book response: The Bible Tells Me So... by Peter Enns (2014)

Every book that I have read about critical Biblical scholarship and Biblical theology has been a difficult read until the new book by Enns, The Bible Tells Me So...why defending scripture has made us unable to read it. At points, it is laugh out loud funny. Dr. Enns, a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University practices the Sound of Music maxim, "a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down."

I'd say most American evangelicals like C.S. Lewis so much that he gets a free pass on his non-fundamentalist ways. But that means some of his books are not as popular among us evangelicals, like his Reflections on the Psalms. But Enns wants us to know he is not writing anything crazier than what Lewis wrote, and if we aren't keeping Lewis out of heaven, we shouldn't immediately write Enns off either. Enns opens with a quote from said book of Lewis's.
The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not 'the Word of God' in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its message.  p. vii
If the reader does not fear Lewis, then she need not fear Enns.

Enns addresses three big issues in the Bible apparent to any of us who read it often (and have for a long time): God ordained killing/genocide; unverifiable Bible history, and Biblical disagreements/contradictions.

The first topic is very interesting to me as I have been wrestling with the concept of Biblical genocide for years. Enns reviews the typical evangelical//fundamentalist responses to this problem and the teaching of Christ, who is presented in the New Testament as the clearest manifestation of God. I have heard all these responses. I have even used them. But they do not satisfy. Enns proposal is the command to kill all the Canaanites is not God's command, contrary to the claims in the Bible. Just because Moses or Joshua supposedly say God told them to massacre Canaanites, does not mean that they said it or that God told them to say it. The latter part makes sense in light of Jesus' teaching on enemy love. The first part is riskier for American evangelicals who have made inerrancy creedal. However, Enns gives many examples of why this "creed" is more work than it is worth. Enns is able to do this with humility and humor. He let's us eavesdrop on scholastic conversations across the ages and Bible reading communities.

My book is full of highlights. There is at least one passage underlined every third page in my copy. I can't even begin to pick my favorites to share.

This is the end result of his observations;  the Bible is a collection of conversations about God, sometimes made by assuming God's voice. For Christians, the key to discerning which voice correctly represents God is Jesus and his teaching as presented in the New Testament. Trying to force every statement to agree, even when they contradict, is to miss the forest for the trees.


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