How the Bible Actually Works Review

(I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, Harper One.)

The subtitle to this book reads, how an ancient, ambiguous, and diverse book leads us to wisdom rather than answers, and why that’s great news. Those three words ancient, ambiguous, and diverse are really what hit you when you start paying attention to the Bible. As Peter Enns does a great job of arguing, the Bible is incredibly old, it is ambiguous (just look at Rabbis who have debated various Old Testament passages for three thousand years, and the plethora of Christian denominations and sects), and it is diverse. I think of all the words that could be used, diverse is the hardest for evangelicals to swallow. After all, evangelicals believe in a unified vocal reading of the Bible where God is the ultimate author and thus must have one single message being communicated. Any divergent voices are either misinterpretations, apparent contradictions, or some other phenomenon. Yet, when we pay attention to a close reading, the diversity within the Bible is just there waiting for us to see it. Once we can embrace that a whole new world is opened to us. We can then take part in the dialogue that is taking place within the text.

However, this means that you cannot simply take the Bible and find a prooftext for any and every situation that can be taken without thought. The Bible simply doesn’t work that way as a rule book for life, where the answers are there just waiting for us to cull them. On top of that, the fact that it is ancient and ambiguous means that the pages therein must be interpreted and then applied to a modern setting that is strikingly different from its own time. This is why Peter Enns directs us to seek wisdom from the Bible rather than answers. In these page we can find wisdom from God, rather than answers. God is not a helicopter parent, you have to learn to think for yourself, and God wants to help us do that.

In this book Peter Enns is at his most daring because he isn’t taking us through deconstruction as he did in “The Bible Tells Me so”, or assuring us at it is ok to doubt and deconstruct as he did in “The Sin of Certainty”. Rather he is taking on the project of reconstruction, which means he has to offer us a plausible path forward. He has to set forward a positive theory, and this is one of those cases where the proof is really in the pudding. The cash value is whether or not you can actually take this and use it in your life.

Perhaps Enns’s most interesting concept is that of reimagining God, which he sees as the source of most of the diversity that takes place. Jews had to reimagine God during and after the exile in order to understand why they were in exile, and then post-exile why they still had foreign rules. When would God restore the throne to David’s line? God had to be reimagined again after Jesus came, and the first Christians began trying to figure out how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament and creatively interpret it to do so. Jesus doesn’t match any of the expectations that Jews had coming from the Hebrew Bible. Instead he shatters their ideas of what God was up to. Jesus is crucified and resurrected, which is not what was supposed to happen to God’s anointed one (Messiah).

Following this lies the task of reimagining God in our own time and place, and Pete argues that we are following the Bible when we do so. There is not a straight line from the Old Testament to our own time, rather we have to use wisdom to interpret scripture, reimagine God, and follow him in our own time. This is a wisdom task, one that the Bible models for us.

I have read most of Pete’s other works including “Inspiration and Incarnation”, “The Evolution of Adam”, and the previous books mentioned earlier. I have enjoyed all of them, but I find “How the Bible Actually Works”, to be his most rewarding yet. Biblical scholarship is a critical task, and spending much time with it will leave you with many questions about the Bible and your faith. I think this is a positive and enriching process, and this book aides in the process of taking you from the place of analysis to the place of asking “now what?” as someone who is a Christian seeking to follow God in a life of faith. What can you do with the Biblical scholarship you have learned, and live a Christian life? Pete’s work points a valuable way forward. I highly recommend it and hope everyone will have a chance to read it for themselves. His humorous style of writing will leave you both informed and entertained. Thank you Peter Enns, and we look forward to whatever you have in store next.


I highly recommend this latest by Peter Enns on his podcast “The Bible For Normal People.”  In it he interviews Benjamin Sommers, a conservative Jewish Biblical scholar, and shares the various views that Jews have on the Bible, focusing mainly on the conservative viewpoint.  There are many things that Christians can learn from these perspectives, especially the need for epistemic humility in regards to our own interpretations of the Bible, and that disagreement and debate can actually be a form of worship rather than a cause for strife.  The Bible endorses various viewpoints in its ambiguity, rather than forcing one particular right answer for us to arrive at.  

