Loving the Bible too much to ‘literally’ ignore what it says

Here are a couple of recent items on a recurring theme around here. The first is from Greg Carey at the Huffington Post and the second is from Kenton L. Sparks’ introduction to God’s Word in Human Words.

Here’s Carey on “Where ‘Liberal’ Bible Scholars Come From“:

Biblical scholarship is an academic discipline, taught and studied at universities, colleges and divinity schools all around the world. So it should be no surprise that biblical scholars run in all shapes, sizes, colors and denominations. What would surprise many people, though, is that a very large number of us love Jesus and the church, and we spend hours upon hours communicating the love and wonder we experience with the Bible. Indeed, some of our secular colleagues justifiably complain there are too many of us in the field. More surprising might be this one fact: many of us have our roots in fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. The best way for conservative churches to produce “liberal” biblical scholars is to keep encouraging young people to read the Bible.

That’s how it worked for me. …

… Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “The best cure for Christianity is reading the Bible.” If he did say that, his wisdom didn’t take in my case. Though I understand it differently, I love the Bible as much as I ever have. I’m just as passionate for Jesus and for the gospel as I ever have been, though I understand them differently too. But I can say this: Reading the Bible is a terrific cure for fundamentalism. That’s exactly how many of us so-called liberal Bible scholars got our start.

Go read the whole thing. I’d tell you to read the whole of Sparks’ book, too, except that I haven’t done so myself yet — only the little teaser sample you can read for free on the Kindle. But this bit from Sparks’ introduction is astute:

For the old-school evangelicals, the chief danger to be feared has been that our teaching might explicitly or implicitly undermine the authority of Scripture, and this is a concern that I very much share. But there are other threats to the gospel that this generation of scholars has not taken seriously. Chief among them is the possibility that their version of the Christian faith might harbor false ideas and beliefs that, because they are mistaken, serve as barriers to faith for those who see our evangelical errors. As one example, evangelicals often fail to recognize the possibility that, by arguing strenuously for the strict historicity of Genesis 1, they are more or less shutting their church doors to countless scientists and scholars who might otherwise have come to faith. In essence, the old-school evangelicals have been so sure that they are right that they no longer consider seriously the possibility that they are too conservative; “conservative,” not in the sense of theological orthodoxy, but in the sense that they are unable to really think critically about whether their traditions are intellectually adequate and spiritually healthy.


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  • guest

    Why does the site look so awful?

  • guest

    Let me add that I also think the site looks awful :-(

  • Mike Timonin

    Agreed – the squashed top stories, and then the columns under the fold (as it were) really don’t work in this format.

  • Guest

    Sorry Fred; your site looks awful.

  • This new format seems to be something happening all over patheos.

  • Mike Timonin

    That might indicate that this is something that Fred has little control over, alas.

  • I noted that the site sucked this morning.  My first thought was, “Did I come in through a different path than usual?”  Then I realized that, nope, Patheos just screwed the pooch.

  • Hexep

    Why, oh why, must they try to fix something that ain’t broke?

  • Guest

    The blogroll in the right-hand column is gone too. Bad Patheos! Bad!

  • LL

    Yeah, I’m not crazy about the new format, either. Sorry.

  • I usually just visit posts via RSS, so I hadn’t noticed, but yeah, the front page is not a pretty sight.

  • LouisDoench

    Yeah, where did the blog roll go? 

  • Aeryl

    “Yeah, where did the blog roll go?”

    Under it’s very own tab on the top of the screen.

  • Moving the blogroll to another page seems a bad idea, as does showing “most popular posts” instead of most recent posts.

    The front page looks a mess.

  • The Lodger

    It’s not the same blogroll. The Blogs and News & Politics tabs contain only Patheos material.

  • MikeJ

    I suppose the new format would be fine for blogs that post less than twice a day.  It’s just Patheos’ way of encouraging you to post less. 

