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How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That's Great News

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Controversial evangelical Bible scholar, popular blogger and podcast host of The Bible for Normal People, and author of The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty explains that the Bible is not an instruction manual or rule book but a powerful learning tool that nurtures our spiritual growth by refusing to provide us with easy answers but instead forces us to acquire w Controversial evangelical Bible scholar, popular blogger and podcast host of The Bible for Normal People, and author of The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty explains that the Bible is not an instruction manual or rule book but a powerful learning tool that nurtures our spiritual growth by refusing to provide us with easy answers but instead forces us to acquire wisdom. For many Christians, the Bible is a how-to manual filled with literal truths about belief that must be strictly followed. But the Bible is not static, Peter Enns argues. It does not hold easy answers to the perplexing questions and issues that confront us in our daily lives. Rather, the Bible is a dynamic instrument for study that not only offers an abundance of insights but provokes us to find our own answers to spiritual questions, cultivating God’s wisdom within us. “The Bible becomes a confusing mess when we expect it to function as a rulebook for faith. But when we allow the Bible to determine our expectations, we see that Wisdom, not answers, is the Bible’s true subject matter,” writes Enns. This distinction, he points out, is important because when we come to the Bible expecting it to be a textbook intended by God to give us unwavering certainty about our faith, we are actually creating problems for ourselves. The Bible, in other words, really isn’t the problem; having the wrong expectation is what interferes with our reading. Rather than considering the Bible as an ancient book weighed down with problems, flaws, and contradictions that must be defended by modern readers, Enns offers a vision of the holy scriptures as an inspired and empowering resource to help us better understand how to live as a person of faith today. How the Bible Actually Works makes clear that there is no one right way to read the Bible. Moving us beyond the damaging idea that “being right” is the most important measure of faith, Enns’s freeing approach to Bible study helps us to instead focus on pursuing enlightenment and building our relationship with God—which is exactly what the Bible was designed to do.


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Controversial evangelical Bible scholar, popular blogger and podcast host of The Bible for Normal People, and author of The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty explains that the Bible is not an instruction manual or rule book but a powerful learning tool that nurtures our spiritual growth by refusing to provide us with easy answers but instead forces us to acquire w Controversial evangelical Bible scholar, popular blogger and podcast host of The Bible for Normal People, and author of The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty explains that the Bible is not an instruction manual or rule book but a powerful learning tool that nurtures our spiritual growth by refusing to provide us with easy answers but instead forces us to acquire wisdom. For many Christians, the Bible is a how-to manual filled with literal truths about belief that must be strictly followed. But the Bible is not static, Peter Enns argues. It does not hold easy answers to the perplexing questions and issues that confront us in our daily lives. Rather, the Bible is a dynamic instrument for study that not only offers an abundance of insights but provokes us to find our own answers to spiritual questions, cultivating God’s wisdom within us. “The Bible becomes a confusing mess when we expect it to function as a rulebook for faith. But when we allow the Bible to determine our expectations, we see that Wisdom, not answers, is the Bible’s true subject matter,” writes Enns. This distinction, he points out, is important because when we come to the Bible expecting it to be a textbook intended by God to give us unwavering certainty about our faith, we are actually creating problems for ourselves. The Bible, in other words, really isn’t the problem; having the wrong expectation is what interferes with our reading. Rather than considering the Bible as an ancient book weighed down with problems, flaws, and contradictions that must be defended by modern readers, Enns offers a vision of the holy scriptures as an inspired and empowering resource to help us better understand how to live as a person of faith today. How the Bible Actually Works makes clear that there is no one right way to read the Bible. Moving us beyond the damaging idea that “being right” is the most important measure of faith, Enns’s freeing approach to Bible study helps us to instead focus on pursuing enlightenment and building our relationship with God—which is exactly what the Bible was designed to do.

30 review for How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That's Great News

  1. 5 out of 5

    Randal Martin

    #harperonepartner #wisebible #howthebibleactuallyworks ***For the purpose of full disclosure I received an advance free copy of this book from HarperOne as part of the launch team.*** I have to admit I fully expected it to be "The Bible Tells Me So" Part 2. I was wrong. I am only a couple of chapters in, but How the Bible Actually Works is more about how to find the wisdom in this "ancient, ambiguous, and diverse" book that many of us grew up thinking we knew. I look forward to digging further into #harperonepartner #wisebible #howthebibleactuallyworks ***For the purpose of full disclosure I received an advance free copy of this book from HarperOne as part of the launch team.*** I have to admit I fully expected it to be "The Bible Tells Me So" Part 2. I was wrong. I am only a couple of chapters in, but How the Bible Actually Works is more about how to find the wisdom in this "ancient, ambiguous, and diverse" book that many of us grew up thinking we knew. I look forward to digging further into this book. As with some of Peter's earlier books, I find myself actually going back to the Bible to reread certain passages and thinking, "how did I not see that?" There will be some that will be put off by the title. There will be some that will leave negative reviews without reading a single page just because they feel like they're "doing God's work" by "protecting" the Bible (as they interpret it). Take the time to study and find out for yourself.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brock Beesley

    Over the last couple of years, there has been a profound shift that has occurred with how we understand the Bible, it's applicability for our day and age, and the lasting value that it continues to have. Books like Rob Bell's "What is the Bible?" and Rachel Held Evans "Inspired" have sparked a renewed interested among not just those who have possibly walked away from the Bible or those who struggle with the balance of ancient documents in a modern-day world, but also among those who are not fami Over the last couple of years, there has been a profound shift that has occurred with how we understand the Bible, it's applicability for our day and age, and the lasting value that it continues to have. Books like Rob Bell's "What is the Bible?" and Rachel Held Evans "Inspired" have sparked a renewed interested among not just those who have possibly walked away from the Bible or those who struggle with the balance of ancient documents in a modern-day world, but also among those who are not familiar with the wisdom found within it's pages. Pete Enns brand new book "How the Bible Actually Works" brings continued life to the discussion of allowing the Bible to help us understand the ways of God. Like no one else, Enns uses his unique ability to dig into the weeds of Biblical information in a way that everyday normal people (like myself) can understand exactly what he is attempting to communicate, without feeling as if the depth of information has overtaken them like quicksand. His snark and humor is able to diffuse the tension of harsh critics and cause raving fans to reach for a box of Kleenex to dry tears of laughter. More than anything else, one will seldom find such a learned scholar that displays the humility and passion for sacred text that Pete showcases. If you're looking for a book that demonizes groups of people, attacks believing Christians, or belittles those who see things differently, "How the Bible Actually Works" is NOT the book for you. This book is filled with compassion and a goal to help readers with the ever-present task of understanding a collection of documents, books, and letters, thousands of years old, in a 21st century world. The book does not shy away from the task of grappling with differences, perceived mistakes, and varying discrepancies but helps to bring clarification that propels the reader forward on their journey with God and the Bible. In a world that sees reading of the Bible in steep decline, this book has the ability to turn the tide and help all of us recognize that we are on a continual journey to discover who God is, and the pages of the Bible demonstrate this path of wisdom. Note: I did receive a free advanced copy of this book, as a part of my participation with HarperOne and the launch team of How the Bible Works

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    I’m not an expert theologian, a professional writer, or someone who has a significant impact on determining the course of others’ faith (as in being ordained or a teacher), so it was a privilege to be included in the launch team, for which I received a complimentary advanced copy of “How the Bible Actually Works.” There are so many detailed reviews with excerpts and analysis, I won’t compete. I’m a regular, ordinary Christian (Catholic, to be exact), and that’s ok—this book is for people like me. I’m not an expert theologian, a professional writer, or someone who has a significant impact on determining the course of others’ faith (as in being ordained or a teacher), so it was a privilege to be included in the launch team, for which I received a complimentary advanced copy of “How the Bible Actually Works.” There are so many detailed reviews with excerpts and analysis, I won’t compete. I’m a regular, ordinary Christian (Catholic, to be exact), and that’s ok—this book is for people like me. I have an insatiable curiosity to learn more and understand different perspectives, even if in the end I don’t agree with everything. (I don’t even agree with myself some of the time!). For some people, what they’ve heard about Peter Enns’ work might have given them a secondhand first impression that his ideas are: wrong, scary, or should be avoided. Pete makes you think, he makes you laugh, and I bet you’ll learn something new—even if you don’t want to. :) This book may not be for those who prefer to stay in their own lane, and read like-minded material in their chosen comfort zone—and that’s ok! There’s already plenty out there for those folks and there’s nothing wrong with that. But growth doesn’t come without growing pains. For those of us hungry to learn more, to see things in a different way—and maybe try a new key for the locked door we’ve been struggling to open—this book just might be what you’re looking for. Even if it doesn’t end up being the key you needed, it might be enough to re-charge you for your continued journey. And isn’t this what’s it’s all about? The journey?

  4. 5 out of 5

    Becki

    Disclosure- I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which I always enjoy giving and frankly would have shared for free. ;) #HarperOnePartner I came to this book already a fan of author Peter Enns. I had already read his book "The Bible Tells Me So" and I subscribe to (and love) his podcast (The Bible for Normal People, with Jared Byas.) My prior experience with this author led me to expect very scholarly Biblical study, shared with dry, sarcastic wit, and that' Disclosure- I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which I always enjoy giving and frankly would have shared for free. ;) #HarperOnePartner I came to this book already a fan of author Peter Enns. I had already read his book "The Bible Tells Me So" and I subscribe to (and love) his podcast (The Bible for Normal People, with Jared Byas.) My prior experience with this author led me to expect very scholarly Biblical study, shared with dry, sarcastic wit, and that's exactly what this book was. To be fair, this book will not be for everyone- in fact, some will hate this book. I recommend it specifically for two groups of people- Those who are becoming frustrated in their spiritual journey ("Why would God say this and then allow that?" "Why doesn't this work the way it's supposed to?") and secondly, to those who have already deconstructed. To those who are frustrated I would say, It's not just you. I grew up (as a pastor's kid!) in a very conservative evangelical denomination, and I have spent nearly my entire adult life trying to reconcile what my church says I should believe (faith) and what actually makes sense (logic). Enns' earlier book "The Bible Tells Me So" was very instrumental in helping me to find peace in holding the two in tension. It IS possible to love Jesus and still use your brain, and if that's what you are trying to do, this book will help you with that! Enns' entire premise is that the Bible is not meant to be read as a black and white rule-book. Instead, God has given us the "sacred responsibility" of seeing the overarching purpose of God. From the book, "Jesus is not about teaching 'correct thinking', but realigning minds, hearts and motivations to act well, to live in harmony with the kingdom of heaven." That may mean re-interpreting the scriptures for our lives today. Enns very thoroughly demonstrates that this "re-imagining" of the scripture is not sacrilegious. On the contrary, this is how faith has always been done, beginning thousands of years ago. Here, Enns' biblical scholarship really shines through- especially through his enjoyable (and rampant) footnotes! Now some info for those who have already deconstructed. This book could be housed with similar books such as "What is the Bible?" (Rob Bell), "Inspired" (Rachel Held Evans), and Enns' own "The Bible Tells Me So", all of which I have read and appreciated. In comparison to "What is the Bible?" and "Inspired", this book is more scholarly and laid out more as legal argument, ie, establishing incremental blocks which build his case slowly but surely. I don't mean to say that "How the Bible Actually Works" is boring, because it absolutely isn't. In both his books and his podcast, Enns does a remarkable job of making scholarship both accessible and enjoyable. But it's definitely not as whimsical as "What is the Bible?" nor as lovely as "Inspired" is. In comparison to Enns' prior book "The Bible Tells Me So", I felt like "How the Bible Actually works" was more hopeful and forward moving. Perhaps it's because I was still at the beginning of my deconstruction when I read "The Bible Tells Me So", but I ended that book feeling as though something had been torn down in me, while after reading "How the Bible Actually Works", I felt like the purpose of the Bible was revived. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it to all who fit into the two above categories. While sharing my honest opinion I will say that there are two small things that may have detracted slightly. First, just know- Enns is an over-explainer. I recognize this easily because I am also an over-explainer (I'm a classroom teacher, as is Enns). It didn't bother me, per se, but I definitely noticed it, and it may bother others. In my mind, it's just Enns being very thorough and deliberate. Second- Enns gives the Old Testament a LOT of acreage in this book, and not nearly as much for the New Testament. I would have enjoyed more expansion on this area of the book. Additionally, I would have loved it if Enns had included info about the formation/canonization of the Bible and how this idea of "re-imagination" was evident through church history (ie, 100CE through the 20th century). Those topics were outside the realm of this book, though. Maybe Pete could consider them for his next book??? ;) TL;DR? Get this book!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    The author’s approach of using examples from the Old Testament to demonstrate how Judaism evolved over time makes a lot of sense. Well done!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Faithe