Here is the link:  Jewish Views on the Bible

Listen to the whole thing and it will be well worth your time. 


(Photo: Scott Threlkeld/Associated Press) 

Buried in your news feeds has been the story of confederate monuments being torn down in New Orleans, Louisiana.  It appears much of the focus has been removing statues that honored confederate soldiers such as P.G.T. Bouregard who fired the first shots of the Civil War on Fort Sumter.  The Confederate States of America was formed from states that seceded from the United States of America after Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president in 1860.  Although there were many issues economic and otherwise that divided North and South, such as protective tariffs that Northern Industry favored as opposed to the lower tariffs preferred by southern agriculture, the chief issue of divide that led to all others was that of slavery.  Yes there was a conflict between states rights versus federal power, but the apex of that debate had to do with the existence of slavery, and that of African Americans in particular.   The Confederate government’s constitution was identical in almost every way to that of the US constitution, except for that guarantee of the perpetual existence of chattel slavery.  

After the Confederacy lost the Civil War and reconstruction came to an end, Jim Crow laws that oppressed blacks and empower whites became the prevailing rule in the South, and even in much of the North.  The South turned to memorializing its lost heritage, honoring their forebears with statues, street names, schools, flying the confederate battle flag, holidays, and other such monuments.  Many of these continue in existence to this day, however many are pushing back on these.  Last year, South Carolina ceased flying the confederate flag on state capitol grounds, which caused consternation among some, and celebration for others.  Now we are seeing other actions taken place, such as statues and other monuments removed from public property in places like New Orleans.  

In my opinion, much of this ought to be welcomed.  For any virtues it may have had, the Confederacy was founded on one of the most vile institutions ever to besmirch the earth.  For more than two hundred years African Americans were treated no better than cattle, and purely as means for the ends of others, having no value in and of themselves as human beings.  For black children to have to go to schools honoring people such as the confederate president Jefferson Davis is simply unacceptable.  This was a society built on the idea that the very people that attend those schools named after them are not full human beings entitled to all the equal rights and liberties that whites enjoyed.  Such a society should not be honored, but should be remembered with sadness and shame.  

Here is the crucial distinction I want to draw out from this.  There is a difference between honoring, which has the idea of elevating something as being worthy of some good, and remembering as being an important part of ones past.  We have to find ways of always remembering that part of our American heritage, without elevating it as praiseworthy.  We need to have and preserve our battlefields and historical sites, so that we never forget our history, but we must not honor all aspects of that past.  My own fear is in getting carried away in iconoclastic zeal and destroying all remembrance of our past.  While no African American should have to daily go past a memorial to Nathan Bedford Forrest, we should not tear down a battlefield he fought at to make room for the next development or Walmart.  We must always remember.  It is part of who we are, and it is what prevents us from ever returning to that time.  Finding and defining that line can be tricky at times and we must determine where the line crosses between remembrance and honor.   
The line is not always so black and white.  Robert E Lee was general of the army of Northern Virginia.  He remains one of the most respected military generals in all history.  Shortly after the war, he was found in an Episcopal church, kneeling to receive communion next to an African-American.  Someone who represented something seen as monstrous, was also far ahead of his time, and should be emulated rather than cajoled.  History is made of people, and people are complex, so therefore, history should be seen in that matter.  It’s always easy to take modern judgments and apply them to people who we thought should have known better.  But where are our moral blind spots?  Our ethical quandaries?  Two hundred years from now, what will those generations be saying about our moral failings?  Much is made of Progress in history (that’s progress with a capital “P”), and surely in some areas we have made progress.  But history is not a straight arrow.  It curves and twists and bends and reverses.  The arc of the mora universe may be long and bend toward justice, but if that is the case, it is not only long but jagged and crooked.  (And for the record, I’m not even sure the arc of the moral universe does bend towards justice, at least to the extent that history is too complicated for such pithy idealistic sound bites. However, it at least does capture what we want to be true.)


