Skip to main content

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk about how to read the Bible in 2020 as they explore the following questions:

  • Should the Bible be brought into politics?
  • How have people used biblical characters to justify immoral behavior of modern politicians?
  • Should our reading of the Bible influence what we think our government should do?
  • Can we have ethics outside of the Bible?
  • Does the Bible answer the questions we want it to?
  • What role does fear play in our understanding of the Bible?
  • Are Christians actually in the minority in America?
  • How does spirituality sometimes covertly influence our political beliefs?
  • Why is it important to us for Christians to be in political power?
  • What’s the danger in merging God’s kingdom with earthly kingdoms?
  • What role does financial security play in politics?
  • Why read the Bible if our ethics shouldn’t come from it?
  • What can we learn from how the Bible was used in the past?


Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Pete and Jared you can share. 

  • “I don’t think the government should act because the Bible says something. That’s this… merging together of state and religion.” @peteenns
  • “We can come to these very different conclusions with the same book.” @jbyas
  • “If the Bible is…the clear standard by which we live our lives, the Bible is really diverse and messy and sometimes problematic.” @peteenns
  • “It’s almost like, the Bible is set up not to be used the way…we keep seeing it being used.” @peteenns
  • “Sometimes, we’re so eager to get to the content, ‘What should I do?’ that we miss the frame of the Bible resists telling us what to do, and it encourages this wisdom of how do we do it. @jbyas
  • “We live in a country where our economy and our politics are inextricably tied.” @jbyas
  • “Is the gospel something that supports other things that you like about American life?” @peteenns

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript
Pete: 00:01 You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People. The only God- ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.  
Jared:   And I’m Jared Byas.  
[Jaunty Intro Music]  
[Beginning of recorded material]  
Pete: 00:08 Hey everybody, welcome to this episode of The Bible for Normal People. This is, Jared, our first joint episode of 2020.  
Jared:   Yeah, and I’m excited about all the things we can pontificate about today here. But, our topic for tonight –
Pete:   Yeah…what is our topic for today, tonight, forever…  
Jared: This morning, wherever you are…  
Pete: The entire year…  
Jared: Yeah, that’s right, is how to read the Bible in 2020. And we –  
Pete: Why, Jared? What’s so special about 2020?  
Jared: Well, it’s just ripe for a lot of vision puns.  
Pete: [Laughter]  
Jared: So, we have the insight of 2020 and who knows what we’re going to hear this year? But, I mean, we have the election. And it’s also just a time to reflect on, what are we doing? What do we do with the Bible? How does it fit into our, our lives?  
Pete: Yeah –  
Jared: And I think that’s a good conversation –  
Pete: And what does it mean to engage it responsibly, right? And, um, respecting the text.  
Jared: Yeah, respectfully and responsibly.   
Pete: And how…which is not an easy question to answer, and it’s easier, it’s real easy to find examples that are probably not very helpful for doing that sort of thing.  
Jared:   Yeah.
Pete:   And that’s across the spectrum, people all over the place, in our opinion, are just… you know, sometimes the Bible gets dragged into all sorts of stuff, it just, it can’t possibly be dragged into.  
Jared:   Right. Well, it can, and it has been.
Pete:   It can and it has been, yeah.
Jared:   So, I mean, let’s talk, let’s spend some time talking about the election and how, like, politics and the Bible and how we use it. You know, we had Pete Wehner on last season –
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:     And that started wheels turning about how do we utilize the Bible and maybe, what are some examples of, that you’ve seen, of how people are using it currently? And we can talk about whether those are good or bad or what’s problematic or what’s helpful about that. But what are some ways, maybe right or left, conservative or liberal, for how people, you’ve seen kind of in the public space or online use the Bible?  
Pete:   Yeah, I mean, we’re trying to be descriptive here, right?
Jared:   Right. Yeah, it’s just how, what we’ve seen.
Pete:   So, this is what we’re seeing, right? And I think hopefully, you know, objective too, but… you know, the thing, this has been going on for a few years now where Donald Trump has been compared to Cyrus, who was an ancient Persian king, and not to bore you guys with too many details here, but I think you have to sort of know the context.
Jared:   Yeah, let’s get some context.
Pete:   Let’s get some context. Cyrus was a Persian king and it was his order to allow the captives in Babylon to return back home – and this is in the sixth century. The Babylonians destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and took the people captive and razed the city to the ground. And, these people from Jerusalem and the land of Judah, they were exiled to Babylon, but then the Persians took over the world in 539 and the Persians had a different political philosophy than the Babylonians did. They allowed the people to go back home and to rebuild things, just, you know, remember who’s the boss. And this is sort of compared to Donald Trump because, you know, one of the accusations that people have made about him, which is largely true, but the accusations, and people… strong supporters of Donald Trump will admit this too, is that, you know, he’s got some very documented moral failings and he’s, you know, a kind of person that you would expect evangelical Christians, for example, not to want to support, and people find it somewhat curious that he has such a strong evangelical base. And one line of argument is sort of like, bring those two ideas together, you know, I mean, the idea of Donald Trump is doing things as President that many evangelicals like, but he’s not the kind of person that evangelicals would normally support. How do you bring those two things together? Well, one of the arguments that popped up a few years ago was comparing Donald Trump to Cyrus. And Cyrus was a pagan king that God used. You know, he’s this, he’s chosen by God to deliver the Israelites from captivity. You see this in Isaiah and a few other passages in the Bible – Jeremiah also. And, you know, he’s been jumped on as sort of like, this is, this is our model. This is what Donald Trump is. Yeah, we wouldn’t want him to be our pastor, you know, we wouldn’t expect that from him, but we’re not electing a pastor, we’re electing, you know, someone to help us in our trouble. And so just like Cyrus was a pagan king, and then Donald Trump is also sort of our pagan President who God will use to further God’s own ends. And, there are just a lot of, I think, very glaring problems with making that kind of an analogy.  
