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“You’re sort of presenting a new paradigm for thinking about the Bible in a new way and showing a new path forward. And I sort of get it. And it explains some things. But here’s the problem that I have. How can I trust the Bible?”

And I think that’s a great question to ask, as it actually gets us into very important things to think about concerning the Bible. And I just want to make two comments on this.

First, this definitely is a new way of thinking—for some. But that doesn’t make it new or radical or dangerous. It is only in conflict with other ways of thinking, but that doesn’t make it a problem. The problem may not be what is ahead, but what you’re coming out of—ways of thinking that make it hard to account for how the Bible actually behaves.

Another way of putting it is that the old way of thinking may be familiar and friendly to you, but it is not “normative” Christian thinking, even if you were taught it was. That assertion is what actually creates the emotional turmoil. Old ways of thinking that you no longer find satisfying, are nevertheless off-limits for interrogation. You’ve been conditioned to keep that in mind.

And that can cause some fear.

The old ways. The tradition. Keep that up. New is bad.

Is trusting the bible really the point?

Second, let me push back a bit on that question: the point of this whole Christian business is not trusting the Bible but trusting God. And I know that trusting God and trusting the Bible are not unrelated, but they are certainly not the same thing.

I think our objective is to trust God. That doesn’t mean we are throwing the Bible out, but asking how the Bible fits into this trusting in God business. And that is really the question. How does this Bible work with respect to the goal of trusting God rather than trusting the Bible?

I don’t think the goal of the Christian life has ever been to trust the Bible. Rather, it is to trust God. How does the Bible fit in? It bears witness to God, but it does so in an ancient idiom, in ancient ways of thinking, in ancient ways of perceiving in ancient ways of articulating what God is like. And that ancient idiom is diverse across time and takes a lot of work to draw into our current time.

The Bible presents a challenge for us. It speaks of God but it does so in ancient, ambiguous, and diverse ways.

One example that always comes up in the Old Testament is that God is a warrior who goes to battle and slays Israel’s enemies. That is an ancient way of conceiving of God. I don’t think God goes to battle with Israel and kills Israel’s enemies so they can keep their land or take other’s. Or that God participates in killing people because they pose a religious threat.

Our challenge when we encounter this ancient idiom is to find ways of transposing it in our idioms to have a conversation between past and present—between the ancient witness to God and our own contemporary experience. That’s basically just called theology. This is what people do.

And in that respect, it’s not just a challenge that the Bible speaks in an ancient idiom. It’s also an opportunity for us to think about what God is like in our here and now.

So this may be a new way of thinking, but don’t let that throw you because the problem may be that you’re just not aware of something that people do and how they think about the Bible. It’s new to you. And it’s also about trusting God, not the Bible. But then the question is how to work the Bible into that conversation.

How can I trust the Bible?

That’s the question, but I think it needs to be reframed. How can your serious engagement with the Bible encourage you to trust God more? That’s really what that comes down to. It’s that nakedness before God.

Rather than looking to the Bible as a source of certainty, of a surety that gives you the answers, the Bible actually, because it’s so ancient, challenges us to have to think theologically and to appropriate this message for ourselves.

That’s simple to say, but may, I appreciate, be hard to do.

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.