October 22, 2017

Bible Week: Quotes about the Bible – Peter Enns

Quotes about the Bible
#1 — Peter Enns

The Bible is an ancient book and we shouldn’t be surprised to see it act like one. So seeing God portrayed as a violent, tribal warrior is not how God is but how he was understood to be by the ancient Israelites communing with God in their time and place.

The biblical writers were storytellers. Writing about the past was never simply about understanding the past for its own sake, but about shaping, molding, and creating the past to speak to the present. “Getting the past right” wasn’t the driving issue. “Who are we now?” was.

The Bible presents a variety of points of view about God and what it means to walk in his ways. This stands to reason, since the biblical writers lived at different times, in different places, and wrote for different reasons. In reading the Bible we are watching the spiritual journeys of people long ago.

Jesus, like other Jews of the first century, read his Bible creatively, seeking deeper meaning that transcended or simply bypassed the boundaries of the words of scripture. Where Jesus ran afoul of the official interpreters of the Bible of his day was not in his creative handling of the Bible, but in drawing attention to his own authority and status in doing so.

A crucified and resurrected messiah was a surprise ending to Israel’s story. To spread the word of this messiah, the earliest Christian writers both respected Israel’s story while also going beyond that story. They transformed it from a story of Israel centered on Torah to a story of humanity centered on Jesus.

This is the Bible we have, the Bible where God meets us.

• Peter Enns
The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It

Comments

  1. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    I agree, but want to point back to my previous comment about how this complicates – immensely – reading Scripture for the joe-six-pack muggle. Understanding this emphasizes the need for a competent priest/pastor.

    From personal experience I can testify to how reading the Old Testament next to a history book really changes things. The first time I did that was when I was [completely unqualified for the task] asked to lead a bible study of the book of Nehemiah. I barely remember the class itself – but I recall how enlightening the prep was for me. The text – however brief – is floating in an ocean of context: political, cultural, economic, etc…

    The brevity of the Old Testament is the dead giveaway, now, to me. It leaps right through epic political and economic upheaval. These days it reminds me a bit of some advocate’s or functionary’s personal BLOG or update letters – no need to dwell on the circumstances, because that is all assumed to be known/obvious to the reader. Names are just dropped in everywhere – as, of course – the reader will be familiar with all the main characters. Fast forward even 10 years and the text ‘decays’ into confusing mystery to anyone who wasn’t there.

    • >> Understanding this emphasizes the need for a competent priest/pastor.

      My own ball park assessment: out of a hundred random preachers, ten will lack understanding enough to be harmful, ten will grasp the spiritual reality underlying the words of Scripture, and eighty will be professionally “competent”. Sort of like doctors and lawyers and mechanics.

    • Ronald Avra says:

      ‘The text – however brief ‘– the brevity of the Old Testament text cannot be over emphasized. It might be hoped that anyone with an elective in freshman college history would realize that.

    • Understanding this emphasizes the need for a competent priest/pastor.

      Now that’s just…unAmerican!

    • Adam, I think, however, that there truly is a “big picture,” which, when kept in mind, can simplify our approach and keep us from getting lost in the trees.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      These days it reminds me a bit of some advocate’s or functionary’s personal BLOG or update letters – no need to dwell on the circumstances, because that is all assumed to be known/obvious to the reader. Names are just dropped in everywhere – as, of course – the reader will be familiar with all the main characters. Fast forward even 10 years and the text ‘decays’ into confusing mystery to anyone who wasn’t there.

      The thing that makes historians tear their hair out and run screaming down the street:

      All the background information and contex required for understanding t that NOBODY bothered to write down at the time because “Everybody Knows That”.

    • “joe six pack” doesn’t read the bible. At best he might watch some preacher on television on Sunday, IF he gets up on time, but that will be the extent of his spirituality, except to shout “Jesus Christ” or “God dammit” after catching his shin on the coffee table. Time to retire that term, “joe six pack”. It’s insulting to regular guys…

  2. “The Bible is an ancient book and we shouldn’t be surprised to see it act like one. So seeing God portrayed as a violent, tribal warrior is not how God is but how he was understood to be by the ancient Israelites communing with God in their time and place.”

    I realize Enns is writing to a certain audience troubled by the apparent dichotomy between traditional divine claims about the Bible vs the all too human context needed to be understood in approaching the Bible. But some of us have another problem. We see clearly the human component to the Bible. We’re having trouble seeing the divine component to it. All Bronze/Iron Age writings depict their gods as “violent, tribal warriors”. That was the script. So what exactly makes the Hebrew literature any different than that of the Greeks or the Indians other than the Bible is considered our “scripture”?

    “…not how God is but how he was understood to be…” So why doesn’t that idea apply also to the New Testament? And if the point of the Bible is not to reveal God as he “is” then what is the point?

    “In reading the Bible we are watching the spiritual journeys of people long ago.”

    Granted, but who am I in contact with here? And if I’m on my own to “create” my own spiritual journey then how come it took two thousand years for everyone to figure this out? Most of the writers thought they were communicating God’s plan to their audience did they not? Were they wrong?

    “A crucified and resurrected messiah was a surprise ending to Israel’s story.”

    So all those OT “prophecies” were only obvious after the fact? And the Christians were allowed to creatively shape their tradition to make it say things not at all obvious to the shapers of that tradition? How “creative” am I allowed to be at this point?

    Thoughts for a rainy Monday here in your Nation’s capital.

    I guess my question for Prof Enns is simply this – I see the human in the Bible. Where is the divine to be found in there?

    • The difference between the old and new, I think, is the amount of direct revelation the apostles got from all the stuff Jesus said that they didn’t record (3 years worth!) and the Holy Spirit. They still express those things in their place and culture to a very real extent, but they got to /know/ God with a lot less filtering.

      This might not sound very chronological, but the divine is to be found in the Resurrection (and Incarnation/Ascension, and all the salvatory acts between them), and flows backwards and forward from there.

    • Ronald Avra says:

      Good question.

    • Where is the divine to be found in there?

      I have the same question now.

