Your preacher is hiding the truth from you. (So says Mark Roncace.) You’ve probably never read the Bible. Neither has your preacher, probably. Nor (apparently; I’m reading in to his meaning here) have the writers of the commentaries, nor the seminary professors.
You’ve been served a “poached” version of Scripture, not the real thing, and you’ve swallowed it whole. But it’s not just your preacher’s fault. You’re unwilling — maybe too fearful — to “embrace the complexity” of the Bible, “a collection of contrasting ideas,” which is “precisely what is required to arrive at truth.”
Shame on you. You need raw revelation.
Mark Roncace sent me this book to review, which was gracious of him. According to the book’s back cover, he holds a Ph.D. from Emory University and is a professor at Wingate University in North Carolina. If you buy the book, “100 percent of the proceeds will be given to international Christian organizations.” Roncace speaks with deep feeling about “our Christian faith.”
Excellence Amid Error
Now I have to acknowledge there is something very important in what he is trying to accomplish with this book. “If we are not encouraged to use our God-given intellect to learn about God,” he writes, “then we are being fed a fabricated faith.” He goes on,
Deeply embedded in our tradition is the belief that when we dare to strive with God, as opposed to passively submit [sic], we come closer to God. Thus, the process of dealing with the God of Scripture deepens and strengthens our relationship with God.
He wants us to read the Bible, and to deal with it for what it is. He’s disturbed by much that’s in it, including the familiar complaints about contradictory passages, the accounts of nations being wiped out, child sacrifice in Genesis 22, and much more.
There’s a lot in the Bible that disturbs me, too. I find that my best learning comes from the passages that bother me.
But I haven’t landed where Roncace has. He concludes that,
God is not all good, powerful, holy, and loving; he’s partly those things and partly their opposite. . . . I would suggest that God evolves or changes over time as he relates to his creation. God is in the process of learning and growing, just as we are.
Everything at Face Value
Many readers will note the significance of that word process: Roncace is peddling a popularized Process Theology. Now I know that throwing a name at it means nothing, so I’ll leave it at that, for those who know the lingo and want to react to it as such.
Here in plain language is my problem with Roncace’s approach. I’ll borrow language from Romans 1:27: claiming to be sophisticated he became simplistic. For all his earnest exhortations that we accept the complexities of God in Scripture, he is almost childishly insistent that we take everything at face value.
And so the list of biblical accounts that simply cannot be reconciled ranges from the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Never mind that some very responsible historians have in fact accomplished such reconciliations (here, for example). Roncace wants you to read the Bible raw. I think what he means by raw must include something like without historical context available through competent scholarship. Just take it leaf by leaf, like the lettuce in a salad (and without scholarly dressing), is the message, I suppose.
And so he cites the Israeli psychologist who got a different reaction from one group of schoolchildren reading part of Joshua as it was written, and another group reading it with names changed to Chinese ones. Change the context, change the outcome: it seems normal enough, yet Roncace makes a big deal out of it.
Mangling the Meaning
He asks, “Is God a gambler?” regarding the Job story. God and Satan “make a wager, a friendly celestial bet. It’s like God and Satan went to Vegas.” He goes on to accuse God of monstrous behavior with Job, but with what credence should we treat that charge, when he has so thoroughly mangled the context? There was no gamble there, and no honest reading of the text would suggest there was. The book of Job has its confusing moments, but it’s quite clear concerning God’s confidence in his own sovereignty.
Shall I go on? The following are quotes from the book, with my responses following.
“Why must God be perfect?” (Why must Roncace ignore all the classical theistic thinking that provides an answer to that question?)
“The Bible is not clear as to whether God has a body.” (If he did, then Dawkins’s “who created the Creator?” might have some bite. But Roncace is just as silly here as Dawkins. I note that he did say elsewhere that God “is not bound by space and time as humans are.” Hmmm…)
“The traditional Christian claim that God has always existed is nowhere to be found.” (“Existed” is the wrong word here, as the classic theologians would tell you. God is the necessary one whose being is being itself. Scripture never indicates that God began to be; the language of Gen. 1:1 is very interesting in that it does not say that. The language of the OT was not that of sophisticated Greek theology, capable of describing eternity past — eternity “before” time, whatever that might mean; yet by the NT era the eternality of God was nevertheless well understood.)
“Is the Bible plagiarized?” (The fact that some other ancient documents agree with biblical history is hardly an argument against OT veracity. Neither is the existence of literature in similar genres, such as wisdom literature. It would be far stranger if nothing in the Bible were written in a manner that people of that time and place could understand it!)
“If the Bible must be unique to be true, then it’s not true.” (If a statement must be logically valid to be worth listening to, then that statement isn’t worth listening to. Dr. Roncace, you are not unique, in just the same degree as the Bible is not unique: you have eyes, a nose, and ears, just like every healthy human, indeed every mammal. If a person must be unique to be human, then you are not human. The sameness is almost stultifying, isn’t it? Unless, of course, it counts — as in the case of the Bible — when there are uniquenesses settled in amongst other less unique features. Dr. Roncace is Dr. Roncace and no one else — eyes, ears, and nose notwithstanding.)
“The uncensored Bible is an invaluable, God-given resource for renewing ourselves, each other, and the world in which we live.” (Sure: and if one takes it that “God” is hurriedly trying to catch up with humans’ advanced opinions on what is right and wrong, then we’d better get on with renewing the world: we’re the only ones who know what we’re doing!)
That last quote was from the end of the book. I’ve probably gone on too long.
But before I close, let me re-emphasize what I do not disagree with in this book. I do not disagree with the importance of wrestling with Scripture. I do not disagree with letting its difficult parts be difficult. I do not disagree with his cautions against settling for easy answers. I do not disagree with him where he says we have over-simplified some things.
It’s just that I think he has over-simplified; he has settled for the easy answer. His reading of the Bible calls on God to change, whereas the Bible was meant to call on us to change. Remember I said that the Bible often bothers me? That’s the hard part. Sometimes, yes, it’s a challenge to understand what a passage means, or how it fits in with another one elsewhere. But far more often the real challenge is in learning how I can find myself fitting in with what the Bible calls me to be.
I’d like to see Dr. Roncace take that a whole lot more seriously.
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