#16- Peter Enns on reading the Bible critically and religiously [MIPodcast]

  • Dr. Peter Enns is a Christian and scholar of the Bible who wants the Bible to be interpreted for what it actually seems to be (a collection of ancient texts with a variety of perspectives about how God relates to us and how we relate to God) rather than what people might think it is (a univocal, step-by-step rule book that unerringly teaches particular facts about God). He turns Evangelical devotion to the Bible against those who allow their devotion to obscure basic understanding of the biblical text. You say you love the Bible? You can show that love by letting the Bible be itself. That’s the message of his new book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. In this episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast we talk about how a committed believer can critically approach scripture. It’s the second in a two-part series featuring authors of the book The Bible and the Believer which asks: Does academic study of the Bible undermine its value or diminish the religious messages it contains? In the previous episode I spoke with Dr. Marc Brettler who covered a Jewish view of the question. Peter Enns, who represented a Protestant perspective, joined me via Skype. 

    About Peter Enns

    Peter Enns is Abram S. Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has taught courses at other institutions including Harvard University, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Princeton Theological Seminary. Enns is a frequent contributor to journals and encyclopedias and is the author of several books, including Inspiration and Incarnation and The Evolution of Adam. You can also follow him on his blog or Twitter
  • BLAIR HODGES: It’s the Maxwell Institute Podcast. I’m Blair Hodges. Thanks for listening to another episode. You might remember the last episode with Dr. Marc Brettler. He’s a Jewish scholar of the Bible. He was here talking about the book The Bible and the Believer. In that book a Jewish scholar, a Protestant scholar, and a Catholic scholar got together and asked, “Does academic study of the Bible undermine the value of the Bible or diminish its religious message? Is it difficult for people to approach the Bible both critically and religiously?” In this episode we are joined by Dr. Peter Enns. Dr. Enns is the Protestant contributor to that book and he actually just put out a new book himself. That book is called The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. Dr. Enns feels that although critical scholarship can change a person’s relationship to the Bible, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. In fact it can help strengthen faith. It’s Dr. Peter Enns in this episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast.

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    BLAIR HODGES: We’re talking about Protestantism in biblical criticism of biblical scholarship in this episode with Dr. Peter Enns. He’s a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. Welcome to the Maxwell Institute Podcast, Dr. Enns, and thanks for coming to the show.

    PETER ENNS: Thank you, Blair, for having me. It’s great to be here.

    HODGES: Is it Dr. Enns? Is that what I’m supposed to go with on this one or Peter?

    ENNS: I don’t know. You know, you can call me Pete. Just my wife and kids call me “Doctor.” Everybody else just calls me my first name.


    HODGES: Good, that’s good. Good, good, good. Alright, so you’re an evangelical Christian, right? You’re a Protestant and you’re also a biblical scholar. You’ve put a lot of books out that talk about the Bible from an academic perspective, from the perspective of a believer. There’s one particular book, The Bible and the Believer, that you co-authored with a Catholic scholar and a Jewish scholar. I’ve actually spoken with Marc Brettler, the Jewish scholar, and so he precedes you. You’re writing from the perspective of a scholar and a believer. Your new book is called The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. This is a new book from Harper that just came out. So we’re going to kind of talk about these books and your experiences.

    One of the things that stuck out to me as I was reading The Bible and the Believer is you say that many evangelicals or Protestant Christians who become exposed to biblical criticism begin what you call “a long and unsettling spiritual journey.” That was interesting to me because it’s scholarship that’s being thought about here by people and it sets off this unsettling spiritual journey. Is that kind of how it worked for you? I’m interested in your story, how you got into this situation as a scholar and believer.

    ENNS: I appreciate you saying “many,” because it’s not all. You know, there are people within this very broad spectrum of believers called evangelicals that negotiate and navigate these things differently. For me it wasn’t as unsettling as it might have been for others, largely because I wasn’t raised in an evangelical home. I became a Christian when I was a teenager, although I was raised sort of Lutheran by my parents, but they had this sort of European approach to faith, which is, it’s fine just don’t let it get out of hand, you know, it’s not something you sort of act on all the time.

    HODGES: Right.

    ENNS: So for me I didn’t have some of the same baggage, to put it that way, as some people might have when they encounter, you know, the modern study of scripture that’s been going on for a few hundred years now. So yeah, it wasn’t as unsettling for me.


    HODGES: So why did you get interested to begin with in doing academic work in scripture?

    ENNS: Well, I think I can boil it down to one incident in my life that sort of pushed me in this direction. Originally I didn’t know I was going to head in this direction. It was after I graduated college I met with a couple of friends of mine. One of them went to a Christian college and the other one went to a state university, who was atheist and a philosophy major, and my friend went to a Christian college and unlike me he learned a lot. I didn’t learn too much when I went to college. I played baseball and that was pretty much all I cared about. I was watching these guys talk about God and deep philosophy, and I thought to myself, my goodness gracious, it just hit me like a lightning bolt. I didn’t learn anything about this faith that I say I have.

    That sort of really pushed me into reading and reading anything I could get my hands on that had anything to do with the Bible or Israelite history, or New Testament, or theology, or anything, and three years later I find myself in seminary. Not really to train to be a pastor but just because I wanted to know things. I was on an intellectual journey or quest and that wound up after four years of seminary I was sort of morphing between at one point church history, then New Testament, but then I settled on Old Testament about halfway through my time in seminary. And Park, as one of my teachers, did the math for me. He said the Old Testament is about four times the size of the New and there are about four times as many jobs out there. I said that was a really good point.

    HODGES: So you were thinking at that point of going into the academy further on then?

    ENNS: I was, yeah, in seminary and—

    HODGES: For you what other options would have been available? Because Mormons don’t go to school to become trained for their ministry, right? So like what kinds of options are open to a Christian as you were going to school?

    ENNS: Well, you know, it depends. If you go to a denominational seminary usually what they do is they train people there for some type of pastoral ministry or missionary work or also to go on for further study. My seminary wasn’t actually denominational. It was part of a theological tradition, but it wasn’t denominationally Presbyterian or Lutheran or something like that. But even there people are trained, and most people who go to seminary wind up doing some type of church vocational work, whether it’s in a mission field or whether it’s in a church as a pastor, as a youth pastor, as an education person, or sometimes, for example, teaching in Christian high schools. Things like that, so there are a lot of options.

    HODGES: But you were sort of thinking you wanted to go on and do university stuff, right? And that’s kind of—

    ENNS: Oh I wanted to know everything. Yeah. I wanted to know things. So I knew I was going to go to a university.

    HODGES: And on a pragmatic level then your advisor was saying, “Look, the Old Testament that’s where it’s at because there is a lot more there, a lot more to work with, more jobs, etc.” Right?

