Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Bible I Hope Doesn't Sell?

This probably sounds odd coming from a ministerial intern--but I truly hope this "Bible" doesn't sell. In the world of bad and awful Evangelical publishing, and given the poor choices that have been made in marketing Bibles, this one truly takes the cake. Thomas Nelson Publishers has added to the long line of themed study Bibles with The American Patriot's Bible: The Word of God and the Shaping of America. This Bible, "intersects the teachings of the Bible with the history of the Unites States while applying it to today's culture. Beautiful full-color insert pages spotlight America's greatest thinkers, leaders, and events that present the rich heritage and future of our great nation." So this is a Bible that is designed to present the history of America? What about the Bible as the history of redemption?!!!

This "Bible" is so wrong for so many different reasons and on so many different levels. Thankfully, Richard Gamble, an American history professor at Hillsdale College and a ruling elder in my denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, has reviewed this new Bible over at The American Conservative. Gamble's review is very helpful and insightful from the Reformed perspective of the spirituality of the church, which teaches that Christians live with a tension as being dual citizens--a citizen of the Kingdom (City) of God, and a citizen of the city of man.

According to Gamble, American Evangelicalism does not accept this tension and rather attempts to reconcile Church and State. The American Patriot's Bible is a reflection of this attempt of reconciliation; Gamble writes,
The American Patriot’s Bible attempts with breathtaking audacity to synthesize Americanism and Christianity. Into the complete text of Scripture itself this new edition of the Bible inserts quotations from famous American statesmen, soldiers, preachers, and scientists testifying to their high regard for God and His Word. Not content to leave it at that, this Bible also draws parallels between the sacred narrative of Scripture and the American experience.
In another portion of the review, Gamble notes that the audacious undertaking of this "Bible" is paralleled only by its slick and aggressive marketing strategy. On a website that promotes this new "Bible,"there is a video that equates Adam and Eve with George and Martha Washington as first families, Moses and Abraham Lincoln as freedom fighters and, incredibly, Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper with the delegates of the Continental Congress as founding fathers.

What is helpful, and interesting, is that Gamble notes that not only is this mixture of Bible and American history off base, but that the American history is selective to the point of being misleading, and the biblical studies are the result of an incorrect reading and use of scripture. But of all the many issues, the biggest problem with this "Nationalized Bible" is that it reverses the very point of the Bible and robs it of its very purpose, which is to tell the gospel of Jesus Christ:
A nationalized Bible would seem in effect to reverse the story of redemption. At the core of Christianity is a message that the gospel of salvation is flung wide open to all peoples regardless of nationality, race, or language. The day of Pentacost made that truth clear. While Christianity has inevitably taken on national accents as it has encountered culture after culture over the past 2,000 years, it is a universal faith. Why, then, take that transnational faith and fuse it with an earthly Caesar and empire by setting it side by side in pages of Holy Writ with a particular nation’s history and identity, as if Christianity belonged to Americans in a special and intimate way not true of other people? This Bible by its very existence distorts the gospel. As Augustine says in The City of God, the “heavenly city, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages…”
To summarize Gamble's review, I will include one more lengthy quote that highlights the unintended irony of this project:
Beyond what the editor and the publisher intended, The American Patriot’s Bible is deeply American. It takes to a new level the remaking of Scripture into a marketable consumer good, a trend underway in the United States since at least the invention of the modern steam press in the early 19th century. (See R. Lawrence Moore’s Selling God.) It also exemplifies the irony of American Protestants, who adhere to the sufficiency of Scripture for faith and life yet find the unadorned text of that Word not so sufficient after all. And finally, it provides further evidence of how theologically ill-equipped one dominant strand of American Christianity has been over the past few hundred years to know how to sojourn in America, how to conceive of the United States as part of the City of Man and of the church as a stranger in a strange land.
Look, I have a deep appreciation for American history and the privilege it is to have grown up here. I have many family members who have fought for this country's freedom militarily. I also love the Bible. However, to combine these two, this way, with such crass marketing only serves to change what they are and to cheapen both of them.

Read the entire review here.

[HT: Old Life]

1 comment:

  1. "God bless Richard Gamble for bringing attention to this. And thank you as well, David."