In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared wrap up the fourth season of the podcast as they explore the following questions:
- What is the intersection between the Bible and politics?
- What is a good definition of politics?
- How should Christians relate to power?
- Why do we not have more conservative, evangelical guests on the podcast?
- How do we talk about personal differences in constructive ways with other people?
- What role does the Bible play in teaching us how to disagree with one another?
- What are the benefits of a messy Bible?
- Is there such thing as a biblical ethic?
- Why is it important to consider our own humanity when interpreting the Bible?
- What can the construction of the Bible teach us about faith?
- Why doesn’t the Bible work well as an ethical guide?
- What did Pete and Jared learn this year?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Pete and Jared you can share.
- “Not every podcast has to be everything for everyone.” @peteenns
- “How do we stand up for what we believe in and how do we not dehumanize people in the process?” @jbyas
- “Our ethical decisions, I think, rarely, frankly, if ever, are outlined for us in a text that is so diverse, so ancient, so ambiguous.” @peteenns
- “Whoever put the Bible together in the end didn’t lop out these challenging traditions but put them side by side.” @jbyas
- “The Bible does not cooperate with us well to be used as the ethical guide. It can be a source of ethical contemplation and reflection, but that’s a very, very different thing.” @peteenns
- “The energy that we may use to argue against people and to get really outraged against a platform, why don’t we shift that to taking that energy to furthering that cause?” @jbyas
- “A messy Bible doesn’t have to paralyze our faith.” @jbyas
- “If we say that Bible is our ethical guide, what we’re really doing is baptizing our own ethic.” @peteenns
Mentioned in This Episode
- Book: Love Matters More
- Podcast: Ben Sommer
- Podcast: Wellhausen
- Podcast: John Franke
- Patreon: The Bible for Normal People
Powered by RedCircleRead the transcript
Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty intro music]
Pete: Alrighty, welcome everyone to –
Jared: The final episode.
Pete: [Dramatic fake crying]
Our final episode of the worst year ever in the history of humanity.
Jared: You know what came to mind immediately was, “well, you’ve done it again! You wasted another perfectly good hour!” The Car Talk, did you ever watch Car Talk?
Pete: Oh yeah.
Jared: At the end it’s like – “well, you’ve done it again! You wasted another perfectly good” year, although, this year it was not a perfect year.
Pete: We’re not the worst thing to happen to you this year.
Pete: That’s what I think.
Pete: It may be close, but not –
Jared: No, this was quite the year.
Pete: All kidding aside, yeah, it was –
Jared: It was…
Pete: What happened? I don’t know. Did anything good happen this year?
Jared: There were good things. There were good things. It’s a mixed bag, ya know?
Jared: I mean, I had good days. Did you have any good days?
Pete: Good days, I mean, individual good days, but just a good thing that happened? Just –
Jared: Yeah, you didn’t have anything good happen?
Pete: Which out of control fire was a good thing, you know, which –
Jared: If you’re a Dodgers fan you had some good days.
Pete: Yeah, as we’re recording, the World Series just ended.
Jared: Lakers fans…
Pete: Okay. But they don’t mean anything because they’re shortened seasons because of the pandemic…
Jared: What I’m saying is if you listen to the wisdom literature the Bible, things are grayer, they’re not black and white.
Pete: Stop being so non-pessimistic.
Pete: I want to be my German self and like, there’s nothing good, nothing happened.
Jared: Oh, so we’re going to reflect on some of these things of 2020, and –
Pete: Yeah, and things that have come up with us in terms of like, the podcast –
Jared: Yeah, yeah.
Pete: That, yeah, this is a year of thinking about stuff, I think.
Pete: Of reflecting, of like, having a lot of down time.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: And questions have come up, you know, directed to us or, and very positive ways, but just how do you handle this, what do you think about that, so we thought we would just take a little time today in the last episode of 2020, yay, and just talk about them.
Jared: Yeah! Which one did you want to start with?
Pete: Oh, I don’t know. Okay, how about this? “You guys are too political.”
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: Or, “you guys need to get more political.”
Pete: So, that’s sort of a tough call and we do struggle with that a little bit, right Jared?
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: We don’t always know how to be.
Jared: Well, and not to eject this so that we don’t have to have that conversation, but, you know, it does raise the question of if we’re focused on the Bible, how, what is that intersection of the Bible and politics? What is appropriate and not appropriate for those conversations? And for me, personally, that’s something I wrestle with is what is appropriate when we’re The Bible for Normal People to talk about politics.
Pete: Yeah, the best of biblical scholarship, bringing that to bear in people’s lives and, you know, it’s a little bit off brand I guess, but you know, the thing we always want to avoid is the idea that the Bible will tell us how to be political.
Jared: Right, exactly.
