i love the Bible. it is a beautiful, powerful, transforming book. it also can be a very confusing one. sometimes people will say “it’s not confusing at all to me, it’s crystal clear” and even though i’m quick to judge their certainty, when i look back on my faith journey, i used to land there, too. i respect for some it is still crystal clear. and for me, the “because the Bible says so” is not a good enough answer anymore.
so much of what we have been taught has been through what other people have told us about the Bible. we have relied on their input and teaching and assumed that it says certain things because “that’s what we’ve always heard.”
last year christian piatt embarked on a fun collaborative project focused on the really hard questions people have about the Bible. it’s called banned questions about the Bible. you can check out the trailer here. through some weird connections, somehow i ended up as a contributor. when i said yes, i thought would be a pretty easy thing for me to do, i mean how long could it take to just answer a few questions? well, i missed the first deadline, got an extension, and when the next deadline came, i started working on it the day before, thinking “oh, i’ll bang this out really quick.” about 10 hours later i finished with my responses. i got paid $50 for it (christian, where’s my check?), and i’m used to getting paid about $5 an hour so it felt really consistent with the feeling i have of working my butt off for the same amount some of my therapist friends make in 25 minutes.
the truth is that it was really fun to be part.
and this story isn’t about me & paychecks. it’s about legitimate questions people have about the Bible. hard questions. weird questions. fun questions. confusing questions. and a wide variety of answers. there are so many textures, possibilities, meanings, challenges, openings-for-the-Holy-Spirit-to-work-in-us through the Bible.
i love that a publisher took a chance with this project & christian did an awesome job pulling it together, bringing to the surface so many questions that people ask all the time about the Bible in the quiet of their hearts but rarely have a good venue to explore them out loud. some of the questions in this book include:
- what does the Bible really say about homosexuality?
- how can a God be all-loving yet allow people to be thrown into hell?
- in some cases, paul (the purported author of many new testament books) seems to support women in leadership in the church, and in others he says they have no place. which is it? and why the seeming contradiction?
i wanted everyone to meet christian & hear more about this project, so i asked him if he’d hang out here for an interview. enjoy! (and i hope you’ll buy a book, i think you’ll dig it).
- share just a little bit about your faith journey. where you started & where you find yourself now.
I was raised in the Southern Baptist church in Dallas, which is about as Baptist as you can possibly get. I had a great experience as a younger child there and loved getting the extra personal time with my mom every Sunday since my dad wanted nothing to do with church.
But as I hit my teenage years, I began challenging some of the things I was being told, like whether or not the earth was 5,000 years old, if all of my Jewish friends were going to hell, and if the stories in Revelation were actually meant to be take literally. One day I pissed off my youth leader so badly that he threw a big, floppy Bible at my head and, in no uncertain terms, invited me to leave. So I did, for ten years.
I met my wife about 13 years ago, and she was already serving as an associate pastor for a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) church in Denver. I explained I wasn’t a churchy guy, but she was pretty hot, so I went anyway. I found a community that not only tolerated differences of view, but even welcomed it.
Long story short, God intervened in a number of remarkable ways, and here we are, seven years into a new church start that we began in our living room seven years ago. I lead worship, Amy preaches, and we really can’t imagine doing ministry without one another anymore.
- when did you start asking questions about the Bible? what happened when you did?
I started asking my mom questions early on when I was in elementary school, and she would indulge me as best she could. More often than not, though, the questions went unanswered, at least to my satisfaction.
I think the biggest disconnect for me was between my school life, where they encouraged and expected critical thought and questions, and church where we were expected to take information at face value. The two didn’t seem to work together, and given a choice between having church and having my own opinions, I chose the latter.
- you ask some pretty deep questions in this material, like “how can a God be all-loving yet allow people to be thrown into hell?” and “if i don’t believe every word of the Bible is literally true, how do i know what to consider in context and what to set aside?” just to name a few. how did you come up with these questions?
Some of the questions are ones I’ve wrestled with for years myself, but most of them came from listening to other people and what they wondered about. I sent out online surveys, prodded people through social media, and invited my fellow contributors to present the most challenging questions they could come up with. The idea was that, as long as the question seemed to be earnest, nothing was off limits.
There were some tongue-in-cheek submissions, like “Would Jesus prefer paper or plastic?’ that were culled out, but I think we ended up with a pretty compelling roster of questions that brought out the best in our writers.
- what is your hope for people reading this material?
I have two main goals in having people read this book, or the series as a whole. First, I want to stimulate discussion. The format allows for multiple responses to each question, with the intent not so much of resolving an issue once and for all, but rather to provide a variety of perspectives to help readers begin to form their own opinions. This is also why I included follow-up questions and sources for further study, so people could dig deeper into these issues if they choose to.
Second, I want to try as much as I can to give readers permission to ask their own questions in the context of their faith communities. I hope that no one ever feels that they can’t bring their whole selves to church, questions, insecurities and doubts included. If we as church leaders can’t handle such issues, what are we doing in ministry anyway?
- what’s your favorite part about the Bible?
I especially appreciate the ability to take a sort of archaeological approach to scripture, peeling back layers and seeing stories differently through different sets of lenses. When I was introduced to the ancient practice of interpreting scripture known as midrash, where multiple understandings were expected, and where parallels could be drawn to connect texts throughout the Bible, I saw it all in a new way.
It really is a beautifully constructed piece of work, though crafted over millennia by countless authors for countless reasons. But incredibly, it still works, and it’s still relevant if we understand how to approach it.
