In this episode, Jared & Pete answer questions submitted from The Bible For Normal People community.
- How do we handle a Bible that lies to us?
- What’s a good Study Bible?
- Does God allow everything, from death to sickness, droughts, elections, etc? Are all things a present from God?
- What is the significance of baptism?
Pete also answered a bonus question from Ask Pete for our Patreon supporters: How to deal with anger, fear, and guilt after coming out of a fundamentalist approach to the Bible. Click here to watch the video or sign up!
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- The New Interpreter’s Study Bible
- The HarperCollins Study Bible
- The Jewish Study Bible
- The Jewish Annotated New Testament
Pete Enns: Hey everybody. Welcome to our first Q&A session. As a lot of you may know, on The Bible for Normal People website, we have an Ask Pete section and people can submit their question. People like–you normal people–can submit their questions. And we’re going to get to them, in one way or another. We can’t promise we’ll get to all of them, but we’re going to get to a lot of them either in Q&A sessions like this as a podcast or sometimes devote an entire podcast to some of the bigger issues or things like that. Because we value your questions and we want to talk about what you’re interested in talking about. We have a bunch of questions. We’ve only had this up for a while. And we just picked some that we thought might be easier to answer in a short period of time because we’re sort of new at this, but we’re going to get to some other questions that are a bit longer and very interesting. But for today we’re going to just sort of hit some questions like the following from someone who prefers to remain anonymous, which is fine. But here’s the basic issue. He has come across passages in the Bible that he feels are platitudes and then used that way as platitudes and they just don’t match his experience. And so he asks the question: how do we handle a Bible that lies to us? And I’ve heard that before what do you think, Jared?
How do we handle a Bible that lies to us?
Jared Byas: Yeah I think it will be…you know, he gives a few specific examples that will be fun to walk through here. First of all, I don’t know if we should have identified that it’s a “he,” because we may have outed him. I mean it really narrows it down when we use he. He uses specifically the verse, “God has plans for you.” He paraphrases it. It says, “God has plans for you to have a super fantastic life.” That’s how he read that verse. And “I can do all things through Christ.” So, he read those and it didn’t match his experience in terms of what happens when your life doesn’t seem all that great. Is God’s plan for you? And is that fantastic? And can we do all things through Christ. And so I mean I think we should wrestle with the particularities of those verses, but then that bigger question of what do we do with the Bible that lies to us and is that a fair statement to put on the Bible or is it not a fair statement? So you can tackle it from whatever side.
Pete Enns: Well…yea, I mean…I don’t know. The Bible that lies to us. I get the point. I understand the sentiment behind it but I think that comes more from false expectations about what the Bible is prepared to do, because we’re taught that, you know, this is God’s letter to you. And, you know, this whole Bible is God speaking to you directly and anything here applies to you. And you’ve got the added issue, like Jared just mentioned, that well, what do these passages even mean?
Pete Enns: You know, in some sort of a context. But then, more importantly, even if you know what they mean, does that mean they transfer into your life sort of automatically without a moment’s reflection? And I think that’s, to me, a fundamentally misguided way of thinking about the Bible that it’s just sort of transferable to your moment. You know? And, you know, when he thinks “I can do all things through Christ,” you know, that’s a common passage that people talk about.
Jared Byas: Well, can I rant? I’m going to rant on that one for a minute because that’s just one that I think is so easily misunderstood and it’s so ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. So I’m sure right now the World Cup is going on and I’m sure there are at least 100 players that have Philippians 4:13 somewhere on a jersey or on a shoe or something. And it’s become this mantra of overcoming. So it’s become part of this kind of overcoming mentality. You can do all things, so when you’re like working out you’re just thinking I can do all things. But just looking at the Bible in Philippians 4 and what Paul’s talking about, it’s clearly not about accomplishing life goals or winning competitions. But it’s in the context of contentment. He says, “I’ve learned the secret of being content whether I’m well-fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want, I can do all things.” And also, in the original language, the verb “do” isn’t actually there. So we supply that to make sense of it. But given the context, I think the verb probably shouldn’t be “do” but should be “be content.” Given the context. So just even a plain reading…when I…when I…a plain reading? When I just look at the context of Philippians 4, I would actually read that as saying, “I can be content in all things through Christ strengthens me.” So anyway, that’s just my rant as I think we’ve maybe taken that in a direction that Paul was not intending.