    How we approach the Bible is perhaps the most critical issue facing Christianity today. After decades of falling in line behind the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, people are leaving the church in droves because the tension between the world in which we live, and this hard-line approach to the Bible, is too great. Churchgoers are finding that... 1. The usual explanations for Biblical contradictions are intellectually inadequate when you dig beyond the surface and challenge the pat answer How we approach the Bible is perhaps the most critical issue facing Christianity today. After decades of falling in line behind the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, people are leaving the church in droves because the tension between the world in which we live, and this hard-line approach to the Bible, is too great. Churchgoers are finding that... 1. The usual explanations for Biblical contradictions are intellectually inadequate when you dig beyond the surface and challenge the pat answers given by popular authority figures. 2. The topics of evolution, same-sex relationships, and women’s roles are being treated like elephants in the room to be gingerly skirted around at best. 3. They feel as if they can’t call themselves “Christian” anymore if they don’t line up behind the “right” answers being given from within the church. “How the Bible Actually Works” helps to cut this tension. It aims to demonstrate that the Bible actually works to lead people into wisdom (the ability to act right for our time, place and situation) instead of being a static, never-changing rule book. Enns accomplishes this using his insightful knowledge as a Biblical scholar in a way that's clear and easy to understand. As a bonus, his dry sarcasm and aptly placed footnotes* will make you involuntarily chuckle. This wisdom approach to the Bible invites readers to accept a sacred responsibility (Enn's terminology) to discern the right… and it’s not as easy as simply "following the rules". If you’re struggling to reconcile your Christian faith with the world you live in, “How the Bible Actually Works” will be a helpful and encouraging tool for your journey. *Bring your sense of humor.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Leah Randall

    Having been raised Methodist in the Bible Belt, I carried always an awareness that I read the Bible differently from many of my neighbors of the sola scriptura tradition whose various Statements of Faith insist upon the Book’s “inerrancy” and “infallibility. I have also watched some Evangelical fundamentalists raised in that tradition—awakened by cognitive dissonance as they confront social issues in a postmodern world, or when they encounter ambiguity and contradictions in the Bible—abandon it Having been raised Methodist in the Bible Belt, I carried always an awareness that I read the Bible differently from many of my neighbors of the sola scriptura tradition whose various Statements of Faith insist upon the Book’s “inerrancy” and “infallibility. I have also watched some Evangelical fundamentalists raised in that tradition—awakened by cognitive dissonance as they confront social issues in a postmodern world, or when they encounter ambiguity and contradictions in the Bible—abandon it as a no-longer-reliable record of God’s truth, purpose and actions. Reading How the Bible Actually Works, may indeed cause apologists for “the Bible as inerrant and infallible rule book” to squirm uncomfortably (even become enraged) as Enns masterfully illustrates the many absurdities one must accept in order to take the Bible “literally”. With equal mastery, he supports and fleshes out his proposition that the Bible’s purpose is to steer us away from absurdity toward wisdom. The (again, Methodist) writers of the Junaluska Affirmation, wisely (and, after all, Enns writes here about Wisdom as the Bible’s endgame), rejected the words “inerrant” and “infallible” in favor of the statement, “The authority of Scripture derives from the fact that God, through His Spirit, inspired the authors, causing them to perceive God's truth and record it with accuracy.” Since my youth, I have mainly approached the Bible accordingly. It seems to me that Pete Enns has gone and done likewise*. The Bible Tells Me So, Enns’ earlier book in this trilogy (with The Sin of Certainty) was an affirmation for me and others who love the Bible yet hold loosely to certainty over its every nuance. In How the Bible Actually Works, Enns offers insight into how perceiving God’s truth required the writers to “update” or “upgrade” the record over time as their perception of God’s truth developed and shifted. Feeling as if I was already very much “on the same page” as Peter Enns, this book doesn’t change “how the Bible actually works” for me. I found, rather, that it offers wisdom for approaching discussions about the Bible with those who have been conditioned to expect it to work infallibly and inerrantly. I cannot help wishing others of my acquaintance would read this book and take at least some small “something” away from it that would make it easier to have a conversation*. I would definitely recommend this book for those who find themselves in a period of “deconstructing” traditions as they try to reconcile their beliefs about scriptural inspiration with what they perceive to be God’s truth for a rapidly changing world—something, Enns says, is already happening within the Bible itself. In a nutshell: By understanding the Bible is not a set-in-stone rule book, we let it shepherd us toward wisdom as we accept its ambiguity. By embracing the Bible as a book of wisdom, perhaps all of us who love it might come into a greater understanding of how it brings the faith story of the past into the present and helps us discern what God is doing here and now. (*PeterEnns-style footnotes, which may or may not be an effort at humor or contain sarcasm—you decide.) P.S. Pete scored the last half-star needed to raise my rating to five stars by mentioning the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. 😉 Harper One provided a free Advance Reader copy, and I offer this review as a voluntary member of the Launch Team for How the Bible Actually Works. (I appreciate it so much I have pre-ordered a copy of the final print version.)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Boyd Barrett

    First of all, I am part of the launch team for “How the Bible Actually Works” by Pete Enns, so I received an advance reader copy from HarperOne. I have engaged with Pete’s work for the past few years and am a regular listener to his podcast. This book definitely achieves its goal of taking the listener through a fast-paced and humor-laced overview of how the Bible reveals itself to be an ongoing conversation about God, a conversation that is contained within and constrained by the varying culture First of all, I am part of the launch team for “How the Bible Actually Works” by Pete Enns, so I received an advance reader copy from HarperOne. I have engaged with Pete’s work for the past few years and am a regular listener to his podcast. This book definitely achieves its goal of taking the listener through a fast-paced and humor-laced overview of how the Bible reveals itself to be an ongoing conversation about God, a conversation that is contained within and constrained by the varying cultures and worldviews in which the books were written. Enns does a masterful job of walking his readers through the key points of that conversation and shows how the Biblical writers found the wisdom to repackage the truths about God to speak to their own time. Learning how to obtain the wisdom to repackage those truths is, according to Enns, the purpose of the Bible. If there is one tweak I would make to the argument of the book, it would be in regards to the spiritual world. Enns shows that the presentation of the spiritual world made a dramatic shift after the Babylonian exile and between the Old and New Testaments. The choice to be made is whether that shift is due totally to a reimagining by the Biblical writers that included new spiritual entities (good and evil) created to help explain their current situation or a possible increased revelation regarding the details of the spiritual world. Enns is not clear (at least in this book) which choice he would make. My favorite quote from the book: “I’ve learned - by reading the Bible again and again - to accept and be grateful for this messy Bible we have, which drives us, as I’ve been saying, away from thinking of it as a stagnant pond of rules and regulations and toward thinking of it as a flowing stream that invites us to step in and be refreshed anew every day in following Jesus here and now.” It’s clear that Enns sees the life, ministry, and proclamation of Jesus as the high mark of the Bible’s interplay with wisdom. However, he encourages us as modern readers to continue to employ the wisdom of repackaging found in the Bible to speak its message to our time and place.

  9. 5 out of 5

    MindyK

    The first time I bought Pete's book "The Sin of Certainty," I was so frightened by it, I threw it away! Not kidding. I had to go buy it again after my heart stopped skipping beats, so ka-ching, Pete, you sold that one twice! I have now read all of Pete's books, and this is another gem. Pete's very funny and easily accessible commentary on how the Bible leads us to wisdom and not a list of facts we must believe is a refreshing view of Scripture. My main takeaways from this journey: 1) we are to l The first time I bought Pete's book "The Sin of Certainty," I was so frightened by it, I threw it away! Not kidding. I had to go buy it again after my heart stopped skipping beats, so ka-ching, Pete, you sold that one twice! I have now read all of Pete's books, and this is another gem. Pete's very funny and easily accessible commentary on how the Bible leads us to wisdom and not a list of facts we must believe is a refreshing view of Scripture. My main takeaways from this journey: 1) we are to love the Lord with our minds--don't put your intelligence on hold to conform to some doctrine, 2) questions are nothing to be afraid of and are actually encouraged by God, and 3) Jesus is so much more amazing than I had been lead to believe! Buy this book if you have a sense of humor are open to having your views challenged! Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from HarperOne.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jon Gill

