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Posts Tagged ‘god’

A Review of Misquoting Jesus

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 1, 2015

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and WhyMisquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Misquoting Jesus through carefully and thoughtfully and concluded it was an excellent book written by an author who clearly knows of which he speaks. Before I started reading it, I had read a number of reviews online, some supportive, some negative. The negative ones seemed to say that, yes, well, everyone knows there have been changes in the Bible over the years. Big deal. They’re minor and they don’t change the overall theme of the Bible. Well, after reading this book, I beg to differ. Like the author, I grew up believing the Bible was the inherent word of God – God’s chosen words as inspired to be written by several select human authors. You had to believe everything. Of course, as I grew older, I began to have doubts. For instance, take all of Leviticus. No one stones their children for being disobedient, people eat shrimp and bacon, men cut their hair and beards, etc. But if you followed the Bible like you were supposed to, you couldn’t do those things, right? So that prepared me for the cherry picking that Christians do with the Bible left and right to suit whatever agenda they have. So textual changes can make a big deal, yes, especially when non-changes like those in Leviticus make a big or non-big deal, depending on how you view things.

Before, I go any further, let me state that I view myself as a Christian. A liberal one, not a fundie or even an evangelical, which is what I grew up as, but still, a Bible reading and respecting Christian. Doesn’t mean it’s 100% accurate though.

Early in this book, just to show people what sort of things they’ll be exposed to, Ehrman shows us some discrepancies. He calls them mistakes. These include when Mark says Jesus was killed the day after the Passover meal, yet John says he died the day before it. And Luke indicating that Mary and Joseph had come to Nazareth a month after going to Bethlehem, while Matthew says they went to Egypt. And in Galations, when Paul says he did not go to Jerusalem after his conversion, while the book of Acts says that’s the first thing he did upon leaving Damascus. And on and on.

So what happened to the Bible? Who changed it and why? Well, the author would have us believe that scribes, both professional and nonprofessional, made numerous changes, both unintentional and intentional over the course of centuries and that as these manuscripts were handed down as gospel, the changes were handed down, so that there was no longer any possible way to know what it was the authors of the Bible and specifically the New Testament wrote. He goes into elaborate detail on the details of scribes having to copy letter by letter books (letters) of the New Testament, as well as other documents, and showed that many of these scribes were barely literate themselves, if at all. One example of unintentional changes were that Greek at the time was written without spaces between words, so that a particular phrase that was meant to have meant one thing, could have actually meant something else when copied or transcribed or translated later on. Intentional changes were made by people who, perhaps, wanted to include an agenda against women in the church when none, perhaps, may have existed in the original texts.

The book that the King James Bible was founded on was the Johannine Comma by Erasmus. The author takes great pains to show its flaws. Meanwhile, there were those who were intent upon translating the Greek New Testament and providing scholarship for it. One such person, John Mill of Queens College, Oxford, spent 30 years back in the seventeenth century compiling a list of “variations,” or discrepancies (or mistakes) in the various manuscripts he had available to him, dating back to the oldest texts available. He found over 30,000 discrepancies! That’s right – 30,000. The author then goes on to say that currently, we possess over 5,700 Greek manuscripts, 57 times as many as Mill, and that there are now known to be between 200,000 and 400,000 discrepancies in the New Testament, or more words than exist in it. It’s stunning. If that doesn’t show that the Bible is NOT the inherent word of God, I don’t know what will. And if you follow that logic, then if it’s not, then how can you believe any of it, or know what to believe or not believe?

I had meant to write a much more detailed review, but feel that I’d never finish with it. Hopefully I’ve made my point. The author certainly made his with me. Needless to say, he no longer thinks the Bible is the inherent word of God, and I’m not sure I do either, or that I have for some time. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain words of God – just that it was written by people and they can make mistakes over the course of centuries. I’d strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in the subject.

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A Review of Small Gods

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 17, 2014

Small Gods (Discworld, #13)Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Small Gods is an excellent book, a great stand alone Discworld novel that is hard to put down. It’s a great satirical take on organized religion and it has a lot to say about it. Pratchett handles it as deftly as he handles other serious subject matter, with humor and grace. The man’s a genius!

Brutha is a novice in service of the Great God Om in the land of Omnia. With all of the priests and bishops and forced devotion to Om, along with the evil Quisition, it’s meant to be a satire of Catholicism, as well as probably some other religions too. One day Brutha is gardening when he hears a voice. No one else can seem to hear it, but hear it he does. Where is it coming from? A tortoise. What is the tortoise? The Great God Om. Yep. Everyone thought that when Om presented himself to humanity, it would be in the form of a bull or lion or other fierce creature, since there’s a lot of smiting in Omnia, but nope, he’s a tortoise and none too happy about it. And so an adventure begins. Brutha is the only person who can hear Om and also the only person who actually believes in him, as it’s become second nature to everyone else and they no longer truly BELIEVE. And then there’s Vorbis. Vorbis is the leader of the Quisition and as such is dreaded and feared by all. He truly loves torture. He sends an Omnian “brother” to a neighboring country, gets him killed, and uses it as an excuse to go attack said neighboring country. He takes along Brutha for his fantastic memory. Things don’t go as planned and Brutha is forced to flee along with the other Omnians. He and Om wander through the desert with Vorbis, who knocks Brutha out and carries him into Omnia, where he’s going to be crowned the eighth Prophet while declaring Brutha a bishop. Meanwhile, there’s an underground movement ready to attack, and all of the neighboring countries are sailing to Omnia to wipe it out once and for all. Justice is served when Vorbis dies, but Brutha convinces everyone else to lay down their arms and seek peace. One of the classic scenes in the novel occurs when the dead Vorbis “awakes” to see Death and the following exchange takes place:

Death paused. “YOU HAVE PERHAPS HEARD THE PHRASE, he said, THAT HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE?

Yes. Yes, of course.

Death nodded. IN TIME, he said, YOU WILL LEARN THAT IT IS WRONG.