Jared:   Right, well I just wanted to give just a little current context for that. So, you know, Mike Evans, who’s an evangelical leader, really kind of started this trend because he was on CBN, which is the Christian Broadcasting Network –  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared: 05:02   In 2017 and used this idea that Cyrus was an instrument of God for deliverance, and so we hope that this, the language of imperfect vessel.
Pete:   Right, yeah.
Jared:   So, this, just distancing, of, yeah, he was a pagan, Cyrus was a pagan, but God used him to bring about God’s purposes and will. And so, there was this, once, not to, I think, for me, again, like you said, it’s not really a left or right for me, but once it became clear that Donald Trump’s not that moral of a person, there became this idea, well, but God can still use him.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   And so, at first, I felt like the argument was more like, “let’s try to make Donald Trump to be an evangelical leader and someone who has come to faith in Christ and let’s give him a chance”, and then as things kind of progressed it was like, “well, that argument’s not gonna hold water, so how then do we think about him in relation to the Bible?” And so, the Cyrus thing was really helpful and allowed for that kind of rhetoric.  
Pete:   Yeah, and it, you know, got some steam too, so-
Jared:   Right.
Pete:   And, I mean, it is an example, and I want to be careful here because on one level, a lot of people do this, and it’s sort of hard to avoid, but it’s like, you’ve got an idea that you’re wedded to, and then you drag the Bible into it to justify it, and at some point there has to be some introspection because it’s not, you know, this isn’t generated from reading Isaiah chapter 45, this is generated form a particular political ideology that’s married to a religious faith where we just know God is in favor of this person, and by golly, if you give us a minute, we’ll find a text to do that with. And, but, to do that, I mean, you have to really, you have to do something very unevangelical with the Bible, which is rip it completely out of its original context. Cyrus was a foreign king. He wasn’t, for the analogy to fit, Cyrus would’ve had to have been an Israelite.  
Jared: Yup.  
Pete: But, here’s the thing, the Israelite kings are routinely condemned in the Bible for their moral failings. From David on down, right, they are condemned for their moral failings. And something bad usually happens to them.  
Jared:   Because of those moral failings.
Pete:   Because of those moral failings. Now, David did stay king, but his life was a mess.
Jared: Mmm hmm.  
Pete:   He was running, you know, and he wasn’t, he wasn’t the great leader, he died somewhat impotent in his own bed and Solomon took over and he was a disaster too eventually.  
Jared: Mmm hmm.  
Pete:   But, all of, you know, the kings of the north and the south, the monarchy split around 927 BC, but, those kings, you know, one after another, with a couple of exceptions, roughly forty kings. A couple of them had their acts together pretty well, but the rest of them, they’re, they’re judged harshly. I mean, that’s, if you wanted an analogy, this is someone who’s within our country, and to use a foreign pagan king as an analogy to this, it just doesn’t make any sense.  
Jared: It breaks down.  
Pete:   It breaks down pretty quickly and it’s right there staring you in the face, I think.
Jared: Well, one of the things we want to make sure, like, bring some comments to, is this isn’t a, this isn’t an, it really is a problem when we bring our own ideology to the Bible regardless of the political stance we’re taking.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared: This is not an anti-right or anti-Trump, I mean, it is in one sense, but it’s gonna, we want to be equal opportunity offenders here.  
Pete:   Well, we’re talking about the Bible.
Jared: Right.  
Pete:   That’s really our focus here. What we’re seeing, the rhetoric –
Jared: And how it’s coopted by ideologies from every side, and every angle.  
Pete:   Right, right.
Jared: And so, is there an example you might have of where that might be coopted by the left too, where we bring an agenda, we find it in the text, and then let’s talk about is that ok, but let’s talk about the mechanics of what’s happening when we do that.  
Pete:   Right, right. Well, I think an example, let’s say, on the left, is demanding that America take in refugees because the Bible says so or because Jesus was a refugee, which he wasn’t. But, you know, it’s using the Bible in that way for particular political ideology. Now, I happen to agree that it’s a good, moral, and right, and just thing to help people who are in desperate need of help and are fleeing totalitarian regimes and are looking for help. And America has sort of been known for that sort of thing. I think it’s a good, wise, and compassionate thing to do.  
Jared: But you wouldn’t anchor that conviction in this is what the Bible commands or tells us to do.  
Pete: 09:30   Well, and by the “us” meaning, an American political system? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think the government should act because the Bible says something. That’s, you know, that’s this merging together of state and religion. Which is, you know, just, it’s not just the separation of church and state, you know, which by the way is not happening now because there’s, you know, this strong influence of evangelicalism. But, it’s a good idea because when political power and religious faith, when they merge, the end result typically is not very good. And, that’s a story as old as the Old Testament itself when the monarchy was essentially a hot mess disaster. And, you know, the Israelites came back from the exile wanting to rebuild things, and they got back in the land, they built the walls around Jerusalem, they rebuilt the temple. They didn’t have a king on the throne for hundreds of years, and when they did, this is in the second century before Christ. For about a hundred years, is a very uneasy political mess of these Jewish rulers and then the Romans came and took care of business. You know, that monarchy has never been revisited. It’s, and it doesn’t work, you know? Because it’s too easy to corrupt politics with a particular religious ideology, and the Bible just has a whole, you know, it’s just not in favor. Stuff in the New Testament, right? Paul, you know, and Jesus as Lord and Ceasar is not.  