    Why We Need This Now I attend what most would call an “evangelical” church. While there are lots of ways to define that, for the purpose of this book’s topic, my church’s statement of belief on the Bible (a relatively standard evangelical one) goes like this: “The Bible, containing 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, written under inspiration of the Holy Spirit and having supreme and final authority on all matters to which it speaks. It is without error in the or Why We Need This Now I attend what most would call an “evangelical” church. While there are lots of ways to define that, for the purpose of this book’s topic, my church’s statement of belief on the Bible (a relatively standard evangelical one) goes like this: “The Bible, containing 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, written under inspiration of the Holy Spirit and having supreme and final authority on all matters to which it speaks. It is without error in the original manuscripts and contains all the words God intended for His people to have in order to trust and obey Him.” If I had written this, I would have had to cut some parts entirely, and add asterisks to almost everything that remained.* [*For example, “Why 66? Not even Christians agree on that!” and “Original manuscripts? We don’t have those!” and “I thought it was JESUS who was supposed to be the Word of God! Shouldn’t the Bible just be pointing us to Him?” and “What does ‘inspiration’ mean in this case?” and “What did Christians do before they had the Bible?” Not to mention the questions I have about the Bible’s historicity, its literal interpretations, its ancient pseudo-science, and its mythology (yes, mythology).] In summary, my relationship with the Bible lately has been complicated at best. I suppose this is why no one is knocking down my door asking me to be an elder. Not that I’m asking. The latest book from Old Testament Scholar (and Serious Snark Expert) Pete Enns is full of asterisks. There’s even an asterisk in the title!* [*Of course, some authors use even more footnotes than he does, but you’ll enjoy the diverse flavor of his footnoting style.] I read Enns’s The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It recently, and it was incredibly refreshing. It presented a well-needed criticism on the modern evangelical “Biblicist” reading of the scriptures, favoring a more informed and realistic approach toward understanding what we should or should not try to make the Bible do for us. While that book largely worked on breaking apart the box we’ve decided to shove the Bible into, this book shatters the mold entirely and shows us what it looks like to really use the Bible for its actual purpose, which he argues (from the title on) is to lead us to Wisdom. “After all,” he says, “God is not a helicopter parent.” He wants us to walk with Him, not just cite him in footnotes.* [*I am aware of the irony of this analogy, having just discussed the value of footnotes.] Enns analyzes the three features he says are most important to keep in mind as we read the Bible: that it is Ancient (Like, really really old! So old that our world is very little like the context of the writers and audiences!); Ambiguous (Even the LAWS aren’t all that clear, and most of our real work with the Bible is interpreting the meaning behind its ambiguity); and Diverse (different writers writing at different times to different people for different reasons – a theme of both books). We know subconsciously that we need to somehow translate the words (literally and spiritually) into our lives in a relevant way – the problem is, we don’t necessarily know or agree on how to do that.* [*I shouldn't say "problem" here, since Enns would say that's part of our job - to disagree and debate!] Wisdom Rather Than Answers So what are we doing wrong, and how should we change it? Well first off, we probably are doing a lot of things right, even if we don’t know that we are. Enns points out many places where we find ourselves already translating the wisdom of the ancient texts into new contexts for reasons not necessarily imagined or intended by the original authors, such as when we worked for the abolition of slavery (he goes into detail on this one, since it’s a good example of contrasting the wisdom argument with the straight-text argument). I could think of many other examples even within my own evangelical context where people do take the Bible’s context, ambiguity, and diversity into account when applying it wisely to their lives. So it’s not that we get it all wrong. But he takes particular issue with the sort of “rule book” application of scripture that we see at times, which stems from the Biblicist system I’ve quote in my church’s doctrinal statement above. Exalting the Bible as a perfect, “inerrant,” “infallible,” and essentially timeless document by which we magically know exactly how to live our lives is, to Enns, basically like dividing by zero. It’s far beyond useless; it’s downright impossible. If we really want the Bible to be useful to us, here in 21st century America (or wherever we are), we need to add some real understanding to the who, what, when, where, and why of the Bible’s ancient, ambiguous, and diverse authorship. The Bible is not supposed to be viewed like the Quran or Joseph Smith’s golden tablets, as a magical and perfect text written by the hand of God without the hint of fallible or limited human contribution. The Bible is very human…and that’s OK! For the TL;DR folks If I had to summarize the premises and theology of this book, it would be: 1. The Bible was written by men in different places, times, and contexts, for the purpose of describing what God was like, in their particular experience, context, and world (and remember, this context is an ancient and limited one!); 2. As times changed, new things about God had to be explored (you could go with Enns’s term “reimagined” or if that’s too uncomfortable, perhaps just “re-learned” or “revealed”), and this very process is modeled in the Bible as we look at the changing times and situations of its authors; 3. Christianity itself is such a “reimagining” of the old texts that it takes us well beyond the limits of the old faith (“Not Your Father’s Judaism”) into something new that God is doing; 4. Reading, interpreting, debating, and learning from the old texts (i.e. the Bible itself, to us) is our “sacred responsibility,” and we can only do it if we seek wisdom rather than easy, quotable, certain answers. The Bible doesn’t provide us with answers, it just helps us seek Wisdom, which is how we walk with God in our time, place, and situation. 5. We shouldn’t attempt to make the Bible “fit” together by explaining away or torturing conflicting passages or contradictions; instead, we should recognize its diverse portraits of God over time and context, and recognize the wisdom that leads us to find God’s portrait for our own time, place, and life. Heretics and Ripping Off the Band-Aid Enns does not set out to destroy the Bible in any way. That is sometimes a feature of non-Christian biblical scholars (whose scholarship we should NOT dismiss, nonetheless!), and I think the most conservative reader may feel threatened as Enns riffs on the revelations of modern scholarship and what logical ends they lead to. I remember being a bit jarred when I found out in The Bible Tells Me So that scholarship points toward the Canaanite conquest as being mostly a legend rather than straight history. Biblical archaeology aside, when an “inerrantist” view comes across new scholarship or factual challenges, the first reaction is usually defensiveness. But if modern scholarship has given fundamentalist evangelicalism a wound, Enns rips the band-aid off and tells us how to heal. Enns is rather disarming precisely because he accepts (and conducts) modern scholarship, and merely incorporates those new revelations into a more-well-informed faith. While an inerrantist would either double down or lose their faith entirely, Enns shows us how to be more…well, wise about how we read, understand, interpret, and apply the Bible to our lives today. He puts it this way: "We should be very careful to avoid two extremes. The first is looking down on this ancient view of God [violent, tribal, one of many] as simply “wrong.” The other is elevating this view off the pages of history, of taking it as timeless and ‘correct’ because it’s in the Bible. We respect these sacred texts not by taking them as the final word on what God is like, but by accepting them as recording for us genuine experiences of God for the Israelites and trying to understand why they would describe God as they do." By not expecting the Bible to do something it’s not designed to do (even if we’d really, really like it to), we can freely embrace our own responsibility to seek out what Wisdom looks like – and thus, what God look like – in our particular context here and now. Criticisms and Strengths Is this book infallible [haha]? No. My main criticism is probably amplified because I’m already a fan of his other work: there are many parts in the book where his roundabout and wandering style causes him to repeat himself a lot. He reasserts his thesis dozens of times, and numerous phrases risk “beating a dead goat” for how many times they appear. Many points are twice as long as they probably needed to be.* [*Fun Fact: There are exactly twice as many words in the title as there are chapters in the book!] This happens more in the first half of the book, and is less noticeable as the examples are more fleshed out. It’s probably more obvious after reading The Bible Tells Me So, since in these books together he argues this point against “rule book hermeneutics” at length. The book itself is quite easy to read, unlike most books by actual bible scholars, so in spite of the roundabout style and dry German humor, you'll have plenty of fun while learning a lot. The cartoon-y graphics and maps at the beginning are worth a good long look and really set the tone for a fun but still legitimate journey in Bible scholarship. The chapter titles and subheadings alone are worthy of a book recommendation. Ultimately, though, the strongest and most valuable parts of the book are the specific examples that not only show where we might have misapplied or misunderstood a text, but where we were probably completely in the dark about the origins and original intent of a text. I learned, for example, just how important an event the exile was for Israel's identity and faith; I also learned how much of the OT is written from the perspective of Judah, who were exiled later than Israel and some of whom returned. The Judaism that finishes writing the OT, writes the Apocrypha, and gives birth to the New Testament’s Christ movement is all descended from that small remnant of Judahites that return from exile. I knew this, to a point, but never realized just how deeply affecting this is when it comes to understanding the texts, their origins, and their purpose.* [*N.T. Wright does a good job of showing this also, but I’ve only just started reading his books.] It’s in the specific examples that I can have conversations with my more conservative evangelical friends. We can both approach the conflicting portraits of God and Ninevah found in Nahum and Jonah, for example, and while my friend might try to harmonize them, I can discuss how a diverse reading actually helps us make more sense of God, not only in that context, but in how I can know Him today. When someone says the Bible has all the answers I need, I can perhaps point to the arguments preached by my anti-abolitionist ancestor in the 19th century, who derived from the text that God supported slavery and opposed abolition. When my friend asks where our final authority comes from on who God is and how we should live, we can usually agree that the answer is Jesus, not some ambiguous reading of the Bible. We won’t always agree on what the Bible teaches, and Enns doesn’t think we have to. Rather, we have the duty to seek Wisdom, using the Bible as an ancient, ambiguous, and diverse example – but not as a timeless and inerrant rule book. Recognizing the Bible for what it is frees us to learn Wisdom rather than grasp at rote or unmoving answers. After all, Pharisees may write and enforce rules, but Disciples walk humbly with the source of Wisdom.* [*Note that this is a person, not a book.] **** Disclosure: I received an advance reader copy of the book from HarperOne as a member of the Launch Team, in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order the book before its Feb 19, 2019 release at: peteenns.com/how-the-bible-actually-w...

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lynley

    #harperonepartner #wisebible #howthebibleactuallyworks Full disclosure I read an advance excerpt of the book. It’s an eye opener and resonated with some things I could never express properly but his put words to it. I almost want to say that Pete does it again, but if you never read a book of his before, this is a brilliant one to start.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Zac Cannon

    Enns, Peter. How the Bible Actually Works. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2019. I was introduced to Peter Enns several years ago through his contributions with BioLogos. Around that time, I was looking for better answers to the questions I wrestled with pertaining to the Bible and Christian faith; specifically, how the two could engage the dynamic and changing world we live in. Personally, I could no longer hold onto many of the old answers that had once been so bedrock to my understand Enns, Peter. How the Bible Actually Works. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2019. I was introduced to Peter Enns several years ago through his contributions with BioLogos. Around that time, I was looking for better answers to the questions I wrestled with pertaining to the Bible and Christian faith; specifically, how the two could engage the dynamic and changing world we live in. Personally, I could no longer hold onto many of the old answers that had once been so bedrock to my understanding. The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty were two books, both by Enns, that helped to move me toward the mystery of the Christian faith tradition while, simultaneously, allowing me to take the Bible even more seriously than ever before. When I learned that the author was working on a new book that would be a sort of culmination of his thoughts so far, I was very excited. I believe that Peter Enns – through his books and podcast, The Bible for Normal People – is helping many frustrated or estranged Christians, as well as non-Christians, embrace the faith tradition of the Bible with intellectual integrity in a quickly evolving world. How the Bible Actually Works, a title which illustrates Enns’s proclivity for wit and sarcasm that permeates the book, takes a reader familiar with his work on a similar journey of discovery as experienced in his previous titles. He provides insight and evidence from within the biblical texts that point to its “culturally embedded” nature and reveals how it is a much more ancient, ambiguous, and diverse library of books than some – even fellow Christians – like to assume. For readers unfamiliar with Enns, this book may be a bit jarring. If your approach to reading and studying the Bible is more akin to the Ken Hams of the world – as if the Bible is a textbook filled with historical, scientific, and religious information to be copied from text to brain – this book will either A) anger you to the point of crying heresy and throwing the book across the room, or B) shake the foundations of what you understand the Bible to be. Either way, a seed will hopefully be planted that helps you recognize that “rather than providing us with information to be downloaded, the Bible holds out for us an invitation to join an ancient, well-traveled, and sacred quest to know God, the world we live in, and our place in it (10).” Perhaps the most insightful reminder that this book provides is that we must recognize within the Bible there is evidence that the many authors who contributed to this curated library of texts display a shifting point of view. The reality is that these contributors consciously allowed the stories of their sacred past to be adopted and reimagined to bear weight on their now. As Enns points out, “…not because they disrespected the past, but because they respected it so much they had to tie it to their present (77).” Some readers will bristle at the reminder that the biblical texts bear the evidence of human fingerprints (not to mention editing, redacting, and downright retelling certain events in purposeful yet contradictory ways). When we allow ourselves to experience the Bible “more like a living organism than a carved tablet” (167), perhaps it will open us up to engage in growing awareness and wisdom; to undergo the journey all of the inspired authors of the Bible who experienced the Divine did in order to use the Bible to “creatively retell the past in order to bridge that past to a difficult present and thus to hear God’s voice afresh once again (109).” I have read all of Enns's books and I am a frequent listener to the podcast he hosts, along with Jared Byas. I will be honest, I could not read this book without hearing his voice. The best thing about that is, despite the dad jokes and sometimes ironic tone, this book portrays the growth that I recognize in the author as he has walked his own journey over the past several years. Whereas The Bible Tells Me So was almost a planting of a flag after a bitter season and The Sin of Certainty was a more personal undertaking exploring that season and getting to the other side, How the Bible Actually Works – to me at least – is Enns’s most pastorally concerned work. Enns says that this book is for the frustratedly Christion, the barely Christian, and even the formerly Christian. While I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves in any of those categories, I would also recommend it to anyone who is spiritually curious; to anyone who is open to ask, “What new thing will the God of old do now? (158)” *I am part of the launch team for “How the Bible Actually Works” by Pete Enns, so I read an advance reader copy from HarperOne.*

