O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

A Rant: Noah’s Ark and Scary Bibles

posted by Jason Boyett

When we were expecting our daughter eight years ago and we started looking at options for decorating her nursery, I was struck by something I noticed at the local Christian bookstore. It had a little section devoted to religious nursery knick-knacks. (Also, one or two religious paddy-wacks may have been available.) Most of the nursery stuff fit within a certain theme: Noah’s ark.

Why Noah’s Ark? Because it’s a cuddly story, and the cute giraffes and fat hippos and fluffy sheep and stuff make it a favorite among kids, I guess. In fact, it’s such a cute Bible story it got a special section in my son’s preschool Bible, complete with a bearded cartoon Noah with a couple of doves on his shoulders and kittens on his feet. There may have even been a kangaroo. Back then, and still today, you could buy Noah’s ark toys and lamps and bookends and baby hats and onesies and quilts for your little one. It’s such a sweet story, we practically hit Christian babies over the head with it from the time they exit the womb.

How horrible will the day be when these kids actually read their Bibles and discover that Noah’s Ark is a story about God smiting EVERY SINGLE PERSON on the earth except for one righteous family? And about smiting EVERY SINGLE LIVING CREATURE on the earth except for those two-by-twos that wgot tickets for the ark? When did we decide that Noah’s Ark was a children’s story anyway? Answer: It was when we forgot that Noah’s ark is a story about death and drowning and worldwide apocalypse.

And that happened probably around the same time we Christians got concerned about the dangerous amounts of sex and violence in movies and TV shows, while conveniently ignoring the sex and violence in our Bibles.

There’s a Christian college in Iowa that’s trying to make us remember that our spiritual texts — which many view to be the “very words of God” for us — have some rough edges. Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, has been putting on a dramatic musical called “Terror Texts,” in which Goth-clad students recite and act out some of the most horrific stories in the Bible, accompanied by a rock band. Elisha sending a couple of she-bears to maul kids who made fun of his baldness? It’s in there. So is the story of Eglon, the obese king murdered by Ehud (whose 18 inch-long knife sunk so deep into the guy’s flesh that his fatness closed in around it). Plus a handful of other stories you probably didn’t hear about in Sunday School, but which are spoken verse-by-verse in the musical, in all their scary King James glory.

I say Good for them. We need to remember that the Bible is not a safe book. It’s not really a book for children. It’s a book that, to this day, still disturbs me. Its stories can be primitive and ugly and completely foreign to my 21st century experience.

But it’s so hard to remember that, because our tendency is to sanitize our religion behind a glossy sheen of purpose-driven piety and paintings of Jesus holding sheep.

That’s why:

1) I wrote a book introducing people to the Bible. Because Christians in particular and Westerners in general have no business not being intelligently informed about a book that has so much influence in our culture today. Secular culture, religious culture, all of it. Like Aslan, the Bible is not safe. Of course, its overall message — once you get to the New Testament — is good. But there’s a lot of worrisome stuff until you get there. When it comes to redemption, Jesus has a lot to work with.

2) I am suspicious of anyone claiming the Bible to be something as simplistic as “God’s rulebook for life” or “God’s recipe for living” or any other statement that indicates that they’ve got the Bible all figured out and you can, too. Here’s a tip: They probably don’t. At least, they’re ignoring a lot of stuff. I have come to the conclusion that, when it comes to the Bible, one of the greatest virtues is interpretive humility — the willingness to admit that you might be wrong about what you think it’s saying. Unless you are an expert in Greek or Hebrew — and, it should be noted, I am decidedly not — then I’m hesitant to trust you when you tell me “this is what the Word means.” I’m talking to you, televangelist. And you, overconfident young preacher. And you, bookstore guy trying to sell me Noah’s ark figurines.

3) You should be suspicious of me if, in Pocket Guide to the Bible, I came across as if I had the Bible figured out or was trying to tell you what it meant. I shouldn’t have. I’m pretty sure I just stuck to “this is what it says, and this is how some people interpret it.” But if I stepped over that line, my apologies. Humility. Humility. Humility.

OK, rant over. Back to thawing your turkeys.

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posted November 25, 2008 at 2:21 pm

I love this post. It’s so true. I read my boys a bible story before bed one night from their little boy story bible and realized in no other children’s book in the world would you be encouraged to read to two little brothers something like the story of Cain killing Abel. And the other day I was reading Paul’s brilliant passage on why none of us should ever get married unless absolutely necessary due to our burning passion and then woe to us. I’m like, eh? How am I supposed to take this? It is crazy that anyone would pretend to have it all figured out.

