Truly Great News – A Review of “How the Bible Actually Works” by Peter Enns

WiseBibleI have read (and used as teaching tools) two of Enns’ previous works: The Sin of Certainty and The Bible Tells Me So. Thankfully, I was able to receive an advance reader copy from HarperOne of How the Bible Actually Works in exchange for writing a review and being a part of the launch team for the book. And even though a well-meaning colleague (and supervisor for that matter) called me a heretic for carrying around the copy, I am more than happy to fulfill my obligations before being burned at the stake.1

However, it was with some other fear and trepidation that I approached this particular work of Enns’. The subtitle set off little alarm bells in my United Methodist self – “*In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather than Answers – and Why That’s Great News.” The word “ambiguous” was one that I do not believe that I had ever heard in serious Biblical Scholarship before. I chalked the subtitle up to Enns’ tendency toward the sensational and sometimes sarcastic and dove right in.

I have no problem seeing the Bible as either “ancient” or “diverse”. I have known for quite some time that it is important for us to understand the context of the Biblical writers and realize that the Bible does come from divergent opinions. I must say, however, that Enns breathed new life into the whole historical critical study method in several ways in How the Bible Actually Works. By nailing a third leg to this milking stool for the Bible, namely the thought provoking word “ambiguous,” Enns is able to show how to use the ancient, diverse text in new ways.2

Many people, including the most traditionalist of Bible readers, make the claim that “the Bible proofs itself” and that we should only judge “Scripture with Scripture.” Very few mean it. Peter Enns, however, doesn’t just mean it, he encourages us to start and finish our work with it. By using the way the Bible itself is structured, he challenges those of us who wish to take The Book seriously to read the Bible in the same way it written.

In an adroit manner, Enns prompts us to see a link between revelation (the act, not the last book of the Bible) and imagination3. Since biblical authors came from different times and were experiencing faith in sometime very different situations than previous people of faith – one just doesn’t know how important the Babylonian exile can be to faith until they read this book – what was revealed to their imaginations about God were quite different over time. Enns rightly calls this process of taking what was previously learned about God, adding the current experience, and working out what God is saying to the Biblical writer for that time, an act of wisdom. (Note to Enns and publisher…kill the capitol on “wisdom” in the subtitle…that usage makes it seem like the whole of Biblical writing is pointing back to the genre of Wisdom literature.)

But that is not the great news he has for us in this book. No. The great news is that by following the pattern of Biblical writing into current day Biblical interpretation, we are invited to continue the act of finding wisdom in the Bible rather than twisting and proof texting to some absurd level to try and make the Bible into some book of rules that should be followed. The living Christian faith is not basketball and we should not treat our bible the same as the rules for basketball. Yeah, Enns is stuck on baseball and that pinstripe wearing team of hackers from New York City, but we all know the best sports analogies come from basketball.4

As I said earlier, I read and taught from two of Enns’ previous works. At the end of them, I, along with others, were wondering, “Okay. This is good, but ‘what’s next?’” How the Bible Actually Works offers that “what’s next” and opens up the whole of creation for the human endeavor of understanding God as revealed in and through the Bible.

Is this book perfect? Far from it. Some, but not me, will indeed be put off by the lack of “scholarly sounding” writing. Others, like me, will tire of Enns promising “more on that later” – which I would humbly say is a real fault in his writing style. I didn’t go back and actually check, but I do not believe Enns came back to every single thing that he said he would. If I am wrong, I apologize, but it makes my point for me. There were too many of them to keep up with and I’m just short of being compulsive enough to go back and check each one. May those with eidetic memories make the proof that is needed!

Even with those slight problems, this is a great book. It needs to be read and reread often by those who take seriously the Bible and especially those of us who regularly teach and preach from the Bible. We have abdicated through laziness the effort that is really needed to understand such a holy book and Enns has offered us the possibility of recovering not just the proper discipline we need, but the hope that using this discipline will break us out of our sloth and allow us to find new ways to unify the ever splintering Christian kingdom on earth.

May wisdom be with you. (Yep…I crack myself up.)

The book is released on February 19, 2019 so go ahead and preorder your copies. (Yes, you will want extras to give to someone else so that you can talk through some of this stuff.)
ORDER HERE.

#wisebible #harperonepartner

@PeterEnnsAuthor @peteenns

1 – I must add that no real harm should come to this reviewer. Said colleague gladly accepted the loan of the previous works…then again…that could be in preparation for my trial. Hmmmm.

