Two New Books Urge Christians to Take the Bible Seriously…
…but with less fear, more freedom
The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns (HarperCollins)
How to Read the Bible without Losing Your Mind: A Truth-Seeker's Guide to Making Sense of Scripture by Kent Blevins (Wipf&Stock)
reviewed by Kathy Kwon
As curious as it may seem, evangelicalism—for all its devotion to scriptural authority—is not known for its robust intellectual approach to studying its source of authority. In The Bible Tells Me So, biblical scholar Peter Enns talks about his early experiences in communities characterized by a need for "a well-behaved Bible" and "an anxiety over protecting the Bible and so regulating the faith of those who read it." Similarly, Kent Blevins, author of How to Read the Bible without Losing Your Mind, talks about the widening gap "between rational inquiry and the claim that the Bible can be a source of truth."
With this in view, both books are committed to reorienting Christians toward deep reading and study of the Bible, and, significantly, to doing so in constructive and hope-filled ways.
In The Bible Tells Me So Peter Enns succeeds in putting together a truly hilarious, accessible, and quick read that releases the lay reader of the Bible to further pursue a more academic understanding of the nature of scripture and its many offerings with less fear and greater freedom than she may be used to. In this sense, Enns' book is likely to appeal to a much broader demographic of lay searchers than Blevins' book and is invaluable in this respect. His consistent use of metaphors, stories, and examples not only mirrors the ancient text he tackles, but also makes for an easy and enjoyable journey through his arguments.
One of the most significant weaknesses of Peter Enns' book is that it requires you to simply trust him; he offers very few footnotes or references to his community of biblical scholars. This is somewhat of an irony. He is essentially encouraging the reader to shift from one belief about what the Bible says to another. Yes, he is a well-known and acclaimed Old Testament scholar; however, there are many others whom the reader would never know disagree with him on major biblical interpretations for all his references to "most scholars" and "everyone." And yes, he suggests further reading at the end to support his claims; however, if he is to succeed in relieving some of the anxiety about reading this ancient text that is the Bible, he will want to give more than just his own word.
To Enns' credit, however, for the seminary-trained reader, none of his arguments will be ones you have not heard, either as the prevailing interpretation or at least a major competing interpretation of scripture in biblical scholarship. So if you can stand not knowing where his interpretive claims come from, this book is an excellent place to start tackling some of the most difficult and disturbing texts in scripture.
Kent Blevins' How to Read the Bible without Losing Your Mind takes a slightly more academic approach to reading and studying scripture. What Blevins invaluably draws to our attention is the existence of what he refers to as "hub symbols," or interpretive frameworks and lenses. What Blevins points out is that the hub symbols we bring to scripture or choose within scripture necessarily influence our interpretation of scripture. None of us comes to scripture with a blank, objective lens.
Blevins also includes interactive elements through periodic questions for reflection and exercises. This might appeal to the small Bible study group hoping to read a challenging overview for how to think critically about future studies of scripture as well as consider the potential implications of studying scripture in this manner. One of the book's strongest offerings is its very concrete model for reading scripture intelligently.
Potentially the greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses of Blevins' book are his two chapters on applying his interpretive model in which he argues for why certain hub symbols ought to be "central to the biblical perspective" of all Christians. Perhaps, then, the most interesting exercise of all in Blevins' book relates to how we react and respond when we either agree or disagree with certain of the hub symbols he suggests and the implications for truth claims and actions he draws from them. Do we shut off our open and critical thought processes either because he speaks our truth or touts our most rejected claims for truth? Or do we follow along to consider what we can affirm or deny, and more importantly why?
In the end, the most significant difference between the two books is the level of biblical scholarship incorporated into the works—and in this respect the intended audience. And this intended audience could very well be the same individual at a different part of their journey in studying scripture. Whereas Enns is primarily concerned with drawing us into a closer reading of scripture by defusing immense fears around scripture's seeming portrayal of a violent God and its internal contradictions, Blevins is more explicitly concerned with the actual form and method of intellectual pursuit itself in studying scripture.
Importantly, neither book shies away from problematic texts that challenge our "straightforward reading" sensibilities. And this should be an encouragement to any reader of scripture to approach it with the openness and seriousness it deserves. So if you are looking for a book to help Christians who are open to taking the Bible seriously in all its complexity actually do so, I would heartily recommend either book!
Kathy Kwon is an M.Div. alum of Regent College in Vancouver, BC. She blogs at BonnesConneries.