Raw Revelation: The Bible They Never Tell You About

Today’s post is a brief interview with Mark Roncace (Ph.D. Emory University), associate professor of religion at Wingate University in North Carolina. He recently published Raw Revelation: The Bible They Never Tell You About. The book is aimed at everyday readers of the Bible who have come to see that the Bible raises it’s own difficult questions. Roncace’s book is a witty, readable, and straightforward invitation to believers to resist the attractively packaged and processed Bible they are often exposed to and dig in and deal honestly with its challenges. The book is divided into 6 main sections and covers over 50 issues in just over 200 pages. 

Roncace’s other books are Teaching the Bible through Popular Culture and the Arts, Global Perspectives on the Bible, and Jeremiah, Zedekiah, and the Fall of Jerusalem: A Study of Prophetic Narrative.

I should to add that 100% of the proceeds from Raw Revelation will be given to international Christian organizations.

Why did you write this book?

The Bible is a wonderful and great book in many places—inspiring, uplifting, and encouraging. But in other places it is very difficult—dark, violent, confusing. Most people have some sense that the Bible is not an easy book.

But I am not sure they appreciate the extent of the difficulties, the breadth and depth of the challenges that the Bible presents for us. And in a way it’s not their fault. People are busy; life is hectic; it takes valuable time and energy to read and think about Scripture. So most people don’t.

And the institutional church, it seems, is more or less happy to keep it that way, because the Bible is indeed a gritty, bloody, messy book. So preachers either avoid the raw texts, or they cook them up with simple answers to make them more palatable.

Thus, I wanted to write an accessible (entertaining, even) book that presents the uncensored, unprocessed Bible, so that people might encounter the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about Scripture, so help us God.

What makes your book different?

The book pulls no punches. It’s hard hitting and brutally honest. Brutally. But I write from within the Christian tradition, not outside of it. I am certainly not bashing the Bible, like other books, but nor is my goal to provide solutions to the problems and challenges of Scripture, as others have tried to do. I am being as real and raw as I can—because that is what I think God would want.

I am trying only to set the table, and then let the reader do the feasting on the Word. Other books either try to crash the party or they tell people which foods to eat and which ones to avoid or they run around putting chocolate icing on everything that might taste bad. I cannot imagine that God likes either one of those approaches.

So I just lay it out there. When Scripture says that God hated Esau before he was born, we should perhaps interpret that to mean that God hated Esau before he was born. When God declares that he is going to beat the daylights out of his wife Israel, that sounds misogynistic. When Jesus blesses those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of God, we should consider that Jesus is condoning self-castration. When Jesus tells us to love our enemies and then slanders their sexual morality  (“wicked and adulterous”) and their pedigree (“brood of vipers” i.e. “children of snakes” i.e. “sons of the devil”), that should give us pause.

Divine hate, misogyny, castration, and cursing are not popular topics. You can see why I had trouble getting a Christian publisher to take this book.

What is the main goal of the book? What do you want readers to take away?

I simply want people to engage the messy, complex, unpalatable parts of the Bible—because they too are every bit as much a part of Scripture as the good, happy passages that we like to dwell on. I hope that the book spurs people to read the Bible for themselves and to think openly, honestly, and carefully about it.

What readers conclude about the tough passages really does not matter—as long as they wrestle and struggle and strive with the Word. To me, that process is a big part of a life of faith. So what I would like readers to say when they finish the book is: “Wow, there’s a lot more to the Bible than I realized, and in some cases a lot less (like clear answers to big questions). I’ve got to do some relationship-building with God as I grapple and argue with God’s Word.”

How do you think people will respond?

Some Christians, no doubt, will say that I’ve gone too far. And I understand that. But I am hopeful that most will “get” it. For those who don’t, I would cautiously and gently note that Jesus himself accused the religious leaders of his day—the scribes and Pharisees—of mishandling Scripture to promote their own agenda. Jesus was not a conservative or mainstream Jew. Like many of the Old Testament prophets, he was the outsider, the gadfly. One of the remarkable aspects of our tradition is that it is filled with counter voices.

But what if some people read the book and end up losing their faith or rejecting Christianity? Isn’t it too risky?

In the process of engaging the Word, some people may not be able to swallow it raw. The may end up spitting it back out, rejecting it. While this will be a rare result, and certainly not the desired one, it is a possibility for which we must allow—otherwise an authentic quest for truth and for a genuine life of faith is compromised. That is, it’s a risk one must take in order to have a meaningful, robust faith.

What would you say to people who are sympathetic to your approach, but conclude that “there are some parts of Scripture we will never understand”?

