After having spent 28 years in far, right-wing conservative Christianity (Independent Fundamental Baptist), I have come to realize there are a lot of scared Christians in America who are also afraid of the Bible. “What? Christians? Afraid of the Bible?” Yes, quite. Allow me to expound the simple form of it, then the greater matter.
The same brand of Christianity that loves to tuck the KJV under their arms and pride themselves on “believing it cover to cover,” are also those who shy away from how the Bible so vividly portrays reality in explicit detail.
For example, the Bible (in several places) mentions those who “piss against the wall” in reference to male heirs (ex. 1 Sam 25:22). But, in my 28 years, I never heard anyone read that phrase in a group setting or from the pulpit, and I knew it was for fear. Now, I understand propriety (as with the below examples as well), but my point is God said it that way…. Why be ashamed of it? His point is that no woman can naturally do with ease what boys do with giddy pleasure. In a day when men who desire to be seen as women and vice versa, I think we need to recognize the undeniable facts of life. Furthermore, this was an idiom of the day, proving God uses even common speech to get across his message. Instead of trying to protect God’s decency, perhaps we should relish how “real” God keeps it.
Another example — several translations of the Bible clearly label a fatherless child a “bastard,” and this is in keeping with the emphasis of the text (Hebrews 12). Yet, again, no one ever says that term, as I recall. I have heard several euphemisms instead. If one takes the context into account, then God is getting the point across that He is a Father who will not abandon his children–quite a message for these days.
Likewise, Romans 6 includes some of the most exercised language ever used by the apostle Paul–besides when he told the Galatians that he wished false teachers would castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12). In Romans 6, Paul makes an oath, translated “God forbid” in the more literal translations. While this is not quite as strong as “G*d d*mn it” it is pretty close, because it is in the form of an invocation, which appeals to God that continuance in sin at the exploitation of grace “may never be.” And, seeing that Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit in those moments, it appears that this masked expletive is a valid way of expressing righteous anger about abuses of grace.
What would you have done, when Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “eat my body and drink my blood” (John 6:54)? Shocking, no? But, as many other scholars have observed, Christ was essentially saying, “It is not enough that you follow me around everywhere. That will not get you eternal life. If you want eternal life, then you need to imbibe my Life and Being, as the Son of God. I am going to the cross for that very reason.” The same message applies to many today, who call themselves “Followers of Jesus” and yet they do not believe he is the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, incarnated, sinless, crucified to death, and therefore, the only sacrificial substitution who was raised again the 3rd day for the redemption of their sinful souls. It is not enough to “follow” him in admiration. You must take in His Life in exchange for yours. You must be born again (John 3)!
Before the Christian Church came into existence, God’s people–the Hebrews–were incubated in pantheistic Egypt and lived (at first, and at times later) amid the most godless and brutal peoples the world has ever known (ex. Canaanites, Philistines, Ninevites). Even though one may argue that the Hebrews were commanded to be different than their neighbors (which is true), it may not be concluded that this difference was primarily external and isolationist. Rather, David was a man “after God’s own heart,’ and he was “perfect” in keeping God as the object of his faith, the anchor of his hope–like Abraham, David’s honorable forefather. That is to say, even the best Old Testament saints went by the priority of grace and an inward holiness that kept God the focus, not externalities–as if that is where sanctification lay. All I am saying is true holiness allows us to be in the world but not of it (John 17).
