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

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December 1, 2015 by Austin McNair

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read ItThe Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A couple of weeks ago, the final Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer hit the internet and my friends and I collectively lost our damn minds. Over the triumphant swells of John Williams’ masterful score, we were introduced to new characters, saw practical effects, and listened to Han Solo tell the young heroes, “It’s true… all of it.”
In the words of teenage girls everywhere – “I can’t even…”

But I have since been alerted to the fact that I am making a familiar mistake. It is the same mistake I made back in 2012 when The Dark Knight Rises was released. After the prolific Dark Knight movie came out in 2008, my expectations for Christopher Nolan’s final installment were massively unfair. I went into theater on opening night expecting to have a rapturous experience as I watched what I had expected to be the best movie ever… And the movie was okay… Perhaps it was better than okay? It was good (aside from the trite beat-the-clock ending). But my unrealistic expectations, which no movie would have been able to handle, left me with a sinking feeling of disappointment.

(Side Note: Even as I write this confession, I can sense that I am still doing it again for Star Wars… Someone needs stop me…)

Now turning to the subject that I have been asked to write about – This example of setting expectations is the very point Peter Enns is making in his book The Bible Tells Me So in regards to how we should approach the Bible. In his book, Enns says, “Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instructional manual… [But when] you read the Bible on its own terms, you discover that it doesn’t behave itself like a holy rulebook should” (3-4).
What follows this thesis statement is a book dedicated to showing you how the Bible “doesn’t behave itself” and that we shouldn’t feel the need to tame it. Among these discussions include examples in scripture where God is quoted as saying contradictory things (or acting in contrasting ways), history is recalled differently across accounts, teachings contradict each other, science is incorrect, biblical writers are caught being biased and taking many creative freedoms, and so on and so on… Enns wants his readers to know that we shouldn’t be surprised by how incredibly diverse the Bible is and that it can become something to be celebrated.
Enns presents this information with a robust view of the Bible in mind, especially the Old Testament. The most illuminating section for me while reading this was when he talked about how Jesus himself creatively handled the Old Testament. He writes the following:

“Jesus, like other Jews of the first century, read his Bible creatively, seeking deeper meaning that transcended or simply bypassed the boundaries of the words of scripture. Where Jesus ran afoul of the official interpreters of the Bible of his day was not in his creative handling of the Bible, but in drawing attention to his own authority and status in doing so” (231).

This topic was especially helpful for me because I have tended to get confused when Jesus starts using the Old Testament in discussions with religious leaders (Examples: Jesus’ interpretation of Exodus 3:6 found in Luke 20, Psalm 110 found in Mark 12, and Psalm 82 in John 10).

The Bible Tells Me So is honest, insightful, and hilarious. A criticism I have is that I think his tone could overshadow an opportunity to show some extra compassion or counsel to those reading this book who might not yet share his view on the Bible. There were many challenging sections of this book which tested my thinking on long-standing assumptions I had made about the Bible. Unfortunately, I don’t think his tone in these challenging sections reflects how seriously readers may struggle with accepting some of his arguments at face value. The humor helps but a few more nods to those really wrestling with his ideas.

Nevertheless, I would recommend this book to those honestly struggling with an inerrant or infallible view of scripture. Peter Enns makes an excellent case for the need to set the Bible free from the weighty expectations that we have placed on it. When we let go of our own expectations and encounter the Bible as it is, rather than trying to defend it for what it isn’t, then we may be surprised how much our faith in Jesus is enriched.

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