Pete: The other way is, you know, what is the Bible, how do you read it? Right? So, the other side of it is how do our political inclinations affect how we read the Bible, what we focus on, and indeed how we interpret it.
Pete: In that sense, it’s very, very relevant, but I think where some people mean too is more expressing our own political opinions –
Pete: And you should be neutral or something. Others are saying, no, you shouldn’t be neutral.
Jared: Right, right.
Pete: So, c’mon people!
Jared: Yeah, we can’t please everyone.
Pete: That’s what happens when you have more than two people listening to your podcast, you get these different opinions of politics.
Yes, right? Yeah, I mean, I think that’s valid but, you know, I think that one thing to say is, one thing I’m actually proud of that we do here is we want the scholars to have their words and have their say and to bring that scholarship to bear, and not necessarily for us to have these social commentaries on that.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: And so, I think that’s one thing for me that I try to keep in mind as we have these episodes.
Pete: And yet if it comes up, the freedom to be people to say what we think about this issue or that issue.
Jared: Yeah, yeah. We’re not bound to be in the middle of the road. I mean, I think there’s a sense in which because the Bible can be used either way that we’re supposed to be kind of “neutral” about it, but we’re just like anyone else. We have our own ethics –
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: That, you know, guide how we read the Bible, how we see what it is, how we see what we’re supposed to do with it, and yeah.
Pete: And plus, you know, keeping politics and religion separate, that’s a good thing on the large scale. You don’t want a state church, although many would say that America actually does have a state church right now. But it’s hard to separate gospel and politics anyway, right, because it’s, it really isn’t, I think, a wise idea to say that you should just keep the Bible out of politics or politics out of the Bible. Or, forget the Bible, your faith, right?
Pete: And because that’s like, I think precisely not what we’re supposed to do. We don’t have to run for office, but to care about community and about life without getting sucked into it and identifying our faith with a particular political construct or party or system, whether it’s democracy or whatever, and not to sort of align God with that and say that God thinks the way we do about these political issues.
Jared: Yeah. I think that’s a great point that I think in a lot of the conversations this year, it was when we say politics, what we mean is fighting between platforms of republican versus democrat –
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: Where I think there’s a broader, more robust, and more helpful definition of politics that talks about social engagement and community and how we do this thing together as a society. And I think that, absolutely, our faith plays a huge part in.
Pete: Yeah. And I, I remember something I just heard N.T. Wright say years ago about how, now, he’s British, he has a different perspective which helps sometimes, but that the role of Christians in politics is to call power to account.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: Not to cozy up to power. That’s, there, that’s a lot, I mean, the history of that in Christianity and Judaism very early on, that’s, it’s palpable, you know? That, you know, whether it’s buying and selling the high priesthood in, you know, during the Hellenistic period in Judaism or whether it’s the holy Roman Empire, and those things never, ever turn out good.
Jared: Right, right. So, there is, that is a political statement and depending on your perspective, could be seen as partisan, I guess, but it doesn’t have to be. I mean, I think that’s the point, is how are we, what’s our relationship to power?
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: As a Christian people.
Pete: Right. And why does it get partisan at all? You know? Why can’t people who claim, you know, the same faith, or even not claiming the same faith, why do we get so animated about these things? I mean, I think fear has a lot to do with it. Fear of losing the narrative that we’re used to, the life we’re used to, all that kind of stuff. But why are we afraid of that?
Pete: You know, and I think that’s, that’s the deeper spiritual question to be asked, and you know, if we’re operating on that level the question of whether it’s okay for us to engage in political views here, it sort of takes a backseat at that point because everybody has political views –
Pete: And you can engage with people that you disagree with politically and you pretty much have to in this country.
Jared: Right, yeah.
Pete: So yeah, I guess the issue is engaging politics without becoming politicizing/polarizing, and that’s, but the thing is if you voice a point of view that somebody doesn’t like, you’re polarizing at that point.
Jared: Yeah. Well, you know, I made this point before, you know, growing up, the boogeyman was relativism. That’s what we were afraid of, is if you don’t hold to these set of standards or whatever, you’re going to be a relativist. And what came to mind in the past few years politically is most people I talk to, they would all call themselves centrists and by that they mean anyone to the left of me is a liberal, and anyone to the right of me is a conservative.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: And I thought, oh wait, that’s relativism!
Jared: You just made the definition of all of these things, you centered yourself and you defined everything in relation to you as though you’re the center of, like –
Pete: That is self-centered isn’t it?
Pete: To say you’re the balance point, right.
Jared: And so, I just thought, oh, this is what my, you know, this is what my pastor warned me against.
Pete: Yeah. By the way, that’s a common criticism, and that I, it’s a common criticism that I’ve heard over the years in the evangelical world when you espouse an opinion and people say, well, that’s got to be more, let’s put some balance to that. And of course, that person is the picture of balance and you’re not.
