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DISCLAIMER: I was the café server at the seminary where the man who wrote the book I am about to critique was a Bible professor. There is no reason why you should pay attention to what a turkey wrap maker has to say except that the Bible itself is the great leveler of credentials: God reveals to children what He keeps from the wise and learned. Be good Bereans and judge for yourself.
I came across the book while cleaning at church (I also have “assistant custodian” in my impressive resumé) and read and returned it before it would be missed. The title is The Bible Tells Me So, but I hope you will not buy it unless you have strong faith going into it, because otherwise you won’t have coming out.
The professor’s claim (I will use his own words) is that “God never told the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the Canaanites.”
In later chapters Peter Enns briefly treats other Bible teachings that “ain’t necessarily so” (to quote dope peddler and Scripture skeptic Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess), but these have the feel of filler, and it is clear that the Israelite extermination of the Canaanites at God’s direction (Joshua; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 20:16-18) is the tail that wags the dog for Enns’ thesis. He repeatedly says things like, “It’s hard to appeal to the God of the Bible to condemn genocide today when the God of the Bible commended genocide yesterday.” And, “[God] comes across as a perennially hacked-off warrior god, more Megathon than heavenly father.”
“Joshua fit the battle of Jericho” (African American spiritual) never happened like that, says Enns. It’s all ancient Near Eastern propaganda. Israelite braggadocio. Rather, “it does seem that a nation eventually called ‘Israel’ probably came on the scene gradually and relatively peacefully.” Enns’ social justice sensibilities are thus spared, but the price tag is high: The man has just stolen your Bible.
The funny thing about heresy is that no one who falls into it thinks himself a heretic.
For when you, simple Christian, read that Joshua commands the officers to prepare provisions for the next day’s attack (Joshua 1:11); tells the Reubenites, Gadites, and half tribe of Manasseh they have to join in the operation before settling down with their wives on the east side of the Jordan; sends out two spies to report back on the battle readiness of Jericho; spares the prostitute Rahab for aiding the spies; instructs his people to sanctify themselves before the battle; marches with his men around Jericho; deals with Achan’s costly dereliction of duty; succeeds at Ai on the second try—you have to remind yourself that all this never happened.
Well. If the Canaanite conquest didn’t happen, then what part of the Bible did happen, Professor? Certainly not the books of Genesis and Exodus, says Enns. Creation story? Warmed-over Babylonian Enuma Elish. Adam and Eve? There were people living before them. Worldwide flood? Knockoff of a Mesopotamian myth. We are left with, as Amos would say, “two legs or a piece of an ear.”
But hold on! If we are supposed to read the Bible not believing what it says about itself in plain English (or Hebrew), then what content do we replace that with, pray tell? Whatever content Enns suggests, of course. Let go of your insistence on a “modern kind of history,” he says, meaning by the phrase “modern kind of history” the empirical facts. Nevertheless, Scripture still cries through the ages, “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Romans 3:4).
The funny thing about heresy is that no one who falls into it thinks himself a heretic but a lonely champion of enlightenment. Some things in the Bible are hard to understand, but in the main the Word of God is clear. As a fine poem, with its hidden parts, is to be preferred over “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” with its transparency, so we revel in what is revealed in Scripture, and wait with eagerness to someday understand its baffling aspects. Even Revelation, most enigmatic book in the canon, comes with a blessing on the one who reads and him who hears and takes to heart.
Enns’ book would be better retitled “Hath God Really Said?”