Holy Bible, Human Bible: Questions Pastoral Practice Must Ask. By Gordon Oliver
Article first published online: 27 NOV 2008
© The author 2009. Journal compilation © Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2009
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 50, Issue 1, pages 170–171, January 2009
How to Cite
Taylor, N. H. (2009), Holy Bible, Human Bible: Questions Pastoral Practice Must Ask. By Gordon Oliver. The Heythrop Journal, 50: 170–171. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00438_57.x
- Issue published online: 27 NOV 2008
- Article first published online: 27 NOV 2008
Pp. xx, 171 , London : Darton, Longman & Todd , 2006 , $18.00 .
This book is published in the ‘Using the Bible in Pastoral Practice Series’, edited by Stephen Pattison and David Spriggs. This, as its title suggests, explores ways in which the Bible is used in Christian pastoral practice.
The title of this particular volume raises a range of particular concerning ways in which the Bible is used in Christian ministry. The most fundamental is how Scripture functions in the life of the Church; how human authorship and divine inspiration relate; and how the Bible is to retain its authority in the light of critical scholarship, and in a world in which knowledge directly relevant to pastoral ministry is generated in the secular sciences. While evangelical fundamentalists will continue to use the Bible as a mine from which to draw at will proof-texts congenial to their own, generally bigoted, eurocentric, and repressive, attitudes, secular and more responsible Christian practitioners would recoil from the judgmentalism, superficiality, cultural insensitivity, and selectivity, not to mention racism, sexism, and wanton violence this would entail. A clearly thought through, theologically and pastorally astute, treatment of these issues is much needed. The expectations raised by this book are therefore considerable.
In his introduction, the author attributes to himself the ‘gift’ of ‘sheer uselessness’. Readers who adjust their expectations accordingly will not be disappointed. This book is a rearguard action on behalf of eurocentric conservative evangelicalism, defending as much as possible while distancing itself from some of the more embarrassing aberrations. No more than lip-service is paid to a range of issues requiring more serious, more courageous, and more self-critical consideration: evangelical fundamentalism with a less unpleasant public face has intellectually, theologically, morally, and pastorally very little to be said in its favour.
There is no coherent discussion of teaching authority in the Church. On the contrary, along with most ignorant modern western individualist Protestants, the author assumes that the Bible is theirs to do with as they please, provided they do not become too much of an embarrassment to others of similar persuasion. There is very little on the use of the Bible in preaching, and in Christian education. Such discussion as there is of the Bible as a source of moral teaching is vague and evasive.
While there is passing acknowledgement of critical scholarship in several places, its insights are as often ignored. The claim that the parameters of the Canon are unchallenged is demonstrably false. The claim that the meaning of proof-texts beloved of homophobic evangelicals is clear is at best wilful ignorance, if not pandering to a particular market. While there is a passing reference to English Bibles being translated texts, there is no acknowledgement of the complexity of the translation process, particularly where rare and obscure Greek and Hebrew words refer to what may be very specific cultural institutions. There is not a hint that contemporary English translations, in particular the paraphrases beloved of certain evangelicals, can be tendentious if not misleading on crucial issues. Conflicting traditions in the biblical corpus are harmonised, with the less palatable interpreted in terms of the more congenial. Whatever protestations are made about the more grotesque abuses of the Bible, this book offers no clear or meaningful direction on, and presents no tools for, avoiding the pitfalls of ignorance, self-interest, bigotry, and wishful thinking. Where it does point out the problems, in addressing them it studiously avoids offending the conservative evangelical market.
Among highlights to be noted are: Simon Peter is helpfully informed that 70 times 7 acts of forgiveness would total 449; given that the calculation is entirely superfluous, if it had to be done at all it might at least have been done accurately. Monty Python's The Life of Brian is equated with Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Kazantsakis' The Last Temptation of Christ and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ among recent portrayals of Jesus on film.
The musings on pastoral practice and the use of the Bible of a moderately sensitive minister with even the most limited experience and theological acumen would be just as coherent, and at least as helpful, as this book. £11.95 would be better spent on a bottle of whisky to facilitate such ruminations. While there is undoubtedly need for a substantial treatment of the use of the Bible in pastoral ministry, and in the life of the Church generally, this book is not it.