This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series: The Sin of Certainty (Enns)
So, finally, to the ninth and last chapter of Peter Enns’ book.
The need for certainty (according to Enns) fosters a number of unholy and unhealthy traits, such as: the ‘vigilant monitoring of who’s in and who’s out’, preoccupation with debating and defending the faith, over-valuing of logical arguments, and unquestioning conformity to intellectual authorities.
Such a faith does not promote trust either in God or others. It provokes, rather, by fear and anxiety. Trust does not grow in an atmosphere of dogmatic certainty. It grows, rather, when we embrace mystery and uncertainty. It is not satisfied with quick answers, but is content to sit for as long as necessary with wise and thoughtful questions. It is not defined by ‘absolute conformity to authority and tribal identity’, but values the search for authenticity.
Such trust is not irrational, but rather transrational. After all, who can fathom the mystery of the incarnation?
Such trust values the past, without trying to duplicate it. Rather than clinging to the past, we should seek rather to protect the future, in order to bequeath to our children a faith that is open to new possibilities and welcomes opportunities to reflect critically about how we think of God, the world, and our place in it.
Such an openness to change is, in fact, modelled in Scripture itself. The prophet Nahum could gloat over the destruction of Ninevah, whereas Jonah (written some decades later) was persuaded to preach repentance to its inhabitants. Clearly, Israel’s faith was not set in stone.
God is a god of surprises. And nothing was more surprising than the story of a crucified and risen Saviour. Messiahs were supposed to rule, not die.
Fostering faith as trust, rather than as certainty, will affect how we live as citizens in the world. To be sure, Christians have a long and noble history of service in and to the world. But nowadays they are too often known for their belligerent determination to foist their scientific and moral dogmas into others. And this leads to ‘coercion, oppression, and violence.’
Let us, then, embrace the best of Christian tradition while being open to the Spirit, who ‘blows where it chooses’ (Jn 3:8).
Final thoughts on ‘The Sin of Certainty’
I feel quite saddened by this book. Sad for Peter Enns, who clearly regards himself as a more or less innocent victim in the controversy that led to his departure from Westminster Theological Seminary. Sad for the journey he is now on, which is, essentially, a journey from orthodoxy into mysticism. Sad too for those who read this book who feel similarly bruised, who may end up embracing a false gospel.
This is not to say that I didn’t learn anything from reading this book. It’s reminded me to pay closer attention to Scripture’s ‘counter-testimony’, and to walk with God in days of darkness and doubt. It’s vital that our convictions don’t become rabbit holes in which to hide or battering rams with which to bully others.
But the glaring problem, as I’ve noted previously, is that Enns privileges just a few books of the Bible (Job, some Psalms, Ecclesiastes), and pays scant attention to the rest. As far as biblical theology is concerned, we have a bit of incarnation, a mention of resurrection, and precious little of the cross and its achievement. As Andrew Wilson observes, Enns simply doesn’t tell us how the Scriptures, viewed through this different lens, might call us to repentance, faith, and obedience: ‘Ultimately’,..he pushes so hard against the idea that the Bible tells you everything that he leaves you wondering if the Bible actually tells you anything.’ And that’s just not good enough.
But Enns not only demonstrates a lack of faith in Scripture, he also betrays a lack of faith in the Christ of Scripture. True, Jesus interpreted and applied some Old Testament passages in surprising ways. But he unequivocally endorsed the Old Testament as the word of God, and upheld even its most problematic teachings.