In 2008, I had difficulty with the Bible. Okay, it wasn’t really difficulty with the Bible, per se; more so with outside pressure about the Bible. That is, I attended a church whose pastor didn’t affirm inerrancy – the belief that the Bible is perfect – and received confrontation after confrontation regarding why I chose to keep going there. “There are too many red flags,” a friend told me. “If I were you, I’d leave,” another pastor of another church advised.
Yet what no one stopped to consider – not even myself – was whether or not the doctrine of inerrancy was a healthy way of viewing Scripture. At the time, only my pastors from that church were the ones to suggest that it wasn’t. It didn’t stop the confrontational conversations, which carried the aura of my salvation being on the line, but it did help quite a bit as I waded through for myself. Ultimately I kept going because my pastors proved to be more critically engaged with the Biblical text than those who advised me to leave. Questions were explored, not shunned.
With all of that said, I now turn to Peter Enns’ latest book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It. As the title suggests, it targets the whole concept of defending the text as perfect, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. This is the kind of book I wish I had back in ’08 because it would have assured me that 1. My salvation is not at stake when it comes to reading Scripture as an imperfect text and 2. We begin to understand the authors of the text when we remove that presupposition (or an “essential belief” as that other pastor described it) of a perfect text.
Of course, removing such a prominent belief in a good majority of Christianity (at least from the Protestant side of things) might mean chaos for someone. It might mean they begin to question the existence of God altogether. Such chaos is evidenced by that pesky “slippery slope” one must walk down before unbelief or doubt. And yet, as Enns highlights, such a slope is not a problem. In fact, faith oftentimes seems like nothing but slippery slope after slippery slope, which makes one wonder whether or not the peaceful, level plateau where everything is certain and coffee is cheap is nothing but legend.
Here is a passage from Enns’ book that speaks of such chaos:
An unsettled faith is a maturing faith. Christians often get the signal from others that if they doubt or struggle in some way with the Bible, their faith is weak. They are told that their goal should be to ease the stress somehow by praying more, going to church twice on Sunday (and Wednesday if need be), or generally just stop being so rebelliously stubborn and asking so many questions.
But one thing we see in the Bible is how often people’s trust in God was shaken – and not because they were weak, but because life happens. Whether we read books like Job and Ecclesiastes (as we’ve seen) or the dozens of psalms that cry out to God for some reason or another, life does not move along smoothly.
You get the feeling from the Bible that being unsettled is almost a normal part of the process.
Not that we should go looking for it – it will find us soon enough – but struggling in some way seems like something we should expect on our own spiritual journeys. True struggling in faith is a stretching experience, and without it, you don’t mature in your faith. You either remain an infant or get cocky.
Feeling dis-ease and challenged in faith may be God pushing us out of our own safety zone, where we rest on our own ideas about God and confuse those ideas with the real thing. God may be pushing us to experience him more fully, with us kicking and screaming all the way if need be.
Feeling unsettled may be God telling us lovingly, but still in his typical attention-getting manner, it’s time to grow.
My walk with God has been this unsettled path – sometimes of whether or not God exists, other times of whether or not homosexuality is a sin (or other topics). But such an unsettled-ness has compelled me to listen more, trust more, and step out in an act of faith more. Sure, there were a lot more questions once I chose to go the route of my own pastors at that church, but such questions compelled me, more than ever before, to seek God. These questions forced me to uproot my own foundations to see what was there and upon doing so I realized that those foundations were full of sand and not bedrock. And, strangely enough, the more questions I asked, the fewer answers I received, but the stronger my faith became.
It is almost like asking more questions is kind of the point.
All in all, this is a great book that I wish I had had back when this issue was much more prominent in my life. I highly recommend this book to anyone considering seminary as a potential path because it is a great introduction to the way that seminary beckons one to rethink the Biblical text. And of course I recommend this book to anyone who believes in God, but isn’t sure about the Bible. One other thing I noticed about following my pastors was that my interest in the Bible increased exponentially. There was so much I was missing (and still am, in some ways).
If you’d like to read more stuff from Enns, here’s his blog: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/. Only one word of caution: he is a Yankee fan…
 Enns has a footnote wherein he discusses the gendered pronouns: “I do not believe that the God of the universe is male or female, but, following the biblical convention, I will use male pronouns when speaking of God. We will be looking at a lot of passages from the Bible, and adjusting the language at each point could get distracting and become the unintended focus. I realize – and respect – that not all would agree with me in this decision, but I just want to be clear about what I am doing and why.”
 Enns, The Bible Tells Me So, 238-239, boldface is mine.