To many people uncertainty is a terrifying thing. We want to know and be certain about the fundamental aspects of life. This includes not just religion, but science, careers, money, love, etc. We want concrete answers that we can be sure of and can use to guide us. Self-help books that give us the exact methods to find our passion in life, or tell us exactly how we should spend our money. Certain morals that can guide us in right and wrong. Religious tenets that are foundational and firm and can determine all our other beliefs with certainty. What are we to do when we find the it is not certainty that is fundamental, but uncertainty?

I faced this a little over a decade ago, when all my certainties came crashing down. It’s true that I’ve always had a skeptical mind. I’ve always questioned things and had a natural curiousity. I’m just wired that way. However, I also had my childhood certainties about my Christian faith, that I held with a fair degree of certainty. It was never a question of Christianity being wrong, but how could so many people get it wrong?

As everyone who knows me is well aware, I enjoy a good debate. This time I was going to dismantle the arguments of an agnostic that I worked with. I anticated what his arguments would be and thought of all the counter-arguments so that I would be prepared. He would say that because 9/11 happened, how could there be a good God. And I would say that the terrorists had free will, and went against what God wanted. I was very wrong in any argument that I anticapted. What he asserted instead was that it was ancient myths. Now I knew that there were people who made such arguments, but I had never actually heard somebody say it before. To be honest, to this day I dont know why I had the reaction that I did, but my reaction was to conclude that everything I had grown up with was wrong. I was angry, bitter, and sad, all at the same time. When I got home, I chucked my Bible across the room and broke down. I was at the place where I could reject my faith, or I could look for evidence to see whether or not what the arguments I heard were true and whether or not Christianity in general was true.

I turned to Christian apologetics. I read book after book, and even took a seminary class on the topic. I came to the conclusion that God wanted me to be involved in apologetics in one way or another. Everybody needed to know why they believed what they believed. They needed to know the evidence, and unbelievers needed to be converted by the force of a good argument. Throughout all this time, I can say that my doubts were never truly assuaged. No matter how many books I read, I could always think of counter-arguments to what I read. I could not stop questioning. At church, I shared my “testimony” in front of the congregation that I had no doubt that God was real. I said it because I wanted to believe that I had no doubts, and no one wants to tell the church that after an event like that, you still have doubts. Now, I wish I had been more honest. Instead of looking like a hero of the faith, I would have been much more glad to assure someone that it was ok to have doubts. It’s in the doubts that we ask questions, and solve problems. Then those solutions can generate new questions to seek answers to.

A decade later I can say that I still have many of the same doubts that I held all those years ago. In fact, I think there is some myth in the BIble. I think there is a great deal of truth in those myths for us to live by. What I have found though, is that apologetics isn’t the answer. What the past 10-11 years has taught me is to live with uncertainty. That it is good to be skeptical and ask questions. That is how we grow in knowledge and new understandings and insights. It is also how we grow in wisdom. To live with uncertainty is not to disbelieve. I still believe in God. I don’t know with absolute certainty, but I have faith that he is real, that when we see Jesus we see what God is really like, and that Jesus rose from the dead after he was crucified. Can I prove any of those things? Absolutely not. I believe that my faith is reasonable. Otherwise I would not hold it. But what is reasonable to me, may not be reasonable to someone else. And that is okay. It is not just in this that I live with uncertainty, but in every area of life. And that is okay.

I have my own opinions, theories, beliefs and ideas. I don’t expect everyone to share them. Obviously, I think I’m right, or I would not hold them. But I can be wrong too. Once you realize how ignorant we really are, you can appreciate the little knowledge that we do have, and you can begin to investigate and learn new things. You can explore new and uncharted areas, and slowly chip away at your own ignorance. What I want most in life is to achieve true understanding in my areas of interest. Never to fake it. Do I fake it sometimes. That I have no doubt. I am human after all. I only hope that God appreciates this. I believe that the best way to show that I love God, is by living the way I have been made, and by showing God’s love to others.


From Ars Technica

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is working on a streaming-only TV service for the Apple TV that involves channels from ABC, CBS, Fox, and a handful of others. Today, a report from Buzzfeed’s John Paczkowski indicates that we may finally see a new Apple TV set-top box this summer at the Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference and that the upgraded hardware will ship with a new app store and SDK that will let developers do more with the device.

