Review of Peter Enn’s book, Inspiration and Incarnation

I’ve just read the first chapter in Peter Enns’ book, Inspiration and Incarnation. Rather than read the entire book and then produce a formal book review, I’ve decided on a slightly different approach. I’m going to write my review as I’m reading the book.

Certainly, this approach may have some inherent dangers: I may make a big deal out of something that gets clarified later, or I may pass over something that becomes significant later. But it has the pedagogical benefit of displaying in a hands-on way how a book gets read.

My reviews will follow a simple outline. The “Summary” section will try to encapsulate the author’s main idea in a brief paragraph or couple of paragraphs. The “Responses” section will offer some reaction to what the author has written so far.

 

Chapter 1 of Inspiration and Incarnation, “Getting our Bearings”

Summary:

In this first chapter, Peter Enns presents his foundational concept  concerning inspiration, a concept he calls “incarnational analogy.” Drawing on the concept of Christ’s humanness and divinity, he argues by analogy that the Scriptures ought to be considered in full light of their humanness as well as their divinity. This adjustment in perspective, he argues, will inform our perspective when we encounter problems in the Old Testament.

Enns aims to examine three “problem” issues related to the Old Testament: 1. The Old Testament and other literature from the ancient world (the question of the Bible’s uniqueness) 2. Theological diversity in the Old Testament (the question of the Bible’s integrity) 3. The way in which the Old Testament authors handle the Old Testament (the questions of the Old Testament’s interpretation)

A point of clarity seems appropriate. Taking this chapter as a whole, Enns is suggesting a reorientation of the evangelical approach to inspiration, not its abandonment. The last few sentences of the chapter make this point in a helpful way. Speaking of the Bible’s humanness he notes, “when God speaks, he speaks in ways we would understand. With this in mind, we can now look at some of the evidence that has been part of the scholarly conversation for several generations, not to determine whether the Bible is God’s word, but to see more clearly how it is God’s word.” (Enns, 21, emphasis original)

 

Responses:

For quite some time, I’ve been noting the similarities of the Old Testament to ANE literature: the similarities of Deuteronomy, for instance, to various treaty forms of the second millennia BCE. I have found  this comparison helpful for the insight it provides.

The big question I’m wrestling with is how this “incarnational analogy” will guide one’s approach to Bible difficulties. I readily admit that my approach to difficulties such as the David’s treatment of the Gibeonites in 2 Samuel 21 is more theological than anything. Would a greater appreciation of the Old Testament’s humanness inform my approach to this problem passage?

I hope to answer these questions and more as Enns fleshes out his argument first in relation to the Bible and ancient literature.

 

Preaching and Sacred Music

Haddon Robinson writes of preaching, “A preacher can proclaim anything in a stained-glass voice, at 11:30 on a Sunday morning, following the singing of hymns. Yet when a preacher fails to preach the Scriptures, he abandons his authority.”

With these words Robinson places a filter on preaching. He is not suggesting that the only acceptable words in a sermon are the actual words of Scripture. For Robinson, preaching includes the reading of Scripture, but also includes much more: explanation, application, and even illustration.  The central issue is that each of the words spoken serve the task of bringing the Scriptures to light.

I believe a similar filter can be applied to sacred music. This is not to suggest that sacred music must be limited to the songs contained in Scripture, though these songs have too long been ignored. It is, however, to suggest that a central purpose of music in the church is to communicate God’s truth.

So, sacred music must communicate the truth accurately. Not unlike preaching, if sacred music is to move beyond the transient power of sentimentality, is must fully engage the power of God’s eternal truth.

Solomon’s House and Biblical “Hinting”

At times my wife has made an observation. “The trash is getting really full.” Beneath that statement is not-so-subtle suggestion, “Honey, please take the trash out…now would be a good time!”

At times the authors of Scripture hint to us. The reader could mistake the narrative for a simple statement of the facts, but a careful reading unearths the real message being communicated. An example of this occurs in I Kings 6:37-7:1.

“In the fourth year the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid, in the month of Ziv. And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it. Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished his entire house.”

