From the Lectionary: A Generous Master

I'm blogging with the lectionary this year, and this week's reading comes from Matthew 20:1-16: 

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 
When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.  When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.  And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 
But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

In Matthew’s account, Jesus tells this story right after the apostle Peter demands, “We have left everything to follow you! What’s in it for us?” and just before the mother of James and John requests special privileges for her sons, who have “borne the burdens of the day” by joining Jesus in his ministry. So we may rightly understand this parable as a gentle rebuke to the disciples regarding their ongoing tangle over who will reap the most prestige in the Messiah’s new Kingdom, one they still imagined comes complete with money, glory, and power. 

This isn’t that sort of Kingdom, Jesus says with this parable. You don’t earn your way to the top. There is no top. 

But there’s even more at work in this story when we pay attention to the details.

Notice that the landowner finds his workers in the marketplace. This means that whether they arrived early in the morning or late in the afternoon, all were looking for work. All were tapped on the shoulder and recruited to the vineyards by a micromanaging landowner who just keeps on coming back...and back…and back to hire the people no one else wanted. Anyone who wants work will get work, even if they show up late, even if they stumble into the marketplace tired, hungover, uncertain, or sick, even if no one else wants them. This isn’t about being qualified; it’s about being called. It’s about being invited to join in the work, if just for a few dusky hours. 

Notice too that the landowner pays a fair day’s wages. No one in this story is deprived or shortchanged. What scandalizes the workers who arrived early to the vineyard isn’t that they are cheated by the landowner but that their coworkers benefit from his generosity without earning it. Funny how something good can suddenly seem like less simply because it is shared. It’s such a universal and familiar reaction it’s hard not to see ourselves in it, particularly those of us who operate within a culture that idolizes success and self-sufficiency, where even gifts are expected to be deserved. 

This isn’t that sort of Kingdom, Jesus is saying. It’s not about the pay; it’s about the work. You don’t pull yourself up by your boostraps; you simply take my hand. 

And here we get to the punchline of the parable: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” asks the landowner. “Or are you envious because I am generous?

Are you envious because I am generous? Let that question soak down to the marrow. 

Really, this parable isn’t about the workers. It’s about landowner.  This is God’s Vineyard, God’s table, God’s Kingdom and God’s world. We don’t make the invitation list and we don’t dole out the gifts. And it’s a good thing too because no doubt we would try to make it all fair. No doubt we’d make sure everyone got what they deserved. But God isn’t fair. God is irrationally and irresponsibly generous. His mercies are infinite, offensive, new every morning.

We think the miracle is that our coworkers get to share in the reward, but the miracle is that any of us get to share in the work. The miracle is that God comes to the marketplace, pulls us out, hands us shovels and baskets and clippers, and puts us to work. If  we want in on this Kingdom, if we want in on this work, we best set aside our small notions of what it means to deserve, what it means to be fair, and what it means to earn. Because what makes God’s grace offensive isn’t who it leaves out, but who it lets in…starting with you and me. Fair's got nothing to do with it. 

We serve at the pleasure of a generous master; there is plenty of good work to do. So let’s do it. 

In her marvelous book Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber writes about preaching from this passage to a group of Luthern pastors at an event honoring those gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender clergy that had previously been denied ordination in the ELCA because of their sexuality. Not wanting her sermon to veer into progressive self-congratulations—“We’ve been last, but now we get to be first [fist pump]!”—Nadia focused too on the landowner: 

What makes this the kingdom of God is not the worthiness or piety or social justicey-ness or the hard work of the laborers…none of that matters. It’s the fact that the landowner couldn’t manage to keep out of the marketplace. He goes back and back and back, interrupting lives…coming to get his people. Grace tapping us on the shoulder…And so, I reminded those seven pastors specifically, including the man who introduced me to grace, that the kingdom of God was just like that exact moment in which sinners/saints are reconciled to God and to one another…In the end, their calling, and their value in the kingdom of God comes not from the approval of a denomination or of the other works, but in their having been come-and-gotten by God. It is the pure and unfathomable mercy of a God that defines them and that says, ‘pay attention, this is for you.” 

We have been come-and-gotten by God.  So let’s stop looking at one another to decide whether everything’s fair and in-control and safe. 

Because it’s not. Not even close. 

Instead, let’s get to work. 