Not too surprising, but long overdue (if this rumor pans out, which I believe it will this time around). The last refresh was in 2013, and the adjustments were very minor. A new set top, with an sdk for developers would be a great improvement. This makes sense too after the price drop and other rumors about a TV service from Apple.


Fear is one of the most effective motivators known to man. I’m pretty sure psychology would back that statement up. We live in a world that thrives off fear, especially as a way of gaining power over others. Politicians and political organizations on both sides of the aisle use fear to get your votes and monetary support. And all too often we give into the fear-mongering. We believe it when they tell us that our guns will be take away, or that the president will become a dictator. That there will be death panels deciding who will live and who will die. That if the other side’s policies are implemented, then the poor will be dying in the streets.

Fear is also used very effectively, maybe even moreso in religion. Hell has been a motivator for many people becoming Christians. It was a major factor for me, and I’ve lived with that fear for many years. It’s not just hell though. For just about every theological argument or position, there are arguments made based on fear for and against. There is the all too often employed slippery slope fallacy, that if one accepts or does not accept this doctrine or interpretation of Scripture, that they are undermining the authority of scripture and Christianity in general. Culture warriors are very adept at playing the fear card. Rather than an honest search for truth, they would rather stick it to the secularists. But this approach wins very few, if anyone, into the kingdom, and turns away many more.

The news media plays a part in fear-mongering as well. Constantly, we see reports of current events happening to make us afraid, whether it be diseases, or terrorism, or criminals. Largely, these fears are exaggerated for effect.

Of course, I’m not saying that there isn’t anything to be afraid of. Or that I don’t believe that hell is real, or that God doesn’t judge. After all evil is real. Some people just get cancer because they are unlucky. However, I don’t want to live my life in fear, especially in reaction to the fearmongering and slippery slope of politicians and certain preachers. I want to live my life with faith, hope, love, and reason. Perfect love casts out all fear. So strive to be perfect in love, not fear. Let’s keep our fears reasonable in proportion to the actual degree of risks involved, especially when things are not in our control. And next time somebody says Obama is going to become dictator for life, ignore them.

  1. Yes, I know that reason is not part of the trinity of faith, hope, and love in 1 Corinthians 13. But God is himself a God of logic, so I think we’d have to be able to use reason throughout eternity, so it must abide as well.


Here is a quote that has shaped my political thinking. It is by William F. Buckley Jr in his book Up From Liberalism.

“Is that a program? I call it a No-Program, if you will, but adopt it for your very own. I will not cede more power to the state. I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me. I will then use my power, as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth. That is a program of sorts, is it not?”


The quote for today is from Search for Truth: Lenten Meditations on Science and Faith by John Polkinghorne.

“People are sometimes surprised that I’m both a physicist and a priest. They think there is something odd, or maybe even dishonest, in that combination. Their surprise arises because they do not understand that truth matters quite as much in religion as it does in science. There is an odd view around that faith is a matter of shutting one’s eye, gritting one’s teeth and believing impossible things because some unquestioning authority tells you that you have to. Not at all! The leap of faith is a leap into the light, and not into the dark. It involves commitment to what we understand in order that we may learn and understand more.”

  1. I won’t always have a quote for the day, but sometimes I like a quote I come across and think that it is worth sharing.


Welcome to Paradoxical! This is the blog where everything is made up and the points don’t matter… Ok so it’s not necessarily made up, and I do try to make points that matter. Regardless, I hope you enjoy reading. I’ve enjoyed putting all this together, and this is only the beginning. Please feel free to leave comments on each post and enjoy!

  1. Sorry for the bad joke. I promise the rest of my posts will not be quite so cheesy.

  2. Again, I apologize, and I hope my unfunny Whose Line Is It Anyway reference did not throw anyone off from reading my blog.

  3. So these footnotes are getting longer than the actual post, but stay tuned tomorrow for my first non-introductory post. Enjoy!

  4. There are a number of blog posts prior to this post. These are from a previous blog called “Communion of Reason” which was all about the intersection of Christianity and evolution. I incorporated those into this blog because these are issues I want to continue to explore in this blog, along with everything else.