Pete Enns: It’s almost a bit of a lazy reading and I don’t say that too negatively because of it many of us do easy readings of the Bible all the time. But, yeah, it just doesn’t really mean that and then these passages become sort of just ways of baptizing your own desires, your own wants. And also it’s obviously misleading because, you know, you can do all things through…? What does “all things” even mean, right? So it’s a matter, like Jared says, it’s a matter of looking at the context of it to seeing what it means. But I think more importantly, you have to do the harder work, the theological work, of thinking through what it means to sort of apply the Bible to your life. And, you know, Paul is writing letters to people at certain times and places for certain reasons and I don’t think it’s a strong reading of the Bible to simply, you know, think of our own context as being similar or equal to that. We have to do the work. And that’s the hard part. We have to do the work of really discerning whether the situation I find myself in is comparable, let’s say, to whatever Paul is talking about in that letter. And, you know, that doesn’t mean the Bible can’t be used for your life but it just means that it takes hard work to do that. You can’t just look at a verse and say, “Oh gosh…” And plus that makes people like this male feel really bad about himself because the Bible says this. And I don’t see this in my experience at all. This is not what happens. And I think most people say, yeah, that doesn’t happen. And so he concludes: well the Bible’s lying to me. Now what I do?
Jared Byas: So, what I hear you saying is…well what I hear both of us saying. I think when I talk about Philippians 4 and understanding these verses maybe a little bit in context, there’s the hard work of actually trying to see how this fits into what the original author Paul or anyone else is trying to say. But then we can’t even stop there. What I hear you saying is there’s this extra work that has to be done. When we then say OK now I know what Paul was intending to say in that context but is my context comparable or is it different? And does that change how I apply this? Would that be a fair way of saying that?
Pete Enns: Yeah I think so. And that keeps us from saying things like whether God lies to us or not. It’s a matter of…not a matter of lying because maybe God’s not even talking to us, so to speak, right there. That doesn’t me you can’t apply this to your life again. But I think we short-circuit a necessary process by simply looking at these passages and saying they are speaking to me directly. They may be speaking to you indirectly, but you have to almost earn the right to get there. Right? And again that sounds discouraging to many people, I’m sure, because this is the Bible–this is my guide for life. OK that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a lot of work and the evidence for that is over 2000 years of Jewish and Christian schools of interpretation that have taken a lot of time thinking through the Bible and what it means. It’s actually not an easy book. It’s actually not that straightforward at times and you really have to think about what’s going on here and what does this mean for my situation right now.
What’s a good Study Bible?
Jared Byas: Well, I think that actually segues really well into the second question from Zach Zimbelman. We’re going to like maybe butcher these names. So apologies. Many apologies to you, but we’re going to give it our best shot. So Zach asks about recommending a good study Bible and I think that’s a good question of, okay, you’re saying it takes all this work. Well, what are some tools and resources that are available that might help us do some of this work? So what have you ran across?
Pete Enns: Well, I love this question because, you know, a lot of people ask it and I think a good study Bible is a fantastic way of getting on board with, you know, maybe answering difficult questions or expanding our knowledge and, you know, just basically finding out things about context, about history, and about all sorts of things. And, you know, for those of you who might not be familiar with it, a study bible is basically a Bible that has several things in it. It usually has footnotes at the bottom that explain concepts or gives you other sorts of information and it has maps and charts and good study bibles have essays in them that really help explain a lot of things. The ones that I recommend…I Think there are several good ones out there. But the ones that I recommend are The Interpreter’s Study Bible, which is for the New Revised Standard Version. Also the Harper Collins Study Bible, which is likewise the New Revised Standard Version. And then for the Old Testament, the Jewish Study Bible. And there’s also a New Testament study Bible written by Jewish scholars called…what’s that called again?