  13. 4 out of 5

    G.F. Erichsen

    On the cover of his newest book, Peter Enns — a former evangelical religion professor who has been accused of heresy by his traditionalist critics — promises a “revolutionary way of understanding the mission of the Bible.” He delivers. Although his concepts aren’t entirely new — he introduced some of them in his 2014 The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It— Enns makes a strong case for seeing the Bible as a volume that was never meant to give us clear answers On the cover of his newest book, Peter Enns — a former evangelical religion professor who has been accused of heresy by his traditionalist critics — promises a “revolutionary way of understanding the mission of the Bible.” He delivers. Although his concepts aren’t entirely new — he introduced some of them in his 2014 The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It— Enns makes a strong case for seeing the Bible as a volume that was never meant to give us clear answers to life’s most important questions, at least not directly. And he throws in plenty of his unique style of sometimes-self-effacing-but-not-always-really humor as a bonus. (Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher, HarperOne, with the expectation that I would share my honest opinions, good or bad, about the book on social media.) So here’s the premise: As the book’s long title says, the Bible is ancient, ambiguous and diverse. It also has contradictions along with “history” that seems to be written to promote an agenda rather than presenting anything objective. Oh, and some of the “answers” it gives seem to be limited to a particular time and place, such as Paul’s admonition that women shouldn’t speak in church. So we shouldn’t go to the Bible expecting to be told how to live our lives, at least not in so many words. After all, the Bible writers didn’t see what they were writing that way. Old Testament writers may have warned about eating meat sacrificed to idols, for example, but Paul said, in effect, “Never mind.” But not always. And the writer in Proverbs 26:4 advises not to answer a fool according to his folly, but the very next verse says the exact opposite. What the Bible is all about — again this is in that long title — is wisdom. As Enns says in The Bible Tells Me So, the joy of the Bible isn’t found in accepting what it says as the final word, but in recognizing it as the story of what its writers thought about God. “We follow the lead of these writers not by simply reproducing how they imagined God for their time, but by reimagining God for ourselves in our time,” he writes in the new book. The result? We won’t see God the same way its writers did, but we will see God and experience God anew through the eyes of our own culture and who we are today. It all makes sense to me, and the more I read this book the more I found myself seeing it as common sense. As Enns says, the Bible simply wasn’t meant to be the final answer, nor does it claim to be. I expect that readers who are ready for this book will love it if they aren’t put off by the writing style that somehow combines levity with graduate-level tidbits, especially in the footnotes. (Sometimes I liked the style and sometimes I didn’t.) But if you’re convinced that the Bible has clear answers and that it should be understood more or less literally, you may be ready to throw the book in the trash by the second or third chapter. That’s because Enns is expecting Bible readers themselves to provide the answers that the Bible itself won’t directly provide, and many of those with a traditional view of the Bible also grew up in churches where they were taught that the Bible was needed because we can’t be trusted to figure the truth on our own, thanks to original sin and all that. And that’s the weakness that traditional believers will find in the book: Enns embraces ambiguity and may even see that embrace as essential for spiritual growth. But he never really explains how to understand the ambiguity. Or maybe he does. Or maybe it’s impossible to do so — after all, isn’t the point of recognizing ambiguity to explain why there aren’t definite answers? Enns’ earlier book, The Bible Tells Me So, changed the way I looked at the Scriptures and helped me find value in portions that had long bothered me, such as the tales of divinely sanctioned genocide. As I mull over How the Bible Actually Works in coming months, I expect that it too will give me further appreciation for those ancient writings that serve as one of the cornerstones of my faith.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    Final Review Note: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher, HarperOne. I highly recommend Peter Enns’ newest book How the Bible Actually Works*. It is a well thought out, biblically sound observation (think 20,000 foot view) that helps us consider our relationship with the Bible – what we can actually learn from it and what we, maybe, actually shouldn’t. While my tendency is to agree with Enns on many things, I tried to look at the book, additionally, with the Bible skeptic Final Review Note: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher, HarperOne. I highly recommend Peter Enns’ newest book How the Bible Actually Works*. It is a well thought out, biblically sound observation (think 20,000 foot view) that helps us consider our relationship with the Bible – what we can actually learn from it and what we, maybe, actually shouldn’t. While my tendency is to agree with Enns on many things, I tried to look at the book, additionally, with the Bible skeptic and skeptics of Enns, himself, in mind. I found little to push back against and much to agree with if one has any sense of the Bible being an inspired, “living” collection. The book includes many references to scripture and the specifics of various stories. Enns’ wit and sarcasm makes pushing thru the details necessary to understand his point enjoyable.* I highlighted interesting points throughout the entire book – literally from page two to the last page – in the acknowledgements! An unexpected outcome of reading this is that I am anxious to go back and read the whole Bible again from this “wisdom” perspective. *While some of the footnotes are what you’d typically expect, many are quite humorous like outtakes at the end of a movie. Initial Partial Review My initial thoughts (I'll update when I finish) are that this book is an accessible read for anyone and thought provoking in both the individual stories/examples and an overall view of our expectations of the Bible. I am anxious to read more. #harperonepartner #wisebible #howthebibleactuallyworks