 

***

P.S. Another great quote from Pastrix we've been discussing on the Facebook page is this one: "Grace isn't about God creating humans as flawed beings and then acting all hurt when we inevitably fail and then stepping in like the hero to grant us grace--like saying 'Oh, it's OK, I'll be a good guy and forgive you.' It's God saying, 'I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.'" 

In response,  Kay wrote: "We visited a church recently where the pastor asked us to turn to each other and say, "I don't deserve God's love." Andy turned to me, saw my face, and said, "You're not going to say that, are you?" "Nope," I said. Not because it's not true, but because it's not The Truth. It's not the Gospel. Me being undeserving is just the set-up for the real Story, the Deeper Magic like CS Lewis said. There is this great redemption that has nothing to do with what I deserve and don't deserve. There's this Love that obliterates every sin. That's the Story. That's The Truth."

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“God and the Gay Christian” Discussion, Week 1

Over the next few weeks, on Wednesdays, we will be discussing Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships

I chose this particular book because I think it provides the most accessible and personal introduction to the biblical and historical arguments in support of same-sex relationships, and because Matthew is a theologically conservative Christian who affirms the authority of Scripture and who is also gay. His research is sound and his story is compelling. And he’s a friend—someone I like and respect and enjoy learning from. 

Today we look at the Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2.

“Reclaiming Our Light” 

Right from the start, Matthew shares with the reader two important elements of his identity: 1) that he is gay, and 2) that he is a theologically conservative Christian who holds a “high view” of the Bible. 

“That means I believe all of Scripture is inspired by God and authoritative for my life,” Matthew writes of the second. “While some parts of the Bible address cultural norms that do not directly apply to modern societies, all of Scripture is ‘useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ (2 Timothy 3:16-16).” 

Now for some, this may seem like a conflict. I remember being told by pastors and church leaders that “gay Christian” (or "bisexual Christian" or "transgender Christian") is an oxymoron and that no one who holds a high view of Scripture can support same-sex relationships.  But Matthew’s aim with God and the Gay Christian is to show that “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships.” 

It’s an ambitious goal, and it’s one that Matthew tackles by bringing his story and insights alongside the research of dozens of scholars whose work on the topic he studied meticulously for four years, dropping out of Harvard so that he could devote himself to learning what it meant for him to be gay and Christian. 

“My prayer,” he writes, “is that [the book] opens up a conversation in the Christian community that is truly in the spirit of Jesus. The fiercest objections to LGBT equality—those based on religious belief—can begin to fall away. The tremendous pain endured by LGBT youth in many Christian homes can become a relic of the past. Christianity’s reputation in much of the Western world can begin to rebound. Together, we can reclaim our light.” 

A Tree and Its Fruit 

Matthew speaks highly of his Christian upbringing, his loving parents, and the conservative Presbyterian church “filled with kindhearted, caring Christians” in which he was raised. Like a lot of us, he asked Jesus into his heart when he was very little—just three years old. And like a lot of us he, “recommitted” a few times before middle school….just to be safe. 

Matthew loved God, loved his family, loved Scripture, and loved the Church. And yet, for years, he held on to a secret that he knew might very well jeopardize his relationship with them all: he knew he was gay. 

This reality generated a lot of anxiety in Matthew’s life. He had observed what happened to a friend of his who also attended his church, a young man who often shared his musical talents with the congregation on Sunday morning and was celebrated as bright, committed, and kind—a beloved member of the community…until he came out as gay. Matthew’s friend encountered stigma and shame regarding his “decision” and eventually gave up on church, Scripture, and his faith.  

matthew.jpg

But Matthew didn’t want to give up on his faith. 

Even Matthew’s father once told his son that he assumed that if God was against homosexuality, then God wouldn’t make anyone gay, so those who “struggle with same sex attraction” could develop heterosexual attractions over time with enough effort and prayer. 

But Matthew couldn’t change his sexual orientation. 

Finally, Matthew worked up the courage to come out to his family.  When I saw that Matthew had titled this section of his book “My Dad’s Worst Day,” tears gathered in my eyes. It breaks my heart that we have created a culture in which a son or daughter bravely telling the truth about his or her sexuality can bring such devastation to a family.

You have to read the story for yourself to catch the full impact, but I’m happy to report that, after many months of struggling, questions, and tears, Matthew’s parents came around to supporting their son, fully. The testimony of their love for him shines through the pages of this book in a way that makes me both hopeful and sad because not every gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender child is this fortunate. For many, simply telling the truth is the beginning of a nightmare. 

