This book is for those who want to be true to the spirit of the Christ and want to use the Bible as a guide to their spiritual growth rather than as a literal instruction manual for evaluating and judging external behavior - especially the behavior of others.
Spiritually is always an inside job and is always gentle, kind, understanding and accepting - of others and of self.
It is just as unbalanced for a metaphysician, humanist or agnostic to believe he Bible is simple metaphorical - as it is for a Christian to believe each word must be interpreted literally.
Clear spiritual thinking requires an understanding of what the Bible is - and isn't.
While O'Dell performs a scholar work explaining the facts, politics and beliefs that forged the evolution of the Bible, his experiential faith in the sacredness of the presence of the Holy Spirit imbues this book with authentic humanness.
Readers will understand that being a Christian requires more than attaching oneself to a congregation and believing the Bible literally.
How did the Bible become the Bible? How did the historical context and purposes of the emerging authors, who produced most of the text we know as the Scriptures, evolve into the Bible? Why is it that more and more people want to simply use the Bible as a literal source from God, rather than as a guide for developing a strong personal spiritual life?
This book is for those who want to be true to the spirit of the Christ and want to use the Bible as a guide to their spiritual growth rather than as a literal instruction manual for evaluating and judging external behavior – especially the behavior of others.
O’Dell makes the case that our human nature has always had a strong desire for simplistic biblical beliefs and practices. We know this is really a desire to feel in control of the knowledge of good and evil and therefore to be absolutely certain about what it is God wants. It’s a desire to believe that we’re right, which quells doubts and, as such, is fear-based. This inclination had its beginnings in the Old Testament, led to abuses in Israel’s Temple-State system, and influenced what was included and excluded from the New Testament. These are the same fear-based “religious” forces that dominate the beliefs of today’s fundamental and evangelical churches, leading them to misuse the Bible and to convince themselves they are doing exactly what God wants.
We’ve all noticed that when someone in the room begins to quote or “spout” biblical messages, everyone else gets quiet. Sometimes the outburst embarrasses us. Sometimes it scares us a little. Other times we’re afraid to say something, lest we reveal our ignorance. Mostly we don’t say anything because it’s been ingrained in us that religion is a private thing, not something to be discussed in public. We remember the sage advice to avoid discussing politics and religion.
Whatever the reason, for the last twenty years, while those of us who don’t normally go around spouting Bible quotes have been quiet, Protestant fundamentalist denominations have seen enormous increases in attendance. So has the very literal Opus Dei organization of the Roman Catholic Church. These groups have spawned an assortment of conservative politically active religious groups that have become more and more prominent in our communities and nation. The longer those who don’t quite agree with them stay quiet, the louder the voices of biblical literalists seem – and politicians and corporations notice and begin to pander.
The Religious Right, the Christian Coalition, or any other evangelical group is attempting to place limits and strict legalistic parameters on the definition of being a "True Believer." This is the same mistake the priestly class made during the times of the prophets in the Old Testament. This is also the same mistake the emerging Church made in the centuries immediately following the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth.
The sources of our Biblical texts were people —people of their times. In the book, How the Bible became the Bible, O’Dell uses powerful incidents from his own personal experience and a down-to-earth approach to history to make these people “come alive.”
Readers will understand the broad landscape from which the Old Testament sprang. They will understand the ever-present tension that existed between the priests (who tried to objectify the intent of the Torah (the Law) into a manageable set of concrete do’s and don’t’s) and the nomadic, almost mysterious prophets. Readers will come to realize that Jesus didn’t come into history to “save” people. He came with a message that could transform people from a fear-based, controlling existence to one of full humanhood. O’Dell believes His message still can.
When we are transformed, we begin to see the universe as a “welcome” place – an extension of a loving divine Spirit with which we are intimately connected. Without this transformation the universe continues to appear to be a very unfriendly, evil place from which we need constant protection.
Readers will understand the message of the book – a call for honest spirituality rather than guilt-laced religiosity based on Israel’s tribal concepts of purification and sacrifice. In short, that’s what the book is really all about – telling the story of how the religious and the spiritual have been at odds throughout the history of the Bible as well as in the selection of materials to include/exclude in the Bible.
Readers will understand how Paul, Mark, Matthew, John, and Luke each struggled to put into words the reality of their individual transformations. Each used the imagery, concepts, and language that was comfortable to them. We will see how the earliest Church Fathers (circa 100 C.E.) began to do the same things with Paul’s writings as the Old Testament priests had done with the Torah. This process continued for the next 300 years until the books of the Bible were agreed to. Some writings were included that perhaps shouldn’t have been. Some were excluded that should have been included.
