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Home Educating in Biblical Truth

A Response to Peter Enns’s

“Telling God’s Story: A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible”

 The most important subject in home education is Bible.  Training our children in God’s Word is the foundation to continuing our faith (Deut. 6:4ff, Matt. 22:37ff).  In this paper I will discuss at some length my perspective on teaching the Bible at home, then I will describe a biblical philosophy of teaching young children God’s Word, and finally I will show how this pertains to Peter Enns’s latest book on Bible education.

Introduction: The Bible in My Home

A critical look at a popular Bible curriculumOne of my very earliest memories is of my father holding his black Bible.  He was sitting next to me, on the family room sofa, explaining God’s simple plan of salvation to me one Sunday evening after church.  I had asked Dad after the sermon how I could know for sure I was going to heaven.  Carefully, Dad read the verses to me that I now know as “The Romans Road,” explaining them in language I understood.  I remember especially Romans 3:23:

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.

He asked me if I knew how glorious, how perfectly holy, my God is.  I imagine my eyes must have widened as I tried to imagine that greatness.  He then asked if I could hit that mark.  I do remember how hot my eyes felt then, how shamed I felt in comparison.  I knew that even at 5 years of age, I had disobeyed, I had lied, and I had been unkind.  I had fallen short.  I needed help.

Dad explained the “gift of God, eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord”[1] and that because of His death in my place, on the cross of Calvary, I could be saved from sin.  I believed that night, bowing my head next to Dad’s and calling on God to forgive me for Jesus’s sake.

My parents have been the biggest discipling influence in my life.[2] Until the time I left home, they were the ones who taught me what God’s Word says about money (“honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase”),[3] work (“if any would not work, neither should he eat”),[4] marriage (“what, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”),[5] and time (“redeeming the time, because the days are evil”).[6] Regular family Bible study, bed time biblical counseling, family ministry, and general teachings as we “walked in the way”[7] did so much to shape the woman I am today.  I heard thousands of church sermons, Sunday School lessons, and youth messages, but it was my parents’ lives and teachings that most shaped my own attitude toward God’s Word.

By the time I was ready for seventh grade, my parents were ready to make their teaching even more intentional by homeschooling my sister and me.  For the remainder of my secondary education, I was taught by my parents from their biblical viewpoint.  Since I was growing older, they took the time to explain how the Bible shaped many of their decisions.  I began to see that the Bible was their absolute rule of faith and practice – not just something to memorize or something to read academically.  The Bible changed how my parents lived, and I wanted it to change my life, too.  Homeschooling was a way to communicate biblical change to us, their children.

Now, I am a mother of four.  My husband and I have made a commitment to teach our own children at home.  Training them in the Bible, passing on our faith and a foundation in God’s Word, is of utmost importance to us.  God commands parents to instruct their children in the Bible throughout the day (Deut. 6:4-9), a commandment referenced numerous times throughout Scripture.[8] We have come to the conviction that every Christian parent with the ability should teach their own children in Biblical truth.

And, ye fathers… bring them [your children] up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

– Ephesians 6:4

It has been our solemn honor and joyous privilege to lead our 3 oldest children to a saving knowledge of Christ.  Each one has come to understand the gospel message in his own way.  One child was very young, only three years old, when he began to ask questions about why Jesus died on the cross.  After each discussion, I always ended with, “Someday, when you are older, you may want to accept Christ as your Savior.” And that was enough.  Until one day, he looked out the window at the falling rain and asked, “Mommy, if I know that I am a sinner, and I don’t accept God’s gift of salvation, is that another sin?” After recovering from my astonishment, I answered that he may discuss accepting Christ with his father that night, when he returned home from work. Similarly, my husband and I were careful to allow the Holy Spirit to work in each of our children as we prayed for clear guidance from Him in leading them toward the Cross.

The Subject of Bible

Indeed, the purpose of educating our children must be to train them in Biblical truth. The Bible itself points this out:

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

– 2 Timothy 3:15-17

Here we see the two main goals of home education as it pertains to teaching the Bible.

