Friday, January 10, 2014

Banned Questions about Christians (Review)

BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT CHRISTIANS.   Edited by Christian Piatt.  St. Louis:  Chalice Press, 2013.  200 pages.



            As a Christian, I’m often embarrassed by the way some Christians portray themselves to the world.  This is especially true of celebrities, athletes, and preachers.  The recent dust up over the Duck Dynasty folks is a good example.  Like many of my friends I want to shout to any who would listen and say – these folks don’t represent me or my understanding of the Christian faith.  People have questions about Christians and their beliefs and practices.  Sometimes these questions can be challenging and even uncomfortable.  Many questions arise because Christianity is a very diverse religion (for those who don’t like the word religion to describe themselves, I’m using it in the technical sense), so any answer provided must be generalized and incomplete. 

            There might not be complete answers to the questions being raised by people inside and outside the Christian community, but since the questions persist some attempt at offering answers seems appropriate.   Banned Questions about Christians is the third book in Chalice Press’s Banned Questions series.  The first two books focused on Jesus and the Bible.  This third book, again edited by Christian Piatt, an author, editor, musician, and Director of Growth and Development at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Portland, Oregon, focuses on questions directed at how Christians see themselves.  This collection of fifty questions range from theological issues to concerns about social justice, from questions about life style to women in leadership.    

            The format of the book is quite simple. The question gets posed and then two to three individuals provide responses that are in the 250 word range.  Since theologians often write massive tomes in response to questions such as “what do Christians believe about disasters and suffering” – the “answers” provided are by no means definitive.  They are in essence teasers, the starting point for conversation.  With question posed and the “answers” provided, one finds lists of scriptures and additional resources to consult, followed by a series of questions meant to provoke further discussion.  That is the point of the series – raising more questions – or better, encouraging the reader to ask their own questions and seek out answers that make sense to them.

As to who Christian has recruited to offer responses, some names will be more recognizable than others.  Most are younger than me – mostly GenX types (I’m a Baby Boomer) – and Protestant.  From the responses provided, one could place them in the progressive, even liberal camp – especially on social issues. Thus, you won't find any one arguing that women shouldn't have leadership in the church. As for the LGBT question, when the question is raised the respondents offer progressive answers.  One might call the contributors “emergent,” but then that’s a label difficult to pin down.  As Carol Howard Merritt replies in attempting an answer, “I’m sure that any true emergent Christian would give me a good, old-fashioned eye rolling if I tried to explain the movement,” and she’s considered part of the movement! (p. 73).

So, labels can be problematic – so let’s just say there are varieties of perspective present in this book.  You might agree or you might not agree with the answers, but that’s not the point.  The point is – there is value in raising difficult questions, even if we don’t have all the answers. 

This is book that isn’t meant to be read cover to cover (I did, but I was tasked with writing a review).  It’s a collection of questions along with the seeds that can lead one to find answers that make sense to the participant in the quest for understanding.  It could be used as a devotional exercise – though it’s not your typical devotional book.  It’s a bit edgier than most such books, but you could read a chapter a day and ponder the question, using the Scriptures and discussion questions as fodder for reflection.  As for group studies – it’s a possible resource, especially if groups picked out a series of questions and used them as the foundation for a series.  I think that this book and its predecessors are definitely poised for use in “pub theology” types of small group conversations.  The group could pick a question, listen to the responses, check the scriptures, and then go from there.  One question; one evening’s conversation. 

I enjoyed the preceding volumes and found this one just as interesting.  Some of the answers puzzled me.  Some I found to be flippant, while others were thoughtful.  I agreed with many, and disagreed with others.  Some of that is theological, and some is probably generational. 

There are a couple of quirks about the book that puzzled me.  Since most of the respondents are mainline Protestants, I found it odd that the many of the scripture quotations came from the New International Version rather than the New Revised Standard Version or the Common English Bible. That could have been an editorial decision or the version used by many of the respondents.  At times the suggested resources proved puzzling, leaving me wondering how they were selected.  Rob Bell, Marcus Borg, Dom Crossan – they’re expected – but Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology for the Holy Spirit?   Having written my own recently published book on the Holy Spirit I know that there are many other possibilities that range from Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong to Jürgen Moltmann.  But that's just one person's opinion!

             While I have a quibble here and there about the book, I like the concept, the format, and the audacity to raise difficult questions without trying to provide definitive answers.  And if you think that Duck Dynasty, Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen, or Sarah Palin represent the totality of the Christian faith; you will be in for a big surprise as you begin to peruse this book.  And peruse it, you should; perhaps with Jana Riess’s Twible nearby as a Bible reference tool!

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