Peter Enns is a controversial figure. And this book is probably controversial too. Although what is not controversial is Joe Barrett, the narrator for the audiobook version of this book. While there is no small amount of controversy that even stems from this book (for example, the Amazon reviews feature Rob Bell and Brian McLaren), I try to keep an open mind about such things. Which is why I read this book. I wanted to hear Peter Enns’ arguments. And now that I’ve heard them, I’ll take some things and leave others. And that’s probably what has stymied my book reviews up until now. As of May, I’ve read over 35 books. But every time I come back to review this particular book, I find myself lacking the clarity to properly review it. It’s a dread that has made me cease to want to write about the controversy. But I figure I’ve waited long enough. Here are some thoughts:
Peter Enns believes that Evangelicals have spent so much time defending the Bible to “protect” it, they have inadvertently quashed its meaning. What this means is that we are so concerned with our interpretation of the Bible being the correct way, we have pushed anything outside of that periphery to heresy. Enns, I believe, means well. He argues that there are some things we do not wish to accept about the Bible. One of the chapters, he focuses on how the ancient Hebrew people were warriors who lived in a society of barbarism. It would only make sense that their perception of God would be in that same vein. This is perhaps why the Bible contains what we feel is out of touch with our Western sensibilities in Exodus and Joshua with the slaughtering of thousands in a type of crusade. I think there is some merit to this conclusion, but I think Enns goes too far in some regards.
I definitely agree with the main premise: there are times where Evangelicals won’t accept the cultural and historical background to understanding and interpreting the Bible. But I think we must be careful on this spectrum. I believe that Enns goes too far in his various interpretations of scripture that relies perhaps too heavily on evidence. For example, he believes since there is no archeological evidence of a mass exodus of people in the wilderness outside of Egypt, it perhaps didn’t happen. He also believes that Jesus radically manipulated Old Testament scripture to fit a very slim, or perhaps farfetched, interpretation. Here are some examples where I think Enns is off the mark. However, I believe he is on point with some things. For example, I think it’s reasonable to assume, and within orthodoxy, to understand the perspective of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in their writings of the Gospel. They were writing down history as they understood it. They probably paraphrased and recalled certain events in a strange order or in a different way. These imperfections do not necessitate that the Bible is flawed or wrong; rather, they recorded history in the way they understood it. That’s something I feel Evangelicals miss a lot in a day and age where we are obsessed with defending the veracity of the Bible. If this book has taught me anything, it is that we can have a high view of the Bible while understanding it in the culture and context it was written in, and more importantly, who it was written to.
Crucify him (figuratively) or love him, Peter Enns is controversial. But I’m glad I read this book that gave me a unique perspective on these topics.