Making Sense of the Bible
by Adam Hamilton
There are some books that I read for fun; there are some books I read for enjoyment or enrichment…and then there are the other books. There is an entire category of books that I read for a challenge, or to challenge myself. I read Love Wins for that reason; I tried (and failed) to read through The Beauty of the Infinite and Barth’s Commentary on Romans unsuccessfully for that same reason. I did not know, considering it was on a shelf in LifeWay, that this particular work would end up in that category. Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible should be renamed to Making Sense of the Bible: One Less Passage at a Time. There were many things about the book to love, Hamilton is a good, down to earth writer; his content is engaging and thought provoking. But that is not the whole story, and I will tell you why in just a moment.
Many conservative (theologically) readers will love the first part of the book, and I agree; it is the part that almost any Evangelical can stomach. Hamilton’s examination of how scripture came to be is spot on, and even better, put in such a way that a common person could understand it. I appreciate Hamilton’s thoroughness on this part of the book; so many people need to know where scripture comes from, and just a hint: it did not fall out of the sky.
But once we get past that section of the book, Hamilton gets to the doctrine of inerrancy; that is when things get a little hairy, and that’s also when most conservative Evangelicals would close the book. However, I have struggled with the doctrine of inerrancy myself, so I was curious to see where Hamilton was going. Hamilton does not believe in inerrancy? Fine. Wonderful. But what does he purpose putting in the doctrine’s place? The most daunting part of dispensing with inerrancy is that it adds more subjectivity than many want to deal with. Many want their bibles to be all God and no man; any man-made influence automatically destroys scripture’s credibility. I think this is too simplistic of an objection, but I agree with the conundrum of trust and reliability; by what criteria do we decide what is errant?
Hamilton’s solution is using the person of Jesus, and without spoiling the book for you, he goes through many troublesome issues. I can commiserate with his dislike of inerrancy, but his answer to the vacuum is terrible; I mean it is even intellectually dishonest. Just to give you one example, he talks about the passages where God commands the Israelites to kill men, women, and children in the land of Canaan; I agree those are tough pills to swallow. His solution? That Joshua and Israel’s religious leaders were using God to justify mass murder. His reasoning? Jesus commanded us not to kill and he would not condone such actions. This is terrible for lots of reasons (and I am a semi-pacifist), but here are a few of the biggest ones: 1) Hamilton’s view of Jesus is woefully one-sided and thoroughly modern (or post-modern), 2) the passages in the Old Testament are written as a command of God, not a distortion (though I do believe that Genesis 1 was spoken/written as a polemic against the Canaanite religion), and 3) if it is all distortion why not throw out the whole Old Testament? While I sympathize with Hamilton’s struggle with inerrancy, this is a terrible and wrong solution…that will present itself over and over again throughout his work.
I am going to write some blogs disseminating some of my thoughts on the issues Hamilton covers, but I want to be clear that I do not think the best answer to the problem of inerrancy is to let our modern (read evolved) understanding of morality decide what is in now, what was in then, and what was never in to begin with (which borders on blasphemy). There are ways to talk about these problems that do not result in inane, intellectually bankrupt answers. I did not let Rob Bell get away with it with Love Wins (though it did break my heart), and I am not going to let Adam Hamilton get away with it either. If you want to see what direction a lot of mainline and even some moderate Evangelicals are going in relation scripture, read this book; but don’t be shocked if simply cannot agree. Whether it come from you emotions or your intellect, this book offers no honest solutions that respect our humanness and God’s inspiration of the text.
1 Star – Don’t waste your money.
2 Star– Only get it if it is on sale.
3 Star – Think about buying it.
4 Star – Save up and purchase it.
5 Star – You MUST have it, TODAY.