1. From childhood, our children may see the way to eternal life. Timothy, to whom Paul wrote these verses, is an excellent example of this principle.  His mother and grandmother reared him in their own faith (2 Tim. 1:5), giving him a firm foundation for the remainder of his life.

From the beginning, saints have passed on the truths of saving faith to their young children.

For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.

– Genesis 18:19

And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshiped.

– Exodus 12:26-27

In Old Testament believers, we see examples of young faith following parental training.  Young Samuel, after his mother received him from the Lord, was given for service in the temple as soon as he was weaned.  “And he worshiped the Lord there” (1 Sam. 1:28).  Moses was undoubtedly taught of the God of the Hebrews by his parents during his nursing years before being handed over to the Egyptian princess; the consequence being that “when he came to years, {he} refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Heb. 11:24-26).

A New Testament proof of the unity of Christ and His Church is the unity of faith of the parents and their children, a proof repeated from Isaiah’s prophesy.

For both he that sancifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children whom God hath given me.

– Hebrews 2:11-13[9]

The Gospel is for our children.

For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord, our God, shall call.

– Acts 2:39

2. The Bible is established as the absolute authority for faith and life. Second Timothy 3:16 teaches that doctrine [sound teaching], reproof [evidence and correction], correction [reformation and rectification], and instruction in righteousness [justification and holiness] all come from God’s Word.  And God gave His purpose for the Bible next: that we may be “perfect [complete, mature], thoroughly furnished [equipped] unto all good works [i.e., well-adjusted].”

What more could we want for our children than that they be men and women of conviction, mature, well-disciplined and well-adjusted, trained to understand life and sound teaching, and seeing life God’s way? It seems clear that in order to achieve those goals, we must base our education on the Holy Scriptures.[10]

This Book of the Law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

– Joshua 1:9

If ye continue in My Word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

– John 8:31-32

A Biblical Pattern

How do we accomplish this biblical training? It would seem obvious that the best way to teach God’s truth is by God’s means. In home education, that pattern is commonly known as the Trivium, or Christian Classical style.[11] Simply put, the biblical Trivium recognizes that children go through three main stages of academic growth:

Knowledge (up to about age 12) – The child is amassing concrete facts about God, himself and the world around him.

Understanding (around ages 13-15) – The child begins to reason and analyze the facts he has gathered, while continuing his thirst for more knowledge.

Wisdom (around age 16) – The child begins to apply his knowledge and understanding to real-life practice and communicate his learning creatively.

While these ages and sequences are not specifically spelled out in Scripture, the biblical principles are obvious. Trivium levels of learning are derived from the creative order and the example of biblical discipleship. These are not arbitrary designations.  They are scripturally based.

And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.

– Exodus 31:3

Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.

– Deut. 1:13

But where shall wisdom be found?

And where is the place of understanding?

Man knoweth not its price;

Neither is it found in the land of the living.

– Job 28:12-13

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,

But fools despise wisdom and instruction.

My son, hear the instruction of thy father,

And forsake not the law of thy mother.

– Proverbs 1:7-8

That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ, in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

– Colossians 2:2-3[12]

The Trivium’s three-tiered curriculum of study was copied by the Israelites’ captors, the Babylonians, and developed fully into the “classical” education we recognize from the Greeks and Romans.  Yet, from the created order and biblical pattern we can see that the Trivium pattern of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom originated with the Master Teacher, God Himself.

Knowledge Stage

Teaching Bible in the pattern of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is simple.  First, in the knowledge stage, the child learns the basic facts of Scriptures.  A young child may memorize verses, learn the commandments, recite a catechism, and narrate Scripture accounts.  His parents are feeding him the facts of his faith: the timeline of Creation is established; the accounts of Bible characters are presented as history; the absolutes of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” are applied to his life; and authority is established in his home, the church, and the community. The child learns that the Bible is the ultimate authority for his faith and life. This knowledge stage spans the first dozen years of the child’s life and is called the “grammar stage” by many classical educators.