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posted November 25, 2008 at 3:18 pm

A classic quote from Frank Schaeffer’s book “Sham Pearls for Real Swine”:“Only by giving the Bible a devotional spin when we read it, by taking isolated verses out of context and ignoring the raw whole, by filtering and interpreting, do we “civilize” it. Civilized, the Bible has become a devotional prop of middle-class values instead of being the rude challenge to false propriety it actually is. The Bible is a dangerous, uncivilized, abrasive, raw, complicated, aggressive, scandalous, and offensive book.The Bible is the literature of God, and literature, as every book burner knows, is dangerous.The Bible is the drama of God; it is God’s Hamlet, Canterbury Tales, and Wuthering Heights.The Bible is, among other things, about God, men, women, sex, lies, truth, sin, goodness, fornication, adultery, murder, childbearing, virgins, whores, blasphemy, prayer, wine, food, history, nature, poetry, rape, love, salvation, damnation, temptation, and angels.Today the Bible is widely venerated but rarely read.If the Bible were a film, it would be R-rated in some parts, X-rated in others.The Bible is not middle class. The Bible is not “nice.” The Bible’s tone is closer to that of the late Lenny Bruce than to that of the hushed piety of some ministers.In some centuries, the church did not allow the common people to read the Bible. Now by spiritualizing it and taming it through devotional and theological interpretations, the church once again muzzles the book in a “damage control” exercise.We now study the Bible but through a filter of piety that castrates its virility.”

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Haley Ballast

posted November 25, 2008 at 3:30 pm

Great post. Almost every time I look at my son’s “Children’s Bible” I contemplate writing a letter to Zondervan because of the asinine title– The Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories. Timeless, yes. Children’s stories? No. But I actually do like the way the book is edited because it has a nice balance of being truthful but not terrifying. I do plan on teaching my kids the terrifying nature of the Bible (and God for that matter) but I don’t think age 3 and age 14 months are quite the appropriate time!

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Chad Mauldin

posted November 25, 2008 at 7:12 pm

Jason, Hello, my name is Chad Mauldin. I am married to April Easterling-she speaks highly of you. I am a research student in theology; consequently, I appreciate your passion for your faith. Your comments about the Bible being unjustly sterilized are true. Nevertheless, the following quote appeared somewhat problematic to me:”Like Aslan, the Bible is not safe. Of course, its overall message — once you get to the New Testament — is good. But there’s a lot of worrisome stuff until you get there. When it comes to redemption, Jesus has a lot to work with.”Perhaps unintentionally, this quote may contain some of Marcion’s tragic errors. The message of the Bible does not begin to be “good” in the New Testament. Nor does the New Testament inaugurate the telling of the plan of redemption. At the end of the day truth is propositional (a word that has fallen on bad times). The Bible contains direct propositional truth. It also contains narratives. The latter must be responsibly digested for godly principes or “propositions.” The Old Testament contains many narratives. Your right, these stories have alot of bad people doing bad things. Also, God is a God of wrath as well as a God of love (something that did not change in the New Testament…God being immutable and all). The message of the Bible, old and new, is good. We just have need to be diligent, with God’s help, to determine what that good message is.

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Jason Boyett

posted November 26, 2008 at 6:37 am

@Chad:1) Thanks for adding to the discussion with your comments. I appreciate you stopping by.2) Tell April “hi” for me. I haven’t seen her in many, many years. As a dorky kid, I always thought the Easterlings were the coolest family.3) Maybe I’m being a little too sensitive, but it’s generally bad form to walk up to someone, introduce yourself, and then label them a heretic (though a “perhaps unintentional” one) based on a single sentence you didn’t like in their blog post. I’m familiar with Marcion, but I’m not sure which parts of my post indicate I’ve demoted Yahweh from God of the universe to an inferior demiurge. Nor have I rejected much of the New Testament and all of the Old Testament, like he did. Nope. I just used some hyperbole in describing the overall message of the Bible as good. I guess I probably should have said “…ESPECIALLY once you get to the New Testament” instead of making such a black and white delineation. So I’ll give you a point for calling out my flippancy and exaggeration. But I’ll deduct a point for unsportsmanlike conduct. Hang around here and get the bigger picture of where I’m coming from before you lump me in with big-time 2nd century heretics, OK? Humility, humility, humility.

