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14-08-29 Adam Hamilton Making Sense sq     Book Review of Adam Hamilton's Making Sense of the Bible
. . . but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! —Matthew 18

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; —2 Timothy 3

Full disclosure: I’m the least of these to be writing this. When I look at what Adam Hamilton has built and the list of names of giants that have endorsed and recommended this book, I’m sure that these men have each forgotten more than I know about Scripture—which makes this book even more disconcerting.

I also understand how difficult it is to assemble, put down and then stand behind written word. I don’t write bad reviews, but there’s something deceptive about this book that requires a response. Here’s a few of my issues:

    1. It is written with an agenda. Before I knew what the agenda was, Hamilton makes it clear that there’s something he wants included or excluded from the tent of Scripture. What seemed grounded in a factual, objective consideration of Scripture (Title: Making Sense of the Bible. Innocent enough), felt like a series of carefully selected cases to bring the reader to the point where portions of Scripture could be discarded. Like a fat man trying to squeeze into armor, Hamilton’s pushing, squeezing, prying, cutting and bending may get the man in, but what he’s in is no longer armor and it’ll never take a blow.
    2. Questionable claims are treated like settled territory. Whether it’s claiming that the prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus was actually just stuff happening at that time (do we know that God brought a child into the world through a virgin in King Ahaz’s time [pg. 58]) or that Galatians “is not simply ‘the word of God [pg. 81],’” Hamilton presumes details and conclusions that are not supported by his work or any other available resources.
    3. It diminishes the importance of the Bible. This is done in a number of ways, but I’ll give you three. First, using Paul’s assertion that all Scripture is God-breathed, Hamilton lays out a case that Paul didn’t regard any of the New Testament writings as Scripture (because they weren’t, yet).  Hamilton uses this timing issue to disqualify New Testament writings as God-breathed. Well, isn’t it possible that Paul was talking about all Scripture as a category, having been proven and tested through the ages? If you were building a movement based on humility, could you have written something and called it Scripture right away? But then, once it came to be viewed by the church as Scripture, wouldn’t the previous comment apply? For instance, if I say all gold medal Olympians are champions of their sport, wouldn’t that include Olympians for years to come? Later, Hamilton suggests that when New Testament speakers (Jesus included) mention the “word of God,” they’re not talking about Scripture, but “. . . a message about God that is heard—either spoken or preached.” [pg. 148] He cites a number of passages “proving” this position, but completely disregards that a number of these passages are actually quotations of Old Testament Scripture or picks one out of the many sermons Peter gives where Old Testament Scripture is not quoted. In fact, Peter was the first Apostle to quote Scripture. Finally (in contrast to what Hamilton previously said Paul would never have dreamed to do), Hamilton elevates other Christian writings stating, “What makes the Bible more authoritative than contemporary inspirational writings is not a different degree of the Spirit’s inspiration but the proximity of the biblical writers to the events that they were recording and . . .” [pg. 294] This goes on to list other criteria, but is indicative of Hamilton’s supposition that only the proximity of the writer to the time of Jesus separates the Bible from another modern Christian book [additional quote on pg. 173]. Scripture, as approved by the body of the church, tested for usefulness and the presence of the Spirit, was (in my opinion) special revelation given, at the right time, to the writers of these books as a way to make Himself known to mankind.
    4. The buckets analogy is offensive. Essentially, Hamilton implies that we live in a time where we can accurately put Scripture in the dock and judge whether it reflects our understanding of who God is. Into the first bucket, we place all Scripture “that reflect the timeless will of God for human beings.” [pg. 273] In the second bucket, we are invited to place all Scripture “that reflect God’s will in a particular time but not for all time.” In the third bucket (which Hamilton concedes is small and yet is given most of 135 pages of ink and includes things like the Creation Story, Adam+Eve, Noah’s Ark, most any violence in the Old Testament, Suffering, [parts of] God’s Judgment, anything offensive to women, tattoos & the seemingly biggest reason for the entire book—homosexuality), we are invited to put “passages that reflect the culture and historical circumstances which they were written but never reflected God’s timeless will.” [both pg. 274] Setting aside the third bucket, for the moment, taking an opportunity to share the Gospel Story—a conversation about Jesus on the Cross and His coming, out of love, to fulfill the Law—and reducing it to a bucket doesn’t feel true. The entire structure, while deftly drawn and subtle, invites each of us to pick and choose parts of the Bible to construct a God of our own choosing because, after all, Hamilton flatly states that these hard parts of Scripture “. . . tell us more about [Moses, Joshua, David] and the times were living in than about the God in whose name they claimed authority to do those things.” [pg. 214]

