iOS app Android app

Derek Flood
GET UPDATES FROM Derek Flood
 
Derek Flood is the author of Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did. In addition to writing for the Huffington Post, he is also a regular contributor for Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, and at his website: TheRebelGod.com.

A longtime voice in the post-conservative evangelical movement, Derek’s focus is on wrestling with questions of faith and doubt, violence in the Bible, relational theology, and understanding the cross from the perspective of grace and restorative justice.

Entries by Derek Flood

Violence-Loving Conservatives, Cherry-Picking Liberals, And Why We All Need to Learn to Read Scripture Like Jesus

(7) Comments | Posted December 18, 2014 | 6:43 AM

Does the Bible describe a God of love or a God of genocide? How are we to reconcile that the apparent answer to this question is that it describes both? As people of faith, we need to face the sobering fact that some parts of our Bible command us to...

Read Post

Ferguson and America's Love Affair With Violence

(0) Comments | Posted August 25, 2014 | 5:29 PM

In Ferguson, an unarmed black teenager was killed by police. In reaction, thousands took to the streets in protest. However, rather than attempting to listen, the heavily militarized police immediately made a show of force with armored vehicles, assault rifles, riot gear, and tear gas. People tweeted photos and videos...

Read Post

Is There a Nonviolent Response to ISIS?

(2) Comments | Posted August 12, 2014 | 4:55 PM

Alarm and outrage has been growing over the mounting humanitarian crisis in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State (IS) also known as ISIL (Islamic State of Syria and the Levant) or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Christians in the region are being forced to

Read Post

Pasta and Peacemaking: Learning Non-Violence From My Kids

(0) Comments | Posted May 28, 2014 | 3:33 PM

So my son comes marching into the kitchen and says in a demanding tone, "Make me snacks now!" My first reaction is to think that this is simply unacceptable behavior, and that he needs a good talking to. But I also notice that I am quite triggered by this, and...

Read Post

Sin, Guilt, and Psychology: What I Wish All Pastors Knew

(1) Comments | Posted March 3, 2014 | 8:12 PM

"Whatever happened to sin?" This complaint is one frequently heard from conservative pastors lamenting that no one wants to hear about sin in a society increasingly repelled by the idea of guilt. We have come to associate guilt today with negative ideas like "guilt-trips," and with feelings of shame. As...

Read Post

VIDEO: Steve Chalke on Taking the Bible Beyond Fundamentalism and Atheism

(4) Comments | Posted February 18, 2014 | 4:04 PM

Prominent UK Evangelical leader Steve Chalke has released a position paper entitled Restoring Confidence in the Bible that may become for progressive Evangelicals what the Chicago Statement was to their conservative counterparts nearly four decades ago. Supporters include prominent post-conservative Evangelical leaders such as Tony Campolo,...

Read Post

A Better Story: Justice Redefined by the Gospel

(2) Comments | Posted January 9, 2014 | 2:43 PM

Go to see an action film this weekend, and in addition to the spectacle of epic visual effects, you will likely encounter a very familiar story line where in the end the good guys win and the bad guy "gets what he deserves." That's the way life is supposed to...

Read Post

VIDEO: Jon Stewart Blown Away By Muslim Girl Showing Love of Enemies to Taliban

(16) Comments | Posted October 10, 2013 | 9:12 AM

October 9, 2012, exactly one year ago this Wednesday, a Taliban gunman boarded the bus that Malala Yousafzai was riding home from school and shot her in the head along with two of her classmates. The violent reprisal came after the teen refused to stop speaking on behalf of schoolgirls...

Read Post

Does Religion Promote Violence?

(328) Comments | Posted September 16, 2013 | 5:18 PM

Does religion promote violence? In our post 9/11 world this is a question that people are increasingly asking. Does religion make you a better person, or does it in fact do the opposite, and instead foster hate, fear, and violence? One does not have to look far to find examples...

Read Post

A Better Story: Re-Thinking What Justice Looks Like

(1) Comments | Posted August 27, 2013 | 5:56 PM

Go to see an action film this weekend, and in addition to the spectacle of epic visual effects, you will likely encounter a very familiar storyline where in the end the good guys win, and the bad guy "gets what he deserves" (usually by being killed by an "accident" of...

