The Bible Tells Me So

bible tells me so book

The Bible Tells Me So: Why defending Scripture has made us unable to read it, by Peter Enns. Originally published in 2014. 288 pasges.

Peter Enns is wrong about a great, great many things (is that a spoiler?). However, I do believe he gets two things right. The first is this:

“The Bible isn’t a cookbook—deviate from the recipe and the soufflé falls flat. It’s not an owner’s manual—with detailed and complicated step-by-step instructions for using your brand-new all-in-one photocopier/FAX machine/scanner/microwave/DVR/home security system. It’s not a legal contract—make sure you read the fine print and follow every word or get ready to be cast into the dungeon. It’s not a manual of assembly—leave out a few bolts and the entire jungle gym collapses on your three-year-old.”

When the Bible is relegated to a book of rules on miutiaea, a how to manual which requires those believers who do not live in the land of Bible bookstores and hundreds of English language printed versions of the Bible, to somehow know the nuances to be found in the Greek or Hebrew translations of this word or that, that’s enough to make anyone decide not to read it. After all, if it takes a degree in theology, Hebrew and Greek to grasp it, how can we ever get a proper understanding?

The other thing he gets right is this:

The Bible is not, never has been, and never will be the center of the Christian faith.  Even though the Bible (at least in some form) has been ever present since the beginning of Christianity, it’s not the central focus of the Christian faith. That position belongs to God, specifically, what God has done in and through Jesus.

To which I add a hearty ‘Amen!” In fact, if what is sandwiched between those two quotes -the former near the beginning of his book, the latter near the end of it- wasn’t so filled with heresy and complete rejection of almost every tradional and accepted tenet of Scriptural teaaching, it would be easy to think that Mr. Enns holds a sound and reasoned view of the Bible.

As it is however, he spends nearly 270 pages of ink to tell his readers that the Bible is a book of myths about God written by a tribal people who, like all the peoples of their day, needed to view God as a violent, warrior-king. In essence, Enns believes the Bible is peripherally inspred by God who tolerated the misinterpretation and truth stretching by His people because there really was no other way for them to record history except through their own twisted lenses.

Additionally, that when you couple the realities of these misguided people with the real, verifiable history revealed through more recent archaeological and paleontological research, you should thank your lucky starts that these people got it wrong. That the God whom we worship was not a genocidal, psychologically ambiguous, blood thirsty war-like God.

That, despite the alarming nature of it coming from a Christian pastor, wasn’t for me the most disturbing feature of The Bible Tells Me So. After all, I’d read and heard all of that in one version or another before. Nothing to see there (for the believer grounded in his or her faith).

The most disturbing part to me was the so-called glaring inconsistencies Enns seemed to find between the four gospels. That was something I had never been exposed to, even from the most liberal of emergent church writers. I thought it was understood among the faithful, even the misguided faithful, that the gospels, like any other testimony of several witnesses, was simply written from different perspectives, with different aims, and potentially different audiences in mind. Not so, says Enns! The gospels are unreliable and historically disprovable.

I could go on and on, but the main takeaway I got from this one was dismay that I got suckered in by the tag line- “How defending the Bible has made it unale for us to read it”- without reading the back to see who had endorsed the “brilliance” of this book. The second thing was that I found myself unable to look away, akin to the way people often describe train wrecks. I suppose I could give myself a few kudos for sticking it out to the bitter end.

My conclusion on this one is to skip it. It is actually just one more piece of evidence supporting Jesus’ admonition about wheat and tares. The ambiguity of the term “Christian” and the ambiguity of what Christiansare supposed to believe was never more obvious to me than when reading this book. Enns is after all, a fairly well regarded theologian, and I use THAT term loosely as well.

Because he is an engaging, humorous storyteller and talented at turning a phrase, I’ll give him a point for that.

Grade: D




The Selfishness of Others

fear of narcisissm

The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism, by Kristin Dombek. Published in 2016. 160 pages.

I found this bizarre little book at the library and read it in an evening. I didn’t know what to expect when I started it, and am still slightly unsure what the overarching message of this “Essay on the Fear of Narcissism” was supposed to be. There were a lot of interesting insights, and the author’s concern that the Internet has turned far too many people into armchair psychiatrists diagnosing everyone who ever hurt them with a personality disorder rings very true.

Dombek convincingly makes the case that far too often,  people are able to transform their pain, a universal human condition, into blame with the right keywords and a few choice clicks. Suddenly their all too normal friends, lovers and parents are possessed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and they don’t have to own any of their own stuff.

