The Incarnational Analogy

December 18, 2005 at 10:33 pm (Books, Theology and the Bible)

I have just finished reading the 3rd chapter in a book I have been reading (for this book, that is more than halfway through). The title is
“Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament”
I picked it up at Aaron’s Rod (of all places!) this past summer because the title caught my eye. But, I did not make the time to delve into it until recently. I am glad that I finally did, because it has helped me to sharpen some thoughts that I have had rolling around in my mind since before I even graduated from college.

The basic theme of the book is what the author, Peter Enns (Associate Prof of OT at Westminster, as a shout out to Mr. Boulet!), prefers to call the “incarnational analogy,” and how this helps us to better understand the problems of the Old Testament. To aquaint any readers I may have to where I am coming from, the “incarnational analogy,” in brief, and in his words, is the starting point that “as Christ is both God and human, so is the Bible.” In other words, as Jesus was God, yet fit as a human with the culture of his day, the Bible is from God, yet spoke to the ancient cultures it belongs to. Hopefully that is enough of a starting point that the rest of what I have to say makes sense to anyone who hasn’t read the book!

From the first Dr. Enns put flesh on a skeleton of thought that I had already constructed in my own mind and was playing with. What a relief to have my musings confirmed by someone far more educated than I! The second chapter deals with the Bible and its seeming “entrapments” of the cultures around it. The creation story, the flood, the law, and the wisdom literature all have comparable components to other literature of the same time in the ancient near east. Of particular fascination to me in this chapter were two points: the creation story and historiography. Mythology is particularly interesting to me, because I have seen the way the Old Testament interacts with it. Here, in the very beginning, we are presented with a story that has remarkable parallels to other creation myths of its time.

I say “other,” because I have come to understand in my study of mythology that the word “myth” carries baggage and presuppositions with it that are not true. The word, and I will quote Enns here because he is readily available, really means, “an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?”Genesis 1-3 certainly falls into the myth category, and so you cannot call me a heretic in this instance. But, I digress.

In my own personal journey of faith, I have come to realize slowly – and I say this with great pain, as it is a matter that I have in the past clung to quite tenatiously – that really it does not matter if the earth was created in 6 literal days, or in the order in which Genesis claims it was. I will quote Enns on this point, since he says it better than I:

“It is a fundamental misunderstanding of Genesis to expect it to answer questions generated by a modern worldview, such as whether the days were literal or figuartive, or whether the days of creation can be lined up with modern sciene, or whether the flood was local or universal. The question that Genesis is prepared to answer is whether Yahweh, the God of Israel, is worthy of worship. And that point is made not by allowing ancient Israelites to catch a glimpse of a spherical earth or a heliocentric universe. It is wholly incomprehensible to think that thousands of years ago God would have felt constrained to speak in a way that would be meaningful only to Westerners several thousand years later. To do so borders on modern, Western arrogance. Rather, Gensis makes its case in a way that ancient men and women would have readily understood – indeed, the only way.”

This quote sums up the whole of the discussion – the Biblical creation account is God revealing himself to his people in a way they would understand – which corresponds to the culture of the time. Yet, in its own way, it is different: the creation of the earth did not happen because of a fight between two gods, but rather because God spoke it into existance. This makes a bold statement about the God that Israel was being called upon to worship. This is the point of the story.

I qualify this by saying that I am not at all stating that I believe the Biblical creation account is not true, nor that it did not happen in the way it describes. I am merely proposing that we view creation science for what it is: a disgrace to the beautiful text that God inspired.

Now you might call me a heretic, but I ask that you not, as I enjoyed hearing it put, call me a heretic with a capital H just yet! I still have more to go – then you may draw your own conclusions.

The second point in chapter two is the point of historiography. Since Dr. Snyder began mentioning it in class, I have to admit that I have struggled with understanding his statement that “the text is inspired, not the event.” I think that I have finally put it together, because Dr. Enns says essentially the same thing. Somehow, he has worded it so that I at last understand and acknowledge the truth of the statement. The Old Testament authors, though you might disagree with me, wrote what they wrote from a certain perspective, with a particular purpose in mind. This is meant to communicate something to the intended audience, and by default, now we today may learn from it. Once again, I am not saying that the facts are not true, but those facts have been interpreted and shaped for the author’s purpose (as all writers of history do!). It is the text that is inspired, not the event. At last, and this is a great relief to me, I understand the meaning behind that statement. Once again, and in defense of my statements, I will quote Enns: “Whether biblical historiography conforms to our expectaions of how it should look is not the point. The point is that our expectations should be informed by how the Bible in fact behaves…” It does not make the Bible untrue or in error – the Bible is written to humans, by humans, and God has chosen to reveal himself in this way. (We see how the incarnational analogy helps understanding here.) Who are we to demand that he make it all fit?

Finally, I come to chapter three, which deals with the Old Testament and “theological diversity.” I shall come out and say it bluntly – contradictions! Yes, they are there, and I feel a great weight lifted off of my shoulders in stating it! So much of Christianity is consumed with polishing away contradictions and “diversity” within the Biblical canon. But why? It is such a heavy burden on Christian to attempt to unify the Bible and defend it in such a manner to those who would seek to undermine its inspiration.

Enns makes the interesting statement that both evangelicals and critical scholarship make a grave error in their view of the Bible, and it is the same one. It is the assumption that if diversity exists within the book, than it cannot be God’s word. The former thus takes up the banner of proving that they are not there, and thus it is God’s word after all, and the latter takes up the call that since they are there, it is not God’s word at all!

The assumption is what is faulty, and it, on the evangelical’s part, causes him to miss so much of the point of the text in our attempts to “cover up” and/or “solve” the problems. We must instead start from our belief that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and take it for what it is from there. The Old Testament, and indeed the Bible, is messy – recognizing that lifts off the heavy weight of trying to prove that it is not.

And so I am left with the next chapter, which deals with the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old Testament. I am sure I will have more to write after that!

In closing, I have to say that I did not write this to give a review of the book. Indeed, I have left out so much and have not nearly written enough to prove that I am not a heretic capital H, as most probably won’t understand where I am coming from. I wrote it to express that I have journeyed further in my faith in three ways: 1) in letting go of my attachment to having to prove that the creation story is literal (though, at this juncture, I still hold on to the belief that it is) 2) in having finally understood after much struggle the statement that the text is inspired, not the event, and 3) in having had the heavy burden of having to prove that the Bible is free from contradictions (which is a heavy burden indeed, as it cannot be done!) lifted off of my shoulders.

I feel so much more free now, than I ever have before, to explore the Bible and its depths without the fear of finding something (as I have previously stated not too long ago) that should cause me to doubt its inspiration. I am free to appreciate it in all its beauty, and I am above all else free to kick systematic theology in the pants once and for all! (Sys theo, after all, produces many constructs as a result of trying to make the Bible “fit” together.)

It is a breathe of fresh air to me. If only I could convince others to allow themselves the same freedom! But, I acknowledge that it has been a hard journey, starting mainly with my entrance into college, that has placed me at this point on the road, and I cannot expect others to come more quickly than I. In fact, if myself of 4 years ago saw myself now, I am sure I would have pronounced myself a Heretic (capital H!). And yet I have so far to go! I look forward to my continued journey with excitement, even more so than before.


1 Comment

  1. Denise said,

    That book is awesome! I’m reading it for the second time over my winter break. Dr. Enns is my prayer group leader. He’s an awesome guy.

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