issue 2 2012
A resource for ministers from the General Director
How is the Bible true? “The Bible says…” There must have been a time when these words were uncontroversial and uncomplicated. Not so today. It just isn’t possible to say “that’s the plain teaching of Scripture”. Even if we think we know what the plain teaching of Scripture is – we don’t all agree what that plain teaching is, so it can’t be that simple! For Christians wanting to be faithful to God’s self-revelation in Christ, our starting place is Scripture. And as with previous generations, we struggle with knowing, for example, whether we are being faithful to God in re-reading some of the ancient texts, or are we just pandering to an increasingly secular world? This edition of Catalyst aims to help us in this task by exploring the profoundly important question “what is it we take into our hands when we pick up the book we call The Holy Bible?” Recognise some of the factors that will shape how you react to what you read. We speak of the Bible as the Word of God, and so we are not dealing with something that is peripheral to our life. Our faith is rooted in our understanding of the Bible. What’s at stake is no less than our understanding of God. For this reason, it’s hard to reconsider our positions on important matters, or consider generously the position of others with whom we disagree. Was Jesus appointing Peter the first in a long line of those
we have come to call Popes, or was The Rock he referred to the confession of Peter that “you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”? People have been burned at the stake for this. Are you a Calvinist or an Arminian and do you know how each conviction shapes the mission of the church? Are you a cessationist or one who believes the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for today? And then there’s ethics! It’s hard to believe that people actually defended slavery from the Bible, but they did. And on the whole, they were honest God-fearing, Bible-believing men and women. But they were tragically wrong. So what does that say to us as we look at issues such as contraception, the role of women in the church, socialism and capitalism, the right to life, assisted dying, war and peace, issues of sexuality, nuclear weapons, embryo research or genetic engineering? Each draws Christians to the Bible searching for truth. Its as big as this. If the Church is to have a voice in the 21st century, we need to be sure we know what we mean when we utter the words “the Bible says…”
David Kerrigan General Director
Literary versus literal truth in Scripture Can we really claim that biblical poetry is true in the same way that Jesus’ assertions about his deity are? Mark Woods examines how an understanding of genre can enrich our experience of Scripture. At church one Sunday recently I fell into conversation about a TV programme on biblical archaeology. My friend has a deep but straightforward faith. “God is God,” he said. “It doesn’t have to make sense to us, we just have to believe it.” Well, it depends on what you mean by ‘believe’. How often do we hear a sermon on Balaam’s ass? Are we really lacking in faith if we struggle to believe that a man had a conversation with his donkey? But very often, the choice between head and heart is a false one. It arises because we haven’t really understood that the Bible is not a book, but a library. In a library, we go to different sections for different things. In the fiction section, we look for well-told stories that illuminate human nature. In the history section we look for facts, realising – if we are sensible – that all history is told from a point of view. In every section, we recognise that writers deliberately use language to change how we think and feel, and to influence how we behave. So perhaps the question we should be asking is not, “Do we believe the Bible?” but “How do we believe the Bible?” Putting it like that makes some Christians assume you’re going to start explaining the difficult bits of the Bible away. But really, it’s about taking the Bible on its own terms.