    • Stephen, great comment and questions to get us going today.

      I see God much more in the Bible now that I look at it in ways similar to Pete. But it’s not in as “direct” or “supernatural” a fashion. It lines up more with what I see in the world and in my life today — a God who regularly hides himself and when he does make himself known, he does so in rather ambiguous and unremarkable ways. I don’t look for a God of “direct intervention” or “spectacle” much anymore, but One who shows himself most fully through people of faith, hope, and love.

    • –> “Where is the divine to be found in there?”

      My simple – and perhaps very weak – answer is this: the divine is found when it speaks to you.

      Before becoming a Christian, the Bible was just words on a page. Actually, it was a lot of BORING words on WAY TOO MANY pages.

      When I became a Christian, those words began speaking to me and began meaning something to me. I suddenly understood the reference to it as “the living word.” And it still speaks to me at times.

      That’s how the divine is found there. Or maybe it’s that the divine finds you.

      • –> “I see the human in the Bible.”

        Just a little follow-on to capture that notion and link it to my comment about finding the divine in the Bible…

        When I became Christian and began reading the Bible, it was actually the HUMAN aspects of the Bible that solidified its trustworthiness for me. If I’d found it to be just “religious” mumbo jumbo, I’m sure my faith in it would’ve been shaken at some point. But the fact there’s so much dang “human-ness” in it – Ecclesiastes’ honest cynicism makes it one of my favorite books – tells me that it’s trustworthy as well as “divine.”

        I also like the fact that Jesus – the REAL Word – encompasses what we hope to find in the Bible, both the human and the divine. If he’d been just one or the other, he doesn’t work for me as “savior.” The fact he is BOTH also solidifies him as messiah for me.

      • “When I became a Christian, those words began speaking to me…”

        So the words only spoke to you after you became disposed to believe they could speak to you? Do you see the problem?

        • It’s so easily to abuse that part about how only the Spirit allows people to understand the scriptures.

          Which is stupid. Anyone can read the book and understand what it says.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          Better stated, maybe, is “they took on meaning.” Kinda like the parables, the words are there for everyone to read, but not all will understand. I think, in a way, the divine is part of the understanding.

    • Dani Hansen says:

      I guess my question for Prof Enns is simply this – I see the human in the Bible. Where is the divine to be found in there? (Stephen)

      “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,” Jn 5:39

      The divine is still found where it’s always been found: In the personhood of God Himself. Or, for us specifically, in the personhood of Jesus Christ.

      If you’re looking for the divine in human scribblings, I do think you’re looking in vain. If your Bible study doesn’t help you forge a live and in-person connection to Jesus that grows and deepens over the years, then I think your Bible study is 100% pointless.

      The Bible won’t connect you with God. It can’t. It holds no such power. Only God will connect you with God. The Bible only shows you examples of how others before you connected with God, to help you understand that your own connection is possible, and it gives some insight regarding the terms on which it’s possible. That’s pretty much it.

      The good news in the OT is that even though the Israelites were tribal people living in a violent era, God still connected with them even in their crude framework of understanding. They were judged based on their understanding within the context of the covenant they agreed to — and at times they were judged quite harshly and violently.

      Anyway, if God is merciful enough to connect with people of violent, tribal mindsets, how much more merciful will He be towards us who hold no such mindset, even though our understanding is probably just slightly less crude (because honestly, we’re grading ourselves on a curve here). There’s still that dark glass for us also. Until the day when we will know as we are known.

      It honestly doesn’t matter to me how ancient Israel understood God and related to Him, because that’s a different covenant of another people in another age. I’m not being judged by that covenant, but by this new one which is with Jesus Christ. So I don’t think we have to burden ourselves to try and explain Israel’s behavior or their understanding of God in any detail. I don’t think it’s of any practical consequence whether we allegorize the Old Testament stories or not. It’s not like we can bring those people back from the dead and pick their brains as to what they meant, so we have to let their renderings be what they are and accept the fact that we may never fully understand them. These things honestly have zero bearing on my relationship with God. Rather, I busy myself walking MY own path of obedience according to the NEW Covenant understanding of God in the revelation of Jesus Christ. Which doesn’t allow for warlike violence for us. That much is certain.

  3. One of the things that bothers me about this is how it makes the ancient Israelites seem practically neanderthal in their objectivity. As if they had absolutely no ability to scrutinize and see beyond their own cultural filters, unlike us today. It seems like a very subtle form of intellectual patronizing.

    It doesn’t stand up to a scrutiny of the text itself. “Winners writing the history books” tend to glorify themselves a lot more than the OT narratives do. Israel is repeatedly depicted as a failure, incompetent, and incapable of sustaining loyalty to their god much beyond a single generation.

    It seems to me that these authors had no problem looking at their own culture objectively, evaluating it, and condemning it, possibly even better than many today.

    We insist that the God they depict is barbaric and harsh, but fail to recognize that is the conclusion of an evaluation based on our own cultural standards, and a relatively recent development. The things that trouble us about God’s behavior in the OT hasn’t greatly troubled humanity for most of history in the same way.

    I’m not necessarily saying these things shouldn’t trouble us. I can’t imagine a holy and righteous God whom no humanity would find troubling on some level. I’m saying we should take our own cultural filters with a bit more of a grain of salt sometimes, kind of like we are demanding of these authors, and attempt to use some sort of objectivity to see through our own bias, rather than assume that current perspective is absolute truth and the pinnacle of human intellectual development.

    I like some of what Enns is saying about seeing the trajectory of the narrative as the big picture, and perhaps that is the important part of what he is getting at. But it really seems to me that in his effort to understand this he is downplaying the divine element a bit further than really necessary, and possibly in reaction to a constricting fundamentalist ideology that prevented him from seeing these deeper truths for so long.

    • Miguel, the church fathers were so bothered by some of the depictions of God in the OT that they insisted the only way to truly understand the text was to allegorize it. I don’t think it’s simply modern sensibilities and values. Of course, the reason this has become a more front-burner issue in recent years is the post-9/11 world we live in, and our heightened sensitivity to violence in the name of religion. If the violent, genocidal depictions of God in the OT are to be taken at face value, then we may only critique groups like the Taliban and ISIS for their motivations, not their tactics.

