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I&I2I had two groups of readers in mind for Inspiration and Incarnation.

First, I wanted to encourage faith for everyday Christians who were troubled by some of the same things I was, perhaps through exposure in college courses or from watching the History Channel, but were not in a position to articulate why or to find alternate paths.

In a manner of speaking—and some might find this absurd—Inspiration and Incarnation is an apologetics book, though not one that supports the status quo.

Second, as a seminary professor, I felt it was my obligation and holy privilege to prepare pastors to engage constructively (not defensively) the kinds of questions that arise among the everyday, alert readers of Scripture to whom they will be ministering (as opposed to standing as the guardians of orthodoxy to keep those questions perpetually at bay).

In fact, the three main issues around which I structured Inspiration and Incarnation represent the most common questions I had been fielding in ecclesiastical rather than academic contexts. Familiar answers apparently weren’t satisfying to these people (nor to me), and I wanted to help encourage fresh intellectual conversations for spiritual benefit.

This is why I have never taken to heart the criticism that Inspiration and Incarnation “undermines” the gospel or the faith of people “in the pew.”

Quite the opposite.

Inspiration and Incarnation has helped those very pew-sitters whose faith was being undermined by spiritually insensitive thought leaders imposing conventional but unconvincing—even idiosyncratic—answers on difficult problems.

What Inspiration and Incarnation undermines isn’t “the gospel” but ineffective stock or ad hoc answers that are equated with “the gospel” and thus vigorously defended as “truth.”

The implicit equation of these stock and ad hoc answers with the gospel is precisely the problem that needs to be exposed and corrected.

[Adapted from the Postscript to Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament 10th anniversary edition, September 2015]

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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.

54 Comments

  • Marcus Maher says:

    I know my faith was one that was preserved in part by your book and interaction with you online a long time ago on Scot McKnight’s old Beliefnet blog. I thank you for your ministry.

  • Marcus Maher says:

    I know my faith was one that was preserved in part by your book and interaction with you online a long time ago on Scot McKnight’s old Beliefnet blog. I thank you for your ministry.

  • I think brushing aside these issues with pat answers and tortured “harmonizations” is a dandy way to undermine the gospel.

  • Phil Ledgerwood says:

    I think brushing aside these issues with pat answers and tortured “harmonizations” is a dandy way to undermine the gospel.

  • Ross says:

    The past few weeks I have been pondering what exactly is the Gospel? I think I don’t really know. I’m aware of course of a number of thoughts about God, salvation Jesus etc, but it is all a bit shifting and nebulous.

    This is probably due to confusion about what is often presented as being the Gospel, much of which jars with me.

    In one respect I suppose it is an announcement of the Kingship of Jesus, but it might be interesting hearing whatever it is that the gospel is. Particularly of differences of views.

    • carter says:

      I got really confused about what the gospel is when I was doing a close study of the book of Mark. Jesus is preaching the gospel throughout the land, but he’s keeping his identity as the Son of God secret. I was like, “WAIT… HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN? What was he preaching, then?!” The Chick-Tract gospel fell apart completely for me via the Gospel of Mark!

      • summers-lad says:

        Several years ago read Acts with the question in mind: what was the Gospel that the early apostles preached? Because I had begun to suspect that it wasn’t what we conventionally hear presented as the Gospel. I found that there was surprisingly little about what they actually preached as they travelled through Gentile territory, at least in terms of systematic theology, but the one thing that came through loud and clear is “Christ is risen”.
        In Mark (and the other Gospels) it seems to me that Jesus gradually lets it dawn on his followers who he is. The message is kept secret at the beginning, but step by step reaches the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

  • Ross says:

    The past few weeks I have been pondering what exactly is the Gospel? I think I don’t really know. I’m aware of course of a number of thoughts about God, salvation Jesus etc, but it is all a bit shifting and nebulous.

    This is probably due to confusion about what is often presented as being the Gospel, much of which jars with me.

    In one respect I suppose it is an announcement of the Kingship of Jesus, but it might be interesting hearing whatever it is that the gospel is. Particularly of differences of views.

    • carter says:

      I got really confused about what the gospel is when I was doing a close study of the book of Mark. Jesus is preaching the gospel throughout the land, but he’s keeping his identity as the Son of God secret. I was like, “WAIT… HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN? What was he preaching, then?!” The Chick-Tract gospel fell apart completely for me via the Gospel of Mark!