A wise Christian parent has ample opportunity to train his young child in biblical truth throughout the day.  For example, when the child disobeys his parent, he learns that he disobeyed his God who gave “the first commandment, with promise”[13] to obey and honor Mommy and Daddy.  When he is disciplined for that disobedience, he learns that there are “wages of sin.”[14] As he is hugged and kissed profusely when he tearfully says he is sorry, he learns that reconciliation follows repentance.  When he prays with his parent at the end of the discipline session, he learns that he needs to be reconciled to God.  This pattern is repeated numerous times in the life of a young child, giving him ample opportunity to see the biblical pattern of sin, grace, and reconciliation.

So when the parent reads of Christ’s atoning death on Calvary, it is no wonder that this child’s eyes grow wide and soon fill with tears.  He may, one day, cry out to his parent that “Jesus died because of me!”[15] and want to know “what must I do to be saved?”[16] He will later grow to understand the concepts of sanctification, adoption, election, propitiation, and other important implications of his new life in Christ later.  What is important in this knowledge stage is that he sees his need, he knows God’s gift,[17] and he believes in simple faith.

During the knowledge stage, the child accepts his parents’ presentation of the Bible as absolute authority.  He will accept that the Bible is unique among all other books because his parents treat it as such.  It is the rule of their home, it is the standard of their life, and it is the basis of their teaching.

The Bible is presented as the unique, Holy Word of God.  It is not like any other book, so the parents treat it with reverence before the child.  The young child is taught to carry, hold, and care for the Bible more respectfully than other books because it is God’s Word.  He is told each time the Scripture is read that these are God’s Words, that they are the truth, and that they must be obeyed. Since his family’s foundation is based on the order and commandments of Scripture, daily life exemplifies the modern application of Biblical principles.  The knowledge-level child is immersed in learning that the Bible is no ordinary book.

Since the Bible is the absolute authority, a wise parent will base his child’s academic studies from Scripture.  Ancient history should be related to Biblical times and characters.  Science and math are explored from God’s viewpoint.  Memory work, copy time, spelling, reading … all studies include the Bible and conform to God’s standards.

This teaching from a Bible-centric philosophy will only work well if the parents are grounded firmly upon God’s Word.  Husband and wife must be committed to the principles of Deuteronomy 6:4-9.  They must believe, unapologetically, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  They must be willing to live counter-culturally, even within the Christian community, following Biblical principles for the family, child-rearing, and Christian conduct, actively demonstrating an Ephesians 5 and Titus 2 home, standing without apology for the absolute authority of Scripture.  They must be humble, meek, and Spirit-led students of the Word.

Understanding stage

After the knowledge stage comes the understanding stage, sometime around the early teens.  The child begins questioning, reasoning, and thinking on his own. Many classical educators call this the “logic stage.”

This understanding stage is marked by the youth’s investigations and challenges. With each question the young person explores, a wise parent will guide him to ask, “What does the Bible say about that?” to “search the Scriptures daily, whether these things are so.”[18] The child should apply Biblical principles as he begins harmonizing his studies. He should see how history, science, literature, and the arts fit together and conform to God’s patterns and principles set forth in Scripture.  He should develop discernment and discuss logical reasoning behind why men of the Bible, history, and modern times make decisions, and the impact of those actions over time.  During family worship and after his own devotions, he may wrestle with difficult questions of theology, application, and doctrine.  He is especially critical of his own parents’ example as he develops the knowledge and reasoning to detect inconsistencies and failures in their testimony before him.

Wise and humble parents will approach the understanding stage of parenting with much prayer.  The child will desire an open relationship with both parents so that he can discuss both his failings and his parents’ shortcomings in an atmosphere of love, respect, and commitment.  He will need to see continued examples of sin, consequences, grace, and reconciliation in his life, and he also will need his parents to be open about these patterns in their own lives.  This will guard against appearing hypocritical or judgmental when the parents need to counsel the child.[19]

Open and detailed discussion of biblical accounts will provide new insights in the understanding stage.  The child may need prompting to dig deeper into the meaning of the passage, the motivation of a character, or the consequences of actions. This is an important time to develop right thinking concerning the truth of God’s Word and application of Scriptural principles, whether it is during family worship time, after personal devotions, or on the way home from church.