      P.S. Great to hear from you. We’ve missed you around here!

      • “If the violent, genocidal depictions of God in the OT are to be taken at face value,”

        Are you going to do a review Greg Boyd’s new book?

      • That’s absolutely true. The “it just offends modern sensibilities but was ok before everyone got all soft” just doesn’t hold up.

        I think it was one of Pete Enns podcasts – w/ either Rohr or Brueggemann (though I could be mistaken) – where they pointed out that Origen (primarily but not exclusively) had so thoroughly allegorized the OT in light of the fundamental problems that literal “inerrant” hermeneutics created for Christian theology that most subsequent claims of divinely ordained violence actually resorted to prooftexting the New Testament, not the Old. The problem wasn’t from “cultural standards” that were just too nicey-nice, but from the revelation of Christ. I cringe at the excessive allegorization – I think it whitewashes over important things & is often “inerrancy” with a few more hermeneutical tools at it’s disposal – but I thought it was a really interesting observation.

      • Well, I knew the fathers had some trouble with OT interpretation, but I honestly had no idea it was to that extent. That certainly gives an important perspective for consideration. I suppose they make Enns look a bit tame on that front! I meant to note that the history of interaction with these things is a very important consideration, only I really haven’t read much on it beyond early post-medieval stuff, which is probably not the best era when it comes to understanding these passages.

        I don’t mean to be away so much, but new job and 2.5 kids keeps me so busy I hardly read anything online anymore much less interact. Almost thought I could make it out to the book signing on Saturday. Things will be settling soon, so hopefully I’ll be around more.

        I would, however, contest that I think the “violent, genocidal descriptions of God” in the OT need to be filtered through the perspective of the flood narrative, where God supposedly killed everybody in the whole world, save eight persons. I really believe the issue is more of the judgment of God against humanity than it is the methods of Israelite conquest. If God chooses to use human agency in his judgement, of course it would look like any other religiously motivated war with spiritually veiled ulterior motives, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that things appearing similar must be identical. I really think that’s a diversion from the ultimate underlying issue: God is fully capable of rescuing all men in all places from their own mortality, yet he doesn’t. He appoints the death of all, and gives life eternal to some and not to others. This is the highest offense, even though all deaths aren’t necessarily equal when it comes to brutality.

        However we wind up interpreting the OT texts, if we read God told the Israelites to do these things and conclude, “The Israelites SAID he told them, but really they were making up a justification to do what they wanted for their own personal gain,” I believe we have crossed a line where the human element supersedes the divine element in revelation, and indirectly accused the text of propagating deliberate falsehood. I’d sooner allegorize than take that route, and it isn’t consistent with the nature of the text which relentlessly refuses to obscure the many and frequent shortcomings of the Israelite people.

        • it isn’t consistent with the nature of the text which relentlessly refuses to obscure the many and frequent shortcomings of the Israelite people.

          But does it condemn those shortcomings, or divinely bless them? What shortcomings it does seem to condemn are the infighting between tribes, especially El vs Yahweh type “who is god” debates.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Christ is risen!

          Miguel,

          In EO, the “violent, genocidal descriptions of God” in the OT (as well as much else in the OT) are filtered through the perspective of the Cross. Christ on the cross is the true revelation of what God is like – this is his holiness, this is his righteousness (which in Greek – the sense of all those dik- words – is much more like “the God-granted ability to be in the proper relationship with him”). The Greek Fathers knew that in their bones, and if anything in the OT didn’t line up with that, they prayed and studied, and interpreted those problematic areas mostly typologically, but also allegorically. – they were looking for the deeper, spiritual meaning of what the words were pointing to and were not very concerned about “historical accuracy” in the OT like we are – they believed those things were written down for other reasons. (Typology is a kind of allegory, the difference being that the Antitype of whatever actually happened, whereas in allegory the two events may or may not have actually happened.)

          Congratulations on the new and hopefully better job, and especially on the 2.5 kids!

          Dana

          • Thanks, Dana! Third boy due in July.

            That is some helpful information. I always like learning how the East thinks about problems we wrestle with in the West.

            I have absolutely no problem with allegorical and typological interpretations. We rely on them rather heavily in Lutheranism, but possibly not to the same extent as EO.

            My concern is limiting our understanding of the text to only those. It may be that is what the inspiring God was trying to get across, but I’m not fully convinced that is all of it. Either way, I wouldn’t look at such interpretation and call it “wrong.” In the Lutheran church we fully believe the cross is the key to understanding scripture. However, penal sub has a significant effect on how that plays out for us.

            I do think it worth undertaking a comprehensive analytical study on the hermeneutics and exegetical methods used by Christ on the OT, and further how the apostles did it, but at the surface, I don’t think a strict allegory or typology approach is going to line up. I’m sure they did use it, but not exclusively.

            • “I do think it worth undertaking a comprehensive analytical study on the hermeneutics and exegetical methods used by Christ on the OT, and further how the apostles did it, but at the surface, I don’t think a strict allegory or typology approach is going to line up. I’m sure they did use it, but not exclusively.”

              Their approach seems to be pretty typical of midrashic methods used by other Jewish teachers of the day – methods that drive those of us who try to follow strict hermeneutical methods crazy. Enns has a chapter or two on this in the quoted book. Again, pretty troubling for some of us since we would dismiss as ‘nuts’ (and do) most modern preachers who did that sort of thing (e.g. Matthew – ‘he shall be called a Nazarene’) or even Paul’s argument about Sarah and Hagar in Galatians.

              • I’ve heard this before, but using the same method they came to such drastically different conclusions.

                A good Catholic explanation for this could be they were doing it from a position of authority, and thus their interpretation supersedes the non-authoritative ones.

            • Dana Ames says:

              Miguel,

              You might – in your spare time 🙂 – investigate Richard Hays’ “Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels”. I haven’t read it yet, but want to very much; I’ve heard Hays does a good job describing and giving examples of the exegetical method the early Christians seemed to be using on the OT. There is also an earlier book, “Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul”.

