Thoughts on Book #11: Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns

imgresI started this book in an effort to, hopefully, answer some questions I’ve had for a long time regarding the Bible and its divine inspiration.  I grew up in a church that preached inerrancy on all points of the Bible, including historical and scientific accuracy (though not to the point of geocentrism).  Studying at Valley Forge Christian College made me wonder a little bit about the scientific aspect of it, and some personal reading put the idea of theistic evolution pretty much at ease in my mind, though I had little to back up what I thought. In the last couple years, the more I read about the Bible, the history behind it, and different critical methods with which theologians read it, the more questions arise regarding how I think about the Bible.

Peter Enn’s book Inspiration and Incarnation has been quite a breath of fresh air in the swirling mixture of criticisms and shouted rebuttals I’ve been swimming in for awhile now.  I have to admit, however, I had some expectations about this book that Enns was just going to blow inerrancy sky high, given the amount of controversy surrounding the book’s publishing and the vicious responses it prompted from many Reformed theologians such as DA Carson and GK Beale (whose book on inerrancy is on loan to me from a good friend in the Reformed camp; thank you, Angelo!).  This is why we don’t read reviews of books before reading the books themselves (ironically, that’s what you’re doing right now)!

Inspiration and Incarnation is Enns’ attempt to answer some problems that have arisen through research of the Old Testament, specifically its similarity to other ancient near-eastern texts, its theological diversity, and how the writers of the New Testament interpreted the OT in their context of Second-Temple Judaism (the period of time extending from 516 BC to 70 AD).  According to Enns, the Bible in these instances doesn’t exactly act “inspired,” but more “human.” Rather than abandoning the Old Testament as “just another ancient Near Eastern text,” Enns works to demonstrate how we must treat the Bible similarly to how we treat Jesus, as both human and divine.  By acknowledging the dual nature of Scripture in this way, Enns demonstrates a way to still hold the Bible’s inspiration by God while honestly examining what historical and archaeological research.

Enns writes in a style more geared toward the average reader in this book, his target audience being the average church-goer in evangelical circles, making this a less-than-scholarly work, but scholarly wasn’t Enns aim, so I don’t hold that against him.  If anything, it’s actually more helpful, especially for those of us who have been out of academia for a few years and are a little rusty on theological jargon.  The voice of the book is gentler than some other books that examine inerrancy, still pointing to evidence, but without beating people over the head with it.  Enn’s aim is to introduce these issues to evangelicals in a conversational manner, asking them to give thought to his work and roll the ideas around in their minds, rather than accept them without question. In a response article Enns wrote to one of his critics, he says the book “is intended to help the faithful deal with threats to their faith.”  It’s not a theological treatise, or some introduction to Biblical interpretation, and it shouldn’t be read as such.

What I find most interesting about this book is that it actually doesn’t aim to refute inerrancy at all, though it certainly does redefine it.  A friend of mine had the opportunity to interview Enns for a paper he was writing, and quoted Enns as saying that “the best way to define inerrancy is to say that every word of the Bible was intended by God to be there.”  That’s definitely not a bad starting point, in my opinion. Enns aims aren’t an outright denunciation of biblical inspiration, or even inerrancy, but I think he definitely sees a need to perhaps be a little more honest about the contents of Scripture and what the Bible actually looks like.

I highly recommend this book for any Christian who maybe has questions about the Bible and is looking for someone to lead them carefully through all the yelling and controversy surrounding this book without discarding it entirely.  Enns isn’t apologetic about the historical findings surrounding the Old Testament, but that’s because he doesn’t identify them as incompatible with a high view of Scripture.  It’s good stuff all around!

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Book #11: Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns

  1. I wish Enns’ writing on his blog was more like i&i. I find his blog writing less helpful and more cynical. I would wish more scholars attempted to bridge the gap between the church and academia. It seems, too me, that many scholars like to deconstruct, bring up problems, and critique what is taught at the pew level of the church, but don’t offer any solutions.

    • I do agree with you; he has definitely taken on a more cynical tone with his writing. I think this is due in part to his resignation from Westminster. The details surrounding this book eventually led to his decision to leave the school, but it wasn’t exactly on good terms. Though the faculty board voted that his work was within the confines of the Westminster Confession, the Board of Trustees voted to suspend him because of this work, which led him to resign.

      Perhaps Enns sees his blog as more of an outlet for his cynicism than his published work, though I have to say that, compared to some bloggers, he’s rather kind. I think he’s just tired of the same poor teachings staying in place when new ground needs to be broken, and it’s hard for me to blame him. That’s just my opinion; I have seen him be positive and constructive on his blog, but when it comes to responding to his critics (such as Ken Ham), his less compassionate side comes out quickly.

      • yeah, I read about his unfortunate situation at Westminster, and I have read other bloggers tear into inerrancy. I guess the difficult thing for me and other evangelicals I talk with is, if no to inerrancy then what? How should we view scripture? OK, we get it, and we are willing to listen to new ideas about how to view the bible, but the problem is there is not a lot between conservative evangelical ideas and the rather liberal idea of the Bible as purely human literature. Is there nothing between?

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