Friday, March 13, 2015

Review of "The Bible Tells Me So"

Enns, Peter. The Bible Tells Me So (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 267pgs.

Enns, a professor at Eastern University, writes often on his blog about the mounting scholarly and popular problems inerrancy faces.  This book, The Bible Tells Me So, lays out his case in a popular idiom.  It ranges through his field (Old Testament/Hebrew Bible) through the New and into modern criticism.  His main point, it seems, is that Scripture cannot bear the weight inerrantism puts on it: a claim that is, in my opinion, becoming more and more undeniable every day. The implications of this, for the life of the evangelical church, are staggering, although they are mostly left as subtle or provocative hints throughout Enns' text.  He lays out no program of how to interpret the Bible post-inerrancy, but merely strives to show that the old paradigm has no proverbial clothes on.

The argument is fairly clear; however, you cannot beat something with nothing.  In the end, the Bible is left, not as a normative collection of books (a canon for faith and life), but as a set that "carries the thoughts and meditations of ancient pilgrims and, I believe, according to God's purpose, has guided, comforted, and informed Christians for as long as there have been Christians" (234). He argues, at various points throughout the text, that portions of the Scriptures were "left behind" by later authors, especially those parts in which God is presented as a tribal-warrior death with a "hair-trigger temper."  I was left wondering how that might play out exegetically: are we allowed to leave behind parts of Scripture today? I realize that this comes dangerously close to committing the slippery slope fallacy on my part, but recent moves by various parts of the church have accomplished this very thing.  It gets to the very thorny (whether you are an inerrantist or not) issue of how "cultural conditioning" works in the New Testament (especially).

One thing Enns focuses on is the way both Jesus and the Apostles interpreted the Old Testament. It is well known that they, and the Church Fathers, Scholastics, Mystics, and others up until the Reformation, used very strange (to us) methods to derive meaning for their day, in light of what Jesus did and, therefore, who He was.  In fact, Enns says he would give a student a bad grade (among other things) if they engaged in that sort of exegesis. Here is one of the main points that we should focus in on: Enns has, unwittingly?, cut out how Protestants do biblical study, but has not put anything else in its place.  The historical-critical method doesn't cut it, since the history does not conform to our modern understandings of what counts as historical accuracy (an argument I've made before); grammatical-historical suffers from the same fate; redemptive-historical as well, although this one might get a bit more of a pass as it tends to focus on the canonical narrative, yet it assumes the full historical validity in the Scriptures.  What else can there be? If we cannot make recourse to "objective" history, what can we do?  Or, if apostolic (read: ecclesial-liturgical) readings are appropriate and necessary to maintain the Scriptures as "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16-17), how do we engage them without making "the Bible mean whatever you feel like making it mean" (168)?

Enns never quite says.  He offers some suggestions of how we are to approach the Bible post-inerrancy (236-244), but they do not amount to a complete exegetical agenda (nor, to be fair, was this his intent, as this is a popular level book, but I have the feeling that many will walk away from their reading wondering how the Bible, especially the OT, is normative for life today).  What Enns is seeking to accomplish in this work is important: we must read the Scriptures, if we are to know the God who inspired them, as they are meant to be read. They cannot bear the weight that sola Scriptura inevitably places on them.  But what?  Enns confesses that "I continue to work all this out for myself" (236). Just as Deuteronomy ends with the Israelites outside the Promised Land, so does TBTMS.

Trying to think alongside Dr. Enns, here are some thoughts as we seek to move forward: the Lord, the Apostles, and the Fathers/Mothers of the Church are all agreed that the key to reading Scripture is not found within method, or scholarly acumen. The key, the skopos of St Athansius and the hypothesis of St Irenaeus, is Jesus Christ, accessible to us by His Holy Spirit through participation in the life of the Church.  In other words, the Bible is an ecclesial document that cannot be properly read outside of the Church worshipping and communing. Lex orandi, lex credendi. Only being indwelt by the Spirit, what St John calls in his first epistle "the anointing you received from Him" (2:20, 27), can equip us to read the Scriptures towards salvation: this Spirit is the down-payment of the Church (not of individual believers in a "soul competency" sort of way -- this would lead to confusion and chaos, as can be seen in the history of Protestantism generally). Of course, this leads us to the question that continues to irk me: where is the Spirit? Who (which tradition/communion) has Him?

This is, to me, the great question.  It is, at least, the most important question I've ever come across. Enns, I think, points us back to this question, even if he is not explicitly asking it.

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