              We had 3 kids in less than 4 years; after child #2, our “social life” (except for church) pretty much ground to a halt 🙂 Be patient – there’s so much good in what you & your wife are doing. Look to the long term – and get help when you need it!

              Dana

              • That sounds like an interesting book. I’ll have to look it up!

                We haven’t had much social life at all since we entered church work, but the kids have been very helpful in getting me to work less. The hardest thing is living so far from family, but the congregations we’ve been serving have been great communities for support.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        If the violent, genocidal depictions of God in the OT are to be taken at face value, then we may only critique groups like the Taliban and ISIS for their motivations, not their tactics.

        Like the OT when it was first written down, the Koran “taken at face value” by the Taliban and ISIS comes out of Semitic tribal culture. I would expect a resemblance.

        And in Christianese, the “critique for their motivations and not their tactics” usually takes the form of denouncing the Koran as a false Scripture (while holding up similar in the Bible as “GOD’S WORD — WORD FOR WORD!”) At which point, to an outsider it becomes nothing more than Reciting OUR Party Line, not Theirs.

    • Wussypillow says:

      Here’s an idea: Maybe if it were so important for us to Get It Just Right then god or his appointed scribes could have written it more clearly.

      • Rick Ro. says:

        True recent story…

        I just had to sign a document that said I agreed to certain Christian beliefs, one being the the Bible was the infallible, inerrant, blah blah blah Word of God. I signed the document, adding the words, “Pretty much” to my signature.

        If asked about my qualifier, I’ll explain: I can’t, for certain, say that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant, blah blah blah word of God when it’s a book put together by fallible humans who tried to capture God’s divine thoughts and write them in a fallible language using the best words that they could at the time, and how over time those words have been translated into (for me) fallible English, and there are like forty different translations available as it is!

        So God “Getting it Right” isn’t really the issue, is it…

        • This is why I HATE when my friends and family try to ask me what I believe and use those words. I can’t just answer yes or no, there is so much that goes into it, and especially how many differing ways those positions already have in place…

          grr

        • Yes, Rick, the translation thing is a big piece for me. Scripture infallible maybe, but wouldn’t each and every translation then also have to also be inerrant for it to really be infallible? But then, if that is the case, how do you reconcile the differences in translation? And if that becomes problematic, then shouldn’t we all be reading scripture in the original languages because if we don’t, we wouldn’t be reading the inerrant word of God, right?

          It does become complicated…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Didn’t the original IMonk have a lot to say about the obsession with Inerrancy(TM)?

            As usually defined, I cannot see much difference in the Inerrancy claims of Bible and Koran.

            • If I’m not mistaken, extreme fundamentalist Muslims believe that you can only read the Koran in Arabic, otherwise, you run into translation problems which will lead you astray, which is where the idea of complete inerrancy naturally seems to go. But then, that causes other problems of a God who only speaks to people of a certain language group…

              • The Koran was written in 7th-Century Arabic, not modern Arabic. There will be significant errors if modern readers attempt it in the original without help. Better in a modern translation, as with the Bible in English. We have enough trouble with 17th-Century King James English, let alone a thousand years before that. Back then, English resembled Icelandic more than it did modern English.

                • I should correct that. I just googled and found some reasonable commentary that written Arabic hasn’t changed nearly as much as English or other European languages.

                  One comment compared Modern Standard Arabic and Classical Arabic as roughly the difference between modern English and 18th-century English. Another commenter said that he had less trouble reading the Koran in the original that he had with reading politics or economics in modern Arabic.

                  But modern translations can’t hurt. And then there’s the matter of interpretation, a whole ‘nother problem.

                  • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

                    English IS the fastest-mutating of all human languages.

                    So Koranic Arabic is readable by modern Arabic-speakers, it just sounds a bit archaic.

            • HUG, you and I were thinking the same thing at the same time again, and that always scares me.

              Here’s the original iMonk article by Michael:

              http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-classic-we-thought-he-was-such-a-nice-boy%e2%80%94and-then-we-found-out-he-didnt-believe-in-inerrancy

          • And beyond differences in translation we have differences in interpretation. For example, we can easily translate “this is my body” and “this is my blood” but how do we interpret it? We know what Jesus said, but look at how we disagree on its meaning.

            The doctrinal statements regarding inerrancy often have a loophole. I have seen several that include the clause “in their original documents.” Michael Spencer had a short, sweet counter to that: “We don’t have them.”

            But whatever the original documents said, in their ancient languages (and I think the existing texts are essentially accurate), we still have to interpret after the translation. And unfortunately, that’s where it gets messy. I have also seen statements, as in church by-laws, that say whenever there is disagreement over the interpretation of scripture the pastor and elders shall have the final word.

            So, the scripture isn’t always what’s inspired, infallible and inerrant. Where we have trouble interpreting, it’s the pastor and elders.

            So much for sola scriptura, which was supposed to do away with Church Tradition as authoritative. Many churches have returned to it in the form of The Local Church.

            • Methinks you are misunderstanding sola scriptura. The guys who came up with it gave tremendous authority to church tradition. More so than they did to their own reason and experience.

              • But those guys were Lutheran. We baptists have upped the ante, outlawing anything that resembles Roman Catholicism (and you Lutherans are highly suspect) and so church tradition, other than what’s done in The Local Church (TM), is not considered authoritative either. But as I mentioned earlier, somebody has to interpret scripture at least occasionally, and that comes down to a whole lot of church tradition, in the baptist persuasion. But we don’t see it as tradition.

                I didn’t mention reason and experience. Too subjective; too scientific on the reason side, and too pentecostal on the experience side. Anathema to baptists.

                Great to see you again, Miguel. I didn’t want to say so earlier and call attention. I’ve been absent a lot lately in my church for various reasons, including travel, sickness, winter weather and just plain going to another church instead (wife has attending a bit more, and making excuses for me). A couple of weeks ago a bunch of people said how good it was to see my back, so I guess it has been a while.