Wisdom stage

In the late teens, the young person should enter the wisdom stage. His parents will observe him applying biblical truth to his life, to his life’s work, and to his communication.  He will develop the ability to effectively communicate God’s truths concerning his academics, vocation, and convictions; many refer to this as the rhetoric stage. A young person growing in wisdom may begin “exhorting one another”[20] in Biblical truth in a loving manner throughout the day.  This young adult should be seeking out ways to share the gospel and truths of God’s Word in his church and community.  He should be applying God’s Word to his daily life and seeking counsel from trusted spiritual leaders in an attempt to keep God’s Word as his absolute authority. Far from having arrived, the wise young person realizes how much he has yet to learn of God[21] and “hungers and thirsts after righteousness sake.”[22]

The home educating parent is not finished at the wisdom stage, but is just beginning.  He still has much counsel, prayer, and study yet to go.  His young adult will most likely be in the home with him several more years, and the parent will be shepherding the young person through the important decisions of marriage, vocation, and adult life while pointing to the Biblical principles established as groundwork.  And there is yet another generation of family members to disciple in the future![23]

While not an exhaustive explanation, this is a basic outline for teaching the Bible in the biblical Trivium pattern of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.  It is important to understand these biblical principles in order to recognize the subtle distortions in Peter Enns’s book Telling God’s Story: A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible.[24]

The Bible, Home Education, and Peter Enns

Telling God’s Story is, according to author Peter Enns, “a new philosophy of teaching the Bible.”[25] In this 100-page guide, Enns shares his vision for teaching the Scriptures in an organized, Christ-centered way. In Enns’s Bible curriculum (available for purchase separately), young children through 4th grade are saturated with stories of Jesus and His life. Children in middle school study the broader Old and New Testament background with an eye toward the Christ’s fulfillment of Scripture. High schoolers begin studying biblical history in an attempt to reconcile their understanding of the Bible with both past cultures and present faith.

I agree with some things that Dr. Enns writes in his book.  His philosophy of biblical education seems laudable:

My intent is to give you an overall vision for what the Bible is (and is not), and what it means to read and understand it.  My goal is that this will help you teach the Bible faithfully, powerfully, and with joy to your children. (7)

The goal of this approach is not simply for you or your children to understand the Bible. Any teaching of Scripture to children must have a much more practical and deeper purpose: to encourage children to become mature, knowledgeable, and humble followers of Jesus, growing in faith. (12-13)

Since concrete learning is important to knowledge stage children, Dr. Enns’s caution against presenting the Bible as “children’s stories” seems good, too.

It is vitally important that children have the proper foundation underneath their faith from the very beginning. (30)

It may seem appropriate to educate our children in the Bible by increasing their familiarity with Bible stories, but in the long run this may wind up obscuring the Bible.  Or worse, it may make the biblical message appear childish and out of touch at a time in their lives when our children may need the Bible the most.  (46)

Dr. Enns also places responsibility for teaching biblical truth right where it belongs – on the parents.

Realize that all that we do, including teaching our children about our faith, is ultimately geared toward helping them be adults. This encompasses much more than learning about what is in the Bible.  It involves learning what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus in a world that is not supportive of that goal.  How we teach the Bible to our children will – I am convinced – have an effect on how they are able to handle life self-consciously as Christians. (55-56)

Notwithstanding Dr. Enns’s intentions to empower parents to train the next generation to love and understand God’s Word, his book actually contains dangerous presuppositions that could undermine the faith of our young.

1. Sin and grace, according to Dr. Enns, are “adult concepts” not to be taught to children. Enns explains:

What should not be emphasized is the child’s miserable state of sin and the need for a savior… Fuller lessons concerning sin and grace will come in time, and certainly parents and churches have the responsibility to teach the fullness of what the Bible has to offer.  But most young children simply do not have the emotional or intellectual maturity to grasp the adult concepts in the Bible.  Children need to be approached as children and Jesus approached children by blessing them, praying for them, and reassuring them of his love for them.  There will be plenty of time as your child begins to mature to discuss the biblical story as a whole and lay out the entire dysfunctional human drama – at a time when your child can begin to grasp its implications.

