How Does the Bible Actually Work?

Not So Quick

Which is it, Solomon?

  • Don’t answer a fool. You’ll only look foolish yourself (Proverbs 26:4).
  • Answer a fool. Otherwise he’ll think he’s wise (Proverbs 26:5).

The Bible isn’t as simple as we’d like it to be. Nor is it as plain. As Peter Enns says in his new book, How the Bible Actually Works, the Bible is not “a teacher’s edition textbook with the answers supplied in the back,” as handy as that would be.

Written thousands of years ago, everything in the Bible is also not relevant to our own culture or times. The laws for the Israelites’ animal sacrifices, for example, or their laws for stoning an unruly child, are not applicable today.

So if we can’t use all of it, should we follow any of it?


How the Bible Actually Works_quote

What God Is Like

Enns suggests we just need to realign our expectations of the Bible. He says these three characteristics of the Bible—ancient, ambiguous, and diverse—don’t have to be impediments. These traits can actually be useful to us, as long as we respect them for what they are.

“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.”

The Bible is important because it tells us what God is like. It points us to Jesus. It shows us how to seek wisdom and live by it.

That’s why we find hope in the Bible. 

Because we find God there. Not because we regard the Bible as equal with God. Because there aren’t enough words to fully define God, the Word became flesh in Jesus, which we read about in the Bible. Jesus is wisdom personified.

Wisdom is about the lifelong process of being formed into mature disciples, who wander well along the unscripted pilgrimage of faith, in tune to the all-surrounding thick presence of the Spirit of God in us and in the creation around us.”

~ * ~

“And this wisdom is held out before us in the Bible as a gift of God, not a consolation prize, a Plan B we begrudgingly settle for when the Bible falls short of passing out an answer key, so we know beforehand which ovals to fill in on the standardized test.
A life of pursuing wisdom is Plan A.

So How Does the Bible Work?

This book won’t be for everyone. Pete Enns challenges traditional ways of thinking. He doesn’t accept status quo interpretations.

But he holds deep respect for the Bible. He finds Jesus there. And Jesus is the life-changer.

“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.”

But if outside-the-box thinking appeals to you, I recommend you read How the Bible Actually Works. You’ll be encouraged to read the Bible in fresh ways, to find God in it, and to value the wisdom that God leads you to.

How does the Bible actually work? According to Enns,

  • By showing us who God is.
  • By guiding us toward thinking about God in the here and now.
  • By processing our questions through the arena of wisdom.

He Is Wisdom

And so we return to our beginning question. Do you answer a fool (Proverbs 26)? Or not answer a fool? It depends. Proverbs answers both yes and no.

But don’t give up hope on finding answers. God continues to guide us in specific wisdom for our unique circumstances.

That is the reason we can place our hopes in him. He gives wisdom. He gives Jesus.

He always shines a light on today.

Following Jesus’s teachings is following the path of wisdom—it is your actions, what you say and do to others, not maintaining a hard-line doctrinal stance or turning faith into an intellectual abstraction. And just like Proverbs, Jesus’s teachings are long on casting a vision, but short on scripted details. We have to figure it out every bit as much as we have to work out whether to answer or not answer a fool (Prov. 26:4-5). Following the Sage of Sages takes wisdom and produces wisdom.

The life of faith is a journey alongside the wise master teacher.

* * *

Pete Enns has a PhD from Harvard, is a Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University, the host of The Bible for Normal People podcast (which I love), and the author of two of my favorite books, The Sin of Certainty and The Bible Tells Me So. You can find How the Bible Actually Works here.

My thanks to HarperOne
for the review copy of this book

12 thoughts on “How Does the Bible Actually Work?

  1. Laurie

    One of my favorite quotes is actually something my oldest son told me one time: “Jesus didn’t speak in verses; He spoke in parables.” That was his way of saying, you have to look at the big picture to understand what the Bible is saying. That concept has helped me to understand the Bible. Thank you for your thoughtful piece. It’s a great topic to ponder! 🙂

  2. Char

    This is very intriguing… I think I need to check out this book! I struggle with people’s interpretation of the word and end up seeking “Who God is” as I read the word – searching for His attributes. Thanks for the introduction!

  3. Danell

    This book sounds interesting, I don’t think that studying the Bible really fits in a box. Its so complex and rich that I think too many want a simple way of learning about something that is not simple.

  4. Karen Woodall

    I think the biggest problem that occurs with the Bible is that we come to it seeking something for ourselves… ie how do I make my marriage work, how do I raise kids, how do i manage money, how do I get answers my prayer, or fix my problems etc.. but we don’t come to the Bible looking for GOD. that’s really what the Bible reveals… who HE is, how HE works, what HE thinks. thanks for your post

  5. floyd

    Too often we look for things in God’s word to justify our thoughts or actions. It is a a time consuming quest to learn to use God’s word to interpret God’s word most often. That book sounds well thought out and points to Truth.

  6. Pingback: Hope is a Verb: Practice It! | Curriculum of the Spiritual Life

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