She rightly ponders whether this desire to search out the evil in others (and the technological wherewithal to do it easily) is a problematic development. After all we can find others to empathize with us in an instant:

If you’re a herd animal, and prey, you need to be able to understand in a split second what to do: you mirror the other alpacas, not the wolves, and you run. P. 103

She also note show often the herd encourages other members, virtual strangers, to leave relationships despite not having any way of judging the accuracy of the information the “alpaca” is expressing concerns about. The craving for empathy is great:

At this point, the Internet bubbles creepily up at the edge of our view, above and below and all around us just beyond perception, glimpsed only briefly through the peephole of our devices, not some “superspreader” of individual narcissism, but a laboratory testing for empathy, even basic intraspecies recognition, at a scale and speed beyond which we have ever been capable. p.103

Smack in the middle of her treatise is the contrast of what women stumble upon when they begin these searches versus what men stumble upon. Women enter things such as “boyfriend turned cold” or “boyfriend rejected me” and are treated to comfort from fellow victims at sites such as the Narcissist Abuse Blog or How We Got Here. The number of websites and forums dedicated to comforting those whose lives have been shattered by this new “epidemic” of narcissism is massive.

In contrast and very tellingly, she asserts that men who enter the same keywords using “girlfriend” or “wife” instead of “boyfriend” or “husband” find themselves in the midst of the red pill sphere reading sites such as The Rational Male, Chateau Heartiste, or Alpha Game Plan. Sites, Dombek asserts, which teach men that in order to be the kind of men women want, they need to behave more like narcissists. While she has very little good to say about these sites or the men who frequent them, she does drop in a bit of reality; namely, that women do seem inexplicably drawn to the very men who send them clicking around online trying to find a reason why their suffering isn’t at all their fault.

She rounds out this little book with an in-depth look at both the original story of Narcissus, as well as an exploration of Freud’s studies which put NPD into the psychological forefront in the first place.

As I said at the start of this post, this book was strange, and it was pretty hard to get a firm read on what ultimate conclusions she had drawn.. To her credit however, she was clear on the fact that all this mass diagnosing of clinical personality dysfunction in response to things that are often the normal way of humans and how they behave in relationships is not a good development.

Grade: C (The writing was difficult to read at times).

Content advisory: Smatterings of profanity and very frank sex talk.

The Cooking Gene

cooking gene

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, by Michael Twitty. Published in August 2017. 464 pages.

I picked up this book having never heard of it before seeing it on the shelf of my local lbrary. It is not my custom to look to the NYT lists or book review pages to decide what I am going to read. Apparently this book was on it, but I didn’t know that. If I see something and it looks interesting, I pick it up.This one looked interesting.

I am the black daughter born of a Cajun father who married a Georigia peach. Does it get any more Southern than that? As a woman of deep Southern roots who loves to cook and has raised young women who also -uncharacteristically for Millenials- love to cook, this book called out to me.

Because I also love Southern cooking and cooking Southern food, it did not disappoint. The wealth of culinary history about Southern food, the people, and the regions was amazing. Even when there were snippets and sections of the book that I found a little too politial for my conservative leaning apolitical tastes, they were far outshined and overshadowed by the beauty that encompassed the overall treasure that I found this book to be.

The American South is a complex place with a fascinating and convoluted history that reveals itself in its food as much as anything else. Twitty does a masterful job of articulating that in this quote from his book:

“The Old South is a place where people use food to tell themselves who they are, to tell others who they are, and to tell stories about where they’ve been. The Old South is a place of groaning tables across the tracks from want. It’s a place where arguments over how barbecue is prepared or chicken is served or whether sugar is used to sweeten cornbread can function as culinary shibboleths. It is a place in the mind where we dare not talk about which came first, the African cook or the European mistress, the Native American woman or the white woodsman. We just know that somehow the table aches from the weight of so much . . . that we prop it up with our knees and excuses to keep it from falling.”

He speaks truth, as I know I have been asked on numerous occasions by women of Southern heritage but different ethnic makeup, how I cook my grits, my fried chicken, etc. Southern food is a thing all its own while also being several different things as well, depending on whence you hail. I have always known this from childhood eating my dad’s gumbo, and crawfish etoufee, which almost no other Southern region has perfected. And neither have I.

The ways that first generation slaves -whether house servants or field slaves- learned to make familiar dishes out of new and often unfamiliar ingredients was a particularly interesting read, and  Twitty’s travels to the regions where the “cargo” for the Transatlantic slave trade was gathered offered wonderful insights into the ancestral diets of the people who came from those parts of Africa.