                • “me,” not “my” in the last line. A 180 degree vowel shift.

                • Yeah, I certainly miss being able to come around as often. I am beginning to suspect in my frustration that it is not entirely possible for me to fulfill my responsibilities with any semblance of competence and participate in meaningful online discussions more than on rare occasion. But we’ll see, things are looking to slow up a bit.

                  Sometimes my cynical side wonders exactly how my church attendance would be if I had another line of work….

    • –> “I can’t imagine a holy and righteous God whom no humanity would find troubling on some level.”

      Hmm…seems to me the whole Bible is nothing but God wanting to be in relationship with us and desiring us to be in relationship with Him. If I truly believe that, then any notions I have about God that are “troubling” better go out the window.

      We read Psalm 96 in class yesterday and it struck me how focused it is on real, true worship. We should not enter into His courts with anything but a new song and praises, proclaiming his salvation and his wonderful deeds.

      If I find my God “troubling,” I’m not sure I can do that.

      • You can’t reduce God down to the angle that most appeals to you. There is plenty in the Bible about God which we ought to find comforting, but it would be willful blindness to insist there is “nothing but” that to be found.

        Christ dying on the cross is simultaneously the most comforting and troubling thing in all scripture.
        God refuses to let man look at him, let he die. Isaiah bewails his doom when brought into the presence of God. God drowns the entire earth in a flood. Even Jesus was known to “lash out” a little bit.

        The reason we ought to find God troubling is not necessarily because he is bad, but rather, because we are. A perfectly righteous God bringing justice against all is not something we stand to benefit from apart from mercy, and our fear and trembling is a necessary consequence of being aware of our continual dependence upon such mercy in order to be in a right relationship with him.

        Also, Psalm 96 is not the entirety of worship. We do not enter with nothing but new song and praises. 69% of the Psalms are lament, and especially chapters 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143, known as the “penitential psalms,” are appropriate for exercising honesty before God in the face of our sins. These are all parts of worship.

        • You can’t reduce God down to the angle that most appeals to you.

          Well, why not? Don’t we have 66 books of just that precise thing happening? Culminating in a Messiah who did just that?

        • Rick Ro. says:

          –> “You can’t reduce God down to the angle that most appeals to you.”

          I don’t believe I’m reducing God at all. The fact that I believe God is so massively full of love that I don’t find Him “troubling”…that’s a problem why?

          • Because last I checked, you are not a universalist. God honors the willful rejection of his love, and while his mercy extends to us, others will merely receive justice. Whatever that looks like, it ain’t pretty.

            Sure, we don’t necessarily have to be troubled about God for ourselves, we have the comforts of the Gospel to assuage all fear. But our love for God has not yet been made perfect, and if the apostle Paul had fear and trembling, I think the rest of us have room for it too.

            You still have to reconcile your view of a God so “massively full of love” with the large portions of scripture which blatantly depict a God who punishes evil. And recognize that the line between good and evil passes through every human heart. Perhaps you can easily pat yourself on the back feeling fully assured that you’re one of the good guys, but some of us know ourselves better than that. We do not love God as we ought our our neighbor as ourselves. Thankfully, forgiveness is full and free in Christ, but that does not make our sins against our neighbor any more bearable by them. Personally, I don’t know how anybody approaches God without being mindful of these things.

            • Robert F says:

              Do you never question the moral code of the OT, Miguel? Of a God who would order the Israelites to annihilate entire cities, children included? Does it never seem off to you? Do you really think that’s just because you’re a sinner, and your own moral intuition is itself off? Or is it possible that you’re actually ignoring your own God-given moral intuitions?

              • Do you never question the moral code of the OT, Miguel?

                Of course I do. Just not quite as often as I question myself.

                Of a God who would order the Israelites to annihilate entire cities, children included? Does it never seem off to you?

                No angle on that looks pretty. However, it is the same God who, as I said, drowned everyone in the flood, and, ordains the death of all people. That is really a much greater scope of death, thus I find it more troubling.

                Do you really think that’s just because you’re a sinner, and your own moral intuition is itself off? Or is it possible that you’re actually ignoring your own God-given moral intuitions?

                Of course not, I rely on such moral intuition all the time. However, I am also suspect of my own ulterior motives to interfere with it operating as it should. It is very presumptuous, at the very least, to place my utmost confidence in it with all things. Any cursory survey of human history will show that it has the ability to lead us astray, or at the very least, be absolutely ignored. Also, I tend to be very cautious with a “moral intuition” when it begins to judge God, especially by his own criteria. Perhaps God is being inconsistent, but it is probably more likely that I simply do not like what he decides sometimes. I wouldn’t expect a God who isn’t me to operate at all times in ways that I would approve of. Such expectation would be to make a God in my own image.

            • Robert F says:

              If you accept that God ordered Israel to annihilate entire cities, including infants, in the OT, then you have to accept that it’s possible he may order you to do something similar. You may say that we are now under a new covenant, wherein such a thing is not possible.

              But consider: In Acts, the text says that God took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira for lying when they said they had sold all they had and given all their wealth to the community. In this story, the means he used were natural ones. But is it really impossible that he would order human agency to do the same things, as you say he did in the OT? The text indicates that he still judges by slaying for sins, at least certain ones and in certain situations; given your understanding, would it be impossible that he might command a human being, say you or someone else, to execute judgement for him? If you say it is impossible, how can you be so sure? If you are wrong, then you could be refusing to obey a direct command of God himself, couldn’t you? How do you know that the God of the OT would never again order a human being to kill in the name of the advance of his will? I don’t see that you logically can be sure. This puts you in a pickle.

              • If you accept that God ordered Israel to annihilate entire cities, including infants, in the OT, then you have to accept that it’s possible he may order you to do something similar. You may say that we are now under a new covenant, wherein such a thing is not possible.

                Of course not, Robert. Don’t be ridiculous. Honestly, I thought you knew Lutheran theology better than that. We firmly believe that God no longer speaks directly to us, and experiences or claims to the contrary are from the Devil himself. IOW, the NT is the final word, and it says turn the other cheek and love your enemies. Case closed.

