Monday, December 16, 2019
Book Review--Romans Disarmed
COMING SOON TO A CHURCH NEAR YOU!!!
If it's not there already.
It's the gay marriage thing. In my denominational fellowship, it's coming this summer. Wherever it's appeared, strife and conflict, rancor and horror, even schism comes with. And yet, one of the leading Democratic candidates for President has a spouse who's a man, for Pete's sake. It's all around us. A goodly percentage of evangelical families have at least one nephew or niece or uncle or aunt who's out of the closet, and most of those relatives are no more randy with their sexual lives than this year's consistory members.
Just about wherever you look, church fellowships are coming apart at the seams because its members hold Luther-like, "here-I-stand" positions on gay life and gay marriage: "I shall not be moved."
Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh would be disdainful of my starting this review of Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice with the bedlam of gay marriage. They'd say that their Romans Disarmed is not about gay marriage, and it isn't.
What it's about is reading the Bible, reading the book of Romans specifically. The most telling litmus tests evangelicalism knows today are manifestations of a deeper, more complex question, and that is, "How do we know what the Bible says?"
Some say that's not at all difficult. You read the words. The Bible is the word. Thus, if Paul says women shouldn't lead, you silence 'em--or make sure they make cookies. If women want to lead, let them do pot lucks, as long as a male opens with prayer.
Or you read words like "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" and follow the blessed example of Salem in 1690.
Or you read the words, like "Thou shalt not kill" and then go conscientious objector rather than fight Hitler, and in every way possible you fight capital punishment.
Truth be told, no one just reads words, despite the defense of what people used to call the Bible's inerrancy, a word my spell-check doesn't recognize because of the infrequency of its use, I guess.
Keesmaat and Walsh embrace what most of us might call "a liberal agenda," but they're not advocates of what my dad used to call "the social gospel." They take the Bible seriously. They don't hunt and peck or cherry pick; they don't roll their eyes at the virgin birth or Christ's resurrection. What they advocate is a realistic understanding of the historical motivations for what God is saying in the book of Romans. As if the Bible were history, they use the story of the Roman Empire to understand motivation. As if the Bible were literature, they open up personalities and character to interpret intent and meaning. Romans Disarmed is, first of all, plain old Bible commentary--just neither plain nor old.
I couldn't help but wish the book were half as big. Romans Disarmed is not beach reading. It's not a book you peruse. The authors do everything they can to make it readable--and it is. It's a tome, but it's not heavy. It's just huge. Thus, formidable. I wish it weren't.
What they argue can be summarized in the way they word a treasured text for Calvinists like myself, Roman 8:28. Here it is in the New Revised Standard Version: "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose," one of the most comforting words Paul ever wrote. Here it is in the New International Version: "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." A little less clear maybe, but still a line of scripture you can rely on.
Here's Keesmaat and Walsh's version: "'We know that in all things God works of good with those who love God and are called to his purpose" (italics theirs). Take a shot at the inclusion of those two words and you've got at least something of the gift of the book.
The authors want Romans Disarmed to equip followers of Jesus Christ for the blessed work of loving others, not saying they do but doing the hard work of taking care of God's world, of bringing people in not keeping people out, of creating love fests and not constructing fortresses.
Yes, if you're wondering, they're lefties and their determined. They don't back away from issues. They try their best to be fair to those who aren't, but where they're sure they're right, they say it, and say it clearly.
And that's how it is they get to gay marriage. And that's how they see it--draw no lines in the sand. Learn to love--that's the gospel.
If you ever wonder how evangelical Christians can argue for gay marriage, if you'd like to read a discussion that clearly and fairly takes you through that argument, I highly recommend that chapter in Romans Disarmed.
What we need to remember, they argue, is that for new Christians in Paul's moment, the idea of their own slaves being whole persons, men and women endowed by their creator with the image of God, the very notion of those slaves being loved and not used was as difficult for them to understand as it is difficult for millions of evangelicals to love and include their LBGTQ neighbors.
The book is huge, but it's not a stiff read. It's a commentary on some of the most familiar passages in the book of Romans.
Will it change anyone's mind? I don't know. What I do know is that evangelical Christianity faces no more divisive question right now--in many ways--than how to accept Mayor Pete and his husband.
That's where we're at. Romans Disarmed doesn't pull punches. It's all about love.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:01 AM