Tag Archives | Peter Enns

The Bible Tells Me So … | Peter Enns

The cover of Enns' The Bible Tells Me So ...Fear not.

Those two simple words comprise the most common command in the Bible. Ironically, though, many Christians live in—if not precisely fear—at least a certain uneasiness about scripture. Here are some of the big issues:

  • How could God command the genocide of the Canaanites?
  • How could God annihilate the entire human race in a flood?
  • Why do different passages of scripture take opposing views?
  • How can Genesis speak intelligently to the modern world?
  • How did Jesus and Paul get away with interpreting scripture so … creatively?

Many Christians repress or explain away these issues, but deep down, the tension remains.

Peter Enns confronts the questions head on. His solution is simple: the Bible isn’t an instruction manual on God, it’s the account of how flawed human beings experienced God.

Reading the Bible responsibly and respectfully today means learning what it meant for ancient Israelites to talk about God the way they did, and not pushing alien expectations onto texts written long ago and far away. (65)

If the Bible is analogous to incarnation (fully God and fully human), Enns swings the pendulum from our longstanding Evangelical Docetism (not fully human) towards the Ebionism (not fully divine) side of the spectrum.

Now, you may not agree with Enns. Many people don’t. (There’s a great joke in the Acknowledgements section about the “Evangelical Witness Protection Program.”) You do have to respect a man who is so transparent with his views that he lost his teaching post at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also handles these issues with a genuine laugh-out-loud sense of humour.

Whether you agree or not, “fear not.” God is more than big enough to handle our questions.

—Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So …: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (New York: HarperOne, 2014).

Ecclesiastes | Peter Enns

Death makes life absurd.

This is the message of Ecclesiastes in four words. Enns does a great job clarifying and emphasizing this point in his Two Horizons commentary.

The book of Ecclesiastes is a sandwich:

  1. Frame Narrator (1:1-11)
  2. Qohelet (preacher) (1:12-12:7)
  3. Frame Narrator (12:8-14)

The Frame Narrator begins by summarizing the Qohelet’s words (Life is absurd). Next, the Qohelet himself, assuming a royal persona, reaffirms the declaration that life is absurd since death levels the playing field.

The message of Ecclesiastes can be clarified when we look at the phrase, “the end of man,” repeated four times:

  1. The end of man is to be happy and do good while he lives (3:13)
  2. The end of man is to enjoy the prosperity God gives (5:19)
  3. The end of man is to die (7:2)

In the end, the Frame Narrator picks up on this key phrase and gently reminds the reader:

  • The end of man is to fear God and to keep his commandments (12:13)

The Narrator doesn’t deny or undermine the observations of the Qohelet. Instead, he agrees. Sure, live is absurd and death robs life of its meaning. In light of this, what can we do but serve God?

Enns’ commentary is a paragraph by paragraph reading of the text. This style of commentary makes it easy for the important themes to shine through. It also helps to guard against false isolated readings. Perhaps the greatest example of a wrongheaded reading of Ecclesiastes is the “Time” meditation in chapter 3. The Byrds transformed a statement of hopelessness into zen-like tranquility. The Qohelet was far more frustrated than Pete Seeger was at life!

The commentary proper is only half of the book. After a thorough reading of the text, Enns reflects on in in the following ways:

  1. Theological Horizons of Ecclesiastes: Here Enns reflects on whether or not Ecclesiastes is Wisdom literature since the Qohelet has some negative things to say about wisdom itself. He also emphasizes the Qohelet’s negative view of God as well as how death makes life meaningless. “Ecclesiastes is a brutally honest book, and we will not profit from it if we tame it according to another standard, be it one gleaned from elsewhere in Scripture or of our own devising” (135).
  2. The Contribution of Ecclesiastes to Biblical Theology: Here Enns clarifies the relationship between Ecclesiastes and Job, Psalms, and Proverbs. Expanding outward from there, he reflects on Ecclesiastes as Second Temple theology—what if God himself is the problem? As the horizon broadens to the New Testament, Enns examines how Jesus embodies the one abandoned by God. The Qohelet’s words “give believers a glimpse—only a glimpse—of the hopelessness and despair of Christ’s passion” (171). Jesus also embodies the figure of wisdom himself.
  3. The Significance of Ecclesiastes for Theology and Praxis Today: Enns concludes with two ways that Ecclesiastes can influence theology and life today. The first concerns our understanding of the nature of Scripture. Ecclesiastes proves that contrary voices are welcomed by God. Enns evokes Brueggemann’s “countertestimony” to describe Ecclesiastes’ contribution. This welcoming of contrary voices is important for us to understand today. “If our model of Scripture is defined by too restrictive articulations of divine authority, infallibility, or even polyphony, we may run afoul of the contrastive power of books like Ecclesiastes” (198). The second contribution Ecclesiastes has to offer us is a renewed emphasis on honesty in the faith journey. If nothing else, the Qohelet proves that God honours honesty over propriety!

I’ve read Longman and Fox on Ecclesiastes. While they both have deep philosophical and linguistic insight, I found Enns commentary more helpful in understanding the overall force of the book. Enns allows the Qohelet to speak in all his quasi-blasphemous anger and frustration without trying to force him into a modern theological position. If you want one book to help understand the book of Ecclesiastes, this is it.

The Evolution of Adam | Peter Enns

For Christians, the nineteenth century was rough.

With these words, Peter Enns launches into a work that not only explains why Christianity was roughed up in the modern era but provides positive steps forward. It turns out Christianity deserved a lot of the treatment it received—and it’s not too late to change.

This book explains how it’s intellectually viable as well as biblically faithful to believe both evolution and the divine inspiration of scripture. To take things one step further, it’s unfaithful to the Bible to use it as a hammer in 21st century scientific arguments.

I appreciate Enns’ tone. He respects both sides in this conflict he’s trying to reconcile. His respect for the particular issues facing evangelicals is evident in the way he structured the book. The first half discusses Genesis and the reconciliation of Genesis with science. The second half takes seriously Paul’s arguments that use Adam as an historical figure. You will even get a primer in the new perspective on Paul.

The most eye-opening part of this book for me was Enns’ description of Adam as proto-Israel rather than proto-humanity. If you understand the time frame the Pentateuch was finished, this reading makes perfect sense. It also offers many fruitful areas for further contemplation such as the Orthodox understanding of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

One last comment. Enns is very good at making difficult concepts understandable. If you’re interested in a new approach to the old bible/evolution wars that ravage our congregations, give this book a read.

 

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