    Bizarre that we always hear about newspapers dying and then the clueless come along and try to  give blogs newpapery multicolumn layouts.

  • Emcee, cubed

     Not on the Pathos menu, but on the Slacktivist menu under the Slacktivist logo. Has Home, About, and Blogroll. That one is Fred’s blogroll.

  • Eminnith

    With the Patheos site redesign, “Test everything; hold fast to what is good” takes on new meaning.

  • lovecomesfromlife

    The stories in the column don’t appear to even be in order :(
    Please go back.

  • Gillikin

    Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,   Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood.But we would never know it thanks to the hideous new layout design.  

  • It’s just Patheos’ way of encouraging you to post less. 

    IME, having everything hidden under folds is just a way to encourage more clicking.  Drives the stats up, don’tcha know.

    Bang-up job, Patheos.  *rolls eyes*

  • walden

    This looks like the Patheos new uniform trade dress — good for homogenizing product but actually not great for branding.

    Also, as someone pointed out, the new design is great for bloggers who post only occasionally, because the “front page” is filled with material that you might sample.  But for a prolific blogger, it just makes their things hard to find and compresses the opening material beyond all recognition.

    Also sorry to see the blogroll relegated to its own button, but I suspect that Patheos would rather have the right-hand column to itself — so that we’ll click on its other content and advertisers and not go elsewhere.

  • Tricksterson

    The only thing that bothers me, at least for the moment is the replacing of “Most Recent” with “Most Popular”.

    As to the article itself, I agree with twain.  Attempting to read the Bible in it’s entirety is what killed the remnants of my Christianity.  Which admittedly were already reduced to flickering embers.

  • Joshua

    I’d like to join the dog pile too. The multi-column thing is unreadable. Having such a short blurb for each post is also and independently horrible. Please go back, or ask Patheos to go back.

  • Mary

    I agree to a point. However there are many people (including me in the past) who read it with their blinders on. Anything that seems wrong or doesn’t make sense is ignored because you have to have “faith”. I don’t know if anyone has found a cure for that. 

  • One more thing, if you ask a typical Christian if the bible supports slavery they will say no. Even the ones who have read it. The ones who have read it though are more likely to come up with strange rationalizations as to why the bible doesn’t say what it patently does say.

  • Controlling your own layout: yet another reason for a prolific blogger to have his or her own web address.

  • PJ Evans

     Fred’s is under the title graphic and says ‘Blogroll’. “Blogs’ and ‘News’, in the top line, belong to Patheos.

    And yeah, bad graphic design.

  • Wade Bowmer

    I’ve done the “what if I’m wrong?” thing about my faith. It doesn’t help that my outer-suburbs, white and only somewhat evangelical church doesn’t have a way to let people ask that question. Some of my current questions come from the fact I know more about the history of the Bible than most people in my church.

    Looking for another church doesn’t appeal because I like the people there. And it’s a hassle to shift – it would take a while to suss out a new church enough to know whether their teaching stance matches what I want to explore. If I find a mismatch, so I start over with another church? I’ve been trying to find a way to talk with an Elder or even the Senior Pastor about this, but it’s a slow process. 

    For the moment, I’m largely going at it on my own.

    Oh, and I *really* wish Patheos would ditch Disqus and implement their own commenting system. Handing it to Disqus lets them collect data about people that I really don’t think they should have.

  • Cossacksare

    Fix the site please. This is hideous. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Patheos may have made a bunch of shitty, unannounced formatting changes that reduces the site’s accessibility, but they’ve maintained our ideological ghetto and their tacit endorsement of right wing conservatism within the “Christian” blogs. So they’re focusing on the important things!

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Hey, had anyone else noticed this before?

    The “Evangelical Channel” (from which Fred is excluded) has a thing in the sidebar explaining what the channel’s about:

    The Evangelical Channel at Patheos presents an Op Ed Page for Evangelical America.

    I thought the extremely narrow focus on American issues was just the usual symptom of the internet, but now I see that the rest of us explicitly don’t belong here, on the Evangelical Channel at least.

