What is the Bible?

Have you ever respected someone for their method but disagreed with their conclusions? That’s how I felt toward Rob Bell in this book.Bible

As a practicing Christian, and one who’s interested in the Bible as a book and a source of inspiration, I’m interested to learn more about it. Too many times the Bible has been hijacked by fundamentalists who ignore literary, historical, and social contexts in order to prove a point. Personally, I don’t believe this is how it should be used, nor was intended to be used.

Mr. Bell begins by taking a random verse about Moses and applying several questions, almost like a socratic method. Then, he applies historical and social contexts to the verse as well as relating the verse to the story arch, i.e. literary context. Using all of these contexts, the verse comes to life and what was once odd/obscure takes on meaning and we, modern readers, can understand why an ancient writer is including this information.

The problem I had with Mr. Bell’s conclusions is that he takes his method too the extreme boiling down the Bible into “stories” (his words). He forwards the ideas that what is found in the Bible is a library of books and stories that are written by writers that share their experiences based on their current world and interpretations of their view of God. What’s not clear is whether this is Mr. Bell’s ACTUAL philosophy or whether he’s using unspecific language in order to avoid taking a side.

While I believe some of the books of the Bible are/can be just stories, I do not think this is the entire story. I believe that human writers did record the Bible, and because they are human they do not write in a vacuum; history, society, style, and errors exist in their writings. If their writings are to be more than just fables, there has to be divine inspiration. Genesis through Deuteronomy, the historical books, major and minor prophets, as well as the epistles of the New Testament are foundation upon which Christianity is built. To say they are just stories calls into question our origin story, salvation, sanctification, Jesus as the son of God, and hope that God is returning. I’m conflicted on how to respond to Mr. Bell’s ideas. I don’t want to come across as dogmatic or fundamentalist, but there comes a point where what I believe is based on what I consider to divinely communicated ideas. To consider these ideas man-made would make me wonder why I’m even believing what I do. I believe God is a god of love and he used the Bible to talk to me to show me how I can live a sincere and fulfilled life and how I can live with him for eternity.

On the literary side of things, I was annoyed by Mr. Bell’s constant asides. They became obnoxious and obtrusive. I don’t mind and sometimes like informal writing styles and he in general captures this tone. But there were too many tongue-in-cheek comments and parenthetical look-at-me-I’m-clever moments for me to be patient with. Everything in moderation, Mr. Bell.

There was also a lack of organization. By the end of the book I don’t remember feeling as how what I was reading was anything different than what I read at the beginning. Frankly, I think the book could have been half as long as it was and it would’ve been a much improved read.

I don’t recommend this book because if you’re an atheist he’s not going to tell you anything you haven’t heard before. If you’re a practicing Christian, you may have problems with his theology. If you’re just an interested reader, his style and organization are going to leave you in the wilderness.


Waking the Dead

One element of Christianity, and by element I mean faction, is the mindset that fiction is “evil” and that somehow only “non-fiction” is pure.  I didn’t grow up in that faction nor were many of my friends and family.  As an English teacher in a Christian high school I have run into some resistance to literature.  Fortunately, it wasn’t anything a face-to-face conversation couldn’t settle. 

Waking.jpgSo it was with great surprise that when I started reading John Eldredge’s Waking the Dead, that fiction, especially of the fantasy kind, were used as examples to support Eldredge’s Christian point-of-view.  Interweaving examples from the Bible and modern fantasy/Sci Fi, John Eldredge walks the reader through the journey to finding God’s plan to help individuals understand why it seems like nothing can go right.  I have always maintained that literature, good literature, helps all of use deal with or understand some of the pot holes we encounter on life’s pathway.

The Fantasy genre, especially, has intrigued me because while it is not based on any “reality” there is a lot in those works that feels very “real”.  Rather than reading a philosophical book on why bad things happen to good people, I’ve always found fiction a much better way to make sense of the bad things that happen in life.  Even if I’ve never experienced the same instances in the books I read, it helps me compassionate and understanding for those that may be struggling with that conflict.

While some of the writing was a little too basic for my taste, I did appreciate the overall message.  Seeing so many references to works I was familiar with helped too. I was surprised how many references there were to LOTR or The Chronicles of Narnia. Even The Matrix and The Gladiator make an appearance. But all the core stories are woven deeply into God’s message of love and purpose. This is an encouraging and inspiring read.

