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In my book The Bible Tells Me SoI go on and on (and on) to say that the Bible isn’t like a heavenly rule book, a Christian owner’s manual, a field guide to faith, a teacher’s edition text book with the answers in the back, a cookbook for us to follow the recipe—pick the metaphor you like—but models for us our own messy journey of faith.

I followed that up with The Sin of Certaintythe main point of which is that the goal of the life of faith isn’t to achieve certainty (that the Bible allegedly provides) but to point us toward trust in God regardless of how certain we feel.

Maybe you’ve had a chance to read them–or at least buy them and display them proudly on your bookshelf.

My next book, How the Bible Actually Works, approaches the Bible not primarily from the point of view of the problems we create when we come to it with bad expectations, but primarily from a more positive angle, how does the Bible work?

As I see it, rather than a book designed primarily to provide answers, the Bible is a book designed to cultivate Wisdom—which is a lifelong process of maturing us into disciples who wander well along the unscripted path of faith, in-tuned to the presence of God along the way.

Expecting the Bible to be an answer book distorts the Bible’s purpose. And I say this because of how the Bible presents itself (so to speak)—which for the time being (I’m in the very early stages of writing the book) I express under 3 headings:

The Bible is ambiguous.

The Bible is really not all that clear about what we should actually do and think. When it comes to the details of our lives, we need to work it out, which is a Wisdom task.

The Bible is ancient.

We cannot simply, as a reflex, “follow the Bible,” because so much of it is so deeply embedded in a world we do not recognize or understand. It takes creative imagination to bring the ancient and modern horizons together.

The Bible is diverse.

The Bible does not speak with one voice on most subjects. The various biblical writers lived at different times, in different places, and under different circumstances. The Bible’s diverse views of many matters reflect those realities, and we do a disservice to the Bible and faith when we focus on neutralizing those differences.

These three things are not problems to be overcome; they tell us something of the character of the Bible.

And if we take the character of Scripture seriously, we will find our expectations challenged and instead come to see that the Bible presents us with an “invitation we can’t refuse”—to join an ancient and sacred quest to follow the path of Wisdom, with no accompanying check list of timeless and predictable solutions, no safety net of pre-scripted responses, and no fear of God bringing down the hammer on us for accepting this challenge.

Instead of telling you what to do, the Bible actually encourages you to get in touch with the rhythm of the universe.

It’s not a concession to say the Bible is a book of Wisdom, either. It’s not a plan B. Wisdom is a big deal and it gets shortchanged a lot in Christian theology. In the thinking of the writer of Proverbs, Wisdom is being connected to the very foundation of the cosmos. There, we see Wisdom tied to Creation itself–to the Tree of Life, to the foundation of the Earth, to establishing the Heavens.

Wisdom is there in Genesis 1 when God is ordering Creation. So, when you access Wisdom, when you live by Wisdom, when you seek Wisdom–though it costs you everything you have, as Proverbs puts it later on–the Biblical writers are saying that the Creative Force of the universe that created and established Order is available to you as you’re moving forward in your own personal and social existence.

By accessing Wisdom, we are put in a place of having to figure life out. In doing that, we’re walking the Path of Wisdom and gaining Wisdom along the way. To me, that’s Good News. It’s not about checking off theological boxes. It’s about trying to just live life with humility and do the best we can.

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.

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  • Phil Ledgerwood says:

    Looking forward to it!

    Where I’m at in my current stop on the journey is that I have trouble talking about the Bible’s purpose as a single work. I think of the Bible more like an anthology of writings around a common theme. Anthologies don’t usually have a specific purpose as a unified work; their purpose is to pull together all the disparate works that share the common theme. Each of the individual works has a particular usefulness.

    Well, it might not be fair to say anthologies don’t have a purpose in mind, but you know what I mean.

