As I get started, please note that I am already a bit of an Enns-fan and a reader of three of his other books: “The Bible Tells Me So”, “The Sin of Certainty”, and “Ecclesiastes (The Two Horizons Commentary)”. I have “Inspiration and Incarnation” queued up on the shelf as well. I should disclose that I also listen regularly to Pete’s podcast, “The Bible for Normal People”.
So then, who is this book for?
* Are you a frustrated Christian who doesn’t understand why there is a difference between what you are reading and what you are being taught? This book is probably for you.
* Are you barely hanging on to your faith and worn out due to the inability to defend the Bible in its strict evangelical or fundamentalist context? Or, have you seen the Bible weaponized as a tool to fight a cultural or political battle? Perhaps this book is for you.
* Have you given up on your faith because the Bible as you were taught, no longer makes sense or it seems contradictory or it doesn’t feel relevant to your life? This book is definitely for you!
I am a bit of all three. I’ve deconstructed views and doctrines, reconstructed them, and started over again. That’s not a bad thing.
Why am I a fan of Pete and why am I giving this book five stars and a hearty endorsement?
I think the main thing is that Pete is both a PHD scholar and a guy who is trying to live a Christian life just like me. He is not only an academic, but he has developed concepts in this book that just plain make a lot of sense. The book is not dry and academic. It’s full of humility, grace, and humour. Lots of humour! Here’s an excerpt from page 18:
“I live daily with the very difficult tensions of being an unavoidably modern-day human while embracing an ancient faith, rooted in an ancient, ambiguous, and diverse book—which is to say I have to continue to walk this path of wisdom. I’m not at the beach planted in an Adirondack chair cradling a Corona waiting for the rest of you to show up.”
The book is also chock full of Pete’s personal anecdotes. Seriously, you will be laughing out loud in Starbucks and people WILL look at you weird. Don’t skip the footnotes. There’s gold there. You will have a fun time reading, and it will go fast. I went quite slow stopping to read so much to my wife that she banished me from the house just to finish before release day.
Now for the more serious bit. The GOAL of the book is to demonstrate Pete’s method for really reading, understanding, and applying the Bible. Pete being an academic, I am always surprised how he presents his knowledge in such a conversational manner. Humour (yes again) and a dose of repetition. Spoonful of sugar and all that… The repetition serves the purpose of getting the ideas into you head. It didn’t bug me, I don’t think it will bother you.
In my time as a Christian, I’ve been asked the two following—now cliched—questions about the Bible:
* Do you read it figuratively or just literally?
* Do you read it literally or just figuratively?
The answers are No and No.
Pete identifies three key concepts that address those two questions and others but avoiding the liberal/fundamental traps. There is a better way:
**The books of the Bible are Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse, and those books if understood properly lead to Wisdom.**
Brian Zahnd recently said, “Jesus Seminar liberalism and Young Earth Creation fundamentalism are two sides of the same empiricist coin. An obsessively historical-critical approach to the Bible ends up having to either defend everything (Ken Ham literalism) or deny everything (Schleiermacher liberalism). A far healthier approach is the pre-Enlightenment patristic approach to biblical interpretation where the sacred text is never an end in itself, but a repository of wisdom guiding us toward the perfect revelation of God in Jesus Christ.” I think Brian got an advance copy of this book too!
Pete develops this idea early and spends most of the book refining and applying the concept to topics and issues we all might have questions on. Read the Table of Contents to see what I mean. I reread chapter 11 -13 a few times. They stood out as something I needed just now.
Pete really sets out to demonstrate that the Bible is not an instruction manual that you can go to for DIYing your life. It isn’t a Popular Mechanics library. The Bible has too many difficult passages and seemingly contradictory sections for that. He stresses the timeliness or occasionality of Biblical instruction. One instruction might be appropriate for one circumstance, but not for another. Wisdom is understanding when and how to apply those instructions. Here is another short excerpt regarding Proverbs 26:4-5 which contain contradictory statements if read in flat literalism:
“It models something better: the permission to think it through, figure it out, and learn from experience for the next time. In fact, more than giving us permission, the contradiction sets up our expectation that we *will have* to think it through. And I bet some of you might have thought ‘Contradictions’ in the Bible were ‘Bad’. They’re not. They’re revealing.”
Fundamentalists have a really hard time with this. To them it’s scary stuff—all passages must be true at all times and places. To me, the fundamentalist rigidity is scarier and doesn’t mesh with what I actually read in the Bible. That its ancient, ambiguous, and diverse really stands out to me, and I am glad Pete was able to articulate it in this way. The book has released me from some old indoctrinated ideas. I don’t think though that Pete’s concept of wisdom frees you to the point of extreme libertarianism; it’s just a refreshed foundation—old come new. I’ll repeat myself here, it makes A LOT more sense.
So that’s about it. Serious bits. Seriously funny bits. Wisdom about the Bible. The Bible’s wisdom pointed at difficult topics and issues. Wisdom not answers. Read this book. Read it again in a group setting open to discussion like I hope to. Peace be with you!
ps. I fully expect to come back and add to this review after that second read. I am sure I missed important points or didn’t really get what was happening here and there. My issue not Pete’s.
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Religious - US (22 March 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062686747
- ISBN-13: 978-0062686749
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.6 x 22.9 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 454 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 17,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)