Some of the most fascinating excursions to take with the author were his journeys embarked on as a result of the genetic and documented research he compiled from his own family tree. His was a family, unlike so many black families in the South, that kept good written histories and passed them down. I married into a family that has a much better documented history than my family of origin, so I am well acquainted with the differences and how they express themselves in our knowledge of who we are and what we tell our children.

Overall, this was a very good book. My Christian sensibilities were not offended by the author’s occasional trips down memory lane where he discussed his coming out to his family or his other thoughts on being a black, gay, Jewish man. In a lesser book, more sloppily executed or overtly politically motivated, I would have been annoyed.

This author, however, has a clear and unmistakable love for food, its origins, its intersections with the way we view life and family, and how it shapes the places we have been and the places we go. In short, he was able to communicate his passion and vision in a way that was admirable and transcended all the rest of it. The American South was what it was, and it is impossible to study the roots of Southern culinary richness while avoiding the circumstances that brought together the people who shaped it.

Grade: A


The Escape of Oney Judge

oney judge

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington’s slave finds freedom. Originally published in 2007. Hardcover, 32 pages.

The Escape of Oney Judge is a children’s book, which as the title indicates, recounts the story of the escape of the female slave of Martha Washington, wife of founding father and first president George Washington. Oney was the daughter of an enslaved seamstress named Betsy, and an English tailor indentured servant by the name of Andrew Judge.

There are more detailed and extensive literary accounts of Oney Judge’s story, but this is the book our 9-year-old picked up from the library on a recent trip. She has written two book reviews for this blog, but this is one she wasn’t quite sure how to review, so it falls to me.

It’s a good, balanced historical children’s book. Rather than engage in hyperbole and theatrics, it reveals the complicated relationships and emotional connections that developed between slaves -particularly house slaves- and their masters and mistresses.

In Oney’s case, the realization that when all was said and done, she was still property to be bought, sold, or gifted was the impetus for her dramatic escape and time of hiding. Despite the constant dread of being found and sent back into slavery, Oney Judge decided the rewards and hardships were well worth the risk.

This is a very good book for kids between 7-10. I chose that age range based not only on reading level, which is well in hand of a literate 10-year-old, but content.

This was the 2008 Bank Street Best Children’s book of the year.

Grade: A

Content advisory: Nothing to be alarmed about here, but it is a story about the intersection of slavery and our country’s most beloved founding father.



Disquiet Time

disquiet time

Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. Edited by Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani. Originally published in 2014.

I saw this on the shelf in the library, so I picked it up and flipped through the table of contents to see if I recognized any of the authors who offered essays for this compilation of thoughts on various aspects of The Bible.

When I saw the name Steve Brown, I checked it out without giving much thought to the other authors included. I listen to Steve’s snippets on the radio, and in addition to his awesome voice (second only to Voddie Baucham and followed by Alistair Begg), I appreciate Steve’s solid but compassionate exploration of the gospel.

Being acutely aware of your imperfections makes you giddy at the prospect of new mercies every morning and a Heavenly Father slow to anger and abounding in compassion, Who knows we are but dust. Steve reminds me, since I tend to skip along the outskirts of the town of Condemnationville pretty often, not to go there.

So like I said, I checked out the book. Sigh. I’m not going to hold it against Steve Brown that his essay was parked in the middle of some of the most outlandish interpretations of Scripture I’ve ever read. However, I was sure tempted to.

After nearly every essay, I found myself whipping out my tablet to google the -often female- author of ideas that stretched the bounds of the traditional interpretations of Scripture. A few of the men were kind of sketchy, but more often than not they seemed to stick to the spirit of Scripture. What I found were pastors of liberal denominations, emergent church pastors, and all sorts of interesting biographical information that would have informed me of what was to be found if I was familiar with many of the writers. But I wasn’t.

To be fair, there were plenty of opportunites here to eat the meat and spit out the bones. As a longtime believer who is familiar with and well taught of the Scripture, it was easy enough for me to do that. The new believer, the seeker, or the person just looking for an understanding of the Bible would come away from this book fairly convinced that there is very little need for sanctification and that Scriptural interpretation is intensely personal.

I think I just described post-modern American Christianity in its entirety in one sentence.

If I am making this book sound as if I didn’t enjoy it at all, I’m not being clear enough. There were parts I enjoyed immensely, little nuggets stuck right in the middle of essays I thought were otherwise drivel. But as I said before, I can handle that, and not everyone can.

One of the most egregious essays was Debbie Blue’s exploration of her thoughts on the story of  the conflict between Hagar, found in Genesis 16. She was so postmodern (not to mention feminist) in perspective, I asked one of our daughters what she thought about Blue’s opinion. She too thought Blue was off base in the way she interpreted the story, and that was before you consider that she repeatedly painted the picture of Ishmael as a toddler (rather than a young teen) when he and Hagar were sent away from Sarah and Isaac with the promise from God that he would make Ishamel a great nation.