Along with his parents, Matthew began carefully studying the Bible’s few references to same-sex behavior (which will be examined, at length, throughout the rest of the book), and rethinking his position on the matter. 

Though he had always been taught by his church that homosexuality was a chosen and sinful “lifestyle,” this teaching did not match up with Matthew’s lived experience. 

“As I became more aware of same-sex relationships,” he wrote, “I could not understand why they were supposed to be sinful, or why the Bible apparently condemned them. With most sins, it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the damage they caused. Adultery violates a commitment to your spouse. Lust objectifies others. Gossip degrades people. But committed same-sex relationships did not easily fit this pattern. Not only were they not harmful to anyone, they seemed to be characterized by positive motives and traits instead, like faithfulness, commitment, mutual love, and self sacrifice. What other sin looked like that?” 

This led some in Matthew’s church (he had come out to a small group) to accuse him of “elevating his experience over Scripture.” But as Matthew points out, he wasn’t asking his friends to revise the Bible based on his experience, he was asking them to reconsider their interpretation of the Bible. 

Christians have often had to reconsider their interpretation of the Bible in light of new information, he argued, just as many did when they concluded slavery was immoral in spite of biblical instructions that seem to support it.  Furthermore, while Scripture tells us not to rely solely on our experiences, it cautions Christians against ignoring experience altogether. The early Church decided to include Gentiles without requiring them to undergo circumcised or obey kosher, a controversial conclusion based largely on Peter’s testimony and experience. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus says that believers will recognize false teachers by the fruit in their lives. If something bears bad fruit, it cannot be a good tree. And if something bears good fruit, it cannot be a bad tree. This assessment is typically made based on experience. 

“Neither Peter in his work to include Gentiles in the church nor the abolitionists in their campaign against slavery argued that their experience should take precedence over Scripture,” writes Matthew. “But they both made the case that their experience should cause Christians to reconsider long-held interpretations of Scripture. Today, we are just as responsible for testing our beliefs in light of their outcomes—a duty in line with Jesus’s teachings about trees and their fruit.” 

…Which raises a few questions. 

If same-sex relationships are really sinful, then why do they so often produce good fruit—loving families, open homes, self-sacrifice, commitment, faithfulness, joy? And if conservative Christians are really right in their response to same-sex relationships, then why does that response often produce bad fruit—secrets, shame, depression, loneliness, broken families, and fear? 

Eventually, after careful study and in light of new information, even Matthew’s father changed his mind.  Matthew writes: “Instead of taking the references to same-sex behavior as a sweeping statement about all same-sex relationships, my dad started to ask: is this verse about the kind of relationship Matthew wants, or is it about abusive or lustful behavior? Is this passage about the love and intimacy Matthew longs for, or does it refer to self-centered, fleeting desires instead? After much prayer, study, and contemplation, Dad changed his mind. Only six months before, he had never seriously questioned his views. But once he saw the fruit of his beliefs more clearly, he decided to dive deeper into the Bible. In that process, he came to what he now regards as a more accurate understanding…” 

Telescopes, Tradition, and Sexual Orientation 

Before getting into a more detailed analysis of the various biblical passages involved, Matthew takes Chapter 2 to argue that new information about sexuality ought to compel Christians to rethink their interpretation of Scripture. He reminds readers that Galileo was accused of heresy by the Church when he presented evidence that contradicted centuries of tradition and accepted biblical interpretation regarding the earth’s place in the universe. It would take Christians many years to change their minds, but eventually they did. 

“Christians did not change their minds about the solar system because they lost respect for their Christian forbearers or for the authority of Scripture,” he writes. “They changed their minds because they were confronted with evidence their predecessors had never considered. The traditional interpretation of Psalm 93:1, Joshua 10:12-14, and other passages made sense when it was first formulated. But the invention of the telescope offered a new lens to use in interpreting those verses, opening the door to a more accurate interpretation.” 

Similarly, in recent generations, our understanding of sexuality has radically changed. 

For example, for most of human history, homosexuality was not seen as a different sexual orientation but rather as a manifestation of normal sexual desire pursued to excess—a behavior anyone might engage in if they let their passions get out of hand. Matthew highlights multiple examples from history and literature to show that this was simply the assumption for many centuries. 

