Saturday, April 16, 2011

Banned Questions of the Bible -- Review

BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE. Banned Questions Series. Christian Piatt, et al. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2011. 216 pages.


Is it impertinent to ask questions of the Bible? The answer to that question, in the minds of many, who view the Bible as divinely authored or a divinely-given book, is that it would be best to not ask too many questions, especially questions as to whether there are contradictions, errors, or the like. Questions of authorship can also get you in trouble, as are questions concerning whether some parts of the Bible are of greater value or authority than others. Yes, the best thing to do, when it comes to questions about the bible to stick with the tried and true, because to do otherwise will likely lead you down the slippery slope toward apostasy and perhaps even perdition. Because as you have heard, if the Bible is wrong in one place, then the house of cards is likely to fall down upon us. Thus, nothing good can come from asking impertinent questions. Fortunately there are those who are not afraid of testing the waters and poking at shibboleths that others deem sacred. It is fortunate because there are many questions to be asked.

One of those impertinent persons is Christian Piatt, who by his own testimony faced the wrath of a thoroughly frustrated Sunday School teacher. As a youth, Christian writes, the Sunday school teacher became so bedeviled by his incessant questioning of traditional interpretations that the teacher threw a Bible at his head. What he learned from this encounter was that the church isn’t necessarily a safe place to ask questions about the faith. Upon discovering that reality, Christian, like many others, left “organized religion” behind until he found a community that not only tolerated but respected his questions. Having returned to the church, he even ended up married to a Disciples of Christ pastor. Further, Chalice Press even offered him the opportunity to develop a book series that would allow others to wrestle with the same kinds of questions that he had been raising. This book, Banned Questions of the Bible, which Christian edits and facilitates is the inaugural volume of this Banned Questions series.

Since the point of the series is lifting up the kinds of questions that many consider to be taboo, it should not surprise readers to learn that when one reaches the end of the book they may still have questions. The point of the book isn’t to resolve all the questions, but instead to provide a resource so that whether in groups or as individuals people can wrestle with issues that trouble heart and mind. The point, therefore, isn’t the answers, but the conversation. As a result Christian Piatt provides a starting point for creating safe places to discuss important issues, not just relating to faith, but every aspect of life that religion, and in this case, the Bible touch, whether that be sexuality, science, government, and more.

There are, in all, fifty questions that receive attention in this book. Many are provocative and even controversial, but not all. What is important one person, might not be important to another. The whole point of asking questions, is asking questions that matter to you as a seeker after God. The questions range from matters of translation, canonicity, interpretation and authority to specific issues such as human sexuality, politics, and salvation. What makes this particular book somewhat unique is the way that the editor utilizes a group of writers to take up the questions. Not every writer addresses every question, and some questions receive greater attention than others. No rationale is provided as to why this is so, but one can speculate if that seems useful.

Piatt, who is a writer/editor and an active leader in the church his spouse pastors, draws from a group that includes clergy, seminary professors, writers, and lay leaders. There are liberals and evangelicals (mostly moderate and not overly conservative). There is a good balance of males and females, though as far as ethnicity, that is more difficult to gauge as there are no pictures of the writers! Overall, the writers are younger, but even here there appears to be variety. There is humor present in the book, but the authors take their topics seriously and respectfully.

There are differences of perspective here, but the one thing that seems to link them together is their view of God. At the very end of the book one will find the Baylor God Image Survey, which lifts up four different ways in which people envision the nature of God. That is, do they see God as authoritarian, benevolent, critical, or distant. Readers are invited to take the survey and see where they stand in regards to God, and then see where the authors come down. What is interesting is that with just a few exceptions they all show a preference for a Benevolent God. Only one writer doesn’t make benevolence at least tied for the top spot. . So, maybe that embrace of a benevolent God gave these writers the necessary “courage” to deal with questions many Christians would rather not discuss.

The format of the book is quite simple. A question is posed and several possible answers are provided. Some questions receive more responses than others. After the responses are presented, Christian provides selected Scripture references, suggestions for reading, and then questions for further discussion. Standing between the fifty questions/answers and the Baylor God Image survey is a section that allows the writers to define themselves for the reader. You’ll find information about their background, the kinds of books and resources that they find valuable, favorite quotes, and five things that they think would make the world better.

So, why should one pick up this book? We could start with the fact that it provides a place to start for those who have questions and might feel intimidated from asking them. You might have other questions beyond those asked here, but this provides a starting point. For the church it serves as a reminder that the church should be a safe place to ask questions. We shouldn’t have a bible thrown at our heads or our faces slapped because we ask questions or express doubts about long held doctrines. The book is also helpful in that it provides groups with a resource to discuss these kinds of questions – possibly using the answers along with the discussion questions. Because there are fifty questions, groups might decide to pick a few and focus on them.

Being that I was reading this with a review in mind, I tried to read it from cover to cover, but I’m not sure that is the best way to engage the book. I would recommend perusing the table of contents and then pick those questions that seem most pertinent (or perhaps most impertinent) to you the reader. Or you might use it for a “weekly devotional” time, though it would be a most unusual devotional book. Preachers might get some ideas here for a sermon or two. The possibilities are endless, and since this is only the first book in the series, we’ll have other opportunities to wrestle with questions that dog the church! So, by all means, check out this book!

3 comments:

D. Jones said...

How well would it work in a campus ministry setting, Bob?

Sharing the Practice said...

David,

Yes, I think it's well suited for campus ministry. There are 50 questions, but many of them are groupable in ways that would lend themselves to an evening conversation. The author responses work well as discussion starters.

They're written, I think with a younger community in mind. I'll see if I can't get Christian to stop by and offer his thoughts.

Christian Piatt said...

Trying again. First time I wrote a long response and then lost it.

I think it's well-formatted for college ministry. Responses are concise, leave open the opportunity for readers to form their own opinion, and can be led by a person with or without theological training.

Nothing would make me happier than knowing college students were poring through this book together over coffee or a pint.

Let me know how it goes if you give it a try.

Peace,
Christian Piatt