Jared Byas: It’s the annotated…
Pete Enns: Annotated. Jewish Annotated New Testament. Yeah, that’s it. I should know that because I use it all the time.
Jared Byas: It has…didn’t Mark and…
Pete Enns: Mark Brettler and Adele. No. Amy-Jill Levine.
Jared Byas: Yea, two of our guests have done that.
Pete Enns: We should prepare for these podcasts better.
Jared Byas: Yea, we should have. Well, you gotta… If you haven’t already, maybe if you support us on Patreon, we could hire like a fact-checker or someone to do all this work for us.
Pete Enns: Or someone to actually do the podcast. Yeah.
Jared Byas: Just hire new hosts who do the homework.
Pete Enns: Now my…I’m getting old. My brain’s tired. So, but you know…
Jared Byas: It’s the Annotated Jewish New Testament, right?
Pete Enns: I think it’s A Jewish Annotated New Testament.
Jared Byas: Okay, well it’s some combination. If you google those four words, you’ll find it. And it’s Mark Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine.
Pete Enns: And that is also the New Revised Standard Version. The Jewish Study Bible is not. That is a translation from the Jewish Publication Society, which might take some getting used to for people. But what I love about those study Bibles is that they’re not…One thing is that I think you can trust them to give sort of mainstream well-recognized explanations for difficulties. Other study Bibles, and I don’t want to draw these lines here on the podcast and sound belligerent. I really don’t mean that. But in my experience the more conservative study Bibles tend to be more apologetic. They’re trying to defend something–certain readings. And I find that’s not helpful because people are sometimes looking at these notes and they want help with a real problem–with a real conundrum. And when you find an explanation that seems to smooth over things too quickly, it’s like well what am I doing here? So, the Jewish Study Bible is great because the history of Judaism has had traditionally less difficulty with dealing bluntly with some problems. And, you know, I like, you know, reading the notes to Exodus and then hearing them say things like, yea Moses says this here but he contradicts himself in Deuteronomy. And the fact is that there are these kinds of theological tensions in the Pentateuch. And to have them addressed is a good idea.
Jared Byas: So just to recap because there were a lot of letters thrown around there. So a study Bible bases the studies and everything a certain translation. So you could have some study Bibles that use the NIV version or other versions. So the ones that you gave, Pete, almost all of them except for the Jewish Study Bible, which uses what we call the JPS version of the Bible, which is a Jewish version/translation. The rest use the NRSV, which you have I think said on the podcast is kind of your preferred translation. It’s what you would use primarily?
Pete Enns: Yea. I mean, it’s my preferred translation. I mean, I think almost any translation is fine but I just found that to have less baggage than others. But it’s by no means perfect. But it’s fine. I think all translations work well. But these Study Bibles are really good because of the notes. And I just love crisp maps. It just gives you a feel for where towns are and distances and charts of kings and you know lists of parables and cross-references. You know, where else this phrase is used in the Bible and things like that. And also, you know, probably the biggest plus of these Study Bibles that I mentioned are the fact that they all have essays in the back. And I mean a lot of them. Like 100 pages of essays and, you know, I tell my students that it’s sort of like getting a seminary education for about $30 or $40, because there’s a lot of stuff packed into these. And just taking a year or two and finding a good study Bible…I do this. I do this during the summer, during the morning, what I do is I’m reading through, right now, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible. And I’m reading a chapter and then I’ll read the notes. Then I read another chapter and read the notes just to remind myself of some of the issues. And it’s very rewarding. And I think that’s a great question because it’s a very very good way of benefiting from the work of scholars who do this stuff all the time and who are already bringing it into the lives of normal people who just want to read the Bible.