Hamilton’s essential premise in the book is that the Bible should be viewed through the lens of Jesus’ command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself” [which he states repeatedly] but also the lens of our urban, enlightened, 21st century scientific framework [which he doesn’t state so clearly].

Honestly, the book is well written and carefully pulls the reader down a path to its inevitable conclusion—homosexuality in Scripture was just prohibiting homosexual rape, a strange conclusion if you haven't walked the path that Hamilton paves. It’s calculated with examples like contrasting Jesus’ love of prostitutes and sinners with Leviticus 21:9 that says, “When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death.” [pg. 176]

If you’re trying to prove a point, that is a very dramatic contrast, but another way to look at this Scripture is that this side of the Holy Spirit, without 400 years of slavery behind us, with not one example of a daughter of a priest ever having been immolated for prostitution in Scripture, is it more likely that Moses hated prostitutes, or that God, in His wisdom knew that for that people, in that time, a harsh punishment would save thousands of girls and allow them to grow happy thriving families in Israel?

The difference between my conclusion and Hamilton’s is that I’m not saying that my view is correct. I have no idea why God would give Israel a Law like that, but one day, when I’m fully known, I will also know. We can look to Scripture and try to bend it around the shape of our own god, or we can look to God and seek an answer as to how is this true. What is missing in my view of You, God, that is keeping me from understanding this? What clue of You did You leave me thousands of years ago that I’m supposed to find today. As for me and my house, we're choosing our great Love.

One last image. Imagine you’re at a party with your wife and you’re talking about a topic on which she’s written and published. She’s gone out on a limb to express her view on it, but it may not be core to who she is. Suddenly, a stranger comes up and begins refuting every single thing your wife is saying. He goes on and on and on picking apart her work explaining how this can’t possibly be true and how she’s not the type that would do and say that. Your wife is standing there silent and expressionless when the stranger turns to you and says, “You’ve been quite. Who do you think is right?”

Standing there at that party you have no access to the materials needed to check his or her facts. You just can’t know then. So how do you answer? Do you choose the one you love, or do you side with a stranger? Maybe you know and like the guy. Do you pick him over your love in something that’s clearly unknowable?

Later that night, when you’re home, when you’ve checked some books, the internet and some notes, when you 100% have that answer—what are you going to wish that you’d said?

Either Scripture is true or it’s not. When I see God, am I going to want to say:

Oh, you mean it’s all true? Even that part about . . . ? What about . . . ? ‘Cause I told some people they didn’t have to worry about that one. Soorrry?!?, or

You mean it wasn’t true? I’m sorry. I believed it all. I believed it was all about You. Tell me more. . .

The science and perspective that Hamilton shares in Making Sense of the Bible is but a single frame in a very long movie. When we know, we will know. But until then, I find no better foundation for life, business, my family or my faith than the truth of Scripture.

#truthbeatslove

A NOTE TO ADAM HAMILTON:

Adam, If you’re like me, you read these reviews. When someone likes my book, I feel encouraged. When someone picks at it, I get discouraged. I’m sorry about that. I’m very sorry if this hurts you. I have a perspective on this that may be unique. Pastors are like the generals—calling in formations, alerting us to opportunities and refreshing us for battle in the world. The laity (me) is the ground troops. We’re carrying the cross into real estate contracts, construction sites, sales calls and campuses every day. I’ve worked hard to build a foundation in my life on Scripture and knowing God. I practice the disciplines you discuss in your book. I know the pain and vulnerability that comes with putting down something you believe, but this book hurt me. This book, from a preacher of my denomination, felt like artillery had been sent down on my own position. Every class I’d taught, every conversation I’d had about the Gospel, everything I’d written felt diminished by your call to discard and categorize Scripture. My faith isn’t shaken, but my trust is. And yet, still, I love you.  

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