The Bible Tells Me So: A Book Review

I can’t really pinpoint the first time I heard of Peter Enns.

It might’ve been when I saw his book The Evolution of Adam in my Old Testament professor’s office and thought it looked like the coolest book ever. I still haven’t managed to get hold of a copy, but I will. Oh, I will.

Or maybe it was when I watched his Azusa Pacific lecture “The Benefit of Doubt: Coming to Terms with Faith in a Postmodern Era.” It was incredible. It let me believe I could believe in God.

Maybe it was his blog. It sure wasn’t the time he accepted my friend request about ten seconds before Facebook converted his personal page into an author page because he had too many friends. (Dammit!)

When I found out our local library had a copy of his latest book (which I was so psyched about) I borrowed a copy. It was so exciting. I read it on our kindle, which allowed me to highlight things I found fascinating. And there were many things I found fascinating. I probably have about fifty highlights, and that’s only because I limited myself to things I thought were really inspiring. Like this:

Taking the Bible seriously enough to read it carefully, as many Christians can testify to, can generate more than it’s share of uh-oh moments. The Bible can become a challenge to one’s faith in God rather than the source of faith, a problem to be overcome, rather than the answer to our problems.

One thing you notice almost immediately is that Peter Enns doesn’t write like an academic. He has the knowledge of an academic, but he writes plainspeak, which is probably why Answers in Genesis absolutely hates him. He’s tagged in no less than ten articles written by Ken Ham himself – as big a threat as Bill Nye (bigger in my estimation), and mentioned in no less than 177 articles.

Bill Nye’s “Science” is no problem for the faithful, but without the theology Enns is challenging, nobody needs creationism anymore. That’s my story, anyway. Bill Nye is chopping off heads on the creationist hydra, but but Peter Enns is going straight for the heart.

But I digress.

Peter Enns goes for the jugular. He doesn’t mince words. He launches devastating attacks – not on the Bible, but on the way modern “conservative” evangelicals believe they read it – literally. He says things like this:

It’s hard to appeal to the God of the Bible to condemn genocide today when the God of the Bible commanded genocide yesterday. This is what we call a theological problem.

He starts off with violence because scriptural violence is one place where it’s easy to drive the point home. And he does. He locks all the doors Christians have often used to justify God’s meanness as recorded in the Bible. I find this line particularly spectacular:

God killing people, both Israelites and others, isn’t a last-ditch measure of an otherwise patient deity. It’s the go-to punishment for disobedience. To put a fine point on it, this God is flat-out terrifying: he comes across as a perennially hacked-off warrior-god, more Megatron than heavenly Father.

He responds to the oft-repeated justification for genocide, “God’s going to send people to hell anyway” by spending approximately two pages demolishing the modern idea of hell. And you thought Rob Bell was concise.

He responds to the moral corruption charge by pointing out that other groups were as bad as the Caananites. Eventually he tells us what he thinks: It’s propaganda. “My God is bigger than your god.” Which pretty much makes sense.

In Chapter Four, The Bible Tells Me So pushes back against the notion of “scriptural” child-rearing, the Bible as an owner’s manual for life, or even the Bible as a tool you can use to make God do what you want.

Job’s friends. They were fine people, I’m sure, and they were technically right if you’re going by the book. But God says they are wrong.

So it seems like God isn’t operating by the book. The book doesn’t limit God. There is more to God than what the book says. God is bigger than the Bible.

Peter Enns does what few Christian writers – and almost no evangelical writers – are comfortable doing: he points out contradictions in the Bible, and doens’t “fix” them. He also points out Jesus doing all sorts of fascinating gymnastics with the Bible, the likes of which I’ve only ever seen before from fundamentalists, who don’t use his hermeneutic.

I really like The Bible Tells Me So. I think it’s a fantastic book. The only problem I have with it is that I don’t think it will convince inerrantists. It might help people in the transition between inerrancy and a more robust view of scripture, but Peter Enns is more confident and slightly more dogmatic than, for example, Scot McKnight in The Blue Parakeet. Sometimes Enns rubs the Bible’s lack of inerrancy in our faces a little, which is likely to offend those who very strongly disagree.

I enjoyed it a lot, though. It’s kind of like when you read a great partisan zinger but the folks on the other side of the aisle don’t find it compelling or funny.

It’s a great book that’s well-reasoned and well-written, but it’s so readable it’s bound to make a lot of people angry.

About David M. Schell







2 responses to “The Bible Tells Me So: A Book Review”

  1. Juan Carlos Torres Avatar

    This is one of the funniest and most helpful books I’ve ever read! I laughed so much reading it;)

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