  • I always access the site from Firefox’s RSS feed aggegator thingy.  I have the now only two blogs that I follow, erm, religiously, up there and just pull down the pull down list to get to the individual posts. 

    As a result, I didn’t see what the rest of you saw until I looked for it.  And y’all”re right.  It is awful.  It’s like the site’s been infected with Timeline or something.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Google Reader here. Yeah, that site is hideous.

  • Edo

    My Patheos, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!

    This site is now *more* readable in mobile layout. Awful.

  • Mattheq

    “What would surprise many people, though, is that a very large number of us love Jesus and the church, and we spend hours upon hours communicating the love and wonder we experience with the Bible. ”

    Um, what? Biblical scholars love Jesus and the church – and that’s in som way surprising? I… don’t understand.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Huh. Kinda makes me want to take my very not Evangelical self over there and crash their party. 

  • Joshua

    Um, what? Biblical scholars love Jesus and the church – and that’s in som way surprising? I… don’t understand. 

    The relationship between bible scholars and fundamentalists is a strained one, full of unpleasant twists and turns. Or so it seems to me.

    That fact that we love the Bible would be surprising to many people. They seem to think we spend years devoted to it because we hate it so much, or at least want to find ever new ways to compromise its meaning.

  • I have mixed feelings on the question of whether the Bible “supports” slavery.

    The Bible was written in a culture in which slavery was a cultural norm and had been for centuries.  The idea of a culture in which everyone was paid for their work and there was no slavery was most likely completely foreign to them.  So, the Bible definitely reflects a culture of slavery.  And, I guess, if you consider yourself to be a literalist, then “this is how you should treat your slaves” should be considered support of slavery.

    However, for those of us who do not consider ourselves to be literalists, we can see the references to slavery as a reflection of a foreign culture, and not rules to be followed for all time.  Personally, I start from Matthew 22:37-40 and work outward from there.  Anything that does not reflect love of God or my neighbor (and my neighbor is everyone) can be freely discounted.

    I doubt that very few in the modern age would disagree with me when I say that slavery falls under the heading of “not loving.”

  • So, basically agreed with all of this.

    That said, I think many people back away from that sort of Biblical analysis because they think the Bible ought to be the cornerstone of our culture and our lives, and they worry that someone who accepts what you say here might subsequently conclude that a text that reflects the cultural norms of a culture thousands of years gone has no legitimate claim to be in any way foundational or even important to how their culture is organized or how they live their lives.

  • Jurgan

    I agree with this, but I’d go a little further and say that the Bible, including the Old Testament, has a number of rules for how to treat slaves correctly.   Abolishing slavery was not practical in the ancient cultures the Bible was written in, but the idea of “treat slaves like fellow humans, even though you could get away with abusing them” was a valuable moral principle.  Paul went further, by saying that in Christ there is no “slave or free,” which was not an out-and-out call for abolition, but rather an insistence that you shouldn’t think you’re superior to slaves and instead treat them as well as anyone else.  A modern analog would be “in Christ there is no minimum wage worker or CEO.”

    The mistake was that in the 1800’s people were trying to use the Bible to go backwards and maintain their slaveocracies while the rest of the world was moving forward.  There’s a clear trajectory in the Bible as well towards treating the marginalized members of society better (the same goes for women- they never reached full equality in society, but the religious commands always moved in the direction of greater rights).  Yet the slaveowers focused on the fact that the Bible acknowledges slavery as a fact of life, while ignoring the clear impetus to treat those slaves as equal human members of society.  Over time, upholding the dual principles of “slavery is okay, but treat them as well as possible” became untenable, and so one of them had to go.  Sadly, far too many Southern Christians chose the wrong one.

  • Carstonio

    There’s a certain amount of Israelite jingoism in the Old Testament. While that’s understandable, the modern reader may be left with the impression that zie is expected to side with the Israelites against the other peoples in the region, or at least that the authors saw their own culture’s values as the right ones to have. That doesn’t mean the reader would automatically conclude this as well, but it may work against the idea of seeing that culture as foreign. I don’t detect that same kind of jingoism in the Greek myths – at least in the Iliad the Trojans don’t seem to be portrayed as villainous barbarians.

  • Cossacksare

    Hm, it seems like a random sampling of the other blogs on the “Progressvie Christian Channel” retain their roomier design, so why is slacktivist looking so awful? Particularly annoying is that I can’t see any of the text formatting in the new posts–oh, and also I have to click through for EVERY POST. Please return to the old design–or make a new one that doesn’t look like a shitty newspaper. 

  • Carstonio

     My beef with the new layout is that the inside pages don’t have a list of the most recent posts – one has to go back to Fred’s main page to see if he’s posted anything new. The Most Popular Tool is useless unless one is looking for Fred’s classic entries. Right now this lists “The biblical view that’s younger than the Happy Meal.”

  • “However, for those of us who do not consider ourselves to be literalists, we can see the references to slavery as a reflection of a foreign culture, and not rules to be followed for all time.”

    I agree with you. My point is really for those who feel that they have to take everything in the bible as binding.  Slavery was part of their laws supposedly set down by God. By the way there are bible verses that condone beating slaves in the O.T.

    I think the issue with inerrancy is that in order for a person to believe that they have to ignore the problem of how a good God can condone or even command his followers to commit evil.

    I am not saying very many people support slavery in this day and age, I am just pointing out the moral dichotomy of saying the bible is correct in everything. When Christians use that rational to treat people badly then I think they need to take a long hard look at exactly what they are saying and what they believe in.  You can’t believe in inerrancy and justice at the same time.

  • Donalbain

     Clickthroughs = Money for Fred.
    We shouldn’t be agitating to remove those. That would not be fair. But the column design? Please.. let it die a painful death.

  • Joshua

    Abolishing slavery was not practical in the ancient cultures the Bible was written in

    I disagree with this. It was not imaginable, mostly likely, and certainly not discussed in any documents I’m familiar with, but I think with the benefit of hindsight replacing a slave economy with a free-market labour pool would have improved productivity, allocated labour more efficiently and obviously been better for the slaves in terms of liberty and self-determination.

    Ancient technology was not capable of consistently producing enough food for everyone, and wars came along regularly to wreck everything, so I’m not saying freeing slaves would magically mean you get consistently well-fed happy peasants. But slaves have to be fed and sheltered or they die, so a slave is not really much cheaper than a free paid labourer. Both require food and basic necessities to work, neither are in a position to ask for more than that in an ancient economy.

    However, slave owners are more insulated from the consequences of bad decisions, and are thus able to allocate slave labour to bad ideas, and to deny slaves opportunities to practice or develop whatever useful talents they have. This wastes the value of the labour they own, and prevents it from contributing to the economy as well as it might.

    One example would be use of asbestos in the Roman empire. (http://www.asbestosresource.com/history/, for instance.) They impregnated cloth with asbestos fibres, to produce fireproof cloth. One use for the cloth was apparently napkins that could be cleaned by throwing them in a fire. Now, they knew that the slaves who worked the asbestos died of lung disease rapidly, but the people deciding to make the napkins weren’t the ones who died.

    In a free market, a labourer could choose to just wash ordinary napkins and live, making a far greater contribution to the economy than one that made fireproof napkins and died.

    Plus, of course, they would live.


    You can’t believe in inerrancy and justice at the same time.

    Quoted for truth. The history of belief in inerrancy and opposition to civil rights over America’s history is ample evidence.

  • JonathanPelikan

    I call this ‘Pulling a Youtube’.

  • Over time, upholding the dual principles of “slavery is okay, but treat them as well as possible” became untenable

    It was never tenable. “As well as possible” included “raping them whenever you like, if they’re female.”