Jared: Right, right. Which is really to say, you know, come a little bit more to my side please.
Pete: Right, exactly. But that, you know, I guess we’re all susceptible to that.
Jared: But let’s tie that in, because it kinda ties perfectly in with the podcast because something we get a lot of feedback on is, you know, why don’t we have balanced viewpoints on the podcast? Like, you know, by that, pretty much they mean why don’t we have more conservative, maybe evangelical perspectives on the Bible on the podcast?
Pete: Yeah, because they’re always wrong.
Jared just fell over in his chair. I’m so funny.
Oh, my word.
Pete: Yeah. No, and we thought about that, and I think at the beginning our vision was to model things for people who are coming out of that environment. I mean, this sounds rather dramatic, I don’t mean it to sound quite that dramatic, but people who are really deconstructing from a conversative point of view that happens to be very tied to American politics.
Anyway, and giving, letting them see, you know, there are a bunch of people out there who’ve never heard of the evangelical hero you keep listening to in the back of your head and just let them talk and just let them be and, you know, we, it’s probably clear, we agree, Jared, with 99.9% of the guests. Maybe not every last word, but generally speaking we’re on board.
Jared: At least the framework.
Pete: The framework, we recognize the importance of the framework and bringing a different paradigm, a different model for understanding the Christian faith and for living the Christian faith and for connecting with the Bible, all that kind of stuff, and that’s what we want to do. I think, I mean, here’s what would happen if we had people on who were more conservative and were saying things that I know the people who come to us to listen to this podcast, they’ve heard all that before and they’re looking for something else. And at that point, the podcast would become more of a debate and that’s the last thing that we want this podcast to be. This is not a debate, there’s enough debating, this is just, listen folks, if you’re ready, if you want, if this is where you are, come on and listen and we got all this different stuff and you can make up your own mind what you think.
Jared: Well, you hit the nail on the head for me, because you know, I still have a very vivid mental picture when we started the podcast of the, you know, the impetus for me, the motivation for me was I grew up and on every other corner we had a Christian bookstore, Lifeway Christian Store, we had all these. And they all had the same, every single book in there had the same perspective of framework of what the Bible is and what we do with it, and I didn’t know that any of this other stuff existed. Going to seminary and learning about Jon Levenson or Kugel or some of these writers, and just thinking, oh my, where was this? This is so rich, this is so good, this is so, it resonates with me so much. Why was that not in any of these bookstores? And so, it just, it rings true when you say, you know, they’ve heard it before. It was like, well, we want to try to give a perspective that maybe a lot of people just haven’t had access to.
Pete: Right. It would be sort of analogous, like, in graduate school when I’m sitting in classes with Jon Levenson or Jim Kugel and others and they’re teaching for half a semester and somebody says, “let’s bring in an inerrantist here to balance this a little bit.” And it’d be like, well, no, I’ve heard that and it already doesn’t make sense to me. I actually know what they’re going to say here. So, I don’t, that’s not, I don’t want to do that here.
Pete: That doesn’t mean that there aren’t valuable places for people to give different perspectives, but not every podcast has to be everything for everybody.
Jared: Yeah, that’s true too.
Pete: And we can’t do that.
Jared: That’s right.
Pete: And we don’t want to! You know, so, you know, we have people on from all over the place from different walks of life, different perspectives, different backgrounds, who don’t talk like the people that have been in our background of our lives, Jared, and the background of a lot of people here who come and listen to the podcast. And that’s a good thing because the world is bigger than any one perspective.
Pete: And God is bigger than any one perspective and that alone is, I think, something that gives people a lot of hope and comfort that, oh, I’m not crazy.
Jared: Right, right.
Pete: How many times have we heard that? You know? I heard this podcast, and it’s, I’ve been thinking these things and not been able to put them into words and it’s so good to know that I’m not alone and not crazy. That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to create here, and to bring people on who will argue against that, even implicitly, is, I mean, there’s a place for that kind of debate, but not here.
Jared: Right, right.
Pete: You just don’t want to do that because that’s, I think that would be impeding the process, the journey that these people are on, so you just have to come back. Yeah, okay, you left the fold a little bit, but let’s get you back here as quickly as possible and sometimes the pressure to do that is really, really, really strong and I don’t think that’s right and neither do you.
Jared: Right, right.
Pete: So, we don’t want to create that space.
Jared: Well, and maybe that launches us into this next category, because I think the impetus, at least on occasion when I get feedback like that that says why don’t we have more conservative scholars on, usually it’s from the framework of, I kinda need to learn how to engage with more conservative people that are in my life.
Jared: And 2020 was, if nothing else, the test of that in our lives.
Pete: And we failed miserably.
