A few month’s ago, my step father handed me a book and asked me to read it. I’m always super apprehensive about taking books from people because I never know what I’m getting myself into. For the most part, I prefer to know a little more about a book than simply someone suggesting it to me. So, I figured my step father couldn’t be too bad, plus I was curious about the kind of material he was reading. He was definitely curious about my opinion as well. I took it, partially reluctantly and partially out of curiousity. That book was The Bible Tells Me So…: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns, published by HarperOne on September 15, 2015. Enns is the Abram S Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University and host of a podcast called The Bible for Normal People. While this book has been out for a few years, it certainly has many good thoughts and considerations that people need to take into account while reading the Bible.
According to Enns, the Bible is not a book that behaves the way we would expect it to. There are many instances where we can quickly become frustrated because the Bible does not give us the answers we seek, it does not portray the people of God in a manner we would expect, and it does not provide for us all the answers of life. Enns makes this point as the first section of his first chapter is titled, “When the Bible Doesn’t Behave.” The problem, as Enns suggests, is the idea that the Bible has to be taken literally, and that people cannot question it and/or God. Enns writes, “I believe God wants us to take the Bible seriously, but I don’t believe he wants to suppress our questions about it.” We often come to the Bible with an understanding of what the “answer” is, but fail to reconcile that when we want to ask questions of the Bible or simply do not believe the trite idea “’cause the Bible tells me so.” Questions are not a problem to faith, but a rather an invitation to a deeper understanding. Unfortunately, most people do not feel comfortable going to their faith leaders in order to ask these questions because they feel they will be ridiculed or that their doubt does not make them a Christian.
“Creating a Bible that behaves itself doesn’t support the spiritual journey. It cripples it. The Bible just as it is isn’t a problem to be fixed. It’s an invitation.”
The solution to this problem, as Enns suggests, is that an “attitude adjustment” is necessary. While it’s certainly easy to say that, there is a step by step guide that Enns provides. First, accept that you cannot know and understand everything about the Bible. “Don’t try to explain it. Just accept it. That won’t make you a mindless zombie. It just means you are accepting your own human limitations and acknowledging by faith that something bigger than ourselves is happening…” Second, recognition that the Bible is not the central part of the Christian faith. That honor belongs to God, and God alone. Putting the Bible there makes the Bible an idol and we all know that is wrong. Third, we must see that the Bible is not a weapon to be used agaist people, but is a place that people throughout it’s existance have come and met God. Fourth, having doubts and questions is a sign of maturing faith. “Feeling dis-ease and challenged in faith may be God pushing us out of our own safety zone, where we rest on our own ideas about God and confuse those idease with the real thing.” Fifth, letting go of fear and finding comfort in being wrong about the Bible. Sixth, branch out beyond what you know. There are many other perspectives that are just as valuable to understanding God, and it may help you to understand you questions and doubts. Seventh, have debates. Not any one person has the totality of understanding of God. In debating eachother, we can come to a deeper understanding. And finally, we have to allow the Bible to be the Bible. We cannot come to it with our own opinions and expect it to behave. As we work on all of these areas, the Bible becomes, as it was intended, a place for us to meet God and learn at His feet.
“Feeling dis-ease and challenged in faith may be God pushing us out of our own safety zone, where we rest on our own ideas about God and confuse those idease with the real thing.”
The thing I love most about this book is that it is pretty much a primer on the entire Biblical Studies discipline in academia with the presences of applying it to the Church. Unfortunately, those of us in the academy, get to bogged down in writing for ourselves and showing off our theological prowess. Enns does not do that in this book. He has a deep desire to show the Church that we have the tendency to mishandle Scripture, and this needs to be corrected before further damage is done to ourselves. He writes in a way that is easily accessible to anyone who picks up the book and does a fantastic job explaining ideas that may not be as common to the rest of us. Personally, I would openly suggest this book to pastors and anyone sitting in their pews. I have read many books over the years suggesting that the main problem with biblical literacy is that people do not have a good grasp on how to approach the material. I believe that Enns gives us a great starting space as we try to navigate our faith in the Bible.
Of course you can always go and pick up a copy for yourself and tell me what you think!