                Of course, God reserves the right to operate however he pleases, so I wouldn’t go as far as to say what he can or cannot do. But I can say what I am confident, based on his communication to us, that he will not do.

                But consider: In Acts, the text says that God took the lives of Ananias and Sapphira for lying when they said they had sold all they had and given all their wealth to the community. In this story, the means he used were natural ones. But is it really impossible that he would order human agency to do the same things, as you say he did in the OT?

                Yes, it is impossible. Come on, Robert, it’s not exactly brain surgery here. You’d have to completely ignore the entire teaching of Jesus for the voice in your head to go that direction. It isn’t the Christian faith, period. And for the love of Pete, don’t go taking all the supernatural occurrences in the book of Acts as templates for today, you’ll wind up Pentecostal! 😛

                The text indicates that he still judges by slaying for sins, at least certain ones and in certain situations; given your understanding, would it be impossible that he might command a human being, say you or someone else, to execute judgement for him?

                No, the text does not indicate this. It merely indicates that he did it that specific time. It also explains part of the reason for this. You lack a NT example of him commanding human agency, and you have a NT full of commands to the contrary. Is it possible for God? Of course, he could do anything he wants. Will he? No, because he clearly doesn’t want to.

                If you say it is impossible, how can you be so sure? If you are wrong, then you could be refusing to obey a direct command of God himself, couldn’t you? How do you know that the God of the OT would never again order a human being to kill in the name of the advance of his will? I don’t see that you logically can be sure. This puts you in a pickle.

                How can I be sure God isn’t talking to me? How could I be sure if he was? Holy Buddha, Robert, I’m not about to embark on some Jihad just because I don’t restrict my OT interpretation to allegory. God doesn’t speak to us anymore to order us to do anything, period. Hebrews 1: In the past, he spoke to the people through the prophets, and today he speaks to us through Christ, whose words are passed down to us by the writings of the apostles.

                If you’re charismatic, however, we’re talking a radically different ball game. This is part of why I think that tradition is looney.

                • Miguel, without some nod to experience in determining God’s will, how does one arrive at answers to prayer, or even a conversion experience? These are matters that we’ve ignored as we’ve trashed the pentecostals.

                  • Ted, as a Lutheran I believe I am fully able to embrace the Wesleyan quadrilateral of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. We just prioritize them in that order. A “nod” is about the extent I’m willing to give my experience.

                    But I don’t have any experience determining God’s will beyond what is revealed in Scripture. Anything not addressed there, at least by implication, is something I believe remains in the realm of Christian freedom, to be navigated hopefully with wisdom.

                    Answers to prayer and conversion experiences have little to do with Pentecostalism, I think. They might emphasize them a lot more, but they’re generally a part of every Christian tradition in one way or another.

                    However, I don’t expect God to actually answer my prayers for guidance with some sort of cue. I’ve listened long and hard enough, he either wants me to guess or won’t stoop to drop me a clue. I’d wager he’d rather I spend more effort seeking him through the revelation of nature and scripture than continue the easter egg hunt for private revelation that isn’t coming.

                    • I think that order is a good balance. Prima scriptura instead of sola.

                    • My contention with that is that while scripture ranks first, it also ranks highest. In other words, sola scripture was never meant to nullify the authority of tradition, reason, and experience, but rather, to use them for what they are worth provided they do not contradict the Scriptures. In many traditions today, Scripture doesn’t merely supersede the others, it practically eliminates them, creating more of a “solo scriptura.” I’d be fine with the term “prima” so long as it is understood to mean that when tradition, reason, or experience disagree with scripture, we side with the latter.

            • Robert F says:

              And in fact some Christians have believed that God was ordering them to fight and kill in the cause of his Kingdom in the last 2000 years. As an easy to recognize example, a Crusade was preached by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux as just such a command from God, and actual soldiers, Knights, fought an offensive Holy War by way of obedience to that perceived command. They wiped out entire cities, just as the the OT Israelites did; and why should they not, if they believed God was ordering them to do so, as he had commanded the Israelites? Given your common acceptance with them that God had in fact ordered such wars of annihilation in the past, what nuance of theology would you have put to work against their vocation to Holy War, if you were able to speak to them directly even now? How would you convince them theologically that what was permitted and commanded in the past could not in fact be legitimately demanded of them in their present?

              • And in fact some Christians have believed that God was ordering them to fight and kill in the cause of his Kingdom in the last 2000 years.

                …and they were wrong, as nearly all Christians recognize today (especially Protestants).

                As an easy to recognize example, a Crusade was preached by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux as just such a command from God, and actual soldiers, Knights, fought an offensive Holy War by way of obedience to that perceived command.

                I don’t doubt he used that sort of rhetoric to incite the kind of momentum he needed. But three things need to be noted: First, it was not a war of Christian aggression. It was a response to Islamic aggression, to liberate the Christian cities they had conquered. Second, the spiritualize rhetoric not only stemmed from the fusion of church and state (which nearly always eventually leads to this), but underneath the rhetoric, it was functionally the philosophical idea of a “just war” (whether or not it was actually justifiable aside). Third, the results of the crusades were nothing like their design. They lost control and things did not proceed as planned. The results are not defensible, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that defending Christian brothers (or anyone, for that matter) from militant religious extremism is always a bad idea.

                They wiped out entire cities, just as the the OT Israelites did; and why should they not, if they believed God was ordering them to do so, as he had commanded the Israelites? Given your common acceptance with them that God had in fact ordered such wars of annihilation in the past, what nuance of theology would you have put to work against their vocation to Holy War, if you were able to speak to them directly even now?

                For reals, dude? As if they could have just looked up in their Bible and check the interpretation of the bishops to make sure they weren’t being lead astray? The church was the voice of God. …you do remember what happened to those who questioned it, right?

                How would you convince them theologically that what was permitted and commanded in the past could not in fact be legitimately demanded of them in their present?

                With the words of Jesus.