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Bolick

    *Disclosure: I received a free/proof copy of this book as part of the HarperOne launch team. Is the Bible a monolith which gives homogeneous answers to perennial questions; is that an understanding apparent from actually reading the trajectory of the library of books which make up the Bible? How the Bible Actually Works embraces and explores the notion that the collection of diverse literature contained in the Old and New Testaments models for us something other than a "rule-book". In fact, the B *Disclosure: I received a free/proof copy of this book as part of the HarperOne launch team. Is the Bible a monolith which gives homogeneous answers to perennial questions; is that an understanding apparent from actually reading the trajectory of the library of books which make up the Bible? How the Bible Actually Works embraces and explores the notion that the collection of diverse literature contained in the Old and New Testaments models for us something other than a "rule-book". In fact, the Bible itself makes such an understanding self-defeating, if we follow its conversation - with itself. The Bible models wisdom; paying attention to the dialogue occurring within the dynamic pages of the Bible means recognizing this call, and even the continuation of reimagining God for our own context. Peter Enns has crafted another thoughtful, accessible, and hilariously entertaining work, exploring these notions and challenging the reader to assess the implications of a Bible which codifies a process of wisdom over stringent formulas. "Wisdom leads us to dialogues with the past. It doesn't lead us back to the past." How the Bible Actually Works is a book for people interested seeing how the Bible's own modeling and reimagining process of what God is like has functioned, so that we might continue that conversation into our own time and context.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    For the purpose of full disclosure, I received an advanced free copy of the book from HarperOne in exchange for an honest review. I had the unique experience this past week of being a part of Peter Enns' launch team for his latest book How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather than Answers-- and Why That's Great News. Whew, that's quite the sub-title. From my past encounters with Enns' works (see my review of The Bible T For the purpose of full disclosure, I received an advanced free copy of the book from HarperOne in exchange for an honest review. I had the unique experience this past week of being a part of Peter Enns' launch team for his latest book How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather than Answers-- and Why That's Great News. Whew, that's quite the sub-title. From my past encounters with Enns' works (see my review of The Bible Tells Me So here), I found his approach to the Bible refreshing, honest, and vulnerable-- aspects that I think an up-and-coming Christian generation are yearning for. I didn't expect anything less from How the Bible Actually Works. As another disclaimer, per usual, this isn't a review per say (here's what was good, here's what was bad), but more of a thoughtful reflection with insights in my own life. Take it as you will. The book covers quite a bit of ground, but Enns crafts it into one cohesive narrative, often to the point of being repetitive-- but in a good way. Each point reinforces the other. He captures nearly everything inside the title itself. The three points he makes about the Bible are that it is Ancient: because the Bible was written by and for and ancient audience, we have to take it in context before seeking applications to our own life. Ambiguous: the Bible doesn't always give clear-cut and easily interpretable answers, so be careful when pulling verses out to defend hard points of view. Diverse: there are actually a variety, and often contradictory viewpoints in the Bible, but that isn't an editing error; the Bible gives us examples of individuals following God and exercising wisdom: applying God's will in situation-specific ways. I was a little concerned by the title that Enns wasn't going to add a lot to what he already covered in The Bible Tells Me So. And it's true that he does build on themes in that book. But if I were to try to capture the difference, it would be that How the Bible Actually Works gives us positives (read the Bible like this) as opposed to negatives (don't read the Bible like this). I will say that How the Bible Actually Works will make a certain sub-section of Christians fairly uncomfortable. Some come to the scriptures with a very definite view of what the scriptures should give: a consistent picture of God, unchanging clear and definite rules, and there should be no embarrassing mess-ups or course corrections. This is especially true among most Latter-Day Saints where a literalist tendency is found, even if it isn't explicitly endorsed. You will find differences of opinion, but try arguing that maybe Jonah wasn't actually swallowed by a fish, and you're bound to step on some toes. I wanted an example when talking to my dad about gospel topics. In on Sunday afternoon conversation, I was talking about a novel interpretation of the story of Noah I had read in a book by a Jewish rabbi Jonathan Sacks. When this brought up the question whether the Flood was a world-wide or local event, and I gravitated toward the latter, my dad got very touchy; he intimated that I was on shaky ground, possibly being blown about by every wind of doctrine, and the next thing you know, I could be denying a literal resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Latter-Day Saint doctrine, we understand that the Flood was a symbolic baptism of the earth. Latter-Day Saints baptize by immersion, so that means the entire thing had to be under water. My dad found it would weaken the meaning of the story if you took away the global aspect of it. I would anticipate that Christians in general would probably have similar sentiments when reading Peter Enns' book if they harbor similar sentiments. My Latter-Day Saint background on the Bible Before diving into Enns' ideas on the Bible, I wanted to emphasize some of my thoughts on the Bible that I bring to the table as a Latter-Day Saint. Latter-Day Saints aka Mormons have a unique understanding of the Bible that their fellow Christians, and may have qualms with Enns' book for different (or maybe not so different) reasons. First off, Latter-Day Saints will totally agree with Enns' assertion that the Bible isn't a perfect rule-book downloaded directly from heaven. In fact, most of our doctrine is built on this point. The entire motivation for a restoration of the gospel is that the Bible isn't perfect, and cannot be replied upon to fully build a Christian community by itself. The Latter-Day Saint prophet Joseph Smith translated another ancient record the Book of Mormon that is meant to sit next to and establish what already exists in the Bible, making clear what wasn't clear in the other text. For Biblical support, Latter-Day Saints cite Ezekiel 37:19: Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand. The Bible being the stick of Judah, and the Book of Mormon being the stick of Ephraim. The Book of Mormon explains why the Bible isn't complete on its own, due to changes during the long night of apostasy after the death of the apostles: Thou hast beheld that the book proceeded out of the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded out of the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord... And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of a great and abominable Church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and precious, and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. All this is summed up nicely in the fifth Article of Faith: We believe the Bible to be the word of God so far as it is translated correctly. In this respect, Latter-Day Saints aren't going to be as shaken up if the Bible turns out to not be clear and unambiguous: it was expected to be so. But Latter-Day Saints are still prone to literal interpretations and rulebook mentalities due to a couple additional pieces. The first is the concept of prophets. Latter-Day Saints have a living prophet. In some respects, the prophet becomes the ultimate source of authority from God rather than the Bible. In a classic piece that is often repeated in general conferences talks, there are two points that are made quite clear: The living prophet is more vital to us than the Standard Works [e.g. scriptural canon including the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants]. The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet. Perhaps this was more dramatically expressed by the second prophet Brigham Young: Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: “There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day.” “And now,” said he, “when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.” Prophets rather than the Bible are the non-negotiable element of Latter-Day Saint faith. In theory, if we lost the Bible today, we would not be lost as long as we had a living prophet. The second element that adds another interesting twist is the doctrine taught since Joseph Smith's day that the gospel of Jesus Christ is universal. Not only in the present sense that it is binding on all individuals, but that the gospel has never undergone any changes. Adam and Eve were baptized after leaving the garden of Eden and they were taught about Jesus Christ and his mission. If this isn't obvious in the Old Testament, it's because what we have has been edited out or lost. In fact, there's a whole section of scripture called The Pearl of Great Price purporting to be lost records revealed to Abraham, Enoch, and Moses. One of the great tasks Joseph Smith took upon himself was translating the Bible: meticulously going through the extant version of the King James bible and making inspired edits. The pursuit of wisdom OK, so now onto how this has interesting interactions with Enns' own interpretation of the Bible. One of the main points Enns makes is that the Bible wasn't mean to be a clear-cut rulebook. In fact, sometimes it out-right contradicts itself. Enns first demonstrates this with a fascinating selection from Proverbs where two verses right next to each other completely contradict each other: Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself. Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes. There's a clear-cut rule for you, right? Well, which is it? Enns' answer is that the Bible isn't meant to give us one-size-fits-all answers, but rather is to teach us wisdom, which he defines roughly as the ability to read a situation, and apply the appropriate response in the moment. Perhaps what Latter-Day Saints would refer to as following the Spirit, but I like the emphasis on wisdom and re-centering the responsibility on us to work it out rather than an outside entity, something I think that is perhaps less emphasized in Latter-Day Saint circles. Now, this is where I think things get interesting. Could Latter-Day Saints accept such an explanation? Can the Bible be ambiguous and diverse? I personally think so, and I don't feel like I'm apostate. Maybe some think I am. See, according to Joseph Smith, the Bible would be entirely self-consistent and clear if we had the original record. His Inspired Translation is an attempt to get back at that. And it feels like whenever he came to an ambiguous or unclear point, he forced it to be clear. I think one of my favorite examples is what he does with Matthew 7:1, the Sermon on the Mount passage where we are commanded Judge not, that ye be not judged. Joseph Smith renders it Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment. It seems that in Joseph Smith's view, completely refraining was not only impossible, but also not correct: you need to make judgments all the time. I mean, you need to call out doctrinal errors as you seen them, right? The common adage Hate the sin, not the sinner is the closest most Latter-Day Saints can get to being completely non-judgmental. Perhaps this clarification helps some people. But to me, it takes away the point Christ was making: he was purposely setting a standard that we cannot fulfill perfectly: loving your enemies? never even harboring an impure thought? Are any of us going to live up to this? I find Joseph Smith's attempt at making the Bible self-consistent a noble effort, and I think it adds a lot of new insights. It is a valuable document, but I tend to like to read other translations as well that I think add power and nuance. Enn's thoughts on wisdom brought a lot of other ideas to mind from other authors I've read recently. I think one that most closely mirrors this thought of situation-specific application is Rabbi Jonathan Sack's dichotomy of saints and sages: ‘Walking in God’s ways’ therefore means involvement in society, which is why Maimonides favoured the sage over the saint. The sage is concerned with the perfection of society. The saint is concerned with the perfection of self. The sage knows that in any human group there are conflicts – of temperament and conviction, interest and ambition – and they can only be resolved by balance, compromise and mediation. That is the gift of the sage. His wisdom is to give each person and situation its due: to reward the good, discourage the bad and ensure that decisions are taken that enhance the group rather than taking the side of one individual against another. The sage has the social virtues: justice, fairness, integrity, patience, a love of peace, an ability to hear both sides of an argument and weigh conflicting situations. He or she does not act out of emotion but on the basis of careful deliberation of what is best for all concerned. A zealot, said the Rebbe of Kotzk, cannot be a leader. To be a leader one has to cultivate those traits the Torah ascribes to God: compassion and grace, patience and forgiveness, and the other ‘attributes of mercy’. In this model, Enns is modeling the role of a sage, using wisdom to build a better society. This sometimes is interpreted by others as caving into worldly expectations. But I think it is the best model of trying to live up to that Christian adage to be in the world but not of the world. It's finding that right balance. Another recent example I'm reading right now comes from Charles Taylor's A Secular Age. He outlines how modern society lost something when they tried to oust equilibrium from the public sphere, something I equate with Sack's model of a sage and Enn's idea of wisdom: We could call this feature an equilibrium in tension between two kinds of goals. On one hand, the Christian faith pointed towards a self-transcendence, a turning of life towards something beyond ordinary human flourishing, as we discussed in an earlier section. On the other, the institutions and practices of mediaeval society, as with all human societies, were at least partly attuned to foster at least some human flourishing. This sets up a tension, between the demands of the total transformation which the faith calls to, and the requirements of ordinary ongoing human life. Two others I thought that fit in nicely here, but I won't for space are Lowell Bennion's dichotomy of the priestly and prophetic roles in religion, as well as Terryl Given's idea of religion tension. I find it interesting that I have found a constellation of similar ideas recently, and I like piecing them together. Adapt to survive Another idea that Enns' presents is that religious traditions have to be malleable in order to stay alive. He summarizes it so: To honor tradition means adapting that tradition in order for it to keep it vibrant. It may seem totally counterintuitive, but you can't really honor a tradition unless you are willing to change it. Survival is at stake. I feel this is very true and wise advice. At its base, I feel like Mormonism can embrace such a viewpoint. The whole idea of a prophet is to give revelation for our day. So why can't a prophet speak for our day? But balancing that is the idea that because God is unchanging, religion should be also. We should literally have the same exact gospel that was preached to Adam by the angel, no exceptions. The former idea was expressed beautifully by Kathleen Flake in her book on the seating of Reed Smoot in the U.S. Senate. At the time, Mormonism had experienced a stark change when they were compelled to give up polygamy. At the time, it felt earth-shattering: polygamy wasn't only a practice: it was doctrine. She writes: These three elements– a foundational restoration of Christ’s church from apostasy, a base of continuing revelation from heaven, and an assertion of Joseph Smith’s revelatory power and divine authority bestowed to those that follow– were the core elements of Latter-Day Saint doctrine and continued to frame the church’s identity within twentieth-century American denominationalism. In place of its nineteenth-century emphasis on theocratic and familial kingdom-building, the LDS Church was prepared by crisis to return to less grandiose but still large claims regarding restoration of the primitive church, divine sponsorship, and living prophets. These principles constituted the generative, and hence, nonnegotiable core of Mormonism. It's emphasis on prophets gave it the flexibility to go on. The structure made room for changes in content. And I still feel like Latter-Day Saint theology is flexible enough for more changes. Right now, Latter-Day Saints have experienced some pretty big changes all in a row. Our new prophet, Russell M. Nelson counseled saints to "Take their vitamins" because there are a lot more changes coming. How have they addressed or justified these changes? Let's look at two examples. First, elders quorums were restructured to include both elders and high priests. When announcing this change, President Nelson said: Today we announce a significant restructuring of our Melchezidek Priesthood quorums to accomplish the work of the Lord more effectively... This adjustment will greatly enhance the capacity and ability of men who bear the priesthood to serve others... These modifications have been under study for many months. We have felt a pressing need to improve the way we care for our members and report our contacts with them. To do that better, we need to strengthen our priesthood quorums to give greater direction to the ministering of love and support that he Lord intends for His saints. President Nelson emphasized that a lot of research had been going on present to this announcement. It was well thought-out, and likely discussed in counsels. It feels like a different mode of revelation than biblical revelation, or even revelation through the prophet Joseph Smith. The second example I want to give is regarding the recent changes to the temple ceremony. The Church news site gives the following justification for the changes: Over these many centuries, details associated with temple work have been adjusted periodically, including language, methods of construction, communication, and record-keeping. Prophets have taught that there will be no end to such adjustments as directed by the Lord to His servants. This emphasizes that the changes aren't necessarily doctrinal but merely administrative. And yes, these recent changes don't feel earth-shattering. Other changes may happen, and the structure of prophetic revelation makes that possible. I was thinking back to the interview with former President Gordon B. Hinckley on Sixty Minutes when a caller asked about the likelihood of women receiving the priesthood: Caller: Yes. Since we're getting into the 21st century, President Hinckley, what is the chance that women may hold a priesthood in the Mormon church? GBH: Well, they don't hold the priesthood at the present time. It would take another revelation to bring that about. I don't anticipate it. The women of the church are not complaining about it. They have their own organization, a very strong organization, 4 million plus members. I don't know of another women's organization in the world which does so much for women as does that... See the rest of the review at https://historyengineers.com/2019/01/...

  17. 4 out of 5

    Justin Boulmay

    This review, like the Bible itself, will not spell out everything you need to know about Peter Enns’ new book. How the Bible Actually Works argues that Scripture is ancient, ambiguous, and diverse and so requires wisdom to discern how to apply it in our time. God is not a helicopter parent, writes Enns, and so we shouldn’t expect Him to spell out every single thing He requires of His children. You can’t just read these laws in a hyper-literal fashion and apply them “as is,” because the commands This review, like the Bible itself, will not spell out everything you need to know about Peter Enns’ new book. How the Bible Actually Works argues that Scripture is ancient, ambiguous, and diverse and so requires wisdom to discern how to apply it in our time. God is not a helicopter parent, writes Enns, and so we shouldn’t expect Him to spell out every single thing He requires of His children. You can’t just read these laws in a hyper-literal fashion and apply them “as is,” because the commands themselves invite all sorts of questions you have to answer before you can even think of applying them. Instead, the Bible forms new ideas on top of old ones and uses imaginative methods of interpretation to make its arguments. Instead, He gave us tools like the Scriptures to make us like Jesus, who is the very wisdom of God. This approach may help readers reconcile contradictory passages they find throughout Scripture, things that never seem to reconcile even when a well-meaning believer tries to argue that they do (provided you know enough about the cultural background and so on). Instead, we use wisdom to understand whether we should answer a fool, or not (Proverbs 26:4 vs. Proverbs 26:5); which types of slaves should actually be emancipated (Exodus vs. Deuteronomy); whether children should be punished for the sins of their parents (Ezekiel vs. the Second Commandment); whether God will judge Nineveh or show the empire mercy (Jonah vs. Nahum) Those questions are secondary when we ask what God is like, which for Enns is the wisdom question around which the rest of these issues revolve (124). In the case of our sacred writings, we’re dealing with how those authors experienced God and the how they thought and wrote about the Divine. “The sacred responsibility I’ve been talking about,” writes Enns, “is really a call to follow this biblical lead and reimagine God in our time and place” (125). The biblical writers had genuine encounters with the living God but they used the language and thoughts of their culture to communicate those experiences. (An example: the way the Bible speaks of the existence of other gods and, on occasion, their powerful victories over the Israelites. It’s why the ancient writers speak of their Lord committing acts that we’d consider barbaric and genocidal.) Wisdom teaches us to embrace the adequacy and limitations of our own abilities to talk about God (129). We need wisdom, present from the creation of the world and later associated with Christ himself, to understand how to apply Scripture—even when the Bible adjusts previously held laws for newer times. If this weren’t true, then Christianity would never have come into existence because what the early church’s claims about Jesus required a serious re-reading of the Scriptures. No one prior to Christians believed God, not humans, would offer a sacrifice to atone for sins and that this offering would be His Son (155). No one thought the Messiah would be executed by the very powers he was supposed to crush or that circumcision and dietary laws would someday be discontinued for faithful obedience. And yet, those are all doctrines the New Testament proudly proclaims because Paul and the early church took the tradition they’d inherited and reimagined it to understand the God they encountered through Jesus. Enns also points out that the New Testament identifies Jesus as the very Wisdom of God who “holds the Law in one hand and wisdom in the other” (203). This Wisdom, made flesh, “gives us access to the Creator to reveal hidden things and invites us to seek our our sacred responsibility to perceive God’s unscripted presence here and now” (205). How specifically are we to reimagine our tradition without leaving it? In all honesty, this is where the book disappointed me, because Enns doesn’t give examples of 21st-century Christians doing this. He talks about same-sex marriage and women’s roles in church as areas where we need wisdom to determine which of Paul’s cultural influences should no longer be retained. I agree with the general point and also believe we need wisdom in dealing with these issues. (We certainly don’t need more fools.) I do wish, however, that Enns had provided an example of how he personally had used wisdom to understand what God was speaking through the Scriptures and how he was looking for God’s unscripted presence in a moment. He’s not obligated to share how he approaches the verses dealing with same-sex activity, for instance, but I think giving an example of how he’s applied wisdom would have helped readers do the same for themselves. Conclusion I tend to judge books about the Bible on whether they accept the Bible for how it actually behaves or whether the author tries to make excuses for it (for instance, by giving a flimsy explanation as to why two passages don’t really contradict). If we’re to love the Bible, then we need to love it for how it is and not what we wish it were. How the Bible Actually Works, then, is something I’d loan to just about anybody. This book does a phenomenal job in explaining how the Bible provides us with building blocks to answering the fundamental questions of today. It reminds us of our sacred duty to wrestle with and reimagine our tradition to discover God’s presence and to meet challenges in our own time. This book is not the final word on how Scripture “works,” but it’s an incredibly useful and easy-to-read companion to help you on the journey. I was provided a free copy of How the Bible Actually Works by Harper One in exchange for a review. I was in no way legally obligated to give it a favorable review, but Enns has certainly earned one. Now, stop reading my review and go pre-order a copy!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Devin Cashman