Do not allow yourself to be convinced that you are somehow shortchanging your children by not addressing adult concepts at such a young age…I believe in God’s displeasure with sin. But to introduce children to the God of wrath right at the beginning of their lives, without the requisite biblical foundation and before the years of emotional maturity, can actually distort their view of God…

[T]he fully realized Jesus of the Gospels is intended for adult consumption. (33-34)

While the horrors of sin and unfathomable riches of grace baffle the most mature minds, children can understand these important concepts on their own level.[26] Remember, daily consequences and loving restoration within the home set a model for young children to understand sin, authority, and grace.  When my 3 year old heard the account of our first parents’ sin in the Garden of Eden, he did not picture a God of wrath; he saw disobedience, consequences, and grace before his Heavenly Father.  He knew Adam and Eve did not instantly die, though they were punished for their disobedience.  He realized that while through them sin entered the world, they were promised a future salvation – our hope of heaven.  This Genesis account is a concrete story of disobedience, sin, grace, death, and salvation which sets the tone for the remainder of Scripture and the Gospel message.

Sin, grace, salvation, and the cross are not “adult concepts” but are rather part of the gospel message preached to all.

But Jesus said, Permit little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

– Matthew 19:14

How can children be part of the kingdom of heaven if they cannot be taught of sin and grace, nor accept salvation? This requires frank discussion of our sin and God’s holiness, of our need and His grace.[27]

Permit the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter into it.

– Mark 10:14-15

How can children be our models for salvation if they are not permitted to know God’s simple plan and accept Him in our presence? Christ acknowledges the saving faith of children with no mention of “adult concepts.”

But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone where hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

– Matthew 18:6

The New Testament example never includes age requirements for salvation, nor for hearing any part of the gospel message.

And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spoke unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his, immediately. And when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

– Acts 16:31-34

Indeed, one of  Scripture’s most somber redemption pictures, the Passover sacrifice, was commanded to be performed at home in the child’s presence.

And it shall come to pass, when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses.  And the people bowed the head and worshiped.

– Exodus 12:26-27

The fathers were commanded to teach the meaning of that bloody sacrifice to their children as they offered the lamb in their presence.

And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage; and it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the Lord slew all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man, and the first-born of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the womb, being males; but all the first born of my children I redeem.

– Exodus 13:14-15

There is no biblical basis for the idea of “adult concepts.” On the contrary, God commands parents to teach the entire counsel of God, answer all their children’s questions Biblically, and to point their family continually toward the need for a Savior.

2.  Enns fails to discuss how to explain how to teach key truths to children, including an understanding of God, the Bible, salvation, or other Bible doctrines. Enns ends his book with the statement:

Our greatest task in teaching the Bible to our children is to bring them to the point where they join us “in Christ.” And this is what the Bible is here to do: to tell, ultimately, the one big story of who God is and what he does to restore his world. (99)

Yet Enns’s book never explained how to lead our children to God. Never does he discuss how to lead a child to Christ, how to teach him to pray, how to develop a personal relationship with God. Enns never discusses a child’s spiritual growth after salvation, nor how to disciple a child toward sanctification. He never shows how to teach a child about this restoration of fellowship, either here on earth or ultimately in heaven.

Though Enns cautions against simply teaching Bible stories, I didn’t find any help with the basics of sharing my faith. I never found a discussion on how to help my children contemplate a triune God, the deity of Christ, or the work of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t find suggestions to train my children to pray or read God’s Word for themselves.  He didn’t give me any help with the truly difficult issues in teaching the Bible to children, like angels and Satan, death and resurrection, end times and prophecy.

Ignoring the totality of God’s Word short-changes the breadth and depth of our children’s Bible study.  Remember, Timothy was taught the Holy Scriptures “from a child,” which made him “wise unto salvation.” The Scriptures were, and still are, profitable for “doctrine.” We must teach our children the sound teachings of the whole counsel of God.

But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine.

– Titus 2:1

For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

– Acts 20:27

Is theology for children? Theology is our reasoned understanding of God. [28] We can see from II Timothy 3:16 that theology is a primary reason God gave us the Bible in the first place.

