Monday, January 05, 2015

Newsweek Overreach

I was disappointed to read the December 23 cover article for Newsweek, "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin." The words of Rodney King came to mind: "Can't we all just get along?"

I don't want to react in kind. You know, perpetuate a situation where people like Eichenwald pop up their head and take a shot. Then I pop up my head and take a shot. Nevertheless, it seemed worth a response.

A little over the top, it seems to me. Who are the "they" he is talking about? Even more ironic when he ends the article by telling "them" not to judge. Sure sounds like a whole lot of judging going on in this introduction!

Are all people who love the Bible like the people he describes? I think there are actually some people who both love the Bible and truly love people. And not everyone who loves the Bible is entangled in civil religion. Jim Wallis came to mind as someone who loves the Bible and doesn't look at all like this description.

I understand the temptation to lambaste people you think are hateful hypocrites. But probably more appropriate for a blog than the cover story of Newsweek. :-)

Missing Originals
I know there are still some King James only people out there, but this section is pretty boring for the vast majority of us who love the Bible. If you use the NIV or any other recent translation, there's nothing in this section that is new. It's REALLY old news.

I don't think many people in my circles are troubled by the question of whether Mark 16:9-20 was in the original copy of Mark or not. Even if the relatively small number of debated verses in the Bible were not original, every single Christian belief would still be there.

This does give me a chance to plug something. When we sing, "The Bible tells me so," we're talking about the whole Bible, the Bible in its total picture rather than focusing on trump or "clobber" verses. It is the individual verse that we are most likely to misunderstand, not the big themes. Indeed, it is the individual verse that is most likely to be context-specific to the original audience.

As a note to my Wesleyan family, it was those who opposed abolition in the 1800s who used individual clobber verses against us, just as they do today on the subject of women in ministry. Inerrancy, for the Wesleyan tradition, surely is a matter of the whole Bible's message, not the little piddly issues this Newsweek guy seems preoccupied with.

Again, this section is half boredom, half confusion. What are you after here? The King James again? That's old news. Perhaps you're trying to critique the NIV for wearing its theology on its sleeve?

OK, there are plenty of us who love the Bible who noticed that the NIV1984 wore the evangelical theology of its translators on its sleeves in various places. The NIV2011 is a significant improvement. But most of those in my circles don't really care what version you use--NRSV, CEB, NEB. It's all good.

This section seems to blur into the question of Jesus' divinity, which is a different question from mere translation. Basically, it looks like he has been reading some Bart Ehrman.

This section seemed the worst factually to me of the whole piece and reminded me of some papers I've read that ramble on and on, with the student writing down whatever pops into his or her head next. What is he talking about? Constantine had nothing to do with which books are in the New Testament. That wasn't decided at Nicaea, despite how many internet pages might think so.

Constantine didn't put people to death for not believing in the Trinity. Good grief. He didn't even make worship of the Roman gods illegal! Even a brief stop at Wikipedia would have helped on this one. BTW, "Holy" Roman Empire... REALLY? Did he really confuse the Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire??!! Sheeez!

And of course there are plenty of Bible-loving Christians who aren't too keen on Constantine anyway, Anabaptists especially.

Bible Contradictions
Ho-hum. Is it difficult to fit together the Christmas and Easter accounts together... never heard that one before... NOT. I wonder if this guy is an ex-fundamentalist, someone who used to major on these details. That's what happens. Ex-fundamentalists become the most rabid anti-fundamentalists.

"Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." Do all the Gospels teach that? Yep.

Creation and the Flood
I suppose there is a warning in all this blather. It is the "whole Bible" warning I mentioned above. I suppose there are people who get all torn up in knots about whether Genesis 1 means a literal 6 days or is poetic. Don't get worked up about these debates.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Yep, I'm good.

Hypocrisy on Homosexuality
Eichenwald's argument here is that some of those Christians who are most vocal about homosexuality pick and choose. So 1 Timothy 1:10 mentions homosexual practice. Then why doesn't Sarah Palin pay attention to 1 Timothy 2:12 on women leaders? Romans 1 also talks about homosexual sex. Then why does Pat Robertson feel free to rip Obama a new one in the light of Romans 13:1-5?

This whole section really grieves me. Has Eichenwald been the recipient of hate at some point? Look at the pictures that are scattered throughout this article. They all seem to say that Bible-loving Christians are either hateful or stupid. That's really unfair, even if those who have received hatred in the past feel like they are simply dishing back what they've experienced themselves. Not all Bible-loving Christians are like that.

My church emphatically insists on loving everyone, including those who are attracted to the same sex. We do this while taking seriously the fact that all the verses in the Bible that mention the act of homosexual sex are negative toward it. By contrast, there are female leaders in Scripture. There are leaders God overthrows in Scripture.

Just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean you hate them. No doubt all of us contradict ourselves at points without realizing it. Certainly all of us are wrong on some interpretations and need to be willing to revisit our traditions from time to time. But there are many Bible-loving Christians for whom loving everyone is even more important than their interpretations on these specific issues.

Public Prayer and Judging
One of the most ironic twists to me as this article comes to a close is that he ends by telling fundamentalists not to judge... after a section where he has basically accused people like Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal of calling prayer rallies as publicity stunts!!! The irony there was so blatant I laughed out loud.

"Judging," is when you jump to conclusions about someone's motives when you can't see them. Now some actions can be obvious. If you murder someone, I'm not judging if I say you've done something wrong.

Personally, it doesn't look good for politicians to front their Christianity when everyone knows it will help get them votes. I prefer politicians who are more cautious and reserved about their faith. But I can't see Rick Perry or Bobby Jindal's hearts. I can't say what their motives are. It is judging if I jump to conclusions about what they are.

Ultimately, Jesus' point in the Sermon on the Mount is not to pray in public for show. He wasn't just saying not to pray in public. Having a prayer rally in itself doesn't violate what Jesus is saying. Surely you can have a prayer rally because you sincerely want to rally people to pray.

In the end, I wonder what good will come of this piece. On the one hand, it stokes the anger of anti-fundamentalists toward Christianity in general, and even Bible-loving Christianity is much bigger than fundamentalism.

And as for fundamentalists? Those who are like he says will simply rent their clothes and say, "Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. The 'elite media' is liberal and you need to vote for the Tea Party Republican nearest you." That's a backfire there.


Rick said...

"I wonder if this guy is an ex-fundamentalist, someone who used to major on these details. That's what happens. Ex-fundamentalists become the most rabid anti-fundamentalists."

Yes. You can hear so much of their literalism backgrounds in their arguments, from which they seem unable to get away from, even as anti-fundamentalists.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

Regarding Mark 16:9-20 -- perhaps few people in your circles are troubled by the question about whether or not Mark 16:9-20 is Scripture or not, but just in case, I would remind them of my book (Authentic: The Case for Mark 16:9-20). I'm willing to defend the authenticity of the passage in fair live debate. (Did you happen to notice Craig Evans' comments about his reaction to Nick Lunn's recently published defense of Mark 16:9-20??)

And, regarding Eichenwald's Newsweek article, I have posted a call for retractions, singling out 26 problematic statements in the article, at .