            • Rick Ro. says:

              –> “Perhaps you can easily pat yourself on the back feeling fully assured that you’re one of the good guys…”

              Yikes!! I hope that’s not how I come across!!

              –> “,,,but some of us know ourselves better than that.”

              I don’t know myself well, but I know enough about myself to know I’m very thankful and grateful for God’s love and forgiveness, for without it I’d be a mess. Heck, I’m a mess WITH His love and forgiveness!

            • “And recognize that the line between good and evil passes through every human heart.”

              This is most certainly true. Which makes the following words from Jesus that much more incredible:

              “Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’””

              He called them “brothers”. This is mercy and love beyond comprehension. A love we can rest in.

    • Danielle says:

      I agree 100 percent that we have to take our own perspectives with a grain of salt. However, we are also stuck with them – so we might as well proceed, with humility. If we suspect our own folly, why do we think that folly does not stretch backward into history? We’ve ample evidence that it does. On a more optimistic note, if we have faith that God can speak to ancient Semitic tribes, why not also have faith that God can get into our own endeavors, now?

      If God doesn’t work with regular humans, we’re all undone. The point of scripture, especially if we don’t exile it so far from real history that it is irrelevant to everything, seems to be that God Shows Up. God is both nearby and not what one expects.

      It seems to me that Enn’s point is that the ancient Israelites were actively telling and retelling their own story with a purpose, to understand how they were God’s people and what God was doing (and would do). They are interested in history, but not interested in it the way a scientist or antiquarian might be. It’s all very urgent and devotional.

      Most people, when they think about history, are similar. Who are we? How did we get here? Where are we going? What do we do next? Is there any hope here? In truth, even professional historians, albeit proceeding with great care to detail, are usually in the past looking for something.

      • Well, to be fair, there is truth to the idea that we have the shoulders of giants who came before to stand on, so if anything, we are certainly privy to a wider variety of perspectives today than ever before. As I noted above with CM, probably best to wrestle with these types of troubling issues more historically, seeing how the church in various ages has interpreted them, rather than simply dealing with them through the lens of contemporary ethical thought.

        On a more optimistic note, if we have faith that God can speak to ancient Semitic tribes, why not also have faith that God can get into our own endeavors, now?

        Because God didn’t speak to the ancient Semitic tribes. In fact, the begged him not to, lest they die. He only spoke to the Prophets, and according to Hebrews 1, he does so no longer, but rather, speaks to us through the voice of Christ. Jesus is the prophet of the NT church, and his words recorded for us are to us what the OT writings and prophecies were to the ancient Semitic tribes.

        “God showing up” is indeed not what we expect, but rather than looking for divine intervention, I believe the NT calls us to see how Christ is all in all, by finding him in the people who are suffering around us.

        If Enns point is that the Israelites were telling their story with a purpose, that no longer sounds like the human element in inspiration has superseded the divine, but rather, has completely replaced it. I get the urgent and devotional angle to it and all, but I believe that it is ultimately not their story or a story about them.

        Sure, origin stories are essential to establishing a cultural identity. But not only should we avoid reducing these narratives to that, it also does not follow that the stories are untrue.

        • “God showing up” is indeed not what we expect, but rather than looking for divine intervention, I believe the NT calls us to see how Christ is all in all, by finding him in the people who are suffering around us.

          Which makes me wonder how much Jesus and the Church’s ministry is actually an apology in progress for all that came before. Seeing as how, to many, God was the source of most of the suffering around us (especially ANE/Palestine).

          But we let him off the hook through elaborate hoops.

          I think I realized recently that the problem of evil isn’t really a problem of evil…it’s a problem with God.

          • When good is evil both have become meaningless and you no longer have any basis for asserting either that they exist at all, or that they can be distinguished.

            Separate the concept of an all benevolent God from the baggage of all ANE religions and wrestle with the concept there. God is either malevolent (in which case we are getting off easy), impotent (in which case, evil will triumph), or, if God is indeed both great and good, he is permitting evil for a season for reasons we can’t understand, and will ultimately triumph over it.

            Regardless of your particular religion, only one of those offers any hope. You can much more easily fit that in with the NT than the OT, but then you’re still left with a Christ who honored the OT.

        • Danielle says:

          Miguel, good thoughts. I suspect we are mostly on the same page. When I say that God spoke to ancient tribes, no doubt the prophets were a prime conduit for it. But also, the prophets’ messages were to and for the community, hence the focus of my comment (both focuses are true). Likewise, we might add Torah and the ancient worship of the community into the picture, including the Arc and later the Temple. Not to diminish the role of the prophets at all, but just to point out the texts and ancient rituals involve a people. The story is not just a “national identity” story; it also involves their understanding and experience with God. A small vessel, easy to shrug off for a modern academic post or from Rome, but holding a big thing.

          What really confounds everyone, and what Paul spends ample time in the NT canon ruminating over and explaining, is that Jesus is the fulfillment to all of it. He is the prophet — and the rest as well.

          “God showing up” is indeed not what we expect, but rather than looking for divine intervention, I believe the NT calls us to see how Christ is all in all, by finding him in the people who are suffering around us.”

          Agreed. And this is why people’s stories matter. Not because people are the end of all things (although as a historian, not a theologian, I tend to narrate with reference to human experience), but because God made it so.

          BTW, didn’t know you were gone (I’ve been laying low too). But I want to say congrats. Three boys! That’s fantastic.

      • “…God Shows Up. God is both nearby and not what one expects.”
        So true, so often.

        “Because God didn’t speak to the ancient Semitic tribes. In fact, the begged him not to, lest they die. He only spoke to the Prophets, and according to Hebrews 1, he does so no longer, but rather, speaks to us through the voice of Christ. ”
        Thank you. A difficult concept culled into two sentences. I am going to write this down.

  4. Andrew Wilson takes a look at this book in September 2014 on Christianity Today’s website.

    He has some good questions for Enns. One sentence sums up a concern he has:

    ‘it is never clear what it actually means for the Bible to be the Word of God. How might the Scriptures call us to repent, to die to ourselves, to change, or to do anything other than listen to a spiritual conversation?’

