Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament
by Peter Enns
Baker Academic, 2005.
208 pages (paperback)
In 2005, Inspiration and Incarnation was released (now also available for Kindle) and a firestorm began at Westminster Theological Seminary. Peter Enns’s book attempted to get at some difficult questions that have plagued evangelical Old Testament scholars. Why does the Bible view God differently in different places? Why are there so many apparent connections to other cultures during the times in which it was written? In other words, if the Bible is a divine book, why does it look so human?
These questions are often handled with kid gloves by evangelicals. Often evangelicals minimize the similarities and emphasize the differences between the Bible and other related non-canonical texts. Some might suggest in the case of the flood account, that the older, written accounts of other cultures are borrowing from the ancient oral tradition and the biblical account is the real story (because it is the same as the original oral tradition), an assertion for which there is no evidence.
While this sidesteps the evidence in favor of a theology of biblical inspiration, there are, however, real connections between the Bible and other cultures and their texts.
So how could one explain the very human nature of the Bible in light of it being a divine book?
Enns’s solution: The Bible follows the pattern of the incarnation of Christ. As Christ is both fully divine and fully human, having characteristics of both divinity and humanity, so is the Bible. The Bible tells us what is God’s plan, but it speaks our language. As Christ is fully human, and needed to eat, sleep, and clean the dirt off his feet, so the Bible communicates because it utilizes its full humanity and feeds on our cultural stories and gets covered in our idioms.
Because of this human side, the Bible can communicate.
The controversy at Westminster led to a shake up that drove many to move on, including the tenured-professor Enns. If the Bible is inerrant (and inerrancy is understood in a strongly conservative way), human influence of the kind suggested by Enns (some believed) is dangerous. Other arguments against Enns’s position included the christological. For example, some suggested there is only one incarnation (that of Christ the person) and any other incarnational analogies belittle the uniqueness of that historical event. Others argued against Enns’s position using a strong, logos-centered hypostatic union, meaning that the God-Human Christ was driven by the divine mind, not the human; any analogy applied to the Bible would have to follow that christology.
The other side of this story is that the Bible really does communicate in the language and symbols of its day. It wears our mantles and treads a very human path in genre, allusion, and in its connection to the stories of those cultures that surround it. Enns’s book is an honest take on why that might be the case. Instead of letting the Bible be what it is, the other side of that controversy sought to protect it from itself. Enns celebrates the diversity of Scripture, engages theology with openness, and maintains his respect for the sacredness of the text.
As with any introduction, this book does not cover everything. For example, some have suggested that a fuller definition of myth as Enns uses it would be an improvement. And while this is a bold introductory book, he does not present a fully-developed christology nor cover every Old Testament controversy in the same depth. As with any book intended to raise the question for a broader readership, there has to be sacrifices.
Enns is willing to ask questions that make others uneasy. (Something that I generally like in a book.) Why should the Bible get a free pass on the difficult questions?
A few years have passed now and the book finally has a website dedicated to it. IandIbook.com covers the controversy and was launched this week. Enns is now Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation, focused on science and faith in dialogue. And lest anyone thinks the controversy over Enns is done, young earth creationist, Ken Ham has now put him in his cross-hairs and Westminster has added his biggest detractor to the faculty.
The discussion is only beginning.
[Full disclosure: I am friends with the author. I have also contributed to Biologos’ blog, Science and the Sacred.]