There are at least three important reasons to teach our children not merely the stories of God’s Word but also sound doctrine:

  • Theology is a reasoned understanding of God. The most important Person for a child to know is his Creator, and his most important pursuit is to know Him yet more.[29] Jesus explained this to the twelve disciples:

If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also; and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.

– John 14:7

This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only True God, and Jesus Christ, Whom Thou hast sent.

– John 17:3[30]

  • It is important to ground our children in the truths of biblical doctrine so they may develop wise discernment against false teaching.

Preach the Word; be diligent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine but, after their own lusts, shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

– II Timothy 4:2-4

Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to confute the opposers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision, Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.

– Titus 1:9-11

  • Finally, our children must be taught sound doctrine, because one’s beliefs affect one’s actions. What the child believes about God, the Bible, salvation, and other key truths of faith will impact his worship, his relationships, and his lifestyle. These fundamentals are vital, for one day the child will give an account of how he lived.

We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So, then, every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

– Romans 14:10-12

For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble – Every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall test every man’s work of what sort it is.  If any man’s work abide which he hath built upon it, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet as by fire.

– I Corinthians 3:11-15[31]

3.  Enns’s reluctance to make his position clear on the matter of inspiration diminishes the authority of the Bible. Enns states early in his book,

I am all for applying the Bible. Don’t get me wrong.  But a better understanding of the Bible will lead us in another direction.  The first question we should ask about what we are reading is not “How does this apply to me?” Rather, it is “What is this passage saying in the context of the book I am reading, and how would it have been heard in the ancient world?”… Knowing something about what the Bible is designed to do, what its purpose is, will help us adjust our expectations about what it is we hope to find in the Bible.  If our expectations are modern instead of ancient, we will get ourselves into a bind.  Before we can ask the hard questions – for example, “Is Genesis 1 in harmony with scientific thought? Or does Genesis 1 trump scientific thought?”  – we must ask a more foundational question: What do we have the right to expect from God’s word as a book written in an ancient world? (emphasis his, 18-19)

He continues later on:

To answer that the Bible is different because it is God’s word doesn’t help. (small w his, 44).

Enns applies vague reasoning in an attempt to circumvent the issue.  He does not want to discuss the important questions: Is the Bible the inspired Word of God? Nor Is the Bible authoritative in my life today? In truth, I never find a clear answer to questions on inspiration, infallibility, or biblical authority anywhere in his book.  Instead, he avoids facing these issues, inverting the question and coming short of positively affirming anything. On his chart on page 20, he lists his observances about the Word of God:

  • Both divine and human authorship
  • Does not misrepresent God
  • Appears like an ancient book
  • Power and authority derived from God

Nowhere does Enns claim the Bible is the absolute authority for our faith and practice.  Nowhere does Enns claim the Bible is inerrant.  Nowhere does he claim the Bible is complete, sufficient, or infallible. Since Enns presents himself as a “biblical scholar, seminary professor, and parent,”[32] I wonder why he would remain silent on these critical issues in his treatise on teaching the Bible.  In an area where he should be making positive statements, he says nothing. Lack of positive affirmation here equals subtle skepticism.

They [students] may be shaken to see how similar the Bible is to ancient literature in general.  And then they conclude that, since the Bible is so similar to other ancient texts, it is really nothing all that special or different.  In fact, this very point of view is often suggested by the teachers and professors themselves (some with very innocent motives, some who are more bitter).  Young Christians can easily leave a setting like this with the following logical stream of thought: “If the Bible is so much like other ancient texts, and if these other ancient texts are just not true, well … maybe the Bible isn’t true either” (or as a professor of mine once said, “It’s all a pack of lies”).

But this conclusion is premature.  There are many, many people in the world who know these issues very well – indeed, studying the Bible’s contexts is their life’s work – but who do not arrive at the same conclusion.  There is no need to follow the train of thought that ends: “The Bible is not entirely unique, therefore the Bible is not God’s word. (40)

The Bible is entirely unique.  It is the inspired Word of God.[33] Enns never admits nor defends this key foundation to our faith.

