If you grew up going to church regularly, as I did, then an illustration like the one above might invoke a bit of nostalgia for you. I learned the stories of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, through artistic renderings like this one, and felt boards. Much like a movie adaptation of a famous work of fiction forever recasts the visual depiction of the main characters in one’s mind, so too were my pictures of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and others informed by my Sunday School experiences of the Bible.
Enter Peter Enns and his insidious (adjective: treacherous; crafty) desire to rain down (metaphorical) fire from heaven (or is it hell?) on all of your cherished biblical memories. Or at least that’s the way his work is often received by the (broadly defined) conservative evangelical establishment, especially in America.
Per Wikipedia and his Amazon page, Peter Enns received his bachelors degree in behavioral science from Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, completed a Masters of Divinity at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadephia, and received and MA and Ph.D in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard. Enns was formerly a professor of Old Testament and Biblical Hermeneutics at Westminster and now serves as the Abram S. Clemens professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University in St. David’s, Pennsylvania.
While Enns’ academic credentials are impressive, and though he has written a handful of academic books as well, he is most known for his more popular writing, namely four books that have elicited controversy – some quite substantial – among evangelicals since the first of them, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, was released in 2005.
At the time, Enns was still a professor at Westminster Theological seminary and the content of Inspiration and Incarnation was the culmination of ideas he had been teaching for the better part of a decade. But thanks to Enns’ accessible writing style and his position at a prominent evangelical school, the book attracted quite a bit of attention and, for the first time, introduced many evangelicals to the challenges that historical criticism poses to traditional readings of the biblical text and conservative understandings of biblical inspiration.
Enns’ Wikipedia page documents the story in greater detail, but the controversy over Inspiration and Incarnation ultimately resulted in Enns’ suspension from Westminster in May of 2008. He and the seminary mutually agreed to part ways later that summer and a handful of Westminster board members resigned in frustration at how the proceedings were handled.
Since then, and in addition to his continued academic, edited volumes, and commentaries, Enns has gone on to write three more (highly accessible) books: The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (which is quite pertinent to this last week’s series of posts), The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, and The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More than Our ‘Correct’ Beliefs.
I highly recommend all four books and encourage you to follow the links to their descriptions to get a better idea of what sort of material they cover. The titles are provocative, intentionally so. But I assure you the experience of reading them is worth a little hand wringing.
At this point I’ve either got you so intrigued by the content of Enns’ work that you’ve already ordered all his books, or I’ve soured you on him so much that you’re actually a little surprised that you’re still reading this.
So let me speak to both groups separately.
If this week’s posts on evolution piqued your interest, then you need to read some Peter Enns. If you’ve found parts of the Bible difficult, offensive, even contradictory, especially in the Old Testament, then you need to read some Peter Enns. If you sometimes feel like your questions about how the Bible was written or how divine revelation or biblical inspiration works are waved away with church-speak, then you need to read some Peter Enns. And if you’re enjoying my blog and you want a better sense for my launching point on a lot of what I’ll be discussing in this space going forward, then please, read some Peter Enns.
But let’s say you’re in the other camp. Maybe you didn’t bother with this week’s post because you’ve already decided where you stand on the evolution issue. Or maybe you did read my posts but didn’t find my stance compelling or acceptable. Perhaps you’re worried about the slippery slope of exposing yourself to different thinking. I know that just the thought, let alone the experience, of having your foundation shaken can be intimidating. Maybe you don’t fit any of these examples at all.
But wherever you find yourself, I’d challenge you to explore Enns’ work. Even if you find his claims problematic or difficult, at the very least you will be exposing yourselves to arguments that Christians need to be aware of and competent to address.
Enns didn’t start this conversation and he won’t be the one who finishes it. Conservatives and progressives alike need to be capable of accurately understanding and dialoguing with the positions of those with whom they disagree. To that end, Peter Enns provides a qualified, accessible, and enjoyable conversation partner whose work I trust will benefit any reader, even if she/he ultimately chooses to believe otherwise.
If you want to get your feet wet with Enns’ work, you don’t even need to start with his books (although they do make a great starting point.
Enns has a website and a blog, both of which are updated regularly. The blog makes for an especially good read if you enjoyed this week’s blog posts and want to dig deeper. I didn’t list Enns’ books in Wednesday’s post because I was planning on highlighting them here today. But if I had, his work would have been at the top of both the book list as well as the blog/website options (which I did link to).
Another interesting side note for you parents out there that might want a resource for children along the lines I’ve described this week, Peter Enns also has a parent’s guide called Telling God’s Story: A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible. Both Amy and I love it.
This concludes my discussion of the compatibility of Christianity and the Theory of Evolution. Next week we’ll be shifting gears a bit and talking about my journey in and out of something called Calvinism. If you have no idea what that is then just trust that if you are meant to follow along, then you’ll be there.
And as a final sidetone on this week’s topic, it may have become obvious that though we were talking science, a lot of my development depended on the way I was willing to read and interpret the Bible. And so while we are done with the topic of evolution for the time being, when I get to posts outlining how I understand scripture in the coming weeks, it may pop back in again.
In the meantime, if you want to know more about how someone could hold the Bible in high esteem and accept evolution, then Enns’ work is where to start. Any of his four books I listed above would be excellent launching off points and I’d encourage anyone and everyone to check them out.
As always, thanks for reading and please help keep the conversation going by liking, questioning, commenting, and sharing!