- personally, i love the Bible, but i admit i sometimes i get annoyed at how confusing and sometimes contradicting some of it is. what’s drives you crazy about it?
We address some of this in the Banned Questions book – the whole “X says this, but Y says that” kind of problem. Raising such issues were the kind of thing that got me in plenty of hot water as a kid. But I think that’s where digging deeper and understanding cultural, historic and theological contexts in which different scriptures would have been written, for whom and to what end.
But mostly what drives me nuts about scripture is how people try to use it to further their own agendas. Consider a brick, which can be used to build a hospital, or it can be used to cave someone’s skull in. The brick itself isn’t inherently good or evil, but the intent behind how it’s used makes it such. It’s the same way with the Bible, which has been used both to heal and to destroy so many lives throughout history.
- the part i really appreciated about this project is that it had a wide variety of voices & perspectives on each question. what did you learn from reading the different responses to the questions?
In reading multiple responses from each contributor, you begin to get a pretty interesting perspective on their personal theology, and what’s really important to them. This is also one reason why I included the god Image survey at the end of the book. Though there was a little push-back from a couple of contributors that felt it conscribed God too much to a predetermined set of criteria, it’s a point of connection, where readers and contributors can begin to identify with one another, hopefully on a deeper level.
Basically, I learned that this whole group of writers would be a hell of a lot of fun to sit around with at the pub over a pint or two.
- in your experience, why do you think some of these questions feel so scary for people to actually ask out loud?
First, I think they’re afraid of being judged or condemned. But if you presume that your faith ultimately comes down to a direct relationship between you and God, such judgments begin to ring hollow.
I think, also, that some people are afraid that they may either get an answer they don’t like, or worse yet, they may get no satisfactory answer at all. In our western, Platonic/Newtonian sort of mindset, we’ve programmed ourselves to believe that unanswered questions are a bad thing. But I think that the richest moments of faith are found when resting within the mystery of not really knowing. It’s vulnerable and pretty unfamiliar to a lot of people, but it’s refreshing.
- how do you think we as leaders & pastors & friends-on-the-journey can be more helpful about addressing some of these hard questions?
By buying this book, of course!
Seriously, I think the first thing we need to be able to do is admit we, too, have questions about faith and scripture. We don’t have it all figured out, and in that way, we do portray ourselves more as fellow travelers, rather than end-point authorities on all things divine. To claim as much is just hubris, and it’s dangerous.
Second, I think one of the most important phrases we as faith leaders absolutely have to learn is “I don’t know.” When we feel like we have to have an iron-clad response to every question is when we get ourselves and others in trouble.
- in our community, we do what we can to create a safe space to live in the tension of a wide spectrum of beliefs about the Bible and that these views are often constantly shifting. do you have some suggestions for creating a safe and open space for these kinds of questions & different perspectives?
I’m a big fan of the lectio devina approach to Bible study. It’s more communal, and it honors the text both with the intentional time of multiple read-throughs and also the permission to see and experience each text in a number of different ways. It’s a great way to study together, whether you have beginners or learned Bible scholars. They can all add something important to the conversation.
I also think we have to create more spaces in which people learn how to share their own stories. These Biblical texts mean so much more when we can connect them to our own personal narrative. But so many of us have lots the ability to tell our individual or collective stories. If faith communities can’t teach that, I’m not sure how they’re empowering those who come to take what the get out of study and worship outside the doors of church.
- many reading this blog are in the midst of big shifts in what they believe about the Bible. do you have any words of comfort or hope for them as they find their way to a new place in their faith?
Join the club! I’m still shifting all over the place when it comes to scripture. I’d say if I ever wake up one day and decide I’ve got this whole Bible or God thing figured out, I’m in deep trouble. It’s okay to have a dynamic, less-than-resolute relationship with the Bible. Anyone who claims otherwise is probably full of crap.
- this book is the first in a series of “banned questions” about faith & spirituality by chalice press. next up is “banned questions about Jesus”. what are some of the questions you’ll be asking there?
In John, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one gets to the Father but through me.” Do people have to choose to follow Jesus to go to Heaven? And what does it mean to choose his way?
Did Jesus ever have sex? Did he have sexual fantasies? What about wet dreams?
Why did Jesus have to suffer so much before he died? Or did he have to?
What happened during the “missing years” of Jesus’ life unaccounted for in the Bible?
How would we actually know if Jesus came again? Wouldn’t we just kill him all over again?
Why should I believe that Jesus was resurrected? What does it mean to the Christian faith if he wasn’t resurrected?
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thanks, christian, yikes those are some wild questions, the kinds honest people wonder about & people rarely talk about. we’ll look forward to seeing it. meanwhile, you can order banned questions about the bible on amazon & check out other good stuff christian’s written here.
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a few other things:
- i had a great time at inhabit connecting with old & new friends. more on that coming soon once i have a little time to let some thoughts distill.
- the practice of love, a collaborative project by civitas press, just released on may 1st. i hope you’ll buy one, it’s filled with all kinds of cool stories of what it looks like, in the flesh, to love God, our neighbors, ourselves & our enemies. i’ve got 2 pieces in there.
- my awesome friend & blogger pam hogeweide is writing a new book for civitas called unladylike, which confronts what she calls the “polite oppression of women in the church.” it’s about time someone bravely wrote this one, and she’s the right one to do it.
- rachel held evans, blogger & writer extraordinaire, is hosting a rally to restore unity this week. so much good stuff happening over at her blog. my friend dave & i have a response to the question: “in three to five sentences, tell us about a meaningful relationship you’ve maintained with a fellow Christian who doesn’t necessarily share your theological or political views.” check it out here.