"The Bible and the social and moral consequences that derive from its interpretation are all too important to be left in the hands of the pious or the experts, and too significant to be ignored and trivialized by the uninformed and indifferent.
Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard and longtime pastor of Memorial Church there, has been cited by Time as one of the seven best preachers in America. He laments, however, that he and his fellow ministers across the nation "preach regularly from the Bible to congregations that know so little about it," despite the outpouring of biblical translations, exegetical books and other analytical aids. His mission in this cogent exercise in nonsectarian Christian apologetics is to help reverse the current decline in biblical literacy by reclaiming the Bible from theological stodginess and lay laziness. The book is divided into three parts called "Opening the Bible," "The Use and Abuse of the Bible" and "The True and Lively Word," which refer, respectively, to didactic, polemical and pastoral approaches. The unified result masterfully clarifies what the Bible really says about homosexuality (very little), women as full faith partners (much more), racial harmony (lots, both explicitly and implicitly) and anti-Semitism ("Christianity's Original Sin"). But, whatever the subject, Gomes wants Bible readers to think about intrinsic meanings in Old and New Testament scripture. (Nov.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 17, 2009
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Excerpt from Good Book by Peter J. Gomes
What's it all about?
Many years ago when I began my service as minister in Harvard's Memorial Church, an anonymous benefactor offered to present as many Bibles as were needed to fill the pews. No particular translation was specified, and no objections were made to the Revised Standard Version. Before proceeding 'too far along the road of this benefaction I felt it wise to take the advice of some colleagues, and I found their reaction to be apprehensive, and in fact quite suspicious of the motivation behind the gift. "What does the benefactor want or expect?" I was asked, and warned that placing Bibles in the pews would create an invitation to steal them. Further, I was warned that "people will think that this is a fundamentalist church. If they see Bibles in the pews you will have an image problem." My colleagues and counselors meant well, I knew, and wished only to protect the church from secular and religious zealots. These concerns notwithstanding, however, we accepted the gift, placed the Bibles in the pews, and, happily, over the years we have lost quite a few to theft.
A Nodding Acquaintance
One of the more embarrassing social situations, upon which even Miss Manners and other arbiters of social etiquette have failed to provide a useful strategy, is the one in which you have more than a nodding acquaintance with someone. At the point of introduction you got the person's name, forgot it, asked it again, and forgot it again. Meanwhile you go on meeting this person, chatting and being chatted with, but you have clearly passed beyond the point where you can ask for the name again. It is easy enough to maintain the facade of friendship until that awful moment comes when you are required to introduce your nameless friend to a third party. What to do? I have seen artful evasions such as "Surely you two know each other?" followed by a discreet withdrawal while they got on with the job themselves, leaving you unexposed. Another stratagem is to avoid the risk of introduction altogether by declaring emphatically, "Ah! Here's an old friend!" What we should know, pretend that we know, and wish that we knew, we don't. Worse still, we do not know, without risk of embarrassment, how to ask about what we need to know.
This, I suggest, is the way it is with so many people and the Bible. Once, perhaps a long time ago in childhood or in early youth, or even as late as in college, you were introduced. You have a nodding acquaintance with the Bible, or at least you feel you ought to, and you can recognize some familiar phrases, especially if they "sound" like the King James Version of the Bible; yet, to all intents and purposes, the Bible remains an elusive, unknown, slightly daunting book. It is awkward to concede that you don't know very much about the Bible, given its cultural prominence, and it is difficult to figure out how to get reintroduced without conceding your illiteracy. Perhaps the lament I have heard more and more frequently in recent years is the one that says, "I wish I knew more about the Bible."