Dr. Peter Enns' books although I am a regular reader of his blog at Patheos, "rethinking biblical christianity..." I did write a brief review in November and after writing the long form book response to Flood's book Disarming Scripture, I thought it would benefit me to reflect more on this book as well. It is an excellent book and written in a more accessible style than Flood's. There are only seven chapters with numerous sub-headings in each chapter.
The 4th chapter ends with this thought, which makes the issues covered here seem less heretical, "getting the Bible right and getting Jesus right are not the same thing." p. 164 This chapter is titled, "Why doesn't God make up his mind?"
If we see the Bible's writers as people on different stages of their journeys in their relationship with God, we will be much less frustrated with it's contradictory rules and views of God, "different parts of the Bible appeal to us at different times and on different points in our walk with God. It's all good, but not as a quick and ready answer key to life..." (p. 135) Enns thinks we lose much more than we gain when we try to "squish the Bible's diverse voices into one voice" (p. 136).
When we let the Bible have many voices instead of one, we will not be upset with the contradictory statements in the Proverbs. For example some Proverbs says wealth is good, others say riches wither. As we zoom out to Proverbs poetic neighbors, we see disagreements between them. Proverbs values wisdom, Ecclesiastes says wisdom doesn't change the fact that we all die and ignorance can be more blissful. Proverbs says the righteous live good lives blessed by God and Job tells the story of a righteous guy whose life falls apart. His friends recite to him wisdom in the same vein as Proverbs to get him to confess his sin and God finally intervenes and tells the friends they have misrepresented Him and Job needs to pray for them. In Enns's helpful perspective, these books are examples of "portraits of God and the life of faith, and both are in the Bible. And both are valid." (p. 145)
Some places in the Old Testament portray other gods in the heavenly realm. In the beginning of the book of Job we see "a heavenly meeting, a gathering of the lesser gods come to present themselves before Yahweh in what looks like a weekly staff meeting." (p. 151) Psalm 82 has a similar scene where gods are responsible for certain kings. In Old Testament studies this is known as the divine council. For in depth research on this topic, Dr. Michael Heiser's research is a good place to start. If we read the Bible as mono-vocal instead of multi-vocal and uncorrected by Jesus we would have to believe God sits atop a pantheon of lower gods, but if we let Jesus correct what needs to be corrected we don't have to live in such unnecessary tension. We can say the Psalmist got it wrong. We can say the author of Job got it wrong.
Repeatedly in the Bible God is presented as a flip-flopper. God looks at Noah's world and is sorry for creating mankind. God stops Abraham from killing his son after he realizes Abe's intensity of devotion. God looks at the children of Israel shortly after the Exodus and tells Moses he's going to only save him, like Noah, and kill the rest, but Moses persuades him otherwise. Jesus also tries to persuade God the night before his crucifixion to not be killed. "A God like us is not a problem. The New Testament, where God becomes one of us, calls this Good News." (p. 159)
Can you have sex with your wife during her menses? Yes according to Leviticus 15, no five chapters later. Did God change his mind on this topic? Did the human author forget what he wrote? Or were multiple traditions consolidated centuries later during the exile? There a multitude of examples like this and Enns lists several more. (I talk about this as well back in September.) The Bible's editors did not remove these contradictions. "The Bible they were happy to produce is complicated, challenging, and messy - and if you believe God had some say in producing hte Bible, you have to conclude that God was apparently quite happy to let them do it." (p. 163)
Over and over again Enns sees these issues not as things to be solved but stories to be listened to and adjudicated by us the readers, in light of the full revelation of God in Jesus, and appreciated by us depending on our own life stages and spiritual journeys.