Jared: Politics, racism, COVID, you know, how do we, if, and we talked a little bit about in the past, families divided over deconstruction and where people are in their faith journey and how do we talk about these differences in constructive ways?
Pete: Right, yeah. Well, I think to have podcasts about talking about those differences in constructive ways, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as having on very different points of view and like, let’s hammer it out in 45 minutes. I think that’s a kind of thing that’s modeled slowly just by absorption over weeks, months, or years, you know?
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: And not by us, necessarily, but by people we have on.
Jared: Right. Or you could write a book called Love Matters More.
Pete: You could do that.
Jared: You could, I mean, theoretically.
Pete: Well, yeah. The thing is that, here’s the thing though, that topic of how to talk to people you disagree with is sorta like the elephant in the room that we always focus on the realm of ideas and debating, but how to actually be human in those kinda situations, that’s that emotional and psychological dimension that, you know, Jared, we’ve talked about this before, that doesn’t really get talked about very much. And really, that needs to be brought to the surface, because when you talk about that, the other kinda stuff takes a backseat a little bit.
Jared: Mm hmm. It can, but I think, not to bring the thing we were talking about earlier back up, but, you know, this phrase I keep hearing of kinda both sides-isms, where it, where we want to be the neutral, I feel like that impetus, we’re motivated to do that because this is how we’ve learned to navigate these uncomfortable situations when we’re with family members and it allows us to be kinda the neutral party that’s like, well, I agree, I get what you’re saying, I get what you’re saying. And just to be clear, I think this idea of disagreeing with people is actually really important.
Jared: We have to actually disagree with them, not take the backseat and say, well, some of you and some of you, sure, I’m just gonna kinda wave the white flag and not engage. How do we actually stand up for our own convictions and our own political opinions, but do it in these ways that aren’t dehumanizing?
Pete: Right, to do it well, which, I think you just have to make up your mind and do it.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: I think it’s learning communication skills. That sounds rather ridiculous, but I think once you try things out, remember when Brian McLaren was, he spoke at your church a few years ago
Pete: And he sort of gave an example of how he handles these very kind of situations and someone said something that he is, you know, polar opposite of politically and he’ll just listen and just nod his head and say, “hmm, I think differently about that.” And that’s the end of it, because, and just to say that without responding in anger –
Pete: That alone is a step that might make people think, like, “okay, maybe I don’t have to argue about this. Maybe I don’t have to be right all the time,” you know?
Pete: But it’s tough and yeah, love matters more, right?
Pete: It does, it really does.
Jared: But I think that’s, just, I mean, I feel like that topic, not to be self-promoting the book, but the idea of that is woven into all the topics we’ve talked about. You know, families divided over religion, it’s just been a year of such division. COVID, racism, politics, why don’t we have more conservative guests on, you know, this all comes to this conversation of how do we stand up for what we believe in and how do we not dehumanize people in the process.
Jared: And I think, we just have a long way to go –
Jared: I think, in being able to do this.
Jared: And what role –
Pete: For thousands of years we’ve had a long way to go.
Jared: Yeah, that was going to be my next question. What role does the Bible play or not play? Because as I think about it, I just think the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about that kind of thing!
Pete: Yeah. I mean, the Bible has its own political opinions on things from an ancient point of view, but yeah. I guess, I mean, if you sort of pin me to a corner to answer that question, I would say that the Bible doesn’t tell you how to handle these situations.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: I think, again, not to beat a dead horse too, but I think wisdom is what helps, and wisdom is accumulated understanding of situations, it’s learning how to navigate life, and engagement with the Bible is a part of that, I think. But it, frankly, it’s a selective engagement with the Bible because the Bible doesn’t really, it’s not this great rule book you follow. It’s not, what does Richard Dawkins say, or Bill Maher, one of those guys, one of those famous atheist guys says, you know, “God’s big bad rule book that drops out of the sky,” which is, you know, nobody thinks that but people act like it and the Bible doesn’t really function that way. And you know, we had an episode recently where one of our guests talked about under-selling the Bible which is a nice idea, I think.
Jared: Well, unpack that a little bit.
Pete: Yeah, don’t expect the Bible, don’t promote the Bible as the thing that’s going to answer all of your questions – scientific, historical, political, familial, all these things, or even religious, right? The Bible raises as many questions as it answers. And then don’t, you undersell it a bit, say, it’s a partner with you. You know? And you engage it, and you engage it wisely, but our ethical decisions, I think, rarely, frankly, if ever, are outlined for us in a text that is so diverse, so ancient, so ambiguous –
Jared: Meaning even if it is clear, which is a tough thing to get from the Bible. Again, when is it describing something, when is it prescribing something, that’s difficult.
Jared: But even when it’s clear, we have to take into account the diversity of it, which, okay, so it’s clear here but did you know that it says something very different here?
