In Exodus 20, the very first of God’s ten commandments is His declaration that we must “have no other gods”, and right on the heels of that, we’re warned against “graven images”, which is a warning against fabricating gods out from our own creativity as representations of the true God. God warns against this, of course, because He knows that our attempts to represent God will always, mis-represent Him, as we can do none other than make God in our own image. If you’d like an example of this ‘re-shaping of God’, you don’t need to go to a new age bookstore, though you can find it there. Just jump over and check out the Conservative Bible Project, where God’s character and truth is being reshaped according in the image of American political conservatism. Idols, it turns out, can thrive on the left AND the right.
The project appears to have been born out of a legitimate concern that political correctness has, over the past years, created a push towards rewriting the Bible, by adding gender inclusive language. Conservatives have responded with their own rewrite, which goes back to the original gender based pronouns, but excludes disputed passages, removes “any and all socialist language”, and “celebrates the free-market parables”. They also intend to “identify pro-liberal terms used in existing Bible translations, such as “government”, and suggest more accurate substitutes”. This new version also declares it’s intent to “Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms” whenever possible, in order to combat the liberal biases that come about when a more literal translation is offered.”
I’ll begin by observing that the left messes with the clear meaning of the Bible all the time, so in critiquing this new project, I’m not advocating that some other ideology has the “pure way”. This project, however, is fraught with flaws that make it perhaps even more dangerous than the errors on the left. What kind of flaws?
1. Political and Economic Conservatism isn’t “God’s favorite way”. I say this because when people declare openly their intent to celebrate free-market parables (supposedly, like the talents), and villify the term ‘government’, their obvious intent is to shape the Bible into some sort of capitalist, free-market manifesto, as if Jesus would celebrate the opening of franchises, and the unrestricted growth of big business.
This is nonsense. The Bible does contain free market parables, perhaps to the dismay of the left. But the government God invented for Israel defies the modern economic categories we’ve created. There’s land ownership (capitalist), but there’s mandated care for the poor (socialist). There’s banking, in that there’s the possibility of loans and interest. But there’s also an ‘every fifty year’ reversal of fortunes that would have had the effect of preventing the disappearance of the middle class, as well providing for liberation of slaves, a concept which any pure capitalist might well regard as wealth redistribution, or what Libertarians would call “theft”. Did I mention the health code that “big government God” imposed on Israel? Provisions were made for dealing with the outbreak of plagues, the disposal of human waste, the disposal of dead bodies, and more. How families and farms dealt with these things were imposed on them as law.
2. God’s “Good Leaders” defy Conservative Values. We’re prone, all of us Americans are, to throw people out of leadership after a moral failing. God, though, obviously isn’t American, because he stuck with Abraham when he slept with maid; stuck with David when he used his power to seduce and sleep with his neighbor’s wife. Sure, the left ignores God’s calls to sexual purity, and sometimes presses interpretations to the breaking point in order to justify sexual libertarianism when God clearly has ethics and high standards about this stuff. The Bible is also clear in pointing out the dramatic consequences of our sexual failures, on heart, soul, family, body, even nation. But it also seems that God is more patient with people’s moral frailty than most people are. That’s why, even though Jesus’ forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery will be removed from this new Bible, the truth that God is patient with sexual failure will remain.
3. Who is shaping Who? God is supposed to shape us and He uses the Bible to do it. I’ve a firm conviction that when we let it speak plainly as the living Word, it will cut us to core – all of us. The left, for example, will be offended by the consequences of sexual libertarianism, and reality that we’ll ‘always have the poor with us’. They won’t like that Jesus sided with the woman spilling the perfume on his feet, because they’ll agree with Judas that the money could be given to poor. The right will be offended too, by the passages I’ve articulated above, and more.
After we’ve wrestled with the meaning of scripture on an issue, and come to an understanding that challenges our current beliefs or practices we have a couple of options. We can either: 1) change our ways of thinking and living. That’s called repentance. 2) reframe the text to mean something that fits into our current beliefs and lifestyle without requiring anything of us. That’s called idolatry.
When all my interpretations of the God’s Word must pass through the grid of my conservatism, or liberalism, or Calvinism, or the worldview of my pastor, I’d better be concerned, because I’ve become an idol worshipper, and I’ve made a god in my image, out of my own interpretation of a book called, “The Holy Bible”. That might be the most dangerous idol of all.