If This Is How the Bible Works, the Bible Doesn’t Work at All

If This Is How the Bible Works, the Bible Doesn’t Work at All by Robert W. Yarbrough  for The Gospel Coalition

Here is the subtitle to Peter Enns’s new book: In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That’s Great News. That rambling, whimsical description fits with the hokey front dust jacket, which sports three little hands pointing to a “Holy Bible.” The back cover promises “A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding the Mission of the Bible.”

In How the Bible Actually Works, Enns—professor of biblical studies at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania—argues that the mission of the Bible is to subvert much of what Bible-believing Christians through the centuries have thought about the Bible. If you’re such a Christian, you may think the Bible has answers to your questions. No, it rather reshapes the questions you ask. You may think Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. No, New Testament writers just radically reimagined the Jews’ ancestral God and imputed beliefs about Jesus to him. You may think the Bible tells you what God is like. No, it just recounts what other people in other places and times thought about God.

“God” to us is who we imagine him to be. That’s all he can be, because we’re bound by our conceptual and cultural limitations, while God is beyond all human knowing.

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Threadbare Conceptual World

Welcome to the conceptual world ushered in with a vengeance in the West more than 200 years ago with Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). It’s not clear why Enns gives the impression that he has just discovered this outlook. Since that time Christians have been pushing back against what became, and in Kant’s train remains today, methodological atheism in biblical studies. Enns simply embraces the thesis that the Bible’s God-talk is necessarily no more than futile ancient efforts (heavily redacted and embellished) to articulate the ineffable.

Christians the world over, especially in Africa and Asia and Latin America where Christianity is growing, hold that the Bible defies this thesis by claiming revelatory insights for its writers and culturally conditioned but transcendentally informed truth for its contents. But you won’t find in Enns’s treatment the international fellowship of robust Christian belief in Scripture as both a culturally located and also heavenly originated compilation of writings.

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