Friday, October 22, 2010

Blame the Woman

Flashback to Sunday School. The Bible lesson is straight forward. There’s a story with “good guys” and “bad guys.” Afterwards, there’s a verse to help us remember the good deeds the “good guys” did and encourage us to do likewise. Simple. Too simple. When are we ready for the heavy stuff (1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3)?

Recently, I read Max Lucado’s Outlive Your Life, a sixteen-point study of The Book of Acts, motivating Christians to live a more active faith. Although the lessons provided much food for thought, the author’s reliance on stories – his, his acquaintances’, and Bible characters’ – was more than a little disturbing. Of course, I spent much of my early teens listening to Bill Gothard creating a whole theology around personal testimonies, so perhaps I’m oversensitive to this approach. However, we can’t construct sound orthopraxy out of people’s behavior. Lucado doesn’t provide biblical support for the action he advocates, and it’s not as if it doesn’t exist. Even if most of his readers are “baby Christians,” I still think he could’ve provided more meat for consumption.

There’s an additional problem with the storytelling approach. Lucado, like many authors, reverts to modern retellings for emphasis. I’m of the opinion that this is an effective technique. Often the biblical culture is so far removed from ours today that the severity of a situation goes completely unnoticed. In addition, a lesson’s general applicability is missed if Christians don’t immediately recognize a modern analogous situation.

That said, modern retellings can be dangerous. It’s so easy for a misleading interpretation to creep up, especially when the author believes that it’s okay to sacrifice little details for the sake of a gripping story. Take Lucado’s version of Acts 5:1-11. Luke is obviously stressing the fact that Sapphira knew what her husband did just to rest assure the reader that she indeed deserved death too. But Lucado decides to make it her idea (p. 89). Instead of the moral of the story being “Don’t lie to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:9), he has inadvertently turned it into “You shouldn’t have listened to your wife,” a lesson for a different time and place (Genesis 3:17). Some might say he’s just being creative, but I think preachers least of all people should appeal to artistic license.

*This book was provided for review by BookSneeze.