Anabaptists are often accused—and only slightly less-often guilty—of a Marcionite reading of the Bible. Marcion was a second-century Christian considered a heretic by his contemporary Tertullian as well as most Christians after him. He believed that the God of the Old Testament was a wrathful tyrant, whereas the God of the New Testament is a loving heavenly Father. So he rejected the former in favor of the latter. Likewise, Anabaptists have a tendency to focus on the New Testament God of love in our worship and theologizing as opposed to the supposed Old Testament God of wrath. So when I heard of Mennonite pastor and writer Melissa Florer-Bixler’s book, Fire by Night: Finding God in the Pages of the Old Testament (Herald, 2019), I was immediately intrigued.
I first came across Florer-Bixler‘s writing in the Christian Century and found it interesting that a Mennonite pastor was writing for CC and pastoring at Duke Memorial UMC (which I mistakenly thought was Duke Divinity School’s chapel). Florer-Bixler has since become pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church in 2016, where she continues to serve. As a pastor myself, I find her writing engaging and her activism inspiring. So when she offered advanced copies of her book for reviewers, I jumped on it.
In her preface to the book, Florer-Bixler indirectly acknowledges Anabaptists’ Marcionite tendencies, writing, “The Old Testament itself is a kind of ‘elephant in the room’ in my religious tradition” (17). But instead trying to smooth out the Old Testament by providing a “hermeneutical key” or “reading strategy to get you past the difficult bits of Old Testament violence” or “imposing Christian frameworks as the essential interpretive principle,” Florer-Bixler invites readers read alongside her, “looking at the world from the inside of the Old Testament, to see what happens and what we discover along the way” (17–18).
Florer-Bixler describes the book as “a study in slow observation” and “an extensive collection of marginalia” (21), and so in that spirit, instead of firing off a traditional review of Fire by Night, I plan to take Florer-Bixler up on her invitation to slowly read the Old Testament alongside her and to share my own marginalia along the way.
And I invite you to do the same. Fire by Night will be released to the public on April 9, so pre-order your copy now and join along!