Jared: Right, and even, favor or not in favor, I think it also, we take our eyes off the ball on what, what is the Bible, what’s it trying to do?  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared: And, when we make it, just like we say the Bible is not a science textbook and it’s not a history textbook, it’s not a political manifesto.  
Pete: Right.  
Jared: It touches on politics, it’s definitely integrated, we can’t say there’s nothing it has to do with politics, because it is tied to a monarchy and these other stories that happened. But, to say that that is where we derive our political framework from, or our ethical framework, it’s trying again to make the Bible something that it just isn’t up to the task of doing.  
Pete:   It’s not designed, so to speak, to be a political handbook or – and again, this is left, center, right, it doesn’t matter. And, you know, I, believe me, I cringe as much when I read Twitter and other places where I see Jesus being coopted to support political agendas that I happen to agree with. I just don’t think that’s, that may motivate my actions and why I do what I do, but to bring the Bible into that is, really in essence what we’re doing, it’s not just bringing the Bible into it, you’re bringing God into it. And you’re saying, “God is on our side.” And, I think all sorts of political ideologies have a habit of doing that, and, you know, I’d like to see the rhetoric just leave that kind of stuff to the side, but it’s powerful and it’s worked for a very, very, it’s the recorded history of humanity on some level, the wars and the problems are a mixture of faith or religious practice and political ambitions. And, I think the Bible, the message of the Bible as a whole, yeah, you can find verses if you want to, but it’s not verses. The Bible as a whole has some very strong things to say about, you should never ever do that. You should never confuse these two kingdoms and say they can sort of work together toward a common political goal, because that’s actually bringing God down into our agendas.  
Jared: And it makes it really challenging, even thinking of the prophetic texts of … whenever we don’t have an outside source that can critique the dominant system, that’s always a challenge. So, when you marry religion and politics, in a way, you’re denying that release valve. You’re denying that prophetic or critiquing mechanism that needs to be at play regardless of the system that we’re in.  
Pete: 13:42 And you have, you know, like you mentioned Jared, the prophets of the Old Testament. Some of them are sort of insiders to the court. Like Isaiah is an example, Jeremiah is an example. Some are outliers, like Amos for example. But, insiders or outsiders, their job was to hold the monarchy accountable to something higher than themselves, which in the case of the Old Testament was really the law of Moses, and specifically the worship of God. That’s really, you know, is God first or not? Is God part of your agenda, or are you driven by being faithful to God and that sort of thing. And, you lose that, like you said, you lose that prophetic voice which I think is, you know, we’re speaking as Christians here, is the Christian call. Our job is to call into account corruption when we see it, even if we like the politics of it. And, to me, that’s maybe the most disconcerting thing. Especially on the right, because that’s getting the most press, but also on the left.  
Jared: Mmm hmm. So, let’s, I mean, I wanna, I want to come back out, maybe, and ask – so what does this mean? Because I, for me, I keep coming back to, maybe it’s my background, what does this have to do with ethics and how we determine right from wrong because I think a lot of people that still becomes, like, the standard or the source –  
Pete: The Bible?  
Jared: The Bible becomes the standard or source by which we go, you know, is this right or wrong? Well, what does the Bible have to say about it? And I think, you know, I have a lot of friends who would be quite progressive, and that they would find their ethic, their progressive ethic, through the Bible. They would say, well, the reason I am a progressive is because I see in the Bible this kind of ethical stance. And I have my friends and family on the right who would say, well, the reason I have this ethical stance is because that’s what the Bible says. And so, I stand, being somewhat confused about, ok, well wait, well which one is it?  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   Because you guys are like, clearly opposed to one another, and yet you’re saying you’re deriving your ethic from the same book. So, is it, is it wise to even get our ethic from the Bible? Is the Bible a place for that, and if not, what does our faith have to do with our ethic?  
Pete:   Right. I mean, I think that’s a great question and something that I think all Christians have to think about. I know I do. I really don’t have, like, the final answer to that by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think it’s difficult to say that we’re getting our ethic from the Bible. And I had this discussion with a friend of mine not too long ago, and he said, “well, what about, you know, do not murder?” I said, yeah, I don’t think we should murder. I’m pretty sure I would think that even if it weren’t in the Bible. And it’s also in other ancient texts. I mean, everyone sort of, you’re not supposed to kill people. And why do people think that? Well, all sorts of reasons why human beings would have come to the point where, you know, for the social good, for example, or for fear of retribution, you just don’t kill each other. You need each other to survive against the bad guys over there.  
Jared:   We’re built to be social, and so –
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   And it’s sort of this biological, maybe, component to that too.
Pete:   Yeah, exactly. Yeah, and it’s probably more complicated than God said this. Oh! The ten commandments, you know, you should not kill. Really? I had no idea!!! I thought –  
Jared:   [Laughter]   Yeah, the idea that everyone was killing each other before Moses came down from the mountain –  
Pete:   Right!
Jared:   And they just like, stopped, spears in hand, like, oh!!! They dropped their spears and knives.  
Pete:   Or adultery was okay.
Jared:   Yeah, right.