    ENNS: Yeah, and there’s a little less cynical answer too, which is at least as important as that, which is as Christians one of the challenges has always been what do you do with the Old Testament? And I wanted to sort of wrap my arm around bigger questions of how do we handle a book that seems particularly foreign and distant for most Christians, including myself? A lot of that was spurred on by good professors and good teaching in seminary.


    HODGES: Some people when they first hear about some issues with the Bible, like you know, a scholar will say, “There probably wasn’t this huge exodus.” Right? “There might not have been an Abraham.” These are things that some biblical scholars will say, and that will unsettle some Christians who will say, “Woah, that seems to threaten the foundations of my faith here.” So did you feel that existential threat at any point? Or for you was it more like, “Wow, these are some really interesting things to study?” What direction did it hit you from?

    ENNS: I think both, but not in seminary. It was more going to graduate school where, you know, and in The Bible Tells Me So I talk about this at some length, not too much length I hope, where I felt as if information that many people take for granted outside of an evangelical world I was almost sort of shielded or protected from in seminary, or it was sort of spun in ways that wouldn’t make too many waves. In that sense going to graduate school and listening to people, and listening to arguments, or reading books, things started making a lot of sense and there was both an excitement dimension to it, because you’re discovering something, but also at times an unsettling dimension. Many a time I would just sit there and say, “This has implications for what I think I believe and I need to start working these things out.”

    HODGES: What did you feel, I mean so you’d been going to seminary, what did you feel toward your teachers and people who had sort of, maybe you felt, just simply avoided these things or sort of ignored them? Was there any sense of feeling like, “Hey, my education should have been better than that”? What kind of sense did you have for what your education had been up to that point when you realized there was more to the story?

    ENNS: I think I came to that realization that you’re describing maybe a little bit later, but you know while I was in graduate school I didn’t really think in a sour way backwards to my seminary curriculum, because in part one thing I was taught was don’t be afraid to put things on a shelf. You don’t have to settle answers as soon as you hear something. Just think about it, it’s fine. So I sort of even went in with the mentality where I might not have been informed in terms of content or data, let’s say, but I had a disposition that was formed that allowed me to sort of say, “Listen, I’m not really sure how these pieces fit together, there are many more pieces than I thought there were, and they’re weird shapes. I just don’t know how they fit. But it’s okay. It’s not about having the final answers for those things.” And that’s very a much a temperament that I’ve taken with me and I’ve held with me now for twenty-five years or so.


    HODGES: I wonder if the position of the Bible in Protestantism has something to do with your ability to be a bit more flexible there. So let’s sort of zoom out a little bit and talk about Protestant for a Mormon audience and what the word “Protestant” indicates. You say it sort of covers a wide range of perspectives, right?

    ENNS: Right, absolutely. We can talk about, oh boy, what Protestantism is, it’s a good way to get into trouble, you know, cause there are different Protestants and they think differently. I’m not sure if that has actually helped make me more flexible. I think that might have, for me at least, created some barriers that I’ve had to navigate around because of how, let’s say, conservative Protestantism, let’s just say evangelicalism, sort of approaches the Bible and what the Bible is expected to do. So I’m not sure if Protestantism is really the gateway that opened these great doors for me to walk through. I had to sort of knock on them for a while and force my way in.


    HODGES: Well one of the things I’m thinking specifically is, for example within Catholicism, you have scripture, and you also have tradition, and you have church leadership that sort of serves as an arbiter that looks at scripture and helps drive interpretation of it, right? I know there are Catholics who have many takes on the Bible, there’s a spectrum in Catholicism as well as Protestantism, but it seems generally there’s a bit more institutional pressure within Catholicism to where you have to sort of align yourself with these official views of particular scriptural injunctions or scriptural interpretation whereas with Protestantism it seems more possible to shift to a different area of Protestantism. You mentioned conservative, there’s fundamentalists who read very literalistically, right? And you don’t have to attend that. As a Protestant you can choose another denomination, right? So you were already aware that there are different takes on the Bible and then you get to sort of do your own exploration and then kind of go from there. Does that make sense?

    ENNS: That makes a lot of sense. See the irony, though, is that you will find within the Roman Catholic world tremendous engagement with historical critical biblical scholarship, which is just a way of saying modern biblical scholarship. There’s a papal stamp of approval from Pope Benedict, at least I read it from him, where there’s an embrace of the methodologies of historical criticism, but not necessarily the philosophy behind it. And, you want to be careful in how you negotiate church doctrine, which is a temperament I very much agree with. And you can do that very much in certain quarters of Protestantism, more mainline or so-called liberal Protestantism, that they don’t really have a problem with that.

    But from within a conservative world you have the doctrine that trumps all doctrines, which is the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. And even though that’s defined in many different ways, and nuances and intelligent people hold to it and all that sort of stuff, still it creates a feeling that in my experience is very low, where if you are a biblical scholar it’s sort of hard to stand up in the room upright and make cases and make arguments because there’s only so far you can go.


    HODGES: Let’s talk about inerrancy. Flesh that out, define that. Give my listeners an idea about how that looks from within a Protestant perspective. Cause we’ve heard a lot of caricatures of what that means, but I think there’s more of a spectrum of how that’s used, I guess.

    ENNS: Absolutely. The spectrum means a lot to people. The term has a lot of meaning, a lot of social capital, let’s say, in different Protestant circles. So it really is difficult to define inerrancy in a way that’s going to make everybody happy because you have people in different ends of the spectrum of inerrancy that think the other end of the spectrum are crazy and they don’t want to listen to them. But basically you expect the Bible to give you more or less basically accurate historical information, accurate moral guidance, and the Bible reveals God as he is to us. You don’t disagree with a biblical teaching. You don’t argue with the Bible; you don’t debate with the Bible. You take it as the information is presented to you.

    Even as I say that, I know there are some people who are narratives who would disagree with that definition. I want to hold to it, I think it works pretty well. The more generous narratives would say something like, “The Bible is without error and everything it teaches and affirms.” Which is a helpful starting point, but the question then turns very quickly to “what is the Bible teaching or affirming?” and that’s not an easy thing to sort out. I think once you start defining those terms you get into some debates that are just waiting to happen but the Bible is central and everything is based on biblical teaching. It’s a completely reliable and infallible rule to faith and to life and that’s more or less maybe one way of expressing inerrancy.


    HODGES: I think that speaks to the centrality of the Bible from an authority standpoint within Protestantism. So I mentioned a little bit about Catholics, like as you mentioned the Pope gave his blessing to certain methods of modern biblical scholarship, but for Catholics that blessing was important because of the way their church is set up. I think for Latter-day Saints it would be similar with their prophets, seers, and revelators, their Quorum of the Twelve, and these authorities that sort of guide scriptural interpretation within the church. So Mormons have scripture and church authorities. Catholics have scripture and church authorities. For Protestants it seems like scripture sort of… and wasn’t that sort of Luther’s whole point? Sola scriptura, this is it.