Pete: Yeah. Oh, no it doesn’t, it can’t, cause it’s the Bible.
Pete: But it does, yeah, and again, that’s not dissing the Bible, that’s actually trying to be very –
Jared: Hopefully it’s respecting it.
Pete: Yeah, it’s respecting it and trying to be descriptive of its contents which then leads us to ask the question, okay, what does it mean to read this well? What is the Bible and what do we do with it?
Jared: Stay tuned for more Bible for Normal People.
[Producer’s group endorsement]
Pete: You know, that’s why I, you know, I don’t, I mean, I sometimes have discussions with people like students, for example, and I say what are, which of our ethics comes from the Bible? “Well, do not murder.” Okay, that’s in the Bible, but does your ethic come from that or is it just something that you also agree with?
Jared: Did you know not to murder before you read that?
Pete: Right, yeah. Did ancient people know that murder is a problem, you know?
Jared: Well, historically I would guess this isn’t our first instance of prohibitions against murdering.
Jared: Or killing.
Pete: Absolutely not, no. And however they arose is another question, but, you know, these aren’t like, “wow, really? I shouldn’t steal?”
Jared: I know that sounds simplistic, but I just, you know, in my tradition growing up, that was, we never would’ve said that, but that was essentially what we believed was we had all these pagan, heathen, well, you know, to be honest, we didn’t because Adam and Eve were the first people and, you know. But you know, other cultures didn’t get it, they were all heathens and pagans and didn’t follow any of the right rules and they were just pissing off God all the time, and then God gives Israel, this group, you know, this law, a book, and “oh, this is how we’re supposed to act,” and that’s just not historically accurate in any sense.
Pete: Right. Yeah, it’s, you know, getting to the whole law of the Old Testament, so it would take us far afield, but the Bible does not cooperate with us well to be used as the ethical guide. It can be a source of ethical contemplation and reflection, but that’s a very, very different thing.
Jared: Well, maybe talk a little bit, I think that’s important. How would you, how would you talk more, or even just process out loud more the distinction between those two things?
Pete: I think, you see, it’s sort of like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which is another topic, but you know, our knowledge, our theological knowledge is this interaction between scripture and tradition and reason and experience. It’s a whole embodied engagement of what it means to be in communion with God who is all around us and in us anyway. And the Bible is a means of accessing that. It’s not the only means of accessing that. If we didn’t have a Bible, we’d still, okay, God is still real, right, all that kinda stuff.
So, you know, I think the more subtle understanding of the role that the Bible plays among all the other things that make us human, including our ability to reason, I mean, that’s one of the things I mention. “You should always not listen to your reason, listen to the Bible.” Dude! We use our reason to read the Bible! And everyone does, and if you have a study Bible, which you do, people have used reason to explain what the Bible is, right? So, it’s not just the Bible and it’s also the tradition we come from. It’s our social occasion, you know, the color of our skin makes a difference in how we appropriate the Bible and whether we use it for power or whether we speak for the marginalized, all these kinds of things. You know, the Bible is used by people and in that sense, I think it’s really important that we not, if we say that Bible is our ethical guide, what we’re really doing is baptizing our own ethic –
Jared: That’s right.
Pete: And saying it’s biblical.
Jared: That’s right.
Pete: And that’s been done in history, folks, right? And let’s say, let’s stop that and let’s think of another way of engaging this tradition that doesn’t sort of absolutize it.
Jared: So, then this ethical guide understanding, would it be fair to say then biblical is not an appropriate adjective if the noun is ethic? There isn’t a biblical ethic.
Pete: I mean, yeah, yeah, the way you’re using it, but I could just play with words and I could say a biblical ethic is one that treats the Bible not like a rulebook.
Jared: I see.
Pete: It’s an ethic where you’re engaging the text, right?
Jared: Yeah, yeah. Mm hmm.
Pete: And I do think, you know, anybody who’s been around the Bible for a long time, you’ve been burned by it. But you know what, and the good thing, you know, Jared, we’ve talked about this, our tradition, you know, the reformed tradition that we were a part of, one thing they got going for them is like, you read the Bible a lot and you become very familiar with its content. And there are still places that, I think about, passages, stories that I think about that are very important to me. There are other parts of the Bible that I would’ve ignored twenty years ago that now are like getting central attention from me, but as a means of grace, which is a language I’ve used for a while now, as a way of, as an entry point, one of the conduits or the funnels though which, you know, we can have a conversation about ultimate meaning, you know?