Doxology for hedgehogs
For instance, many chapters of the Old Testament are Corrado Giaquinto (1750) depicts Satan before God as written in the book of Job written as poetry. I believe them, but I don’t think they are literally ‘true’. When the Psalmist urges “small creatures and flying birds” to praise the Lord (148: 10), we do not imagine a hedgehog but I don’t have to believe them uncritically. If we believe God ordered singing the Doxology. Or when he says, “I have been young and now I am genocide and ethnic cleansing 3,000 years ago (as in Joshua 8), it’s old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging easier to believe he’d do it today. If however we believe that he has bread” (37: 25) we don’t take that to mean that if you’re a good person, been slowly working his purposes out with unpromising material over you and your children will never be poor. Instead, we wonder what many centuries, we’ll bring a different perspective to our understanding ‘praise’ means in the context of the natural world. We think about what of the narrative. Similarly, Apocalyptic literature like Revelation can be it means to have such a rock-solid sense of God’s saving and keeping read as a critique of human power structures, an assertion that even the power. The obliqueness of poetry is what gives it its power to transform most powerful empire is under God’s judgment, and a statement of the minds. lordship of Christ. The sad thing is that Genesis 1 has become a battleground on which questions of ‘soundness’ are fought out, instead of God’s life-giving I remember a sermon about Satan based on the book of Job. Satan is word. And when all that matters to us is whether it’s really talking about presented there as a member of God’s entourage, doing his bidding, not a literal seven days we do not elevate the text but reduce it. We strip it exactly good, but not exactly evil, either. The preacher struggled, frankly, of its magnificence. We neutralise its power to liberate the imagination. because he’d made a category mistake, and was reading Job as history Instead of being lost in awe and wonder we are reduced to questions rather than as homily. like whether God worked for 24 hours straight, or whether he needed a But bluntly: some see no reason to regard Job, or any other characters break in the middle of the day. And if you think these questions are just in the book, as historical figures at all. Most of Job, after all, is written in nonsense, then you are displaying the very critical faculty I am arguing truly wonderful poetry, presented as dialogue – and people don’t speak for. like that. So if the dialogue was composed, as it must have been, why not The danger, some would say, is that we end up picking and choosing the prose framework? what we’ll take literally and what we won’t; and the friend with whom I If we read it like that, we see that it has very little to tell us about began might say, ‘It’s all or nothing’. But the long, careful and courageous the devil, but a great deal to tell us about human nature: we too can be process of sifting the Word from the words is integral to ministry; and noadversarial, critical, jealous, destructive. Job’s struggle is not particularly one said it would be easy. against supernatural evil; it’s against people like us. Do I believe that God and Satan exchanged pleasantries before seeing Rev Mark Woods BA MLitt was a pastor in Bristol and Alvechurch for 15 years how tough Job would turn out to be? Not for a moment. Do I believe the and Editor of the Baptist Times for seven more. He has been a regular guest story is true? With all my mind and heart. on Christian radio and now writes for several publications in a freelance There are other genres, too, of course. I believe the history books, capacity, including the Methodist Recorder
History v homily
A confusion of Scriptures Stephen Holmes examines the ‘discordant and manifold argument’ that is the Bible and discovers how its messy complexity should enhance our sense of wonder at its enduring power.
The Bible is, in different ways, a physical object. The book that sits on my desk announces in gold letters on its red cover that it is ‘The Bible’. Smaller, less golden, letters qualify the claim slightly: it is in fact the ‘anglicised edition’ of the ‘New Revised Standard Version’ of ‘the Bible’. Inside, I find a letter to the reader from the translators, and 66 books, rendered into English, with occasional footnotes indicating that certain renderings are conjectures for one reason or another. The books are of varied authorship, length, style and genre; their composition spans at least nine centuries and three continents. It is difficult to believe that
an uninformed but intelligent judge, presented with them as separate documents, would find any reason to group them all together. Still less to exclude other, at first sight very similar, books, some of which – Wisdom, Tobit, Judith – are in fact included in other editions, even, of the anglicized edition of the NRSV.
Undone by physicality
People who believe in the incarnation should know that physical form matters. And it does. I gave a lecture last year in Regent’s Park College, looking at early Baptist doctrines of Scripture. I was asked afterwards if the first Baptists had queried the list of canonical
books – did they wonder if the Bible ought to be different? I can think of no example of such a question being asked, which is perhaps remarkable: our forebears were radicals; and a century before, Luther had openly questioned James, and Calvin had studiously ignored Revelation (he cites it about as often as 2 Peter in the Institutes). But our Baptist parents lived long enough after the invention of printing to have books like mine, but bigger. And blacker. Announcing on the spine and/or cover that they were ‘The Bible’, they silenced argument about what should be carefully sewn between their imposing authoritarian covers. What is the 3
Image by Barabeke
Fractal: A mathematical concept relating to patterns of infinite complexity
Bible? It is this book, and no other. ‘The Bible’ existed for Baptists and other 17th century Christians, as it perhaps never had before, as a physical object, a thing that could be touched and so could not be questioned. And this was its undoing. Before it became a book, the Bible was a lectionary. These texts were the ones read in worship and preached upon – that was what made them different. They were, like consecrated Eucharistic elements or water blessed for baptism, set apart for holy use. The difference between Ruth and Judith, or the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Thomas, or Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and Clement’s first letter to the Corinthians, was that some texts were read by the church meeting to worship God, and some, wise and insightful though they may be, were not. Once it became a book, it could be treated like any other book. And so the ‘science’ of biblical criticism began. The book invited questions, and the questions were valid. Where did these texts come from? (All over the place, really…) How were they compiled? (In a very messy way…) What did they originally mean? (Lots of things, some of them possibly rather unwholesome…) The book was found to be a compilation – the books within it were often enough found to be compilations themselves. If some of these judgements seem less certain now than once they did, the overall picture remains apparently beyond question: the Bible was deconstructed into warring parts and confusion finally reigns.