    ENNS: Well, correct. You know, one caricature of sola scripture, scripture alone, is that it’s literally scripture alone and nothing else. The reformers did have tremendous respect for the good part of church tradition. You know, not all of it, but they realize that this is a tradition that goes back to the apostles and they’re not just making something up here with the Bible, so they—

    HODGES: And it didn’t seem to count for the Bible either, right? That’s sort of how they would judge those things, right? Like, this particular tradition isn’t contradicted in the Bible.

    ENNS: Yeah. Exactly. They would use the Bible as the basis for adjudicating whether the traditions are true or not.

    HODGES: Yeah.

    ENNS: So you know that’s a good idea in theory, if I can put it that way, and it is. We want to listen to the Bible, and I actually agree with that. We don’t want to make a move without engaging the Bible very, very seriously. But it is in the wake of the Protestant reformation that you start having multiple denominations and translations of the Bible. One thing that Luther did was translate the Bible into German, which sort of unified the German language, but it also let more people read it. Once people read it they start disagreeing about what it means.

    So sola scriptura is, you know, we want to pay attention to it but there always has to come, within Protestantism, there’s always an authoritative office of some sort that comes into play, except for Protestants it’s not one central office. It’s each denomination has it’s own way of doing things and you’re answerable to that particular denomination. So they don’t all operate the same way, but you have some type of, with a lowercase “p,” papal authority in Protestant churches. In a popular sense there are Protestants and evangelicals and fundamentalists who sort of insert themselves in the national dialogues in ways that almost functionally for some people makes them national figures and “if this person is saying this we need to be following along with them.” So these things happen in a de facto way.


    HODGES: Like who? Like for example are you talking about people like Pat Robertson or are there more… because he seems just more sort of charismatic and got his own thing. Are there other figures that sort of serve as bellwethers for Protestants?

    ENNS: Well for some. Not for all Protestants. But somebody, like Al Mohler, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a good example of someone who has a microphone and a very large audience, which isn’t to say that Protestants follow in his footsteps, they don’t, not even Baptists follow in his footsteps, but there’s still a national platform that has a certain authority to it to where at least people will be cautious to contradict.

    HODGES: Okay, that’s—

    ENNS: But again, Protestantism is a broad thing. I’m being very careful here not to suggest that, you know, there is no one person who speaks in the same way for all Protestants as there would be someone speaking for all Catholics.


    HODGES: Right. So, and again for that reason, the Bible really serves as the ground which everyone sort of goes to arbitrate differences. So the Bible is so central that way. And that’s sort of what sparked Protestantism is sort of democratizing access to the Bible which led to different interpretations, which led to different denominations, and this sort of thing. What’s interesting in The Bible and the Believer you write that you encourage Protestants to turn that Protestant spirit inward. Can you expand on what you meant by that?

    ENNS: Yeah, it’s a matter of being self-critical, not only simply critical towards others that you disagree with, but critical towards yourself. To always going back to scripture. To reexamining even some things that you hold most dear. I think that’s the true Protestant spirit, to sort of turn it inward, and not always turning defensive or an attacking way towards people on the outside, which does happen. Because when you do have different denominations they all say we believe in the Bible, we read it, we listen to it, we follow it, yet they disagree. So what they really mean is not the Bible, but the way we’ve come to understand the Bible in our tradition, that’s our authority.

    So that can very quickly turn into simply a process of defining yourself over against the other and you know you’re right, you’re just defending yourself against another denomination or another tradition on the outside, which means you’re always in battle mode. You’re always in combat mode. You don’t have time to sort of reflect and say, “You know, a lot of stuff happened in the past 300 years. Maybe we need to rethink some things and to do it with a sense of expectation that maybe God is a part of our rethinking, not just a part of holding onto what we’ve always thought.”

    HODGES: And you think that biblical scholarship should be a component that Christians use to help do that self-evaluation?

    ENNS: I think it should definitely be a part of the conversation and not, as it sometimes is, ignored unless it provides the right answers.

    HODGES: Okay, so there are instances where people are fine with using biblical scholarship when it reaffirms something that they’d already like to advance. Is that kind of what you’re saying?

    ENNS: That’s correct, yeah.

    HODGES: And you’re saying that’s kind of unfair. That if you’re going to make use of scholarship it needs to be across the board, it shouldn’t just be piecemeal and selective that way.

    ENNS: That’s right. And piecemeal is a good word. Just in my experience I’ve seen the Protestant conservative academia, let’s put it that way, which involves biblical scholarship, much of what they do, and again this is getting somewhat reductionist in some of these things, but much of what they do is preserving pre-critical and in some cases pre-modern ways of thinking, but having to use modern methods to do it. But to use those modern methods and come to some modern conclusions in as minimal a way as possible to still preserve those pre-modern, pre-critical theological tendencies. And that creates a significant tension within biblical scholars in the Protestant world who say, “You’re just trying to protect inerrancy here. And no one thinks this way about this issue than these people here in this room, so maybe we should be scholars and not sort of sit here, but move beyond that and maybe it’s time to rethink some of these things.”


    HODGES: And that can be hard to do, right? I mean, in Bible and the Believer you actually go through three specific obstacles that you say help disincentivize some Protestants from making good use of biblical scholarship. The first one we kind of talked about a little bit already, sola scriptura, that’s the first one that you bring up, and that’s strictly translate the Bible alone. But you pointed out how it’s more complicated than that, that no one can really go just by the Bible alone, because any reading of the Bible includes interpretation; it’s sort of built in with it. Is that fair to say?

    ENNS: That’s correct, yeah.

    HODGES: A lot of people say, “Sola scriptura, just open up the Bible and just go with what the Bible says and then call it good.” And you’re saying the problem with that is that you already have so many different interpretations that just saying “we go by what the Bible says” already poses a problem. So scholarship—

    ENNS: No one approaches it without a bias or without a precondition of some sort.

    HODGES: Right. So then scholarship can be recruited then sort of to either prop up preexisting conclusions or challenge preexisting conclusions, and that’s where some of this tension comes from when you put critical readings of the Bible next to devotional readings of the Bible, this idea that who’s in charge here? Scholars or God’s word, kind of a thing?

    ENNS: Right, exactly. That’s sometimes the way it’s pitted, which is very unfortunate, but that’s quite common actually.

    HODGES: So that’s kind of the first obstacle, that sola scriptura. The second obstacle that you bring up is just sort of the overall nature of the Christian bible. And you contrast a Christian reading of the Bible with Jewish approaches, and you mentioned this briefly earlier, just that your interest as a Christian in the Old Testament was partly spurred by wondering how these two books are related. One of the things I really liked the way you worded this, you said, for Jewish approaches versus Christian approaches, you said, “For one group the Bible is a word to be declared, whereas for Judaism scripture is a problem with many facets.” Can you unpack that a little bit?

