A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Reading the Bible Is Dangerous Business

Steven James has written a powerful post on CNN's Belief Blog entitled, "Stop sugarcoating the Bible." Below are some excerpts. What do you think?
The Bible is a gritty book. Very raw. Very real. It deals with people just like us, just as needy and screwed up as we are, encountering a God who would rather die than spend eternity without them.

Yet despite that, it seems like Christians are uncomfortable with how earthy the Bible really is. They feel the need to tidy up God.

God's message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. He intended the Bible to speak to people where they're at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured planet.

And rather than shy away from difficult and painful topics, the Old Testament includes vivid descriptions of murder, cannibalism, witchcraft, dismemberment, torture, rape, idolatry, erotic sex and animal sacrifice. According to St. Paul, those stories were written as examples and warnings for us (1 Corinthians 10:11). So obviously they were meant to be retold without editing out all the things we don't consider nice or agreeable.

I find it encouraging that Jesus never came across as pietistic. In fact, he was never accused of being too religious; instead he partied so much that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton (Matthew 11:19).

Jesus never said, "The Kingdom of God is like a church service that goes on and on forever and never ends." He said the kingdom was like a homecoming celebration, a wedding, a party, a feast to which all are invited.

This idea was too radical for the religious leaders of his day. They were more concerned about etiquette, manners, traditions and religious rituals than about partying with Jesus. And that's why they missed out.

That's why we miss out.

We don’t need to edit God. We need to let him be the author of our new lives.
Check out the entire post, here.


Mike Helbert said...

Yea, Steven!
For those who think it's a sin to be angry with God, who want to make God in their own image, who need to turn wine into grape juice, this article is really good. For the rest, we need to remember that God is calling us to live in reality, but not to stop at party.

PamBG said...

There seems to be an underlying assumption here that God wrote the bible in a series of chapters from Genesis to Revelation and there is an underlying continuity and author's intention.

I don't agree with that assumption, so I don't even know how to begin to comment on this.

I agree with what he said about Jesus but, if we are going to grapple with Scripture, then we need to decide what we make out of texts that apparently have God telling one people to kill another people or one person to kill another.

In essence, we have to deal with the fact that parts of the bible explicitly and deeply contradict each other's world view and underlying assumptions about God, the university and humanity. I don't think this article does that.

In fact, I'm not entirely certain what he's trying to say. Or am I just being dim?

Scott F said...

"According to St. Paul, those stories were written as examples and warnings for us"

Isn't this just phase one of the sugar coating process? Don't take these stories literally, they should merely be taken as examples for us. instead of When God tells you to dash babies against rocks, be sure to do what He says.

I am with Pam here. There are a whole lot of assumptions behind this plea. Calling it gritty and real comes across as tidying up the story to match the authors favorite vision of Jesus and drawing attention away from the occasional disturbing story in the bible. I am left wondering who is sugar coating now?

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your thoughts. No, I don't think this is just a reverse sugar coating. First, I am not sure about your distinction between these stories as literal or examples. They can be both or neither or one or the other. It depends on the story. And your example of the Psalm begs the question of how the story is to be interpreted. I have yet to read anyone who takes the lament psalms as instructive for moral behavior. Rather they are examples of honesty in prayer before God, even in the raw times of our lives. If there is a moral danger they offer us is allowing our anger (even justified anger) to motivate us to heinous acts).

I don't follow your logic.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I am not sure what the author's assumptions are, but my take on the article is that because we believe God chooses to get involved in the mess of the human situation, we need to quit trying to keep God above the fray. I don't think that dismisses the tough questions we ask of Scripture, nor does it mean we ignore the difficult parts. I think of Tom Wright's comments about Incarnation when he says that we have it backward. We have our pre-conceived notions of God and we try to squeeze them into Jesus. Wright says that it needs to be exactly the opposite: we need to look at Jesus and change our notions of God.

So, too, I think that if God is going to be involved in the human mess, God will be in the mess. We can't affirm God's presence in human history, and yet keep God out of the mess. That will by necessity involve difficult questions about God by necessity; but if we are going to wrestle with Scripture we need to wrestle with it and not simply write portions of it off because it offends our 21st century sensibilities.

I think we also need to ask ourselves whether we are always asking the right questions, or if there are other good questions to ask as well. For example, Stanley Hauerwas (I know people are probably tired of me referring to him)takes up Acts 5 and Ananias and Sapphira. Most people read that story and ask why God would do such a thing. Hauerwas says, perhaps we need to ask as well, what kind of people do Christians have to be that we take the Gospel that seriously.

Here is a link to a post I published awhile ago. It is an article by my friend, Dan Hawk, who teaches OT at Ashland Seminary. It addresses very well, the double-edged problem of what we do with these difficult texts, not simply reading them in a flat way, but also wrestles with how to understand God in the fray of history.