Monday, 15 October 2007
A better Armstrong
It won't go down well with Southern Baptist or Missouri Synod leaders, and even less so will Karen Armstrong's brilliant new book, The Bible: A Biography (British/Australian editions: On The Bible), be received with shouts of "hosanna" and glowing reviews in The Good News. At least I suspect not, but that's to be expected.
As by one Armstrong delusion descended on the world, so by another Armstrong light breaks forth. But who enjoys a beam of light being focused down on their dark, damp hiding hole? No, it's unlikely the lads at the next LCG ministerial pow-wow will be passing this book around.
Karen Armstrong's book is (despite a poorly selected cover on the American edition) the most straight-forward, lucid explanation of how the Bible originated that I've seen. In only eight chapters the reader is taken on a tour of what we actually now know about the Bible's beginnings and development, not what the Sunday morning popularizers and church functionaries would like you to think. Those wedded to an evangelical or orthodox understanding of scripture will meet here between two covers all the fearsome monsters they'd rather ignore - and if knowledge is power, I guess they'll be empowered to know the worst. For those who recoil from the literalism of the proof-texting preachers, here will be found a measure of liberation and exhilaration. The truth shall make you free.
Of course, other readers may be less entranced than I was, and immediately want to circle the wagons. Some will be repelled and offended, but maybe it's better to live in the demanding freedom of the real world than the comforting security of a self-imposed prison cell.
The Bible: A Biography is a key to the door, and an invitation to leave the dungeon. Will it cause anyone to abandon faith? Not any faith that's worth having. This is not an attack on faith, but it poses a real threat to idolatry: the idolatry that makes the scriptures into something they were never intended to be.
I can't recommend it highly enough.