Excerpted from his book, How the Bible became the Bible, 2nd Edition, by Donald L. O’Dell. Paperback. 307 pages, including 5 Appendixes, an Index, and a Bibliography.
Mr. O’Dell holds a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. Visit the author’s site www.DonODell.com for more information, including how to order.
"This highly readable book takes a conversational tone when, for instance, in Chapter 6 (The Time of Jesus), the author gently transitions us from the Old to the New Testament. The tenor focuses on the impact of Roman rule and the reactions to it and in the populace. Instead of dogmatic repetition of the chapter and verse based solely on moral directives from 'above,'" [read more]
We don’t need to have children to raise these kinds of questions. We ask that kind of question all by ourselves. We hear someone quote Billy Graham or Pat Robertson (or any other evangelist) about demons, angels, Original Sin, or the condemnation of a movie we’re looking forward to seeing, and we catch ourselves thinking: “Am I supposed to really believe that?”
We listen to a newscast of some heated legislative debate dealing with cloning, an abortion clinic bombing, the right-to-die movement, “evil” empires, a hate crime, stem cell research, prayer in school, or some gay/lesbian issue. Many of the arguments are bolstered by very Scripture-laden phrases, and we catch ourselves thinking: “Does the Bible really say that?”
Those of us who are discovering our spirituality in a Twelve- Step Program or in New Thought religion are not in a mainstream, Bible-based religion. Those of us who are mainstream churchgoers usually are not involved in a Bible-quoting, Jesus-is-my-very-best- friend denomination. However, we live in a society that appeals very heavily to Bible-based religion for all sorts of support.
As an example, I would imagine in the Bible Belt it’s easier for a good, solid Southern Baptist to get elected to the local school board than it is for a member of a Unitarian congregation. Will that election affect the materials used in your schools, the priorities established within the budget, the openness of the district to hire an excellent teacher who may be Hindu or may be gay? Do those school board decisions affect your community? You bet they do!
State and national politicians campaign on Bible-based moral slogans. They make promises, backing them with Biblical quotes, to gain the support of very conservative, “Bible believing” groups or coalitions sometimes referred to as the Religious Right or the Christian Coalition. Many of these promises or campaign platforms can be quite divisive and polarizing. Can this affect you? Can this sway you (either positively or negatively) for a candidate or issue? You bet it can!
#1 It's time you learned the real story of the Bible for yourself.
#2 Many Protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals believe the Bible was almost literally "faxed" from God, and they are not shy about saying so. What is it you believe about the Bible? This book will help answer that question.
#3 There are times when issues about gay people or Jesus or miracles or abortion comes up. You need to be able to offer yourself (and your children) a real answer - your answer.
Perhaps you are one of the millions of “mainstream” churchgoing Christians who does not consider yourself a Fundamental Evangelical. You do not believe that the Bible contains the exact, almost dictated, words of God. You support a congregation with your time and money.
You attend Sunday school as well as Sunday morning worship. Your children attend with you, go to some of the youth group activities, and attend a summer church camp or vacation Bible school.
You understand enough to believe that the first eleven chapters of Genesis consist of local (to the Genesis writer) myths, fables, and allegories.
At a party, if someone begins to extol the virtues of some political movement or condemn certain societal actions and uses quotations from Scripture to support their argument, you will generally smile, remain quiet, and be respectfully polite.
After all, quoting Scripture is not your “strong suit,” and the last thing you want to do is become engaged in a religious argument. But it bothers you to listen to someone like that. Isn’t there something you can say? Or should say?
Maybe you’re a Twelve-Stepper or a mainstream churchgoer, you may consider yourself a nontraditional believer.
Perhaps you’ve found New Thought religion—Religious Science (Science of Mind), Unity, Christian Science, or blends of Eastern/Metaphysical thought—intellectually stimulating and spiritually comforting.
These approaches simply make sense to you. Questions about God, the meaning of life, the moral foundations of good and bad personal behavior, meditation, the afterlife, and prayer are not only relevant, but the answers you are getting are actually intelligible and usable.
Writings about spiritual paths, inner peace, stress reduction, creativity, addictions, health, holistic and alternative therapies seem to be right on the money for us. They all talk to us about essential spiritual things—the mind-body-spirit connection—in a language we can understand.
To focus on the evil world “out there” and preach about all the sinners “out there” and be really glad we’re “in here,” feeling as spiritually snug as a bug in a rug, is to miss the point in a terribly big, important way. ~ Donald L. O'Dell