Read Post

Questioning the Bible: What I Would Have Said to Bill Maher

(740) Comments | Posted July 30, 2013 | 7:04 PM

Sojourners president Jim Wallis was recently a guest on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. In the course of the show Maher confronted Wallis on the Bible, asking him some very pointed questions about some of its more troubling texts. You can watch the exchange here:

Maher asks, "How do you reconcile this idea that it all comes from the Bible, but the Bible is so flawed... I mean, it's just so full of either nonsense or viciousness." In response, Wallis steered the conversation back to the topic of social justice and compassion, often overlooked Biblical mandates. Maher objected several times "You're not answering the question," accusing Wallis of "cherry-picking the good parts" of the Bible while ignoring the bad parts.

Now, I'm a big fan of Jim Wallis (heck, I blog for Sojourners!), and I appreciate that he moved the conversation away from Maher's attempted divisiveness and back to caring for the poor and immigration reform in this country. He's totally right that caring for the marginalized should be the priority of us Christians, and I can sympathize that he wanted to stay focused on that.

At the same time, I think the question Bill Maher was raising is an important one, too, because it ultimately has to do with caring for the marginalized as well. That is, when the Bible is read in a hurtful way, it can and has been used throughout history to justify horrendous violence and mistreatment. That matters, and consequently it matters how we read the Bible. So as someone who has focused on confronting those "bad parts" in Scripture, I wanted to take a stab at addressing Maher's questions.

"Explain to me," Maher said, "how a book that's written by God, who's perfect, has so much... It's pro-slavery, pro-polygamy, it's homophobic, God in the Old Testament is a psychotic mass murder... and I always say to my religious friends: If a pool had even one turd in it, would you jump in?" The implication here is that if we find anything bad in the Bible this would invalidate it all, because it is supposed to be a perfect book written by a single author with one unified voice.

But that simply is not what the Bible in actuality is. In reality the Bible contains a multitude of conflicting and competing voices, articulating opposing perspectives in the form of an ongoing dispute contained throughout its pages. More concretely, we find an ongoing dispute within the Old Testament between two opposing narratives: The first is a narrative of unquestioning obedience that condemns all questioning (often enforcing this through threat of violence). This is the narrative Maher has zeroed in on. But within those same pages of the Hebrew Bible there is also a persistent opposing counter-narrative that confronts that first narrative as being untrue and unjust, and that upholds questioning authority in the name of compassion as a virtue.

Jesus and the New Testament as a whole are an extension of this second counter-narrative of protest (which explains why Maher says to Wallis "I'm down with you padre, I think Jesus is a great philosopher"). But what is truly remarkable is not simply the difference between the Old and New Testaments, but that these conflicting voices were included side-by-side within in the Hebrew canon itself. The Old Testament is a record of dispute which makes room for questions by its very nature.

Because of this, it calls us to enter into that dispute ourselves as we read. In fact, because of its multiple conflicting narratives we simply must choose, we must take sides in the debate, we are forced to embrace some narratives in the Bible and reject others. So I choose to embrace the narrative of compassion and social justice that is found in both Testaments, and reject the narrative of using religion and the Bible to justify violence and oppression, which can be found there, too.

Now is that cherry-picking? No, it's not, and I'll tell you why: Cherry-picking is when you misrepresent the evidence by referring to only the good parts as if they are representative of the whole, while ignoring the bad parts as if they were not there. It's not about choosing the good over the bad; it's about giving a false impression that it's all good and there is no bad. I'm not denying that there are bad parts, and I'm not trying to justify or downplay them. On the contrary, I think it's imperative that we confront them. That confrontation is in fact modeled for us within the pages of the Old Testament, and expanded on further by Jesus who follows in that same prophetic tradition of faithful questioning.

At the end of the interview Jim Wallis concluded, "You can find all kinds of things in the Bible that have led to patriarchy, oppression, violence, division" However, he continued, "you also can point to faith communities at the center of every social reform movement in this country invoking the same Bible for social justice and for peace." I see Wallis here embracing the biblical narrative of social justice and peace, while rejecting the narrative of patriarchy, oppression, violence, division. To that I can add my hearty "amen."