While I understand that thinking, I must confess that it strikes me as somewhat disingenuous. How can we claim to understand the text when it says, “God is loving and merciful and long-suffering,” but then when it says, “God commanded the Israelites to kill all the women and children,” we throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders, and say, “God works in mysterious ways”? That is not being honest with ourselves and the Word, is it? We understand what we like and, conveniently, don’t understand what we don’t like?

Any final thoughts?

If you are unsure about the book, try reading the end first, the short “Final Suggestions” chapter. Maybe I should have begun with those words instead of ending with them. The objective there is to establish a positive, supportive context of faith for readers, without, of course, watering down the difficulties that one will encounter while partaking of God’s raw Revelation.

  • James

    I notice the metaphor of food consumption is used throughout–setting a table, feasting, unpallatable, swallowing it raw, spitting it back up, etc. Disgusting stuff–but God likes it! I wish your guest talked a little more about what God really likes and dislikes on the table he prepares for us.

  • http://www.ochuk.wordpress.com Adam Omelianchuk

    While I can appreciate an honest look at the Bible, doesn’t the author just commit himself to the lowest form of literalism possible? I can’t help but think so when he says, “When Scripture says that God hated Esau before he was born, we should perhaps interpret that to mean that God hated Esau before he was born. When God declares that he is going to beat the daylights out of his wife Israel, that sounds misogynistic. When Jesus blesses those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of God, we should consider that Jesus is condoning self-castration. “

    • http://dpitch40.blogspot.com David P

      It almost sounds like the author is almost satirically taking Biblical literalism to its logical conclusion. Or maybe he’s just trying to be provocative. Either way, I agree with his point about taking all of the Bible seriously; sounds like an interesting read.

    • Marshall

      There’s good literalism and bad literalism. The former means read the words; the latter seems to mean ignore all the other words. I do find that the emphasis on a nicey nice God makes it hard to talk with non-believers who can see very clearly that this world (God’s creation) is not a nicey nice place. Whatever, let’s have a real God for a real World. Evidence-based religion, as it were.

      … I do admit the part about Esau stumps me. No doubt God has his favorites, but what’s wrong with Esau?? I guess that could be the point.

      • peteenns

        Woud it help if we understood Esau not to be a person but a personification of later political conflict? Same with Ammon, Moab, and Canaan….

        • Marshall

          Well, seems to me that insisting that the political context overwrites the words of the story is an example of bad liberalism of the kind that Dr. Roncace was speaking against. I think we can assume that the story is old even if our text was only laid down in Josiah’s time, so what was the original meaning? And I don’t think it actually helps much: why should God love Israel and hate the Palestinians? How is that being a blessing to the nations?

          God picks favorites, that just seems to be the way it is. And looking at my own life, I personally shouldn’t be complaining, although I do.

      • Nick Gotts

        Evidence-based religion

        Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah!

  • Randy

    I don’t have a problem trying to understand the violence in the Bible or why God would use the nation of Israel or different individuals to exact judgment on wicked people. But, what I am still trying to understand and comprehend is why God would send His Son to this earth that was going to hate, abuse, reject, criticize, and crucify Him in order to save my hell-deserving soul. He knew what I was before salvation and even after being saved knew that I was going to fail Him so many times, yet He still loves me and saved me. I sill can’t understand His grace, but thankful for it!

    • Luke Allison

      What about wicked infants?

      • Randy

        They would have grown up into a wicked adult, so God prevented the inevitable. And no where in the Bible does it say the babies or infants were wicked. They also, since they were more than likely innocent and had not come to the time of accountability, were not condemned to hell. When Jesus died on the cross, he took them and all the O.T. saints with Him to heaven.

        • Luke Allison

          That’s pure theological speculation based on…what?

          It doesn’t say they were wicked infants, because infants can’t be wicked. Wickedness implies a moral will and choice, as seen throughout the Scripture’s Wisdom and Prophetic literature. It also doesn’t say that God prevented the inevitable, or that there is a time of accountability for people. Or that Jesus collected dead infants along with OT saints.

          Seriously….this is what passes for Biblical fidelity?

