This is a review of The Human Faces of God--What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong by Thom Stark. It's also a request to Christians: admit that the Bible is a mess and stop passing on its toxicity to us.
Thom Stark begins his book like this: "In the beginning was the Argument, and the Argument was with God, and the Argument was: God. God was the subject of the Argument, and the Argument was a good one. Who is God? What is God like? What does God require of us?"
Stark shows that the Bible isn't just self-contradictory on a few historical details but that within the pages of the Bible is an argument and not just an argument with the outside world: The Bible is an argument with itself.
The writers of scripture had different views about how to understand suffering, justice, and national identity. They had contending answers to the Big Questions.
If you think that all Christians are fundamentalists think again. Stark represents a growing number of Christians becoming more and more vocal in response to the fundamentalist Far Right hijacking of the Christian faith. If you want to see what an intelligent, informed, and, most importantly, self-critical Christianity looks like, read this book.
Christians who believe that the Bible is without error and internally consistent are the victims of an ancient elitist cover-up. An "inerrantist" is someone who believes that the Bible is without error in everything that it affirms. Stark exposes the circularity of such "Bible-is-without-error" fundamentalist "logic." He calls out the double standards Evangelicals employ when defending their doctrines. Stark shows how the doctrine of biblical inerrancy actually works against Evangelicals, by undermining basic theistic tenets such as free will and divine sovereignty.
Stark looks at Jesus and shows how and why the apocalyptic worldview developed that today we see full blown in the Left Behind novels. Stark then argues that if the Gospels are right, then Jesus was wrong.
Stark shows that on more than one occasion, Jesus predicted that a worldwide "judgment day" would occur within the lifetime of his contemporaries. Stark provides thorough refutations of various apologetic attempts to help Jesus save face, including twelve pages devoted to discrediting Bishop N. T. Wright's fanciful interpretations of Jesus' end-of-the-world predictions.
How does Stark achieve reimaging a Christianity that might actually do some good? He rejects the bedrock of Far Right evangelical "faith" in the doctrine of biblical inerrancy that dictates that the Bible, being "inspired by God" is without error in everything that it affirms--historically, scientifically, and theologically.
Stark's book is an argument against that doctrine, and it is an argument in favor of a different, more ancient way of reading the books that comprise the Bible.
Here's Stark's conclusion:
The scriptures are not infallible. Jesus was not infallible--or, if he was, we have no access to his infallibility. So where is our foundation? Upon what do we build our worldview, our ethics, our politics and our morality? The answer is that there is no foundation. There is no sure ground upon which to build our institutions. And that is a good thing. That is what I call grace.
An infallible Jesus, just like a set of infallible scriptures, is ultimately just a shortcut through our moral and spiritual development. To have a book or a messenger dropped from heaven, the likes of which is beyond the reach of all human criticism, is a dangerous shortcut. It is no wonder humans have always attempted to create these kinds of foundations. And it is a revelation of God's character, from my perspective, that cracks have been found in each and every one of those foundations. (P. 207)
If you want to be informed about what the Bible really says and how Christianity came into existence -- if you want to know how to respond to Evangelicals trying to convert you to their brand of fundamentalism, read this book. If you're a former Evangelical, or a former Christian, who gave up on faith because you just couldn't reconcile your moral and intellectual integrity with the mythology and immorality-touted-as-righteousness that is pervasive throughout the Bible, then read this book.
If Stark is right about the Bible's limitations then maybe God feels slandered by the Bronze Age-to-Roman era "biography" of Him that, it turns out (judging by the insanity that makes up so much of the Bible) wasn't an authorized biography -- let alone "inspired" after all.
To reject the "absolute truth" of the Bible is not necessarily to reject Christianity, let alone God. Or put it this way, the best of any religious tradition depends on the choices by its adherents on how to live despite their holy books, not because of them.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of PATIENCE WITH GOD: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) now in paperback