The difficulty, I think, is that we progressives often feel the need to apologize for making those kinds of choices when we read scripture -- both to those on the religious right who criticize us for not reading the Bible like a fundamentalist, and to those on the anti-religious left like Bill Maher who (ironically) have likewise assumed a fundamentalist reading of the Bible themselves. So what I want to say to my fellow progressives is that we should choose, and that we find a clear biblical precedent and legitimization within in the Hebrew Bible itself for making those choices for justice and compassion, as well as in the way Jesus engaged Scripture -- evident in his frequent confrontations with the religious authorities of his own faith who held to the narrative of unquestioning obedience.

A faithful reading of scripture is therefore not about defending the bad parts of the Bible (whether by seeking to justify or downplay them). On the contrary, a faithful reading entails wrestling with those troubling texts as the biblical authors did themselves. When we are standing up against the voice of authority in the name of the voiceless, we find ourselves in the company of the many counter-voices within the Bible who are doing the same. We find ourselves engaging the Bible in the same way the prophets did, and the same way Jesus did. That's a good place to be. As people of faith, we shouldn't wait for Bill Maher to ask these questions, we should already be wrestling with these troubling texts ourselves. After all, the very name "Israel" means "wrestles with...

Read Post

The Complexity of Humans

(7) Comments | Posted May 17, 2013 | 7:07 PM

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

Rebecca Saxe's TEDTalk raises some fascinating questions at the crossroads between neuroscience and moral development. According to her research there is a particular part...

Read Post

'ParaNorman': Unmasking the Myth of Redemptive Violence With Cartoon Zombies

(13) Comments | Posted April 30, 2013 | 1:21 PM

"ParaNorman," the stop-motion animated feature by Laika Studios, just came out on Netflix instant download, so we decided to watch it for our family movie night. It's a fun film, perhaps a bit too scary for the little ones, but what really stood out for me was the surprisingly deep...

Read Post

Jovan Belcher's Murder-Suicide Raises Questions of Traumatic Brain Injury in the NFL

(37) Comments | Posted December 3, 2012 | 12:22 PM

Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs shot and killed his girlfriend in front of his mother on Saturday morning (December 1, 2012), and then drove to the Chief's practice facility where he killed himself in front of head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli in...

Read Post

Neuroscience and the Mind of Christ

(142) Comments | Posted December 3, 2012 | 8:50 AM

I believe in radical grace. I believe in the power of forgiveness and enemy love. But not because I am a naturally peaceful person. I believe it because I have seen the power it has to heal broken lives-- including mine!

But peace and forgiveness are not my natural inclination....

Read Post

Soldiers Are Not Heroes, They're Humans

(4) Comments | Posted November 16, 2012 | 4:24 PM

Soldiers are not heroes. They are not villains either. They are human beings; human beings who have been put in the middle of a horrific situation.

A ten year old boy holding a grenade approaches a group of soldiers. He does not respond to their shouts. One shoots him with...

Read Post

God Loves Us F**k-ups

(35) Comments | Posted October 2, 2012 | 8:00 PM

I recently discovered People of the Second Chance (POTSC), a group that describes its mission as: A scandalous awakening of radical grace in life and leadership. We exist to overthrow judgment, liberate love
and live a life that rebels with grace for everyone.

I love that.

POTSC...

Read Post

Did Jesus Die to Save Us From God?

(133) Comments | Posted September 17, 2012 | 3:50 PM

Why did Jesus have to die? Was it to appease a wrathful God's demand for punishment? Does that mean Jesus died to save us from God? How could someone ever truly love or trust a God like that? How can that ever be called "Good News?" It's questions like these...

Read Post

The End of Compassionate Conservatism? Why Jesus and Today's GOP Don't Mix

(407) Comments | Posted August 29, 2012 | 10:00 AM

The official poverty figures for 2011 will be released by the U.S. Census Bureau this fall during the critical weeks before of the November elections, and, as the AP reports, a broad consensus of experts is expecting to see U.S. poverty levels reach their...
Read Post

The Science of Truth: Are Faith and Science Compatible?

(147) Comments | Posted July 24, 2012 | 8:23 AM

Biblical literalism, and the corresponding idea of the inerrancy of Scripture, has been bumping up against the sciences for a long time now. Way back in the Renaissance, the church insisted that the Bible taught that the sun revolved around the earth, and charged Galileo with heresy for claiming otherwise....

Read Post