The title alone unsettled many of my good friends and their normative evangelical sensibilities. By the time they flipped over to the back cover, or read the description plastered on Amazon or my blog, they had become enraged at the perceived goal of the book. How dare an author declare “God can be a misogynistic, genocidal maniac.” To top that off, the back cover plainly decares “The Bible does not forbid abortion or premarital sex.” Trying posting some of this stuff on Facebook and watch the reaction. Then, beg them to read the book in order to see the author’s position.
At first, I thought that the back cover description was a clever ploy, an over-used ploy, to draw in the reader only to show them how to successfully perform mind-bending gymnastics to ignore the minefield of Scripture; however, upon further inspection, I found the description to be an adequate indicator of the innards of the book. The author runs his case through the spectrum of post-evangelical philosophy to present a bible, a book of books, as a rough human response to God. Perhaps, rather, it is a rough divine response to rougher-still humans. Either way, what is revealed in these pages is not a caustic treatment geared to undermining one’s faith in God or a reliance upon Holy Writ. Instead, I have found a rather remarkable respect for Scripture, a respect allowing for the authors, redactors, and compilers of the canon to still speak today about their engagements with God.
Mark Roncace covered a variety of issues. He has written around the theme of a dinner, borrowing I have often heard in my childhood spent in a fundamentalist church, a further extraction of the concept of the Word of God acting as the bread/food of life. Here, he has six courses, each covering a variety of topics. In his first, he covers what we perceive as contradictions in the bible. For far too long, we have treated Scripture as if one author, namely God, put pen to paper in one setting, drafting a story in perfection. Yet, in reality, we have an untold number of human authors writings for centuries, each making their own inspired statement. So, we will have “inconsistencies,” as the author calls them (38). The second course deals with the meatier issue of the role and reaction of God throughout Scripture. We often feign ignorance when reading Joshua and Judges, or feel some sort of vengeful companionship with YHWH when he hardens Pharaoh’s heart only to slaughter the first born of Egypt in an act of justice. And then, there is Job. Well, there is always Job with the imagery of the divine and ruthless gambler looking down upon us. Course (chapter) 3 examines Jesus while courses 4 and 5 examine the Christian view on doctrine and life. In regards to these last two chapters, Christians (the more conservative ones anyway) tend to think that all doctrine and all Christian views on morality — well, current views on morality — are based squarely in the Text; yet, it is not. An objective viewer knows that homosexuality is not in Scripture. Abortion? Don’t ask. Course/chapter 6 ends with an almost plea to respect but not to idolize Scripture.
Throughout the work, there is notions of process theology, even panentheism. There is the notion of accepting some sort of syncretism, without going into the moronish view of biblical plagiarism. Finally, there is the use of logic and reason in an appeal to realize some of the idiotic views of inerrancy.
The author’s humor gets in the way at times, but I imagine it is meant to disarm the raging evangelical who is so intently reading, filled with rage, that the author takes care to add a dose of levity so as to not have reports of popped blood vessels sent his way. For me, as one who has struggled already with many of the issues raised in the book, I still find it rather insightful to watch how this scholar and believer tackles the bloody mess that is our Scriptural tradition and comes out on the other side enriched and nourished.