The best things about this book are the examples, the Biblical themes and cultural knowledge Enns uses to prove his point rather than the point of the book itself. Enns doesn’t talk enough about the Bible being divinely inspired for my taste. Sometimes I don’t get the sense he is a Christian at all because there is no mention of the Holy Spirit. You can’t talk about the writing of scripture without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is what keeps the Bible from becoming just a rulebook or a storybook.
I don’t think that many Christians think that the Bible is just a rule book, at least not the ones reading this book, so badgering this point as he does is unnecessary. We all know Bible is made up of stories and poems and songs and laments and laws and even some historical accounts (Esther). We know this is literature, a literary collection. We know there are messy and awkward parts of the Bible and that details sometimes seem to conflict. We do on occasion bring assumptions and fill in in some gaps. Enns seems to think this is a problem but then celebrates that the rabbis were creative with the text in interpreting scripture in Jesus’ day.
Even though initially it made me a little huffy, I did enjoy getting stretched to think about books of the Bible that I’ve always thought of as historical fact to be a fictional story. What does that mean for us? What might it mean if the Bible has historical errors? Does it devalue scripture? I concluded that we don’t need to know exactly which books are historically accurate and which are not. What we have is what God has given. We have the words we are supposed to have. Whether or not it all happened, what we are reading is the truth. Through the Holy Spirit it is holy and living and active and God’s tool for teaching us about Him.
I don’t think the author of every Bible book was writing the past to inform and explain the author’s present as Enns suggests. Surely there are creative liberties taken in some places. But to say that there was no invasion and collapse of Canaan, that it was all made up to make Israel look good and strong, is not a good idea. A person saying these things better be really careful.
Besides missing some cultural context, I don’t believe we have something completely different than we think we have with scripture. If the Bible is full of writers who wrote for effect and in so doing amplified and exaggerated or made things up to persuade its readers, why read the rest of the book? Why look carefully at the Bible? He makes the Bible seem very subjective but then uses the Biblical text so literally to prove his points. For example he says that Adam and Eve were not the first humans because in Genesis 1 God made humans. Adam doesn’t show up until Genesis 2. So what about the creative license? Genesis 2 is a clarification. It doesn’t have to be chronological. Wasn’t that your point, Sir? You’re over thinking it or forgot your point.
What didn’t get enough thought is that scripture fulfills and references itself and has common themes and storylines not because of the objectives of the authors but the objective of God. Life, especially reflected in the scriptures, is God’s story. We are living God’s creative (albeit fractured) work. Life, creation and the Kingdom of God have themes because of that, not because of an author’s agenda. People have added their creativity, personality and cultural context but there is continuity, consistency, uniformity because life and scripture belong to the Creator.
In talking about Jesus’ handling of the Bible Enns talks about his college students and the papers they turn in, how they get returned drenched in red ink. If this book were a paper he was turning in to me, my red pen would have written at the top: “There is some good stuff here, Peter, but this paper needs a better thesis. How about you try again.”