The word "inspired" is loaded with presumption and subjectivity. Regarding inspired texts, obvious questions immediately come to mind. Inspired to what degree? How perfectly? How verifiably? How consistently? How authentically? How divinely? Was Muhammad any less...
The word "inspired" is loaded with presumption and subjectivity. Regarding inspired texts, obvious questions immediately come to mind. Inspired to what degree? How perfectly? How verifiably? How consistently? How authentically? How divinely? Was Muhammad any less inspired than Moses? Was Joseph Smith? No one disputes their sincerity. Muslims presume the Quran was verbally revealed by God to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel during the 7th century. Mormons presume the Book of Mormon was decoded by Joseph Smith from golden plates on loan from God during the 19th century. Christians presume the Bible (compiled during the 4th century by a committee of men under Emperor Constantine from assorted writings attributed to Moses, John, Paul and 37 others) constitutes The Word Of God. Note how the formation of all three books invoke "magic" uncorroborated by witnesses. Angels? Golden plates? Visions? Did Moses board a magical time-travel machine to witness the 6-day creation?
The most startling aspect of holy book-based religion (e.g., evangelicalism) is the conspicuous absence of pause before we dive into the pool. To be fair, most of us are thrown in as children, before we can think for ourselves.
No one disputes that the Quran and the Book Of Mormon have stood the test of time, as the Bible has. Of course longevity has nothing to do with truth. How long did mankind believe the world was flat before Galileo''s telescope slowly changed people''s minds? Each holy book spawned religions with millions of adherents. Is there safety in numbers when it comes to truth? How is inspiration differentiated from delusion? Of course we can presume anything, but you know what happens when we presume. So what''s really up here? Note also how each religion is deemed holy, but typically to the exclusion of the others. Therein lies a clue. Holy books may begin with nuggets of inspiration, but they''re readily expanded into tools of manipulation.
In a broader context, who would dispute Handel''s inspiration when he composed the Hallelujah Chorus, or MLK''s when he crafted his I-Have-A-Dream speech? I can recall my own epiphanies and moments of inspiration. But I continually second-guess myself, mindful that my imagination is just that. Whenever I experience a potential sign and wonder my friends remind me about Occam''s Razor, Littlewood''s Law, and Synchronicity. If I become mystical they caution me about Bicameralism and Confirmation Bias. So before we presuppose anything about the authority of a book-of-books called the Bible, because it is "inspired," should we not carefully examine what inspired means (and does not)? Evans briefly refers to the familiar "God breathed" concept in her Introduction. The devil is in the details. Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 3:16) states "all" scripture is God-breathed. Holy sweeping generalization. So much theology hinges on the definition of "all," let alone a definition for "scripture." None is offered. Evans refers to scripture as Scripture. I want to know why. As an aside, she also refers to Apostle Paul as an ex-Pharisee. My research suggests he was an ex-persecutor of Christ followers, but not an ex-Pharisee.
Similar to Rob Bell''s: ''What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything,'' Rachel Held Evans'' ''INSPIRED: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again'' fails to acknowledge the significance of presupposition. A course in epistemology should be a prerequisite to biblical exegesis. Sure we can engage midrash to mine any text for meaning, but it doesn''t make a passage or its meaning divine. We can pledge our allegiance to the Westminster Confession, but it doesn''t authenticate its veracity. Social conformity has nothing to do with divine truth. Shakespeare''s writings are full of deep truths...and untruths. So are Dylan''s lyrics. So why e.g., are Paul''s letters deemed fully authoritative?
Presupposing inerrancy (or inspiration) is not an exercise in faith. It''s an act of desperation...a product of social conditioning...an expression of tradition...and proof that humans are comfort junkies who will invent false certainty rather than live in the honest tension of doubt. Having graduated from Bryan College in Dayton, TN (aka Monkeytown), Evans must fully appreciate the relevance of presupposition, hence I expected far more discussion on this crucial topic. Presupposition is the whole dang thing. No one has seen God. Have we forgotten? God is a mental/spiritual abstraction. Don''t get me wrong. God is not trivial whatsoever, he/she''s just not tangible. And the only tangible incarnation of God, Jesus (God in flesh, he claimed), we humans promptly killed.
What other book (full of explicit supernatural assertions) do we presume to be true until proven false? The burden of proof should be the other way around. I''m not sure what Evans presupposes because she never says. We cannot fully undo early-childhood conditioning. I know that I cannot, but I do try to presuppose nothing and just let the chips fall where they may. Guilt to please parents clouds our thinking. It holds a grip. In some families, abandoning the religion of one''s parents can result in being disowned or being resented and shunned as a black sheep by siblings. Some siblings are prideful of their tribal loyalty. The stigma of being branded a heretic is something to fear in the Bible Belt, especially for the mother of young children. Evans discusses the high-octane religious experiences of her youth in the Introduction. As I read the remainder of the book I wondered if her writing was influenced by PEG (Post Evangelical Guilt)?
