“Telling God’s Story,” Ch. 1: Don’t Panic

This is a very comforting book.

Beginning straight off in Chapter 1 (“Laws About Mildew and Dragons With Crowns: Why the Bible is such a difficult book to teach”), Peter Enns takes it as a given that for a parent to be able to teach their children about the Bible*, they will first have to make peace with it. And he’s right: I, for one, have a lot of peace that needs to be made with the Bible. And so that’s where Enns will go first in this book — to help parents understand what the Bible does, how it works.

He begins with the illustration of helping his teenager organize their bedroom, then continues:

For many parents, the Bible looks a little bit like my child’s room. It’s a mess. . . .  And if your aim is to teach the Bible to your children, the mess isn’t just confusing. It’s stressful.

This book is for parents who want to do a good job with the important but daunting task of teaching the Bible. And just like the airplane oxygen mask that you’re supposed to put on yourself first before you put it on your children, this book is first and foremost about you. (10)

Then he asks the reader to consider their history of reading Scripture, and describes one very familiar scenario: trying to read through the Bible in a year. Enns’s imaginary Bible reader makes more progress than I ever did; on those half-dozen New Years Resolution-fueled Januaries that I tried this, I don’t think I ever got past Genesis. There are books of the Old Testament that I don’t think I’ve ever even seen. (Habakkuk, anyone? Malachi?)

Enns writes from a place of calm understanding; there is no judgment in his tone — he knows that this is what it’s like to grow up Evangelical, or perhaps to grow up Christian. He doesn’t, at this point, examine into the culture that feeds all of these failed, frustrated relationships with the Bible — the same culture that on one hand says it’s vital to have a Daily Devotion and Bible-reading time, and on the other leaves us with a very confusing sense of biblical literacy, so that the time we do spend reading the Bible on our own is often unfocused and frustrating; but he gets the Bible anxiety that so many of us have.

Yes, the Bible is a detailed, sometimes difficult to follow and understand book, especially the Old Testament. No reason to deny it or be embarrassed for saying it. The prospect of teaching the Bible to one’s own children, when one feels so untrained and even lost, is intimidating.

This book is an attempt to do for you what the closet organizer in my child’s room did for me: give some sense of order and meaning to the chaos. Rather than avoiding the Bible, you will find Scripture becoming a welcome place. (12, bolding mine)

Don’t panic. 

*****

“So what is the Bible, and what are we supposed to be doing with it?”

Don't panic, Arthur.
Arthur Dent is panicking.

Over the next few pages, Enns introduces the questions that he will help us answer for ourselves before we can begin teaching our kids. The fact that these are some giant, existential questions is oddly comforting; finding the answers will take some serious wrestling, but there’s hope that the answers, when we finally find them, won’t be hollow or simplistic.

These may strike some as two odd questions. After all, the Bible is the Word of God and we are supposed to read it and obey it. Fair enough, but that does not even begin to address the question of what the Bible is doing. Why does the Word of God say the things it says? Why does it look the way it looks? And is obedience really the essence of what we are supposed to get out of it?

Of course, the answer is yes – in part. But the Bible aims much higher; it teaches us to see ourselves and the world around us in fresh, exciting, and challenging ways. The Bible is not a Christian owner’s manual. It bears witness to who God is, what he has done, and who we, as his people, are. (13, bolding mine) 

He finishes this chapter with encouragement for parents. What if I make a mistake and ruin my child spiritually? his reader asks. “Remember that your children are God’s children,” he says. “It is your calling and responsibility to raise them in a godly way, but don’t think for one minute that their success rests on your skills and abilities. . . . Remember God’s grace is bigger than the best of your intentions. He really loves your children. Look on this not as a worrisome task but as a few precious, golden years of opportunity” (14).

Don’t panic. This is going to be exciting. Don’t panic.

*In the preface he expands the wording a bit in a way that I deeply appreciate, saying that the book is to help parents teach kids “the Christian faith to which our Scripture bears witness” (8). And he’s exactly right: My goal isn’t to raise Bible-literate kids, but kids who understand the God Whom the Bible points to — and to differentiate between this collection of literature we call “God’s word” and the Word made flesh.

*****

Since we’re starting off by working through our own relationships with the Bible, I’d like to know: What is your relationship with the Bible like? Do you have a system for Bible reading, or have you used one in the past? How has that worked for you?

Please join in the discussion in comments, using the Twitter hashtag #TellingGodsStory, or on our shiny brand-new Facebook page. If you write a post on your own blog, please feel free to link to it here; I’ll post a link round-up at some point. If you’d like to write a guest post — perhaps about what you do with the Bible personally, or as a parent, or things that have worked for you, or things that haven’t, or anything else related to this topic — I’d love to host it; contact me and we’ll work out the details.

Coming Up: I’m planning to post about Chapter 2 next Monday, 11/11, and about Chapters 3-5 on the following Monday, 11/18.

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