    ENNS: Much of the history of Jewish engagement with scripture has been very willing to debate with each other and even debate with scripture as part of what it means to be faithful to God. It’s built into the system, so to speak, to have these kinds of debates or dialogues. One of the easiest places to see this is in the Talmud which is, you know, this compilation of revered Jewish teaching, where you have rabbis arguing back and forth about what things mean, but then you move onto the next topic; you don’t have to resolve it.

    HODGES: Right.

    ENNS: Much of Christian theology, and this is certainly true of Protestant evangelical theology, is that you can’t do that with the Bible and still have it be authoritative. So you want the Bible not to be sort of a multifaceted dimensional thing and you can look at perspectives and things like that, but it has to have a message that you proclaim. And that, I think, creates some tensions when the Bible doesn’t behave that way, when there are contradictions or tensions or differences in perspective, whatever we want to call them, that are actually inviting some type of debate and dialogue. I think there’s a lot that Christians can actually learn from how Jews have handled their scripture historically.

    HODGES: Right. You talked about resisting the univocal text. So Christians can approach the Bible as though it tells this one single story, as though everything can line up, but then a problem happens when you start noticing fissures in the text, and contradictions, and things like that. What type of things might Christians bump into as they’re reading the Bible that starts to alert them to these issues?


    ENNS: A good example, and to people who have read the Bible a fair amount this is not a new thing, this is not a surprise, but the fact that the Old Testament contains two histories of Israel that are not the same, they’re not reconcilable. They present the history of the monarchy, David and Saul and all that stuff, they present the history of the monarchy from a very different angle, or a very different slant. They say things and you just can’t harmonize them. That is a window opening up, that’s a good thing, that’s an aid we have in the Bible with the kind of information we should expect from it and that maybe reconciling all these things because they’re problems that have to be solved, maybe they don’t. Maybe we’re expecting something from the Bible that it’s not really prepared to give us.

    I think the Bible itself, the way the Christian bible is set up, I think if we pay attention it demonstrates that for us. The big issue for Christians I think is how you have the gospel, which is that last part of the Christian bible, the New Testament, which itself is intentioned with various portions of the Old Testament. Not completely intentioned, but very much at various points intentioned. Things that are central to Israel’s life and faith are not central to the life and faith of what you read in Paul’s letters and other places in the New Testament. Things like temple, you know, is not central anymore, or land is not central anymore, circumcision is not central anymore, dietary restrictions are not central anymore, and some of these things fall away. Our own Bible has this dynamic quality to it where harmonizing and making sure each piece of the Bible is on exactly the same page, that becomes very stressful.


    HODGES: Right. A little further on we will go on to a few examples because in The Bible Tells Me So, much of the book is dedicated to confronting a few particular difficulties in the Bible that people pull out, so we will get to that momentarily.

    I’m speaking today with Dr. Peter Enns. He’s a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University. He’s the author of a new book, The Bible Tells Me So, and he also contributed to the outstanding book from Oxford University Press, The Bible and the Believer.

    So we’ve covered two of the obstacles, sola scriptura and the nature of the Christian bible. The third one that you bring up is nineteenth century Protestant identity. So we’re talking about the 1800s, mid to late 1800s, there were three historical forces that you say came to a head at this time: evolution, documentary hypothesis, and archeological historical discoveries. Can you expand on those? Give people a feel for what issues came up and how that complicated reading the Bible.

    ENNS: Sure. I mean, I’ll be brief as I can here. Those three issues combined was in a relatively short period of time, about 20-30 years—

    HODGES: Yeah, it’s like a perfect storm, right?

    ENNS: It was a perfect storm and I think I call it a “one-two-three punch to the gut” and the “knock-out punch to the jaw” where things that had been sort of uneasy about or questioned about now became much harder to deny, which is basically this, the Bible doesn’t give historical accounts the way we think of history. The Bible is doing something else and in fact the Bible might not even have been written any time near when some of these events were supposed to have happened. That’s a big blow for much of the history of Christianity which is, again, the church fathers you can’t lump into this category, but by and large the Bible gives you accurate information about what happened and you don’t really need to question that, whether it’s Adam as the first person or the exodus happened or the conquest happened or things like that. In the nineteenth century that started to change because you had scientific evidence for where life came from and that doesn’t line up at all with Genesis so you have to say, “My goodness, which one is right?”

    Archeological evidence that unearthed myths first from Babylonian cultures and then as time went on Canaanite culture and Egyptian culture that told stories of creation and of origins that are the same as the Bible, no not the same as the Bible, but they’re breathing the same air. They use concepts and language that are similar to each other and that puts the Bible, the biblical story of origins, into an ancient Near Eastern context rather than a modern one and so people sort of say, “Well, is it just a story, just like every other…”

    And the third issue is things that came out of biblical scholarship in France and Germany in the eighteenth century and even earlier that are boring and complicated to get into, but they have to do with paying attention to the Hebrew, and you can start discerning that there are different layers of authorship in various portions of the Old Testament, whether it’s the Pentateuch or Isaiah, or some other places, and that suggests that there are different traditions in ancient Israel that were recorded somehow, either orally or written, that existed and that were not brought together until sometime after the Israelites came back from Babylonian exile in 539 B.C.

    So in other words the Bible that we have is the result of a lengthy, hundreds of years at least, development and compilation that gets its final stamp of structure, it gives its final way of looking, its final story, its final parameters are given in the 400s, maybe 300s. Somewhere around there after the Israelites came back from Babylon and they had to record their story because they’ve been through a lot. Now they’re recording their story from their point of view, engaging older sources and older traditions, and not just making things up, but drawing on those ancient traditions, but yet putting it together in a certain way that tells us that what they’re giving us is not eye witness accounts of what happened. They’re giving us their story of their faith, which has historical implications, it has historical intersections, but it’s not history the way we think of it.

    Those three things together… it’s a blow from which many quarters of Protestantism haven’t yet recovered. They’re still fighting those battles of the nineteenth century. That’s where bible colleges developed in the early twentieth century to fight what was happening and to say, “We’re going to stand with the Bible.” That’s where fundamentalism came from. All these things are still coming from that.


    HODGES: And it’s interesting that, for example I talked to Marc Brettler about the way that fundamentalism in a way grew out of modernist assumptions. The idea was, hey we want to stick to the Bible and not let these modern ideas corrupt the way that we read God’s word, but at the same time they were adopting the same sort of assumptions about, like you said, what history should be. That if someone wrote something that that was a literal history, say, of the creation, it happened in six twenty-four hour days and this was created before this, and so they adopted modern assumptions but believe they’re sort of going back to this original, they’re maintaining some sort of original fidelity to the text. There’s a lot of irony there, I think.