Pete: And it, you know, even when the Bible says something that seems very, very clear, we still have, how we understand that clarity is absolutely filtered through. And that can be almost anything in the Bible, anything that Paul says about whatever issue, it’s within a first century context and if, you know, and we have to have that responsibility, you have to take the responsibility of reading anything in the Bible, taking seriously our own experience and our own humanity because it, this life has not stood still for 2000 years, right? So, yeah, all that kinda stuff and if we do that, I think, we will, those kinds of differences within family members, that’s the thing to get back to is, you know, when there, you may not have, the polarization may sort of go to the background because we all understand what we’re doing with the Bible. No one’s more biblical than the other person.
Jared: Yeah. I was gonna bring up an episode that we had with Ben Sommer, because in some ways I’m going to take him out of context here a little bit, but there’s this sense in which, I don’t want to, it’s just anachronistic, but to call, you know, he talked about these differences between the J/E sources and the D/P sources and how they portrayed God, and this G/E source, which is more narratival, it’s more earthy, the word I want to come back to in this conversation is more naturalistic almost.
Pete: Mm hmm, yeah.
Jared: Where God can show up in many different ways –
Pete: Not as structured.
Jared: Right! In many different ways, and just see some parallels in the faith formation in communities around the US right now. It’s sort of the, well, frankly, there’s the law and order –
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: Right, group of Christians and that sounds more kinda Deuteronomic, like priestly. Bureaucracy is good, it keeps things in order, and that’s, you know, cleanliness is next to godliness, that’s kind of like the way it goes.
Pete: And there are people clearly in charge of making and enforcing that.
Jared: And God can only be accessed in these appointed ways!
Jared: And there’s this more “naturalistic” way where God’s more surprising and less groomed and more spontaneous and God can show up in that rock and God can show up here and that seems to be more in that Wesleyan Quadrilateral where what gets baptized isn’t just this book or this board of elders or this denomination, but what gets baptized is your own reason, your own experience, you own community, and that’s, it feels more liberating to me.
Pete: It is, and I, you know, you’re mentioning J/E and D and P and, you know, if you’re really interested go back and listen to the Wellhausen –
Jared: I’m assuming everyone has listened to the Wellhausen episode.
Pete: But here’s the thing, I mean, this breaking down of Torah, of the Pentateuch, into basically these four traditions is not a waste of time because it allows us, this is one of Ben Sommer’s big points, and others, many others say this too, but it allows us to see the religious dynamic within Israel itself, if anything, can be a model for a contemporary Christianity in America. It’s seeing this development, these shifts, these changes in how God is perceived within the biblical text itself. You’re seeing a debate, an argument, a discussion and they’re all valued, the discussion is valued.
Jared: Well, that’s the beautiful thing, right? It’s whoever put the Bible together in the end didn’t lop out these challenging traditions but put them side by side.
Pete: Yeah, what Brueggemann calls the counter-testimony, not just the main testimony where if you obey God everything turns out great, if you disobey God gets mad and you get what you deserve. There’s this whole strand of the Hebrew scriptures which is yeah, no. Job, Ecclesiastes…
Jared: I know that’s how it’s supposed to work, but…
Pete: Yeah. It’s good in theory folks, but it doesn’t work that way. So, I mean, having, I think there might be a way forward for thinking positively about religious differences within a family or within friends at church or whatever. To think about them as being, those are valuable things to disagree, but the end product might not be, and now we all agree and we have all, I’ve convinced you of my point of view, because you have this true theological diversity in both testaments, frankly, the Gospels don’t portray Jesus the same way. They have differences of opinion. John’s Jesus is not Mark’s Jesus. They’re different, right? Paul, Peter, and James probably had a food fight at some point in time, maybe literally about kosher food or not, right?
Jared: Right, yeah.
Pete: So, and those are like the earliest writings of the New Testament already have conflict built into them. It’s hard to avoid it, let’s just say this is the way it is, but don’t hate each other because of the conflict. Because whoever compiled the Old Testament and the process of bringing the New Testament together, the different voices were essentially canonized, and we have to deal with them.
Pete: No, we don’t have to deal with them, we just have to accept that this is the way it is and maybe that affects how we think about things like whether COVID’s real or not, you know, or whether there really is systemic racism in our country, and people are going to have opinions about that, but no one, I mean, I don’t think people should be afraid to voice their point of view –
Pete: On those very, very important issues and, you know, not to be thought of a less than Christian for doing so. That happens a lot.
Jared: Yeah, well…
Pete: That happens to me.
Jared: Yeah, I think that’s –
Pete: “If you really listened to the Bible, Pete, you would know X, Y, and Z.” It’s like, actually, I’ve read it and it doesn’t really say that stuff.
Jared: You pretentious person.
Pete: I know, I am! And that’s just it. Oh, the experts! right?
