Books that Helped Me Read the Bible: #3, Inspiration and Incarnation

Last week I wrote a couple of blog posts about books that have helped me read the Bible. First, I mentioned Judith M. Kunst's The Burning Word: A Christian Encounter with Jewish MidrashSecond, I mentioned How to Read a Book: The Classical Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. These recommendations are not for specialists, per se, but for those who want to become better readers of the Bible, primarily for religious edification, but maybe also for mere curiosity. Maybe if I write enough of these entries I will begin mentioning books that are a tad more technical.

I say all that to say this: my next recommendation may be a tad more technical than the last two. But the author has written another book that is adjacent in focus which may be better for those who are unfamiliar with the Bible. I'll say more about it at the end of this post. 

Today's recommendation is Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. As a young seminarian I had two distinct realizations: First, I found the Bible to be a source of empowerment in my effort to be a Christian. Second, there were parts of the Bible that seemed impossible to understand or accept by a modern person such as myself. How could I reconcile what I sense I was experiencing while studying the Bible with the fact that the Bible seemed to err on matters of history, science, and even to some degree, ethics and morals? Enns' writing was articulate, honest, and recognized the limitations of the Bible, while offering a theological solution that I could follow: yes, the Bible is "inspired" (a contentious word to define), but inspiration occurred in the language and worldview of ancient peoples, not modern ones.

So, for example, Genesis 1-2 can tell us God is the Creator of everything, but for ancients to understand it this message had to be conveyed in the mythology of the day. What other option remained? Should the Bible have been written in the language of the modern scientific worldview? How would it have drawn people toward the divine if this was so? And why would it be in modern scientific language when it could be in the language of the twenty-second or twenty-third century when we are destine to understand some things better than we do now? 

For Enns, God "condescends" to "speak" to us where we're at as a species, not where we will be, or where God is "at". If God didn't condescend when speaking through Scripture we might never hear the divine word. For those who are interested in this book, the tenth anniversary edition is available for pre-order right now. Here is the blurb on for the original:

In this accessible study, Peter Enns offers an evangelical affirmation of biblical authority that considers questions raised by the nature of the Old Testament text. Enns looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture. First, he considers ancient Near Eastern literature that is similar to the Bible. Second, he looks at the theological diversity of the Old Testament. Finally, he considers how New Testament writers used the Old Testament. Based on his reflections on these contemporary issues, Enns proposes an incarnational model of biblical authority that takes seriously both the divine and human aspects of Scripture. The book includes a useful glossary, which defines technical terms and an annotated bibliography for further reading.

Now, this other book I have not read. I own it, and I've read parts of it, but I haven't had the time to read all of it. That being said, I've heard many positive things about it and I trust Enns to address this subject well. My alternative recommendation is his book The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. This is the blurb:

The controversial Bible scholar and author of The Evolution of Adam recounts his transformative spiritual journey in which he discovered a new, more honest way to love and appreciate God’s Word.

Trained as an evangelical Bible scholar, Peter Enns loved the Scriptures and shared his devotion, teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary. But the further he studied the Bible, the more he found himself confronted by questions that could neither be answered within the rigid framework of his religious instruction or accepted among the conservative evangelical community.

Rejecting the increasingly complicated intellectual games used by conservative Christians to “protect” the Bible, Enns was conflicted. Is this what God really requires? How could God’s plan for divine inspiration mean ignoring what is really written in the Bible? These questions eventually cost Enns his job—but they also opened a new spiritual path for him to follow.

The Bible Tells Me So chronicles Enns’s spiritual odyssey, how he came to see beyond restrictive doctrine and learned to embrace God’s Word as it is actually written. As he explores questions progressive evangelical readers of Scripture commonly face yet fear voicing, Enns reveals that they are the very questions that God wants us to consider—the essence of our spiritual study.