Not book but cacophony
What is the Bible? Despite the comforting appearance of the volume on my desk, it is not one book, but a complex, messy and probably incoherent collection of voices debating and disputing the interpretation of a religious tradition in the context of serial imperial conquests of the land of Palestine. The Bible is not book, but cacophony; a discordant and manifold argument about how to make sense of David’s faith after David’s kingdom had fallen. This, in summary, was the answer to the questions asked by the biblical critics. The questions asked by the biblical critics were valid, but they missed the crucial point: the Church believes that somehow, in this disparate and odd collection of texts, God chooses to speak to his Church. And so these texts are read when the Church gathers, and others are not, or not in the same way. It is a confession of faith that God has spoken through prophets and apostles, not something we can demonstrate. A confession of faith on which, in our best moments, the Church has hazarded all. In the Bible we do hear many voices: voices of complaint, celebration and consternation; voices of devotion, decision and despair; voices of enthusiasm, endurance and exuberance. In the Bible we do hear many voices, but behind and beneath and before them all, we hear one Voice, the voice of the Spirit, the voice of the Holy Spirit of God, speaking divine truth into our lives. What is the Bible? It is, in all its mess and complexity, God’s address to humanity, to each woman, and each man, and each child. Here, here only perhaps, God speaks; here we
can hear and here we can, inspired by God’s Spirit, respond.
Faith beyond criticism
Paul Ricouer talks of a ‘second naïveté’: beyond the trusting faithfulness of childhood, beyond the critical questioning of adolescence, lies an adult response. Trusting in the face of the doubts, trusting even after the questions. We will not be able to answer the question, ‘What is the Bible?’, until we become naïve again, until we get beyond criticism to faith, ̶ a faith that does not ignore the criticism, but subsumes it and travels beyond. Knowing all the complex and messy history, recognising all the confusion and, yes, unwholesomeness of the individual voices, we read this text when we gather for worship and prayer, believing that through it God will speak to us. I confess that I worry sometimes when I hear confident assertions of faith in the Bible as God’s Word. The Bible is God’s Word, of course, but that is not a glib and easy statement. It needs to be discovered in life; it is a position that is won only through struggle. We need to face the darkness and confusion of the Scriptures before we can assert confidently that God is speaking through them. Otherwise, we are merely evading the problems and ignoring the Bible that God has given to us.
Rev Dr Stephen Holmes is Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology at the University of St Andrews School of Divinity. His research has focused on the history and contemporary expression of Christian theology
Tom Wright on the ‘five-act’ understanding of Scripture
We need a multi-layered view of Scripture, corresponding to that which we discerned among the earliest Christians. This is where my proposal about a ‘five-act’ hermeneutic comes in (The New Testament and the People of God, Chapter 5). As I have argued there in detail, the Bible itself offers a model for its own reading, which involves knowing where we are within the overall drama and what is appropriate within each act. The acts are: creation, ‘fall’, Israel, Jesus and the church; they constitute the differential stages in the divine drama which scripture itself offers. Perhaps we might put it like this. When we read Genesis 1 – 2, we read it as the first act in a play of which we live in the fifth. When we read Genesis 3 – 11 we read it as the second act in a play of which we live in the fifth. When we read the entire story of Israel from Abraham to the Messiah (as Paul sketches it in Galatians 3 or Romans 4) we read it as the third act. When we read the story of Jesus we are confronted with the decisive and climactic fourth act, which is not where we ourselves live – we are not following Jesus around Palestine, watching him heal, preach and feast with the outcasts, and puzzling over his plans for a final trip to Jerusalem – but which, of course, remains the founding upon which our present (fifth) act is based. Indeed, telling the story of Jesus as the climax of the story of Israel and the focal point of the story of the creator’s redemptive drama with his world is itself a major task of the fifth act, which is why both the oral tradition of story-telling about Jesus and the eventual writing of the canonical gospels in precisely that narrative mode was, and remains, one of the great founding moments of this act.
