Monday, September 22, 2014

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It (A review)

Every once in a while someone writes a book that says exactly what you have been thinking for a long time. In Pete Enns’ most recent book I found a description of the Bible and how it works articulated just the way I would say it. In fact, I wish I had said it!

In The Bible Tells Me So: Why defending Scripture has made us unable to read it (HarperOne, 2014), Enns leads readers on a journey of new discovery. Many readers of the Bible (ok, all of us) approach the Bible with certain presuppositions about the way we think the Bible works. But as Enns points out time and again, while we may approach the Bible with an “owner’s manual” or “rule book” mentality, the Bible rarely behaves the way we want it to behave (p. 73). In fact, the more we read the Bible and try to apply it, the more we realize that it is a complex book that is not so easily tamed.

Enns’ goal in this volume is not to tame the beast, but to help readers discover a new appreciation for the Bible.  And although Enns has a PhD from Harvard and is probably too smart for his own good, this is not an academic essay on the Bible that will help cure your insomnia. In many ways this is a personal story in which Enns describes his own journey from an “owner’s manual” approach to the Bible to informed believer. This is a book by someone who found that the Bible is much more exciting and useful than a simple “rulebook.”

The central thrust of the book is the importance of story. Enns notes the difficulty with holding up the Bible to modern ideas of “history.” While he acknowledges that a lot of history lies behind the Bible, he also gives a number of examples where the Bible simply wouldn’t make the cut in documentary. But the problem is not the Bible, but the expectations moderns readers bring to the Bible.

When we open the Bible and read it, we are eavesdropping on an ancient spiritual journey. The journey was recorded over a thousand years span of time, by different writers, with different personalities, at different times, under different circumstances, and for different reasons.

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 that way. (p. 23)

Rather than view this as a diminishing of the Bible, Enns argues that this is what makes the Bible useful. The Bible is “Story” it is that which shapes the past in order to help us make sense of the present (p. 99).

But it’s not just the stories of the Bible that are complicated. The God we read about in the Bible is also complicated and doesn’t always behave the way we would like. At times God is loving and merciful and at other times he is vengeful and violent. And try as we may to reconcile those contrasting pictures, it’s not possible. Enns, however, invites his readers to embrace this diverse presentation of God.

God certainly is a multidimensional character in the Bible. Sometimes he is up there and out of the way, unmoved and unmovable. But more often he is the kind of God you can actually have a relationship with. Both are in the Bible. Neither cancels the other out, but – ironically, perhaps – the biblical God that is least Godlike is the one we tend to connect with more in our day – to – day lives. A God like us is not a problem. The New Testament, Where God becomes one of us, calls this Good News. (p. 159).

For Enns, it is the revelation of God in Jesus that is most important.  After demonstrating how Jesus, like the Bible, didn’t always behave the way people would expect, Enns proposes that Jesus is actually bigger than the Bible. That is, while the Bible is important and tells us about and directs us towards God and Jesus, it isn’t the final word. Jesus is the final Word (p. 195).

Enns concludes the volume by suggesting that the Bible is unsettling and that it is supposed to be that way (p. 239). Our attempts to tame the Bible, to make it behave will never succeed and only frustrate us more. But that is not a reason for us to give up. Enns suggests that an unsettled faith is a maturing faith (238). He also warns that we shouldn’t expect more from the Bible than you would from Jesus (p. 243). If we are willing to accept the mystery of Jesus as God come in the flesh, we should also accept the mystery of how the Bible came to us with human fingerprints all over it.

This is a book that needed to be written. And if you know anything about Pete Enns and his story you will know that he was just the person to write it. This book should be read by anyone who has been raised in evangelical thinking, but found that at times the answers it provided were unsatisfactory. It’s a book for people who cling to their faith in God in spite of the messiness of the Bible and the way it has been used over the centuries. It is a book that I think puts into words what many have been thinking for a long time.

I highly recommend it!