Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘New Testament’

Blogging the Bible – Methodology

In Blogging the Bible, Blogging the New Testament on May 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Before I jump right into reading the New Testament and posting my comments, I’d like to take a couple of paragraphs to talk about how I want to approach the whole project.

First and foremost, I want to keep an open mind. I spent half of my life in an evangelical church, and I understand how believers approach the Bible, how they read it, and how they feel God intends for it to be read. I don’t necessarily intend to abandon that kind of reading, but to add to it. There are earnest Christians who seek to understand the history, culture, and politics of the early Christian world in hopes of having a better understanding; I applaud that approach, and hope to incorporate some of that into my writing.

There are academics who take a completely different approach, which is to question nearly every claim that Christians make about the Bible – who actually wrote each book, when the books were written, whether the words of Jesus are recorded by first-hand observers, etc. Books of this genre, including Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliot Friedman and the much more recently written Forged by Bart Ehrman raise a lot of questions about the Bible’s authenticity that any serious believer should not be afraid to consider. I read Friedman’s book years ago when I still considered myself an evangelical, and it didn’t challenge my faith as much as affirm it. Some of his insights really livened up the Sunday School lessons I was teaching at the time. I’ve just finished Ehrman’s and it only confirms what serious students of the Bible since Martin Luther have said – the traditional attributions of authorship for many of the books don’t always seem accurate.


Martin Luther

From my point of view, it doesn’t matter so whose approach you choose. What is of more interest to me is how scriptures are interpreted today in American society to form a prevailing religious mindset, and whether those interpretations are beneficial or damaging to our nation as a whole. I think anyone who truly wants to find truth can look at both sides of an issue without having to join one camp or another. I’m hoping to incorporate what I know about both approaches to the New Testament, and hopefully find common ground between those who fervently believe and those who don’t.

I’m going to start reading the books in the order in which they were written, not in the order in which they appear in the New Testament. Whenever there are huge discrepancies in dates, I’ll make a judgement call, but will lean towards a more traditional dating.  That means I’ll start with the letters of Paul, then work through the synoptic gospels. After Luke, we’ll go through Acts, the letters of other apostles, and end with pretty much everything attributed to John. I think studying them in this order should help us see the ideology of the Bible unfold, with the ideas presented in the order in which they were developed, not the order someone put them in 300 years later.

Ironically, my Dad sent me an email just yesterday, not knowing that I had just announced my intention to blog the NT. He urged me to ‘get back into the Word’, confident that anyone who does so will find God there. My brother, on the other hand, who recently ‘outed’ himself as an atheist, seems to think that actually reading the Bible with an open mind is the surest path to non-belief. It seems I’ll be walking a fine line to keep them both happy!

It will be interesting to see which way things go.

Blogging the Bible

In Blogging the Bible on May 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm

By Rembrandt.

This week I’m happy to get started on what I hope will be a central feature of American Secularist – a blog of the New Testament. Back when I taught Sunday School on a regular basis, I was a real student of the NT, reading it through a number of times. I believed, and still do, that anything happening in a person’s life that is part of his Christian experience should be measured against the words written in these twenty-seven books.

But why, you might ask, would a secularist blog be interested in looking so closely at the New Testament writings? Well, if I wanted to understand Russian culture, I might spend a bit of time reading Dostoyevsky or listening to Tchaikovsky. If I wanted to delve into the French mind, a bit of existentialism might be in order. Just as it would be impossible to understand Thai society without an appreciation for Buddhism, I think it’s impossible to understand how Americans think without some knowledge of the second half of the Bible, and the teachings that stem from it. To be sure, there are other influences on American thought, but in the mainstream, the Bible is still the most influential book.

I hope to take a fresh approach to the early Christian writings, looking at them without any pre-conceived ideas, as either a believer or a skeptic. A ‘scholarly’ approach would be a little heavier than what I have in mind as well – there are plenty of books available along those lines, if you can stay awake long enough to read them. As I read the scriptures, I simply want to answer a few questions about the relationships between mainstream American ideas and the Bible.  Some of the questions rolling around in my head are:

  • what exactly do Jesus and the Apostles have to say?
  • can we be reasonably sure that the Bible as we have it today accurately represents their ideas?
  • are there any recent discoveries that help us understand the context of the New Testament?
  • what doctrines / beliefs have Americans constructed from these writing?
  • is American Christianity an accurate representation of the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles?
  • what relationship, if any, does the New Testament have with democratic government?

To give credit where credit is due, I also hope to continue the task one of my favorite on-line writers started, but never finished. A few years back, Slate writer David Plotz started blogging the Bible, but seemed to lose interest after the Old Testament. As he comes from a Jewish background, I can understand why he wouldn’t have much interest in the New Testament – and I guess after blogging on the Bible for two years, he may have just wanted to write about something else. Nonetheless, I always enjoyed reading his comments, so I was disappointed that he didn’t keep going. Here’s what he had to say about reading the Bible through:

Should you read the Bible? You probably haven’t. A century ago, most well-educated Americans knew the Bible deeply. Today, biblical illiteracy is practically universal among nonreligious people. My mother and my brother, professors of literature and the best-read people I’ve ever met, have not done much more than skim Genesis and Exodus. Even among the faithful, Bible reading is erratic. The Catholic Church, for example, includes only a teeny fraction of the Old Testament in its official readings. Jews study the first five books of the Bible pretty well but shortchange the rest of it. Orthodox Jews generally spend more time on the Talmud and other commentary than on the Bible itself. Of the major Jewish and Christian groups, only evangelical Protestants read the whole Bible obsessively.

That last line is one I may have to disagree with – I’m not sure that evangelicals read the whole Bible obsessively; popular Christian books and television programs seem to focus only on those scriptures that reinforce particular ideas, like the prosperity gospel. But I’m committed to keeping an open mind – please call me out whenever I fail to do so.

Will you join me in reading every single verse of the New Testament?