(Deborah Arca, Book Club and Progressive Christian editor for Patheos, posted this interview with me on her Faith Forward blog.)
This spring, Patheos launched its first “premium content” blog – a weekly bible study from popular progressive Christian author Christian Piatt. The new subscription blog, A Heretic’s Guide to the Bible, offers a weekly guided tour through the Bible following the Church’s lectionary schedule, and is aimed at bible “pros” (preachers, teachers) as well as bible/faith newbies (seekers). There’s something for everyone in this thoughtful, fresh, informed — and definitely irreverent — new resource. And with Christian as a guide, you’re guaranteed lots of laughs along the way.
We caught up with Christian this week with some questions about his new blog, and why he’s the perfect heretic to write it!
Christian, tell us a bit about your background, and why you call yourself a heretic.
I am the only child of a Southern Baptist and an atheist, so being a heretic seemed the best way to split the difference. Seriously, I grew up in the Baptist church, but got tossed out as a teenager for asking to many questions. For a decade or so, I was “A-B-C,” or “Anything But Christian. I found my way back to a different way of doing Christianity thanks to my wife, and on my return, I made it kind of my mission to make sure others had a place to doubt and question in the ways I wasn’t allowed to growing up.
What is your relationship to the Bible?
I’d say I take it seriously, but not literally. I think the Bible is primarily about two things: humanity trying to understand God, and God trying to reach out to humanity. Does it contradict itself? Does it have some really bizarre stuff in it? Definitely. People brought their various agendas to certain parts of the Bible – some nobler than others – and so we have to be as “wise as serpents,” as Jesus says, when we engage scripture.
You say this new weekly resource you’re offering is “not your Daddy’s Bible Study.” Can you elaborate, and why do we need another Bible Study out there anyway?
If we’re being honest, most Bible studies are super-conservative, super-boring or both. A lot of them are written for academics or theologians, and aside from all the Christian-ese all over the place, they take themselves too damn seriously. So we try to have fun with this walk through the texts, looking for Easter eggs along the way, like in the old Mario Bros. games, and trying to have some fun while also working through what it means to want to better understand this Jesus guy in the 21st century.
Who’s your ideal audience for Heretic’s Guide?
I think it’s best for folks who have always wanted to read through the Bible, but who have been freaked out by the prospect. Where do you start? And even if you read it, how are you supposed to understand it? Furthermore, how do you stay awake once you get to all the “begats?” The Bible is rich with history, myth, song, poetry, laws, prophecies and the story of the life and ministry of Jesus, letters from the founders of the Christian Church…and it was written by multiple cultures over thousands of years. So when we pick it up and try to read it like a John Grisham novel, it’s no wonder we fall flat.
I think it’s also a good resource for clergy folks who have been through all the traditional lectionary studies and who are longing to see the scripture in a new way. Yeah, I’m a total smartass and I may push the boundaries of previous assumptions you’ve had about the Bible, but each week we serve up some really rich content, made that much more compelling by the other people in the Heretic’s Guide community.
I really love Luke. I’m fascinated by how the author of that Gospel is always turning the tables on people, changing the paradigm in unexpected ways. It’s kind of like the Matrix, but thankfully without Keanu Reeves.
What book do you struggle the most with?
Revelation is a tough one, partly because that’s the book we were studying in my old youth group when I got kicked out. That book has been used to horrendous ends by Christians for a really long time. The fact it, there’s so much beautiful stuff in Revelation, and ultimately it’s a story of hope and reconciliation. But we just seem to be content to scare the hell (literally) out of people with it, so I’ve tended to avoid it in the past.
What can people expect to get from your new premium blog that they can’t get elsewhere?
I’m a big fan of tying theology into the popular culture around us, and of engaging people in some ideas that might make them squirm a little at first. But although some of the ideas we put out there are challenging, the way we do it is really accessible. When people come back to me and tell me about how our studies on the Heretic’s Guide have opened their eyes to looking at the world around them in a different way, I know I’m doing my job.
What other special features are you planning for your new blog?
We’ve got the weekly studies, which offer 1,500 to 2,000 words or so on the four texts that come up in the Revised Common Lectionary, which is this way theology nerds came up with a while back to help churches get through most of the bible’s stories in three years. But we also have live weekly chats where we bounce ideas off each other and wrestle together with tough questions, and I post a short video summary for folks who are in a rush, or who just aren’t even sure where to start that particular week.
Beginning in April, we’re also offering some “Bonus Content” from other theologians who are doing their own write-ups on the scriptures not covered by the traditional lectionary, and I’m going to start doing video interviews with special guest authors, scholars and stuff who will hopefully continue to broaden our understanding of the Bible.
What’s with the chin-beard?
I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.
What are your biggest hopes for the Heretic’s Guide To the Bible?
You mean aside from changing the world??? Actually, I feel like it’s all worthwhile everything someone tells me they’ve never heard of scripture being engaged like this before, or that this resource is an answer to prayer for them. We have some folks in the Heretic’s Guide community who are really wary of religion as an institution, but who are attracted to this Jesus guy and are compelled to understand what we mean when we say “God.” To me, there really isn’t any more interesting or important work I can think of doing.
What do you do when you’re not reading the Bible?
I’m a hopeless TV junkie since the DVR was invented. I watch Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Newsroom, Vikings…it’s kind of sad, really. Living in Portland, we go on lost of hikes in our incredible urban forests, and I’m a big fan of all the craft breweries and wineries we have around here. God must have had me in mind when Portland was invented.
Need to know more? Here’s a video interview to this new resource from Christian: