; hopefully I will come across more. I would love to host a book club but if we were to read Peter Enns book and then discuss it would end up with church leadership seeing me as subversive I’m afraid. Oh well, such is life. I’m glad I came across this format.
        So, are you saying in your last paragraph that you have looked in the bible and found it empty?

        • Christy says:

          I hope you manage to stick it out in your Evangelical context. If all the people pushing in Evangelical churches are the end-times obsessed folks, and the YEC crowd, and the Jesus votes Republican types, and all the people who would like to push in the opposite direction throw up their hands and bail, that is bad news. There are lots of people “in the closet” when it comes to any number of Evangelical hot-button issues, and they are not going to volunteer their real opinion (or uncertainty about their opinion) until you give yours. I am a member of a Baptist church, I work for one of the largest Bible translation organizations in the world, and since we live in the middle of nowhere with minority language speakers, I homeschool. Those three social circles make for some pretty conservative Evangelical friends and co-workers, and I keep my theological musings to myself most of the time.

          I have been pleasantly surprised sometimes by how much slack people will cut me if I approach conversations as “sharing something I’ve been thinking about” as opposed to a debate. I have found that questioning inerrancy, more than any other hot-button topic (evolution, feminism, environmentalism, etc.), is a highly scary and emotional topic, and you have to be really sensitive to where people are at. It helps if they already know and trust your character.

          John Walton had a good post over at BioLogos a few weeks ago about using the terms “preferable/not as preferable” and “probable/not as probable” instead of “right/wrong” in discussing views with people you disagree with. I have tried that out a few times, and I think it keeps people from feeling as attacked and reacting as defensively when you broach touchy subjects.

          My husband and I have both changed our thinking a lot over the last ten years or so, but it has not been as enjoyable and as stimulating of a process for him as for me. He has read a lot of books initially just to make me happy. I would encourage you to keep bouncing your thoughts off your wife, even if she is uncomfortable with them. I think it can put a lot of strain on a marriage when one person does a lot of re-evaluating spiritually and goes looking for more sympathetic conversation partners, to the exclusion of the spouse. You can still have spiritual intimacy together by being open and honest about where you are at, even if you are in different places.

          Anyway, I hope you have some good discussions and don’t give up on Evangelicals altogether, at least not yet.

      • br says:

        I thoroughly enjoy discussion/debate regarding world view and know a couple of evangelical literalists that I can do that with. They are way to few and far between but they exist. I am considering picking up a few copies of TBTMS and suggesting a book club meeting on it but fear that the word will get out that I am a subversive type. Such is life in community with evangelicals, at least in my experience. I’d consider moving along but not sure where I would go. Besides, my wife is happy there and they provide a platform where we can serve the special needs community. One of the conclusions I draw from reading the gospels is that if I say I believe Jesus is God and want to follow him I have to find a way to serve.
        So, in the last paragraph are you saying that the bible is a place you’ve looked and found empty?

  • Pete,

    Concerning your second point about “other gods” in the OT. Are you familiar with the work of Mike Heiser on the Divine Council? His work on the existence of “elohim” in the OT is fascinating to me – makes a lot of sense in both OT and NT contexts. For example, according to Heiser, it impacts how Jesus saw Himself in John 10 when quoting Psalm 82.

    Heiser’s memorable quote is – “Yahweh is an elohim, but no other elohim are Yahweh”.

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