How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him.

– Hebrews 2:3

Indeed, every word of Scripture is inspired by God.

All Scripture is given by inspiration[34] of God.

– II Timothy 3:16

For the prophecy came not at any time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

– 2 Peter 1:21

The Word of God is not a “human” book, as Enns sometimes refers to it (19-21).  It does not merely “derive authority from God,” as Enns teaches (20).  It is God’s record, established forever, powerful of itself.

Forever, O Lord, Thy Word is settled in heaven.

– Psalms 119:89

For the word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

– Hebrews 4:12

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.  Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

– Matthew 5:17-19

We can compare Christ’s use of Old Testament Scripture in Matthew 4, in which He affirms the verbal inspiration of the Law and Psalms.  In Matthew 22:23-33, Our Lord wins His argument based on the tense of one verb.  Christ’s affirmation of the historic accuracy of the Old Testament record, including Creation[35], the Flood[36], and Jonah’s fish[37], is further indication that Scripture is very reliable.  The Bible is the unique, infallible, authoritative, only inspired Word of God.

With such ambiguous statements concerning biblical authority, it is apparent that Enns does not want to answer his own question: “Is Genesis 1 in harmony with scientific thought?” (p19). Instead, Enns demonstrates casualness toward the historic and scientific accuracy of the biblical record.

Genesis 1 has strong resemblances to other ancient creation stories…

If Genesis 1 were to say, for example, that the God of Israel did not make the world, that would be an error.  That would be like Jesus cursing the Father; that would be sin.  But the fact that Genesis 1 reflects ancient creation stories does not point to error in the Bible, any more than Jesus’ wearing sandals and speaking Aramaic was sin. (p21)

It is important to distinguish which account is the original and which is the copy.  God originally created the world. Genesis is His record. We are not surprised that ancient civilizations and cultures reference a creation story in their own history; it is part of our common past. Enns has lost track of the original. This matters because God said which came first.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

– Genesis 1:1

The fact that other cultures reference the creation story only proves that it happened.  Our view of the Genesis account of Creation and ancient history reveals our view of God Himself.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

– Hebrews 11:3

For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.

– Romans 1:20

Christian parents cannot accept a Bible curriculum which subtly questions the inerrancy of any part of the Bible. Instead, parents should determine whether their curriculum clearly holds to the revealed truths of Scripture.  Our faith must be built on a sure foundation, and ambiguity here undermines that foundation, perhaps even leading to denial.[38]

4. Enns minimizes the relevancy of biblical truth to our lives today. Such ambiguity concerning the inerrancy of Scripture erodes the authority of the Bible in modern times. Enns writes:

Our children ask different questions than children of other generations, and are not as easily satisfied with traditional answers (14)

We need to learn the kinds of issues the Bible addresses so we can learn to ask the questions of the Bible that the Bible is meant to answer. The Bible is not a book on how to invest your money, which political party to join, whether to homeschool, where to go to college, whom to marry, where to live, whether you should buy that car, America as God’s chosen people, or a blueprint for present-day world events. It is not, in other words, a “Christian owner’s manual.” Too many Christians assume that the Bible is the guidebook to address all of life’s questions.  But that is not what the Bible is designed to do…

What is not addressed in the Bible are specifically modern situations.  There is no Bible verse that will, either directly or indirectly, answer many of the questions that confront Christian families today: When do you begin dating? Is it OK to watch an R-rated movie? What kinds of books should your children read? What sort of education should they receive? (emphasis his, 23-24)

Enns seems to deny that the Bible teaches specific moral laws and guiding principles. Fortunately, the Bible is not comparable to other ancient writings (as Enns claims in pp 20, 21, 39, 40, etc).  It is the unchanging Word of God. God claims His Word is sufficient to meet modern challenges:

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?

By taking heed thereto according to Thy Word.

– Psalm 119:9

Thou, through Thy commandments, has made me wiser than mine enemies;

For they are ever with me.

I have more understanding than all my teachers;

For Thy testimonies are my meditation.

I understand more than the ancients,

Because I keep Thy precepts.

-Psalm 119:98-100

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.