Pete:   Or, in other words, these laws aren’t like, revealed for the first time and no one’s ever heard of them. That’s not even in like the Biblical ideology is that true. It says these laws summarize something of the importance of the social dynamic if you’re going to be a people of God who are in Canaan and then trying to build the monarchy. But, it’s not like we get our ethics from that. We might support an ethical stand from that, and sometimes it’s more legitimate than other times, right? So, you know, honor your mother and father. I mean, I want to be able to say, well listen, this is a biblical ideal that we should aspire to. The problem is, it doesn’t tell you how do to that, right?  
Jared:   Mmm hmm.
Pete:   So, you still have to think in your context and it’s much more profound than simply citing a passage. But, when you do things like, you know, be careful to support the alien in your midst for example, you know. Which is a very Old Testament-y sort of in the land Israelite kind of thing, and just to sort of bring that into the world of immigration or refugees today. We’re living in such a completely different political climate, right? Again, I support helping refugees. I think we should do everything we can to help people and be kind to them.  
Jared: 18:45 We’re not talking about the conclusions and what we feel like we should do, it’s more of –  
Pete:   How we get there.
Jared:   How we’re dragging the Bible into that and is that legitimate, how does that work?
Pete:   Right, right. And people might say, I feel that the ethical, let’s say, overarching ethical thing in the Bible that is supposed to produce something in me will lead me to have compassion towards people. That’s a different kind of argument for me than saying, look at this story. They’re for government. How dare you!  
Jared:   Mmm hmm.
Pete:   You know, not do this, because, you know, that’s actually buying into the same kind of idea of a Christian America, only, sort of, on the left. Again, folks, forgive me for talking left and right, but it’s just easy. You know what I mean. I think life is much more complicated than left and right, but we live in a polarized context. So, you know, the left and the right, they sort of are giving into the same idea that somehow a version of Christianity should determine what we as a country do. It might determine what your church does or what you do, and then you be the ethical influence in the world around you. That’s fine. We’re not saying there’s no morality in the Bible. There is morality. There’s some immorality. There’s some things the Bible says to do that we’re not gonna do.  
Jared:   Well, and I think, that’s for me, the challenge.
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   Is… if it was all, if we did have an ethical handbook in the Bible, that would be one thing.  
Pete:   Yeah.
Jared:   If it said, in the preamble, this is all the things you should do, and here’s a list of all the rules –  
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   And this is how we do it. Here’s some case studies, we know we can’t capture everything, but here’s… but the Bible isn’t that way. You have some pretty negative examples too.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   And some the Bible doesn’t even declare as negative examples that you have to kind of figure out on your own, like oh!    
Pete:   Yeah.
Jared:   I don’t think that we should do that. And that’s where the rub gets in because once you have that non-unified sense that everything in the Bible is something to imitate and emulate, now we have to bring some other standard by which we’re judging what to apply to our lives and what not.  
Pete:   Right, right.
Jared:   And at that point, the source of our ethical framework isn’t the Bible –
Pete:   Right.
Jared: It’s whatever standard we’re using to adjudicate between, yeah, I do want to apply that verse; no, I don’t want to apply that verse.  
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   That wisdom standard of whatever it is we’re getting from outside the Bible, that’s really our standard.  
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   And that’s why I think we can come to these very different conclusions with the same book.  
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   Is because we’re bringing an ethical framework to the Bible, and lo and behold, we find whatever we need to find there to apply it.  
Pete:   The Bible, I mean, this is the hard thing that might be a hard thing for some of our listeners to hear, and I totally respect this. But, we have to discern the ethical content of the Bible more than we might be willing to admit sometimes.  
Jared:   Which is a scary thing.  
Pete:   It is a scary thing and, you know, I mean, if you’re the kind of Christian who believe in the Holy Spirit and, you know, the continued presence of God in our lives, it’s not as scary perhaps, but if the Bible –  
Jared: But it does require trust.
Pete:   It requires a trust, and if the Bible is the, however, the clear standard by which we live our lives, the Bible is really diverse and messy and sometimes problematic, you know.  
Jared:   We’re screwed if that’s the standard.  
Pete:   Yeah, I’m not going to my rebellious son in front of the elders and if he doesn’t repent because he’s a drunkard, just stone him to death. Now, that’s in Deuteronomy, so some people say, well, the Israelites didn’t even think that. That was just part of the rhetoric of that law. And that’s fine, that’s a really interesting discussion, but it is in the Bible. And you know, Jared, you said something before about, you know, the Bible is not sort of an ethical manual, which is, I mean, I completely agree, the Bible as a whole. What makes it so tempting to use it though as an ethical manual is that there is that element in there.  
Jared: Yeah, there are parts that read that way.  
Pete:   Like the book of Deuteronomy is a good example. And, you know, laws, you get towards the end of the book like chapter 28-29. There are a list of curses and blessings for obedience to God, and, you know, read it sometime. You know, but it’s there, and that’s the kind of, that’s a rhetorical thing that we find in the Bible that can support its use like that today. And I understand that, but you have to also then grapple with the diversity of the Bible for not giving those ethical standards, but love toward the other is absolutely foundational and God loves everyone and God wants no one to perish and God’s not vindictive and God is not about retribution. Plenty of places in the Bible to go for that too. So, it’s almost like, the Bible is set up not to be used the way –  
Jared: We keep wanting to use it.  