  • Joe Deutsch says:

    Been on this journey for a while. Perhaps the biggest propulsion out of fundamentalism was the issue of what to do with the Bible. It wasn’t easy for me to let go of all the Bible metaphors you mentioned, coming from whence I did, but your work, and Rachel Evans, were very helpful in getting me to that point. It was easy intellectually, but emotionally and psychologically it was hard. I mean, I knew I wanted to let go of it, because it didn’t make sense to keep holding on once you know better, but the guilt and fear of the consequences were huge. One of the hardest things was dealing with the charge of “you don’t take the Bible seriously,” was hard, especially because the reality of letting go of the “inerrant handbook of Life” for me at least was the only way to take it seriously. But your work is giving me, slowly but surely, something to replace it with, and for that I thank you, for all of the thousands of rewrites. Thank you for having the courage to say what say.

  • Ross says:

    I look forward to stealing this book when it comes out, from the local library.

    I remember the creeping terror I used to feel when reading the bible and finding that there were a number of contradictions and bits which made no sense. On occasion I found a couple of bits which did make sense. My current view is that revelation mainly happens at the point of reading, regardless of what revelation may have been around at the point of writing.

    However I suppose one needs to allow the Spirit to work by challenging and wrestling with the thing and not approaching it to find todays lesson or confirm doctrine. This involves approaching with a searching mindset and not a set mind-thingy pre-programmed to find only a certain type of text.

    I think the scary thoughts that occur are the cognitive dissonance between expectation and reality and they can really throw you, particularly at the start. If anyone does find reading the book scary, particularly that horror story they put as the last chapter, then from my experience the scariness can fade away and reading it becomes an enjoyable challenge………takes a b****r of a long time mind you!

  • JesusMan says:

    This will be a good book. I read TBTMS, and yes I own the Certainty one. I like the path you are on. So now that we know more about this thing (a old collection of stories and lessons), and we know it’s not a rulebook and not a true history book, what is it….really? And your answer: at the end of the day, if we had to reduce it to one thing: it’s a book of wisdom. I could get behind that as a way to help me on my journey. I open the Bible to find wisdom. And it’s been proven over and over that the best way to wisdom is to hop on the journey that others have taken and reflect on foundational questions like: Am I my brother’s keeper? Good stuff.

  • Marvin says:

    Having read both The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty, here are a few ideas I would suggest fleshing out in this new book:

    1. How do these principles apply to the NT? For example, we can say the OT presents conflicting ideas at times, but what about the post-resurrection apostolic instruction? With Christ as the supreme revelation of the Father, does the NT instruction ever materially conflict with itself? If so, how do we work through it and interpret the will of God? How do we give primacy to the text in working out wisdom without either devolving to subjectivism or an over-reliance on tradition or ecclesiastic authorities, while at the same time not relying on our own interpretive abilities as supreme?

    2. When does the text actually bind us with a clear imperative? I’m thinking here of Richard Hays’ description of ethical texts as rules, principles, paradigms and symbols, and him stating that each much be allowed to speak in its own form.

    3. What precedent in historical theology is there for this thinking? How do we apply this line of thought while reading the Bible with the universal Church throughout the ages and weighing the insights of those who have gone before us?

  • Keith from GR says:

    “Maybe you’ve had a chance to read them—or at least buy them.” <== I see what you did there. [hahaha!]

  • Ashley Perks says:

    Even quite enlightened pastors are still preaching to their listeners that the Bible is the Sword of the Spirit and that they need to be properly armed (ie; read, learn and memorise verses to unsheath i time of ‘conflict’). I remember as a very young Christian (in both chronology and age) that we were to at least carry our “daggers” (pocket NT and Psalms!) so as not to go out ‘unarmed’. I have both bought AND read TBTMS and TSoC but can’t recall if you dealt with this horror. Or will you be, next?

  • Occam Razor says:

    Your three points are inarguable. But then you say “The Bible presents us…” as if it is an actor with agency, and not a collection of diverse literature put together by committee of humans.

    And I get your point, but if we are going to study this historically and use facts and logic, we shouldn’t project agency to the collection. We can glean wisdom from the Bible, but that’s our choice.

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