Friday, May 11, 2018

The Bible and History

What do vicars do for fun on their day off? Well I can't speak for the rest but I find baiting the conservative evangelical world a nice pastime. Good morning.

A few years ago I was commissioned by a leading evangelical Christian home mission agency (narrowed down enough?)  to write a long piece on the Bible and history. I wrote it. You can read it here.

If it is too long for you there is a shorter, punchier version here.

The piece was rejected. The line in the rejection letter which stuck with me was, as close as I can recall - We don't think most Christians get out of bed in the morning thinking about issues of historicity.  I responded not by saying they were wrong but that they were right and the article would show people why they should (get out of bed with historicity on their mind and with apologies to Rory Gallagher for whom the problem was bullfrogs).

It was unpublished but they still paid me as I had done what they asked. I imagine the guy who actually commissioned the piece is still in the dungeons. All evangelical home mission agencies have dungeons don't they? During my short career as a writer I can recall three occasions when I was well paid for pieces that were not used.

Why am I telling you this? So, if you heard Today on BBC Radio 4 this morning you will have heard an expert (yes, we still have them) talking about the mismatch between the archaeological evidence and the written tradition in the life of Kings David and Solomon (there is a gap in archaeology between roughly 1000BCE and 800BCE.

Challenged as to whether this presented problems for the readers of the Hebrew Bible he responded that it depended on your approach to biblical interpretation.

So  my intuition was correct. BBC Radio 4 Today is helping more people to get out of bed with historicity on their mind. As well they should. The Hebrew ancient literature is both a national document of self-criticism (Jonathan Sacks) and (if misinterpreted) a theology of land-grabbing (me).

So, with tentativity, here is my course for those wanting to allow the possibility that we can learn about God without having to swallow whales:

The Liberal Evangelical Lectures - The Omega Course

  • Why everything you thought you knew about Christianity is wrong.
  • It's more about what you do than what you believe. If you're not improving the world stop claiming to be a Christian. Creeds should be about making a difference now.
  • There is no dotted line to sign on. There is water not to get too far from.
  • Jesus probably had a real Dad. The New Testament speaks of the seed of David as much as born of a virgin.
  • You can make church what you want it to be as long as it is gathering.
  • Booklist: A new kind of Christian, Love wins, The Case for God, Unapologetic.
  • There never was a garden but anyway, snakes can't hear. The devil ain't all that real but sin is. For many people hell is now.
  • The more I study the Bible the more liberal I become.
  • You can sleep with whomsoever you want except...
  • If you want to know what God's like look at Jesus.
  • Jonah was a story; Job was a play, Noah was a mythos. Some Bible stories are more than true.

This is not a complete course specification.

Like it? How can we make it happen?

Don't like it? Your consolation prize is Rory Gallagher singing Bullfrog Blues live.

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