Living the Christian Year

Not coming from a liturgical church community, it’s only been recently that I’ve discovered Yearthe other Christian “holidays” outside of Christmas and Easter. Living the Christian Year is a good introduction to the idea of living a year with Christian rhythms and seasons.  In the protestant denomination I grew up in, Advent and Lent were seen as Catholic.  Not something that was bad, just not something that our community participated in.  The downside to this is, that it seems pretty boring to just wait for either Christmas or Easter to arrive.  As a kid it felt like there was nothing to break up the monotony.  Even reading the Old Testament, I saw that the ancient Israelites had some sort of festival happening at least once during each season.

I shared this experience with one of our friends, who just happens to be a hospital Chaplain, and she recommended that I read Living the Christian Year. The book showed me how in many liturgical churches, one holiday (aka season) leads into another. Advent leads into Lent which leads into Easter, which leads into Pentecost, etc.  Rinse and repeat.  While it was a lot of information to process, I did like the idea of a cycle or rhythms.  I can see how some who are new to this idea might see this as being more of a burden, but for me, looking for something to anticipate, something to enrichment my faith, it was exciting.

If you’re new to the liturgical Christian community or maybe want a refresher, I would give this a read.  There’s a lot of references in the back of the book for further exploration if you want to go deeper.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

I got behind on several of my book club’s selections and this is one of them that I’m catching up on.  Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber was highly discussed and recommended by my fellow book clubbers and I’m happy that I can now share in their enthusiasm, having just finished it last night.

AccidentalThe buzz around the book and the author is that Ms. Bolz-Weber isn’t your typical ELCA pastor.  She’s tattoed, swears, and drops truth bombs like no other.  While I haven’t met her, just from her prose alone I can tell that this isn’t a show.  It comes across that she is herself, for good and bad, and that’s what’s attracted all of the accidental saints to her church.  Beyond all the outward distracting features, she has a heart for ministry.  She’s open to sharing her doubts, fears, and questions with her congregation (and her readers), she struggles to be like Jesus in every moment, but she loves with a heart of gold.

One of the most moving moments in this book was when she discussed how her church dealt with the shootings at New Town, CT.  The shooting occurred around the Christmas season and Ms. Bolz-Weber felt like their church community couldn’t ignore the shootings and plow through the uplifting Christmas liturgy.  Instead, they decided to look at the Christmas story, but include a discussion of the killing of the innocent children by King Herod.  I’m familiar with this part of the Nativity story, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve ever heard a pastor bring it up around Christmas.  As Ms. Bolz-Weber points out though, to ignore this tragic event is to ignore the crux of the Nativity itself.  Jesus was born into a world that killing innocent children.  Christianity shouldn’t be a wall that its believers hide behind when tragedies like the New Town shooting happen.  Instead, they should mourn and connect with the people around them.  Which is really the heart of Ms. Bolz-Weber’s ministry–to accept the people around her and treat them as Jesus would.

The Prayer of Jesus

Some of you may remember in the early 2000’s when a book called The Prayer of Jabez stormed onto the Christian literary scene. Taken from an obscure verse in the Old Testament the author explicated each portion of the prayer in order to motivate the praying lives of readers.  Following up on this idea of taking examples of prayers from the Bible to serve as teaching us how to have better prayer lives, Hank Hanegraaf wrote, The Prayer of Jesus which takes the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, “Our Father…”) and explicates each section to give us principles on how Jesus modeled prayer for us.

PrayerI’ve never considered the implications of the Lord’s Prayer.  I’ve said it church and with my family, but I’ve never each section and looked at what Jesus was trying to model.  Mr. Hanegraaf does a good job of finding the principle and relating it to our personal prayer lives.  For me it showed me what Jesus was attempting to teach his disciples.  Now I wonder why we recite it as if it’s valuable in and of itself.  If it’s supposed to be used as a model, shouldn’t we consider it as such and not as something of value just because Jesus said?  For example, some parents use the “now I lay me down to sleep…” prayer as a model for their children but we don’t say it church or use it as adults when we have our own prayer lives.

My one critique of the book is that it introduces these deep ideas but doesn’t really unpack them all the way.  Maybe this is an introduction to praying and isn’t for those who already pray.  I think he could’ve done a better job supporting his ideas.