What is Christian Literacy?

refers to the ability to use a language - to know what words means, to be able to use grammar, sentence structure, to be able to converse in that language is to be literate.

Religious literacy
means having the ability to understand and speak about our faith intelligently. It’s the ability to communicate the basic tenets of our religion.

I'm very grateful to B.U. Professor Stephen Prothero for his excellent book, "Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn't." This book, along with my desire to teach the faith, served as the inspiration for this effort.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Holy Wars & the Bible

Let’s be honest, there are some difficult and troubling passages in the Bible. And for some they’re quite a stumbling block when it comes to faith. Here’s an example:

Samuel said to Saul, ‘The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” 
-     -   I Samuel 15: 1-3

What do we do with this passage and others like it? Would God really give a command like that? Would Jesus? It’s one thing to be upset with the Amalekites for opposing the Israelites, but it’s quite another thing to kill every man, woman and child. We’ve covered the “Just War Theory,” which prohibits targeting civilians. How can it be that theologians have higher standards than God?

So what do we do with this passage? How are we to make sense of it? Here are two responses that are common among Biblical scholars today:

1   As Christians we view every passage through the lens of Christ. We evaluate and even critique passages in the Bible based on what we know about God from the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Would the One who taught his disciples to “put down the sword” and love one’s enemies ever give the command Samuel did on behalf of God? Absolutely not. So we have to say that this passage doesn’t measure up to what we know about God, as seen in Jesus.

2    Ancient people wrote history differently than we do. They believed that if something happened it must have been the will of God, or the will of the gods. So, if Joshua, when he fought the Battle of Jericho, killed every man, woman & child, ancient writers/historians would record it by saying that God must have told Joshua to kill every man, woman & child (cf. Joshua 6 & Joshua 8) That’s just the way they wrote history. It’s not of course the way we look at it today.

Here’s a thought: We look at every passage through the lens of Christ.

Prayer: God, thank You for the clear picture we get of You in Jesus. Amen.

Extra Credit:

This is why I'm not a Fundamentalist, one who takes all the Bible literally. If you take these troubling passages literally it causes one to come up with all sorts of theories of why God would command the Israelites to slaughter the innocents ("God needed the Holy Land to be pure for his people."). I find such explanations an offense to logic and to God. We can take the Bible seriously, but we don't have to take it all literally. 

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