Classic. Vorbis can’t stand to be alone and now he’s in a deserted desert for eternity. Very funny. There are lots of other funny parts too. One of the songs Brutha sings early in the book is called “He is Trampling the Unrighteous with Hooves of Hot Iron.” Hahahaha! Also, lots of instances of things happening in church history and of certain writings. To wit, “In the Year of the Lenient Vegetable the Bishop Kreeblephor converted a demon by the power of reason alone.” “There was the crusade against the Hodgsonites….” “And the Subjugation of the Melchiorites. And the Resolving of the false prophet Zeb. And the Correction of the Ashelians, and the Shriving –” — well, you get the picture. Utterly hilarious. Makes Christianity look completely absurd, but in a fun way.

There’s a lot about belief in this book, and a lot about God and gods. The more people believe, the greater the god. Brutha finds that his devoted belief is shaken, by his god, no less, as well as other so-called believers. And it does him a world of good. So I guess the lesson is we shouldn’t take everything we’re fed too literally or at face value. The philosophers in this book are the true thinkers and yet they are doubters. Pratchett’s good. This book is both serious and hilarious at the same time. It’s a great Discworld novel and I strongly recommend it.

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Our Little Church | SouthernHon

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 28, 2014

Our Little Church | SouthernHon.

My wife wrote this about our little church and the dilemma we face….

 

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A Review of Paul: The Mind of the Apostle

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 19, 2014

Paul: The Mind of the ApostlePaul: The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I FINALLY finished this book! It took me forever because it’s fairly dry and the content doesn’t interest me as much as that in some other books. Still, this was a fairly interesting book to read. The author is apparently an agnostic or atheist and ensures one understands he believed Jesus was a Jew with no intention of starting a religion, and undoubtedly not the son of God or God himself. If you’re a Christian and you can get past that, you’re good to go. This book presents Paul as THE founder of Christianity and THE individual responsible for asserting Jesus was the Messiah, gone to glory in the clouds, and returning again some day — soon. The author asserts Paul thought Jesus was returning in a matter of months or years, thus the urgency in some of his letters.

When I read nonfiction books, I don’t underline passages — I turn over page corners so I can go back and catch important portions of the text. Normally I will have turned over 10-20 pages in a typical nonfiction book. In this book, I must have turned over 50 pages or more. I often quote from these passages, but I obviously can’t do that here — I don’t have the time or inclination.

Wilson asserts that Paul was a traveling tent maker and that’s how he supported himself, along with donations. He also calls into question whether Paul was a one time Pharisee or not. He alludes to Paul’s potential homosexuality, in his nonstop efforts to force sexual morality on people and in his almost loving letters to Timothy and other men who were his followers. Yes, sacrilege, I know. Still, interesting stuff. Wilson writes,

“Old-fashioned liberal Protestants detected in the Gospels the seeds of modern feminism — Talitha cumi, Damsel arise, became the motto of Victorian Christian feminists. The Jesus of the Gospels outraged Jewish opinion by speaking to the woman at the well of Samaria, and by offering forgiveness to the prostitute who, though she had sinned much, had also loved much. Impossible, says such wisdom, to imagine the misogynist puritanical Paul extending such forgiveness, nor being so much at ease with the opposite sex.”

We also get in-depth details on Paul’s travels here and their context, which I found really helpful. You also get a history lesson on Rome, at the time, and the state of the Jews. Wilson additionally delves into other religions and gleefully admits to Paul having stolen some traditions from paganism for Christianity.

Wilson is pretty hard on Luke and his book of Acts. He asserts much of it is contradictory to Paul’s own writings and probably made up. And his arguments, which I can’t paraphrase here, are good. (I didn’t know Luke was a Gentile.) Wilson also deals with Paul’s intent focus on evangelizing and converting Gentiles, something he argues Peter and James were opposed to. Of Luke, the author writes,

“By the time Luke writes up the story, perhaps twenty years or more later, it must be obvious that the Lord has not come and that all Paul’s immediate prophesies and predictions about the nature of the world and God’s purpose for it, have been not just slightly off beam, not open to interpretation, but plumb wrong. Christianity — not a word which Paul ever used — will have to sort out the contradictions of all that. It it Luke’s dull task to smooth over the cracks and hide the glaring discrepancies in his story, and to persuade ‘dear Theophilus’, some Roman magistrate or bigwig, that the Christians are safe, good citizens. As Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem shows, he was none of these things.”

Wilson deals with Paul’s end, which we don’t know, and for that he takes umbrage. He asserts that Paul could have been acquitted by Nero or some other Roman official, he could have been made a martyr, as many people believe, or — this is Wilson’s own belief — he could have been let go and traveled to Spain, starting churches, but dying in oblivion.

I’m going to end my review with Wilson’s final (and long) paragraph in the book, because I think it’s a good synthesis of what he is trying to accomplish in writing this book.

“It could be seen, then, that the essence of the Gospels, the thing which makes them so distinctive, and such powerful spiritual texts, namely the notion of a spiritual savior, at odds with his own kind and his own people, but whose death on the cross was a sacrifice for sin, is a wholly Pauline creation. The strange contrarieties which make the Jesus of the Gospels such a memorable figure — named his insistence on peace and kindness in all his more notably plausible of ‘authentic’ sayings, and his virulent abuse of Pharisees, his Mother, and the temple authorities on the other — could point less to a split personality in the actual historical Jesus, and more to the distinctive nature of Paul’s spiritual preoccupations a generation later. Even in this respect, therefore, Paul seems a more dominant figure in the New Testament tradition than Jesus himself. The Jesus of the Gospels, if not the creation of Paul, is in some sense the result of Paul. We can therefore say that if Paul had not existed it is very unlikely that we should have had any of the Gospels in their present form. The very word ‘gospel’, like the phrase ‘the New Testament’ itself, are ones which we first read in Paul’s writings. And though, as this book has shown, there were many individuals involved in the evolution of Christianity, the aspects which distinguish it from Judaism, and indeed make it incompatible with Judaism, are Paul’s unique contribution. It is for this reason that we can say that Paul, and not Jesus — was — if any one was — the ‘Founder of Christianity’.”

Interesting, thought provoking book. Recommended.