2 – Okay. This may not be all that new even according to Enns. He acknowledges the existence of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral towards the end of his book. May I just say, “Glory be!” and refer you to note four on that response.

3 – There is a fair amount of use of the words “imagining” and “reimagining” in this book. Some may find it a bit too human of an endeavor for reading the Bible and understanding God. My only response is, “What else do we have left to use?” Imagination and revelation are “pneumatically” linked in humanity. Either that or we are all drunk. Just read Acts 2:15.

4 – Sarcasm. (Yeah, this note may be seen as plagiarism. So noted. They wanted me to write the
review. Consider this an instance where this writer wishes he had thought of this idea first and didn’t have to “borrow” it.)

A Journey Toward the Trinity? Searching for Sunday (A Review)

I am not a millennial. I live with two of them in my home – well, one is part time now that she has gone to college. However, I have always had a difficult time figuring out which group I truly relate to the most. I could be a “Boomer”. No doubt my bowing to the god of consumerism labels me this way many times. I could be a “Gen-X” or “Buster”. God, my supervisors and my colleagues in ministry know that I have spent more than my fair share of time calling things into question. I enjoy upsetting the status quo just a little too much at times. Although my age would allow me to fit into either of these two groups – I was born in 1965 – I truly think of myself as part of the “Bridge” generation. (We have no “one” identity but find our tribe among many.) Perhaps that is why, even today, I find myself longing to listen more and more to voices of the “millennials” who have a relationship with doubt and questioning that I find exciting and fascinating, if not, at times, downright frightening.

SFS BookIt is because of this desire to hear the voices of millennials that I first started reading Rachel Held Evans’ work. It is why I have listened to her speak. It is why I am honored to be able to recommend her latest work, Searching for Sunday.

When I received my copy of Searching for Sunday, I immediately scanned the table of contents for the section on Communion. I knew the book was going to be organized around the Sacraments and the Eucharist has special appeal to me because I have learned so much about following Christ by being on both sides of “the Table.” It was in serving communion that I learned what a bold-faced judgmental hypocrite I was when I chose not to partake of Christ’s meal with a congregation I was serving because I felt their sin of racism somehow tainted the meal. It was in receiving communion that I learned what a beggar for grace I am and now only approach the Table with my hands held out. Sometimes, I will sit through a whole worship service with my hands cupped just so I can remember that grace is a gift.

So I decided to read that chapter first and then go back and read the whole book. Perhaps I wanted to take the book for a test drive around a topic that is near and dear to me. Perhaps I wanted to see if the part of the book which would be most important to me would live up to my expectations. I don’t know. I just wanted to read that section first.

I was not disappointed. My expectations were not only met, they were exceeded. Ms. Evans echoed the feeling I learned at that table in North Carolina when I thought I was too good to eat with certain people: “At Eagle Eyrie I learned why it’s so important for pastors to serve communion. It’s important because it steals the show. It’s important because it shoves you and your ego and your expectations out of the way so Jesus can do his thing. It reminds you that grace is as abundant as tears and faith as simple as food.”[1]

The power in telling any story, I believe, is as that story invites the reader in and allows them to find themselves somewhere in the narrative. This happened to me in a powerful way as I read “Communion” and happened again and again throughout the book. I am not a child of the evangelical church, I am and always have been part of a mainline denomination, the United Methodist Church. But still, I found myself in Evans’ narrative over and over and over again. As powerful as this connection to the story was around “Communion” it paled in comparison to how I felt the “guilt of silence” as I read the section “Vote Yes on One.” Silence seems to be the only way to survive in the UM Church these days.

I simply cannot tell you how great this book is for anyone searching for a reason to find faith again, or those who are sometimes wondering about the faith they have in the tradition they hold. Evans’ story of her journey shows how one can embrace evangelical, progressive and sacramental traditions as they follow Jesus. And this is a story for our time.

Recently, I read an article by Steve Harper where he said, “Staying together is a sacred act – a holy experience. We have become patterned to disagree and divide. But the witness in the Trinity is to unite and to be one.”[2] Evans poignantly tells us the sometimes tortured path that she took to get to that unity of past, present and future in her theology. Evans gives us the hope that we might one day do the same.

Read Searching for Sunday. Start your journey as well.

