Monday Morning Confessional

I confess that today is week three of being back on my Sabbath routine. Feeling good about the results so far, and hoping to remain faithful to the discipline.

I confess that I’m pretty stoked to be able to catch Jimmy Fallon live on The Tonight Show a little more often as of Feb. 17th. I watched his farewell show Friday night, and it was so endearing. He actually seems like one of the good guys in entertainment – Andy Samberg too, for that matter (he was Fallon’s final guest). I can’t wait to see what Fallon can do with the bigger platform & budget.

I confess that our family has been watching quite a bit of the Olympic Games. I feel really sorry for him, but Bob Costas’s crazy eye is freaking me out. As we watch I’m aware that when they are grown up my kids will feel about Bob Costas the way I feel about Jim McKay. That’s pretty cool. I confess that I am a sucker for the men’s downhill – really any alpine skiing. It’s so much fun to watch. I confess that the slope-side snowboarding has been fun to watch as well, although the interviews in the sport of snowboarding are so stinking funny. Nearly every one of them could double as DARE program exhibit for why kids shouldn’t smoke weed. As much as I try to hang in there, I have to admit that figure skating is not my thing. I confess that every time the U.S. wins the gold, I’m reminded how much I wish we would change our national anthem from the Star Spangled Banner to America the Beautiful. It is so beautiful and is a far superior song. Plus it has a much better message.

I confess that there are only 2 more weeks until the Daytona 500. Once a week I will get to channel my inner redneck. I can’t wait.

I confess that the rest of the MMC is about the book Zealot – if you don’t want a piece of that, you should bail out now :-)

I confess that I read Reza Aslan’s Zealot this past week. I was honestly looking forward to reading it, but it was a complete disappointment. There’s nothing new in the book. He just microwaved a few of the standard fringe historical-Jesus theories and patch-worked them together in a narrative form. Aslan is a really good writer – he apparently teaches creative writing – which makes it all the more tragic that he interprets scriptures like a fundamentalist, picking and choosing only the texts that support his thesis, while ignoring the myriad of texts that completely contradict it. Even more than that he ignores the major themes of Jesus’s teaching, at one point saying that the gospels are just not reliable, then basing his thesis in a carefully selected set of texts from those same gospels. His overall thesis – Jesus was really a zealot who was plotting violent sedition – would probably seem extremely plausible if you have no idea that he’s not playing fair with the texts and that he’s doing a ton of revisionist history – which. let’s face it, most readers won’t. Unless you’ve done some graduate level reading, you’ll never know the book is full of misleading historical commentary, dubious interpretations, truncated quotes, tons of presumptions and assumptions that would never stand up to scholarly engagement. The whole time I was reading I just wanted to scream, “Jesus is hanging around with tax collectors and Roman sympathizers!” (A zealot would never have done such a thing).

I confess that reading Zealot as a scholarly theological work is akin to reading Dan Brown’s novels as scholarly historical work. Zealot is fantasy. I think it’s pretty telling that I couldn’t find a single scholarly article on the ATLA database that engaged with the book. I confess that this critique might sound snobbish, but I don’t mean it to be. It’s just that I know how much work it takes to be able to hit with the pros when it comes to this specific arena of religious studies. I know I couldn’t do it. It requires a massive amount of reading and expertise in everything from ancient near eastern culture and languages, to archaeological research and text critical studies – the kind of expertise that Aslan clearly doesn’t have. Either Aslan doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and he’s naive; or he knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s simply misleading people in order to make a splash and get rich (which he has done). My suspicion is that it’s a little of both. Whether or not his credentials qualify him, he didn’t do the work. That’s why it bugs me that he defends himself as an expert. If he’s an expert, he could still make the same case, but he’d have to prove his work. He doesn’t do that in Zealot. If you want to play ball, then play ball with the guys who will actually point out your shoddy scholarship. I haven’t decided if I’m going to write up something more extensive on the book. It’s just internally incoherent and riddled with misleading interpretations that it seems silly to give it too much time.

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.


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