          • Randy

            “It doesn’t say they were wicked infants, because infants can’t be wicked. Wickedness implies a moral will and choice, as seen throughout the Scripture’s Wisdom and Prophetic literature.”
            Right. I agree.
            “It also doesn’t say that God prevented the inevitable”
            Yes, I know it is not in the Bible. That was my own words. Geeez….
            “or that there is a time of accountability for people. Or that Jesus collected dead infants along with OT saints.”
            Not in so many words, but you can read about the life of King David when his baby with Bathsheba died and what he said about that situation. All sinners have an age or time, whatever you want to call it, of accountability when God deals with their heart and shows them their lost condition and convicts their heart, so that they might be saved. A simple study of God’s Word reveals that. Luke 16 reveals that there was a great gulf between hell and paradise where the O.T. saints were before Jesus was crucified. Then a verse in Ephesians chapter 4 explains that Jesus took the saints in paradise to heaven with Him. I know there is no mention of infants being taken, but if they died, by whatever means, while they were in that innocent stage still in their life, they would go to paradise. And when Jesus took all from paradise, that would include them, would it not? My goodness, do people not study the Bible anymore?

          • Luke Allison

            Ha ha. “A simple study of God’s word” has led you to articulate a theological concept that only about half the church body subscribes to. I have an allergy to people asserting theological concepts and then saying that the Bible clearly teaches them. There is nothing clear about what you just said.

    • Luke Allison

      Also: This is the kind of response that makes me want to move far away from populist Christianity.
      “I don’t care about people….what I really am blown away by is my own personal salvation!”

      I think Richard Beck calls this “orthodox alexithymia.” I call it letting “truth” trump “humanity.”

      • Randy

        Did I say “I don’t care about people”?

      • Randy

        That is the devil trying to keep you from away from God and His salvation.

        • Luke Allison

          No.

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  • arty

    I had that same thought, too, about the “lowest form of literalism.” When you will “know them by their fruits”, I don’t see how you come out with a view of the Russian skoptsy–for example– that makes them look like God’s will. (Do I even need to make a follow-up joke about missing fruit?). So, when is it fine to reference the mysteriousness of God? If your starting premise is that everything has to make sense to us, then God is us.

    • Mark Roncace

      My starting premise is not that everything needs to make sense. It’s that I am uncomfortable with “God is love” makes sense but “God hates” does not make sense; that “love your neighbor as yourself” makes sense but “blessed are those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom” does not makes sense. I would certainly say that referencing the mysteriousness of God is appropriate, but we still need to deal faithfully and honestly with the difficult portions of Scripture.

      • arty

        I see what you’re after. I’ve struggled myself, on occasion, in apologetical situations, with referencing the mysteriousness of God, since it is tough to do that without looking like you’re “copping out.” That just another way around pointing out that it’s difficult to argue with people, with whom one is missing a shared set of first principles. To muse on one of your specific examples though, I think you could argue that God’s love is just as mysterious as God’s hate, if not more so. Sure, we’re more comfortable talking about it, for obvious reasons, but actually understanding that nature of it? How God could love the world described by Ivan Karamazov is beyond me, and so I’m inclined to give God’s “hate” the benefit of the doubt, too.

        • Nick Gotts

          It’s tough to do that without looking like you’re copping out because that’s exactly what you are doing.

  • chris evans

    I can sum this whole matter up its a deceitfull motive soo I must rebuke you on this book it is not the will of god .becuase the word says as clear as day do not take from or add too the word of god the word is discermined through the spirit .the lord needs no intetpreter he already sent his interpreter jesus christ the king of heaven and of earth .since you know the word you should know that .I do not come at you in ad anger but in love which is why I must rebuke you on this if baby christians buy this book and interpret your way and not gods way then they could lose thier way and then you will be held accountable for thier souls along with yours I pray that the lord reveals too you the severity of this situation .I pray that your ears be open and your heart attentive.remenber blessed is the man who heeds rebuke for wisdom is his reward.god bless you in the name of jesus !!

    • Luke Allison

      God just told me he wants you to use proper punctuation.

  • Mark Chenoweth

    If Roncace is writing in the Christian tradition, maybe the title should have been something that doesn’t make it sound like it’s written by Bart Erhman. More in the vein of Inspiration and Incarnation or God’s Words in Human Words.

    I know this post wasn’t very helpful, or constructive…but I thought I’d post it anyway.

    • Just Sayin’

      That would be ceding catchy and provocative titles to Bart Ehrman and his like, and prescribing boring, predictable ones to those writing as orthodox Christians.

  • Beau Quilter

    Of course, if you step back and treat the bible the way you would treat any other ancient mythology, you don’t have to conclude that God hated Esau.

    Instead you can deduce that 7th century Israelis depicted their relationship with their less cultured enemies the Edomites (a nation that is only found in archaeological records after the Assyrian conquest of the region) as the relationship between Jacob and Esau. As God says to Rebecca, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, and the elder shall serve the younger.”

    To 7th century Israelis, writing that God hated Esau, was basically a way of giving the finger to their Edomite neighbors.

    • http:/dancingpastthedark.com Nan Bush

      Amazing, the difference a bit of context makes. Relief!