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A Review of American Sniper

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 15, 2013

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military HistoryAmerican Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have really mixed feelings about this book and its author. I had been wanting to read it for awhile, but my interest spiked after reading that Kyle was murdered at a gun range recently. I mean, he was a Navy sniper, the best ever in the US military, so the irony of his murder is beyond description.

The book is really interesting to read, I must admit. There are many tales of his battles in Fallujah and Ramadi, as well as other places. (He was deployed to Iraq four times.) The description of his SEAL training was pretty intense. And the book starts out with his first sniper kill, a woman with a grenade. All told, he killed some 160 insurgents while over there, which admittedly is quite a few.

That being said, he seems to revel in the murder of other human beings, most of whom he refers to as “savages.” He was great at this job, but he loved to kill, and that made him rather unlikeable to me. He wanted to kill as many of the enemy as he could and was disappointed he couldn’t kill more. Not a very nice human being. He also struck me as woefully naive (and Republican) in defending the war, of invading a sovereign country to “liberate” its inhabitants (after asserting there were indeed chemical weapons there, which I don’t believe) and ending up shooting a ton of them who resented his presence in their country. Instead, he asserts this was to defend America and its freedoms. That’s BS, in my opinion. Iraq posed no threat to the US and played no role in terrorism — until we invaded. That’s a proven fact. So, his defense of the war rings hollow, and as I said, naive. (I wonder what he thought of Obama as commander in chief. I can pretty much guess….)

Another thing I didn’t like about the author is the number of fights he gets into and glorifies. He loves bar fights and brags about getting out of being arrested countless times. He brags about the SEALs beating up bar patrons in fights left and right. It’s really rather sickening. He also enjoys hazing new SEALs. The thing that truly sickens me is his countless assertions that God comes number one in his life, that he’s a born again Christian. Yet he uses the “F” word more than any Christian I’ve encountered and engages in many non-Christian acts. He seems like a total hypocrite to me. On page 431, he declares, “I am a strong Christian…. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation.” Yet on the same page, he said that while growing up, he wondered, “how would I feel about killing someone?” He answers he own question next by writing, “Now I know. It’s no big deal.” Seriously? Think God feels that way Chris? He ends the book by writing, “…when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.” Really? Seriously? And you’re a strong Christian??? Cause that’s not how I view Jesus as seeing things. I don’t think they all deserved to die. They’re children of God, just like everyone else. You invaded their country and came to kill them. If they shoot at you, that’s what you get. What a complete hypocrite.

So even though this book was moderately enjoyable, I can only give it three stars because the author is totally unlikeable and the book reeks of smugness. Also, his wife interjects repeatedly throughout the book, which might be interesting to some people, but which irritated me. She didn’t seem too likeable either, frankly. She’s a bitter woman. I wonder how she feels now that he’s dead at the hands of a deranged US gunman…? I cautiously recommend this book, but be prepared to read some ugliness.

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A Review of Radio Free Albemuth

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 2, 2013

Radio Free AlbemuthRadio Free Albemuth by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Radio Free Albemuth is another fine Philip K Dick novel, written in 1976, but published in 1985 after his death. It’s a precursor to VALIS, and as such, centers around VALIS, an alien God-like entity.

This book is certainly post-modern. One sure sign is Dick writes himself into the book as one of the characters. “Phil Dick” is a sci fi writer in Berkeley who has written Man In a High Castle and other “real” works of Dick, and yet while the author uses this pseudo-Dick as a character, he steps away far enough to make him seem three dimensional and real. The other main character in the book is Dick’s friend, Nicholas Brady, a record store clerk in Berkeley who starts dreaming odd dreams and hearing voices and seeing visions which seem to emanate from an alien satellite, later to be called VALIS by Nicholas. This satellite has an AI operator who is beaming things into Nick’s mind, convincing him that it is controlled by this alien entity with God-like powers originating from the planet Albemuth and that there is a minor “invasion” of earth by these alien beings — but they are the good guys. They’re trying to protect society from Ferris F. Fremont (666), the president of the US who killed his way to power after the Lyndon Johnson administration. He’s a not too thinly veiled marriage of McCarthy and Nixon. Fremont is forever going on about the evils of Aramcheck, a group of people sponsored by the USSR to overthrow the US. He’s also established a police state with the help of the “Friends of the American People” (FAPers). There are even rumored concentration camps in Nebraska!

So Nicholas is experiencing odd things and telling everything to Phil. VALIS instructs Brady to move down to Orange County, where he gets a job as an executive at a major record label. Phil moves down shortly after just to keep up with things going on in Brady’s life, which seems somewhat hard to believe, but he is a sci fi writer, right? 😉

VALIS helps Nicholas out from time to time. In one instance, Nicholas is given information that his child is sick and needs to be hospitalized for surgery immediately. Without being able to explain why to his wife or doctor, he is proven right and the child’s life is saved. Another time, he expects to receive a mysterious letter, which he does, and he decodes a message in it. This is part of a FAP frame up and VALIS saved him in how he goes about handling it.

At times, though, the book gets confusing. It’s when Phil and Nicholas are theorizing about VALIS. Is is reincarnation? Is it God? Is it an alien satellite? Is it an alternate reality? Is it something else? Thoughts wander and you can get bogged down at places in the book, but not enough to throw you off.

One important development in the book is when VALIS gives Brady a dream that he would meet Sadassa Silvia, a character who claims that Ferris Fremont is actually a communist covert agent recruited by Sadassa’s mother when Fremont was still a teenager. Siliva is actually named Armachek, but changed her name to get away from Fremont. Apparently, she too is in contact with VALIS. The thing that made it hard for me to believe this sequence was believable is quite simple though. Brady was born in 1928. These events take place in 1974, after he’s been grown and a family man for years. Silvia is a college girl, quite young, but Brady falls for her and she ultimately seems to known all there is to know about VALIS and fills in the gaps for Brady (and the reader). But why would such a young girl know everything? And especially since Nicholas had been receiving messages for decades? That didn’t make sense to me.