Pete: 23:35   Yeah, we keep seeing it being used. And, I just, I don’t think this does anything helpful for how people perceive God in our culture, how people perceive the Christian faith, which in its best expressions is an amazing thing to behold, and we just see the real dirty sides, the polarized sides. And, you know, maybe this faith is not meant to be polarized in that way, which is what happens when you sort of bring it into this political discussion. And it’s sad to see, I think, it’s a little frustrating sometimes and trying to find ways to speak well into that, you know, and so, like, how do you engage the Bible then? If it’s not a rulebook, what good is it? If it’s not telling us what to do, what possible good is there in a book like this? And my answer is, well, read it, and you’ll find that it’s got different points of view and different opinions and it’s even resistant. It doesn’t recognize the premise of that question, which is if it’s from God it’s got to be telling us what to do pretty clearly.  
Jared: Right, just challenging that assumption from the beginning.  
Pete:   Right.
Jared: Yeah. Yeah, I always think when you say that, it reminds me of, in Philippians 2, Paul talks about working out your salvation with fear and trembling. And I think, sometimes, we’re so eager to get to the content, what should I do, that we miss the frame of the Bible resists telling us what to do, and it encourages this wisdom of how do we do it. Like, whatever your ethical framework, you need to approach it with fear and trembling. Meaning, with a certain amount of humility and unknowing –  
Pete:   Mmm hmm, yeah.
Jared: And that posture is just as important as whatever you put in the container. Whatever you’re – do not kill, do not these, it’s – how do we interact with other human beings with humility, with grace. That’s just as important. And I think the Bible itself, I’m grateful in some ways that it doesn’t. It’s asking us to grow up and to realize the world doesn’t work that way.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared: The world, when we, I just think of the history of our world. When we get so locked into a cause that we believe so strongly, and there’s no, and I tie my identity to that, and there’s no humility there – that is like how tyrants come about.  
Pete:   Right.
Jared: And so, there’s something to the humility, I think, within the frame of how the Bible itself is built.  
[Music begins]  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   That, that diversity for me, is a gift.
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   Yeah.
[Producers group endorsement]   [Music ends]  
Pete: 27:16 And you mentioned fear and trembling, and that made me think of our episode with Pete Wehner, right?  And he had a couple things to say about that. And, I think it’s true that fear, actually, in the negative sense plays a big role in this because it’s worth asking – what animates the polarization, left and right. What animates it? What are people afraid of losing or not having? That’s where the discussion has to be, not parroting sort of back and forth with Bible verses, assuming that it’s a book of ethics that tells us what to do in this situation and that it’s necessarily relevant for making political decisions in this time and place. Those are two big assumptions that we make, and I think the Bible sort of doesn’t support those assumptions, but getting to the emotional component of it, I think, is central. You know what? I react against things. I’ve learned in my life to ask myself, you’re afraid of something right now. You’re, something is making you very uneasy. You’re not mad because you disagree with somebody. You’re mad because –  
Jared:   It’s poking at some insecurity or fear.
Pete:   Something. Insecurity or fear, maybe even, like – if you’re right, and your side wins, then my whole vision for what life is about starts falling apart little by little, right?  
Jared:   Mmm hmm.
Pete:   And, my personal safety, my economic safety –
Jared:   Yeah, finance. I think of money. I think that’s a little bit the elephant in the room, because I think a lot of what we want our government to do is help us secure financial security.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   And I think we should just talk about that. Because the Bible does talk about money, and those are like, those do motivate in some ways, our decisions about politicians and we even live in a country where our economy and our politics are inextricably tied.  
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   So, I think that’s important too.  
Pete:   Yeah, and, I don’t mean to sound hindering here, but another issue is, you know, with refugees for example, they tend to have skin that’s darker than a lot of Americans, right? Myself and you included, so –  
Jared:   That fear of the other.
Pete:   That fear of the other that looks different than you do, and, you know, if people in Mexico were white Anglo-Saxan Protestants, would we be wanting to build a wall there? You know, we’re not building one for Canada. Maybe we should though. I’m a little –  
Jared:   Yeah, the Canadians are a little suspicious.
Pete:   They’re a problem. All this hockey, hockey, hockey.
Jared:   It’s true, I really don’t like hockey, so.
Pete:   And it’s cold, and it’s just, and they have beavers. It’s just, ya know, you know what I mean –  
Jared:   Beavers. That’s a random reference.   [Laughter]   Why do you gotta pick on the beavers, geez!
Pete:   [Laughter]   There are a lot of beavers up in Canada, so I hear. Dave Barry says that anyway. But, you know, its, again, white supremacy is something that is very quickly knocked down by people, like, sort of as a pandering comment. You know, it is true. It took me a while to figure it out, but it’s true. And, I realize how, you know, I benefit from some of the political ideologies that I’m sort of against viscerally, but I know I benefit from that. And I’m not, I’ve never been in a sort of beleaguered minority. Neither have evangelicals, by the way, but I’ve never been in that beleaguered minority. So I don’t feel what these people feel who are trying to find safety, and it’s easy to ignore them when they look different and you have formed an opinion on them already by how they dress and what they look like, and I think that’s important. If there were a lot of white people on some of these boats coming over, I mean northern European white people, I wonder if the same reactions would be there. I genuinely, I could be completely off base on this folks, but I genuinely wonder what the reaction would be, and it might not be the same.  
Jared:   Well, and I think that draws us to another, you know, we asked the question at the beginning. This episode is about how to read the Bible in 2020, and we talked about politics, but I think one thing that you said is worth talking about, and that’s this idea, there’s this reality where the Bible is presented, or Christianity is presented as though we’re the minority in our country.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   That the Bible has been marginalized, Christianity is marginalized, that the political elites, that there’s this force, I guess. There’s a force in America, the dominant force is to eradicate Christianity from our culture. And yet, you talked about, like, we’re not the minority. Both being the color of skin, but also as Christians. I mean, it was at 84% of Americans would identify as believing in God. We still have a majority of people who would self-identify as Christians.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared: 32:17 So I’m curious where that comes from and does that impact how we read the Bible in 2020 if we see ourselves not as the minority, the persecuted minority, but what if we see ourselves as, what if when we read the Bible we don’t think of ourselves as the persecuted minority in the story –  
Pete:   The persecuted ones, yeah.  