    ENNS: There’s a huge irony and I agree one hundred percent with what Marc said. It’s actually a common criticism of fundamentalism and evangelicalism that you have the same modernist assumptions. For example, any book that claims to have been inspired by God, point number one, has to be historically accurate because God wouldn’t screw it up, and that begins with Genesis chapter one, that has to give us some type of accurate assessment of what happened in time and space.

    You know, that may be termed a modern assumption of what biblical texts have to look like, even within the Christian tradition if we go back to the earlier interpreters of scripture, the early church fathers, they were very flexible in how they understood some of these things. They actually understood the wisdom of having to allegorize things because the truth and the depth is far beyond what we would think of as literal and, without saying they’re right about everything, that trajectory is a very healthy one, I think. I was just going to mention even the New Testament, when you see how the New Testament authors, especially Paul and the gospel writers, how they engage the Old Testament, they’re not handling it literally. They’re handling it symbolically, metaphorically, and primarily they’re handling it christologically. Built into our tradition is an understanding that a proper handling of scripture has to go beyond simply this records things that happened like a textbook or a newspaper.

    EXODUS 17

    HODGES: Yeah so we’re basically dealing at this point with a lot of fallout that occurred from all these forces coming together and biblical scholarship becoming professionalized and churches multiplying and people confronting these different issues. You talk about three different choices that you faced personally when you were introduced to some of these issues. You told a really interesting story in The Bible Tells Me SoI believe, where you were at school and you were reading from the Old Testament an account of an actual rock following Israel around, right? And you all thought that was funny but then your teacher had you all open up to Paul, right?

    ENNS: That’s correct, yeah. Yeah he was, this was in graduate school, and my professor was James Kugel, a very well-known Jewish scholar, he was recounting an ancient rabbinic tradition of how the Israelites got water in the desert and one tradition has them, there are several traditions that are similar, but the one that he focused on was how the rock that Moses struck, actually the rock that water came from back in Exodus chapter 17 at the beginning of their wandering after Mount Sinai, actually before Mount Sinai, but at the beginning of the wilderness wandering they had this rock that gave them water, and then a rock appears again in Numbers chapter 20, which is at the end of the forty years. These rabbis argued, and I’m laughing as I’m saying it because they probably didn’t believe it either, but they said, “This rock moved in the desert. It actually followed them around, it’s sort of like a portable drinking fountain.” Which makes sense because the Bible never really explains where they get water from for forty years. It talks about manna, we’ve got the food part down, we don’t have the water part down. They sort of filled in that gap.

    I remember hearing this and thinking to myself, this is so creative, it’s wrong, but it’s so creative. And then he says, “Turn to 1 Corinthians 10:4,” and there sure enough you have Paul who brings a Christological dimension to the Old Testament, which he always does, that’s what Christians do, but he says, “The rock that followed them, or the rock that accompanied them, was Christ.” It’s not just the rock in the desert that provided water was Christ, this sort of symbolic typological Christological reading, but he also has this part of his understanding of the Old Testament, this movable nature of the rock, which means Paul’s Jewish, right? And he’s influenced by these traditions that were probably very old by the time Paul came around, and that made me think, “My goodness gracious, I have no idea who this Paul is. I went to seminary and I never heard of this before. I never saw it, never noticed it.” And I had this Jewish historically located Paul, and I hope everyone’s hearing that in the most positive sense, Jewish historically located Paul was opening up in front of me. He’s not a Protestant, he’s not a Presbyterian, he’s not an evangelical, and I’ve got to come to terms with that somehow and to help me make sense of my Bible, that is behaving in a way I was told it can’t behave and shouldn’t behave.


    HODGES: The question comes up too, why take Paul seriously then? If he’s packing in these assumptions about the rock, for example, and it seems to me that Paul understood the Hebrew scriptures quite well is what it seems like, but there are assumptions in there, maybe he thought that the creation happened in six twenty-four hour periods or things like this. What good is a supposedly prophetic figure or authoritative figure in Christianity who reads the Hebrew Scriptures in ways that modern biblical scholarship suggests are faulty in some way? Like why even pay attention?

    ENNS: Paul in that respect is only a problem if we place upon scripture a certain expectation of acting as an authority of a certain kind. In other words, an authority that tells us what happened, or exactly how to think about everything in the Bible. What I see when I see Paul is a thoroughly encultured first-century Jew captured by Jesus, talking about him, and using his Bible to do it. The reason I like Paul, the reason I want to pay close attention to Paul, is because for him Christ is primary, not scripture, and that sounds like I’m dissing the Bible or I’m saying Paul’s dissing the Bible, Paul would never diss the Bible, he’s Jewish, he would never ever do that. But for him, even his scripture, even his tradition is trumped by a crucified, risen Savior. That’s an important thing to keep in mind.

    HODGES: Right, the event changes everything. That sort of becomes the lens through which you go back. That’s what Christians did, was they read the Old Testament. They go back and find things that they would tie to the mission of Christ and say—

    ENNS: Right, and sometimes they do it well, sometimes I think they don’t do it well, but what do I know? That’s just my opinion, but it’s okay to have those opinions.


    HODGES: So the question then is why… so Paul says that he met Christ, right? Why doesn’t Christ say, “Oh, by the way, Paul, you know that creation account in Genesis is not scientifically accurate.” If they had put one verse in there that would solve a lot of problems—

    ENNS: But think about it. You’re asking the question everybody has to think about, and this is something that I didn’t think about until fairly recently when a friend of mine whose wife is a physician said to me, “Okay, here are things Jesus could have done to make our lives a lot easier: ‘Hey, before you treat that guy who’s been stabbed by that spear, wash your hands thoroughly,’ or, ‘Hey, before you drink, boil the water, you can save yourself a lot.’”

    I think this comes down to who is Jesus? And we sort of think he’s like, you know, this humanity thing is just a show, but that’s not really him, Jesus is divine and up there and he sort of makes a cameo appearance. The thorough going humanness of Jesus, which is fundamental to a Christian, a Protestant Christian, a Catholic Christian, whatever confession of faith, that has implications. The incarnation has implications, and Jesus is being a first-century Jew as well and Paul met him as the risen Christ, but even there Paul is inspired by the spirit of Christ to do what he does, but he’s inspired as a first-century Jew, and Jesus doesn’t have to take him out of that and make him a modern Protestant to make this work. It doesn’t matter because at the end of the day it’s not about, “Okay, Paul, let’s have Bible study and make sure you get scripture right at every single point so that two thousand years from now people aren’t confused.” All that is a vehicle to the bigger thing, which is the event of Christ.

    HODGES: And I suppose it probably would have even made less sense in his own context. I mean those things weren’t being discussed anyway, so it would be very strange for him to sit… instead of testifying of Christ he would be analyzing the Bible, I guess, right?

    ENNS: I think that’s a fair way to put it, and confusing people too.

    HODGES: They’d be like, “I don’t get this,” yeah.

