There are things your minister, pastor, priest or preacher would love to be able to tell you, but cannot because of concerns about job security. I am not only thinking about the scandalous revelations that occasionally come to light, nor even the relatively minor fact that your pastor sometimes comes to the pulpit the same way all of us come to church at times – feeling less than inspired, having just argued with a spouse, or in some other way or for some other reason less ready than we would like to do what we need to in church – whether preach or simply worship.
Most ministers have had theological training that exposed them to a diverse range of viewpoints. In some very narrow seminaries, it will be reiterated again and again which is the “right” opinion, which is the “sound” theology. Be that as it may, even pastors who studied in fairly conservative schools have wrestled with issues and confronted evidence that many Christians are simply unaware of. I remember when, towards the end of my doctoral studies at the University of Durham in England, I was invited to give a talk on my research at a sixth form study day (i.e. for students doing A Levels in religion, the approximate equivalent of advance placement (AP) exams in the United States). Wanting to have a sense of the appropriate level, I asked for copies of syllabi or exams for religious studies A Levels in the U. K. As I looked them over, it struck me that teenagers in the U. K. who choose to study religion are expected to deal with subject (such as the Synoptic Problem) that many Christians who have attended church for 60 years have never even heard of. Is the relationship between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke really of such little importance for those who (we hope) read them that we can set this issue to one side altogether? No, the reason why the subject is never addressed is that it might make some people uncomfortable to talk about it. Many pastors and preachers will give a wide berth to other issues, such as creation and evolution, to avoid controversy, even though they may feel strongly that fundamentalist approaches are misguided. Why rock the boat? But is lack of controversy really preferable to having well-educated believers? Is preserving one’s job worthwhile if it means leaving fundamentalism to grow and fester?
I reflected on these questions yet again today as I read the short book by Rev. Oliver “Buzz” Thomas, 10 Things Your Minister Wants To Tell You (But Can’t Because He Needs The Job). While it is not the case that all the things Thomas mentions are things that all ministers would tell you if they could, I suspect that enough of them are, and if not these things then there are other things that they could tell you were they not afraid that ordinary Christians, rather than welcoming a deeper understanding of the faith, of the Bible, and of Christian history, would complain, argue, and eventually drive the minister out who dared expose them to uncomfortable truths.
Although a very short book, it packs a serious punch and reveals more in its 108 pages than many other works of much greater length on more specific subjects. It was particularly refreshing to encounter someone else so adamant about the importance of the fact that the main character in the creation story in Genesis 2 is called “Human” and not “Adam” as though the latter were a name in Hebrew. Although his language at one point seems to leave a door open for “teaching the controversy” (p.9), his approach to most topics is balanced and healthy. His recognition not only of the fact that Jesus gave more than one answer about salvation (p.47), but that Jesus was mistaken about the end of the world and this simply makes him human (p.97), are refreshingly honest but even more than that refreshingly Biblical compared to the selective quote mining of the fundamentalists. And he too emphasizes, as I try to whenever I get the chance, that fundamentalists only claim to take the whole Bible literally and believe it all, but this is far from an accurate representation of what they in reality do and believe (p.101).
Here are a few particularly memorable quotes:
…my old Irish Catholic uncle used to say: “Trying to use the Bible to prove the
church wrong is like trying to use the phone book to prove there isn’t a phone
Authentic religion is not a theology test. It is a
love test. (p.41)
God will not be locked into the culture of the
first century, whether we like it or not. If God exists, then, he is alive today
and is continuing to reveal himself. (p.63)
This may be a useful book for you to read, or to pass on to those who are interested in understanding the Bible better and in a broader way. But certainly the subject of the book is one whose time has come. To paraphrase a famous quote that the book mentions at one point, all that has to happen for fundamentalism to thrive is for those who have actually studied the Bible and understand it in depth and detail to keep silent.