      • summers-lad says:

        Several years ago read Acts with the question in mind: what was the Gospel that the early apostles preached? Because I had begun to suspect that it wasn’t what we conventionally hear presented as the Gospel. I found that there was surprisingly little about what they actually preached as they travelled through Gentile territory, at least in terms of systematic theology, but the one thing that came through loud and clear is “Christ is risen”.
        In Mark (and the other Gospels) it seems to me that Jesus gradually lets it dawn on his followers who he is. The message is kept secret at the beginning, but step by step reaches the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

  • Ian Panth says:

    Thanks for this book. I am re-reading, reviewing, and reflecting on it on my blog http://www.popchrist.com I think this book does for many what you hoped it would. When people misunderstand my intentions, I just remember how many have misunderstood the Bible. ?

  • Ian Panth says:

    Thanks for this book. I am re-reading, reviewing, and reflecting on it on my blog http://www.popchrist.com I think this book does for many what you hoped it would. When people misunderstand my intentions, I just remember how many have misunderstood the Bible. ?

  • Gary says:

    “The Gospel” can be a substitutionary phrase, simply, for “what makes me feel safe.” The disconnect often is between persons who have different addresses to the same or similar challenge. Safety often can be found through avoidance. Safety also can be found through working through. At some basic level, it appears not to be too far from “fight or flight” response. On any given topic, a person who has address through a flight will rarely be able to aid the person who needs to or who has already begun to address it through the good fight. “Undermine the Gospel” is a phrasing perhaps associated with those who have had to retain their faiths and thus feelings of safety through flight from the issues that challenge their faith. In many ways, this is a matter of a one-way mirror. It is possible to see both perspectives from one side but only one’s own perspective from the other.

  • Gary says:

    “The Gospel” can be a substitutionary phrase, simply, for “what makes me feel safe.” The disconnect often is between persons who have different addresses to the same or similar challenge. Safety often can be found through avoidance. Safety also can be found through working through. At some basic level, it appears not to be too far from “fight or flight” response. On any given topic, a person who has address through a flight will rarely be able to aid the person who needs to or who has already begun to address it through the good fight. “Undermine the Gospel” is a phrasing perhaps associated with those who have had to retain their faiths and thus feelings of safety through flight from the issues that challenge their faith. In many ways, this is a matter of a one-way mirror. It is possible to see both perspectives from one side but only one’s own perspective from the other.

  • Luke Breuer says:

    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 the 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. (77–78)

  • Mark K says:

    Well, in my experience from reading your books and posts (and emails–thank you) you’re undermining the walls of the propositional fortress, ergo you must be undermining the gospel. The gospel of foundationalism,* that is.

    *To explain myself: according to Nancey Murphy in her handy little book, Beyond Liberalism & Fundamentalism, foundationalism is the belief that indubitable truth is found in the general, universal, timeless and theoretical, which are best stated as propositions. So, God could not speak through the specific, local, time-bound, or the practical. Except, oops, he did. So anyone who points that out to the foundationalist must be undermining the good news. I, for one, am glad Pete has stayed with it. Far from being undermined, my faith has been rescued.

    • Gary says:

      To many, the foundations of that modernistic Western worldview project *is* the Gospel.

      • Bryan says:

        And that is the problem; equating Cartesian foundationalism with the gospel.

        • Gary says:

          In many was Cartesian foundationalism offers a salvation. It’s the ultimate existential triumph of the “I.” If the “I” can think one’s self Platonically and eternally saved through a Divine scapegoat, there’s little need for more nuance, detail, theology, and certainly not a centrality of a cruciform way of being that is understood to be of the same Essence of God. It is a subculture that ironically and disparagingly refers to others as “nominal” Christians when they themselves have taken up the name, but not the kenotic way to being with the Unknowable God. Of the 2,000 sermons I’ve heard over the years, all but a few have rested on what I find to be very, very bad theological underpinnings. May it be cursed like a fig tree.

          • Bryan says:

            It also seems ironic that advocates of foundationalism would perceive God to be “unknowable”. A solid foundation which cannot be penetrated and therefore cannot be called into question eliminates infinite regression. One would appear to have their indubitable foundation of which to begin speaking of God.

      • chopin says:

        yes! IMO it’s magical thinking.

  • Gary says:

    To many, the foundations of that modernistic Western worldview project *is* the Gospel.

    • Bryan says:

      And that is the problem; equating Cartesian foundationalism with the gospel.

      • Gary says:

        In many was Cartesian foundationalism offers a salvation. It’s the ultimate existential triumph of the “I.” If the “I” can think one’s self Platonically and eternally saved through a Divine scapegoat, there’s little need for more nuance, detail, theology, and certainly not a centrality of a cruciform way of being that is understood to be of the same Essence of God. It is a subculture that ironically and disparagingly refers to others as “nominal” Christians when they themselves have taken up the name, but not the kenotic way to being with the Unknowable God. Of the 2,000 sermons I’ve heard over the years, all but a few have rested on what I find to be very, very bad theological underpinnings. May it be cursed like a fig tree.

        • Bryan says:

          It also seems ironic that advocates of foundationalism would perceive God to be “unknowable”. A solid foundation which cannot be penetrated and therefore cannot be called into question eliminates infinite regression. One would appear to have their indubitable foundation of which to begin speaking of God.

    • chopin says:

      yes! IMO it’s magical thinking.

  • Hill Roberts says:

    WRT faith in the pews — exactly! Mine is increased by I&I, TBTMS and historical criticism in general; ney, maybe salvaged from the wrecking ball of inadequate, stock status quo gatekeeping. From one of those “in the pews”.

  • Hill Roberts says:

    WRT faith in the pews — exactly! Mine is increased by I&I, TBTMS and historical criticism in general; ney, maybe salvaged from the wrecking ball of inadequate, stock status quo gatekeeping. From one of those “in the pews”.

  • Craig Thompson says:

    I bought the paper version of I&I 10 years ago. A couple of years ago I bought the Kindle version (just because I like Kindle). I’m debating on whether or not I should spend $12 on the 10th anniversary version. Is there anything new In it other than the new preface where you repent of your heathen ways and tell how you drifted back to your fundamentalist roots?

  • Craig Thompson says:

    I bought the paper version of I&I 10 years ago. A couple of years ago I bought the Kindle version (just because I like Kindle). I’m debating on whether or not I should spend $12 on the 10th anniversary version. Is there anything new In it other than the new preface where you repent of your heathen ways and tell how you drifted back to your fundamentalist roots?

  • Derek says:

    Pete, can you please do a blog post on “the gospel”? Tell us what you think it is.

  • Derek says:

    Pete, can you please do a blog post on “the gospel”? Tell us what you think it is.

  • hoosier_bob says:

    I&I (and your later writings) have saved my faith in “the gospel.” That being said, there are plenty for whom “the gospel” is nothing more than a set of defensive propositions, most of which are shaped by the Culture Wars–inerrancy, biblical manhood and womanhood, 6×24 creation, etc. In fact, it was the dubious efforts by pastors and elders to defend these indefensible doctrines that undermined my faith.

  • hoosier_bob says:

    I&I (and your later writings) have saved my faith in “the gospel.” That being said, there are plenty for whom “the gospel” is nothing more than a set of defensive propositions, most of which are shaped by the Culture Wars–inerrancy, biblical manhood and womanhood, 6×24 creation, etc. In fact, it was the dubious efforts by pastors and elders to defend these indefensible doctrines that undermined my faith.

  • Chris Bishop says:

    I’m not sure if this is significant but the word ‘fundamentalist’ contains both the words ‘fun’ and ‘mental’.

  • Chris Bishop says:

    I’m not sure if this is significant but the word ‘fundamentalist’ contains both the words ‘fun’ and ‘mental’.

  • Ross says:

    I’m not sure if I’m playing devils advocate or what, but; the presentation of the “gospel” to me seems to say “God being righteous cannot accept any unrighteousness, whatsoever at all, at all. If a human being but sniffles out of god’s righteousness he deserves to burn in Hell. I.e everyone deserves a negative judgement (even if this appears to contradict somewhat, that which is occasionally mentioned in scripture). He can however forget all sinfulness if something else is punished instead of the guilty. By coming to Earth himself and being killed by the wicked, somehow God sorted this all out by taking on himself the guilt of everyone.

    I’ve never quite fully grasped the mechanism of this “propitiation” for our sins, nor quite grasped how we are all equally sin-full.

    I feel more closely that we are all in hell, or at least on the path to it and that God gives us a pass or way out of it, to something better.

    I’m very unsure of why we are all in this tremulous position (as the Adam and Eve story seems to be metaphorical at the very least), but observation does seem to support the fact that we are all in the same place and that goodness is not particularly in the ascendant.