Tom Wright Anglican bishop, leading New Testament scholar and former Bishop of Durham
We must be committed to a totally contextual reading of scripture. Within this, we must be committed to a totally contextual reading of scripture. Each word must be understood within its own verse, each verse within its own chapter, each chapter within its own book, and each book within its own historical, cultural and indeed canonical setting. (There may of course be a tension between the historical setting of part of scripture and the place it now occupies in the complete canon, if so, both should be taken clearly into account.) All scripture is ‘culturally conditioned’. It is naïve to pretend that some parts are not, and can therefore be treated as in some sense ‘primary’ or ‘universal’, while other parts are, and can therefore safely be set aside.
This extract is taken from Tom Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God (2005, SPCK, pp 89-93), and is used with permission. You can find more works like this at www.spckpublishing.co.uk 5
Did God dictate the Bible? Muslims and Christians have very different views of Scripture. Martin Goldsmith examines what we can learn from the differences. Jesus did not come down to earth in a heavenly space suit with an oxygen tube up to heaven so that he could remain segregated from the contaminating air of this sinful world. He was born of a human mother as a first century Jew, immersed in the culture, educational patterns, religious context and socio-political history of contemporary Israel. Jesus was fully ‘contextualised’ and yet, miraculously, despite his human identity, he remained entirely without sin or evil. What a miracle! As Christians we believe that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is entirely divine. We celebrate the glorious truth that the eternal, unknowable God has come down to our world in human form. He is perfectly God, but equally he is fully human. As God’s written word, the Bible parallels Jesus the incarnate Word of God. In the Bible we find God’s perfect word, for it consists of God’s message to humanity. At the same time it is clearly written by human beings in their
Unlike Islamic Wahy, God uses human beings to form his revelation. Unlike Ilham, the Bible is perfect and entirely reliable.
Photograph by Crystalina
particular context. Despite its human authorship, the Holy Spirit has caused it to be entirely perfect as God’s revelation. No other words of prophecy or preached message can parallel this combination of human mediation and yet absolute truth.
The Bible’s human authorship
God’s written word comes to us through ordinary sinful human beings. Their personal character and historical context determine the very content of the books they wrote. It is therefore inconceivable that Luke could have written the book of Jeremiah or vice versa. Jeremiah obviously writes some seven centuries before the Messiah, while Luke’s Photograph by Ben Chaney gospel reflects the fact that he wrote soon after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Luke would probably not have understood Jeremiah’s Hebrew and Jeremiah certainly would not have understood Greek. The authors’ personality also plays a role in influencing God’s word Luke was a doctor and so has considerable interest in the means Jesus to and through them. Jeremiah was evidently lacking in self-confidence. used in his healing miracles. Luke also accompanied Paul, the apostle to He therefore resists God’s call to be a prophet, declaring that he is only the Gentiles, and it seems therefore that he gained a particular interest in young and inexperienced – “I do not know how to speak; I am only a the fact that the gospel is not only for Jesus’ own Jewish people, but also child” (Jer 1: 6). And through the book of Jeremiah we observe how the for Gentiles of all nations. The authors’ personal experience determines prophet repeatedly asks God to release him from his calling because the content of God’s word through them. of the fierce opposition of his own family, the princes and people. God responds graciously with the reassurance that “I am with you and will
Jeremiah v Isaiah
rescue you” (Jer 1: 8) and so Jeremiah need not be afraid. And God speaks directly to Jeremiah with no intermediaries. How different from the gifted golden-mouthed Isaiah! Isaiah’s danger may have been overconfident pride. So God takes Isaiah into the huge temple building, reveals himself as “high and exalted”, causes the whole building to shake as in an earthquake and to be filled with smoke. Then the Seraphim flash back and forth, crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty”. The Hebrew saraf means to flash, so these angelic beings were like divine fireworks. This experience humbles Isaiah so that he falls on his face before God and confesses that despite his obvious gift with words, he is just “a man of unclean lips” (Is 6: 1-5). God needed to humble Isaiah before he could truly use him. It is dangerous being too gifted! But if he had treated Jeremiah in such a fashion, Jeremiah would probably have had a nervous breakdown!
Jesus is indeed Immanu-Ullah, the unknown high God with us. So the Bible reflects the human authors’ context, experience and personality, while still remaining the perfect word of God.
