One of the fascinating things I’ve found as I’ve gone through the blogs of Ken Ham and various articles on the Answers in Genesis website is how so very often they feel it is their God-given mission to pronounce condemnation and judgment on other Christians who do not share their young earth creationist views. From time to time, therefore, I will share a number of examples from the Answers in Genesis website in which they take on Christian whom they have deemed “dangerous compromisers.”
One such Christian is the biblical scholar Peter Enns. Now, Enns is no stranger to controversy. Back in 2005, he wrote a book entitled Inspiration and Incarnation, in which he wrestled with a number of issues that Evangelicals tend to have regarding the Old Testament. He addressed the fact that a number of ancient Near Eastern texts are very similar to various parts of the Old Testament; he addressed theological diversity within the Old Testament; and he addressed the question of how the New Testament writers used the Old Testament. All in all, it was a fascinating book. The book, though, was considered too controversial by many Fundamentalist Christians.
He also wrote The Evolution of Adam, in which he discussed what the Bible actually says, and doesn’t say about the topic of human origins. His most recent book, The Bible Tells Me So, argues that instead of trying to always “defend” the Bible, Christians should do more serious reading of the Bible, and be honest enough to wrestle with some very difficult passages.
I don’t always agree with Enns’ conclusions, but overall I find him to be a sincere, thoughtful and tremendous Christian biblical scholar. I learn quite a lot from his books. Because we are human beings, none of us are going to get everything right as we wrestle with trying to understand the Bible. That is how we learn: we put out our ideas, argue why we’ve come to our conclusions, listen to other people’s views and reasoned opinions, and then we trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us in all truth as we, together as the Church, read and discuss the Scriptures.
…But the Folks at Answers in Genesis Don’t Like Peter Enns!
Earlier this year, in a February 26, 2015 blog post entitled, “The Bible Tells Me So…” Ken Ham attacked Peter Enns and his most recent book. Well, he simply wrote a post that encouraged his followers to read a full critique of the book written by a colleague of Ham’s, Elizabeth Mitchell. He reminded people, though, that they needed to pray that compromising Christians like Peter Enns would “repent and trust in God’s infallible Word.” In any case, what follows is my critique of Mitchell’s critique.
The way in which Mitchell starts off her critique proves that she has sharper claws than Ken Ham himself. She begins with, “The book wastes a great deal of ink claiming that the Bible is simply not to be trusted or taken seriously. In it Dr. Enns continues his destructive influence on the Christian faith and biblical understanding through his relentless assault on God’s Word.”
Wow! Let me tell you, it only gets worse from there. Having read Enns’ book myself, I can tell you that virtually everything Mitchell says in her critique is a blatant distortion or lie about Enns’ book. She looks at the title of his book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, and concludes that Enns is mocking the Bible, and accuses Enns of continuing “his destructive influence on the faith and biblical understanding of countless children and adults.”
What is ironic is that she is displaying the very thing Enns is trying to get at in his title. He isn’t mocking the Bible at all. He’s arguing that some people (like Ham and Mitchell) are so ardent to “defend” the Bible that they don’t take time to actually read and consider what it is actually saying. People do this all the time.
I’ve seen this in the high school Bible classes I’ve taught. Kids grow up going to Sunday school, and think they know what a certain story in the Bible says, but then when we actually read and study it, they soon realize that really didn’t know it at all. Essentially, what Enns is trying to get across is basic biblical literacy, and that is a good thing. Reading the Bible challenges you, and pretty soon you will realize that instead of “defending” the Bible, you need to allow yourself to be challenged and changed by the Bible.
But Mitchell can’t see that—she sees his book as an “attack” on the Bible…and she is just the one to defend it. Oh, the irony!
She accuses Enns of professing faith in Christ “while compromising God’s Word.” She claims he conveniently denies any parts of the Bible that seem to disagree with “millions of years evolutionary thought,” and that he essentially says that we can take parts of the Bible he doesn’t like and “claim God really didn’t mean us to take those parts seriously, as they didn’t come from Him anyway.”
Needless to say, that’s not what Enns was saying…at all.
O That Infernal Historical Context!
Mitchell’s major problem with Enns is that he believes that the Bible is an ancient document written to ancient people, and that God communicated His inspired message within their own historical and literary contexts.
Of course, that’s not how Mitchell puts it. She says,
“He has convinced himself that the Bible is a collection of backdated stories designed to give the nation of Israel a history like other nations, and that God somehow used those stories to tell the tale of Christ. This would clearly make out both Jesus Christ—who spoke of numerous Old Testament events as if they were factual—and the New Testament writers who did likewise to be liars, deceivers, or at best ignorant. But Dr. Enns conveniently relieves Jesus and the New Testament writers of the guilt of presenting their subterfuge or misinformation as revelation from God by claiming that Jesus and Paul were merely communicating within the cultural tradition of their time.”
That is a truly shocking and mind-boggling statement. She is actually criticizing Enns for insisting that we take historical and literary context seriously! (Ham displayed this same bizarre thinking when he criticized John Walton — see my earlier post from two days ago). She is objecting to the idea that God spoke to the ancient Israelites, and that Jesus spoke to his fellow Jews, in a language and context they would understand!
It seems that Mitchell, along with Ham, actually have a view and understanding of the Bible more akin to the Islamic understanding of the Koran: it is a “perfect book” that has descended from the very throne of God, without any human contamination, to speak directly to all people throughout all time. I’m sorry, such a view is simply unbiblical and unchristian. If that’s your idea of your holy book, then you need to find out which way Mecca is, and start praying in that direction.
Needless to say, the people at Answers in Genesis really don’t like people who actually try to read the Bible in its historical context. They see it as pretty much of the devil. If you don’t believe me, consider this: Mitchell actually then compares Peter Enns…to Satan!
“Now don’t get the idea that Dr. Enns explicitly says that the Bible isn’t really God’s Word. He, like the greatest of deceivers (John 8:44) has always done, is subtle (Genesis 3:1) as he…casts doubt on the testimony of the God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2).”
And we all know who the “greatest of deceivers” is, don’t we? And notice, she also references Genesis 3:1 in her condemnation of Enns—that’s the verse about the serpent in the garden. Having been someone who also has been accused of being “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” and who “speaks with the voice of the serpent,” I can tell you how shocking and hurtful such a hateful attack is. At the same time, it is utterly ridiculous.
Mitchell has much more ammunition to shoot at Enns, but we’ll save the next round for tomorrow.