The Bible Tells Me So Review: Introduction
Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading this new book released by Peter Enns called The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending the Bible Has Made Us Unable to Read It. Let me just say up front that this book is fantastic. I’m enjoying it immensely: so much, in fact, that I’ve decided to do a chapter-by-chapter review of the entire thing. The perspective Enns brings to the table is such an important one, and I think that if we all read the Bible in this way we would find that we can read it with reverence and intellectual integrity without forcing it into a mold it was never meant to fill.
Right out of the gate, Enns makes it pretty clear that this is no typical perspective on how we as Bible-believing Christians ought to read the scriptures. He writes:
“In the Bible, we read of encounters with God by ancient peoples, in their times and places, asking their questions, and expressed in language and ideas familiar to them. Those encounters with God were, I believe, genuine, authentic, and real. But they were also ancient—and that explains why the Bible behaves the way it does.
This kind of Bible—the Bible we have—just doesn’t work well as a point-by-point exhaustive and timelessly binding list of instructions about God and the life of faith. But it does work as a model for our own spiritual journey. An inspired model, in fact.” (p. 23)
The basic purpose of the book’s introduction is to lay the groundwork for how Enns will be approaching the Bible throughout the book. He gives a basic overview of his life and how his views of scripture shifted radically shortly after he graduated from college. He was listening in on a theological conversation between an atheist friend and a Christian friend, and the reality that they had such knowledge and conviction about what they believed, and he felt ignorant by comparison.
This triggered a journey for him in which he studied the Bible, and then began reading all the books on theology, philosophy, church history, commentaries and more that he could get his hands on. He went to Harvard to pursue a doctorate in Old Testament Studies, where he encountered some of the bizarre ways in which the New Testament writers—especially Paul—interepreted the stories of the Old Testament. And he began to learn how comfortably those stories fit among their contemporary narratives.
“I feel I have been given permission to be honest with myself and with God about a Bible that behaves so unBible-like without being told God is deeply disappointed in me for doing so and might turn on me at any second.
I gained a Bible—and a God—I was free to converse with, complain to, talk back to, interrogate, and disagree with, not as an act of rebellion, but as an act of faith and trust, rather than needing to tiptoe around lest a grumpy God lash out with plague, famine, and sword if I get the Bible wrong—like an abusive, drunken father you don’t want to wake from his nap.
I was learning to trust God enough to know that, like family he will come through no matter what, that his love and commitment to me is deepr than how my brain happens to process information at any given moment, to trust that God will be with me, not despite my journey but precisely because I was trusting God enough to take it.” (p. 21)
As I read through Enn’s description of coming to terms with what the Bible truly is, and not what we force it to be, I was amazed at his ability to take the biblical texts at face value and yet remain respectful of its position as an inspired scripture that can teach us so many key things about God and ourselves. What this introduction showed me more than anything else is that you don’t have to bend the Bible to your will—or even to Church tradition—to let it transform you. You don’t need to have every passage hammered out into a malleable caricature of what is truly going on.
You can read the Bible exactly for what it is: ancient literature reflecting the ancient ideas of multiple men and women throughout history. They each colored history in their own ways for different purposes. And this doesn’t render it useless to us at all today; it just means we need to approach it with its context in mind, and read it in a way that is consistent with that context. Only then will the deeper meanings in scripture jump out that perhaps you had previous glossed over with an oversimplified or misinformed reading.
After driving this point home, Enns proceeds with introducing the first difficult topic he would be covering in the book: Old Testament violence. In my next installment of this series, I will provide an overview of Enn’s treatment of stories of God-ordained genocide in the Old Testament and why it is a poor reading of these texts to treat them as reflective of God’s nature or God’s judgment.