Because I have wearied of a church which prizes propriety over piety, and seems uttely devoid of being able to bridge the gaps between the reality of human struggling, God’s mercy, and the command for us to increase in sanctification with the understanding that we will never fully arrive this side of Paradise, I picked up this book expecting far more than I got. It wasn’t worthless, but neither was it a wealth of encouragement to grow in grace.

You can get some idea of the impetus and thrust of the editors and contributors to Disquiet Time by reading a few posts at this site dedicated to the premise of the book. A book, by the way, which you can skip.

Grade: C-


A fascinating read on the state of postmodern relationships.

I am currently reading comedian Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance. At 1/3 of the way through the first chapter (which follows a hilarious and spot on introductory section), I am taking so many notes that I don’t know if I could possibly do this book justice in one review. So I’m documenting the book here a couple of chapters at a time.

Of course, this assumes that the remaining 250 pages will keep me as interested, amused, and in agreement as the first 28, and that is probably quite the stretch. I hope not however, because despite the clearly secular bend of the book, the first little bit is overflowing with truth. For example, this quote from Esther Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity, which is now another book added to my increasingly long “must read” list (I sure hope it isn’t a divorce apologist tome):

So reconciling our need for security and our need for adventure into one relationship, or what we today like to call a passionate marriage, used to be a contradiction in terms. Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children and social status and succession and companionship. But now we want our partner to still give us all these things, but in addition I want you to be my best friend and my trusted confidant and my passionate lover to boot, and we live twice as long. So we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide:

Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one.
Give me comfort, give me edge.
Give me novelty, give me familiarity.
Give me predictability, give me surprise.
And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.

Like I said, interesting book, so stay tuned for periodic updates as I blog my way through it.


Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice

Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, by Dr. Willie Parker. Published in April, 2017. 224 pages.

I used to have a master list of books I want to read, complete with a timetable for when and how I am going to read them. It never works out however, because I visit the library at least every other week, and every turn past the “featured titles” shelf has me leaving with some title which has piqued my curiosity and gotten me off the planned reading list schedule. This was one of those books.

I don’t even know how to review it because although I find the philosophy, theology, worldview, and conclusions utterly wrong headed at best (repulsive at worst), Dr. Parker is a decent writer who wove together a good story and kept my attention throughout this book. None of that however, diminishes the problems with his logic and processing of the Christian faith.

A black doctor who grew up poor in segregated Alabama, Dr. Parker was a fervent and passionate Christian from his teenage years onward, and still confesses Christ today. He held to Christian principles in practice even after becoming an OB/GYN physician, refusing to provide abortion services even as his compassion deepened for the women seeking abortions who came to the office he worked.

Because his theological and moral defense of abortion is hardly original, I’ll lay it out for you here as well a directing you to an interview Dr. Parker gave to Rolling Stone laying out his case. No need to add to the sales that the pro-abortion/feminist lobby will give to this book. It basically comes down to this:

He has a duty to extend Christian compassion to the women who come to him for abortion services by helping them end their unwanted pregnancies safely, and with little pain and complication as possible. They have as much right as any one else to fulfill their god-given potential and fulfill their dreams without having their lives thrown off track because of one mistake and a legal and societal culture who would judge them for it. Giving them their freedom and acknowledging their bodily autonomy is, in his opinion, the right thing to do.

Of course, as always happens when liberals want to justify the unjustifiable, Dr. Parker repeatedly cites parallels between the freedoms of the women seeking abortions in 2017, and the freedom of the former slaves and black Americans who suffered all manner of indignities in the South.

The first commandment of liberal theology: Every person who wants to do something immoral or unnatural and encounters opposition or delay is experiencing oppression equivalent to the descendants of the transatlantic slave trade. The second commandment is like unto it: True Christian love is demonstrated by a willingness to see to it that everyone has or is able to do what they need to feel accepted and good about themselves.

Like I said, despite Parker’s unassailable way with words and compelling story telling there is nothing new to see here. Gloria Steinem’s rave review does nothing to change that. I did learn more about the medical intricacies of abortion than I ever wanted to know, complete with mental imagery I won’t soon forget. I learned a lot about the legalities of the debate as well.

The most compelling parts of the book were Dr. Parker’s retelling of his life story, family history, and educational development.

 B+ for writing, D for philosophical content.

Final grade: C

Content advisory: In depth details on the procedures, nature, and aftermath of abortion in one chapter.