Yeah, well I mean, I think that’s, it’s a tricky line to walk because on the one, you know, you don’t want to, again, you don’t want to come back to kinda, well, both sides-isms where each side is equally valued. But I don’t, I think that’s a, it could be a slippery slope, but I don’t think it’s the same as saying, listen, I’m going to stand my ground, I have my opinion, I’m actually going to fight pretty hard not against you, but for policies and platforms that enact the kind of justice that my ethic demands of me. But, you know, let’s, you know, one thing I’ve been coming up on as I talk about this more and more with people is, that’s one good strategy, is the energy that we may use to argue against people and to get really outraged against a platform, why don’t we shift that to taking that energy to furthering that cause?
Pete: To create, that’s cause it’s harder.
Jared: To create the platform that we want to see.
Pete: It’s not as fun as squashing your enemy.
Jared: Right, it’s not as cathartic.
Pete: No, seriously! I mean, I can relate to that because, you know, when I was, you know, if you know my story a little bit, when I left where I was teaching and it was a very combative environment, I had to re-, it took me years to think in terms of, okay, what do I want to create in the world and not just how do I want to argue better than somebody else and make sure they’re wrong?
Jared: I remember those conversations a long time ago with you even around some of the books you were going to write.
Jared: You’re like, you would start writing and it turned into what you’re against and you were like, no, like, I gotta figure out what I’m for.
Pete: But it’s so easy to just be what you’re against.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: That’s really, that’s the default. I don’t know why, maybe there are a team of therapists who are listening to this who can tell us about it. But it’s harder, but it’s also life giving to try to be positive about –
Jared: Well, in some ways it’s easier because you have the materials right in front of you. I know what I’m getting.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: To create something new is unchartered territory.
Jared: Yeah, I just have to be a good editor in some ways to kind of be able to critique this.
Jared: It’s very different.
Pete: You’re wrong here, here, here, here.
Pete: But good try. Yeah, exactly, yeah.
Jared: And, you know, not to come back to this deconstruction, but I think that’s helpful is, I think that’s one of the reasons too why we don’t stay in this, like, how do we have more conservative people and we’ll debate and we want to talk more about that constructive side of how a messy Bible doesn’t have to paralyze our faith –
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: But a messy Bible can actually energize our faith.
Jared: And I think that’s a big tipping point for people going on this journey, to move from, oh my gosh, I’m in this freefall, I’m anxious, I’m worried, I’m fighting with everyone, to this can be free, this can be freeing. This can be liberating, this can be energizing, I can see now how I can build a life of faith from this messy, ambiguous, diverse thing we have.
Pete: Even if it’s frightening.
Jared: Right, because life is frightening.
Pete: Because it’s frightening, it’s a good idea.
Pete: Because, I mean, not to sound Sunday schooly, but if God is big, bigger than us, right, whatever we mean by that, I don’t even know what I’m talking about right now. Like, God’s bigger than us, okay? Is that even the right way to talk? But anyway, you know what I mean. It’s, if we don’t limit God to our own preferences, that’s comfortable to do, but if we don’t do that it can be a little bit frightening. But it’s actually, if God exists that’s a good thing to do, is to get out of your own head.
Jared: Right, right.
Pete: Which was a hard thing for me to learn, I mean, I still learn it. I love being in my head. Nobody else does, but I do. It’s fantastic! It’s wonderful! I’ve got it all figured out. Actually, I don’t, I’m just kidding. I really don’t think I have it all figured out, but I do like to process and to put things in order and structures in my head and that makes me feel good.
Jared: Well, and again, we’re erring on the side here, we’re leaning on the side of being pretentious, but I do think there’s something to, I remember Peter Rollins said, you know, “the challenge is you end up in deconstruction when you take your faith really seriously.”
Jared: And I think for you and me, just because I know how our mind works, we’re super analytical and for me, that’s what drew me to the reformed tradition is they had their outlines of how this is how God works exactly. It’s only when you kinda get to the end of that that you realize, wait, that’s it?
Pete: Wait a minute…
Jared: That didn’t figure it all, I thought I was going to have God like, completely figured out!
Pete: I have some questions!
Jared: Why did I pay thousands of dollars to come to this seminary and I don’t end up having a complete grasp of God? What is this? False advertising.
Pete: But you see, the value of that process was that there was a structure from which you can even critique the structure and look outside of it, but there’s a framework. And I think all, in my opinion, all theological systems should work that way. It’s a structure because we’re only human –
Jared: We have to have that framework.
Pete: We have location, we have time and place, and there are personality types that are drawn to the reformed faith as opposed to let’s say, Pentecostalism, which is not driven by those same kinds of concerns.
Pete: But it’s within that system that you can branch out. But of course, as many people have experienced, people listening, that it’s the branching out from the systems that causes a lot of problems in their lives because often times the people who run those structures don’t feel that way. They, well, this is it.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: You know, and that’s, we experience too. That’s the struggle, it’s not the structure, it’s the “you must stay here or you’re less than.” That’s the problem.