Eventually, Nicholas and Silvia hatch a plot, engineered by VALIS, to produce records with subliminal political messages in them, alerting the public to the fact that Fremont was a “Red,” and therefore not to be trusted. This part of the plot seemed a little weak to me too, but I think the author backed himself into a corner here and this was the only way out.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!

Nicholas and Silvia are found out by the FAPers and are executed. Brady’s record label is destroyed. The VALIS satellite is blown up, after it was found in outer space by a Russian scientist. FAP confronts Dick and tells him that his books are going to be ghost written for him now with proper political messages about following benevolent leaders thrown in, and for his refusal to fall into line, he’s sent to a forced labor camp. The ending of the book can be read a couple of ways. In one sense, it’s rather sad, because Nicholas and Silvia are dead and the record’s been destroyed. Fremont is still in power and Dick’s life is ruined. However, while Dick is taking a work break one day, he hears a radio some kids are holding in a parking lot next door and it’s playing the subliminal song Brady was hoping to get out. Another record company produced it and it got played, so we’re left with a small hope that the future generation will see what’s going on in society and there will be a revolution, I guess? So I suppose you could say it ends on a slightly positive note.

In case you don’t know this, this book is highly autobiographical for Dick. He experienced a number of things both Dick and Brady experience in this book during the 1970s and went through many of the same theories, especially relating to Christianity. If you’ve read about his life at all, you’ll recognize many of these scenes are straight out of his life. Like I said, post-modern. It’s got to be hard to tie something like that up with a final type of ending, though, when you’re living it while you write about it. And I think that difficulty is displayed here, with Dick jumping around from theory theory, ultimately settling on a large bee-like alien God-like entity which seeks constant communication with everything in the universe. Was that ultimately Dick’s view of God? This book is not hard to read; it’s a quick read. It’s entertaining. It’s got intrigue and mystery and your typical Dickian themes of identity and reality (and alternate realities). I haven’t yet read VALIS and I suppose there’s a lot of overlap, but I do recommend this book for both Dick fans and just interested sci fi fans, as well as those who might enjoy speculative fiction.

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A Review of Second Guessing God

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 16, 2013

Second Guessing God: Hanging on When You Can't See His PlanSecond Guessing God: Hanging on When You Can’t See His Plan by Brian W. Jones

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When I picked this book up, I had high hopes for it. After all, according to the title it’s about hanging on when you don’t see God’s plan, and that’s always been an issue for me. I’ve rarely seen a plan. It looked like an interesting book. Another plus for it was that author and minister Brian McLaren endorsed it on the back cover, and I like and respect him immensely.

Jones starts with the following premise: “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” According to Goodreads, this book is Jones’s response to that question. However, I never quite got that. I think if that’s what he was trying to answer, he failed. He did try though. He uses the Israelites crossing the Jordan river from the desert to illustrate that “God is always at work upstream in our lives.” He writes, “Where’s God? Whenever we face a problem in our lives — sickness, job loss, depression, tragedy, or discouragement — God is at work upstream in those situations, beyond our line of sight.” Interesting, but I don’t know if I fully buy it and he doesn’t really go there too much more in the book. He talks about being broken — that “in order for me to notice people in pain and reach out to them with authenticity, I needed to go through a slow, painful process of transformation. It’s the same process he is taking you through.” Interesting. So everyone is broken and going through Godly transformations. I don’t know. He doesn’t argue convincingly for me. Jones later argues for compassion, saying “When we have Jesus’ heart, we see what he sees as if we’re borrowing his eyes.” It seems a bit too trite for me, frankly. I want more theological meat on the bones. But maybe this book is intended for a different target audience, I don’t know.

Jones writes a chapter about doubt. He remarks,

“Perhaps you have a question that is bothering you. Maybe something happened to you or someone you love, and there doesn’t seem to be any rational explanation for its occurrence. How do we resolve these kinds of questions? Honestly, most times we don’t. We live with the ambiguity. We wake up every day knowing full well that we carry around with us just as many questions as answers…. At the heart of a life filled with unanswered questions lies the very nature of Christianity…. Doubt reminds us of this.”

Doesn’t this passage acknowledge that he can’t answer the book’s questioning premise? No one has answers. Isn’t that what he’s saying? The author’s solution to doubt is to reach out to others. Seriously. I’m glad that works for him, but I don’t know that it’ll solve my issues for me….

In the Witness chapter, I come across some big problems that I really don’t like. It’s Hell. Jones didn’t think too much of Hell early in his life, but at some point came to the conclusion that Hell is real and that everyone who doesn’t accept Jesus into his life as their personal savior is damned to eternal Hell. He writes,

“I had always assumed that the Bible contained only a few scattered references to Hell. I was wrong; it is taught everywhere. Take the book of Matthew, for instance, just one book among twenty-seven in the entire New Testament…. Thirteen separate passages record Jesus’ teachings about the judgment of nonbelievers and their assignment to eternal punishment.”

He then throws out words to allegedly describe Hell in Matthew: fire, eternal fire, destruction, away from his presence, thrown outside, fiery furnace, darkness, eternal punishment, weeping and gnashing of teeth. OK. I don’t know why Brian McLaren endorsed this book because he doesn’t believe in Hell in the traditional sense of a fiery place of eternal conscious torment. He thinks that’s flat out wrong. So does Rob Bell, author of Love Wins, a book I’ve read three times and have found great relief and joy in. Bell argues that Hell isn’t mentioned in the Bible 13 TIMES alone, let alone in one book, if I recall correctly. He covers every instance of Hell in his book. These loaded words that Jones throws out refer to the always burning garbage pit outside Jerusalem, if you go by the original Greek, according to McLaren and Bell. Also, words like “destruction,” “thrown outside,” “darkness,” etc, hardly convey images of the traditional Christian Hell. I grew up in a Hellfire and brimstone environment, a strong Calvinist upbringing where practically everyone who wasn’t a true Calvinist was destined for Hell. That, among other things, turned me off to God and Christianity for 20 years. I truly don’t know if there’s a Hell or not, but I think McLaren and Bell do a much better job of arguing their case than Jones does here. Very weak, and disappointing. He lost me as a reader in this section.

