Why Enns is wrong to say that Eichenwald is “basically right.”

It caught my eye yesterday when I read that Peter Enns thinks Kurt Eichenwald’s Newsweek article attacking the Bible is “basically right.” Eichenwald’s article has been widely panned by evangelicals from across the spectrum. Even critics well-known for their own attacks on biblical Christianity have leveled criticism against Eichenwald’s piece. Nevertheless, Enns concludes that Eichenwald’s point is “basically right.” What gives here?

Enns claims that Eichenwald was trying to make a political point, not a religious one. Because Eichenwald’s targets are the likes of Sarah Palin and Rick Perry, Christians need not get all bent out of shape by Eichenwald’s attack on the truthfulness and the authority of the Bible.

I am not convinced that this is the ultimate motivation for Eichenwald’s attack on the Bible. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that it is. Does Enns’s defense really hold up? I don’t think it does. Let’s see how this logic might work in some other scenarios:

(1) If a thief runs you over in his getaway car, are you any less harmed if his ultimate aim was merely to get away from the police pursuing him? Would it help if he visited your hospital room and said, “Sorry, dude. You’re missing the point if you think I was trying to hurt you. I was just trying to shake these pigs off my tail.”

(2) If a teacher begins harassing your child at school, is your child any less harmed if the teacher is motivated by a grudge he has against you? “Hey, kid. Don’t worry about my unfairly failing you on this test. I’m just trying to punish your Dad.”

(3) If a guy shoots you in the stomach and takes all your money, are your any less wounded if the thief plans to give the money to charity? “Sorry about putting a whole in your belly. It was for the greater good.”

The point is that a person can perpetrate real harm and disdain against a bystander on his way to some other end. But everyone knows that the end does not justify the means if the means are themselves wicked. No matter what Eichenwald’s ultimate aim was, he has leveled a real attack against scripture and against the faith once for all delivered to the saints. A faithful Christian response will include contending against such error (Jude 3).

That is why it is deeply irresponsible for a Christian leader—even on Enns’s logic—to look at Eichenwald’s piece and conclude, “Nothing to see here. Move along.” No, there is something to see here, and Christians are right to offer a defense for that hope that is within them (1 Pet. 3:15). The teachers of Christ’s church have a special obligation to refute those who contradict sound doctrine (Titus 1:9). It is pastoral malpractice to suggest otherwise.


  • Steve Lynch

    You want to know what the real Pastoral malpractice is?

    Keeping the congregation on the milk for years and then feigning shock that there are people in media who know more about the bible than your congregation does.

  • Christiane Smith

    Hi DENNY,
    I found a transcendent Scripture that gives me some perspective on what has happened, this:

    ” . . . as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. . . . ” (from the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 55)

    I offer it as some comfort for all those involved in this issue who are people of faith, no matter what their ‘side’ is within the conversation, theologically or politically.

    As often happens when we are troubled, the sacred Scriptures will open themselves to us reassuringly through the grace of the Holy Spirit who helps all who seek to dwell in the peace of the Lord.

  • dr. james willingham

    Life being what it is, I was moved by your article to read Enns article and then his 42 pages on the Council on Inerrancy. His weakness in the latter, which is reflected in his article is an actual failure to look at how Jesus cited Scripture as in Mt.22:29-32 and 41-46, where He builds His doctrines on the meaning of words. That is the first failure. The second is the failure to consider the intellectual. Few scholars in the past two centuries have looked at the Bible from the perspective of the intellectual. One reason for that is that intellectual history, the history of ideas, developed in the 20th century. Moreover, intellectualism takes in a lot more ground such as the way in which ideas influence human behavior, that is, how ideas lead to insanity or to sanity, to a balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic life produced by the tension of apparently contradictory ideas, a point of which Enns is not even aware. As to the item by Eichenwald’s article in Newsweek: it is a hoot, a hilarious bit of irony visited by the Lord Himself surely for such folly. Just consider the gentleman’s position: editor of Vanity Fair. If that is not ironic, I do not know anything about literary subtleties and even less about history. The whole affair with newsweek is preposterous and Bunyanesque, to say the least!

  • James Bradshaw

    Let’s say I handed some average joe a text book on nuclear physics. The text book has been peer-reviewed by scientists across the globe. What are the odds that the average person would know what the book means?

    I’d say pretty low.

    Now, hand that person a Paul Dean cookbook. Would that same person be able to implement what’s in that book? Most likely yes.

    Why? Because the language and details in the latter are the stuff of everyday life for most people. Everyone knows how to measure a half of a cup or a few ounces. They’ve seen the ingredients in the grocery store or have at least heard of them.

    What about Scripture? What IS Scripture? It’s a book written over the span of centuries, interpreted from other languages not spoken by most individuals on the street, written with specific audiences in mind in cultures where there may have been connotations with certain words that are no longer known to us. It contains parables and allegories where meaning must be inferred. Though we believe morality is derived from the book, stories are related without any statement regarding what that morality is. It contains claims regarding the supernatural that cannot be measured or determined with any objective or known human standard. We must consider others with good intentions and perhaps more knowledge than we will come to contrary conclusions about what it says. If Scripture were self-evident, why bother with seminaries or sermons?

    Given all this, it seems that folks should have some humility regarding what they *think* they know about the Bible and what it says.

    That’s all I got out of the article.

  • Andrew Orlovsky

    Something for all the Liberal Christians who are at least in-part defending Eichenwald’s article:

    Are there any Christians Republicans who will read this article and abandon the Republican Party while remaining Christian? I doubt it. I am a theologically Conservative Christian with mixed political views, and reading articles like Eichenwalds’ just reinforces my view that the Republicans are the lesser of two evils. I want no part of a political movement that harbors that much disdain for traditional christianity, even if I do agree with them on some matters.

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