“I’m not saying gay people did not exist in ancient societies,” Matthew writes “I’m simply pointing out that ancient societies did not think in terms of exclusive sexual orientations. Their experience of same-sex behavior led them to think of it as something anyone might do….No ancient languages even had words that mean ‘gay’ or ‘straight.’” 

Of course now we are beginning to understand that, while human sexuality is complex and is perhaps best understood as existing along a continuum, many people report having fixed same-sex orientations that do not change. (Others experience sexual attraction to both men and women. Still others lack sexual attraction altogether.)  “Reparative therapy,” which seeks to change sexual orientation, has been shown to be ineffective and potentially dangerous, discouraged most notably by many of the very Christian leaders who once promoted it within the Church. 

In addition, in the ancient cultures from which the Bible emerged strict, patriarchal gender roles were the norm and where procreation was a matter of survival.  Because women were presumed to be inferior to men, nothing was more degrading for a man than to be seen as womanly. (Guess some things never change, huh?) So in Rome, it was considered acceptable for an adult male citizen to have sex with slaves, prostitutes, and concubines regardless of gender, but only if he took the active role in the encounter. A same-sex encounter that placed a man in a passive (considered “womanly”) role would be considered humiliating. (This explains why same-sex rape was—and is— sometimes used to humiliate an enemy after defeat.) 

All of these ancient understandings of sexuality affect how same-sex behavior discussed in Scripture, and all of them should call into question the notion that people—and the Church—have a held just one single “traditional” view of same-sex behavior. 

In light of new information and experience, maybe it’s time to reexamine some of our assumptions and interpretations. 

...Next week, we'll look at just a single chapter from God and the Gay Christian, which addresses celibacy. 

Questions for Discussion: 

1.    How have your experiences—or those of friends and family—shaped how you are approaching this conversation?  

2.    What do you think of Matthew’s response to the challenge that he is “elevating his experience over Scripture.” 

3.    Is it helpful or fair to compare evolving understandings of human sexuality to evolving understandings of, say, the solar system or slavery? 

I will be monitoring the comment section closely over the next 24 hours, after which the thread will be closed. Thanks for your participation! 

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Canaanites, Reality Checks, and Letting the Bible Out of the Box

I’ve always been a Bible nerd. 

Growing up in an evangelical church, I memorized all the verses in my AWANA notebook and boasted enough badges and pins on my bright red Sparky vest to rival a five-star general. I was elected president of the Bible Club in high school, and in college I minored in biblical studies at a college famous for teaching students to analyze the world with a “biblical worldview.” The fat study Bible I carried under my arm bore the highlighter marks of a devoted reader, its pages wrinkled and worn. 

I’ve also always had questions about the Bible. 

Have I ever mentioned that I won the "Best Christian Attitude Award" four years in a row in elementary school? Or that my bangs accounted for about 40% of my body weight? 

Have I ever mentioned that I won the "Best Christian Attitude Award" four years in a row in elementary school? Or that my bangs accounted for about 40% of my body weight? 

Once, in Sunday school, I raised a slap-bracelet-bedecked hand to ask why God drowned all the world’s animals in the Great Flood—save those on the ark—when it was people who had sinned, not innocent penguins and kangaroos. (She told me to go home and ask my father.) 

In high school, in the midst of yet another noble attempt to read the Bible in a year, I remember drawing breath upon reaching the story of the Battle of Jericho and realizing that after the walls came a-tumblin’ down, the Israelites “destroyed with the sword ever living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys,” all on God’s orders. In any other context, this would be condemned as genocide. Why would a good and loving God call for the slaughter of little children? 

A tipping point occurred during a sleepy, 9-a.m. Introduction to World Literature class when my class read the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Mesopotamian poem purportedly written before the book of Genesis, which tells the story of a worldwide flood, a favored family, and an ark full of animals, only with Sumerian gods and heroes at its center instead of the familiar Yahweh. The similarity in style and content between the stories I knew from the Bible and the myths of other Mesopotamian cultures suddenly made those strange tales of talking snakes and forbidden fruit and boats packed with animals seem colloquial, routine—nothing more than myths operating from the religious and literary conventions of the day. 

There were other issues too: The way the accounts of Israel’s monarchy contradicted one another, the way Jesus and Paul quoted Hebrew Scripture in ways that seemed to stretch the original meaning, the fact that women were considered property in Levitical Law, the way both science and archeology challenged the historicity of so many biblical texts, and the fact that it was nearly impossible for me to write a creative retelling of Resurrection Day because each of the gospel writers tell the story so differently, sometimes with contradictory details. 

