Monday, December 29, 2014
Book Review: The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns
In his new book, Peter Enns shows us why the evangelical and fundamentalist quest to defend Scripture has demeaned more than exalted it. Those who say "the Bible tells me so," treating it like a "spiritual owner's manual with handy index, a step-by-step field guide to the life of faith, an absolutely sure answer-book to unlock the mystery of God and the meaning of life," are actually diminishing the book's nature and its integrity. (p.8)
Enns starts by seeking to pierce the idealistic veil that's been placed over the Bible, exposing Scripture's flaws and revealing the weakness in thinking of it as a unified text written solely from the hand of God. He expresses quite well that the problem is not with the Bible, but with the unrealistic expectations we have brought to the Bible. We have been demanding that the Bible be something it was never meant to be. Genesis is not science, the Gospels are not biographical reportage, and all 66 books do not paint the same picture of reality, even of God. We presume too much when we use the Bible to explain the literal origins of all creation, or to give us accurate details of the past, or to teach us systematic theology.
In the beginning of my biblical history class, I warned the students that they would often be faced with their presuppositions and expectations of the Bible, and that they could either recognize them as such, or assume them as epistemological givens. The problem, of course, with the latter choice is that it is bereft of truth-seeking, even if it is more comfortable and less daunting. Enns stresses the importance of recognizing our presuppositions and expectations of the Bible, and critiquing them when necessary.
He also does a good job of showing why critiquing our presuppositions and expectations is quite necessary today. The sect of Christianity that responded so extremely to modernism, and is currently ubiquitous in the U.S., has created a fetishized Bible that has not only been exalted to the divine status of the Trinity, but has also been burdened with expectations too outlandish for any book, even a divinely inspired one, to live up to.
If you're already well-versed in Enns' thinking, there's not a pressing reason to read this book, unless you just love reading anything and everything Enns writes. But if you're a lay Christian who wants to get to know the Bible in a way you probably haven't before, and wrestle with some deep issues in the process, this is a must-read. Enns is challenging, encouraging, and a lot of fun. I hope his book finds its way into churches all over the U.S. The church, especially the American evangelical church, desperately needs its insight.
Honest readers unfamiliar with Enns' ideas and used to taking for granted the normative evangelical conception of the Bible will be troubled by Enns, but it is a disorientation that I think will prove liberating in the long run. Even if you disagree with Enns, or if you are skeptical and want to dig deeper, there's a good chance you'll think twice before saying "The Bible says it, that settles it" after reading this book.