Jared: Yeah, it’s not seen as structure as provisional, which it always is.
Pete: Yes. As provisional, as temporary, right, as John Franke who we had on calls theology a second order discipline. It’s not the first, it doesn’t give you everything, it’s sort of a level below that where we’re just trying to mess with words and trying to make sense of stuff.
Jared: Yeah. Okay, so, as we wrap up this season, I thought it might be good to end with this question for you of, you know –
Pete: I thought I was going to sing a hymn or something.
Jared: As we –
Pete: That sort of scared me. I had this flashback to the evangelical days. “Let’s end in prayer.”
Jared: Oh, man.
Pete: “Let’s hold hands.”
Jared: “Let’s roll through that chorus one more time.”
Jared: No, just as we head into a new year, we head into 2021, what’s kinda been your lesson that you learned this year as it relates to your faith or to your, this intersection of faith and conversation and community and people? What’s a lesson that you’ve learned?
Pete: I think a lesson that I’m learning, okay, a lesson that’s been magnified for me in all this and I think many people have expressed, have experienced this too, is just the enforced solitude, which I like, by the way, but I also am going crazy now. It started hitting me around August. It’s like, I’m an introvert, so, like, the first few weeks and months was like, “awesome, no people, I can do whatever I want!” But I think all that enforced quietness, it helped me continue to see the importance of just, I start my day just being quiet. I don’t have an agenda. I sit there with a cup of coffee, if Marmalade lets me, check out the Instagram page. She keeps headbutting me at 5:00AM, but, and just trying to be quiet and not be in control of everything and I try to not have my phone with me. And it just, sometimes just a cup of coffee, half an hour, I’ll just sit there and not feel like I have to do anything, and that’s, to me, a really important part of just my continuing hope to become a human being.
Jared: So, it’s letting go of the need to control.
Pete: That’s the light motif of my life.
Jared: Same here. It just, the reason I bring that out is it just goes back to you, those personalities who are maybe drawn to a systematizing ordering of the faith. For me, it was clearly an attempt to control.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: Like, if I can know how God works then I have the algorithm for reality, nothing can take me by surprise, nothing can hurt me, I can just be in control of everything which is really what I wanted.
Pete: Yeah. And I just want to be smarter than everybody.
That may be true. I don’t know, I have to keep thinking about that.
Jared: That you are smarter than everybody?
Pete: No, that I want to be. But that’s a good goal, but, yeah, letting go of all that sort of stuff and I know that sounds really simple to say, but it’s excruciating, and I guess that’s, I, when we get back to normal, I hope I don’t get back to normal. You know? In some respects, I do want to get back to normal; in other respects, I don’t want to get back to normal. And it’s been a hard year for people, people have lost loved ones and I haven’t, you know, so I might be thinking differently if that had happened to me. But just where I stand right now with all this stuff that’s happened, and, you know, the COVID chaos, the social chaos, the tensions with race, and the political tensions that probably everybody feels regardless of where they land on this stuff – that’s, we got a choice to make. Do we want to, like, fix all that or do we want to just sometimes take a step back and say, listen, I am, I’m gonna do the best I can to live right now and do what I think is right?
Jared: Mm hmm, right.
Pete: And that’s something that I hope that will stay with me.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Pete: Anyway, Jared, how about you? What’s your final thought on life and the universe?
Jared: I think similarly, you know, and for me what you’re saying resonates with me and I would put it this way though – what I learned this year is there’s no substitute for experience. That, you know, the Bible gives us information, maybe, all these other things give us information, but the pandemic, when you, when the world is a little outside of your control, which is what experience usually teaches us as we get older, that lesson goes deep, and it changes kind of who we are and it changes how we approach the world. And for me to not acknowledge that, if God’s involved in anything, how could God not be involved in that?
Jared: And so, just highlights that God’s presence isn’t just in a book and that the transformative stuff of life happens outside that book. And not that it’s wholly independent, but that could become part of this much larger journey.
Pete: Mm hmm, yeah.
Jared: All right, well, here’s to a better year for many of you in 2021. Thanks so much for joining us for season four, and we’re excited to bring you season five, but not for a while.
Pete: Yes! It’s so good. I think we’re gonna just skip season five and just call it season six. It’s gonna be so good.
Pete: Yeah, and that’s six weeks away?
Jared: Six weeks away, yeah.
Pete: Okay, folks.
Jared: So, we’ll see ya in about six weeks.
Pete: Try to survive.
Jared: Yup, see ya.
Pete: See ya.
Narrator: Thanks as always to our team: Executive Producer, Megan Cammack; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marketing Wizard, Reed Lively; transcriber and Community Champion, Stephanie Speight; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. From Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team – thanks for listening.
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