The Bible just didn’t seem to want to behave the way I was told it was meant to behave—as a scientifically-provable, historically-accurate account of God’s actions in the world and a cohesive, inerrant rulebook for how to think and live as a Christian. 

Invariably, when I expressed concern over these issues, well-meaning apologists would refer me to Gleason Arche’s massive Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, a heavy volume that seeks to provide the reader with sound explanations for every conceivable puzzle found within the Bible—from whether God approved of Rahab’s lie, to where Cain got his wife. But encountering a 500-page book listing hundreds of apparent biblical contradictions, half of which I didn’t even know existed before, did not have the desired affect and in fact only made things worse. 

After about a decade of doubt, study, and frustration, I made a resolution: to pursue the truth about the Bible without compromising my intellectual integrity, regardless of whether that pursuit led me to affirm my long-held presuppositions or whether it forced me to change my mind. I wanted to accept the Bible on its own terms, without projecting my evangelical community’s expectations upon it. I wanted to let it out of the box. 

Truth be told, this is a somewhat futile endeavor, as no one can approach a text with complete objectivity, somehow setting their culture, experience, background, gender, and ethnicity aside. But the pursuit did start me on an exciting, surprising journey toward loving the Bible more for what it is, not what I want it to be. 

Life would never be the same. 

"The Bible Tells Me So"

As I’ve mentioned here on the blog before, one of my favorite guides on this journey has been Old Testament scholar (and friend) Peter Enns. Pete’s books, blogs and articles just make sense to me—as a skeptic, as a literature lover, and as a Christian. The guy speaks my language, and he consistently writes with unusual wit, clarity and honesty.  

This is especially true of his latest book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, which released last week and which I highly recommend. 

I’m not sure how else to describe this book except to say that reading it is an experience. Never have I encountered a book on biblical interpretation that manages to be as simultaneously challenging and funny, uncomfortable and liberating, intellectually rigorous and accessible, culturally significant and deeply personal. It’s a book that invites the reader to really wrestle with Scripture, and it’s not for the faint of heart. 

Enns begins by observing that “when you read the Bible on its own terms, you discover that it doesn’t behave itself like a holy rulebook should.” There are contradictions, discrepancies, bizarre stories, ethically-troubling scenarios, and puzzles. But “the problem isn’t the Bible, Enns contends. “The problem is coming to the Bible with expectations it’s not set up to bear.” 

“What if the Bible is just fine the way it is?” he asks. “What if it doesn’t need to be protected from itself? What if it doesn’t need to be bathed and perfumed before going out in public? And what if God is actually fine with the Bible just as it is without needing anyone to stand guard over it? Not the well-behaved-everything-is-in-order version we create, but the messy, troubling, weird, and ancient Bible we actually have?” 

Enns goes on to tell his own story of asking tough questions about the Bible as a devoted Christian and a scholar, often at great personal and professional cost. “My goal with this book,” he writes, “is to assure people of faith that they do not need to feel anxious, disloyal, unfaithful, dirty, scared, or outcast for engaging these questions of the Bible, interrogating it, not liking some of it, exploring what it really says, and discerning like adult readers what we can learn from it in our own journey of faith…We respect the Bible most when we let it be what it is and learn from it rather than combing out the tangles to make it presentable.” 

And then he dives right in, starting with what are perhaps the most troubling, problematic, and upsetting passages in Scripture: those that describe Israel’s conquest of Canaan and the supposedly God-ordained ethnic cleansing that conquest entailed. 

Enns skillfully dismantles some of the common responses to these passages—that the Canaanites were super-duper evil and therefore deserved to be exterminated, that war with the Canaanites was inevitable, that God’s bloodthirsty portrait in Joshua is balanced out by more flattering portraits elsewhere in Scripture, that questioning biblical accounts of God-ordained genocide is sinful because God can do whatever God wants to do, etc—before offering his own controversial, yet well-argued, conclusion: “God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the Canaanites.” 

I told you this book is not for the faint of heart. 

Enns argues that as ancient tribal people, the Israelites saw their God in tribal ways. In describing their relationship with God and the world around them, they spoke their own cultural language. “The Bible,” writes Enns, “is the story of God told from the limited point of view of real people living at a certain place and time….The Bible looks the way it does because ‘God lets his children tell the story,’ so to speak.” 

