Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

James Sings My Song

James McGrath, whose new book The Burial of Jesus I anticipate with every visit of the postman, reflected on the PBS film, The Bible's Buried Secrets. James points out that these "buried secrets" have been carefully concealed in books you can find in a good library. Students of the Bible (including seminary-trained ministers) have been aware of this stuff for a century or more. James writes that the issue is flow of information from pulpit to pew:
A key issue is that pastors are in many denominations the "employees" of their congregation, and so although in theory some congregations would say they value challenging sermons from their pastor, if a pastor challenged them with, say, the Documentary Hypothesis, he might find himself needing to seek alternative employment. There, I think, lies a key issue. We can teach pastors about the Bible, but they are then employed by congregations who will fire them for telling them the truth about it.
Pastors aren't really sure what to do with the Documentary Hypothesis or whatever else from the pulpit. How do you preach the Bible when the Bible is wrong? I think preaching against the Bible is a spiritual act. If we have any hope of getting congregations beyond thinking of the Bible as a book of magic spells then preachers need to get out of that mode themselves.

Some pastors of course with a high view of the authority of the Bible use that myth to give authority for their own drivel. Think of all the nonsense that is preached because what is said is supposedly biblical? When someone tells me that they have a high view of the authority of scripture, I get suspicious. My suspicion is that they have a lot of opinions as to how you should live your life and no evidence to back it up. "The Bible says" say they. Hoo Haw.

I award James two stars today. One for blogging. The other for writing books about the Bible that people can read. Unless you are fortunate, your preacher likely won't give you information about how scholars approach the Bible (excepting the apologists). Thanks to James and others for this service. Support him in this, buy his book!

Of course, the best cure for biblicism is to read the thing. Advertisement: like
our congregation is doing this year. Let the Bible be what it is. Before evaluating whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, we might allow it to be a collection of writings by humans for humans about their views of things from their time and place. Then we can decide for ourselves regarding the merits.

I should add: I think the Bible "says" a lot. It has a lot to say to us. In order to hear it we need to smash the idol of biblicism.

I also award a star to those congregations who don't fire their preachers for introducing scholarship and who encourage, support, and challenge their ministers to be honest about the texts and the tradition.

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