    ENNS: Yeah, and what’s the point of that? So when he is preaching the gospel, whether it’s writing in letters or going places, he is doing it as a first-century Jew, with those assumptions, with those ways of looking at the world. And it’s not like Paul says, “Well I know better now, but I guess I’ll sort of condescend and be Jewish.” He’s just doing what he does. He doesn’t know anything else. The thing is, that’s not chronological snobbery. That’s not looking back and saying, “Oh, those puny, primitive people, we know better.” It’s not that we know better, it’s just we are human beings at a different point in history and we see things differently, but we’re still claiming the same faith in Christ that sometimes doesn’t make sense for us in the same way that it couldn’t have made sense for Jews back then. It’s counterintuitive.

    HODGES: And that can inject some epistemic humility for scholars as well, right? It’s the recognition that we’re also constrained by, for all the wonderful tools that have been developed by scholars over the years that are still very useful, there’s still a sense that we’re constrained by our own, you know, our horizons in the present. Something could come along later that overturns assumptions that we carry today, so I think that’s another way of looking at it.

    ENNS: We’re only human.


    HODGES: You talked about three different options that you faced when you first became really aware of some of these issues in the Bible. You had the option of avoiding them, avoiding just sort of, “Oh, I’m not really interested in that,” and moving along, which I think a lot of people, it’s an appealing thing to do. If they’re religion’s working for them why get into all these arcane arguments? Avoiding is a thing people can do.

    There’s defending, and that’s sort of digging your heels in and resisting advancements of scholarship or even selectively using it to just point out, as you mentioned earlier, to just verify what you already think. Then there’s the option of synthesizing, and that’s making use of scholarship responsibly to engage in these really deep issues, and that’s kind of risky, and I want to expand on that.

    But before we do, there is one option that you didn’t mention, and that was just quit altogether. I think this is one that a lot of people, too many people, probably take this route. I’m sure you’re familiar with people who have. I’m just curious about your reaction to that phenomenon of people that face these things and just say, “You know, bag the whole thing.”

    ENNS: Right. For me that wasn’t on my radar screen, so that wasn’t an active option for me, but it’s absolutely an active option for people and I don’t blame them. If the paradigm that they have is for them conceptually the only possible paradigm you can have for God, and if that just makes no sense, I mean, if their only other option is to say, “Listen, I don’t think there is a God” or “I’m not sure and I don’t care,” there’s actually a degree of integrity in that kind of decision. I know some atheists are boorish and they get on your nerves, but I know atheists who aren’t like that, they’re just trying to figure things out, and I respect them for it. That wasn’t an option for me, just where my headspace was—


    HODGES: What’s the difference for you? You just had an already grounded… for you what made the difference?

    ENNS: I don’t know. I think I sensed already, and partly it’s because of in seminary saying “put things on a shelf, the world’s bigger than you think it is,” and that was a very valuable lesson for me, that I don’t think everyone who goes to, let’s say conservative Protestant seminary, necessarily gets that kind of culture placed on them, so I was very thankful for that. So maybe I just had a growing intuition, a growing sense that the existence of a higher power can’t depend on the degree to which I can understand and make sense of things. That God is actually not irrational, but trans-rational, and trans-data, and all that, and I really think I was beginning to sense as I feel more strongly now the reality of things that I can’t control in the universe, like mystery and all that, and I know that’s sort of a sexy word for people, but I mean it. It’s frustrating that there’s mystery, but if God is real, I can’t get him entirely. I just have to work with that, and I think I just came to terms with that in sort of an inchoate way fairly early on, and I think that’s why I had the other options.


    HODGES: And that gave you some measure of flexibility, whereas a more rigid perspective people are brought up with this very rigid “this is the way it has to be, it’s all or nothing, these are the things,” and then when you encounter conflicting data, you are just more brittle at that point I think and like you I’ve seen that happen and fortunately for me it really hasn’t come out that way, but for the grace of God go you and I, I guess.

    So let’s get to synthesis then. I want to talk about one specific example that you draw out in The Bible Tells Me So, but you’re talking about synthesis. The example I want you to mention is with the instances of genocide in the Old Testament. I had a friend, fellow member of the church, come to me, he knows I kind of like books and stuff, and he said, “Yeah, we’re studying the Old Testament this year in Sunday School and I’m reading this story where God says, ‘Alright, Israelites, here are these people and here is their land. Isn’t this great land? But the catch is you have to go in there and just slaughter everybody. Men, women, children, sheep, goats, you know, the whole thing. Kill them all.’” And he said, “That’s a God that’s very unsettling to me, but it’s in the Bible though.” So you suggest that understanding biblical scholarship can help alleviate the discomfort that we get from that type of story, right?

    ENNS: I think so. It doesn’t give us much choice but to do that. That’s the first issue I talk about in The Bible Tells Me So because that’s one of two or three issues that always comes up in church contexts. Just very briefly, I’m not Episcopalian, but I play one on TV, I’ve been going to an episcopal church for about four years now, and there was a parish not far from ours where… you know, Episcopalians don’t read the Bible. We’re joking here. They do, but they don’t. This church was going through “let’s read the Bible in a year” and within a month I’m getting a phone call saying, “Um, can you come explain this stuff to us? Because God’s killing everybody.” It’s a common phenomenon to read the Bible and by the time you get to chapter six God drowns everybody and you keep moving and there’s just a lot of violence and the Canaanite extermination is probably the parade example people look at.

    The synthesis is basically this: archeological investigations in that part of the world that have been going on for a hundred years now, here’s basically what they’ve found. There may be two or three sites that corroborate generally some type of violent takeover. But the book of Joshua mentions thirty-one towns. Of those thirty-one towns roughly sixteen of them are said to be taken through some violent conquest, but of the sixteen there are maybe two or three that fit. Some towns that are said to have been taken or occupied didn’t exist at the time, they existed later, and even in some cases towns that the Bible doesn’t mention as having some type of battle evidence in archeological data, the Bible says nothing happened there, but something did happen there according to archeological evidence.

    It’s somewhat of a mess but it’s hard to find a trained biblical scholar who would say anything other than the conquest of Canaan that we have in the book of Joshua is probably a significant exaggeration written at a later time to buttress Israelite ideology about who it is as a world player, its status among other peoples, and the status of it’s God. So, okay, when I have the Bible lying about history, well hold on here—


    HODGES: That’s what I was going to say. So people are going to say, “That’s all well and good, now you got rid of that untidy little story,” but why believe any of it at that point?

    ENNS: Well, the thing is what do we mean by “believing it,” right? Because here we have now probably a story, which like virtually anything you can point to in the Old Testament on some level, you can see the historical echoes of something that would have given rise to these stories, but the stories themselves reflect a later rumination on the part of the people defining its own existence. It’s really a statement of faith in terms of who are we, and who is God, and who do we relate to people outside of us?