  • http://Www.reenactingtheway.com Paul

    I don’t see the value in this book. Why rush people into confusing parts of the Bible? Why isolate 50 sections that are tough to understand without offering a well-researched interpretation? It comes across like part of Mark’s personal journey that he has wrestled with but come to no conclusions, and instead of figuring out what they mean, he writes a book about the walls he hit while reading the bible. We have all hit those places and need not assistance in pointing out troubling passages and contradictions, but in discerning the significance of such phenomena. I’d suspect this book joins a world of endless publications that do not make a valuable contribution to our human pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. I wonder if the raw “controversial” content hindered publication for a time or the pure uselessness of the book to any potential audience. I know that’s harsh, but as an author myself, I do believe we should be more considerate to our readers.

    • peteenns

      Paul, have you read the book?

      I know a whole world of Christians who are so relieved to see others voice their own questions. That is great spiritual comfort for them. Providing the answers may not always be the best thing, esp. since some of these questions do not have answers that fit in conventional evangelical categories. I for one have had my fill of the “endless publications” that claim to provide answers to calm the faithful. There is a place for books like this, I think.

  • Eric Kunkel

    I have not read the book. I know F. F. Bruce took a stab at this kind of thing in “The Hard Sayings of Jesus” years back. That was written at the popular level and I do not remember agreeing with all he said. And it also was not the most perfectly organized – for example like Bruce’s exegetical work.

    But Bruce did something to answer Paul’s question above about “Why rush people into the confusing parts of the Bible?” It is not like they are hard to find !

    You might as well answer questions people are asking, whether it be those “Hard Sayings” or “Raw Revelation”. That takes some prescience.

    ek

  • toddh

    Wow, rough comments. I would disagree with the comments saying that this is a low form of literalism. It could certainly seem that way, but this seems to be dealing with the text with more fidelity than most literalists do. Literalists pick and choose like everyone else, but they never acknowledge it. This is pulling the veil away from the picking and choosing that goes on unaware by literalists, and showing that the Bible is much more complex than they originally thought. I speak as a recovering literalist myself ;)

    • Mark Roncace

      While I understand the “low form of literalism” perspective on my work, I think toddh here has the right idea. I am not reading literally so much as I am reading consistently, that is, not picking and choosing. It seems to me that too many of us read literally when we like the ideas expressed and read metaphorically when we find them unpalatable. Such an approach should at least be acknowledged.

      • Matt Thornton

        Do you think the ‘culture of assent’ one finds in many churches – you must do/say/believe/affirm the correct things to be part of the group – is a contributing issue? I get that group cohesion requires some kind of boundary setting, but I’m wondering if we set ourselves up for trouble when we elevate assent to a defining role in group membership.

        If I have to do/say/believe/affirm to remain in the group, wouldn’t I naturally be a bit reluctant to give voice to difficult questions or topics? Even to myself, assuming that membership in the group is important to me?

        Just wondering out loud – I really don’t know why honest questions are often hard, but in groups where I’ve seen better flow among people, I’ve also noticed less formality in the requirements of membership.

        Dunno,
        Matt

  • Jon Hughes

    I knew it was only a matter of time before Jesus and the N.T. got the same treatment as the O.T. from those writing from “within the Christian tradition”.

    Where will all this end?

    • James

      Yes, this objection is back of a lot of our angst in taking the OT for what it is–very raw even putrid meat in places, though I insist we always need to dig deeper and tap the flow of God’s good purposes. We are afraid Jesus and the NT may be sujected to the same treatment and there will be nothing left. Fear not, the divine flow bubbles right to the surface in the Christ event, but don’t forget the incarnation happens in raw space and time in a corner of the early Roman Empire. These rough times become integral to the New Testament accounts and relate to our lives today. God meets us where we are, a comforting thought.

    • Matt Thornton

      Should it end?

  • Hanan

    Why the need to reconcile a loving God with the God that ordered extermination innocent women, children and infants? Isn’t it much easier to say God had no role in the writing of these books? Problem solved.

    • Nick Gotts

      Not really, because that does not make the concept of a loving and omnipotent god compatible with the existence of suffering and evil. There are only three logically valid responses to this:
      1) Deny that there is a loving god.
      2) Deny that there is an omnipotent god.
      3) Deny the existence of suffering and evil. (A pretty hopeless alternative, although Mary Baker Eddy gave it her best shot.

  • http://Steve.Ranney.myopenid.com/ Steve Ranney

    I was just ordering this book for the Kindle app and it is only 99c at Amazon. i hope the author gets a piece of my 99 cents.

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