The Bible records (for good reason) gruesome murders, dismemberments, rapes, incests, perversions, plunders and plotting, rebellion, cannibalism, demon worship and possession, plights, assassinations, genocide, necromancy and mediums, sorcery, violent battles, diseases, famines and catastrophes; & sometimes it does so in vivid detail. One of my college acquaintances once told me (as if he had received some great epiphany), “I have come to the conclusion that one can read certain things [in the Bible] which he cannot view on a screen.” Ummm. No. That’s silly. There is a more sound and logical answer to my former classmate’s attempt at “holiness.” From the above examples, it seems to be that God did not mind recording the harshest realities of human existence, because he is interested in guiding humanity in explicit detail through a fallen world with His Divine message, which is replete with an infinite yet practical wisdom & perspective, unclouded by mortal limitation and sinful flaws. Simply put, the Bible is God’s “out of body/self” experience for every human. It is our God-given chance to see the world through “God lenses” and profit thereby to the saving of our souls. With all the turmoil around the globe today, we need a Divine, outside perspective of ourselves more than ever.
Then we come to the matter of God’s sex and relationships book, the Song of Solomon. In all my years as a “fundy,” the only time I ever heard a full-on exposition from the Song of Solomon was from inside the strict confines of a seminary graduate course. The same people who tout a “normal, literary” method of interpretation violently and suddenly scramble for allegorizations when approaching the ancient Hebrew book of holy romance. Only, no allegory is needed. Yes, the book is poetry that is understandably figurative. Yes, one can draw principles from it regarding the New Testament believers’ relationship with Christ, just as he can draw timeless principles from any Old Testament book. But, honestly, its a God-inspired love poem that teaches fiery passion and relational reciprocation between a man and woman–something most definitely needed these days amid rampant Christian divorce and marital infidelity. So, may I invite you to “get over it,” and read the book for what it is — God’s sex and relationships book.
Now, all of the above does not negate the need for exercising age-appropriateness when reading and disclosing the Bible to children, but one must also consider that the Hebrews made their sons memorize the Torah and most of the Tanakh before they were age 13. And, on their 13th birthday, they became a “son of the Law,” and from then on, they were allowed to read Song of Solomon… not before.
The past several decades (since 1960s with the institution of Protestant/evangelical Christian schools and ever tightening Christian communities) has made Christians flimsy and introspective, like a plant that was raised inside a climate-controlled greenhouse instead of out in the rain and wind and cold. We’re so wimpy, that instead of advancing the kingdom, we splinter it over non-essentials and personality conflicts. In contrast, Christianity was born into the pagan and persecutory Roman Empire, where only the rich could afford a guard to accompany their young ones through the debauchery of the market place. Children grew up learning about the histories of and sacrifices to a pantheon of demonically-charged Greco-Roman gods, let alone the single threat of something like evolution. Adult servants were often mandated to be present and accommodating to the worst kinds of symposia and “parties.” The gladiatorial games were men and beasts killing other men and women and children for sport. Strong homes and strong families did not depend on how well a Christian could isolate his wife and children or if they crossed their theological ‘T’s just right, though common-sense protections were (no doubt) a priority and orthodoxy has always been a thing contended for.
Rather, God’s people have never had it easy, and that is why the Bible is so direct. It is a book for the man on the streets, for the battle weary and downtrodden, for those who live by a different ethic than the “my-desires-rule” or “me-first” and “more-for-me” world. It is a straightforward Book that only makes sense to people living straightforwardly in a wicked society and asking straightforward questions.
The retreat and social-isolationist mentality comes from externally focused, man-made definitions of holiness and of the world instead of biblical and internally focused ones. The time of hiding from everything which could be a possible temptation (threat to external holiness) is over. Instead, we must return to the resilient faith of early Christianity and the best Hebrews. We should be armed with the grace that allows us to partake of God’s own nature amid a fallen world. We’re making weak citizens and even weaker disciples of our children. We love to teach our children maxims instead of training them to be in the world but not of it–how to navigate tough realities, being wise as serpents yet harmless as doves, how to live salt-and-light lives rich in good works, and how to answer everyone with grace and a reason for the hope that is within us. It is not enough to know what one believes. He must know why he believes it. It is never sufficient to say one accepts the Gospel of Christ, he must be able to tell it to others clearly.
And for goodness’ sake, let’s not be holier than God — afraid of being as real, vivid and true-to-life as he.