Book review: Beyond the Texts

You can find a lot of different views on the internet about the accuracy of Old Testament history and how archaeology does, or doesn’t, support the Old Testament accounts. Minimalist historians, and internet sceptics, will tell you it’s almost all invented myth, while maximalist historians and christian apologists will tell you that archaeology supports the truth of the entire Bible.

How does an honest seeker after the truth find a way between the conflicting extremes to a fair understanding?

The best way, it seems to me, is to read an expert who is as unbiased as possible, with a slight leaning towards the sceptical. That way, I can be reasonably confident that anything the expert tells me is likely to be accurate, and maybe a little more besides.

So it was with these expectations that I purchased and read William Dever’s Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah. And it lived up to my hopes.

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Letting the Bible be what it is, not what we would like it to be

I didn’t grow up in a christian family, but I was sent to Sunday School from when I was young. And so I learnt to believe that the Bible was true.

It was only later, in my late teens, that I began to discover some anomalies in the Bible that didn’t fit what I had been taught.

I didn’t continue to believe what I was taught, despite the problems, as many people do. And I didn’t decide that if the Bible isn’t what I thought it was, it couldn’t be true at all, and so give up my faith faith, as others do.

Instead I grappled with the anomalies and often ended up modifying my understanding of the Bible and of God.

I want to share my journey with one such anomaly that has changed some of how I think about the Bible and about the christian faith.

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How a deep and growing divide is killing Protestant christianity – or maybe renewing it!

Right from the earliest days, there have always been disagreements within the christian community. Some are resolved, but some lead to major splits, new denominations or new doctrinal positions.

I have the feeling that a major, and probably irreversible, divergence is brewing in the western Protestant church, between those we may label “evangelical” and those we may label “progressive”.

Both evangelicals and progressives generally hold to the core truths of christianity as expressed in the Apostles Creed – the trinity of God the father and creator; Jesus the incarnate son, teacher, healer, dying saviour and resurrected Lord; and the Holy Spirit living within each believer. But there are some distinctives of these two viewpoints which I think will continue to lead to divergence and separation.

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Mission vs maintenance

Did Jesus mean it to come to this?

How much does modern western christianity come from Jesus, and how much comes from somewhere else?

A few weeks back I introduced the theme of Did Jesus mean it to come to this?, in which I want to examine the modern western church, and muse on how much it may, or may not, have departed from the teachings and pattern of life left to us by Jesus.

In this post, the mission of the church vs maintaining the organisation.

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Jesus the social and religious radical – 5 lessons from a dishonourable encounter

The facts about Jesus are clearly stated in the gospels, and they don’t change, but people have so many different understandings of him. The Catholic Jesus or Orthodox Jesus is not the same as the evangelical Protestant Jesus, or the Jesus of liberal Protestant theologians.

I think there is probably some truth in all portraits, including that Jesus was a prophet, and a social and religious radical. Nothing shows this more than his treatment of women and social outcasts.

As Simon the Pharisee discovered when he invited Jesus to a banquet and discussion …..

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Six things we might learn if we understood the mission of Jesus

A couple of weeks back I reviewed Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, a book I have found revelatory about Jesus. I have gained many helpful insights from it.

Today, some new understandings about one of my favourite gospel accounts – Jesus in the synagogue at the start of his ministry, when he made clear what he was on about.

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Book review: Disarming Scripture

Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood

The Old Testament world was a violent place.

For a christian, the most troubling violence is surely that said to be commanded by God, whether it be Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son and heir Isaac, Joshua commanded to exterminate Canaanites who are unfortunate enough to be living in the “Promised Land”, the command through Elisha that Jehu should kill all the family of the line of Ahab (Joram, Jezebel and all their relatives), or many other incidents.

Christians must face the challenge: if God commanded these killings, how can we say he is loving?

This book addresses the question of violence attributed to God in the Bible, and how that can be consistent with the non-violent teachings of Jesus. And it comes with recommendations from no lesser luminaries than Walter Brueggemann, Brian McLaren, Peter Enns, Jim Wallis and Brian Zahnd.

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Moving beyond the Reformation: grace, faith and works

One of Martin Luther’s most important arguments with the Catholic Church was his belief that salvation is “the free gift of God’s grace through the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin” (Wikipedia). This belief has formed the basis of Protestantism for 5 centuries, and his protest possibly assisted the Catholic Church to refine some of its teachings also.

But the Bible doesn’t seem to be as clear on this as is claimed.

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