Anyway, Jones ends his book by talking about the importance of attending church (and most likely tithing the heck out of yourselves, since he is a minister), and he strangely argues that you should attend the SAME church for the rest of your lives. You shouldn’t church shop. His final words are “That ‘perfect church’ you’re looking for already exists. You attended it last Sunday.” SERIOUSLY??? What if the church you attended was Westboro Baptist? What if it’s a crazy church, filled with nutjobs? What if you don’t feel comfortable there and you do want to attend multiple churches? Is that a crime? Is it a sin? I can’t believe how much importance Jones places on this. I’ve never read this anywhere else. It’s bizarre.

Throughout the book, Jones interjects his own thoughts into various situations from his entire life, and I got the feeling that this book was his form of self therapy. That he was trying to work through things in his life and this is what came of it. I thought it was a book that didn’t answer a hard question and provided some misguided notions and advice, and I think it’s really a failure overall. Certainly not recommended.

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A Review of Jesus Was a Liberal

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 21, 2013

Jesus Was a Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for AllJesus Was a Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All by Scotty McLennan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is interesting. Scotty McLennan doesn’t actually argue very vehemently that the historical Jesus was truly a liberal, but that a liberal political and spiritual ideology can be compatible with Christianity. So, that being said, the title’s a bit misleading. McLennan makes a great case for liberal Christianity in this book, but I think he kind of fails to convince me that Jesus himself was liberal. At least, he doesn’t spend much time on that argument, instead choosing to press the case for liberal Christianity. Once you can get past that, and I found it a bit disappointing, it’s a rather good book and a stimulating read.

First of all, I come from a strong evangelical background that I’ve recently rejected, having found happiness in a mainline church where I live. It comes closest to preaching what I’ve come to believe, and I’m very anti-evangelical, truth be told. I think evangelicals are largely judgmental, intolerant, mean spirited, Republican, haters who are doing a world of evil in this country. I know that might surprise some people, but that’s honestly how I feel after being indoctrinated for the past 45 years. I’m repelled by evangelicalism.

So McLennan immediately identifies the principles of liberal Christianity to start the book. These include

“The Bible is meant to be read largely metaphorically and allegorically, rather than literally. Science and religion are compatible; we are committed to the use of logic, reason, and the scientific method. Doubt is the handmaiden of faith. Love is the primary Christian value, and it is directly related to the promotion of liberty and justice in society at large. All people are inherently equal and worthy of dignity and respect. Free religious expression should be governmentally protected, but no particular tradition should be established as the state religion. There are many roads to the top of the spiritual mountain, and Christianity is only one of them. Interfaith understanding and tolerance are critical. We see Jesus primarily as a spiritual and ethical teacher and less as being identical with God. Living a fulfilled and ethical life here and now is more important than speculating on what happens to us after we die. Nonviolence is strongly preferred in relationships between human beings, groups, and nations. Women and men must play an equal role in religious leadership. And in terms of current American hot-button issues, we tend to be pro-choice on abortion and in favor of marriages for same-sex couples.”

Wow! That’s a lot to swallow at once. And I don’t necessarily agree with all of these principles. For instance, the statement, “There are many roads to the top of the spiritual mountain, and Christianity is only one of them,” goes against my ingrained teaching, although I like it in theory. So too the part about Jesus being an ethical teacher and not identical with God. In my tradition growing up, Jesus was part of the triune God, one and the same. It’s hard for me to shake that. This said, these principles are largely what I’ve come to believe over the past several years and I’m elated to see them in print and elated to know I’m not the only one who sees things this way.

McLennan dives right into the concept of Jesus as God on page nine.

“Although Jesus during his lifetime on earth would never have recognized certain titles later applied to him – ‘coequal with God,’ ‘of one substance with God,’ ‘ the second person of the Trinity’ – the early church began developing these ideas about him soon after death. There’s no doubt that his followers after his death moved from considering him a spirit person or mystic to increasingly speaking of him as having qualities of God and then as being divine himself…. Yet, personally, I don’t believe that Jesus was or is identical with God, nor do I think that’s what he believed either, based on the biblical evidence.”

He certainly puts it out there. Since I was taught from day one that Jesus is God, it’s hard for me to accept this from a minister and dean of religious life at Stanford University, but there you have it. Accept it or reject it, it’s out in the open.

He moves on to abortion.

“’There has always been strong support for the view that [human] life does not begin until live birth. This was the belief of the Stoics, It appears to be the predominant … attitude of the Jewish faith. It may be taken to represent … a large segment of the Protestant community.’… I’m personally part of that large Protestant community that believes that human life and personhood begin at birth [and not conception]…. I’m also personally compelled by the notion that it’s the breath of life that makes us full human beings.”

I know for a fact this is what Jews believe, as I was married to one for a number of years. I was taught early on that life begins at birth, so therefore abortion is allowed by the religious community. That may seem shocking to most evangelicals, but there are scriptural references Jews use to support this (which I don’t have at hand at the moment). My primary complaint about this section is McLennan doesn’t really tie this topic into Jesus’s personal beliefs on the subject, or his proposed beliefs. And isn’t that what this book is supposed to be about?

McLennan moves on to another hot-button issue – women’s roles in the church. Most evangelicals are opposed to having women in leadership positions within the church. This was my own experience growing up. McLennan believes differently:

“A careful reading of Paul’s letters makes it clear that women were among the most eminent leaders in the early Christian church. They were missionaries, teachers, worship leaders, preachers, and prophets.”

McLennan notes Paul as citing Prisca or Priscilla as co-worker, Apphia as sister, Phoebe as deacon, and Junia as apostle. Further, in Romans, Paul commends Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis for having “worked hard” in the Lord. I was never taught this growing up. I wonder why. Why is the Bible such a patriarchal document and why are women feared by Christian men so very much? These comments from Paul seem to recommend women for church leadership positions. McLennan does address Paul’s famous admonition of women in Corinthians about women being silent in church and ties it into first century social propriety. It makes sense.