[1] Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans, Nelson Publishing, 2015, page 140

[2] “No More Sides”, Steve Harper, Circuit Rider Magazine, Feb/March 2015, The United Methodist Publishing House, page 27

Mystery of Prayer

(Inspired by March 11, 2014 www.pray-as-you-go.com and Matthew 6:5-14.)

thinking_rfid-e1337372097366

I am alone, yet not by myself.
Words rattle in my mind and fall into the very heart
of the One who Created, Is Creating, and Will Recreate.

Joy!
God is near always:
Jesus sits with me in prayer…
Labors in my work…
Grins when I am laughing…
Joins me in my struggles…
Nods in agreement as I forgive…
Cavorts with me in play…
Sighs with me in hunger…
Touches me as I tenderly reach out to my lover…
Cries at my frustration…
Joy!

The mystery of prayer?
The Kingdom will be found in one –
praying in an empty room,
yet never, never, alone.

Community of Grace??

zero-to-hero-badgeToday’s Zero-to-Hero challenge is one that is near and dear to my pastoral heart – building community.  However, this is a very different kind of community.  It is one of writers, thinkers, and bloggers.  For “Not Quite Home” the community I would like to hang out with and read more from time to time would have to include people who are willing to look for grace wherever it may be found – or wherever it finds them.  So, I did a search on “grace” and found some new (hopefully) friends that I intend to read.  They are not in any specific order, but I do recommend reading them.

http://www.dianewbailey.net/blog/

Not a WordPress blog but someone who looks for grace in the moment.  I look forward to reading her blog!  I found poetry and prose on this blog and though I am a great fan of poetry, I haven’t ventured into the sharing of poetry…yet.  There is powerful stuff here.

http://dimlyburning.com/

I read a few entries in this blog and I found a whole lot of promise from this blog by a mother.  I really hope to see more here.  I don’t know what it is about mom’s that allow them to see grace so clearly, even when the light is “dimly burning” but it is there more times than not.  I am glad she is sharing her thoughts and observations!

http://.wordpress.com/20totallyjoyouslyimperfect14/01/05/small_3547128317-jpg/

You had me from the title!  This is a blog that is just getting started but a whole lot of possibilities in this one. Sticking to that joyously imperfect theme makes a great companion on my so-called endless journey toward home.

http://pulpitshenanigans.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/burning-love/

A Presbyterian pastor with two tattoos…Okay, I’ve got to follow this one.   Yeah, I’m United Methodist and male but there are some things about being a pastor that, well, are just about being a pastor.  I laughed out loud at the thought of “white” tattoos of “Grace” and “Love.”  I’ve never had the boldness to take that step but will enjoy reading from someone who did.

http://abysparchemins.wordpress.com/

Finally, I will be honest and say that I thought I had to find at another guy beside the new blog above (the “imperfect “ one) to follow.  But the truth of the matter is that after reading about 25 extremely dogmatic and/or tired writings on “scriptural truth” I was beginning to get discouraged.  Do all male bloggers about “grace” feel like they have to have the right answers??? Eventually, my journey allowed me to stumble upon this breath of fresh air.  Glad it’s there.  Look forward to reading it.

http://geekergosum.wordpress.com/

Okay…just for fun.  Read this guy.  He’s hilarious!!

Thanks for taking the time to read this and yes, I recommend reading and following those listed above!

Peace!

Home Away from Homes…

I am an avid reader.  If you have any doubts, check out my book list on Goodreads.  (One of these days I am actually going to scan in all the books in my library, go through my Kindle and list every book but the list their now shows that I just love to read.

My Newest Book

just waiting to be read!!

Today I got a new book.  Haven’t even had time to “break it in yet” but did take the time to make sure it is going on my “First Edition” shelf, probably right beside Stephen King’s “The Stand.”

I think that one of the main reasons that I like to read is that a good book will carry me someplace other than the place that I am in right at the moment.  Rowling’s books on Harry Potter did just that.  King’s “The Stand” is one that I re-read quite often because it can take my imagination places I can never get to on my own.

For me, reading is part of the creative process.  It helps me be creative in ministry but more importantly, it helps me be creative in life.

Sometime over the weekend…I don’t know when exactly…but sometime, this little gem will get in my hands and begin to carry me somewhere else.

But I know…it won’t be far from home.

PS – One of the readers of this blog sent me this picture.  LOVE it!!