This doesn’t mean that the Bible "lies," or that our ancient ancestors were barbarians to simply be dismissed. It just means that whenever God enters the human story, God speaks to (and through) people using their own language, their own view of the world. And we make an enormous mistake when we project our modern, Enlightenment-shaped presuppositions regarding history and storytelling onto writers who were addressing ancient, pre-modern questions through ancient, pre-modern literary genres. 

Furthermore, Enns argues, the ancient tribal description of God is not the last word.  

“These ancient writers had an adequate understanding of God for them in their time,” he writes, “but not for all of time—and if we take that to heart, we will actually be in a better position to respect these ancient voices and see what they have to say rather than whitewashing the details and making up ‘explanations’ to ease our stress. For Christians, the gospel has always been the lens through which Israel’s stories are read—which means, for Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word.” 

Enns goes on to explain how much of the Old Testament was written while the people of Israel were in exile and therefore seeks to respond to questions of Jewish identity. The stories of Genesis and Exodus, Joshua and Judges, and many others can be better understood as origin stories that helped the people of God make sense of their place in the world.  

“The biblical writers were storytellers,” says Enns. “Writing about the past was never simply about understanding the past for its own sake, but about shaping, molding, and creating the past to speak to the present. The Bible presents a variety of points of view about God and what it means to walk in his ways. This stands to reason, since the biblical writers and lived at different times, in different places, and wrote for different reasons.” 

This is not only true for the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures but also for Jesus and for the authors of the New Testament. Jesus, like other first-century Jews, read his Bible creatively, seeking deeper meaning that transcended the boundaries of the words of Scripture. “A crucified and resurrected messiah,” writes Enns, “was a surprise ending to Israel’s story. To spread the word of this messiah, the earliest Christian writers both respected Israel’s story while also going beyond that story. They transformed it from a story of Israel centered on Torah to a story of humanity centered on Jesus.” 

Citing multiple examples from Genesis to Revelation, Enns shows how the many writers of Scripture used stories, poems, letters, and accounts written in their own voice, with their own assumptions and agendas, to tell the story of God, which, in various and complex ways ultimately bears witness to Jesus Christ. 

“The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Look at me!’” writes Enns. “It says, ‘Look through me.” 

All of this leaves us with a Bible that includes fissures and tensions, contradictions and questions, a Bible that invites wrestling, conversation, and a variety of interpretations (which Enns is quick to note is a reality that has long been celebrated, rather than glossed over, in the Jewish community). 

It’s hard to do justice to The Bible Tells Me So with a summary, and already I’ve seen several bloggers misrepresent it, (most having not bothered to actually read it).  One does not have to agree with all of Enns’ conclusions to be challenged and inspired by this book, and one need only look to the list of sources in the back to dig deeper on one’s own time. 

What I appreciated most about The Bible Tells Me So was its tell-it-like-it-is approach. The book takes you from one reality check to the next—bringing science, history, archeology, and scholarship into the conversation without apology—but with gentle good humor and disarming honesty.  This is one of the only books I’ve ever read that addressed the conquest of Canaan without either glossing over the genocide or offering feeble, inadequate defenses of it. It looks Scripture straight in the eye, without flinching, and in so doing manages to be both unsettling and profoundly liberating. 

Enns concludes: 

“This is the Bible we have, the Bible where God meets us. Not a book kept at safe distance from the human drama. Not a fragile Bible that has to be handled with care lest it crumble in our hands. Not a book that has to be defended 24/7 to make sure our faith doesn’t dissolve. In other words, not an artificially well-behaved Bible that gives false comfort, but the Holy Bible, the Word of God, with wrinkles, complexities, unexpected maneuvers, and downright strangeness. This is the Bible God has given his people. This Bible is worth reading and paying attention to, because this is the Bible God uses, as he always has, to point his readers to deeper trust in him. We are free to walk away from this invitation, of course, but we are not free to make the Bible in our own image. What the Bible looks like is God’s call, not ours.” 

I’m beginning to think I will always be the sort of person who struggles to reconcile my love of Scripture with my questions about it. 

And thanks to this book, and others, I’m beginning to think maybe that’s okay. 

***

Check out The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns.  Note: Though I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher, I was not compensated for this review or discussion. 

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.