The author then goes on to address whether the Bible in the “inspired” word of God, something I was brought up to believe without giving it much thought at all. It was an accepted “truth.” McLennan cites NT Wright as writing that some people (evangelicals) assuming the Bible was inspired as “an act of pure ‘supernatural’ intervention, bypassing the minds of the [biblical] writers altogether. This would suggest that God either dictated the Bible word by word or was ‘zapping’ the writers with some kind of long-range linguistic thunderbolt.” He then discusses literal versus metaphorical readings of the Bible and makes a case for metaphorical, citing Wright’s not thinking the resurrection is “the Bible is speaking of a resuscitated corpse.” He shows cases of instances in the Bible that can’t be taken literally (Egypt is a broken reed of a staff, etc.) and ends the section by writing that “To speak of the ‘authority of the Bible’ is to refer to ‘the authority of a love story in which we are invited to take part’.”

Several pages later, he furthers his argument by stating the the Bible is a human product – “not ‘God’s revealed truth’ but a response of these two ancient communities [Israel and early Christians] to God that describes what they think is required of them ethically by God, how God has entered and influenced their lives, what kinds of prayers, praises, and practices are the most appropriate way to honor and worship God, and their hopes and dreams as a people of God.”

At this stage of the book, I’m intrigued by his arguments and persuaded by some of them, but am left wondering where Jesus enters into all of this. He’s not even trying to prove Jesus was a liberal, merely that Christianity can be. Oh well.

Later in the book, McLennan takes on people who accept what they’re taught in the church by blind faith. He quotes Daniel Dennett as being

“deeply bothered … by people who unapologetically take things on blind faith, without subjecting them to logical, scientific, and historical confirmation. He observes that ‘blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging ration inquiry,’ thereby rendering the ideal of truth-seeking and truth-telling its victim.”

Moreover, “Religion is the most prolific source of the ‘moral certainties’ and ‘absolutes’ that zealots depend on. Throughout the world, ‘people are dying and killing’ in the name of blind faith and unapologetic irrationality.”

On the issue of separation of church and state, McLennan finally gets around to Jesus: “Jesus in effect says ‘yes’ – separate church and state.” He uses the passage on rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. He then goes into describing life in the former Iron Curtain as an example of no separation of church and state, with the communists having an official religion that was heavily guarded in what it could teach.

Many liberal Christians have problems with the concept of the Trinity – three gods in one. McLennan begins the section by asking, “What’s the meaning of the Trinity?” He goes on to provide analogies of how it can be viewed realistically. One such is

“to think of the transcendent God of the universe (out there as the creator of all we knew in nature), the God who walks by our side in human form – both rejoicing and suffering along with us (having known suffering in the extreme of crucifixion) – and the God who is deep within our own souls but also working as the force that ties us together in community with each other. This is one God, but one who can feel quite different in an operational sense….”

Those of you who are familiar with tradition Protestant Christianity – fundamentalism, evangelicalism – know of the topic of being “born again.” One can’t escape it in our Christian culture. Indeed, our presidential candidates must profess to being “born again” if they’re going to get Red State votes. It’s so prevalent, that conservative Christians feel that those who have not been born again aren’t Christians and are destined for Hell. Yet many liberal Christians don’t believe in this concept. McLennan writes that “baptism is not fully effected until one believes, until one actually lays hold by faith of what God has mercifully granted us through the gift of his son, Jesus Christ,” as being the primary belief system for conservatives, and yet it’s been my experience in a mainline church community that the holy sacrament of baptism is the sign one is “saved,” and that one needn’t go, and doesn’t go, through a “being saved” one time experience in order to go to Heaven. Indeed, McLennan writes that one must be “born of water and Spirit.” Further,

“In the gospel of John, John uses another image for being born again: ‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Jesus’s offer of a new birth here is connected with wind. It doesn’t sound like something one can grab hold of by conscious intent. The proper attitude would seem to be more like gratitude for an undeserved gift, and a radical openness to the variety of ways it chooses to envelop and massage us.”

Later,

“So there’s being ‘born again’ in this Cheever story, with all the elements of deep, inward, radical change – baptismal water, wind blowing – worked by the Spirit in the inner recesses of the human personality – and of undeserved gifts of life and love, if only we can appreciate them. There’s no self-generated moral reformation. There’s no conscious repenting of one’s sin and turning to Christ. Just sudden regeneration, out of the blue, utterly transformative. It’s in that sense I hope for all of us the experience of being born again.”
McLennan acknowledges that “Easter is the great holiday of Christianity” due to the Resurrection. Then he goes on to ask, “But was the resurrection a flesh-and-blood photographable event? Most liberal Christians like me can’t possibly subscribe to this literalist claim. As I … read the gospel accounts, this was not a matter of a dead person coming back to his prior life of walking around, eating, drinking, and sleeping like the rest of us. Instead, what’s meant by resurrection is that Jesus was transformed into an entirely different level of being, beyond the usual categories of life and death…. [Witnesses seeing him] These are all visions or epiphanies or revelations of Jesus, not meetings with a resuscitated corpse.”

Wow. Heresy and treason to the people and traditions with which I was brought up. Still, it makes one wonder, does it not?

As you come to the close of the book, he addresses political liberalism and writes, “Liberals, often in the face of fierce conservative opposition, have been the ones to guarantee equal rights, and they have made laws that help keep our food and automobiles safe and college education affordable…. Liberal Christianity can point to the Old Testament prophets and to Jesus as the original political liberals.” Yet, somehow, I think, McLennan fails to make the case of Jesus as a liberal in this book. It’s rather ironic. He could have done so much more with this topic, written such a better book, although it’s good in its present form. He ends the book by writing, “Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus was a liberal.” I only wish McLennan had shown that Jesus was a liberal. Otherwise, a decent book….
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A Review of Speaking My Mind

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 15, 2013

Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to FaceSpeaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to Face by Tony Campolo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was pretty disappointed with this book and that’s a pity. I’ve seen Campolo’s name bandied about in liberal Christian books and by liberal Christian authors for some time now, but this is his first book I’ve read. I felt really lucky when I stumbled across it in a used bookstore this week. And the table of contents seemed very promising: “Do Evangelicals Have an Image Problem? Is Evangelicalism Sexist? Are Evangelicals Handling the Gay Issue All Wrong?” and so on. Very promising. So I bought the book and sat down to read. And was thoroughly disappointed. I don’t know who labeled Tony Campolo a liberal Christian, but he’s most definitely a conservative evangelical who happens to be somewhat liberal politically and socially. But he’s a conservative Christian. And since that’s what I’ve just escaped after being trapped as a lifelong dissatisfied evangelical for the past 45 years, that’s the last thing I wanted to read.