It''s telling that Evans seeks to aggressively sand away at the square peg of biblical incongruities with soliloquies, poetry, and apologies until alas it slides into the round hole of post-modern orthodoxy, as if loving the Bible is the end. Do we truly love a thing if we must engage in mental gymnastics? Loving God is my end, not loving a book. Like a bad marriage, if it takes a lot of hard work, it''s not love: it''s obligation. Mark Twain snarked: "The best cure for Christianity is reading the Bible." Clearly, Evans is ashamed she stopped loving the Bible, but her re-love seems more like an on-again-off-again romance. More precisely, Evans constructs love for a subset of passages comprising less than 1% of the Bible''s total text. Kudos. But extrapolating that love to the other 99% would be a tempting fallacy. I mean everybody loves, e.g., 1 Corinthians 13, that''s easy, but who loves, e.g., the Midianite Massacre (Numbers 31)? That''s how she fell out-of-love with the Bible. What''s changed isn''t the Bible, it''s Evans'' willingness to invoke hermeneutical metaphor in the extreme.
Most of us who grew up in the church were indoctrinated from birth. We spend our adult life deconstructing what was spoon-fed to us in our youth. Most of us seek to keep the baby and throw away the bathwater (and that''s what INSPIRED is about). Others toss in the towel and declare atheism. Their loss. In our youth we didn''t read the Bible like any other book: i.e., with no preconceived notions, constructing our beliefs from scratch, piece by piece like we construct other forms of knowledge. No, our starting point was imposed upon us. The Bible is the Word Of God, we were told. Period! We started with a conclusion. Nuts! We went to Sunday School and were propagandized with sanitized Children''s Bible Story books. Some of us were taught young-earth creationism. Now we know a 6,000 year-old earth is ridiculously unscientific. But that''s just the tip of the biblical-fallacies iceberg. The doctrines distilled from the Bible are far more consequential than, e.g., the historicity of the Red Sea parting. Is Predestination true? Hierarchical Authoritarianism? Providence? Demonization of Gays? Chosenness? Divine Genocide? Patriarchy? Penal Substitutionary Blood Sacrifice Atonement? Don''t even get me started.
INSPIRED is more a deconstruction guide for Dones than a construction plan for Nones. It''s therapy for recovering evangelicals who hope to salvage a perspective on the Bible they can live with, especially in the wake of evangelical nationalism and unJesuslike Religious Right agendas. But some of us don''t worry about keeping up appearances. We just want the truth. I agree we must cycle through losing our religion and gaining it back or we''re spiritually dead (comfortably numb). Evans had the courage to do that (a dozen times and counting). Good for her. Now that she''s a mother will she keep doing it, or will she settle into establishment-mode out of necessity? I wonder too, will she indoctrinate her children, or let them expose themselves to religion at their discretion as adults? She left me on the fence on that one.
When I visualize Thomas Jefferson taking a razor-blade to his Bible, assuming that the remainder of what escaped the cutting-room floor constituted God''s truth, I wonder why he didn''t do it the other way around, i.e., constructing rather than deconstructing. Seems far more logical to cut out the cherries you think are truly inspired, paste them on a sheet, then throw away the book carcass. Evans is picking cherries (and a few lemons) to be sure, but she batters and deep-fries them in fanciful writing. Everything deep-fried tastes good. As I read INSPIRED I wondered why not cut straight to the fanciful writings. Her treatment of some objectionable passages left me wanting. You can get a dog to swallow a pill by wrapping it in bread. If all Bible verses are good to swallow, shouldn''t they taste good raw?
The plenary-or-bust crowd invoke the either/or fallacy, declaring one must "believe the whole Bible or throw it in the trash." Evans clearly is not in that binary camp, but I contend the hardliners aren''t either. They just deny they''re cherry-picking too. I mean, slavery is biblical. Ethnic cleansing is biblical. So why do we praise a church (or a White House Administration) that claims it''s biblical? No one stones their disobedient son to death (that''s in the Bible too). Evans never suggests how to resolve sharply conflicting biblical interpretations, nor does she admit to cherry-picking the Bible passages in her book. Rather than return to the Bible (like an idol) and keep sanding away at incongruities (we''ve been doing that since the Reformation), why don''t we admit that divine truth resides somewhere else, however elusive? Evans seems unable to shake her presuppositional roots. She''s living proof why it''s wrong to indoctrinate children.
The Reformation replaced the Magisterium with the Bible. It''s been 500 years. Reason is now replacing the Bible. In this age of hyper-individualism, the priesthood-of-the-believer position should reign supreme, but everyone seeks to force their biblical interpretation on the other. The problem is the Bible itself. Why can''t we face that? The Bible specifies 2.5M killed spanning more than a hundred divine killing events. Millions more have been killed fighting over the Bible...some burned at the stake over nuanced doctrinal quibbling. The Bible says "you will know a tree by its fruit."