– 2 Timothy 2:15

I praise God that 2 Timothy 3:16 is still true today.  We can know Biblical principles for marriage/dating (2 Cor. 6: 14-18; Gen 1:18-25; 1 Thess. 4:1-12), entertainment (Phil. 4:8), literature (Psalm 101:3), and education (Deut 6; Proverbs 1,2; Eph. 6:4).  God’s Word has not changed.

The inspiration and authority of Scripture are important because God’s Word is the cornerstone of our faith.  Belief in the truth of God’s Word is essential for salvation; attacking the validity of the Scriptures erodes the very foundation of our faith.  If the Bible cannot be trusted for historic and scientific truth, then it cannot be trusted for eternity. Then we would indeed be, of all men, most miserable.

Our doctrines, our convictions, our lifestyle must flow from the inerrant Bible. Anything less is humanism at best, paganism at worst.  If we would pass on our faith in a Sovereign Creator, we must first present to our children the God of the Bible, Whose Word changes not from generation to generation.

When I sit beside my own children on our family room sofa, reading God’s Word, I thank God for my parents. I am grateful for the firm foundation they laid for my faith, carefully teaching me the truths of Scripture.  As my sons and daughter grow in knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, I pray they will always look to the Bible as the absolute authority for their faith and lives. I am confident that as fathers and mothers continue to rear their children in biblical truth, we will see another generation grow up to joyfully and effectively pass on their own faith.

[1] The New Scofield Study Bible: Authorized King James Version. C.I.Scofield, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967). Rom. 6:23.

[2] Luke 1:4

[3] Prov. 3:9

[4] 2 Thess. 3:10

[5] Matt. 19:6

[6] Eph. 5:16

[7] Deut. 6:7

[8] cf. Matt. 22:37; Mark 12: 28-33; Luke 10:27; Rom. 12:1,2; I Tim. 1:5

[9] The writer of Hebrews is quoting three Old Testament passages; especially notice the third verse, Isaiah 8:18.

[10] This principle – the absolute authority of God’s Word and superiority of Scriptures in academics – is further mentioned in other passages.  See, for example, Genesis 18:19; Psalm 119:97-104; Ephesians 4:20-24, 6:4; 2 Peter 1:3

[12] The preceding list of references is by no means exhaustive, but merely representative. Time and space constrain me from listing all the passages on knowledge, understanding, and wisdom in the Bible. For further reference, see also Ex. 35:31, 36:1; Job 15: 8-9, 354:33-35; Prov. 2:6, 3: 19-20, 5:1-2, 8:12, 18:15, 24:3-4; Jer. 9:23-24; Dan.1:4,17; Luke 2:46-52; Rom.1:18-23; Eph. 1:8-9, 17-18; Col. 1:9-10.

[13] Eph. 6:2

[14] Rom.6:23

[15] See Rom. 10:10

[16] Acts 16:30

[17] Rom. 6:23

[18] Acts 17:11

[19] Prov. 24:16

[20] Heb. 10:25; cf. Eph. 5:19-21; Rom. 15:14

[21] Phil. 3:10-14

[22] Matt. 5:6

[23] Gen. 18:19; Josh. 24:15; Rom. 9:8; Titus 2:1-15

[24] Enns, Peter, Telling God’s Story: a Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible (Charles City, VA: Olive Branch Books, 2010).

[25] Enns 7

[26] cf. 1Cor. 13:11

[27] Romans 10:8-17

[28] Theos is Greek for “God;” logos is “word” and came to mean “reasoning” or “interpretation.”

[29] Phil. 3:10

[30] See also I John 5:20

[31] See also I Cor. 9:24-25 and Col. 3:23-25

[32] Enns 7

[33] The title “Word of God” is, itself, enough to set apart the Bible as unique.  See Mk 7:13; Rom 10:17; 2 Cor 2:17; 1 Thess 2:13

[34] Greek: theopneustos, “God-breathed”

[35] Mt. 19:3-6; Mk 10:6-9

[36] Mt. 24:38-39; Lk 17:26-27

[37] Mt 12:40

[38] cf. Matt. 4:4