Inspiration, Incarnation, and Just a Bit of Confusion

March 1, 2013 § 2 Comments

I posted about Pete Enns’s Inspiration and Incarnation a couple of times as I devoured/slogged/re-read/underlined/scowled/fell asleep/chewed my nails/fist pumped my way through it. In this post my imagination went wild as I made my way through the first couple of chapters, and I jumped forward into application. And here I geeked out over the text-critical method Enns presents, when I was at the mid-point of the book.

And now that I’m finished, I’m not really sure what to say about this book in terms of reflection. I was stunned by Enns’s ability to articulate complex points with such clarity. Stunned, and overwhelmed—in this book a lot was going on in a pretty small space!

And despite finding so much in this book to say “YES!” to, I have a weird intuition that I disagree with some part of this book’s premise…but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. My thoughts are still a little mushy. The further I got into the book, the more familiar it seemed; whenever Enns moved away from his examples of diversity in the Old Testament to making an apology for his method, I felt like he was saying things that I heard all the time as I grew up in the evangelical church.

Did anyone else in the reading group have this feeling?

Because his basic argument seemed to be that evangelicals need to embrace the methods of good textual criticism and admit that the Bible was written in a historical context and for a purpose, among other things. But in my experience, evangelicals already affirm these things, even if it doesn’t affect their practice of interpretation in the same way that it affects Enns’s.

As far as my experience can attest (and as Enns admits) evangelicals do believe in the importance of contextual study—this means that evangelicals acknowledge that the Word is of a time and place and situation. Scripture is of a piece with the culture in which it was produced. I, for one, have never heard this contested in any church I have attended.

Most evangelicals would affirm that we bring our own cultural bias to our reading of scripture—why else would contextual study be important to them?

And most evangelicals—again, my only evidence is anecdotal—would agree that we should take authorial intention into account when performing interpretation, and that we should be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit when we come to scripture, and that we can see the Old Testament as pointing to Christ in creative and selective ways. It feels like Enns downplays the place of these beliefs in contemporary evangelical culture; but it seems to me that we uphold these things as ideals just as he does, it’s just that our practice is diverse and idiosyncratic.

It feels like he is saying, “You already put your trust in the method of interpretation I am presenting, but you don’t apply it right!” If that’s what he wants to say, I wish he would have made it more explicit. And maybe that’s my problem with understanding the book in general; I often found myself wondering if I was missing something, and wishing that Enns would speak more frankly as to his purpose.

(And maybe I’m not alone—Krista Dalton suggests here that Enns’s over-simplification of Jewish tradition in this book [and I would argue, evangelical tradition] might be a tactic that serves to make his argument more accessible.)

The problem is not that we evangelicals don’t affirm the “incarnated” nature of scripture (at least to some extent,) it’s that the culture won’t let us talk about it—as Enns might very well concur.

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§ 2 Responses to Inspiration, Incarnation, and Just a Bit of Confusion

  • Andrea says:

    Charity, I really think that whether this is the way evagelicals already read the Bible depends on the culture of the church where you live. By far, I have seem the opposite as true in the different areas of the country I have lived over the last few years. Culture dramatically shapes interpretation and application of scripture. I find Enns to crash down the many cultural walls I see built in specifically the southern churches I have attended. I’ll be working on a post about this sometime this week, but for now, those are my thoughts. 🙂

    • charityjill says:

      I think you are right. Enns probably has to essentialize evangelicalism a little bit for the sake of simplicity. Makes a lot of sense! I also think that I would have identified with his view of evangelicalism more in my early 20s, before I sought out some more “liberal” forms of evangelicalism. 🙂 Still, I really needed to hear a lot of what this book had to say; I want to read it again to fully absorb it. So well-written.

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