Jared Byas: And I think to maybe answer a question that wasn’t asked, but is sort of behind this question and the last. And that is…you mentioned it. Not to underestimate the work that it takes. I mean, it’s a book so there’s just an undeniable amount of work that has to go into it. You have to know how to read, just in general. And you have to know how to read well and that can be a lifelong pursuit of things like genre and how do you read ancient texts? And how do they apply it to today? And the fact, too, that you mentioned. Maps. And there’s all these places and there’s all these names and it can be overwhelming. But I think it’s important. I think you and I have had experiences, maybe bad experiences, of sort of trains of thought that said you could short circuit that. And you could…no, you don’t need to do all that to really understand the Bible. You can have this immediate experience or these other things. And I think that’s just a dangerous way. I don’t think I would want to underestimate. Yea, it takes work. That’s why we go to congregations every Sunday to learn and why we have studied Bibles. And it does. It just takes work.
Pete Enns: Yea, I mean the Bible is not easy. I don’t mind saying that. You know, it is a book for everyone, but you know part of the lie that our one questioner has, I think, has been affected by is, you know, the lie that this book is plain and obvious and doesn’t take much effort to understand. And we always have to remember how foreign and distant and ancient this book is. Yea, but it’s God’s Word. Okay, yea, but it’s God’s Word in a historical particular setting that is nothing like ours. And it does take work and Study Bibles are helpful. And it’s not just modern people who did that but people, you know, for hundreds of years in Christianity and Judaism have been looking at things like context to try to understand these things better. And, you know, who do we think we are if we can avoid that? And why would we want to? You know, because there’s so much that you can understand about this stuff. And you know, there’s nothing like understanding sort of what a Pharisee is and then trying to understand these dialogues in the Gospels. There’s nothing like trying to, you know, getting some insight into who the Assyrians were in the Old Testament and then reading these prophetic oracles that mention the Assyrians and you’re like, oh I see the point here. Syrians were horrible people. Or looking at ancient creation stories and then reading Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 and Genesis 3. It’s enlightening. It’s actually helpful and it can be like, for a lot of people I know, it’s actually life-giving, because this makes the Bible interesting because it has a context. And there’s nothing like a good Study Bible to do that succinctly. Right? You don’t have to read long commentaries. You don’t have to read tons of books unless you have time. But just having a good study Bible, I think, takes care of so many of those problems. And, you know, if you get ambitious then you can sort of branch out from that too. But for the most part, just a good Study Bible for the average Bible reader is a great idea.
Does God allow everything, from death to sickness, droughts, elections, etc? Are all things a present from God?
Jared Byas: Good. Well, we didn’t plan it this way, but I think that’s a good segue. Talking about the difficulties in understanding the Bible. The next question from Phyllis–maybe we should just stick with first names because that’s easy.
Pete Enns: Let’s do first names. We don’t want to butcher last names.
Jared Byas: I’ll remember first names easier. So, Phyllis–and I think maybe it’s appropriate to just read this–said, “I recently heard a widow say she missed her late husband terribly but she had assurance that everything came her way was a present from God. Further discussion led to the topic of God controlling or allowing everything, from death to sickness, droughts, elections, etc. Because of the hardships I have faced, I no longer believe this doctrine. In fact, I feel it makes God appear cruel. So can you help me on this topic?” So I think that’s one that people have been wrestling with a really long time. So I’m going to turn it over to Pete, who’s going to answer it.
Pete Enns: Yeah, okay. Well, you know, the thing is. This is above my pay grade. I can just give my opinion that, you know, Phyllis, I think I agree with you. I don’t think that God causes or controls directly everything that happens. I don’t think that’s what this is about. I do think that human beings have responsibility and freedom. And I know this comes up an awful lot, especially with people who’ve had tragic experiences. And, you know, it can be comforting to say, you know, I know that God was in this and God caused my infant to die or took my husband or wife away from me. And this is part of God’s will. But I’m not sure if we really have the right to say that. I think, see what the gospel says, in my opinion, isn’t that it’s okay, God controls all those things and whatever happens is God’s will and don’t question it. I think it’s more a matter of, you know, God enters human suffering. And that’s what the cross is about. It’s about God taking part in human suffering. And that doesn’t answer the question of why things happen, but it does at least open up a whole different way of thinking about it where God participates and understands human suffering. But, you know, this is the mystery of theology. This has been around…this is this is before Judaism and this is before the Israelites. These are things that the ancient Mesopotamians were writing about. And, you know, the technical word is theodicy. You know, defending God. Why would God do this? Why would a God who’s all good and all powerful let these things happen? And that is a conundrum that’s been a part of the religious life of pretty much anybody for literally thousands of years.
