For people determined to get Divine approval for their beliefs and actions, it’s not hard to get the Bible to say whatever you want it to say. You can find justification for just about anything you’d like to do and rationale for hating just about anyone you want to hate. And it’s just those kinds of manipulative shenanigans that have turned a lot of people off to any kind of serious practice of the Christian faith — and much of it is the fault of those who have ceded the serious reading of the Bible to people who have a reactionary agenda. Professor Mark George makes an earnest appeal to those who have neglected their responsibility to engage with a text that is too important to ignore:
I’m almost to the point of begging everyone I see who wants to listen to me talk about Bible, “Read the Bible. READ the Bible.” I did some teaching on the ten commandments and ten commandments monuments recently with some folks who were working in their churches and they’re active and they have long history of this. One or two people said, “Y’know I’ve never actually read the ten commandments.” I see the plaques on the walls and I know about them and hear about them all the time, but I’ve never actually sat down and read them.” And I said, “Yeah, and you probably didn’t know there’s one in Exodus and one in Deuteronomy. And they’re MOSTLY the same. But even to say they’re mostly the same raises some questions. Did you know that Jews have a different ordering than Christians have?
It made me remember that we’ve GOT to read these texts. There’s lots in the texts that I don’t like. They challenge my modern sensibilities. But if I don’t read them, if I don’t study them, if I don’t talk about them, if I don’t OWN the texts in my tradition, someone else will. And they’re going to talk about them in ways that I disagree with. But since I don’t know them, I won’t know what to do with them.
If you do actually start reading it, you might see the Bible for what it really is. You might start thinking critically, entertaining dangerous ideas, and the next thing you know you might find yourself having to rethink your faith in light of science, the modern world, and the needs of people in the 21st century.
Mark K. George teaches Hebrew Bible at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. His publications include Israel’s Tabernacle as Social Space (SBL, 2009) along with entries and chapters in edited books and articles in academic journals. He is an active member of the Society of Biblical Literature.
Dr. George is a featured contributor in Living the Questions‘ upcoming series on the origins of the Bible.
In Southern California at the end of July? Then join author, pastor, and co-creator of Living the Questions, Rev. David Felten on Monday, July 29th and Tuesday, July 30th at Pilgrim UCC in Carlsbad for practical insights on a Progressive approach to 21st century Christianity.
Ever struggled with questions about how Christianity is going to survive in an increasingly secular world – or whether it should survive? How do we justify the expense of maintaining brick and mortar churches when Jesus’ call to peace and justice are struggling to get any traction in our communities? For some surprising insights and practical tools to help tease out some possibilities, we’ll be spring-boarding off of four Biblical stories you thought you knew, but probably don’t!
The Rev. David Felten is a United Methodist pastor in Fountain Hills, Arizona and co-creator of the “Living the Questions” DVD curriculum for progressive Christians. His book, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity was co-authored by Rev. Jeff Procter-Murphy and published by HarperOne in 2012. David is one of the founders of the pro-LGBT clergy group, No Longer Silent/Clergy for Justice and a director of the Arizona Foundation for Contemporary Theology. You can find his blog posts at www.livingthequestionsonline.com and www.huffingtonpost.com
Stephen Patterson thinks that Progressive Christianity is about “being willing to think critically about one’s faith and about the traditions of one’s faith and the resources like the Bible — to think critically about these things and not simply assume that it all has to make sense. Progressive Christianity means you’re free to explore and to question and to develop new expressions of faith that are more appropriate or true to what you think you’re discovering about Christianity. So, Progressive Christianity, I guess you could say, is Christianity that’s not stuck in some present stasis — let alone stuck in the past. We have to move forward.”
thinks critically about faith, traditions, and resources
doesn’t assume it all has to make sense
frees one to explore and question
develops new expressions of faith more appropriate to contemporary understandings
isn’t stuck in the past
Stephen J. Patterson specializes in the study of the historical Jesus, Christian origins, and the Gospel of Thomas (an early Christian gospel not found in the New Testament). He is currently the George H. Atkinson Professor of Religious and Ethical Studies at Willamette University. He is the author of numerous books including Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus and The God of Jesus: The Historical Jesus and the Search for God. He is featured in the DVD series Living the Questions 2.0 and Saving Jesus Redux.
“Thinking Critically with Stephen Patterson” is an excerpt from a DVD series on the origin of the Bible currently in development by Living the Questions.
There are plenty of different Bibles to choose from. Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Protestants all use different versions of Scripture. But did you know that some Bibles come with more than just differences in translation? As Timothy Beal points out, some Bibles come with “values added” that weren’t in the original text that change the meaning of the Bible. Check out the work of the Conservative Bible Project for an example of this.
“Timothy Beal is the author of “The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book.” He is the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University.”
“LtQ Clips” offer thought-provoking observations and comments on spirituality and religion from prominent authors, scholars, and thinkers. These excerpts from“Living the Questions” curriculum are designed to spark conversation in questioning the dominant pop theology of American Christianity.