Jared:   But as the majority persecutors, the religious ones in the stories.
Pete:   That actually has a responsibility to not to do that.
Jared:   Right.
Pete:   I mean, the thing is that the whole narrative is though shaped around being a marginalized persecuted minority, and that’s, yeah, that’s a hard pill to swallow there too. See, here’s the thing too, you know, we gotta fight for this because our faith is at stake and this is America and you know, our freedoms and the church, and they’re destroying the gospel. And I’m like, ok, well, let them destroy it. Is that going to affect you and how you believe, or is the gospel something that supports other things that you like about American life and that’s the dangerous thing about this very subtle mixture combining of a political ideology, which is also an economic ideology, a racial ideology, a gendered ideology, all these things and marrying that with the infinite creator of the infinite cosmos. This, I just have a real problem with that, and I’ve, and I didn’t have a problem with this thirty years ago, I wasn’t thinking about it. But I’ve been thinking about it the past few years, and that’s wrong. So, okay, what’s the worst that can happen if you have a liberal in the White House or something like that, or a, the other side, a real right-wing sort of fascist Christian in the White House and they give Christianity a bad name. That’s a shame. Does that affect me and how I choose to live, right? Well, that might pass laws that some of us don’t like or are very much against, but is our ultimate trust in a political structure or is it in God? And I know that sounds really Sunday school-y, but I think it’s a really important thing to be asking ourselves. And the fear of what will happen if the wrong person is in the White House, left or right, is exactly the problem. It’s the deep theological and spiritual problem that isn’t really talked about nearly enough when these sorts of things come up.  
Jared:   Hmm. So, you’re thinking, the way you just went on about the practical nature of that, I’m still stuck on some of the logical inconsistences, so excuse me for being in my head for a minute.   
Pete:   Mmm hmm, Mr. Philosopher over here, yeah.  
Jared:   The narrative here too of, we have an all-powerful God but we’re deeply afraid of what happens if we don’t x, y, and z.  
Pete:   Mmm, yeah.
Jared:   It doesn’t make any sense to me. Like, okay, well if God is all-powerful, what, why do I have to fight?  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   What’s, why do I need to go like, as a kid, my tradition, I knocked on doors and like, I knocked on doors for the moral majority, and talking about how important that it was that we voted for the right, and it was like, it was this sense of urgency, and it was so important because what happens if –  
Pete:   Yeah.
Jared:   And it was, at the same time, I was being, saying like, well, God’s in control, and whatever God wants, it’s gonna happen. God’s all-powerful. I still have no idea of how those are supposed to work together, I don’t understand.  
Pete:   Right, right.
Jared:   So, when we’re winning, God’s will is always done, but when we’re losing, it’s really, really important and urgent that we do something.  
Pete:   Right, exactly. Yeah.
Jared:   I don’t understand how that’s supposed to work.
Pete:   Right. Yeah, that is very, it’s accepting rather unconsciously the notion that politics and the American system is the arena within which God works. So, okay, what would happen if the wrong people take over and Christians are part of a persecuted minority? Welcome to Christian history.  
Jared:   For the most part, yeah.
Pete: 36:28   Welcome to, believe me, I don’t, I want to live in my house, okay/ I mean, I want to drive my truck, old as it is, and I want to go grocery shopping and I want to go to the doctor when I need to. I don’t want to be run over by ISIS or something, don’t misunderstand me here, but, you know, what’s the worst that can happen is that we are suffering because of what we believe and the people in power don’t believe that. That’s the worst that can happen. Jesus says something about that, promising, right? That it won’t go well, in fact, if it goes too well, maybe there’s something wrong here, right? And the history of Christianity, I mean, people will tell you this who know a lot about it. It’s never gotten along well with political power; it just never works because the gospel is too easily corruptible and manipulated for the wrong ends. So, okay, so, okay, so, the wrong people take over and you’re persecuted, or you suffer or you’re not comfortable anymore, or you have to live with people who disagree strongly with you about certain kinds of things. That can happen in reality, but that doesn’t change whether God is real and whether your faith is real.  
Jared:   But I think that’s independent from what we might say apart from our, the Bible and how we read it. Like, I would say, we would be all in favor of, like you said earlier, in support of policies that would be more open to refugees and making sure that we’re supporting that. More open to women’s rights and a lot of other things, that’s a political stance that I would have –  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   And it’s so important, because I think it’s hard for people to separate those things.
Pete:   It is, yeah.
Jared:   I could imagine someone listening to you and saying, “oh, Pete’s against us voting from our faith-based values” out of that sense of a faith-based value. It’s like, well, if that’s what motivates you that’s good, but let’s not, there’s something different about, like, my ethic is formed certainly by my faith, because that’s a context in which I was raised. Like, that is the language I will use for how my values are shaped. But I think that’s different than saying, and if you believe in Jesus, we should all be – ugh – I don’t know, I’m getting stuck in my words here, because I think. There’s just something about what you said that I thought, aw, man. People may take that the wrong way, and I want to just reemphasize our personal political stances are one thing, and I think it’s important –  
Pete: Yeah, and people can think what they want to think about what should happen.  