The contrast with the traditional Muslim theology of revelation highlights the significance of our Christian faith. Muslim belief concerning the revelation of the Qur’an may be stated as follows: In the beginning was the Qur’an. The Qur’an was with God, but was not God. Then in the fullness of time the heavenly book which God wrote on a tablet in heaven was caused to descend to earth. It became a book – and we have read its glory and truth. The parallel and contrast with Jesus as the eternal uncreated Word of God is clear. We may notice the highly significant difference between the two faiths. In Islam, God’s revelation is without human participation in forming the content of the divine word. Wahy/Revelation is entirely God’s word, in no way having a human historical authorship. Ilham, the lesser form of Islamic revelation, has human participation in the words and deeds of the prophet Mohammed and is therefore somewhat lower than the perfect Qur’an. The Bible cannot be easily equated with either Wahy or Ilham. Unlike Islamic Wahy, God uses human beings to form his revelation. Unlike Ilham, the Bible is perfect and entirely reliable. Unlike the Bible, the Qur’an stands above all criticism and with its heavenly origin it cannot be contextualised. In Islamic revelation the will of God may be discerned, but God himself in his absolute greatness remains unknowable. On the other hand Christian revelation aims to bring God and human beings into a vital relationship. In Jesus the invisible almighty God (Col 1: 15) comes
Image by COPTS
Bible v Qur’an
to us and through him we can relate intimately with the Father. Jesus is indeed Immanu-Ullah, the unknown high God with us.
Did God dictate the Bible? No! He never treats us as mere automata. But by his Spirit he so inspired the human authors of Scripture that they wrote what God had purposed as his revelation to all humanity. God’s revelation in Jesus and the Bible is therefore entirely perfect and reliable, bringing us into the glory of knowing God and enjoying his love and grace.
Martin Goldsmith has worked with OMF in Asia and has taught for many years at All Nations Christian College. He is the author of God can be Trusted and Beyond Beards and Burqas
Scripture: more ‘why’ than ‘how’ Moving beyond an argument over Scripture’s inspiration and towards its purpose is essential for Christians today, argues David Kerrigan.
Why don’t we simply believe the Bible? Christian: Do we need to get circumcised? Pastor: No, it’s not for our day. We’re not under the law. Christian: So we can break the ten commandments, then? Pastor: No. Those are for our day. ‘The law is holy, righteous and good.’ Christian: What about the Sabbath? Pastor: That one isn’t. ‘The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’
The London Underground map is entirely trustworthy in affirming that to get to Tottenham Court Road from Bond Street on the Central line, you will travel through Oxford Circus. This is the purpose of the map – to get you from A to B reliably. But it would be a mistake to interpret the map as geographically reliable, and argue that these three stations are in reality on a straight line running exactly west to east! The map was not designed for this purpose. Try the same exercise with poetry. The powerful description of a young girl’s heart ‘bursting with love’ might accurately describe her feelings, but it is not intended for her anatomy A-level exam. The point is this. The authority of any text cannot be understood apart from an understanding of its purpose. The meaning of the words “all Scripture is God-breathed (theopneustos)…” (2 Tim 3: 16) has usually been a debate about process – how did the Scriptures come to be? At one end of the spectrum there is the dictation theory, that God mechanically dictated the Bible word for word to those who were mere scribes. At the other end, there is a view that the Bible is just a collection of historical narratives which have the ability to inspire people in the same way as a piece of music or a stirring novel. Mercifully, most understandings of God-breathed, or inspired, lie between these extremes.
Christian: Right. What about head coverings in 1
Purpose, not process
Christian: Do we obey 1 Timothy 2 on praying for all
But these are primarily questions of process – “how did we receive Scripture?” A far more important (and far more helpful) question is: “for what purpose was Scripture given?” And in the midst of a sea of confusion over process, the Bible speaks more clearly about its purpose. John 20: 30-31 says “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”. (See also Romans 15: 4 and 2 Tim 2: 15-17.) And if this sounds too narrow a purpose statement, understand that faith in Christ is never simply a personal or temporal call. It always has both cosmic and eternal dimensions. So Paul writes to the Ephesians: “he made known to us the mystery of his will… to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ,” (Eph 1: 9-10). Recognising the purpose of Scripture, we can then say that it offers us a completely reliable (ie infallible) witness to the redeeming purposes of God in the world. These purposes are centred on Christ as revealed by the Holy Spirit. The Bible isn’t a science book, nor an ethics text, and don’t think the Bible supports your political party either! The Bible can help us in these areas, but when we say “The Bible says...” be careful you’re not making the Tube Map mistake.
David Kerrigan is General Director of BMS World Mission.
