Book Review: The Bible Tells Me So… by Peter Enns

ForTheBibleTellsMeSoLooking for a book that is educated, controversial, and disarmingly funny? Your search is over.

Peter Enns‘ latest work “The Bible Tells Me So… Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It” reads like a mash-up of N.T. Wright’s biblical scholarship, Anne Lamott’s refreshingly honest humor, and Rob Bell’s penchant for stirring up dissension.

Enns takes aim at the modern attempt to defend the Bible that has been so characteristic of many Evangelical communities in the recent past:

“I want pious people to see that judging by how the Bible actually behaves – God did not design scripture to be a hushed afternoon in an oak-paneled library. Instead, God has invited us to participate in a wrestling match, a forum for us to be stretched and to grow. Those are the kinds of disciples God desires. This book, in other words, is a giant permission slip to let the wrestling begin…
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.” (page 22 and 24)

The result is a book that is sure to offend the “gatekeepers” of Christian orthodoxy yet likely to be a breath of fresh air for Christians who struggle with tensions between their Bible and their faith. To be clear – by no means do I agree with everything Enns argues for in his book. But I have grown increasingly tired of the conservative tendency to label divergent viewpoints as “heretical” or “liberal” simply so they can be dismissed without thought. Enns’ argument deserves a seat at the table, and even if some of his conclusions might cause a conservative Evangelical to cringe in the core of their soul, there is still much to be learned from his book.

Three things stand out as obvious about Peter Enns from his latest work:
1) He knows the Bible very well. This book seems to be aimed at a popular audience, but is still chock-full of rich biblical insight.
2) He values and seeks to follow Jesus. This can’t be denied just because one disagrees with some of his thoughts.
3) This has led him to struggle with some aspects of the Bible: like why God does a lot of killing and plaguing, why archeology often contradicts biblical accounts, and why the biblical writers often disagree. The Bible Tells Me So… is an account of these struggles and Enns’ conclusions.

If you want a book that won’t challenge the naive assumption that the Bible fell down from heaven typed directly from the inerrant fingers of the baby Jesus, don’t read this book.

Enns contends that we should take seriously the ancient Isrealites’ tribal culture when we read their literature. He argues that the Bible’s version of “history” doesn’t meet modern standards of objective-story telling, but that maybe God is okay with giving us “ancient accounts of history.” He claims that Jesus didn’t use a “historical-grammatical” method of interpretation when handling the Old Testament and that neither did any of the other New Testament authors – “watching the New Testament writers at work yields a valuable lesson for Christian readers today: explaining Jesus drove the early Christian writers to read their Bible in new, sometimes radically different, ways. The Bible was nonnegotiable as God’s word, but it wasn’t God’s final word. Jesus was.” (195)

Overall, Enns has produced a challenging and engaging book that attempts to take seriously the Bible just as God gave it to us. It’s an interesting thesis: God could have given us a clearly-outlined systematic theology textbook as our Bible, but he didn’t. My humble opinion is that even though many won’t agree with his conclusions, perhaps there is still something for almost everyone to learn from this enjoyable read.

(Enns references this comic on page 89)

Note: I received this book from HarperOne at HarperCollins in exchange for an unbiased review.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Bible Tells Me So… by Peter Enns

  1. Thanks for that review Mike. This has been on my “buy and read” list since before it came out, and I’m glad to hear that it’s worth the read. Your point about the need to be willing to listen to other view points is an important one.


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