Ratzlaff Reviews: How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian

VernThe heart of God’s justice is to make sure that the “weak and the orphan” have received their share of God’s resources for them to live and thrive. Retributive justice comes in only when that ideal is violated.
John Dominic Crossan, How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis Through Revelation (2015)
The legendary Vern Ratzlaff (above), Canadian Mennonite pastor and professor, was sporting his 5-inch beard long before practically every American white guy under 35 started growing theirs. Vern is spending free time at his outpost in Saskatoon reading dense anti-imperial theology and writing concise summaries for the rest of us. Here is a recent submission on John Dominic Crossan’s latest publication: How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis Through Revelation (2015, Harper Collins)
Do we have to deal with a bipolar G-d, a G-d of vengeance and retribution in the Old Testament and a G-d of mercy and love and rehabilitation in the New Testament? A violent G-d and a non-violent Jesus? Crossan develops a way to deal with this conundrum. He takes seriously the full sweep of biblical data. For example, the Year of Jubilee, Leviticus 25, spells out that the land belongs to G-d and every fiftieth year was to be a Jubilee, a year of liberation, redemption and restoration. But if this was the understanding of land tenure, why is there so little mention of it in later texts? Eg Isaiah 5:8 is a diatribe against expansion of real estate ownership. Why the move from divine decree to mere suggestion? Crossan points out the process:

there is a struggle between G-d’s radical ideal for us (Lev 25), which I call the radicality of G-d, and the standard coercive ways that culture in fact operate (Is 5:8) which I call the normalcy of civilization (p 24).

Crossan documents this biblical sequence of acceptance/rejection, assertion/subversion (p 24), in its views on slavery; the radicality of G-d prompts Paul to ask for Onesimus’ manumission; normalcy of the Roman culture concerning slavery is assumed by Ephesians and Colossians; a vision of the radicality of G-d is put forth, and then later that vision is domesticated and integrated into the normalcy of civilization so that the established order of life, slavery, is maintained. A powerful hermeneutical methodology, especially as Crossan uses it to overcome ‘escalatory violence’.

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