Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: 'The Bible Tells Me So..." by Peter Enns

I can't recall the last time a book by a world-class Bible scholar caused me to repeatedly laugh out loud and turn each page with relish.  'The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It" is a brilliant little book, about 250 pages broken into bite-sized chapters. 

Author Peter Enns has Master's degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and Harvard and also a Ph.D. from Harvard in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.  He has taught at Westminster Theological Seminary, Harvard University, Princeton Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Biblical Theological Seminary, Temple University and Eastern University on subjects dealing with Biblical Theology (Old and New Testament, Second Temple literature, etc., etc.).  He belongs to the Society of Biblical Literature and the Institute for Biblical Research.  He has been a major contributor to several Bible dictionaries, Bible commentaries and Bible study guides.  In other words, the dude knows the Bible and, if need be, can write dense and weighty theological tomes backed up by rigorous scholarship.  But 'The Bible Tells Me So..." is neither dense or weighty (though it is built on a solid foundation of Biblical, theological, linguistic and historical expertise).

And did I mention that Enns is funny?  Imagine Dave Barry as a Bible scholar.  Here, for example, is Enns' summary of an episode in the Old Testament story of Noah:  "After the great flood, which killed every living creature not on the ark, and Noah and his family de-arks, Noah plants the first vineyard, makes wine, and gets drunk (maybe he needed to unwind).  Like a college freshman, he collapses naked inside his tent in a drunken coma.  His youngest son, Ham, enters the tent, sees him lying there, and goes out to tell his brothers, Shem and Japheth.  Rather than gawking, the two brothers walk backward into the tent and cover their father with a garment.  It's hard to know exactly what's going on here, but, apparently, the two brothers handle the situation correctly whereas Ham doesn't.  So, when Noah wakes up, he does what any normal father would do when faced with the same dilemma--he curses Ham's descendants forever."  Ba-dum-tssshhh.

Enns goes on to explain the significance of this story in a way that is both surprising and enlightening.  He does likewise for Biblical texts spanning from Genesis to Revelation. 

Essentially, this book is both an overview of the entire Bible and a guide for how to appropriately read the Bible.  All in 250 pages.  With jokes.  Yet it has more depth and relevance (and makes more sense) than many of the stuffy books about the Bible that I've read over the years.  Enns' central point is that we need to read the Bible on its own terms and not try to impose our expectations upon it.  As he writes, "This book is really about having an attitude adjustment concerning the Bible and God in light of how the Bible actually behaves."  Enns' not only knows the Bible well, he loves it and respects it and has devoted his life to understanding it.  "Hold on to the time-tested wisdom that in order to know God better, we should keep reading and wrestling with the Bible.  It's God's Word and that's what he wants," says Enns.  But, he adds, "The Bible is not, never has been, and never will be the center of the Christian faith. ... That position belongs to God, specifically, what God has done in and through Jesus.  The Bible is the church's nonnegotiable partner, but it is not God's final word: Jesus is."

"For The Bible Tells Me So..." is one of those books that I wish I could get into the hands of not only every Christian but also of every person who has even a mild curiosity of what the Bible is about and why it is written the way it is and why that matters and why it was so meaningful to people in ancient times and why it is still meaningful today.


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