Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 173pp. + glossary and index.
The second section of Enns’ Book (ch. 3) is entitled “The Old Testament and Theological Diversity.” This subject is one I have spent more time in than the other two and though it is in some ways the most helpful chapter it is, in other ways, the most disappointing.
Enns spends the first part of this chapter surveying some of the diversity within the different genre’s of Scripture. For example, he looks at two verses in Proverbs that seem to be communicating the same thing.
The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor. (10:15)
The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, they imagine it an unscalable wall. (18:11)
Whereas the first verse states that wealth is good and poverty is bad, the second claims that wealth leads to arrogance. Enns’ says of this that “for some, wealth is a source of security, a fortification from poverty (10:15). For others, however, their wealth is a source of arrogance” (75, italics original). Enns’ states that the point of these ‘wisdom’ sayings is not “whether they are correct, but when” (76, italics original). This is how Enns’ explains Job’s friends giving what is good ‘Proverbs’ like wisdom and being condemned for it. He says that they “were wrong in appealing this principle [proverbs system of cause and effect] superficially, without sufficient knowledge of the particulars of the situation” (82, italics original).
Enns then goes on to survey the differences in History, vis Chronicals and Samuel-Kings, and in Law. For both of these he largely appeals to the principle that they have “a different immediate audience” (83) or they were in a different situation (i.e., the change in the fourth commandment from Exodus to Deuteronomy, see 85-88).
Other places, and this is where Enns is frustrating, he simply points out the diversity without suggesting how one might understand the tensions for fear of proposing a false harmonization. But in an introductory work of this nature, this is understandable. He cannot be expected to make a case for everything all the time.
Finally Enns looks at two issues about how the OT presents God. He asks two questions: 1) does the OT view one God or many gods? and 2) does God change his mind? In answering the first question, Enns reviews many texts, especially the Psalms, which deal with a heavenly court. Enns gets around this problem by proposing that at “this point in the progress of redemption, however, the gods of the surrounding nations are treated as real” (102). This fits his incarnational analogy nicely and I think that it is a good point, but it is not as satisfying an answer as we might want.
In the answer to the second question, whether God changes his mind, Enns suggests that the texts which speak of God changing his mind we must at least accept that “this is his choice for how he wants us to know him” (106, italics original). In the end whether our supplications really do cause God to change his mind, Enns says “That is for God to know, not us” (107). Again, not the most satisfying answer. I am more inclined to accept that God interacts in history in a real and dynamic way (hence the answer to prayers) and that he is also constant and unchanging (hence the divine sovereignty). For more see my paper: Constancy and Contradiction.
In conclusion, Enns appeals to his incarnational analogy. Given the fact, Enns says, that God “incarnates himself throughout Israel’s history. . . . it is to be expected that the Old Testament exhibits significant diversity. After all, it was written over a very lengthy period of time” (108). This is just a sign of God communicating with us, and to do so he must accommodate his message to our time-sensitive history.
While this chapter is frustrating, in that it reveals more questions than hard answers, it does ask the right questions and that, I think, is the point. The Bible is heavy reading, we should treat it like such. Let us not be afraid to mine the depths because we fear we may uncover some inconsistency. More likely areas of tension are going to reveal a deeper knowledge of God.I’ll end with the quote that Enns begins the chapter with because I think it explains where evangelicals tend to go wrong:
For the Jews, the Bible is a problem to be solved. For Christians, it is a message to be proclaimed.