Corinthians 11? Pastor: Not for our day. Christian: Prophecy in 1 Corinthians 12-14? Pastor: You bet. Very much for our day. Christian: Women being silent in churches in 1 Corinthians 14? Pastor: Not for our day. Christian: Tongues in 1 Corinthians 14? Pastor: Definitely for our day. Christian: Do we obey Acts 15 when it bans sexual immorality and idolatry? Pastor: Certainly. Christian: What about when it bans eating black pudding and non-kosher meat? Pastor: Not so much. in authority? Pastor: Yes. That’s for our day. Christian: What about a few verses later, when it talks about women braiding hair? Pastor: No. Not for our day. Christian: Do we greet one another with brotherly kisses? Pastor: Not so much. Christian: Do we wash each other’s feet? Pastor: Not so much. Christian: Do we have a worked through hermeneutic for any of these decisions? Pastor (wistfully): Not so much. © Andrew Wilson and Christianity magazine. Used with permission.
Bible-abuse: historical consequences “The true image of the Hebrew is Judas Iscariot – they will forever bear the guilt for the death of Jesus… their fathers killed the Saviour” (Augustine, AD354-430)
“It would be perfectly licit to hold the Jews, because of their crucifying the Lord, in perpetual servitude”
Slavery, racism and anti-semitism were all accepted by the Church based on supposed Biblical justifications. Katherine Mannion reflects on how successive generations have been blind to their own abuse of Scripture. Perhaps you’ve heard of Westboro Baptist Church – the Kansas-based church infamous for protesting against homosexuality and Judaism, picketing funerals of American servicemen, and issuing statements of thanks to God after people are killed in natural disasters. Their ‘mission’ to show how much God hates the world is pursued fervently, causing major distress to those in need of God’s love. This is happening today. This is Bible abuse. Could we ever be guilty of abusing the Bible like this too? The lesson of history is that Christians have regularly justified horrific practices based on what they presumed to be a biblical sanction.
Slavery and racism: Noah’s curse
For centuries, countless white Christians justified slavery and the attitude that minority race groups are inferior through passages such as Genesis 9. Noah gets drunk one day and falls asleep naked in his tent. On seeing his father in this shameful state, Ham, one of Noah’s sons, goes to tell his two brothers. The brothers, Shem and Japheth, cover their father with a blanket, ensuring they do not see his naked body and therefore preserving Noah’s honour. When Noah wakes and learns of Ham’s behaviour he curses him and his son Canaan,
saying, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” (Gen 9: 25) The bizarre leap of ‘tracing’ Ham’s descendants to include the Africans has been a cornerstone of much historic Christian racism, including the avowedly Christian regime in Apartheid South Africa. The intensely Christian state of Alabama was the last one in the USA to repeal the ban on interracial marriage, and 40 per cent of voters opposed the repeal. That was in the year 2000! In 1963, Rev Martin Luther King Jr said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning…” At the time, his ideas were viewed, by many Christians, as nothing short of revolutionary.
(Martin Luther, 1543, Concerning the Jews and their lies)
Artwork by Lucas Cranach der Ältere
Members of Westboro Baptist Church demonstrate at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, MD, March 2011
“Set their synagogues on fire… their homes should likewise be broken down…they should be put under one roof, like gypsies in order that they realise they are not masters but miserable captives”
Martin Luther 1533 Photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office (WHPO)
Photo by Chris Suspect
(Thomas Aquinas, AD1225-74)
Anti-Semitism: Jesus the Jew
A 2007 survey by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) concluded that 15 per cent of Americans held anti-Semitic views. The survey identified some common-held beliefs that were interpreted as anti-Semitic feelings, including the belief that Jews had too much power and that they were responsible as a people for the death of Christ. Anti-Semitism has been around for thousands of years, and since New Testament
Martin Luther King Jr at the White House, 1966 9
times some Christians have also held antiSemitic beliefs. Martin Luther may be a hero to some who value his role in the Reformation, but he also encouraged Christians to set fire to Jewish synagogues and schools. While Luther’s views could be said to be more complex than that would suggest, he is hardly alone in the pantheon of historic Church leaders who have spoken out against Jews. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas shared some of his prejudice. Today, to most Christians, the idea of taking the role of Jewish people in Christ’s crucifixion as a legitimation of anti-Semitism, is rightly ridiculed. Jesus’ own Jewish identity and the many biblical passages emphasising the importance of the gospel for the Jews might make our view of anti-Semitism seem natural. But for generations, such bigotry went unchallenged.
Spare the rod?