For instance, in tackling the gay issue, Campolo acknowledges that Christians need to reach out to gays in the church and the community — provided they live completely celibate lives!!! He’s not sure if gays are born that way or become that way (they’re born that way, dingbat!), but we need to love them — provided they don’t act out on their preferences and keep their behavior pure. WTF? That’s not realistic! He even notes that “although Jesus was silent about homosexuality, He did specifically condemn the remarriage of divorced people unless adultery was the cause of the divorce.” He starts out by appearing to be open, by talking about the “dilemma,” and then holds up his shining example of a man who died apparently a homosexual virgin, because he thought it was such an abominable sin, so he never gave in. Huh. Homosexuality is mentioned less than 10 times in the Bible, yet being kind to the poor is mentioned hundreds of times and adultery is mentioned numerous times again. So again I say to you, WTF?

Tony starts out with sexism and never really clearly answers that little question, conveniently enough. He admits that there’s a yin yang type of thing going on with the sexes and that’s about it. Nice. He can write a few decent things at times though. In his later chapter on whether there’s a second chance for people who die without Christ, he discusses universalist theology briefly. He ends that section by writing

“One universalist theologian carried me through his progression of thought with the following argument: ‘If there is a God, then there is a God, whether people believe it or not. If God is their Creator, that also is true, whether they believe it or not. If the Bible is an infallible message from God, that fact, too, is not dependent on their believing it. So, if Jesus died for their sins and is their Savior, isn’t that fact also true, whether they believe it or not?'”

An interesting thought. Campolo does an interesting job on the science chapter, with some good ideas about God/Jesus being in the HERE at all times. He made it seem real. He also introduced me to a new concept that Seventh-Day Adventists, apparently, believe — “soul sleep.” When we die, we lie in the ground until the Second Coming, basically asleep until God raises everyone from the dead at the same time. I’ve never quite gotten a handle on what happens to a person’s soul upon death in the Christian tradition. This was an interesting explanation.

Campolo delves into my old Calvinist roots in his discussion on predestination, a topic I truly hate. Here he gets a little iffy though. On page 121, he writes

“I do not understand how reasonable people can believe that God is in total control of everything right now when there is so much evil and injustice in the world. I grant that this may be a failure on my part, but if I believed that God controlled everything that goes on in the universe these days, I would not know how to explain why innocent children in Africa get AIDS, or why godly people die of cancer, or why there was ever an Auschwitz or a Hiroshima….”

His answer leaves one wondering, though:

“To those who ask, ‘How could a loving God allow horrendous diseases to afflict good people, permit insane wars to kill the innocent, and let a man like Hitler create such widespread suffering?’ I answer, “God is doing the best He can….'”

Seriously? That’s the best you’ve got, you “liberal” Christian??? What a wussy way out of things.

Campolo also contradicts himself in this book. He goes on in the chapter about the poor about how Jesus spoke about the poor and how important it is to help them. Then he has a section called, “The Disastrous Welfare System,” where he sounds like a bitter right wing Republican in writing that the system “generated cheating and deceptions so that eventually hundreds of thousands of people were on the welfare rolls, collecting unjustified handouts, even though they were quite capable of getting jobs and properly supporting themselves and their families.” Excuse me? Did I just hear that out of a so-called “liberal” Christian??? The welfare system has been abused by some, yes, but it’s the only safety net millions of people have, and don’t you think, while we’re talking about it, that lots of “good” things like sub-prime mortgages and hedge funds have been abused too??? Hypocrite!

While I’m at it, even though this book was published in 2004, it seems woefully dated. For example, in talking about whether America is in moral decline, he writes “all kinds of wonderful things are happening in our world, in spite of all that is evil and demonic. Across America, churches are being born and reaching out to huge numbers of previously unchurched people. A revitalized commitment to the poor and the oppressed is emerging among American Christians.” Really? Tell that to the Republican Party, aka, the Religious Right, aka the Christians, all doing their best to eliminate every possible safety net poor people in this country have, all the while working to make their rich masters richer. What did Jesus say about the rich entering Heaven like a camel through the eye of a needle? Seems most Republicans/Christians haven’t read their Bibles lately. Hypocrites! Also, stats show that church membership is declining, most especially within the 18 – 29 year old set. Evangelicals are turning people off to God, Tony. Time to face up.

Campolo does show he’s not 100% conservative in his discussion on dispensationalism. He states his opposition of it and nearly goes so far as to label it a danger to this country and the world. That’s bold. He does a good job with this section. Oddly, however, he says that the charismatic movement is the greatest opposition to dispensationalism and is Christianity’s best chance in the twenty first century. Huh? Speaking in tongues? Really? He ends his book by writing, “As progressive evangelicalism increasingly emerges out of fundamentalism over the next fifty years, the rest of the world will encounter Christians who are more than ready to struggle with the tough issues that await us, and to do so with open minds and open hearts.” Really Tony? Telling your gay friends to be celibate if they want to go to Heaven? That kind of open heart? Sorry, I’m not buying it. He tries to come across as open minded, but when the chips are down, it seems to me that Campolo goes crawling down the nearest conservative evangelical fox hole and hides out — and it sickens me.

