I read two articles this weekend that highlighted the radical nature of the Bible. In the first, “The Book Banners and I Have One Thing in Common,” Garret Keizer talks about his efforts to make banned books in his high school available and identifies the book that did radicalize him. The second, “What Russell Moore Knew” from Religious News Service led me to a National Public Radio interview with Moore. He discusses the discomfort some American Christians feel with aspects of the Gospel’s message.
Keizer and the Bible
In his New York Times Guest Essay Opinion, Keizer says his inability to remember most banned titles suggests that they were not too significant. One book that influenced him greatly, however, was the Bible.
It was the Bible that radicalized me. I came to Marx via the Magnificat, to the peace movement via the Sermon on the Mount. “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” — that was Martin Luther King Jr., but as any of his closest followers could have told me, he was quoting the Hebrew prophet Amos. It was the least restricted book of my childhood that proved the most subversive as I came of age.
The Bible and Moore
Moore has recently released a book titled, Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America. He explains why he wrote this book. This explanation has received much attention.
It was the result of having multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching — “turn the other cheek” — [and] to have someone come up after to say, “Where did you get those liberal talking points?” And what was alarming to me is that in most of these scenarios, when the pastor would say, “I’m literally quoting Jesus Christ,” the response would not be, “I apologize.” The response would be, “Yes, but that doesn’t work anymore. That’s weak.” And when we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we’re in a crisis.
Russell Moore is the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today and former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Although Moore had been a Donald Trump foe unlike his peers, he really became a target when he called out the leaders for white nationalism and criticized their response to a sexual abuse crisis.
The Radical Bible
I think that the Bible has always been subversive. The prophets in the Old Testament and Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels challenge almost anyone who reads them seriously. There is a reason why slave owners cut out the liberating messages from the Scriptures when they gave them to the slaves.
The prophets called the people of Israel and Judah back to God after they were conquered. They urged the people to practice the faith of their ancestors, to stop adopting idolatrous practices of neighboring societies, and to create economies in which the whole community thrived.
Today, I stop and think when I hear Jesus talk to the “rich young man” (Mark 10: 17-23) about giving away his possessions. How would Jesus would define as wealth and generosity in this day and age? Of course, I did not have a good answer for him. This is another passage from Jesus I find challenging. What changes do I need to make?
But woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep. (Luke 6:25)
The Bible has challenged people for centuries. It will continue to do so and hopefully bring conversion of heart and mind.