I don’t want to sort of give a cheap defense of Christianity or something but it is the faith, that I know of at least, that tries to address that. But in a different kind of way. Again, by God’s participation in suffering through Christ and not giving a philosophical answer, but more something deeper and meatier and experiential.
Jared Byas: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a…I think that’s an honest way of looking at that. The other side, for me where I’ve wrestled, is also letting people be where they where they need to be. And I don’t know if that’s appropriate or not. But, you know, there are a lot of people who are going through really tough times and sort of what gets them through is this belief that things will work out. And so it’s balancing that for some people. Not that it makes it right or wrong. Again, I think what we’re saying is we don’t really know. It’s above our pay grade here on how all this stuff works. But, again, I think just making sure that we’re thinking through how to be wise. How do we navigate this world in which we don’t understand everything? And being careful how we talk about that with other people because, yeah. I just think I have my own experiences of sort of coming to this conclusion that God’s not in charge of any of that. And then I think you know maybe derailing some people in a way that wasn’t maybe helpful in my journey. So, but yeah, I would agree that we just don’t know. Can we say anything else about that?
Pete Enns: I think a couple of things. Because this is such a big and important topic. But I appreciate the force of the question, too. Like about God controlling or allowing everything from death to sickness, droughts, elections, etc. See, here’s the thing. And this where the Bible–you can never escape the Bible and engaging with and interacting with it. All those things, you could argue, are exactly the things the Bible talks about. That God causes death. That God causes sickness and droughts and famine and disease and war. Pestilence and all those things. And God controls elections? Well, not really because there were no elections back then. But when you look at Romans Chapter 13 verse 1 and 2, I guess where, you know, all governing authorities are ordained by God. But even there I think we have to just take a step back and not say, well, I’m not going to listen to those Bible passages, but to try to understand, back to the earlier question, something of the context in which these things were spoken. Right? And this gets us into all sorts of deep stuff about just the nature of the Bible and the nature of God. When biblical writers talk about God causing the death of one’s enemies so you can take their land. Is that something that really describes God? Or is that the way ancient Israelites living in a tribal society would have understood God? I just said a mouthful. And it’s a lot to process. But you see I think this is where this goes very very quickly. There are all sorts of things in the Bible that reflect a given point in time and we have to do, what Jared said, is to be wise and to think through together. Not just individually, but together. Okay, what do we do with this information? In other words, do all governing authorities–are they all ordained by God? Not to sound ridiculous, but what about Hitler? What about Stalin? What about people who mean you no good. I mean, that’s an easy thing to sort of quote when your favorite person is in the White House. But when he’s not, then you ignore that. And the thing is, Paul didn’t always follow that advice either because he was in constant trouble with the Roman authorities for proclaiming Jesus. So, the question is: why is Paul doing what he’s doing in the book of Romans? Well, we can’t get into that. But I think there are contextual reasons for encouraging this body of believers that may already be not getting along with each other, living in a city that already has a track record of an emperor tossing Jews out, and they just recently came back. Where Paul might be saying let’s not make waves or cause trouble right now because strategically, we have the potential to influence the world with, you know, with the church being in this nerve center called Rome. So I mean, in other words, there were contextual reasons for why Paul might have said what he said. But to use that as a blanket statement? I mean we wouldn’t have our country. All we do is rebel against authorities. You know? So, anyway…
Jared Byas: And to bring it back to the question about what, you know, Pete said, theodicy. Defending God. Or other people maybe call it, “the problem of evil.” Just to articulate maybe the problem, for some people, who haven’t really thought about this too much, is I think I first heard about this because I read, a long time ago, I might have been a teenager. I don’t know when it came out. But, Rabbi Kushner’s book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. And he sets it up really nicely. Not that I necessarily even remember what his kind of solution was, but his premise is how do we account for bad things or how do we account for evil if God is both all-good or all-loving, is all-powerful and all-knowing? So it seems like his point in that book is: something seems like it’s got to give. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing and all-loving, it seems like he could have done something about this evil. And yet here we are. We have evil and we have bad things that happen all the time. So, how do we account for that? That’s really at the root of that question that goes back, as you said Pete, all the way back to Mesopotamian times, early Greek times. Most major civilizations and religions have had to wrestle with this at some level. So…
Pete Enns: And it’s more difficult if you’re a monotheist. If you’re a polytheist, you can always blame it on one god.