Not so controversial (maybe!) but the Bible says “Spare the rod, spoil the child but the one
who loves their children is careful to discipline them”. (Prov 13: 24 see also Prov 22: 15; 23: 13-14; 29: 15) From such a text some Christian parents will argue that smacking children is biblically sanctioned. The view that the “rod of discipline” referred to is more how a shepherd would use a rod and staff i.e. for guidance, or for beating off wild animals, but never hitting the sheep themselves (see Ps 23) has certainly not been the normal interpretation of the text.
Subjugation of women: modern day mistake?
The topics of gender roles and women in leadership are still hotly debated today in Christian circles. Women were leaders of the early Church, (See reference in Rom 16: 7 to Junia, a woman’s name, as an apostle) and yet prevented from leading in many churches today. Many women have felt sidelined, disregarded and sometimes powerless as their God-given gifts are suppressed and they are confined to the crèche or tea-hatch. Even today
there is a resurgent “masculine Christianity” agenda aimed at denying teaching roles to women.
The gospel v theology
These differences are in part a question of hermeneutics, in other words the lens through which we interpret Scripture. Our personal experiences and our culture will shape our understanding of Scripture. In the American deep South, it wasn’t difficult (apparently) to find texts to justify ‘the way we do things round here’. The popular (and sometimes derided) bracelet worn by young Christians, ‘WWJD’ (What would Jesus do?), may be simplistic but at root it’s a plea for a Jesus-centred hermeneutic. Jesus is Lord, therefore even our interpretation of the Bible, and our resultant theology, must be subservient to the person of Christ. Failure to recognise this will increase the chance of past mistakes being repeated today.
Katherine Mannion is PA to the General Director and Secretary to the BMS Board of Trustees.
Reading list Further reading
Mission Catalyst aims to give the best introduction possible to fresh thinking on subjects important to mission-minded Christians, but one issue can only ever scratch the surface of a subject as rich and controversial as this one. To go deeper and further, here is a selection of books either suggested or written by contributors to this issue. You might find them helpful in understanding more about Biblical truth or in discerning where our contributors are coming from.
Lo and behold! – The power of Old Testament story telling by Trevor Dennis, was helpful to Mark Woods in his literary analysis of Scriptural genre (page 2). Offering a fresh take on Old Testament stories, informed by a deep knowledge of their cultural backgrounds and a close reading of the text, Dennis’ books are full of insight into how Scripture works as literature. (SPCK, £8.99)
Beyond beards and burqas is the latest book by Martin Goldsmith, whose analysis of Muslim attitudes to Scripture (page 6) provides a helpful set of contrasts with Christian attitudes to the Bible. Described as ‘part travelogue, part biography’, it is a good starting point in overcoming prejudice and preconception and moving towards a better understanding of Muslim neighbours both in the UK and abroad. (IVP, £7.99)
Scripture and the authority of God by Tom Wright, is the source of the extract on page 5 of this issue. This is an account of how the Church does and should understand the authority of the Bible. At just over 100 pages, it is an excellent resource in learning to read the Bible. (SPCK, £7.99) More from SPCK: www.spckpublishing.co.uk
If God then what? is the latest book by Andrew Wilson, author of the dialogue featured on page 8. It is described as a quirky, amusing exploration of nine big questions about truth, origins and redemption. Andrew is also the author of Deluded by Dawkins, Incomparable and GodStories. You can read more from Andrew Wilson on the TheologyMatters blog at http://whatyouthinkmatters.org/theology/ contributors/21 (IVP, £8.99)
The “plainly revealed” Word of God?: Baptist hermeneutics in theory and practice – Ed: Helen Dare and Simon Woodman The blue parakeet: Rethinking how you read the Bible – Scot McKnight; How to read the Bible for all it’s worth – Gordon D. Fee; The Cambridge companion to biblical interpretation – Ed: John Barton; Exegetical Fallacies – DA Carson; Dig Deeper: Tools for understanding God’s word – Nigel Benyon and Andrew Sach; Models for interpretation of Scripture – John Goldinglay; Reading the Bible after Christendom – Lloyd Pietersen; Seized by truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture – Joel Green; Reading the Bible with the damned – Bob Ekblad; The Bible made impossible: Why Biblicism is not a truly Evangelical reading of Scripture – Christian Smith; Redescribing reality – Walter Brueggemann
Do we take the
Bible literally? A recent study* asked ordinary Americans whether they believed popular Bible stories were literally true.
Did Moses part...
... the Red Sea?
Did Peter walk on water?
Did David kill Goliath?
Did Christ literally rise from the dead?