The chapter division in our Bibles skews the subtlety of this statement. The narrator, who has already given us a few other hints, juxtaposes these two seemingly benign historical facts. But the real message lurks just beneath the surface.

Paul House comments on this passage, “The palace takes nearly twice as long to finish. Presumably it is also larger and more costly. Some of these differences are natural, given the constant use of the royal residence and hall of justice. Still, the close proximity of 6:37-38 and 7:1 make the contrast quite obvious, even startling. The author leaves no doubt about the king in the reader’s mind…” (1, 2 Kings, NAC, 130).

As the story of Solomon unfolds, his misplaced priorities become more and more apparent and ultimately culminate in his demise. All the while, the narrator wishes for us to note that the extreme consequences of Solomon’s sin (the dividing of the kingdom, among other things) began with the subtle misplacement of Solomon’s priorities.

Faith that Takes Calculated Risk

Ruth 3 has long been a challenging passage to interpret. It is this chapter that records Naomi’s instructions to her daughter-in-law, Ruth, and the carrying out of those instructions. Recall that Naomi told Ruth to sneak down to the threshing floor where Boaz was threshing barley, to uncover his legs in the night, and to wait to see what would happen.

Some interpreters have presented the actions of Ruth as inherently sexual and seductive in nature. Scholars have debated the meaning of several key words contained in Ruth’s instructions and in the description of Ruth’s carrying out Naomi’s instructions. Three in fact (glh, sakab, and regel) have semantic domains that include euphemistic references to genitalia or sexuality. The careful interpreter must admit that to a small degree the text is ambiguous (though the sexual interpretation is not in line with the narrator’s portrayal of Naomi, Ruth, or Boaz).

The interpretation of these words aside, the possibility exists that Boaz may indeed misinterpret Ruth’s actions. Her actions, though not sexually suggestive, are bold, even daring. By carrying out Naomi’s plan, Ruth is taking a risk. Block summarizes it well: “Remarkably Ruth’s faith appears to be equal to that of her mother-in-law, for she gives herself wholly to carrying out Naomi’s scheme in full. Meanwhile the narrator challenges the reader to trust God the way these women do.”

Somewhere there exists a fine line between faith and foolishness. I suppose we all draw our own line. What is clear to me as I read this passage is that Ruth has drawn the line differently than I. She is willing to step out in true faith. The risks I am willing to take for the Lord are a bit more ‘calculated.’

Dire Circumstances and God’s Faithfulness

“Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God, my Father…” So the hymn goes, drawing our attention to the constancy of our God. To be quite transparent, there are days (and more than one in the average week!) where the faithfulness of God feels as distant as the finish feels in the last six miles of a marathon. To sing this song on such days feels disingenuous and even hypocritical.

In my Bible reading I was working through Lamentations. The verse on which this song is based occurs in chapter 3. What surprised me this time through was the utter bleakness that leads up to verses 21-23. Jeremiah is oppressed on every side. Jerusalem is in shambles at the hand of Babylonians and he has come to realize these dire circumstances were just (1:18) and purposed by God (2:8, 17). The imagery, however, is even more disturbing in chapter 3, where the Lord is depicted as personally causing the affliction to Jeremiah (3:10-13). To say that Jeremiah is having a bad day would be a gross understatement.

It is in this desperate and humbled position that Jeremiah calls to mind the faithfulness of God. Finding a connection between Jeremiah’s circumstances and God’s faithfulness is unimaginable, even absurd. But making this connection in this passage and in our lives is essential. In the darkness of challenging circumstances, assurance of God’s enduring faithfulness shines all the more brightly.

F.B. Huey comments on this passage: “The unbroken mood of despair was displaced by a beautiful affirmation of hope in spite of suffering…In the midst of chaos and depression, the poet revealed a deep faith in the trustworthiness of God.” (Jeremiah and Lamentations, NAC, 473). The steadfastness of God’s love for us stands in stark relief to the troublesome canvas of our lives. May God continue to remind us, and may we remind ourselves, of God’s enduring faithfulness.

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