Jared Byas: Blame it on the other God.
Pete Enns: You have to get some other god on your side to do battle with him or her. But, when you have one god, see now the problem becomes even more acute.
Jared Byas: So, it’s our two-party system in America is a way to deal with the problem of evil, right? We just blame it on the other side.
Pete Enns: Blame it on the other party. Right. But you know, in religion, we… Well you see, actually… And again this is, to me, this is such an interesting topic. But one reason why you have an increase in divine activity in Judaism a couple hundred years or so before the time of Christ is because, you know, the Jews became more strongly convicted of a monotheism. But then you had to have a Satan figure, also called Belial and some other names. And you had a more active divine angelic realm and you had a lot of activity in there because, even though God is ultimately in charge, to have a bad divine creature of some sort takes a little bit of the heat off. Right? And that’s why when we can find our car keys, we blame Satan. That’s a little ridiculous, but it’s easy to sort of blame someone else for why truly bad things happen. It beats laying it on God’s lap, but it’s not that easy. It’s a difficult difficult problem and again, for me, the only answer that I can think of is not really an answer but it’s just a perspective, which is Christianity is the only religion I know of where God participates in human suffering somehow and recognizes it and doesn’t fix it, but also rises above that.
So it’s not that if you believe in God enough, bad things won’t happen to you because they clearly do. But it’s like no matter what happens the Spirit of God is with you and is aware of your suffering. Again that doesn’t answer the question, but it’s almost like the best that I can do.
Jared Byas: And on the conceptual level, too, a lot of work has been done in what’s called Open Theism or Process Theology around the nature between control and love. And if God is loving, is that God capable of control?
Pete Enns: What are those things? Open Theism and Process Theology?
Jared Byas: We’ll just stick with Open Theism because it’s a little easier to get into than Process Theology. But just the understanding that maybe God doesn’t know or control the future. And so what happens? Because now this is interesting because it’s not just philosophical or out there, but the Bible itself presents God as coming to know things or regretting things. Oftentimes, especially in the Old Testament, God’s presented as being surprised by things. Which means maybe God didn’t know the future in that context. So in some ways this idea…I remember when this idea first came out in evangelicalism was Clark Penick. Maybe? I remember him saying like I’m just…I’m rooting. I’m trying to read the Bible and what it says and it seems like God doesn’t know the future. And so this Open Theism comes out of that where that is one possible route that a lot of scholars are going in trying to understand some of this.
Pete Enns: I guess the open part means…
Jared Byas: The future is open.
Pete Enns: Yeah. It’s not determined. It’s open and God doesn’t control the future and stuff like that. So, whatever you think of that, it’s an attempt to solve a problem. It’s a theology that’s trying to wrap its arms around something and give some sort of a coherent answer. But, at the very least, we should avoid the…I think that the cheap answers are like, well, God controls all this because God’s sovereign and God does everything. I think a moment’s reflection and hanging out with people who have suffered a lot might, like our questioner, like Phyllis, that melts away pretty quickly. And then right away, you find yourself in a conversation that’s been going on for literally millennia. And welcome. You know, it’s here you are.
