Book Review: “The Bible Tells Me So” by Peter Enns

  • 41W52qMYEcLHardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (September 9, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062272020
  • Amazon.com
  • HarperOne

Many thanks to the kind folks at HarperOne for a review copy of Peter Enns The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It.

An Overview

Peter Enns has written a non-technical book, making it readily accessible to the earnest inquirer into these matters.  The work is friendly and inviting.  It’s something of a spiritual pilgrimage through the world of Scripture–faith seeking understanding, as it were.  The work contains seven chapters, parts, more like it, and then mini-chapters, explaining its 288 pages.

At the heart of Enns work is how we read Scripture.  For example, in the first chapter, “I’ll Take Door Number Three,” is the mini-chapter “The Bible Isn’t the Problem.”  Peter Enns continues, “The problem is coming to the Bible with expectations it’s not set up to bear” (p. 8).  The rest of the work is really about exposing and correct the “expectations” the Bible was not set up to bear.  According to Enns, “When we open the Bible and read it, we are eavesdropping on an ancient spiritual journey… In the Bible, we read of 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” (p. 23).  So when we come to those difficult OT texts, where God commands genocide, and skeptics of the Bible and the Christian faith are quick to jump own, for Enns, this is that ancient element.  That ancient element is then developed in chapter three, “God Likes Stories.”  “Over the years I’ve grown more and more convinced that ‘storytelling’ is a better way of understanding what the Bible is doing with the past than ‘history writing'” (p. 128).  For Enns, the biblical writers were storytellers and not historians in a modern sense.

Moreover, the biblical writers are allowed their diverse portraits of God, as they encountered him, explaining books like Job and Ecclesiastes.  “God allows himself to be talked about, worshipped, and trusted by the Israelites within the boundaries of that ancient horizon” (p. 153).  Chapters 5 and 6 are about Jesus and the NT writers creative handling of Israel’s Scripture, precisely because Jesus is at the center of it all.  “Through his creative handling of his Bible, Jesus drew attention to himself as the true focus of Torah and the rest of scripture” (p. 174).  It is also in these chapters that we encounter new creation language and the like.  The last chapter, “The Bible, Just as It Is,” sums it all up: “Whenever we think we have God in a box, safe and sound, under control and constant watch, God blows up our categories” (p. 235).

A Critique

Peter Enns work is a challenge to how we have long read the Bible, which was the author’s intent.  Enns himself is on a spiritual journey, as the first chapter, “I’ll Take Door Number Three,” reveals.  In a way, in this work, Enns is letting his readers in on this journey, albeit, a difficult one–a wrestling with Scripture and walking away with a limp.

No doubt, the big take away from Enns work is the call to rethink how we read Scripture–being aware of our modern Western lenses and the damage they do to the Bible, expecting it to behave in ways it was never meant to behave in.  But this will not be easy for the reader to come to terms with, given our need to be in control and to be certain.  And while I appreciate Enns insistence on reading the Bible on its own terms, I wish he had addressed the following: (1) Inspiration and the Bible.  How should we understanding the matter of biblical inspiration then?  The role of the Holy Spirit in all this?  Enns does not address these matters.  (2) Though Enns speaks of the grand story, there’s no discussion of covenant theology and hardly any discussion of how Israel understood herself in covenant with Yahweh.  If we are eavesdropping, as Enns, puts it, should we not overhear something of covenant language, which was at the center of life and Scripture?  (3) Though Adam is engaged to a degree, it begs the following: what about how Jesus understood his relation to Adam? And since Adam is essential to Pauline theology, what about Paul’s understanding of Adam? (Perhaps Peter Enns wants the reader to consult his previous works).

Conclusion

Last year I reviewed Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible, where he advances similar arguments as Enns.  But I find Enns work more challenging and convincing.  And while I do not agree with everything the Enns has written in this work, as one who keeps an open mind and continues to wrestle with Scripture and some of the very issues addressed by Enns, I’m better off for reading it.  And there’s no reason to simply dismiss an author and their work because they might challenge what you believe.  If what you believe about God and the Bible is worth adhering to, then put it to the test, reading Enns The Bible Tells Me So.

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9 Responses to Book Review: “The Bible Tells Me So” by Peter Enns

  1. Craig Benno says:

    T.C. We might make a charismatic out of you yet 😉 Good review brother. I think Scripture is meant to be wrestled with and leave us with a limp.

  2. nwroadrat says:

    Nice, I’m reading that same book now. I love the new term the author created, “Bible-induced stress.” That’s sure to be controversial. For the first few centuries, God believers could not put their hands on a book called The Bible. It didn’t exist. Now that we have it, its stressful, at least from some perspectives. (-:

    • TC Robinson says:

      Nice. Keep reading. I sure would love to hear your thoughts on it. 😉

      • nwroadrat says:

        I already wrote a brief blog post, but woefully incomplete. I don’t want to get into bashing the author like so many have done. I’m more enthralled with the book because it’s a good read and I am learning a few things. Enns appears to have a fundamentalist background similar to Bart Ehrman. While he’s not Ehrman, he came to the Bible with expectations that were sure to fail. Quietly, I have a few concerns about the material.

  3. TC Robinson says:

    As Enns notes in his book, it has been a journey for him, a wrestling, if you will. I’m interested in some of those concerns you have, man. 😉

    • nwroadrat says:

      Well, being respectful to Dr. Enns, I have questions regarding his questioning of Matthew’s legitimacy. He appeared to toss out spectacular descriptivism as sensationalistic. That could put that whole writing in question. Regarding Matt 24-25, I don’t think that part is in the other gospels and that part doesn’t appear to be sensationalistic. I feel he sorta picks and chooses things to support the negative argument. Hope I’m making sense. Anything more specific, I would want private email.

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