Jared: Right.  
Pete:   Right.
Jared: But I think that’s different than, this, where we’re coopting the Bible for these political purposes and merging God and the Bible with particular ideologies.  
Pete:   And even to go further, not just particular ideologies, but with power, with political power, so you bring God and political power together. I mean, this has been a problem, again, throughout most of history. You know, Benedict Spinoza, the what, seventeenthcentury philosopher.  
Jared: Seventeenth century, yeah, a French guy.  
Pete: 39:40 He really was interested in sort of separating church and state even then because the people are sort of just enslaved by the state because it has the power of the church. So, what he did was he undermined the Bible and the power of the church to sort of loosen people from that grip, from that unholy alliance. And, yeah, I’m not recommending we go out and do that necessarily, he was a smart guy, but still, it shows that that’s the problem – the power over people and people are usually oppressed. You know, Walter Brueggemann, right? I mean, he writes about this and how the Israelites and the book of 1 Samuel, they want a king like other nations have and they approach Samuel, who is like, the last prophet. And, no, sorry, he’s the last judge, not the last prophet. And they approach him and he’s unhappy about this because, you know, he doesn’t like the implications of having a king, and so he complains to God and God says, don’t worry, they’re not rebelling against you, they’re rebelling against me. Tell them what’s going to happen when they have a king. And basically, the next whole chapter is about the kings are going to enslave your people. That’s the bottom line. They’ll force them to do things like serve in the army, be bakers, you know, be perfumers, all sorts of things because that’s actually what you have to do to have an administration. You have to have people who will feed the army, for example. And people might not want to do that, it doesn’t matter. So with that kind of monarchic authority, comes a natural oppression of people and so in essence, the Israelites become the Egyptians that held them enslaved and the end of 1 Samuel 8 is a beautiful little echo of the book of Exodus. It says, “and when your people cry out to me, I will not hear them.” Well Exodus 2 ends with, “and I’ve heard the cry of my people. I will go. I will deliver them from Egypt.” It’s like, it’s a reversal of that. If you want a text to go to talk about American political life, there it is, right? The implications of having this unholy alliance between God and kingdom, and that’s different. See, that’s different than, I want to vote against this person because this person is in favor of abortion. My convictions say abortion is wrong, I’m going to vote against them. You want to do that, that’s fine. That’s a different level, like, you’re saying, “dear God, if this person doesn’t get into the White House, everything is lost. We’re all ruined. Let’s make sure this person gets elected, let’s go to the Bible and ignore everything about what this person does or doesn’t do, and let’s find these verses that justify this holy war, almost, that we’re engaging in.”  
Jared: And that’s a different posture, that’s a different register.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared: Again, it’s not necessarily even the content. Like, what you said of, you may vote the same way, but that latter demonstration that you just gave is a very different sense because it’s out of fear –  
Pete:   Its fear based.
Jared: It’s out of fear. Yeah.  
Pete:   You shouldn’t fear.
Jared: Good. Well –  
Pete:   Easier said than done, but still…
Jared: Yeah, well I’m sitting over here. I wasn’t paying attention to you for the most part –  
Pete:   [Laughter]
Jared: Because I was just thinking that should be our nickname, is the unholy alliance.  
Pete:   Yeah.   [Laughter]  
Jared: I just think, if we’re ever in the WWE or something –  
Pete:   [Laughter]   Yes.  
Jared: We would be the unholy alliance, I like that. But let’s, you know, I want to turn to some positive things, right? So, we talked a lot about, this is about how to read the Bible in 2020. So, how to read the Bible in 2020, what’s a positive, how do we do it then? It’s not, we’ve talked a lot about what it’s not and how not to read our political ideologies into it, but what are some things that we can move forward with to say, if you want to read your Bible, don’t feel paralyzed.  
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   Here are some things that you can do, and one thing for me, because a lot of people might be tracking and just say, well why read the Bible at all? Like, if our ethics don’t come from the Bible, why read it at all? And I would just say for me, is, I can’t avoid using this phrase, which is “language game” and that is meaningful to me.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   Like, it is my tradition, and it is the language I use, and we know that language is important.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   It’s the language that shapes how I see the world.
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   And so, I want to continue using that language, and I want to be in a community of faith that is shaped by that language.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   And that is valuable for me. And so, but I’m just always critiquing and recognizing that this is the language of my community of faith, of which I am both a member and accountable to, while also being an individual and hold it accountable.  
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   And that’s that tension that for me, the Bible continues to play a big part of.
Pete: 44:33 Yeah, and I think that’s great, and maybe another point that I would make is that, you know, how do you read the Bible responsibly? I think it’s necessary to actually admit that you do pick and choose.
Jared:   Yeah.
Pete:   You should never pick and choose. Are you kidding me?
Jared:   You have no choice.
Pete:   We do pick and choose, and you know, to lean towards –
Jared:   It’s to pick responsibly and respectfully.
Pete:   That’s right. And something that’s driven by a sense of peace and wanting to create harmony which means sometimes you have to be strongly against things. There’s no question about that. It’s not just, you know, group hugs for the next few thousand years.  
Jared:   It’s not about being nice.