Division is a mainstay of the human condition because we''re in competition for power. All that changes is the ideological (and conventional) weapons used to fight. The Bible has been weaponized from the start. Today is no different. Evans reminds us that both sides in the Civil War pounded the Bible. The Bible did not save us from the Thirty Years'' War either. Things also got dicey in Dayton, TN during 1925. The Bible was at the center of all these disputes. Judging from the Fox/CNN dichotomy we''re all about to kill each other again. Why should we make America love the Bible again if it inspires us to fight? Rather than loving a divisive book, shouldn''t we be loving each other instead? The love of so-called holy books easily morphs into idolatry. It''s telling that Muslims refer to Christians and Jews as People Of The Book. When will we toss the book and evolve into People Of The Love?
As other reviewers have reported, Evans organizes her book into categories of stories: Origin, Deliverance, War, Wisdom, Resistance, Gospel, Fish, and Church. She is indeed a very talented writer. Proof: I read her book straight through in two days. Now it''s full of yellow-pen markings. I often found myself muttering "she reads like something I wrote." BTW, I live just up the road in Knoxville and blog frequently on these topics. Hers is not one of those preachy Bible-said-it-I-believe-it-That-settles-it books. Hardly. Evans supplies insightful commentary on familiar stories. Early on she deals with Abraham, Hagar, on down the line to Jacob. She discusses Hagar''s mistreatment and Jacob''s wrestling, tying it to our own wilderness experiences where we get one with God because we "submit to the elements and surrender to the wild." Being a Ken Burns National Park junkie myself, I was hooked. She plugged Esther. I''m no fan. At least she qualified her praise.
Evan''s pulls more punches than I would, but her social commentary is spot on. She''s as fed up with the Christian Right as I am. She writes "God is like Jesus," not the other way around. I''m not sure however that she''s embraced replacement theology because she dwells heavily in the OT, owing to her evangelical background I presume. Nor would I label her a Red Letter Christian. But she writes boldly. "The truth is, you can bend Scripture to say just about anything you want to say." Refreshing. She slams slavery, manifest destiny, misogyny, genocide, dispensationalism, clichés, quid pro quo-ism, ideological biblical worldview, laissez-faire capitalism, hierarchy, patriarchy, hubris, racism, end-of-times-ism, colonialism, social injustice, religious nationalism, antinomianism, reductionism... pretty much all the same stuff on my list (my terminologies, not hers).
The most compelling chapter is War Stories. This excerpt illustrates the dilemma of Evans'' bipolar biblianity.
"The truth is, I''ve yet to find an explanation for the Bible''s war stories that I find completely satisfying. If we view this through Occam''s razor and choose the simplest solution to the problem, we might conclude that the ancient Israelites invented a deity to justify their conquests and keep their people in line. As such, then, the Bible isn''t a holy book with human fingerprints, it'' an entirely human construction, responsible for more vice than virtue."
When I read this I shouted "Bingo!" Of course the war stories are conspicuously ungodly.
She immediately continues "There are days when that''s what I believe, days when I mumble through the hymns and creeds at church because I''m not convinced they say anything true. And then there are days when the Bible pulls me back with a numinous force I can only regard as divine..."
When I read this I wondered, is that the Bible pulling her back, or something else? Conformity? Guilt? Fellowship?
She ends the book strongly with Church Stories, which it turns out are like War Stories.
"Even after I''d come to terms with the Bible''s war stories and learned to embrace the Bible''s tensions and contradictions as fitting and good, even after I''d given up on trying to force the Bible to be something it''s not and resolved to keep wrestling with the confounding force that it is, there remained one obstacle in the way of a fresh start with my once beloved Magic Book. To make peace with the Bible, I had to make peace with Paul."
But I''m not convinced whatsoever Evans has made peace with Bible war stories or with apostle Paul. BTW, kudos to her for not making peace. I sincerely hope that Bible war stories and Paul''s uncharitable doctrines continue to haunt her. That''s how she''ll know she''s still real, not sold out. If God created us in his image we''ve been returning the favor ever since. I want her to know that we need only make peace with God, not with a book. No one departs this earth clutching a book. Sola Scriptura is way oversold. The high view of scripture is the low view of God.
In the Epilogue Evans writes "Dan and I are often asked how we plan to introduce the Bible to our son, and I generally avoid answering that question in much detail because, so far, parenting is one big exercise in changing plans." Surely she understands that children are concrete thinkers. The first time a child hears Adam & Eve, Jonah & Whale, Noah & Ark, David & Goliath, Joshua & Jericho, Moses & Pharaoh, Jacob & Esau, Sodom & Gomorrah, and all the rest, they ask "Mom, is the story really true?" "Did God really say, Jacob I loved, Esau I hated?" Children are like truth serum. Of course we don''t know if the stories are true. We can tell children what a church says they are, what Franklin Graham says they are, what we presume they are, or even what we fear they are, but the most consequential impression we make is when we tell children what we hope they are. I hope the war stories are false. God is nowhere in them. Same goes for many of Paul''s doctrines. I take comfort reminding myself that the religion is named Christ-ianity, not Paul-ianity. I cannot imagine Jesus killing or hating anyone.
Evans writes: "I am a Christian," I concluded, "because the story of Jesus is still the story I''m willing to risk being wrong about."
Ms. Evans, me too, me too. I''m betting the farm on eternal life.