    So, what is our state and what is the Gospel, if it is to get us out of it?

    • summers-lad says:

      OK, no-one else has answered you, so I’ll have a go. In addition to what I have just posted below (“Christ is risen”) I would refer to Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. Most if not all of us pretty well know – though we may use different words – that all have sinned. Nobody’s perfect. As someone who was not a believer once said to me – and he got me thinking along this track – “everyone’s fucked up in one way or another”. What needs to be proclaimed is that there is a glory of God, and that God wants us to enter into it. I suspect, too, that a lot of people who aren’t convinced of this hope for it, or at least have a suspicion that it might be so.
      See also Rom 5:18-19, noting how “all” is used.
      It would be impossible (except, perhaps, for God) to sum up the Gospel in a few words, but I hope this gives you some helpful thoughts.

      • Ross says:

        Yep I generally take it for granted that everyone has sinned and fallen short. Not particularly sure why, or whether the why matters. I think it is one of the starting points we all really need to get to.

        I’m not sure how helpful being told this is and I’m very wary of those who thrust “sinfulness” down everyones throats. But to deny it and think we are all right really is a big mistake.

        Somehow only God can get us out of this position, so maybe that’s the Gospel in a nutshell?

        • Pete E. says:

          Although [why am I getting involved] Rom 3:23 in the context of the argument of Romans up to that point is all about putting Jews and Gentiles on the same footing before God. Both groups are equally guilty. What you are saying about that verse, summers-lad is a possible deduction, but not zeroing in on what Paul is arguing. I’ve heard others say (Daniel Kirk, for one) and I tell my students, “Replace “all” with “both” and you are closer to the heart of Paul’
          argument.

  • Ross says:

    I’m not sure if I’m playing devils advocate or what, but; the presentation of the “gospel” to me seems to say “God being righteous cannot accept any unrighteousness, whatsoever at all, at all. If a human being but sniffles out of god’s righteousness he deserves to burn in Hell. I.e everyone deserves a negative judgement (even if this appears to contradict somewhat, that which is occasionally mentioned in scripture). He can however forget all sinfulness if something else is punished instead of the guilty. By coming to Earth himself and being killed by the wicked, somehow God sorted this all out by taking on himself the guilt of everyone.

    I’ve never quite fully grasped the mechanism of this “propitiation” for our sins, nor quite grasped how we are all equally sin-full.

    I feel more closely that we are all in hell, or at least on the path to it and that God gives us a pass or way out of it, to something better.

    I’m very unsure of why we are all in this tremulous position (as the Adam and Eve story seems to be metaphorical at the very least), but observation does seem to support the fact that we are all in the same place and that goodness is not particularly in the ascendant.

    So, what is our state and what is the Gospel, if it is to get us out of it?

    • summers-lad says:

      OK, no-one else has answered you, so I’ll have a go. In addition to what I have just posted below (“Christ is risen”) I would refer to Romans 3:23 – “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. Most if not all of us pretty well know – though we may use different words – that all have sinned. Nobody’s perfect. As someone who was not a believer once said to me – and he got me thinking along this track – “everyone’s fucked up in one way or another”. What needs to be proclaimed is that there is a glory of God, and that God wants us to enter into it. I suspect, too, that a lot of people who aren’t convinced of this hope for it, or at least have a suspicion that it might be so.
      See also Rom 5:18-19, noting how “all” is used.
      It would be impossible (except, perhaps, for God) to sum up the Gospel in a few words, but I hope this gives you some helpful thoughts.

      • Ross says:

        Yep I generally take it for granted that everyone has sinned and fallen short. Not particularly sure why, or whether the why matters. I think it is one of the starting points we all really need to get to.

        I’m not sure how helpful being told this is and I’m very wary of those who thrust “sinfulness” down everyones throats. But to deny it and think we are all right really is a big mistake.

        Somehow only God can get us out of this position, so maybe that’s the Gospel in a nutshell?

        • Pete E. says:

          Although [why am I getting involved] Rom 3:23 in the context of the argument of Romans up to that point is all about putting Jews and Gentiles on the same footing before God. Both groups are equally guilty. What you are saying about that verse, summers-lad is a possible deduction, but not zeroing in on what Paul is arguing. I’ve heard others say (Daniel Kirk, for one) and I tell my students, “Replace “all” with “both” and you are closer to the heart of Paul’
          argument.

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