Pete:   It’s not about being nice. But I think, see, this is, I mean, I think of, if I can channel Richard Rohr here a little bit, I hope I get him right. But, he, I heard him say once that the religion, using it in the negative sense, it always looks outward and says what’s wrong with them, I’m glad we’re not like that. A spiritual development, a spiritual journey is always turning the question back on yourself saying, I’m feeling a certain way. What am I learning about myself and my own inner state by this experience? And I think a way of engaging the Bible responsibly is to read it with that in mind, that this is not about, okay, here’s how you take over the world. Here are the passages, here’s the ethic that you are now to impose on other people. It’s more, it’s always bringing it back on yourself. That’s not self-centered in a psychologically dysfunctional sense, it’s examining yourself, which is a very, very healthy thing to do. It’s not beating yourself up, it is examining and being honest with yourself and saying, how can I change? So, when we’re in heated political debates, to take that step back and ask yourself, what’s happening inside of me here? What is driving this, you know, staying up for four hours and answering people on the internet or something like that. You know, that, to me, engaging the Bible with our own inner transformation, or continued conversion, or continued salvation in mind is a really good place to start.  
Jared:   Yeah, the only thing I would add to that is, you know, I think growing up it was an all or nothing. So, either the Bible is the sole and only source for spiritual formation and all of these things, or it’s nothing.  
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   And I think in 2020, just an encouragement of engaging the Bible as one of many important voices.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.  
Jared: Because there’s a lot, like you just said, like getting into psychology and reading about psychology and sociology and learning about yourself and how the world works and ethics and you know, read some ethicists and read some political writers and some activists and people who write from a perspective that’s not like you.  
Pete:   Yeah.
Jared: And read that in concert with the Bible, and then that becomes this mutually edifying exercise where they’re all critiquing, these voices are all critiquing each other, they’re informing each other and it’s in that messy middle that we find that growth and so, you know, if you’re feeling the urge to say it’s either/or, I think for me it’s been a journey of saying, no, it’s both/and.  
Pete:   Mmm hmm.
Jared:   It’s okay that my Bible is sitting next to this book and that book and that book and that book and I go to the Bible sometimes and I go to these books, and they inform each other.  
Pete:   Right. Just maybe one last thing. I think we’re coming to the end of our time here, aren’t we?  
Jared:   We are, yeah.
Pete:   I needed to say that because you always say that. I wanted to say it, so. But, one thing that sort of wraps it up for me a little bit, is very briefly, you know, a story that I’ve heard from many different places, but it has to do with the experience of slavery in the nineteenth century and you had Christians arguing very differently. And you had, let’s say, the rulebook Christians who looked for verses to support what they wanted, basically, the south, the slaveholders. And they, they could cite verses that clearly imply – I shouldn’t say clearly, but – they, it’s easy to make the argument that God doesn’t really have a major problem with slavery.  
Jared:   Mmm hmm.
Pete: 48:45 Either testament, right? But, the, you know, pro-abolitionists in the north, I mean, they were, they were saying, yeah, you’ve got these verses, but we think the Bible is on a trajectory and we think there’s, in other words, there are trajectory readings and rulebook readings, and again that’s something that might be a really new idea for people, and I totally, you know, do what you want with it. But, how is the Bible showing us that maybe God is out ahead of us and the Bible is pointing us somewhere instead of just drawing attention to verses that we lift up off the pages to justify the view that we have. Maybe what God has in store is like what nothing any of us really can even understand or fathom, and the Bible is impelling and is part of, it’s not the Bible, it’s God doing this. But it’s, the Bible is that aid in bringing us outside of our own ways of looking at the world and saying, what’s the next thing that’s happening. That’s, that’s not a Bible verse proof text way of reading the Bible.  And that’s what people said over a hundred years ago. They were right.  
Jared:   Mmm hmm.
Pete:   Right? The others were wrong. Proof texting for slavery, that’s wrong. And to us, I think in the American experience, that can be a real object lesson for, what does it mean to engage the Bible well? And, maybe even especially in 2020.  
Jared:   Yeah, good. Well, I think that’s a great wrap for our first joint episode, so we are looking forward to lots more here in season 4.  
Pete:   Yeah, absolutely, thanks for listening folks!
Jared:   You know, we’re just going to keep asking this question, what is the Bible and what do we do with it? We haven’t answered it yet four seasons in.  
Pete:   I know.
Jared:   We haven’t answered it yet. So, if you have an answer, it would be funny if the next episode we just say, hey, Jake called in from Iowa City and he answered it.  
Pete:   And he got it!
Jared:   And we’re done!
Pete:   Yeah.
Jared:   That’s the end of the episode. That’s the end of the podcast.
Pete:   At least we should aim to have this done by summertime, I think we should know the answer.  
Jared:   [Laughter]   That’s right, yeah, we’ll set a deadline. It’s, we haven’t had a goal.  
Pete:   Right.
Jared:   Once we set a goal, we can maybe reach it.
Pete:   [Laughter]
Jared:   Alright, we’ll see ya next time.
Pete:   See ya.
[Music begins]  
[End of recorded material]  
Pete:   Hey folks, thanks again for listening to another episode of the podcast, we want to thank the people who make everything we do possible, such as Megan Cammack, our podcast producer.  
Jared:   Yup, and Shay Bocks who is our creative director.
Pete:   And Dave Gerhart, our audio engineer.
Jared:   And Reed Lively, our community champion. Thank you so much, we couldn’t do this podcast without them, so we always want to give them a shout out.  
Pete:   What else is going on Jared?
Jared: February 27th at 8:30PM for those of you who support us on Patreon, we’re having an “ask me anything”, an AMA, and around this idea of the Bible, what do we do with it, Bible engagement. And any questions you have about the Bible, we just get on there, we’d love to chat with you, so put that in your calendar. If you’re aren’t already a Patreon supporter, go ahead and sign up. Hope to see you there!  
[Music ends]  
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.