Jared Byas: Yeah. Every time. I mean just on all the reading I’ve done and it’s like you think you answer, you solve one problem by coming up with a solution. And it really just creates several more problems. And so that humility. And you mentioned it, Pete. I think just the wisdom, for me, is understanding that these things are deeply personal and painful for a lot of people and we can’t just theorize about it and say, oh let’s just have this heady conversation about whether God’s in control, when people are actually suffering. And in the midst of that suffering. And in that way the biblical portrayal, as you said, is in some ways the wisest way or at least maybe one of the most loving ways, which is to sit in the suffering. To participate in it and not always try to answer it or solve it.
Pete Enns: Right.
What is the significance of baptism?
Jared Byas: Alright. Well, not to get kind of whiplash here but the next question kind of takes us a little different direction and it comes from Kelly who just asks: Could we talk about the significance of baptism?
Pete Enns: Could we?
Jared Byas: I think we can. Yes.
Pete Enns: Significance for what, I guess? I mean, what it means? You know?
Jared Byas: This is such a cynical way to start. Significance for what? What are we going to talking about? It’s not. It’s not significant. Okay. End of story.
Pete Enns: No, I mean my kids are baptized and I liked the idea because it’s a sign, I think, of God’s presence in a family. That’s why I’m an advocate of infant baptism. I don’t think it’s wrong, but I understand people who don’t agree with that. That’s fine with me too. One of my kids was baptized as an infant and as a 14-year-old. Because the first one didn’t take, so she had to do it again.
Jared Byas: She must have been really bad.
Pete Enns: Bad parents. But, you know, all that is fine with me. I don’t really have a big theological stake in when you’re baptized, but I think it is a sign of cleansing and of connection to God. And it’s not something that saves you, although in the New Testament you have language like that. But again the context is different there. You have adults who were proclaiming Christ and participating in a visible ceremony about which they are saved. Because they are connected to Jesus at that point. But you don’t really have, you know…and how do you raise your kids now? It’s a different moment in time. And, you know, the question of baptism–it’s significance–that’s something that is something that theologians have had to think about subsequent to that. That’s a different kind of question in the opening moments of the church than it is 2,000 years later.
Jared Byas: Yeah. I think I had a major shift on this. When I was a pastor, we had a…this would have been…I don’t even know what year it is. So this would have been more than 10 years ago. We had a gay couple come and want to be baptized. And so we had about five or six of us pastors at the church. It’s a large church. And so we had to brainstorm–like what do we do? We have a gay couple who want to be…okay. So we thought, yeah, we can baptize them. That’s good. That’s fine. So we did that and it’s sort of like, okay, welcome to God’s family. That’s great. And then like two months later they wanted to be members of the church. And we had this brainstorm again. And for me, it was like one of those definite lightbulb moments where I was like, well of course, like we just welcomed them into God’s family. Are we going to now be like, oh yeah, but we’re little…our rules are a little stricter than God. But that’s actually how it turned out. And they were like, well, we could baptize them but they can’t be members of the church. And so that just shifted my understanding of baptism where I think we’re afraid of baptism in, at least in my tradition, we were a little afraid of it because it was saying like you’re in. Like you said, it’s like this sign that you’re now part of God’s family and family is forever. Like when you’re in, you’re in. You’re blood. Like I didn’t choose my kids and I could not talk to them, but that doesn’t make them not my kids. And so I think we almost neuter that significance or we make it less valuable because we’re scared of what it means. Like, what happens if people go out and they just are crazy and heretics and do their own thing after this? So it’s almost like we make this contingency and we add things to it like church membership, and like something we can control. Well, you can be a part of God’s family for your whole life, but we’re going to make it harder on you to be a part of this family. So, anyway, it cheapened it for me a little bit. So I think, for me, the significance…you know, you mentioned infant baptism. I was born and raised Southern Baptist so we were, you know, immersion. When you say that prayer of salvation, that’s when you get baptized. And that experience when I was a pastor helped me to realize like no, this is about a symbol of being part of God’s family. And it took on a deeper significance to me and made me also question this idea of who’s in and who’s out and who gets to make that distinction. So…
Pete Enns: And speaking of immersion. You want to get into a fight with some Christians, talk about the mode of baptism. But, in my opinion, in the New Testament, it’s absolutely immersion because it’s symbolic of dying and then rising.