    So in Joshua, you know, the outsiders are the Canaanites, and they’re bad, but you go elsewhere in the Old Testament and things aren’t quite as clear because you have the prophet Jonah, who is supposed to preach repentance to the Ninevites, who are the Assyrians who are really bad people. So I mean you have within scripture, this kind of diversity of thinking through the issue of “listen, we believe that we’re the people of God and this God is the true God, but you know what? Maybe he’s not just our property, maybe this God has a bigger picture in mind, maybe he’s the God of these enemies over here” and of course that’s more developed in the New Testament. So that kind of thinking that I’m laying out here, which is where my head is at this point, that’s driven by an attempt to synthesize this Bible that we have, with outside information that affects how I understand it.


    HODGES: And your argument seems to be then that you have a faith in God and you see these stories as being particular people’s attempts to reckon with God and to sort of also reckon with their own identities, the Bible isn’t necessarily telling us this straight up history of all these stories but rather reflecting specific people’s engagement with God and everything that comes with that, which is their own assumptions and their own—

    ENNS: Their own culture.

    HODGES: Culture, yeah.

    ENNS: There is no expression of God that goes beyond culture. You always have the cultural dimension because we’re human beings and what we’re seeing there is their cultural expression and one of the analogies I use in the book which some people find very helpful, others find incredibly trivializing but I’ll try it here, is the Bible is what it looks like when God lets his children tell the story. They tell the story of God from their point of view, with God there with them and next to them but they’re explaining God as best they can within the culture that provides their language and their concepts. See this is why Israel’s God Yahweh is a warrior who kills enemies with the sword and leads them into battle. Does God really do that? In my opinion, no. I don’t think that he really does that, but I know why they say it, and I have to try to understand that and respect what they say and come to terms with it. Not talk down to it, but say, “Listen, I know why they’re saying this,” and then the step for Christians is, okay now how does this contribute to our understanding of the gospel, our understanding of the Christian life, and without it becoming a rulebook or sort of a reference manual? You know, it has to be true and God has to be like this, right?

    HODGES: So in that way the Bible becomes a spur for people to reflect on their own relationship to God in their own cultural context. In a way we’re all Israelites in a sense then. We’re supposed to have an engagement with God and as Christians through Christ and do the same sort of attempt to live that they did, right? It’s going to have similar constraints, but just for our own times. It sort of puts us in the position of being biblical, not just looking to the Bible, but being biblical ourselves in a way, if that makes sense.

    ENNS: Right. I might add one thing to that. And that is we are always looking to the Bible, not only through our own, let’s say, cultural moment, which is unavoidable, but there is something also distinctly Christian about it, which is we do read the Bible through the lens of the gospel, and I think that’s a fundamental definition of how Christians read their Bible, and I see it modeled all over the New Testament, that Jesus makes the difference in how we engage scripture. We’re still engaging scripture, but we’re engaging scripture Christianly. So in a sense the authority is not an authority is not an authority we can put down here, the ten things you must always do, but the authority is the reality of the risen Christ, and the spirit of Christ dwelling in and among the church. Which doesn’t mean we all come to the same answers, does it?

    HODGES: Well obviously not.

    ENNS: Obviously not. And I think that’s another thing to grapple with. Maybe God’s fine with that. Maybe one denomination doesn’t have it all right in our quest just to find the denomination that does. Because it’s usually mine, right?

    HODGES: It’s usually mine.

    ENNS: It’s usually mine. It’s the one that’s in power, right? That’s the one that usually wins that debate.

    HODGES: It’s Dr. Peter Enns. He’s a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University. We’re talking about his books, The Bible Tells Me So, and The Bible and the BelieverWe’ll take a break and we’ll be right back with the conclusion of this interview.

    ANNOUNCER: Sam Brown was a teenaged atheist struggling to get a firmer footing when one August Sunday morning in 1990 he found himself sitting at a sacrament table in an LDS chapel next to his brother and two close friends, preparing to utter a prayer over the water. What brought him back? How did he go on to write a careful, sympathetic scholarly book on Joseph Smith and early Mormon theology? How did his research shape his faith? Find out in the Maxwell Institute’s new book First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple.

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    HODGES: Alright, we’re back with Dr. Peter Enns, professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University. His new book The Bible Tells Me So was just released from Harper.

    We’re going to wind things down here by talking a little bit about scholarship and devotion. There are many easy ways to dismiss what you’re proposing, Pete. I think traditionalist minded folks might accuse you of watering down the Bible to appease modern sensibilities, or to be politically correct or something. Skeptics might say that, “Wow, we don’t need to listen to Pete because he’s a believer so whatever scholarship he does we know he’s stacking the deck and that he’s already got his mind made up.” So there are all these ways to dismiss you. Have you gotten any pushback as you’ve been publishing these books on the Bible? Do these voices sound accurate to you in terms of how people responded that haven’t liked your work?

    ENNS: Yeah, certainly. It’s hard to write a book about God without getting any pushback from somebody, and that’s fine. I mean, on one level I try to listen to criticism because sometimes they say things that are worthwhile, but some criticism is from people who are not of good will and you just keep going. It happens, certainly.

    HODGES: Do you conceive of yourself as being a Christian scholar versus a scholar of Christianity?

    ENNS: I’ve never really thought about that. I guess I would say that I’m a Christian who is a scholar and I’m trying to think through how those two things can be in conversation, how they can talk to each other and the implications of that for myself and for other people as we walk through this life.

    HODGES: I kind of see that with The Bible Tells Me SoIt’s obviously written for a more popular audience, you’re humorous throughout the book, it’s on a level that a lot of readers could understand, it avoids really arcane jargon, and this sort of thing. Does writing more popular works like this ever get in the way of your more academic work or have you negotiated the relationship there pretty well in terms of your work?

    ENNS: A couple of things. I’ve tried to create this switch inside my brain where I can switch on or off and go from one to the other and just be very conscious about what I’m doing, but you know it’s not a stress for me to write in a popular vein and I just sort of talk. People who know me have said, “I knew you wrote this book because I recognized your voice in it” and to me that means a lot because this is how I talk, for better or for worse, that’s how I try to communicate concepts. It doesn’t get in the way of academic work. It’s just a decision that I made actually many years ago, that I wanted to write things and engage people in a broader audience than simply an academic audience where you write something and five hundred people will have read it ten years later. I don’t want to do that. That’s not how I want to spend my days. Other people do which is great. I don’t want to spend my days doing that.


    HODGES: What book are you most proud of? I know you’re here obviously to promote The Bible Tells Me So, I think it’s a great book. So let’s just say that’s your favorite one. But in addition to that do you have a book that was just something that you always knew like, “I’ve got to write this one book” or is that something you’re still reaching to do?

