For the past month I have been reading through Inspiration and Incarnation (I & I): Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns. This has been a radical change for me in reading material and I approached it with some trepidation. I am not a theologian by any stretch and my favored reading material tends to more along the vein of “brain candy” than anything deep and meaningful.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. Theology, in and of itself, wasn’t something that I pursued as I tend to keep my faith simple and uncluttered. It works best for me that way. Theology was something that I held at arms length, in some ways, as it seemed to try to explain God and put Him in a box constructed of liturgy, do’s and don’ts, and formality all wrapped up with a pretty bow made of hymns played on the pipe organ. This idea was formed over years of growing up in the Christian Reformed Church, topped by watching a good friend get her Masters of Divinity at a local university. It all seemed to take the joy out of the God experience and made it an extremely serious business. Because of all of this, I approached the book with the thought that if it seemed to be starting to change how I viewed God in a negative way, I would stop reading it, make my apologies, and withdraw from this round of the Transit Lounge Reading Club.
Having grown up in a christian home, a christian church, and a christian school, I didn’t think, perhaps a bit arrogantly, that there wasn’t much that I hadn’t learned about the bible and it’s place in the home, and, by extension, my life; though I will admit that I do not know everything (a shock to my kids perhaps, but not to my husband). It has a ton of story in it and lots or moral compasses to guide and answer all of life’s issues. Through reading I & I, I found that perhaps I didn’t know as much as I thought I did and that perhaps this old(ish) chick could learn a thing or two from it.
In reading this book I had to learn a lot of new terminology, some, okay most, of which I still haven’t wrapped my head around. Words like ‘incarnation’, ‘eschatology’, and ‘hermeneutics’. Now, I’m the first person to admit that I have a fairly extensive lexicon, but these ones have me a wee bit befuddled. Each time I came across them in my kindle I had to look up the definition of them. They just don’t seem to want to translate.
There were things that were pointed out that I hadn’t even noticed or even thought about. I guess that’s what happens when something becomes so familiar that it becomes almost part of the furniture in the home. If you hear, or read, a story often enough, you take it for granted, and can tune out parts of it or skim right through it and miss nuances that can make or break the story.
Point of view and purpose color how stories are told. Makes sense right?! Take for instance, the whole of the books of Kings and Chronicles. I often wondered why the bible contained two completed telling of the same stories. What was never explained to me was that one of them, Chronicles, was written to a post-exilic Israel, the other wasn’t; hence why the stories are slightly different, as is the tone.
The context and the theological practices of the time color how scripture was used and perceived. This is good to know, especially when you notice, which I didn’t until now, how sometimes the Old Testament seems to be misquoted by those in the New Testament. The disciples and apostles read the Old Testament literature already knowing that Christ is somehow the end to which the Old Testament story is heading; that the Old Testament did not exist on its own for its own sake, but that it found its completion in Christ. Amazing. I never thought if it that way before.
There were a few other things that stood out but I guess my biggest surprise was that there was an incredible awe and love for not only the Word of God, but for God Himself that is present throughout the book. I was expecting a somewhat dry tome, expounding on this, that and the other thing; not one that encouraged one to walk out biblical interpretation in active participation within the community of God.
Perhaps the best advice the author gave, is to view biblical interpretation as path to walk rather than a fortress to be defended, a pilgrimage that gets richer the longer we stay on the path. The end of the path is not simply gaining knowledge about the text of the Bible, but that God Himself speaks to us through the study of the text as well as through the text itself.
Hmmmm. Perhaps this won’t be the last book on theology that I’ll pick up. I was definitely pleasantly surprised.