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/september-web-only/bible-is-more-than-mystery.html

    • –> “…it is never clear what it actually means for the Bible to be the Word of God.”

      Actually, what is clear – and the Bible itself even says so – is that JESUS is the Word, not the Bible.

    • How might the Scriptures call us to repent, to die to ourselves, to change, or to do anything other than listen to a spiritual conversation?

      He sorta betrays his bias with this. It reads very much like a revivalistic, walk down the aisle to the altar, heal our land, you are desperately in need of reconciliation through repentance, type of Christianity. Very little to do with the loving others and Sermon on the Mount parts.

      What if, just maybe, the Bible does not do those things? Or to the degree Wilson thinks they should. What if all that is part of the cultural Christianity we need to throw off.

      • Exactly. Even discounting the cultural ‘distance’ (and the important influence of ancient values like honor and shame), if one reads Jesus’ teaching in the synoptics, other than his condemnation of the Pharisees (particularly in Matt 23) one finds relatively little (if any) of that kind revivalism or pietism. What one does seem to find is a call to loyalty to Jesus, in light of the coming of the Kingdom, and to an ethic that emphasizes community far more than personal piety. One finds this in Paul as well, if we get past the old canard about ‘justification by faith’ being the hill he’s willing to die on. Paul is far more concerned about how his churches get along than he is theological issues, and more concerned about how the actions of his readers affect community than he is about ‘morality’ for the sake of morality (e.g. ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality . . . that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter’ – 1 Thes 4:3-6). As has been noted many times in many ways on this site, evangelicalism is much more a product of the Reformation heritage, and the American frontier experience, than what one finds in the Bible (and that cultural distance between us and the ancient world raises even more questions about what ‘faith’ should look like today)..

    • Dana Ames says:

      Christ is risen!

      Ken,

      in all of the early Christian sources I have read – including most instances in the Bible – the phrase “Word of God” is used to refer to Jesus Christ – not anything written down, or otherwise declared by God. The word used to refer to what was written down, or declared, is “scripture.”

      Dana

      • Voistynu voskres! (how I love google. and wikipedia.)

        Dana, is it still Easter time in EO?

        I learned the only Ukrainian I know, Khrystos voskres (Christ is risen), in a little Ukrainian diner in lower Manhattan about 35 years ago. I think it was written on some painted eggs. I would go back to that diner again for the kasha, if I ever get back to NYC.

        He is risen indeed!

        • Dana Ames says:

          Ted,

          It’s Easter time until the day before Ascension 🙂 – but our Epistle readings since Easter have been in the book of Acts, because we’re anticipating the next thing, the announcing of the Good News of the Resurrection to Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the earth…

          Khristos voskrese/voistinu voskrese (or local variation) is the standard Slavic greeting pretty much everywhere. Since we have folks from Greece, Romania, Serbia and Eritrea in our parish, we get some variety. We have had a Norwegian intern priest for the past couple of years, so we have done it in Norwegian, too 🙂

          D.

  5. Burro [Mule] says:

    Father Stephen Freeman is fond of saying that the Bible is primarily an Icon, and that its representation of its subject matter is iconic rather than literal, moral, or allegorical.

    When I was just becoming Orthodox, I often wondered why the Orthodox Church didn’t venerate photographs of such recently departed saints as Saint Paisios, St. John Maximovich, or St.Nicholas of Ži?a. After all, isn’t a photograph a more faithful representation of the saint than an icon?

    Strange enough, it was two verses in the Bible that gave me what is at least starting to be an answer. The first is a verse that is usually used by Protestants as a proof-text against iconodulia, which is 2 Cor 5.16 Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. What the icon depicts is not the important part of the person (or Person) presented for our contemplation. The art of the iconographer is to make visible that which is invisible (2 Cor 4.18), and that is the meditation of the Church upon the Saint. As the Most Holy Mother of God contemplated the sayings of the shepherds in her heart (Luke 2.19), so the Church has been contemplating the Bible for thousands of years, and as water flowing over the stones, some of the sharp edges have been smoothed out.

    A long while ago, I soured on the use of reason as the only tool for the understanding of the Bible. It appeared to me that the only tool for beholding the Bible was the whole Church, so interpretation tends for me to be an ecclesiological issue. The modern hesitancy about using the Bible as a moral compass allows other, less reliable, candidates to present themselves.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Christ is risen!

      Well said, Mule.

      I’m recovering from jet lag and and I’m a little fuzzy today… I wanted to write on an earlier thread that the primary way of interpreting Scripture for me has become the context in which it is used in the Liturgy and the Hours. Its iconicity in prayer has become more apparent to me the longer I am Orthodox, as I try to actually listen during the services. It is there that the interpretation is evident, if one has ears…

      In accepting the Orthodox interpretation, it’s not that I have given up the use of my rational faculties. It’s that the iconicity both satisfies and goes beyond my personal need for rationality. It rings true to reality itself.

      Dana

      p.s. Have you found work yet?

      • Burro [Mule] says:

        the primary way of interpreting Scripture for me has become the context in which it is used in the Liturgy and the Hours.

        Isn’t that the case? It’s a prick in my side to attend more vespers and matins services,

        Thank you for asking,but I haven’t found permanent work, but being semi-retired and doing gigs has its rewards. I’d like to be a classroom teacher, actually, so I’m taking courses towards that.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Good for you. My regular job has been fading away, so last year I jumped through the hoops and got a Substitute Teacher credential. I generally work 2-3 days a week, which is all I can handle physically and mentally at age 61, but I really like being around the kids – sometimes I remember to pray for them…

          D.

  6. Robert F says:

    It’s good to see Miguel back and commenting.

  7. Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them all the things about himself in all the scriptures. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

    They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, arguing all the way as to what Jesus had said and what it meant. They told the disciples what had happened to them, and the disciples began to argue as to what it meant.

    While they were still arguing over this, Jesus himself stood among them and asked them, “What are you arguing about? These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” And the disciples began to argue among themselves as to what he had meant.