Answers in Genesis vs. Peter Enns (Part 1)

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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 write 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.

13 Comments

  1. Oh the irony that you would do the same as AIG. If you want to create a conversation, perhaps you should not ridicule those with different thoughts than your own but engage in conversation. You cannot hope to open a mind that you continually insult or with a blog written to attack. I am sorry you are having to write from such a place of bitteness.

    1. Hi Anon, I’m not sure how familiar you are with AiG, but what I am writing about is the things they routinely do with anyone with whom they disagree. Personally, I have tried to engage in conversation with followers of AiG for years. As a teacher, when I would have a “Darwin Unit” in my Worldview class, I would lay out all the views, have students point out what they think are the strengths and weaknesses of each view, and then discuss them. I never even tipped my hand as to what I personally thought on the topic, because I wanted to encourage honest discussion. But what I unfortunately have learned, both in my own life, as well as with the experiences of countless others who have tried to engage in dialogue with AiG is that AiG has no interest in engaging in open conversation. Instead, as I have come to realize, they intentionally distort and misrepresent the issues themselves, as well as purposely distort and misrepresent the views of people they deem “compromisers.”

      The purpose of these posts on AiG, therefore, is not to try to change the minds of men like Ken Ham. It’s to warn people, particularly Christians who don’t really know much about this issue, of the way Ham goes about his business. It is fundamentally dishonest. At some point AiG needs to be called on it. I’m trying not to come across as “bitter,” though. I’m trying to be brutally honest, with a tinge of humor.

      But here’s the problem I’m seeing with AiG. Ken Ham says something truly ridiculous like, “Noah had access to highly advanced technology,” with absolutely no evidence and to support in the Bible to back that statement up. Someone says, “What? That is ridiculous!” And he’ll respond with “You’re mocking the Bible, and are afraid of honest debate.” So how can you respond?

      There are plenty of things open for debate and conversation–that was, by the way, the whole point of Peter Enns’ book. But AiG isn’t wanting conversation. They are into the judging and condemning business. They deserve the scrutiny I am giving them. When Jesus saw the pharisees and scribes condemning those who didn’t hold to their oral tradition, when he saw them actively hurting “the least of these,” he let them have it. I’m not necessarily “letting AiG have it” because they have a particular view of the age of the earth. Like I’ve said before, that’s something that can be debated. I’m “letting them have it” because they purposely distort and mischaracterize both the issues and the views of anyone they deem a “compromiser.”

      I hope you understand where I’m coming from. Feel free to dialogue more. I’m all for conversation! I’m against the way AiG feels it’s their God-given right to condemn and distort.

  2. I think your opening sentence sums it up nicely: 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.

  3. That being said, Anon…I’ll try to “tone it down” if I am coming across as “bitter.” But I am going to call Ham on the things he claims that are demonstrably false or intentionally mischaracterizing someone’s view.

    1. You’re not coming across as bitter. What often happens is that people have heard Ham, the radio preachers, and even the local pastors, use very strong language against anyone who does not hold to YEC views. This forcefulness is so commonplace that it has become normal, and since it is normal, it is therefore seen as righteous. The YEC really does not see how strident and arrogant the creation ministries and so many pulpits really are – but when anyone confronts YEC, in any manner that is not very, very oblique, they are quick to sense harshness on their critics.

  4. Hey, you know, Anon–As I re-read this post, I’m not seeing the bitterness. I’m calling AiG on their incivility and condemnation. Me calling them on condemning Enns as “Satan” is not bitterness on my part. I think it is quite clear that that the insulting attacks are coming from AiG. Just had to add this comment to clarify.

    1. I did not sense bitterness either, rather it seems that the criticism is an unmerited bit of tone-policing, which all too often can serve as a distraction from the content, and becomes an alternative to meaningful engagement and dialogue.

      I appreciated the fairness of this article. I just finished the book this week and found it challenging, exciting, and worthy of thoughtful discussion. Thanks!

      1. Hey, you’re welcome Becky! Thanks for the kind words. That’s the tricky thing with confronting groups like Answers in Genesis: they say something truly condemning of someone, you call them on it, and then they turn around and, as you said, become the “tone-police.” I decided I’m just going to try to sheds some light on the kinds of things Ken Ham really believes and says. I think most Evangelicals who consider themselves “creationists,” really don’t know the details of what Ken Ham teaches. They think, “Yes, I believe God created, and no, I don’t believe the universe came about by chance.” I believe that too. But because men like Ham have been so successful of convincing people that (1) the scientific theory of evolution is the same thing as atheism, and (2) that evolution is an “anti-God religion,” just setting the record straight as to (1) what evolution actually says, and (2) what the Bible actually says is a daunting task–there is just so much clutter and misinformation to get through.

        In my 16 years of teaching, though, I am convinced of one thing: most Christians–most Evangelical Christians–are thoughtful and sincere believers who really want to know more about the Bible and are willing to dialogue and learn. Unfortunately, I’m equally convinced that many (not obviously all) Evangelical leaders are acting as the “gate-keepers” and are actually preventing people from growing in their faith because they don’t want them to question men like Ken Ham or Hal Lindsey, etc. Men like Ken Ham who do everything they can to condemn people who question them are in the minority–I’m sure of it.

        When I was a young teacher, before I knew anything about evolution, I taught a Bible class on Genesis 1-11, and I put out the idea that Genesis 1-11 might not have been intended to read as literal history. There were 3 students who went ballistic every day. One even said that I should be ashamed to even be a teacher. But every day, after those 3 students stormed out, all the other students who kept quiet would come up to me throughout the day, telling me how much they loved the class, were learning so much, and how grateful they were that I was taking the heat–they really wanted to learn, but were afraid to ask questions, for fear of being condemned. I think most Evangelical Christians are in the same boat. Someone has to stand up and just call Ham on some of the outrageous things he is saying. I think in time most people will see the truth clearly. In meantime, as long as Ken Ham acolytes wield influence in Evangelicalism, a lot of people will be hurt.

        Anyway, thanks again. Keep comments and observations and questions coming, and by all means share the posts and tell friends about the blog!

  5. Did she have lots of clip art of snakes sprinkled throughout the text to add subconscious imagery to the “Peter Enns is the devil” suggestion? I love it when AIG does that. They must have a whole collection of go-to serpent themed photos.

    I don’t think this post sounds bitter at all. Shocked at the lack of reading comprehension and/or blatant misrepresentation that are standard fare in AIG book reviews maybe, but that’s not a flaw.

    1. I agree Christy. I don’t know who “Anon” was, but it struck me that, given the way AiG attacks anyone who disagrees with Ken Ham, it is amazing how thin-skinned they are. I felt it was a pretty straight-forward critique.

  6. I am much, much closer to Enns than Ham in my own views.

    But here is the thing, sometimes Ham will be correct in something he says! So I cannot just dismiss him, even though I think his method of interpretation is dangerous.

    And sometimes Enns will make a claim that is wrong. I have even caught Enns “not playing fair” when he makes some of his arguments, in the sense of not bringing all of what Scripture says on a topic to bear on the point he is making. One of Enns’ basic arguments is: Scripture makes no sense in this case X. He claims this by looking at some verses and then since he cannot figure out what they mean (and since he is a smart guy), this means no one can figure out what they mean therefore they do not make any sense. Gack!!! I find this EXTREMELY frustrating when I happen to know at least one way for the verses to make sense.

    1. Yes, like I say, I don’t agree with Enns on everything. But he has provided some great insights on reading the Bible within its historical context.

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