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Travis Thompson

posted November 26, 2008 at 9:55 am

My wife and I have been reading Joshua and boy does this post hit home about the book. It's pretty hard to swallow when God pretty much tells the Israelite people to annihilate entire towns of Men, Women and Children. Also, another great example of a "Children's" Bible story is David and Goliath… whoever decided that's children's material was one sick puppy… yet you can't go into a Christian book store without seeing D&G figurines and memorabilia all over the entire kids section.

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Haley Ballast

posted November 26, 2008 at 10:47 am

Yeah, David and Goliath is NOT a kids story! My then-2-year-old used to ask us to read it all the time because he thought Goliath was awesome.

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Chad Mauldin

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:08 am

Jason: I apologize for coming across abrasive or rude. That was not my intent. Blogs and e-mails lack the personal interaction that makes social skills and diplomacy more achievable for an old guy like me (36 yrs.!!!). You seem to be a very committed and passionate Christian; I am inspired by this attribute in you. Let me clarify what I intended to say. I was not suggesting that you duplicated the heretical system of Marcion. Instead, I simply stated that you had committed some of his errors, the part of Marcion’s thought that makes a distinction between the testaments: “…its overall message — once you get to the New Testament — is good.” I am confident this quote was not a volitional error in your bibliology. I only intended to stimulate some thought on the matter. I would never want to call you a heretic (that is why I did not choose that word). I genuinely appreciated the overall content of your blog entry; however, I just felt like some clarification on this point was needed. This is pretty important stuff we are talking about-our words matter. Surely one doesn’t necessarily lack humility when engaging matters such as these. April and I have discussed many times returning to Amarillo for a visit. Perhaps we can get together.

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Jason Boyett

posted November 26, 2008 at 11:51 am

Chad:I'd love to get together with you and April next time you're around here.I can't speak for you, but I am certain — from time to time — I have duplicated the heretical system of Marcion, and of Pelagius, and pretty much any other heretics you can name. Why? Because I'm a big fat sinner and I see through a glass darkly. My "bibliology" is fluid and flawed.Nevertheless, I certainly lack humility in discussing stuff like this, because my immediate response is to get defensive rather than to show grace and peace. That's not humble. And I'm pretty certain my personal need to point out people who are wrong isn't born of humility but of arrogance as well. Why is why nothing annoys me more than theological arrogance because I recognize it in myself. That's why the "humility, humility, humility" — as I mentioned in the post — is usually directed inward.So…grace and peace.@Travis & Haley: Like you, I've never seen a children's Bible story that illustrates the part where David cuts off Goliath's head and parades it around. That's unfortunate for us grown-ups, but probably a good thing for the children.

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Chad Mauldin

posted November 26, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Jason,Even big fat sinners like us would have great difficulty in accidentally embracing all those heresies!!! The reason for this is because we care about the truth of the gospel. We are striving to uphold and defend God’s truth. Thankfully we are not groping in the dark as we do this. Rather, God has revealed Himself to us through, His word. I am so grateful that we are playing on the same team with regard to this holy endeavor. It is my prayer that God will keep us from gross heresies as we work to guard the trust:Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the “knowledge” that falsely bears that name. CSB 1 Timothy 6:20Keep up the good work!

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Anonymous tonight

posted November 3, 2009 at 12:46 am

What we, as Christians, tend to forget I think, is that the people in the Bible were still PEOPLE. In the Psalms David prayed that God would strike down his enemies and beset them with all kinds of atrocities. He wanted them dead, dismembered, murdered, the worst things he could think of! We tend to forget that the Psalms were full of these kind of prayers because of the 23rd Psalm and others filled with compassion and love. I don't remember reading anywhere that God actually condoned some of the prayers David prayed, any more than he condoned the whole tripping the light fantastic with Bathsheba. But he was still beloved of God. Sometimes I think Jesus came not only to die for us, but to show the people of that barbaric age that they were WAYYYY off track about God. I confess, I still have problems with stories in the Old Testament depicting God as the Smiter. That God, put along side of Jesus, does not make sense to me. I will pray for illumination!

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Anonymous tonight

posted November 3, 2009 at 12:49 am

I have a new question for you to ponder, Jason. How did Christianity and "Family Values" ever get intertwined? How did putting your family first and all that goes with that ever come out of Jesus saying, "Leave your brother and mother, etc." ? Not that I'm against Family Values. Well, not most of them anyway.

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