*The Barna Group (survey of 1,000 Americans in 2007) http://bit.ly/studybarna
Did God rescue Daniel from the lionsâ€™s den?
65% YES 11
Mission Catalyst readers can buy the books reviewed here at a discount of up to 15%, including postage and packing. Details in box below.
The Hindu traditions
By Mark W Muesse, Augsburg Fortress Press, £19.99 ISBN: 978-0-80069-7-907 Mark Muesse manages to span 4,000 years of Hindu history in 185 pages and keep the book readable and informative. Showing how the different beliefs within the Hindu traditions arose and how these have impacted individual, community and wider Indian life makes this a useful book for those seeking a foundation for understanding a complex religion. Muesse outlines the importance within Hinduism of fulfilling the role that you have been allocated in this life. Understanding these attitudes creates opportunities to express the Christian view of our identity within Christ and that he died and was resurrected to bring all people back into relationship with the creator God. For those working with or wanting to pray for Hindus this is a good introductory text.
Reviewer: Brian Leitch has served with BMS as an overseas mission worker
Taking risks Patterns of hope
By Angus MacNeill, Book Guild, £9.99 ISBN: 978-1-84624-514-5 This book is a collection of nine short, fictional stories to illustrate how each aspect of the fruit of the Spirit can be lived out in real life. Drawing on his own experience of overseas mission, MacNeill bases the majority of his stories in a nonUK context to give a worldwide approach to these Kingdom values. Based on the concept of the nine interlocking Celtic circles, MacNeill’s nine stories are interwoven with the theme of hope, leaving the reader inspired and confident in the Spirit’s power to transcend all obstacles to the gospel. An unusual and fresh approach to ‘studying’ the values of faith, forgiveness and redemption and well worth reading.
Reviewer: Katherine Mannion, PA to BMS World Mission’s General Director
By Arthur Brown, Grove Books, £3.95 ISBN 1748-3492
By J Robinson with J Greenough, Monarch, £8.99 ISBN: 978-1-85424-903-6
This short and easily read booklet, subtitled ‘Young people and risk-taking behaviour’ provides a primer for those engaged in youth ministry. BMS mission worker Arthur Brown briefly tackles contemporary issues that concern many young people, including exploring sexuality, self-harm, violent gang culture, and issues surrounding self-worth. Overall, a well-researched booklet, which provides some useful introductory guidance in this area. It is commended for its matter of fact approach to a complicated subject, whilst trying to cover a large range of contemporary issues. Although primarily aimed at a church-based audience, this booklet could also be of use for those involved in secular youth guidance.
Street smart does what it says on the cover… it’s a down-toearth, easy-to-read book offering practical skills for connecting with young people. Throughout it reminds us we have a God who can transform young people’s lives. It encourages us to be meeting young people ‘where they are’ and openly sharing this message with them. It gives accessible and clear information on setting up and running projects with young people. As a youth worker myself, I would highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to build relationships with young people in their community, or be inspired with new ideas, and for any churches who truly want to start engaging with the young people on their doorsteps.
Reviewer: Leuan Elfryn Jones, Secretary & Director of Training, North Wales Bible College
Reviewer: Karen Williams, detached youth worker with Didcot TRAIN youth project
For Mission Catalyst readers
How to order
You can now read book reviews online at
The Hindu traditions costs £18.99 (including p&p)
www.bmsworldmission. org/bookreviews including
Taking risks costs £3.60 (including p&p)
Patterns of hope costs £9.00 (including p&p) Street smart costs £7.65 (including p&p)
some not printed here
Post: Send a cheque made payable to St Andrew’s Bookshop to 61-65 High Street, Great Missenden, Bucks HP16 0AL Tel: 0845 270 2160 (Please have your credit/ debit card ready) Website: www.standrewsbookshop.co.uk DO NOT SEND TO BMS WORLD MISSION
Mission Catalyst is produced four times a year. The views and opinions expressed by contributors in print and online are not necessarily those of BMS World Mission. Email us with comments about Mission Catalyst to: email@example.com Managing Editor: David Kerrigan Editor: Jonty Langley Research: Katherine Mannion Design: Malky Currie BMS World Mission, PO Box 49, 129 Broadway, Didcot, Oxfordshire, OX11 8XA Website: www.bmsworldmission.org
Get extra resources at www.bmsworldmission.org/catalyst
Baptist Missionary Society: registered as a charity in England & Wales (number 233782) and in Scotland (number SC037767)
BMS World Mission's resource for UK Baptist ministers from our general director, David Kerrigan.