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A Review of Reading the Bible Again for the First Time

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 30, 2012

Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not LiterallyReading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally by Marcus J. Borg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book really engaging, but I can now see why so many fundamentalists/evangelicals view Marcus Borg as little more than a heretic. He argues that you shouldn’t read the Bible literally, but through a historical-metaphorical lens. And he makes some great arguments, but he also makes some potentially faulty assumptions and, further, throws a number of things in the Bible right out the door without considering them seriously simply because they don’t seem realistic. He writes that you should see the Bible as a “human product” and writes that it is

“a human response to God. Rather than seeing God as scripture’s ultimate author, I see the Bible as the response of these two ancient communities [Jews and Christians] to their experience of God. As such, it contains their stories of God, their perceptions of God’s character and will, their prayers to and praise of God, their perceptions of the human condition and the paths of deliverance, their religious and ethical practices, and their understanding of what faithfulness to God involves. As the product of these two communities, the Bible thus tells us about how they saw things, not about how God sees things.”

Well. As you can see, that might be controversial for some people. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this argument, of course. It’s not new. But I’ve never actually read a book on it, and one so well written. Borg makes some compelling arguments. This Biblical view would be hard for virtually any fundamentalist/evangelical to hold. I grew up in such a background and I was taught that the Bible was the inherent word of God, that is was ALL completely true and literal, etc. — or else. (Of course, no one’s ever been able to satisfyingly explain to me then why certain sins and laws are so important — like opposition to homosexuality — and why some Old Testament laws were trashed, like the ones regarding shellfish, different cloth materials, etc., et al.)

As previously mentioned, here’s where Borg really starts getting into trouble in the evangelical world:

“…Jesus really did perform paranormal healings and … they cannot simply be explained in psychosomatic terms. I am even willing to consider that spectacular phenomena such as levitation perhaps happen. But do virgin births, multiplying loaves and fish, and changing water into wine ever happen anywhere? If I became persuaded that they do, then I would entertain the possibility that the stories about Jesus reporting such events also contain history remembered. But what I cannot do as a historian is to say that Jesus could do such things even though nobody else has ever been able to. Thus I regard these as purely metaphorical narratives.”

Trouble. If you don’t buy into Jesus doing miracles (and why some, but not others Mr. Borg?), then would his argument was that he was the son of God be reliable or compelling? And if he was truly the son of God, why couldn’t he perform these miracles, even if no one else has ever been able to? No one else has ever been the son of God. Still, it’s food for thought, right?

Borg continues to trash Biblical miracles:

“To use the story of the crossing of the sea as an example: something happened at the sea. But it was not the sea dividing into parallel walls of water with a canyon of dry land in between. To imagine that God acted to bring about that in the past violates the principle of ‘divine consistency.’ Divine consistency affirms that God acts now in the same way that God acted in the past. Some might — some do — argue with this claim. But the notion that God acted in fundamentally different ways in the past compared to how God acts now presents insurmountable difficulties. Why would God change how God acts? What possible reason can be imagined? If God intervened in such dramatic ways then, why not now?”

Borg’s answer is, once again, historical-metaphor. These were stories constructed by ancient people who handed them down via oral tradition. They weren’t written down until some time later, in some cases, quite some time later. They’re not meant to be read literally. My old roots make it difficult for me to accept this, but it makes sense to me. I was (foolishly) shocked to read that Moses didn’t write the first five books, but his story and the events as told in the first five books were written possibly centuries after his death! If that’s true, who knows what reality was like?

Like Brian McClaren and other leaders of the emergent church movement, Borg argues that “social justice” is really important to Biblical authors, particularly the Old Testament prophets. He uses Amos extensively to illustrate this. He also uses various proverbs to discuss wealth and poverty, also like the emerging church leaders. There’s a lot I could say about this, but it’s taking me far too long to write this review, so I’ll probably be cutting it short soon….

The book has an interesting chapter on Job, and it argues the book makes one ask “why be religious? Why take God seriously?” and more. It’s a pretty good discussion.

Borg continues to hit the historical-metaphorical idea again and again:

“Like the historical narratives of the Bible generally, the gospels are the product of a developing tradition, containing earlier and later layers of material and combining history remembered and history metaphorized. They preserve the Jesus movement’s memory of Jesus and use the language of metaphor and metaphorical narrative to speak about what Jesus had become in their experience, thought, and devotion in the decades after his death.

As developing traditions combining historical memory and metaphorical narrative, they can be read in two different ways. On the one hand, as virtually our only source of information about the historical Jesus, they can be read for the sake of reconstructing a sketch of what Jesus of Nazareth was like as a figure of history. On the other hand, they can be read as late-first century documents that tell us about Christian perceptions and convictions about Jesus some forty to seventy years after his death.”

Borgs writes a lot more about this, but I want to touch on his treatment of Paul and the idea of being saved by grace, not works.

“First, justification by grace in opposition to justification by works of the law is not about the inadequacy of the Jewish law or Judaism…. The failure to recognize this has erroneously led Christians to think of Judaism as a religion of law, works, and judgment and Christianity as a religion of grace, faith, and love…. Second, justification by grace is not about forgiveness; it is not simply an affirmation that God will forgive those who repent…. This, justification by grace is not about who goes to heaven, or how. The notion that it is flows out of conventional Christianity’s preoccupation with the afterlife through the centuries, as if that were most central to the message of Jesus and Paul and the New Testament…. Fourth, Paul’s understanding of justification is not about the replacement of one requirement with another. This frequently happens in Christianity when ‘faith’ replaces ‘good works’ as what God requires of us. The system of requirements remains; only the content has changed…. So what, then, is justification by grace about? Very simply, it is about the basis of our relationship to God in the present….”

Whew! That’s a lot to swallow in a couple of pages. There’s a lot there and I encourage interested people to read it and think about it. The final chapter is on the book of Revelation and it’s pretty interesting. Not too surprisingly, Borg argues that it’s not about some future apocalypse, but simply a letter intended for specific early church members about the Roman empire in which they lived. I’ve heard this argument before, but Borg lays it out nicely here.

Some people will be horrified at the contents of this book. Some people will be offended. Hopefully some will find it as engaging as I have though. It’s thought provoking and I think that’s what Borg is after. I’m no longer an evangelical, so I’m open to much of what the book discusses. That said, I think Borg’s picking and choosing what’s to be read literally and what’s to be read metaphorically places him (and us?) in a God-like role, and hence, is the book’s greatest weakness. A recommended book nonetheless.

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