Jared Byas: And that, for those of you who are very uninitiated, that just means you get dunked all the way under the water.
Pete Enns: Right. Yeah. Like out there in a creek or something. Or if your church has a swimming pool in the front, which a lot of them do. You go under. And it is symbolic of dying to yourself and rising to new life in Christ. It is symbolic of that. And I think symbols are very important which is why I think baptism is a great thing to do.
Jared Byas: And if you don’t live in Pennsylvania, a “crick” is a creek.
Pete Enns: Yea, “crick…”. But, here’s the thing. Then the theological question arose in the church. What about kids? You don’t immerse. You don’t dunk a newborn. Well, then you shouldn’t baptize them. Yeah, but you know, this is…and I appreciate this. This is how Calvinists argue about this. I think they make a very fair point that, in the Old Testament, children are part of the covenant family through the males by means of circumcision. So, if circumcision is a sign of the Old Covenant and it’s very inclusive, why would the new covenant be less inclusive? Why don’t you baptize infants as a sign of that participation in the covenant family. Of course, they always make up their own minds just like Israelites did when they got older. That’s not the point. It’s not a once-saved-always-saved thing, but it’s a symbol of being a part of the family. You know, I remember when our oldest, our son, he was in preschool and we were trying to raise our kids as semi-Christian, somehow. And whatever that meant. But, I remember him going and asking his mom: what is God like? Which is a wonderful question for a 4-year-old to ask. But I remember visiting his preschool and there was a wonderful girl, one of his friends, would say, “oh my god. Oh my God, look at that. Look at, oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” And she’s 4. And, of course, she’s getting that from home and I don’t mean that in a judgemental sense. But, what struck me then is that baptism is a sign that the child is in a different environment. And I think, to me, that’s very important. That’s why my granddaughter was just dedicated. I’m fine with that. It’s wonderful. But I think the difference between dedication and baptism is you dedicate someone in the hopes that one day they will be part of the family of God. I think baptism is stronger than that. It says you already are. Now, life happens and you’ll have to make decisions and whatever, but you have a different starting point than others. And I hold onto…there’s a sacredness to that. That, even with adult children, I still hold on to that that there’s something about that that’s not mystical or magical but still meaningful.
Jared Byas: Well, and it comes back to…I think…in my tradition, tradition and symbols…we were taught not to put any significance in those. Everything was about personal decision and then sort of reading the Bible in a moral way to live a good life. And so, yes, so I had to reconstruct, as I got older, how have any of those things mean anything. Communion, all these things like…my tradition took them very seriously, but they sort of gutted all the reasons why you would take it really seriously. Which was always confusing to me. Like we got really solemn and it became this really important thing that we then ate a cracker and a juice and then my pastor would go out of his way to make sure I knew that that’s just a symbol. It’s not really…it’s not really anything significant. Well then why are we like hush-hush and like somber and it becomes this thing. We are in a bit of a crisis, I think, as a faith tradition where we didn’t know exactly how to make this mean anything anymore. And only as I got older and talk about ritual and talk about meaning and inclusion in a family and how that can be symbolic, that I kind of learn how to do that.
Pete Enns: Well, everybody, thanks for listening to our first Q&A. There will be many more. We had fun doing this. As always, we’re thankful to those of you who…well, we’re thankful for all of you. But especially to those of you who support us at Patreon. And that visit us on the website and engage with us. We have a lot of fun creating this community and we’re grateful for all of you.
Jared Byas: Yeah. And just to ask for your participation more, if you do have other questions–we make no guarantees that it will ever be here on the podcast or that we will ever respond to them. But if you wanted to submit questions, feel free to do that. Again, go to thebiblefornormalpeople.com. Is it its own page? They can click on Ask Pete. And you click on that. You answer some questions, sign away the rights to your firstborn child, and voila we have the questions in our inbox. So, feel free to do that. We’d love to get those questions. We want to know what questions you’re asking and we get questions that cause us to think about things in a new way.
Pete Enns: Alright folks, thanks again!
Jared Byas: See you next time.