“The Bible Tells Me So…” is a recently published book by Peter Enns. He offers a summary on the cover: “Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It”. The book came across to me as though Enns was frustrated and has a bone to pick. The purpose of the book is to try argue that the way many Christians—specifically those more conservative—understand the Bible is wrong and to convince these people of the correct way (according to Enns).
I am actually on board with Enns’ premise, explained through the first chapter: we need to try and understand the Bible as it is, in it’s ancient context, as opposed to trying to fit it into our expectations of an encyclopedia or modern textbook. We should be honest about it: there are a number of parts of the Bible which are difficult to understand and to know how to take. I believe that there are often a number of explanations which could potentially be true. Unfortunately Enns came across as though his is the only truly reasonable view and to think differently is foolish.
I found it ironic that Enns talks about the need to understand the Bible in it’s ancient context, yet the first big hang up he has is the killing of Canaanites. He recognizes that war and death of this sort was extremely common at the time. Yet he seems quite hung up on this point using what, in my mind, seems to be a modern view of the value of life as opposed to an ancient one.
Enns rides the line between saying that accounts in the Bible are written from different writers’ imperfect perspectives and saying the writers basically made up their accounts to suit their purposes. I’d agree with the former but am uncomfortable with the latter. To use the example of the Canaanites again, Enns thinks that the biblical authors wrote about them in such a way to make them look like the bad guys in order to justify Israel’s taking of their land. God didn’t really command them regarding the promised land, it was just convenient to say that was what happened. Enns seems to think the purely human explanation, when available, is the only reasonable one. In contrast, I find it more compelling to understand it as God working with these ancient people where they were at with their understanding of the world at that time. For example, Enns suggests that the biblical writers made up the plagues against Egypt in order to claim that their God was more powerful. This is because each plague corresponds to the power of some Egyptian God. However, Enns doesn’t consider how it would make equal sense for God to have caused these plagues for the same reason (to demonstrate his power over Egyptian gods).
Enns also seems to highlight and emphasize the differences in certain parts of the Bible, putting them at odds more than what I think may actually be the case (and I have done significant study of many of these passages).
I don’t question his sincerely—he did take the time to write a book on the subject, however Enns does write in a sarcastic and flippant manner. I don’t wish to criticize him for this, though I mention it as I can imagine people being put off by it, especially considering the nature of the material.
Overall, I think Enns has many good and correct things to say. However, the tone of the book bothered me and made Enns came across as being not entirely humble in my opinion. Additionally, he seemed to only consider the human side of the Bible. I do certainly believe the Bible has a human side, but Enns doesn’t talk about God having any direct influence on the Bible.