Skip to main content

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.