    We need more humor in the study of the Bible, said no one ever. Well, no one until Pete Enns came along and began writing his “Books for Normal People,” a slightly tongue in cheek ,though apt, description of his works meant to engage the average reader in the study of the Bible and what it means to a life of faith. Dr. Enns is a biblical scholar who teaches and writes on both the Old and New Testaments. This serious subject matter doesn’t prevent him from noticing we often take ourselves a bit t We need more humor in the study of the Bible, said no one ever. Well, no one until Pete Enns came along and began writing his “Books for Normal People,” a slightly tongue in cheek ,though apt, description of his works meant to engage the average reader in the study of the Bible and what it means to a life of faith. Dr. Enns is a biblical scholar who teaches and writes on both the Old and New Testaments. This serious subject matter doesn’t prevent him from noticing we often take ourselves a bit too seriously. Consequently, he writes in a conversational style with plenty of self-effacing humor and asides which dare to point out the very weirdness of our ancient and sacred book. Dr. Enns’ knowledge of and passion for the Bible are evident, however, as is his own struggle to make sense of God and what it even means to be Christian. His scholarly background and honesty lend both weight and relatability to his books. His latest offering (and the actual subject of this review, in case I’ve lost you there in that lengthy preamble), How the Bible Actually Works, is a worthy addition to earlier works such as, The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin Of Certainty. In those earlier books, Enns delivered welcome guidance to those of us (all of us?) Who labor against common but mistaken assumptions about the Bible as rulebook and unwavering belief as necessary to a life of faith. In How The Bible Actually Works, the author takes a next, logical step by suggesting how God may actually want us to use the Bible. That might seem a tall order, but it gets to the heart of why we need bother at all and gives permission to think about God and our lives in ways not confined by the awkwardness of our desire to squeeze clear and precise answers from a book encouraging wisdom instead. That would seem the point, and Enns gets there by proposing we acknowledge and come to grips with the ancient, ambiguous and diverse characteristics that define scripture itself. Contrary to much of what readers might have gleaned from various faith teachings, these are not bad things, or things to be feared or swept aside, Enns tells us, but rather actualities to be embraced if we are to find real value in what is written in the Bible’s pages. Throughout the book, the author demonstrates how the Biblical writers themselves were influenced by the context of their times balanced against sacred tradition. From the creation accounts through the Gospels and th Apostle Paul’s letters of the New Testament, we find the biblical writers using wisdom to record the perceived intersection between God and humans in order to make sense of their world as it changed, as new obstacles replaced old, and as evolving knowledge created different challenges to faith and tradition. We, as readers of ancient biblical text in a time far removed from even the most recently recorded of the Bible’s books, need only to look to those very books of the Bible to see modeled for us the manner in which we might read and interpret them for our particular time and place. Rather than seeing the Bible as a static and unchanging rulebook offering clarity to life’s hardest questions—such as what is God like? why am I here? and what does this all mean?—a view that continues to cause people to flee from faith and others to reject the notion of God as even relevant to our lives, Enns delivers a view of the Bible that helps us deal with those unanswerable questions. He points us to the Christian tradition of “reimagining” God in the context of time and place. That’s a tradition that makes perfect sense and one that would be so very obvious were it ever acknowledged from certain pulpits. But we are too often left feeling guilty when we question the static “truths” embedded in so much of the Western church culture. So while some might find troublesome the notion that we “reimagine” an immutable God, the author would remind us there is “no God-talk that can keep its distance from our humanity,” and how we think of God is inextricably linked to our place in time. I don’t know, but it might also be a relief then to think of God being perfectly ok if we find him being “revealed,” in different ways, rather than “reimagined,” because in the end, that too involves thinking of God and coming to some sort of notion of what that means in your life, for your faith and for how you live. And that would seem how the Bible works. That would seem to involve the wisdom of which Dr. Enns speaks and our “sacred responsibility” to carry out. Buy this book. I received an advanced reader copy of How The Bible Actually Works from HarperOne. The opinions and any mistakes in this review are my own.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rob Coyle

    There are some in the scholarly world who are lovers of deconstruction, dismantling and tearing apart the Scripture in an effort to prove it unreliable and, therefore, unneeded. Old. Disjointed. Useless. They are like mechanics who only know how to take apart your car and tell you what was wrong with it, but are unable (or unwilling) to put it back together the way it ACTUALLY was intended to work. Putting the parts back together is what Peter Enns offers his readers. He doesn't simply deconstruc There are some in the scholarly world who are lovers of deconstruction, dismantling and tearing apart the Scripture in an effort to prove it unreliable and, therefore, unneeded. Old. Disjointed. Useless. They are like mechanics who only know how to take apart your car and tell you what was wrong with it, but are unable (or unwilling) to put it back together the way it ACTUALLY was intended to work. Putting the parts back together is what Peter Enns offers his readers. He doesn't simply deconstruct the Bible. Instead, he takes it apart carefully, laying out the parts for all to see. He then, throughout the book, puts the parts back together, constructing a new way forward. That "new" way forward, oddly, follows the examples that the Bible itself gives. Following what the Bible does (not simply what it says) leads us to WISDOM. This is how our ANCIENT, AMBIGUOUS and DIVERSE book seems to ACTUALLY work. If you are struggling to make sense of the Bible, this book is for you. If you have all but given up on Christianity, this book is for you. If you want to show those around that there is a way forward, this book is for you. I was sent an advanced reader copy of How The Bible Actually Works by HarperOne. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael Wright

    #harperonepartner #wisebible #howthebibleactuallyworks Full disclosure - I received an uncorrected proof free of charge from HarperOne as a member of the Launch Team for this book. I became a fan of Dr. Pete Enns through his podcasting, and have listened to every episode of The Bible for Normal People which he hosts with Jared Byas. It is through my connection to this podcast community that I came to read How the Bible Actually Works, the first of Dr. Enns' writings I have actually read save some bl #harperonepartner #wisebible #howthebibleactuallyworks Full disclosure - I received an uncorrected proof free of charge from HarperOne as a member of the Launch Team for this book. I became a fan of Dr. Pete Enns through his podcasting, and have listened to every episode of The Bible for Normal People which he hosts with Jared Byas. It is through my connection to this podcast community that I came to read How the Bible Actually Works, the first of Dr. Enns' writings I have actually read save some blog posts. I found the experience to be enjoyable all around, with only a minor personal complaint here and there. The book reads as easily as you will allow it to, with straightforward language and a wonderful sense of humor (snark?). Dr. Enns writes with a relaxed tone and conversational vocabulary, making his points as you would with a friend at home rather than from the lectern. I share the author's sense of humor, and found the footnotes and references funny and delightful to read. If anything, I was a bit disappointed at how easy a read it was; I enjoy scholarly writing, and would have been all in for a greater quantity of specific Biblical examples and historically-based interpretation. This is a book for laymen, and is clearly intended as such, so this is a personal complaint, not a weakness of the book. I hope it will find its way to its intended audience, as the subject matter may run off the author's apparent target readers. The subject matter Dr. Enns covers includes a broad collection of topics in support of one particular theme: the Bible is "ancient", "ambiguous", and "diverse." I believe he makes his point successfully, clearly, and almost too efficiently. Again inserting my personal qualm, my favorite moments in the book were the dives into Scriptural translation and textual comparisons ("Nahum conflicts with Jonah? When's the last time I read Nahum?..."), and these instances felt a bit fleeting to me. Those he includes are covered in detail, and with an eye for complication that I know will resonate with many readers ("No, I don't think the Bible demands I beat my children either, thank you Pete!"). The pacing of topics is well planned, as the most hot-button of Christian topics are saved until you are either along for the ride or not, while the initial chapters make a point of simply supporting the title: here is how the Bible works best, now let's apply this to our favorite arguments. The most common topic addressed seems to be the regular re-imagining of God, a topic I find incredibly interesting but I'm sure many find uncomfortable. The examples of cultural concepts working their way into how people of faith understood God in their time are diverse and fascinating. With that said, I would put forth the opinion that the writing at no point sounds to me like that of a person trying to "fix God for culture" or some similar complaint that may be lodged. Dr. Enns writes from the perspective of a thoughtful believer, one who desires to make the best possible use of our most important religious text in order to live a Godly life. I loved the time I spent reading this book. I would gladly recommend it to anyone open to a view of the Bible that is creative, thoughtful, and secure in the love of God. I believe the view of God as a loving parent is one that Christians often fail to realize correctly, and this book takes that understanding of God and applies it wholeheartedly to the study of the Bible. God loves us, God gave us a book that seems to work best when used a particular way, and here are some examples. As stated above, I have some concern that this book is suited to find and keep an audience that doesn't already interact with the Bible this way; hopefully, gentle people can push the book to others who will gain something new from it. That said, it is wonderfully constructed, easy to read, and makes its point with ample focus and conviction. I hope this description is useful to people interested in the book, and thank the publisher and author for welcoming me into the launch team.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Jarvis

    Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a free advance copy of this book for review purposes. Which was fortunate for me, because I was planning to buy it and read it when it came out anyway. This is a good book. An informative book. A potentially helpful book, if it finds the right audience. The premise of the book is, essentially, that the Bible is a complicated collection of ancient near eastern writings that has great potential to be misunderstood by the masses who read it. Dr. Pete Enns takes the Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a free advance copy of this book for review purposes. Which was fortunate for me, because I was planning to buy it and read it when it came out anyway. This is a good book. An informative book. A potentially helpful book, if it finds the right audience. The premise of the book is, essentially, that the Bible is a complicated collection of ancient near eastern writings that has great potential to be misunderstood by the masses who read it. Dr. Pete Enns takes the position that the Bible continues to be a helpful and spiritually formative book because of the way it points its audience toward wisdom, rather than exclusively in the facts of what it says. That's the driving force behind this book. Scripture points toward wisdom. Wisdom that can be obscured if we look to the Bible as a dispensary of universal truths. Enns seeks to help readers find a wisdom-centric way to read the scriptures, which often involves deconstructing our viewpoints of what the Bible is and how it ought to be read. Ultimately I think Enns does a really good job. He covers a lot of academic material, but in a style that usually doesn't feel academic. He asks difficult questions that could potentially create defensiveness and dismissiveness, but in an engaging, humorous way that I think may leave skeptical readers open to keep reading. That said, there are moments of clunkiness. Not all of the humor lands, and some of it distracts from the points he's trying to make. The book is also about 1/3 longer than I think it needed to be. There are some parts in the middle where he seems to be making the same point over and over again. But all of that is worth it to get to the meat of the book. There is a way to read the Bible that doesn't depend on its historical accuracy or it's perfect internal theological cohesion. We find wisdom in the pages of scripture, even if the way we engage with God now is different than the way the original authors engaged with God. Even if we're troubled by some of the things the original authors said or believed. Scripture is valuable because through it we learn how to wrestle with God. 4/5 stars.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin Elliott

    *I received this book for free from HarperOne as part of the launch team, in exchange for my honest review.* #harperonepartner #wisebible Wow! What a book. Even if I didn’t agree with everything herein, i have a lot to chew on as I reflect. Enns thesis—that the Bible propels is toward practicing wisdom instead of finding concrete answers—is compelling and and makes sense to me as a way to view a faith that holds in tension the ancient and the modern.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Edward Glasscock

    I began a process of deconstructing my faith about 2 years ago. Specifically, I had begun having problems accepting that God is a God of wrath who drowns people (the flood story) and endorses smashing babies' heads against stones (Ps 137:9). I was having problems believing that all of the stories in the old testament should be taken as literal history, such as the ones involving snakes talking (the temptation of Eve) or people surviving inside a whale for 3 days (Jonah). Basically, I was coming I began a process of deconstructing my faith about 2 years ago. Specifically, I had begun having problems accepting that God is a God of wrath who drowns people (the flood story) and endorses smashing babies' heads against stones (Ps 137:9). I was having problems believing that all of the stories in the old testament should be taken as literal history, such as the ones involving snakes talking (the temptation of Eve) or people surviving inside a whale for 3 days (Jonah). Basically, I was coming to grips with a newfound belief that the bible is not inerrant and doesn't work in the way I'd always been taught in church. But what was I to do with this? I still believed in and loved Jesus, but refusing to read the bible in a flat literalistic way is the fast track to being kicked out of church or at least not being allowed to participate. And that is what happened. Reading this book was an excellent way for me to continue picking up the pieces of my faith and synthesizing a lot of the ideas that had been floating around in my head regarding the scriptures. The basic theme of this book is that the bible is ancient, ambiguous, and diverse, and therefore not amenable to simplistic surface-level readings. Instead the Bible reveals a pattern of the biblical writers continually imagining and reimagining what God is like. Therefore, proper interpretation and application of scripture requires wisdom. Thus, as Christians we bear a sacred responsibility to continue wrestling with the questions of what God is like and how we are to carry forward the sacred traditions begun in scripture and apply them in our time and place. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who has an analytical or scientific bent. I found this book to reveal a much more intellectually honest and satisfying way of reading the scriptures than a simple "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" approach. The book has an abundance of snark and sarcasm in it which I found funny, witty, and disarming, but I can see how some might find it offputting or distracting. All in all, this is an amazing book for understanding how the Bible works as a whole and how we should use wisdom to apply it to our lives. Overall, I would rate it as the best book about the Bible I have read to date (and I'm a pretty avid reader on these topics). In my opinion, it should be required reading for all pastors and church leaders. Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from HarperOne.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jordy

    #harperonepartner #wisebible #howthebibleactuallyworks *I was given an advance preview of this book by Harper one which includes the introduction and first chapter* Let's be honest, for anyone who has had a serious crack at regular reading of the bible you have to admit that it is pretty hard to "figure it out". In this latest book Pete Enns set out to re-define, for many at least, just what it means to "figure out" the bible. By looking at three characteristics: ancientness, ambiguity and diversi #harperonepartner #wisebible #howthebibleactuallyworks *I was given an advance preview of this book by Harper one which includes the introduction and first chapter* Let's be honest, for anyone who has had a serious crack at regular reading of the bible you have to admit that it is pretty hard to "figure it out". In this latest book Pete Enns set out to re-define, for many at least, just what it means to "figure out" the bible. By looking at three characteristics: ancientness, ambiguity and diversity, Enns attempts to show that, rather than being a problem, these characteristics are necessary and useful. They give us a Bible that must be respected for what it truly is but also a Bible that we can relate to amidst the diversity and ambiguity of our own context as we follow the ancient tradition of re-imagining God, ourselves and our reality. Regardless of the tradition, or lack thereof, that you come from this book will engage you and make you think. Enns has a gift for taking a solid scholarly background and bringing his ideas to his readers in every day language that will engage and challenge anyone. And of course, Enns does not fail to sprinkle in his trademark sarcasm and humour throughout. Elements that, perhaps, can be helpful as the one wrestles through what can be a very challenging and emotive topic. Speaking personally, I have come from a conservative evangelical background and initially I found ideas like the ones contained in this book to be threatening and disturbing. However, after much reading, reflecting and wrestling I have come to see the Bible in a very different and freeing way. I very much appreciate Enns' approach in this and his other books. "The Bible Tells Me So" and "The Sin of Certainty".

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

    Here are three reasons you should read this book: 1. This book is accessible to people regardless of their religious background. He welcomes all. Christian, marginally Christian, previously Christian, never Christian. If the Bible is interesting, or exciting, or confusing, or maddening, then this book is for you. 2. The footnotes alone are worth double the price of the book. Peter Enns uses the footnotes to give additional information, provide clarifications, and (most enjoyable) crack a few joke Here are three reasons you should read this book: 1. This book is accessible to people regardless of their religious background. He welcomes all. Christian, marginally Christian, previously Christian, never Christian. If the Bible is interesting, or exciting, or confusing, or maddening, then this book is for you. 2. The footnotes alone are worth double the price of the book. Peter Enns uses the footnotes to give additional information, provide clarifications, and (most enjoyable) crack a few jokes. They help keep the tone of the book light and accessible even while communicating more difficult to grasp concepts. 3. This book does not attempt to do it all. It takes a fairly basic idea and moves about showing you how it is at work throughout all of scripture (including the Apocrypha, which was a delightful surprise even for me, a life-long protestant because it provided such context that we often miss). I have been following Pete's work for a few years and this book is one of my favorites. I am thankful for the breathing room it gave me concerning my beliefs about the Bible and glad for the ways it broadened my understanding of wisdom. Don't sleep on this one, friends. Get it today! PS- I had the joy of reading an advanced reader copy from HarperOne, but I promise that I'm telling the truth: this book is great.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Weir

    What I loved about this book and Pete Enn's work in general is that he never tells you what to think or believe, which totally fits the whole theme of the book: using wisdom to decipher meaning. Anybody who has struggled with the Bible as a literal, rule-book concept should give this one a read. I encourage you to go in with an open mind and allow yourself to see things from the other perspective. You will not find specific, hard and fast answers to the big questions - you are only encouraged to What I loved about this book and Pete Enn's work in general is that he never tells you what to think or believe, which totally fits the whole theme of the book: using wisdom to decipher meaning. Anybody who has struggled with the Bible as a literal, rule-book concept should give this one a read. I encourage you to go in with an open mind and allow yourself to see things from the other perspective. You will not find specific, hard and fast answers to the big questions - you are only encouraged to use the tools we have been given (such as wisdom) to decipher them. Overall the book is admittedly a bit wordy and somewhat repetitive (although refreshingly self-aware about this fact), but despite this, it's a rewarding experience since the concept is so important. Plus Pete's sense of humor and footnotes never get old! How the Bible Actually Works is also more example-heavy and specific than The Bible Tells Me So, for instance, and I feel I got a lot more out of it for that reason. I'm so glad I read this book! **Full disclosure, I am part of the launch team for this book, so I received an advanced free copy of it from HarperOne to review. The review is 100% my honest opinion, which I was encouraged to give.**

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tim Chambers

    Been a long time fan of Peter Enns's writing and blog and podcast. Since my 30's I'd been dealing with a long held intuition that the Bible either a particularly bad "Holy Book" or that being a "Holy Book" must mean something more than I was taught at a very theologically conservative church in my early twenties. There I was taught that the Bible was a word-for-word inspired and infallible guide that spoke nothing but literal truth in all it addressed. In essence: "Biblicism." Or as I was taught, Been a long time fan of Peter Enns's writing and blog and podcast. Since my 30's I'd been dealing with a long held intuition that the Bible either a particularly bad "Holy Book" or that being a "Holy Book" must mean something more than I was taught at a very theologically conservative church in my early twenties. There I was taught that the Bible was a word-for-word inspired and infallible guide that spoke nothing but literal truth in all it addressed. In essence: "Biblicism." Or as I was taught, "The Only One True Way to Read the Bible, Uneless You were A Godless Liberal Or a Pagan." I'd later bump into a crisper definition of "Biblicism" as the belief that "the Bible has exclusive authority, infallibility, clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability." That was my first understanding of Scripture I picked up from people whom I figured knew more than me about this whole God stuff. And I'd barely come to faith, so didn't want to trash that - and it sounded like being a Liberal Pagan was bad news. But after 30 years as a Christian it became painfully clear not only do we self-evidently NOT have a Bible that works this Biblicist way (with the clarity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency and self-evident meaning we wish it had) but also it was clear to me that if you were taught, "Hey THAT is IT - that is the ONLY faithful way to understand Scripture," then you then have a serious problem. Dump Scripture or dump honestly. But as Peter and a number of others voiced well - that this *wasn't* actually a faithful view of Scripture as a Christian, nor was it a job description that the Bible ever claimed to do. Or as Peter Enns puts it: "Biblicism is the tendency to appeal to individual biblical verses, or collections of (apparently) uniform verses from various parts of the Bible, to give the appearance of clear, authoritative, and final resolutions to what are in fact complex interpretive and theological issues generated by the fact that we have a complex and diverse Bible." For me, that gelled with my own thought and experience, and then later reading authors like Kenton Sparks "Sacred Word, Broken Word," Enns's earlier "The Bible Tells Me So," and then finally Christian Smith's "The Bible Made Impossible" - these all these cemented my view that Biblicism was simply a colossal category error. It was not that the Old and New Testament were bad "Holy Books" but that it no way were they any form of *modernist* book genre we assumed it to be: It wasn't a guide book, or a Constitution, a Holy How-to book, or even historical non-fiction. All of these genres not invented till centuries later and were foreign to the Bible. So "Biblicism" was a particularly terrible and deeply unfaithful way to read and understand the Bible. Later reading showed me that the very Church Fathers who THEMSELVES had compiled and canonized the books of the Christian Bible were not Biblicists either. That should have been a clue. One of the most influential Church Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa wrote: "Those who handle the [Biblical] text in too literal a manner have a veil cast over their eyes, whereas those who contemplate the God of whom the Scriptures speak receive the revelation of divine glory which lies behind the letter of the text." Anyway, all that is to say that I came to this book "How the Bible Actually Works" already convinced of how NOT to read the Bible, and how it DOESN'T work....but I also came to it with a profound hope to move on from there. To see how TO read Scripture better, how per the title, "it actually works." If Biblicism was an immature way of understanding Scripture as an inspired word, then what was a better and more faithful on ramp? How is Scripture supposed to actually be "lamp unto my feet" if the Bible isn't some modernist literalist genre? Or for the theologically inclined: "OK so What is a post-Biblicist hermanuetic"? That is what Peter begins to unpack with this book. "We will look to how the Bible's antiquity, ambiguity, and diversity rather than taking something away from the Bible, actually demonstrate to us its true purpose as a book of wisdom rather than a book of rules engraved in stone - and what difference that makes for us." (And BTW I'm glad he didn't write this book with words like "Post-Biblicist Hermanuetic.") In essence, this work is him saying "Look, this is how the Book really behaves, sure it's not exactly how you maybe thought or wished, but that messiness is clearly there. Let's call a fact a fact." There is a phrase in software development: "that's not a bug, it's a feature" which is meant to joke at the fine line between software that has flaws, versus what things in software are intentional functionality. Modern Christians - and only Modernist Christians I personally would add - have thought that the non-Biblicist Bible we actually have was "a bug." Something faulty, to try to fix or ignore. They were wrong, in this book Peter Enns says in essence, it's not a bug, it's a feature. For instance: Enns says fact that the New Testament has four Gospels that had specific differences that couldn't be harmonized - but this was not a mistake... it was *a feature* - it was the story of Jesus was being uniquely retold for the needs of that community of faith. To bring them to a life transformed by wisdom and to introduce them to Jesus. Each gospel story was a portrait of Jesus appropriate to and answering the needs of the community it was reaching and for it's time. Just so Enns notes of how Jesus treats the Bible and his own preaching: "Jesus is not about teaching 'correct thinking', but realigning minds, hearts and motivations to act well, to live in harmony with the kingdom of heaven." Bringing Wisdom, not Answers. Often bringing questions and parables with no punch line, but that stick with you and work on you. When you abandon the unbliblical form of Biblicism - it opens you to get something better, a more ancient, more evangelical* way to read and interpret. And Enns offers a more faithful way to engage it - way to be shaped by and grown up by the Bible than the emaciated literalism of Biblicism ever could. Enns he is a very deep thinker and serious Biblical scholar and I'm glad he is willing to write this deep work intentionally at a very simple, fun, funny and non-theological level - filled with hard won advice but in a very popular way. It helps a hugely serious point get across to those who would be lost in a Very Serious Work of Theology. This is a friend wanting to say, let's get down to how this really works, and let's use plain language. No theological gloss. No time to speak falsely now, as the song goes, the hour is getting late. In essence: Don't shirk these things in the Bible that in modernist book genres would be called 'weaknesses' - the things that Biblicists try to ignore or explain away, or pretend never were. Instead kiss them on the lips in a holy kiss, see what wisdom you find. God made the book this way, it's unfaithful to shirk it, to reject the Bible God saw was the one we needed. Time to give up childish things, and grow up - that the very point of Scripture is to help you do that growing up into wisdom and into the Mystery of Christ in a way a "Divine Rule Book," or "Holy Constitution," or a "Divine Cliff Notes to Reality" never could. ....But that a "Holy Book of Deep Stories of Horribly Human People of God Wrestling with the Divine" can. And has -- historically to the peoples of God for thousands of years. That's it. I may add to this review after a second reading, and this book is very worth multiple reads. * in the original sense of the word. Important note: Harper One provided a free Advance copy, in exchange for an honest review, and I offer this as a voluntary member of the Launch Team for How the Bible Actually Works. But prior to joining that I had already pre-ordered the Kindle Version, so there is that. #HarperOnePartner #WiseBible

