The Bible Tells Me So

Peter Enns's book, The Bible Tells Me So (Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It), is delightful, insightful, entertaining, and ultimately--for me--disappointing.

I agree with his premise. I do think the fundamentalist and evangelical approach to the Bible as a "divine rule book" and "instruction book for life" does harm to the book and its readers, as well as our frequent failure to read and study it for what it is and what it says rather than for what we want it to be and say. I agree that we err by "not asking ancient questions, but modern ones" when we read and study the Bible.

I also agree with so much of what Enns--an evangelical scholar and Abram S. Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University--writes. For example:
I believe God wants us to take the Bible seriously; but I don’t believe he wants us to suppress our questions about it (p. 8).

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 (23-24).

Starting with the wrong assumptions actually devalues the Bible that we have by wanting something else (89).

Getting the Bible right and getting Jesus right are not the same thing (164).
Great stuff. As is his explanation of how (and possibly why) the Bible offers multiple and conflicting accounts of the same events. As is his elucidation of how Jesus quoted and alluded to the ancient Scriptures while also applying them in new and clearly revolutionary ways. As is his similarly insightful depiction of Paul's creativity with the Hebrew Scriptures (though speculative as to Paul's motives or thought processes to a degree I don't think he acknowledges).

But I couldn't shake the sense that he treats the textual record as authoritative when setting up problems ("what kind of God regrets what he's done?" 158) but malleable in order to solve problems ("[the Bible] doesn't lay down at every point what all the faithful for all time should believe about God. It shows us how Israelites understood God on their journey with God, in their time and place" 153), and seldom (if ever) mentions other plausible explanations for some of the challenges he works to solve (though, to be fair, to do much of this would surely have made the book less entertaining and accessible). He makes the Gospel writers sound like PR flacks who made up stuff to exalt Jesus. And though he affirms the Bible as the Word of God, I don't think he ever really explains what he means by that.

Having said all that, I'm very glad to have read it. And I'm still thinking it over and over in the days since I finished it, which is one of my preferred metrics of a good book. So it may well be that my disappointment is the result of having expected the wrong things of The Bible Tells Me So. Which, I will agree with Enns, is the kind of attitude I too often bring to the Bible. Point. Just maybe not "set" and "match."

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