    ENNS: I think each time I write a book I have that same feeling. So now it’s The Bible Tells Me So but a couple of years ago I wrote a book The Evolution of Adam which is a synthesis of science and biblical scholarship and again a fairly popular book, not quite as popular as this one. Before that one of the big ones was the book Inspiration and Incarnation, which is looking at how we look at Jesus as the incarnate Son of God, divine and human, and how if we look at the Bible as analogous to that, we can understand why it has all these human qualities like, you know, mythic elements or contradictions or things like that.

    Each one of those is one that I kept my ear to the ground and I think people have liked those books, some people haven’t, but again, if you’re not prepared for that, don’t write. Don’t talk, don’t think, don’t do anything, that’s just going to happen. Those are the three probably that I think the most about as having an influence and getting at the larger program that I have in my mind about what I want to do.


    HODGES: Right. So you have your work in the academy, you have things that you do, you’re a professor, you do books for more scholarly audiences, you do books for a more popular audience, you also mentioned that you attend church meetings, Episcopalian meetings. Do you ever find your teeth grinding if someone’s giving a sermon or doing a scripture reading where you’re like, “Oh if they knew this they’d change”—

    ENNS: Nope. Maybe once in the past four years. I don’t feel that way and one reason why my wife and I have decided to sort of make this move over to the episcopal world is because my whole life I was doing that very thing, listening to sermons or Sunday School classes and I’m thinking “who am I?” and I actually think I have something to offer here but if coming to church is just another intellectual exercise, then everything is filled into my head and I was getting really sick and tired of my head. I needed to do something different. I go to what is usually a ten to twelve minute homily, which is a part of the service, but not the whole thing, and I have to let go of my brain and that’s a good exercise for me.

    HODGES: So you found a way to engage devotionally and not have to worry. Like you said, it’s not really your job. You’re not there to correct or arbitrate, I guess.

    ENNS: No, and I think that’s one of the unintended consequences. I’m going to make a blanket statement, be ready. This is one unintended consequence of the Protestant evangelical program because it’s rooted around things like “I have a better argument than you do. Therefore my way of doing it is better.” So in seminary we were trained to listen to sermons with a very critical eye. Where is the theology wrong? What is he doing wrong? Not what is right. That has an effect on you and for a lot of reasons in my own life that whole thing began to crumble.

    Funny you should mention this. The book I’m working on now, which won’t come out for a couple of years, it’s all about this. It’s all about moving from the paradigm of being certain about what you think and knowing what you think and having better arguments. What happens when life happens to you and that sort of crumbles and you have to move to a different way of thinking about what your faith is like and I learned that I’m happy, it was a wonderful lesson. It’s been a great journey. I’m glad that I took it.

    HODGES: Well, that’s good. I look forward to that. That’s something I think Mormon scholars that I’ve spoken with—

    ENNS: So does my publisher, by the way. Mickey’s not listening to this. That’s fine.

    HODGES: Yeah, I was going to say, I think a lot of Mormon scholars feel that way as well. In the LDS church you also attend Sunday School class and that’s more an open discussion and there’s a lay person in the congregation who is chosen to teach and they teach out of church manuals and members of the class sort of sound off and sometimes it’s difficult to sit in class and hear things where things you’ve learned in your training contradict it. I think a lot of people really do try to find that healthy balance of being able to recognize what’s really happening in this Sunday School class is devotional and not having to engage your brain the whole time and that sort of thing.

    So yeah, the last question I had involved the book that you did with Dr. Harrington and Dr. Brettler, The Bible and the Believer, where you bring a Catholic, a Jew, and a Protestant together to talk about the ways they interpret the Bible. There was this really interesting part where you’re responding to Dr. Brettler. Dr. Brettler’s sort of talking about the Bible being, you know, you can take all these different perspectives from it and there’s really no central guiding, I don’t know if authority is the right word to it or not, but was there anything in the process of dialoguing with Dr. Brettler that you found unsettling about either of the other views and conversely what benefits did you get out of hearing from these other views?


    ENNS: Well I think much more the latter than the former. It wasn’t the first time any of us had engaged other traditions and how we think about them. It came out of a conference we did at the University of Pennsylvania which a lot of people were there because they’re interested in this sort of triologue so we had all been sort of around the block a few times with it, but I think one thing that struck me as this sort of window opening, another one of these moments with this “there’s so much sense to this I need to keep thinking along these lines” is exactly what you just said. There is no controlling authority that, not that I’m against authority, I don’t want this to come out wrong, but there is no controlling paradigm or authority that restricts how you understand the Bible or conclusions you come to. The thing is there are always parameters; there is always a place that you don’t go. I definitely get that. But it’s not a central concern, which very often comes up in conservative Protestantism. Before you start, here’s the line. If you cross it, you’re wrong. Okay, proceed. You don’t have that kind of stricture as quickly, let’s put it this way, in Judaism, as you might in the least conservative Protestantism. And that’s just a reminder to me that’s there are other ways in doing this Bible thing.

    HODGES: So you found, overall, the exercise was useful and—

    ENNS: Very much so. It was wonderful. We after the conference, we sat at a restaurant and had dinner the three of us plus the conference organizers and a couple of other people, and I think it was Marc who said, “We should make this into a book.” Daniel, who is deceased, he died about a year ago, he—there’s my phone ringing, but we will ignore that—he said, “Oh yeah, absolutely, let’s do that.” And then of course he’s got tremendous experience in editing and publishing and things like that. So at that point we pretty much right away just said, “Hey, let’s do this,” and we started working on it and I think it was Marc who secured Oxford University Press and got them involved pretty early on and they said, “Yeah, this is a great idea, let’s do it.”

    HODGES: Also I think the audio from that is still available online, at least from the conference, I think I—

    ENNS: I am certain that it is. I actually have it on my iTunes or something like that. One of those places.

    HODGES: Oh, nice. You also have a blog too, right? You blog at Patheos?

    ENNS: Patheos, yeah. And my blog has my name on it. It’s called “Rethinking Biblical Christianity” which is all these things are important, you’re rethinking, it is biblical, and it’s Christianity, and what does that look like? Yeah, it’s a lot of fun blogging on that.


    HODGES: Other than the book that you’ve mentioned that’s in process, do you have any other projects that you’re working on that we should expect?

    ENNS: The only other thing sort of in the works right now and that will come out next summer is the tenth anniversary edition of one of the books I mentioned earlier, Inspiration and Incarnationwhere that book caused not a little controversy in some quarters of evangelical world, and it’s being sort of rereleased as a tenth anniversary edition with a lengthy post script by me sort of engaging some of the criticism and what I think the book has done and where I think we can go from here. I’m looking forward to that coming out because it engages a lot of things that have been discussed over the last ten years.

    HODGES: That’s Dr. Peter Enns. He’s professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University. He’s author of the brand new book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. Thanks for joining us today on the Maxwell Institute Podcast, Pete.

    ENNS: Thanks for having me. I had a great time.