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bill Cutler

    As someone who has lived and ministered in the evangelical tradition for six decades, I have read, thought about, and struggled a lot with the Bible. The statement of faith I affirmed included a statement about the unique divine inspiration and authority of the Bible … but without clarifying what that really meant. In this book, Peter Enns plays a role akin of that to the little boy in the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in that he points out that the edifice of Biblical authority in the broad As someone who has lived and ministered in the evangelical tradition for six decades, I have read, thought about, and struggled a lot with the Bible. The statement of faith I affirmed included a statement about the unique divine inspiration and authority of the Bible … but without clarifying what that really meant. In this book, Peter Enns plays a role akin of that to the little boy in the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in that he points out that the edifice of Biblical authority in the broad Evangelical tradition fails to account for the plain facts of the case. The Bible simply does not meet the expectations that the evangelical tradition (from Luther on) have placed upon it. Enns provides numerous examples of development, change, reversals, and re-interpretation of events within the Bible itself. Rather than seeking ways to harmonize these differences or making a case for progressive revelation, Enns states that these changes and differences show that the Bible is a collection of writings in which the authors reimagine God in light of their historical, experiential and cultural situation. These tensions and changes are not harmonized away in the Bible but are all included as a way to teach us that God’s people continually need wisdom to sort out how the past experiences of God relate to our present. Sorting out the trajectory of God’s Spirit at work in the world is informed by the past, but is not limited or determined by it. In the Bible, as well as in Jewish and Christian history, how the people of God view God, faithfulness, good and evil, etc. changes. Christian faithfulness today is not a matter of seeking to discover the verses in the Bible that we are to apply to our life, but of seeking wisdom to reimagine God and faithfulness in light of the Biblical witness and our contemporary context. Enns comes from and still inhabits the evangelical tradition, but this book reminded me of books by people who are more openly critical of that tradition. Bishop John Sprong, sociologist Christian Smith and theologian Elaine Pagels would find much to agree with in this book. I found relief in finally reading something from an evangelical sympathizer who just puts it out there that the Bible is inconsistent, ambiguous and presents very different views of God. That’s what I see as well. A chief value of the Bible according to Enns is that it pushes us to seek wisdom in seeking out who God is and what faithfulness to God means for us today. It does not so much provide definitive answers as pushes us to keep asking the question. The repeated emphasis Enn’s makes about the need for people to reimagine God in light of both the tradition and current experience does raise a significant question though. Given that the Bible and church history reflect very different imaginations about what God is like and what Christian discipleship requires, might it not be that the notion of God itself is simply a product of human imagination? While that is not a conclusion Enns suggests and, I suspect, would not want his readers to adopt, it seems that this book certainly could lead some people to that point. An alternative position would be to adopt some type of Christian mysticism that draws inspiration more from one’s meditations, prayers, and experiences than from the Bible. Many mainline churches which form their teaching and practice more in light of “reason and experience” than the “Bible and tradition” would say that this book simply reinforces what they have been teaching and living for years. Agnosticism and mysticism are both reasonable responses to the insights of this book. What seems to me to be an unreasonable response though is to both affirm the book’s thesis and to affirm the standard statements of faith about the nature of the Bible found in many (all??) evangelical and/or Reformed churches and ministries. They don’t fit together. I am not sure that if I told my former supervisors in ministry that I agreed with the book whether I would have been permitted to serve with the ministry since it seems to undermine common evangelical notions about Biblical inspiration and authority. Will ministries that consider reformulating their statement of faith in light of the insights of this book continue to be funded? Enns presents evangelicals with a paradigm shift. If Enns is right, the Evangelical Emperor has no clothes. ------------- A note on style- while Enns is a scholar, the book is easy to read for the non-scholar while remaining thoughtful. He uses humor - maybe too much sometimes as his anecdotes may distract the reader but that's a matter of taste. I do appreciate that he writes in a clear, accessible style. ----- I received a free copy of How the Bible Actually Works from HarperOne as a member of the launch team for this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Hilary

    I have been a fan of Peter Enns for several years now. I’ve enjoyed learning from his writing and his podcast with Jared Byas, The Bible for Normal People. I read Enns’ previous books, The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty, so I was excited to see that he had come out with a new book that would present a “big picture” overview of the Bible – how it works, as well as how we are to understand and interpret it. Enns argues that the Bible is ancient, ambiguous and diverse. Its purpose is no I have been a fan of Peter Enns for several years now. I’ve enjoyed learning from his writing and his podcast with Jared Byas, The Bible for Normal People. I read Enns’ previous books, The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty, so I was excited to see that he had come out with a new book that would present a “big picture” overview of the Bible – how it works, as well as how we are to understand and interpret it. Enns argues that the Bible is ancient, ambiguous and diverse. Its purpose is not to provide a definitive “rule book” for each and every human circumstance. Rather, the Bible is a book of wisdom composed by a variety of voices set against the backdrop of ancient cultures that are very different from our own. The Bible is written in a way that requires us to do the hard work of discerning and applying its wisdom in our present-day culture and circumstances. Enns writes in his first chapter, “The Bible holds out for us an invitation to accept this timeless and sacred responsibility of working out for ourselves what faith in God looks like here and now, of owning the process, with no accompanying checklist of one-sized-fits-all solutions, no safety net of prescribed responses, and no fear that God will bring down the hammer on us for accepting the challenge of faith” (p. 15). I thoroughly enjoyed Enns presentation in How the Bible Actually Works. He offers a readable, down-to-earth explanation of the various literary genres found in the Bible and how these fit into the overall purpose of scripture. Enns has a gift for making complex concepts of biblical scholarship accessible to general audiences. He doesn’t shy away from tackling the tough questions that often arise for readers of the Bible. He confronts questions and controversies with honesty and openness, giving readers the space to question and wrestle with hard texts. Enns enthusiasm for the Bible comes through, bringing to life sections of scripture that are sometimes considered tedious or intimidating. Enns presents all this with his signature sense of humor (and a dash of snark) that his ardent fans find endearing. And don’t skip the footnotes – they contain some of the book’s best hidden gems! I wish I had had this book available to me 20 years ago, back when I was in seminary learning how to study and interpret the Bible in preparation for ministry. I’m grateful to have this resource, not only to enhance by own understanding of scripture, but also to give others a fuller, richer understanding of Bible and how it relates to their lives. I think this book would make a great resource for an adult Sunday school class and/or book group. (Perhaps the author would consider developing a video teaching series and study guide to go with it.) Some readers will likely take issue with aspects of Enns’ argument, and will find some of his conclusions unsettling to their paradigm of understanding scripture. However, if readers come to this book with an open mind and a willingness to think outside the traditional “box” of biblical understanding, they will not be disappointed. I highly recommend Peter Enns’ How the Bible Actually Works. I received an advance copy of this book from HarperOne to read and review.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brian Tervo

    As a big Pete Enns fan, I was excited to be part of the launch team for this book and receive an advanced copy. Like his other books, this one doesn't disappoint. Full of his sarcasm and wit, Enns explains how important it is to understand how the Bible's ancient contexts, ambiguous nature, and diversity is a good thing! Rather than something to be explained away, these Biblical characteristics should be embraced--just as the Biblical writers themselves embraced them. Enns points out, in his scho As a big Pete Enns fan, I was excited to be part of the launch team for this book and receive an advanced copy. Like his other books, this one doesn't disappoint. Full of his sarcasm and wit, Enns explains how important it is to understand how the Bible's ancient contexts, ambiguous nature, and diversity is a good thing! Rather than something to be explained away, these Biblical characteristics should be embraced--just as the Biblical writers themselves embraced them. Enns points out, in his scholarly yet entertaining way, how the writers of the Bible were already doing the hard work of interpreting, reinterpreting, imagining and reimaginging the God of their sacred texts for their own contexts (a process he identifies as "wisdom"). The Bible didn't just drop out of the sky. Rather, God used people to explain who God was and how God interacted with the world in ways that made sense to them. And that image of God is diverse. The Biblical writers, who lived "in different times, in different places, and under different circumstances and who wrote for different purposes," reimagined God for their own contexts. Likewise, God uses us to make sense of their words, and our own experiences with God, in ways that make sense to us. "God is one step ahead of us, it seems--always another surprise around the corner that forces us to stand back and wonder what God is up to and how to respond." This book teaches us that it's okay, even "Biblical," to reimagine God in ways that resonate with and make sense of our world.

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